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23/08 - Stage 2 - Alhaurín de la Torre to Caminito del Rey - 158.7 km

In the past, the first regular road stage in a grand tour was usually a day for the sprinters to shine. This is not the case anymore, definitely not in this year’s Vuelta a España. The 158.7 km from Alhaurín de la Torre to Caminito del Rey include 2.200 meters of climbing. The climbs are not long but very frequent. The first categorized one starts after 108 km on the bike. The following 5 km towards the top of Alto de Ardales have an average gradient of 4.4 %.

The peloton enters Álora for the second time of the day with just under 20 km to go. Here, the intermediate sprint is located offering 3-2-1 bonus seconds to the first three riders. In the road book, the official start of the last climb is set to be with 4.7 km to go. However, as the riders will know from their previous lap, the road has been uphill for several kilometers already before reaching this point.

Soon after passing the 4 km-to-go-banner, the riders turn left onto a small and narrow road. After a very short descent, the road kicks up with 10 %. From here, it’s basically uphill for the remaining part of the stage with numerous parts of double-digit gradients. Especially the last kilometer is steep before it evens out towards the finishing line.

Since everybody is on the same time in the general classification, it will be very interesting to see which teams will control the inevitable early breakaway. Remember, there are 10-6-4 bonus seconds on the finishing line, so whoever wins this stage will also take the red leader’s jersey - and all the media responsibility that follows. This is a very tough edition of the Vuelta a España. Even though it would send a strong message to the other GC riders, it may not be a smart move to take the lead this early. It would not be a surprise to see the top favorites hesitate a bit, which could mean that an early attack on the final climb may make it all the way. If 20 riders reach the final climber together, it will be very difficult to beat super puncheurs like Alejandro Valverde and the Katusha duo of Joaquim ‘Purito’ Rodriguez and Dani Moreno.

After checking out the final of this stage on Saturday, Cannondale-Garmin’s Joe Dombrowski sat a new Strava KOM on the climb. The American won Tour of Utah overall earlier this month after dropping everybody uphill on the queen stage of the race. He’s clearly in excellent shape at the moment. The team also has Daniel Martin as a strong candidate for the win. It will be interesting to see how they will approach this stage.

Team Sky took it easy on the dangerous team time trial. On paper, Chris Froome is - naturally - the man for the general classification but I still think that Sergio Henao will end up as their best-placed Team Sky rider in the GC in Madrid. The Colombian climber is in great shape and he’s very good on these kind of steep finishes. If the other GC riders are too focused on Froome today, Henao may be able to pull off a big performance and solo away to win this stage - just as he did in Tour of Poland a few weeks ago.

I’ll update this preview with a couple of comments from the start of the stage on Sunday. Be sure to come back to get the latest updates. Also, for additional news and thoughts on the race, follow me on Twitter at @mrconde.

For live coverage of the stage, go to steephill.tv.

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