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Classification contenders of the Vuelta a España will be twiddling the easiest gears available Friday ahead of what might be the hardest weekend of racing of the season.
Two summit finishes in the sun-baked Sierra Navada this weekend will see the Vuelta crank the cruelty up an extra level on stage 14 to La Pandera and stage 15 to the high-altitude Alto Hoya de la Mora.
With almost 8,000 meters of elevation in only a fraction more than 300 kilometers, it’s a double-header that could make-or-break GC hopes.
Primož Roglič and Enric Mas have time gaps to scale the size of the summits they face as they head toward the weekend. Remco Evenepoel is running riot and rampaging toward Madrid with a vice grip on red and a near-three-minute advantage.
The category one Pandera and special category climb to Hoya de la Mora offer the attritional terrain that affords grand tour stalwarts Roglič and Mas the opportunity to test Evenepoel’s still-young legs.
“He won’t settle for a podium finish. Primož is here to win the Vuelta,” Jumbo Visma director Grischa Niermann said. “If you want to win, you have to be willing to lose and take risks. He is ready for that.”
Two stages, two summit finishes
After a sprinter stage Friday, this weekend will make for a wild ride as Roglič and Mas look to make time before Evenepoel exerts further control on a race he so far dominated.
The jagged profile and 15 percent grades of Saturday’s eight-kilometer La Pandera summit don’t stretch as far or as high as the Sierra Nevada final on tap for Sunday, but are equally fierce.
“The climb, a Vuelta classic, is tougher than it looks, along a narrow road and on rough pavement. It will really test the climbers,” route collaborator Fernando Escartín said.
A hulking drag toward the bottom of the Andalucian ascent will sap legs before an explosive finale suited to the purest climbers. Rafal Majka and Miguel Ángel López were fastest to the summit in 2017 in a sign of the climbing strength needed for success on the 1800-meter mountaintop.
Any cracks exposed on the Pandera will be pounded wide open just 24 hours later on the Vuelta’s headlining climb.
At some 2,500 meters high and 19km long, Alto Hoya de la Mora is the high point of the race and the closest the Vuelta will get to the dizzying heights seen in the Tour de France or Giro d’Italia.
“It’s a pure mountain stage, over 4,000 meters of slopes in total,” Escartín said of Sunday’s “queen stage”.
“The stage will take off from the Province of Jaén, where the heat will, undoubtedly, play an important role. The second half is very tough, with climbs up the Alto del Purche and the Hoya de la Mora – a long, demanding mountain pass that was a La Vuelta 17 highlight.”
Lopez backed up his second-place on Pandera with victory atop the Sierra Nevada climb when the Vuelta doubled the two denouements together in 2017.
It was a weekend that saw “Superman” fly into the world’s eye line and marked him out as a future star of Colombian cycling
Roglič and Mas will be wanting to see similar terrain put a handbrake on an all-new sensation from the other side of the ocean this weekend. It may not work out that way, but it will surely be worth the watch.