Stage 16: Gijón to Valgrande-Pajares. Cuitu Negru, 183.5km
A snaggle-toothed stage that will go a long way towards consolidating the final top ten in the general classification. After an initial Cat 3 climb, the boys have to go over two punishing Cat 1s – the Puerto de San Lorenzo (10km, 8.5%) and Alto de la Cobertoria (8km, 8.6%) – before tackling the HC summit finish of Cuitu Negru (all 19.4km of it). This is the queen stage of this year’s Vuelta, the hardest stage of the race – in a race full of hard stages – that comes after two consecutive killer stages.
The final 3km may make grown men cry. In what has been a feature of this Vuelta, the stage winner has to take a deep breath and climb to the finish on gradients in the mid to high-teens with pitches of up to 25% in places. But of course! We know who loves gradients like that: Joaquim Rodriguez. If he can counter the inevitable attacks of Alberto Contador the way he has over the past two days then the Vuelta will be almost within his grasp.