The Principality of Asturias is home to many of the most renowned mountains in Vuelta a España history. Hugh Carthy conquered the revered Alto del Angliru last year, whilst Lagos de Covadonga is one of the most prominent Vuelta climbs. This year, the ominous Alto del Gamoniteiro makes its debut at La Vuelta and the riders will tackle its searing percentages in the queen stage of the race.
Primož Roglič won stage 17 after following Egan Bernal's attack on Collada Llomena. The Slovenian is in control of the red jersey, with more than two minutes to Enric Mas in second place.
Stage 18 profile
Stage 18 is 163km in length, but the first 44km take place on predominantly false flat terrain. If the breakaway doesn't form early on, the Puerto de San Lorenzo gives the climbers a suitable platform to escape. The first category climb is 9.9km in length and averages 8.6%. This is the final day in the high mountains, so competition to join the breakaway will be fierce. Ten points are handed to the first rider to the summit, so KOM contenders Romain Bardet and Damiano Caruso are likely to come to the fore.
Puerto de San Lorenzo profile
The following descent sends the riders to the intermediate sprint in Bárzana. This sits at the foot of the next first category climb — the Alto de la Cobertoria, which averages 8.6% over 7.9km.
The next 25km are flat. This phase of the race could be crucial in deciding whether the breakaway or the peloton win the stage. The second category Altu la Segá o del Cordal begins with 30km remaining. Bonus seconds are handed to the first three riders at the top of the climb, which could encourage attacks from GC contenders if the breakaway has been caught. A steep, 6km descent sends the riders directly to the foot of the final climb.
The inaugural ascent of the Alto del Gamoniteiro will undoubtedly have substantial consequences.
Alto del Gamoniteiro profile
The climb averages a leg-sapping 9.8% over 14.6km. The first 1.5km average closer to 7.4%, and the climb plateaus briefly after 9km to around 3%. Other than that, the Gamoniteiro averages between 10% and 14% throughout. Some sections are steeper still, with the final metres prior to the finish line reaching a discombobulating 17%.
The Alto del Gamoniteiro is the Cima Alberto Fernández, the highest point of the Vuelta a España. The riders will finish at 1,770 metres above sea level after climbing almost 5,000 metres throughout the stage.
For the GC protagonists, this is the best chance remaining to move up the standings. Those having a bad day will suffer terminal damage to their GC chances.
Primož Roglič and Enric Mas (Image credit: Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images)
To this point, Primož Roglič has been faultless across the opening 17 stages. He has never lost major time in the mountains, and after dominating on Lagos de Covadonga, he is in command. With a 34km time trial approaching, he can be confident of gaining another considerable chunk of time on his rivals. He already has three stage wins in the bag, but will he hunt a fourth? If Roglič is content with a trio of stages, Jumbo-Visma may set a pedestrian tempo in the peloton, which would give the breakaway a great chance.
Movistar are best positioned to challenge Roglič. Enric Mas and Miguel Ángel López have trailed Roglič closely since the race began in Burgos. This is the final chance in the high mountains for Movistar to use their numbers to disrupt Roglič. If they are aiming for red, they must shake things up before the final time trial, and this is their best chance. Attacking before Alto del Gamoniteiro would be highly risky, but a high-risk strategy has a chance of reward, as Roglič recently proved.
Egan Bernal and Adam Yates remain in contention, but if the Ineos Grenadiers are to challenge for red or even jump onto the podium, they must be aggressive here. Egan Bernal tried a long-range attack on stage 17, but he couldn't sustain his effort until the line. Perhaps it is Yates' turn? Jack Haig is also in contention for a spot on the final podium.
The breakaway has a chance at winning the stage, particularly if a group of ten or more riders go clear early. Romain Bardet, Damiano Caruso and Rafal Majka are duking it out for the KOM jersey. With 45 points available over the four categorised peaks, including 20 at the finish on the Alto del Gamoniteiro, all of the aforementioned trio are likely to be on the offensive.
Michael Storer, Chris Hamilton, Wout Poels and Mark Padun are some of the riders who may support their KOM-chasing teammates in the breakaway, where they’d also have a chance at stage victory.
Trek-Segafredo’s Vuelta a Espana shifted when Giulio Ciccone crashed and subsequently abandoned on stage 16. The Italian was six minutes down in the GC before he failed to finish. Without the Italian, the likes of Juan Pedro López and Gianluca Brambilla will be free to attack the race. Expect to see Trek-Segafredo represented up the road.
Keep an eye on Pavel Sivakov, Geoffrey Bouchard, Clément Champoussin, Mikel Landa, Ion Izagirre and Fabio Aru too.
Cover image: Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images