The infamous Lagos de Covadonga is one of the most frequented finish locations at La Vuelta a España. The climb has appeared at the race 21 times after it was introduced in 1983. Marino Lejarreta was the winner that year, and since, the likes of Laurent Jalabert, Nairo Quintana and Thibaut Pinot have won atop the mountain.
This year, the stage could be pivotal in deciding the eventual winner of the red jersey. Four categorised ascents add up to almost 4,500 metres of climbing over 186km.
Stage 17 profile
The first categorised climb of the stage is the third category Alto de Cabrales, which begins 32km in. If the breakaway hasn’t formed, the ascent, which averages 4.7% over 5.3km, will help the climbers escape.
The riders then head to Collada Llomena, which will be ascended twice. Ten KOM points are handed to the first rider to the summit on both occasions. Current KOM jersey holder Romain Bardet will surely be up the road searching for points, particularly if rivals Damiano Caruso and Rafał Majka are also present in the breakaway.
Collada Llomena profile
La Vuelta has never visited the Collada Llomena before, but its 7.6km long and averages an eye-watering 9.3%. The climb is irregular, with the most difficult sections taking place halfway up. Here, the mountain averages 11.3% over 2km. There will be 56.2km remaining in the stage at the top of the second ascent, but don’t rule out any early moves from GC players, particularly if they have a satellite rider waiting up the road. One ascent of Collada Llomena could put even the best climbers into difficulty. Two ascents could cause carnage.
After the descent, the peloton will head to Cangas de Onís, which they passed on the approach to Collada Llomena. An intermediate sprint waits at kilometre 164. Then, the riders turn to the especial category Lagos de Covadonga.
Lagos de Covadonga profile
Although the Covadonga averages 6.9% over 12.5km, there are multiple plateau and downhill sections, which heavily reduces the average gradient.
When Thibaut Pinot won on the Covadonga in 2018, the first 20 riders rolled across the line five minutes apart. We can expect a similar degree of devastation this year.
Adam Yates (Image credit: Tim de Waele/Getty Images)
A general lack of GC action on stages 14 and 15 means the final week could be doubly explosive. Opportunities for the climbers are becoming sparse, so they'll be a multitude of riders who start with attacking intent.
Although Primož Roglič enters the stage third overall, he can expect to overhaul Odd Christian Eiking and Guillaume Martin in the time trial alone. The steep gradients thrown up by the Covadonga suit Roglič's skills — he’s one of the best on steep, medium-length mountains. With the help of Sepp Kuss and Steven Kruijswijk, Roglič may look to assert his dominance on the race, and perhaps gain the red jersey.
If Movistar are to win the red jersey, they must be astute and aggressive in the remaining mountain stages. Although Enric Mas and Miguel Ángel López have performed admirably so far, they still trail Roglič. Crucially, neither are close to Roglič's level on the time trial bike. With 34km of time trialling to come on stage 21, Mas and López need to enter that stage with a substantial buffer to Roglič if they are to hold off the Olympic TT champion. Movistar must test Roglič on Lagos de Covadonga.
To this point, the Ineos Grenadiers have been on the periphery of the battle for red. Both Egan Bernal and Adam Yates are within three minutes of Roglič, sitting 7th and 8th in the general classification respectively. Although the gap is substantial, the climbs thrown up here could see the tide turn swiftly. Yates gained 15 seconds after a late attack on stage 15, whereas Bernal was one of the three riders able to follow Roglič from the peloton on Pico Villuercas. Are Ineos peaking for the third week?
After Mikel Landa fell away from GC contention on the Alto de Velefique, Bahrain-Victorious have relied upon Jack Haig. The Australian has lived up to the billing so far, splitting the Movistar and Ineos riders in overall standings. Haig has never finished better than 19th at a Grand Tour, though his current form suggests a top five is feasible.
They’ll be a plethora of riders hoping to join the breakaway. If a large group goes clear early, the breakaway will be difficult to control, giving them a chance of winning yet another mountain stage.
Bahrain-Victorious could be one of the teams stuffing as many riders into the break as possible. The aforementioned Landa may try his luck, whilst Damiano Caruso will be chasing KOM points. Mark Padun, Wout Poels and Gino Mäder may also join the group of escapees, though Mäder is less than seven minutes down in the GC, so some teams may not be satisfied with his presence up the road.
Although Romain Bardet crashed out of the GC battle in the first week, Team DSM have enjoyed a successful Vuelta a España. Bardet added a stage win on Pico Villuercas to Michael Storer’s stage double. Both Bardet and Storer could join the breakaway again, where Bardet will be seeking KOM points and Storer’s sole focus would be stage victory. Team DSM have a deep mountain team, proven when Chris Hamilton finished third on stage 15. There are few guarantees in cycling, but seeing Team DSM in the breakaway at this edition of the Vuelta España comes close.
Other riders with a good chance from the breakaway include Rafał Majka, Geoffrey Bouchard, Carlos Verona, Juan Pedro López, Jay Vine and Pavel Sivakov.
Cover image: Tim de Waele/Getty Images