Vuelta a España 2022 stage 18 preview - to the heights of Piornal

A traditional mountain stage could see a GC battle or give the breakaway a chance at success

Vuelta a España 2022, stage 18
Distance: 192 kilometres
Start location: Trujillo
Finish location: Alto de Piornal
Start time: 11.10 BST
Finish time (approx): 16.30 BST

Remaining in the region of Extremadura, the Vuelta a España 2022 caravan winds its way further north once more to reach the start of stage 18, in the province of Cáceres.

The town of Trujillo retains a great deal of historical significance, and has been an important religious and military location over the years, from the Roman era to the Middle Ages and beyond. It is the first time the town has hosted a stage start at La Vuelta.

The profile for the day is reminiscent of a more traditional Grand Tour mountain stage, backloaded with climbing and tackling repeated ascents of its main climb.

Vuelta a España 2022 stage 18 map and profile

The stage will provide a great deal in the way of spectacle, for both riders and spectators. Travelling due north for just over 75km, the first part of the day is undulating but has no categorised climbing. The route turns east when it reaches Plasencia, a stunning city rich in gothic and renaissance architecture, complete with grand cathedral complex and medieval walls. It’s from here the parcours becomes distinctly hillier, with a few significant bumps leading up to the first categorised test of the day, the category 2 Alto de la Desesperá. Home to a waterfall in the wetter months, it’s unlikely that the peloton will be treated to the cooling spray of the falls at this time of year, which they would surely enjoy as they ascend up its 3.6km length.

The brevity of the climb will ring alarm bells as it indicates a severity of gradient will be the trade-off – a leg-breaking 9.4% average pitch, in fact, which is guaranteed to split the peloton as those with a stage win in mind go on the offensive, and the GC teams watch one another.

It's just an aperitif for what’s still to come, although it’s by far the toughest climbing in terms of gradient that the peloton will face all day, so could prove decisive. From there the route heads north and west towards the Alto de Piornal, which the riders will tackle twice from different sides. 

After around 15km of descent from the category 2 climb, the riders ascend to a plateau, dip down and there’s the business to attend to of an intermediate sprint in Garganta la Olla for any riders still contesting the green jersey. Then begins the first ascent of the category 1 Alto de Piornal. At 13.5km, the climb is typified by how steady it is. Unusual for Spanish mountains which usually see huge variations in gradient, its reported average of 5% is very much true to the reality of the climb, which features only very short sections at higher gradients. There are bonus seconds available in the polka dot jersey competition at the top of the first ascent, before around 22km of relatively steep descent brings the riders around for a second shot at it.

The second ascent of the climb, from the west of the mountain, looks very similar on paper – 13.4km at 5.6% - and it is indeed more of the same – steadily rising, at a slightly more stringent angle. While this mountain doesn’t look too daunting on paper, though, the repetition along with tired legs after almost three weeks of Grand Tour racing could cause a few to struggle.

Vuelta a España 2022 stage 18 predictions and contenders

Like with most of the mountains stages in La Vuelta, it's always difficult to know if the stage win will be contested by GC contenders or the breakaway. Should the GC teams bring the break back before the line, it will be red jersey wearer Remco Evenepoel at the forefront of the battle for the victory, although the Quick Step-Alpha Vinyl rider has shown cracks in his armoury on long climbs in the past. Riders such as Enric Mas (Movistar), Juan Ayuso (UAE Team Emirates) and Miguel Ángel López (Astana) will also be in the mix if a stage win is up for grabs from the GC group, as will Ineos Grenadiers' Carlos Rodriguez.

From a breakaway, two-time stage winner in this race Richard Carapaz (Ineos Grenadiers) could ride solo to a third victory, as could Jay Vine of Alpecin-Deceuninck who has also had a taste of success in this race on two occasions so far. Marc Soler (UAE Team Emirates) will also relish today's terrain and EF Education EasyPost could go for a two-pronged attack with Hugh Carthy and Mark Padun. Another team who will want to be in the thick of the fight is BORA-Hansgrohe, and they a strong option with Wilco KeldermanAlexey Lutsenko of Astana is someone else who is well-suited to today's terrain.

Prediction: We think that today is another day for Richard Carapaz, the Ineos Grenadiers rider has been unbeatable on climbs like this from the breakaway and if he gets in the right move, there will be no stopping him.