For stage 7, La Vuelta a España heads to the mountains. The stage features six categorised ascents, including a summit finish on Balcón de Alicante, which makes its debut at the Vuelta. With over 3,700 metres of climbing and hardly a flat road in sight, the GC riders must bring their A-game.
Primož Roglič begins in the red jersey after finishing just behind stage 6 winner Magnus Cort on the Alto de la Montaña de Cullera.
The final ascent will be raced without fans on the roadside, the Vuelta announced, due to dryness in the area causing an increased risk of fire.
Stage 7 profile
The first category Puerto la Llacuna begins just 6km in. The first section of the ascent touches 10%, but the gradients ease in the second half of the climb. With 10 mountain points available at the summit, those vying for the KOM jersey should be offensive on this climb and throughout the entire stage, with more points available later.
Puerto la Llacuna profile (9.4km @ 6.2%)
If it hasn't already, the definitive breakaway will form in the next phase of the race. There will be a mammoth fight to join the group, and if a sizeable group of escapees go clear, they will have their eyes set on stage victory.
The third category Puerto de Benilloba is next. It isn’t the most difficult challenge of the stage, averaging 3.5% over 3km. It is quickly followed by the more testing Puerto de Tudons, which averages 5.2% over 7.4km. The crest of the climb touches just over 1,000 metres altitude — the highest point of the stage. The high-altitude specialists won’t have any advantage today.
A long descent sends the riders to Relleu, where intermediate sprint points are handed out. The climbing begins again straightaway with the Puerto El Collao. The climb averages 4.6% over 9.5km, but features much steeper pitches well over 10%. With two clear steps where the road eases and even goes downhill briefly, the climb is more troublesome than the average gradient may suggest.
The riders then travel to Puerto de Tibi. The third category climb offers bonus seconds over the top, so if the breakaway is caught and a GC contender is feeling strong, they may make the bold decision to attack here. At its summit, just 13.7km remain – the 5km are downhill and carry the riders to the foot of the final climb.
Balcón de Alicante profile
Although it's making its first appearance at the race, the Balcón de Alicante is a typical Vuelta ascent — it’s irregular with some uber steep gradients. The climb averages 6.2% over 8.4km, but the first 4km are easier. After a downhill section 2km in and a brief plateau at the 3.8km mark, the road shoots uphill and doesn’t ease until the final few hundred metres. Some sections in this phase of the climb reach silly gradients — 18% and the like. These percentages give the strongest GC riders the platform to put major time into their rivals.
Giulio Ciccone (Cover image: Stuart Franklin/Getty Images)
Stage 7 could head in a variety of directions. If one or more teams take the stage by the scruff of the neck early on, we could witness an incredibly destructive day in the general classification. However, with a sting in the tail to conclude the stage, many may choose to be more cautious.
Either way, Primož Roglič starts as one of the main contenders. The two-time defending champion is one of the best on steep gradients, so the parcours won’t distress him. He has been bulletproof in the early stages of La Vuelta, but this is his biggest challenge yet. After Sepp Kuss and Steven Kruijswijk faded on Picón Blanco, Jumbo-Visma must rally solely around Roglič.
Out of all the teams present, Bahrain-Victorious may be the best equipped to attack stage 7 — team leader Mikel Landa is assisted by Gino Mäder, Mark Padun, Jack Haig, Wout Poels and Giro d’Italia runner-up Damiano Caruso. The plethora of climbs throughout the stage could mean that aggression pays off, and the second-tier riders will be given more leeway. Mäder and Padun both finished well on Picón Blanco, only leaking minor GC time — perhaps Bahrain will send them up the road early.
Alternatively, they could rally around Mikel Landa, though the Spaniard hinted that he felt nervous before the first mountaintop finish just a few days ago. Bahrain’s tactical decisions will have a hefty impact on the way the stage plays out.
Adam Yates lost time behind a crash on stage 2, costing him 31 vital seconds. Six of Yates’ career victories have taken place on Spanish soil, though he’s never won at a Grand Tour. The characteristics of the concluding Balcón de Alicante give Yates a good chance of changing that record. The Ineos Grenadiers also possess Egan Bernal and Richard Carapaz, and after Carapaz leaked time on Picón Blanco, Bernal appears to be their other leading option.
Movistar were one of the few teams to leave Picón Blanco unscathed. Had they realised their strength earlier, they may have been able to take more time than the three seconds Enric Mas stole in the final few hundred metres. Alejandro Valverde, Miguel Ángel López and the aforementioned Mas start among the favourites here.
The other GC riders to watch throughout the day are Giulio Ciccone, Alex Vlasov and Fabio Aru, who was only seven seconds behind the favourites on Picón Blanco.
The breakaway could be very difficult for a single team to control, particularly if multiple strong climbers join the group. Should the likes of Juan Pedro López, Mauri Vansevenant, Rémy Rochas, Geoffrey Bouchard, Jay Vine or Michael Storer join the breakaway, they’d have a shot at stage honours.
After asserting his dominance on stage 6 to claim the red jersey, Primož Roglič is the man to beat. However, we think that a breakaway could survive until the finish, and we are backing Team DSM's Michael Storer. Romain Bardet is now out of GC contention, which allows Storer the freedom to attack.
Cover image: Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images