The high mountains appear in the Vuelta. We’ve had several exciting climbs and summit finishes so far but things step up a level with the finish in Andorra today although the final climb is not the biggest in the Pyrenees.
The Route: a ride across the region of Catalonia, the race heads north towards the Pyrenees. The start town is Lleida, home to the Volta a Lleida, the amateur version of the Tour of Catalonia. Note how the route goes up and up before any climb is reached, reaching over 1,000m above altitude. This saps the strength and riders who don’t eat and drink properly will pay later. The first climb is the Alto de la Comella, just 3.8km long at 5.2%.
The Finish: the Collada de la Gallina climb is 7.2km at 8%, enough to make this a tough climb but it’s hardly the most severe climb in the Pyrenees around Androrra. That said, most of the roads around here are big wide highways to ferry tourists with ease but today’s climb is enough to give travellers motion sickness, it is not narrow but it maxes at 15% and has sections at 11%. It makes for an irregular ascension with 17 hairpin bends in the final 4km and it is uphill all the way to the line.
The Scenario: it’s hard to see anything else than a fast pace to Andorra that gobbles up any early breakaway and then the big guns coming out on the final climb. We should see Rodriguez, Contador, Froome and Valverde once again detaching themselves from the rest but perhaps with an interloper capable of coping with the steep and irregular climb. The climb should suit Rodriguez and he’ll want the time bonus as well as the stage win. He’s also been training in the area prior to the race and should know the roads well.
Weather: despite the race going to the mountains conditions remain hot and sunny with temperatures of 31ºC and only a light tailwind.
TV: as usual 4.00pm to 6.00pm Euro time with the action coming in the final hour.
Local rider: red jersey rider Joaquim “Purito” Rodriguez is not from Andorra but he is Catalan, the region of Spain that also covers Andorra. But he is known to train in the mountains here for weeks at a time and can count on big support from locals along the way. Plus the race arrives in his home city of Barcelona tomorrow.
Andorra? It’s a micro-state in the mountains, a principality in the Pyrenees. An independent nation, it thrives on tourism and the lack of a sales tax, meaning visitors come from cities like Toulouse and Barcelona for skiing, biking and hiking and return with shopping goods from cigarettes to designer clothing.