If fans out there are looking for just one stage to watch in next year’s Vuelta a España, the race’s short but devastatingly difficult trek through Andorra at the end of the first week could well be the one that appeals the most.
Starting in Andorra la Vella, the Pyrenean principality’s capital, stage 9 of the 2019 Vuelta on Sunday September 1 ends after just 96 kilometres of relentless climbing on the Cortals d’Encamp, the first category ascent used for the first time by the Vuelta as a finish back in 2015.
The stage 15 finish on the Encamp was won by Mikel Landa in a solo move, at the end of a stage with 6,000 metres of vertical climbing and described by some, including Movistar team manager Eusebio Unzue, as the toughest Grand Tour stage ever. And four years on the 2019 stage, whilst not quite so hard, still features five categorised climbs; two second category, two first category and one – the Col de la Gallina – a Hors Categorie.
“Andorra is so tough it will almost inevitably be one of the crucial stages for deciding the overall standings,” Vuelta race route designer and former Tour podium finisher Fernando Escartin commented to Cyclingnews.
“The route is kind of similar to the final stage of the Vuelta in 2018 in Andorra, and also similar to the Vuelta 2015, but this time we start by going up the Coll d’Ordino in the opposite direction to 2018. Then we take on the hardest part of the Coll de la Gallina,” – the final ascent of the 2018 Vuelta.
Following yet another long descent, the Vuelta peloton then face the hardest combination of climbs of the entire day. Two second category ascents, the Cornella and Engolasters, are quickly followed by the Cortals d’Encamp. And with so little distance between the three cols and a chunk of four kilometres of off-road racing on gravel tracks between the Engolasters and the Cortals d’Encamp, as Escartin points out, this final trio of ascents will feel more like a single 22-kilometre climb.
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