Five categorised ascents, which are crammed into the final 100km, will witness the final mountain battle for the top GC positions. Although Primož Roglič looks set to win a third straight Vuelta a España, the podium places are still up for grabs. With a 34km time trial approaching, expect attacks from those that struggle on the time trial bike.
Stage 20 profile
Stage 20 departs from Sanxenxo for the first time in Vuelta history. A range of hills lie between kilometres 20 and 60. Although these are all uncategorised, they provide ideal terrain for the breakaway to form. With 28 KOM points available later in the stage, the battle to join the group will be fierce.
The categorised climbing begins at kilometre 105 with the Alto de Vilachán. The third category climb averages 5.4% over 6.5km. Romain Bardet and Michael Storer will surely come to the fore here.
A descent leads directly into the second category Alto de Mabia, which averages 5.7% over 6km. The first half of the climb is much steeper, though, before plateauing close to the top. If any of the GC contenders are considering an early attack, they should raise the rhythm here.
The Alto de Mougás follows, which is the most substantial climb of the stage. The first category climb hands 10 KOM points to the first rider to the summit, and averages 6.4% over 9.8km.
Alto de Mougás profile
The initial five kilometres are the most challenging, with a max gradient of 15%. If any of the GC riders are to instigate an early attack, à la Egan Bernal on Collada Llomena, this is the ideal launchpad.
An intermediate sprint lies at the foot of the descent in Baiona, where they’ll be 44.6km remaining. The next 8km are flat, so any attackers must be in a group to avoid spending excess energy.
The second category Alto de Prado begins with 31km remaining and averages 6.3% over 5.5km. The climb is made even more difficult with slightly shallower percentages beforehand. Bonus seconds are on offer to the first three riders over the top. The riders then descend over the next 16km, bar a short uphill pitch with 16km left, which averages 5.9% over 1.8km.
The final mountain of the 2021 Vuelta a España is the second category Alto Castro de Herville.
Alto Castro de Herville profile
Although the Castro de Herville averages 4.8% over 9.7km, it is highly irregular. The most challenging gradients arrive between kilometres 3 and 4, where the riders must tackle a leg-sapping 16%. The gradients ease after a short descent, which makes attacking more difficult. The percentages range between 3% and 5% over the final few kilometres, before punching up to around 9.5% before the line.
Egan Bernal leads Primož Roglic and Enric Mas on the Altu d’El Gamoniteiru (Image credit: Tim de Waele/Getty Images)
Few superlatives could do Primož Roglič's performance at the Vuelta a Espana justice. He has three stage wins to his name and has more than a two-minute buffer in the red jersey. The medium length mountains found on stage 20 suit his skillset perfectly. If the GC favourites end up fighting for stage victory, it’s hard to see past Roglič, who possesses a sprint that none of his rivals can match. Sepp Kuss, Steven Kruijswijk and Sam Oomen have a pivotal role to play in regulating attacks, particularly if Roglič's GC rivals move early.
The two riders that have posed the most substantial threat to Roglič both represent Movistar. Enric Mas has tracked Roglič throughout, whilst Miguel Ángel López won the inaugural ascent of the Altu d’El Gamoniteiru. Both hold second and third place in the overall standings, and the 2+ minute gap to Roglič looks unassailable. Instead, Movistar must work to secure second and third on the podium. The diminutive López is a highly erratic time-trialist — he could do with as much time as possible before stage 21.
Egan Bernal has animated the Vuelta in the final week with numerous attacks, notably with 60km remaining on stage 17. The Colombian sits fifth in the standings, almost five minutes behind Roglič. The win looks out of reach, but you can never write Egan Bernal off entirely. Will the Ineos Grenadiers set up Bernal for an early assault again, perhaps on the Alto de Mougás? Adam Yates is sixth in the GC too, so Ineos boast multiple options to make a podium push.
Bahrain-Victorious's Jack Haig starts the stage fourth overall. The Australian is a fair time-trialist — he was 20th on stage one. Will he be aggressive in a bid to move onto the podium, or prefer to defend his current place, which is by far his best performance at a Grand Tour to date?
If a large breakaway moves clear early, they may have a chance at stage victory. A fierce battle for the KOM jersey is likely, with Michael Storer, Romain Bardet and the aforementioned Roglič in contention.
Michael Storer, Jay Vine, Juan Pedro López, Geoffrey Bouchard and Clément Champoussin are some of the riders to look out for from the breakaway.
Egan Bernal is our pick to win stage 20 of La Vuelta a España. No rider has animated the recent mountain stages like Bernal. The Colombian is not afraid of launching a long-range attack, which may be his only chance of achieving a podium in the general classification.
Cover image: Tim de Waele/Getty Images