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The Vuelta a España peloton will have a wall to climb before it can climb back onto team busses on Sunday night.
Stage 9 to Les Praeres will see the severest climb of the race so far as the Vuelta returns to its favored 20+ percent grades for a punishing summit finish.
“The finale will take place at the Nava summit, which we discovered in La Vuelta 2018. It’s an authentic ‘wall’ – short and very explosive – made up of four kilometers that will measure the strongest riders’ true abilities,” said route collaborator Fernando Escartín.
Sunday’s showdown atop Les Praeres will complete an attritional weekend of Asturian climbs and will test red jersey Remco Evenepoel and his Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl citadel to the limit.
Evenepoel was faultless in his red jersey defense in the mountaintop finish of stage 8, riding the Quick-Step train before flexing with his finishing surge for the line.
“The team is giving it all for me. We will keep fighting and hoping for the stage win, but what we showed today is what a real GC team is all about,” Evenepoel said Saturday.
A circling, rollercoaster shape route out of Villaviciosa tackles four categorized climbs before the nasty Nava summit finish Sunday.
It’s a 170km Asturian onslaught that will keep the pressure on “the wolfpack” and soften tired legs before the marquee climb to Les Praeres.
Punishment on Les Praeres
Soaring vertically out of the Asturias, stage 9’s crowning climb to Les Praeres is a typical Spanish leg-snapper.
The 12.9 percent average grade is tempered by a short plateau close to the summit and dampens the sense of doom inspired by long stretches at around 15 percent and several ramps reaching one-in-four.
“What I saw from the past is that there weren’t really big gaps, but if you explode it’s completely done for sure on a climb like that,” Evenepoel said of Sunday’s summit finish.
“I’m going to keep the confidence. I know it’s a climb that suits me very well in duration, so I’m just gonna give my all.”
Simon Yates ground out victory over Miguel Ángel López and Alejandro Valverde when the Vuelta last dared visit the gnarled and knotted climb in 2018.
It will take similarly spritely legs and pure climbing power to become the second conqueror of the pathway up Les Praeres on Sunday.
Currently trailing more than two minutes back, Yates would relish winding back the clock to 2018 to gain ground before the race rumbles out of his grip.
No rest for the ‘rest’ day
A “rest day” arrives Monday, but it may not prove as welcome as some grand tour down-days.
The Vuelta circus will transition from Les Praeres in the far north of Spain some 900km south east to the Valencian city of Alicante, making for an eight-hour drive to the Costa Blancan tourism trap.
The huge transfer comes off the back of last Monday’s monster transition from the Netherlands to the Basque Country.