The Vuelta a España resumes with its third and final week. After 21 stages of racing, a champion will be crowned in Madrid on August 15th. Here is a look at the final stages that will decide the race.
Stage 14: 176km Astorga - La Farrapona. Lagos de Somiedo
The mountains continue with a summit finish at La Farrapona. Lagos de Somiedo, a finishing climb that is new to the race. The last third of the stage is packed with action, beginning with the category 2 climb of Puerto de la Ventana. After a long descent, the riders will hit the category 1 Puerto de San Lorenzo, a difficult climb that averages 11% over its final 5 kilometers. The final cilmb of the day is the 16.8km La Farrapona. Lagos de Somiedo. The first half of the climb is relatively easy, but the second half is more difficult with sections over 10%.
Stages 14 and 15 are the last chances for riders to gain big time on Bradley Wiggins (Sky) and Vincenzo Nibali (Liquigas-Cannondale), who both had solid time trials and stayed out of trouble during the first two weeks. Look for Joakim Rodriguez (Katusha), who lost big time in the time trial, to try to gain back some time. He made an aggressive move to gain seconds on a summit finish in Stage 12 and may look to do the same here.
Stage 15: 142km Aviles - Angliru
Stage 15 could decide the race. It features the third difficult mountain stage in a row, the second consecutive mountain top finish, and the most difficult climb of the Vuelta. Angliru is a 12.2km beast with a staggering 13% average over the final 6.5km. It also features 4 different sections exceeding 20%, with a maximum of 23.5% coming with less than 3km to go. The pain doesn't end there, as a section of 21% arrives at about 1km to go.
If he fares well in Stage 14, all eyes will be on Bradley Wiggins (Sky). Wiggins is not a pure climber and the steep, ever-changing nature of the Angliru does not suit his style of climbing. Will he be able to ride well enough to stay close to Vincenzo Nibali (Liquigas-Cannondale) and to keep Bauke Mollema (Rabobank) and others at bay? If Joakim Rodriguez (Katusha) gets away, can he keep the time gaps reasonable? Look for plenty of fireworks on Angliru.
Rest Day #2: September 5
After two mountain finishes in a row, the riders will happily greet the 2nd and final rest day of the race.
Stage 16: 204 km Villa Romana La Olmeda - Haro
There are no categorized climbs on the menu here and the final third of the race is mostly downhill.
The sprinters should love this stage. Look for Marcel Kittel (Skil-Shimano), John Degenkolb (HTC-Highroad), Daniele Bennati (Leopard-Trek), Alessandro Petacchi (Lampre-ISD), Peter Sagan (Liquigas-Cannondale), and the rest of the sprinters to battle it out.
Stage 17: 211 km Faustino V - Peña Cabarga
A long day in the saddle awaits with two categorized climbs and a difficult uphill finish. This uphill is short at 6 kilometers, but averages nearly 10% with a maximum of 18%. This should be the last good chance for any general classification riders to gain time.
After winning in convincing fashion on similar uphill finishes on Stages 5 & 8, Joakim Rodriguez (Katusha) should be the man to beat here.
Stage 18: 175km Solares - Noja
Stage 18 features 5 categorized climbs: three category 3s, one category 2, and one category 1. The categorized climbs are over with more than 25km to the finish, but there is a small hill towards the end that should shake things up.
With the GC decided, a breakaway should be allowed to go the distance.
Stage 19: 159km Noja -Bilbao
The Vuelta returns to Basque country for the first time since 1978. Stage 19 will be characterized by rabid fans and a quartet of short climbs. The final climb of the day, the category 2 Alto El Vivero, ends some 14km from the finish line.
Euskaltel-Euskadi should be motivated to put on a show for its Basque fans. Expect some Euskaltel riders in the break, but the climbs are short enough that the sprinters do have a chance today if properly motivated. It should be an interesting battle between the breakaway riders and the peloton.
Stage 20: 185km Bilbao - Vitoria
The Basque country is featured again with 4 categorized climbs followed by about 45 kilometers of flat roads. The category 1 Puerto de Urkiola, a 5.5km climb with sections over 10%, is the final climb of the 3-week race.
Today's climbs are enough to drop the sprinters, so the breakaway has a good chance to make it all the way to the finish. Again, expect to see Euskaltel riders in the break in an effort to bring home a victory for the Basque fans.
Stage 21: 96km Circuito del Jarama - Madrid
This short stage begins at the Jarama motor racing circuit and makes its way to Madrid, where the riders will complete 10 laps to finish the race. The day will start out slowly as more of a parade than a race, where the race leader will drink champaign, take pictures, and shake hands. Once the race hits the Madrid, the sprinters will begin the battle for one final day of glory.
The sprinters are the big favorites today. Again, keep an eye on Marcel Kittel (Skil-Shimano), John Degenkolb (HTC-Highroad), Daniele Bennati (Leopard-Trek), Alessandro Petacchi (Lampre-ISD), Peter Sagan (Liquigas-Cannondale), and the rest of the sprinters to battle it out.
The Vuelta will be decided early in this third and final week. Stages 14 & 15 give the climbers a chance to shake things up, while Stage 17 is one final chance for GC riders to gain precious seconds. Stages 16 & 21 offer opportunities for the sprinters, while the remaining stages give breakaway riders a shot at success.