Start location: Dénia
Finish location: Xorret de Catí
Start time: 12:55 CEST
Finish time (approx): 17:30 CEST
Alicante is the kind of place where it's more fun to lounge around on a beach at this time of year than ride your bike. The hot summer sun will make the hilly terrain the riders must contend with in the region all the more taxing, and the beaches on the Costa Blanca, that attract tourists from all around the world, all the more appealing.
Dénia is one of several resort towns on the Costa Blanca, and hosts the start of stage eight of the Vuelta a España. As well as being a historic town with ancient ruins and an impressive Moorish castle, it has the distinction of being part of UNESCO’s ‘Creative Cities of Gastronomy Network’ – which, as a coastal town, means plenty of great seafood. All very tasty, but maybe lacking in the carbs the riders will need to get them through such a demanding day.
Stage eight profile sourced via the Vuelta website
This is a testing stage pretty much from start to finish, with the category two La Vall d'Ebo beginning just 21km into the stage, followed by another three official climbs and many more uncategorised undulations before the Xorret de Catí at the finish. Amounting to a total of 3,600m of climbing, it’s the kind of terrain that will aid the breakaway with staying away, as has been the case historically – each of the last four stages to finish here have been won by an escapee, courtesy of Eladio Jiménez, Gustavo César, David Moncoutié and, most recently in 2017, Julian Alaphilippe.
Despite the difficult roads that precede it, it’s still the final climb of Xorret de Catí that will decide the stage. This is an absolute brute of a climb, one so steep (averaging 11.4%, with a maximum of 22%) that even though it lasts just 3.9km, it’s been deemed tough enough to be ranked category one. As the kind of hill often described as a ‘muro’ or ‘wall’, it’s not characteristic of the longer, higher mountainous efforts that will see bigger time gaps, and more decisive in the race for the red jersey. Yet a look back at all the previous Vuelta stages here show just how prophetic it can be. With the exception of the climb’s first appearance in 1998, the eventual overall winners of the Vuelta in 2017 (Chris Froome), 2010 (Vincenzo Nibali), 2009 (Alejandro Valverde), 2004 (Roberto Heras) and 2000 (Heras again) all reached the top inside the leading group of favourites, which was never more than three-riders big. History therefore suggests that if you want to win the red jersey, you can’t afford to lose any time here.
While stage eight features another feast of climbing for the peloton, the ascents in the earlier part of the stage are not the most testing, and should provide an ideal launchpad for a breakaway. With another tough summit finish to come on stage nine as well, there's a strong chance the GC contenders will be content to let a group of riders of little threat escape up the road.
Romain Bardet (DSM-Firmenich) has been extremely active already in the first week and won't want to miss the chance of getting in another breakaway. He's a strong enough climber to escape solo from a break on the gruelling final climb.
Lennard Kämna (Bora-Hansgrohe) is another rider who has been distinctly intent on getting in breakaways already at this Vuelta, and has a strong record of victories from the break in Grand Tours.
Jumbo-Visma, despite their GC ambitions, have not been afraid of allowing riders in the breakaway. Wilco Kelderman or Jan Tratnik are strong possibilities to jump into a leading group, as is Dylan van Baarle, though the latter may struggle more on the final climb.
Spanish champion Oier Lazkano (Movistar) would love a maiden stage victory in his home race in national colours and has been in strong form all year.
Michael Storer (Groupama-FDJ) has past success at the Vuelta and could be a strong candidate for victory if he's allowed some leeway by his team-mate and race leader Lenny Martinez.
Dutch duo Wout Poels (Bahrain-Victorious) and Bauke Mollema (Lidl-Trek) are both very experienced riders with numerous successes from breakaways. The former would possibly prefer a long final summit finish stage than a parcours like this, while the latter is searching for form.
David de la Cruz (Astana-Qazaqstan), Jesús Herrada (Cofidis), and Andreas Kron (Lotto-Dstny) are also all possible candidates for a breakaway victory.
We think Lennard Kämna will win from the breakaway to complete his set of wins in all three Grand Tours.