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Vuelta a Espana

Vuelta a España stage 12 preview: Small gains to be made in the GC on Peñas Blancas summit finish

Peñas Blancas could be another opportunity for the breakaway but there are some gains to be made by the GC riders, too.

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As the Vuelta a España passes through the halfway point, the mountain days come thick and fast for the peloton.

Thursday’s stage 12 from Salobreña to Peñas Blancas. Estepona will see the riders take on the fourth summit finish of the race so far.

It is a day that should see the breakaway given an opportunity to take home another stage win with the GC riders fighting it out for time gains behind, but it depends on how the day is raced. Outside the clear-cut sprint days, it has been hard to predict how the stages will pan out.

The first category climb of Peñas Blancas is the only classified ascent on 192.7km stage with just one uncategorized rise around 80k from the finish disrupting the flat run to the foot of the ascent.

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Big gaps between the GC riders are unlikely to happen but it is still a chance for the overall contenders to take some chunks out of each other. With some large deficits already forming, particularly after the time trial Tuesday, some riders will need all the opportunities that they can get and everyone will need to be wary.

Setting off from Salobreña, the route travels down the coast and navigates its way around Malaga before reaching Estepona where the course turns inland for the summit finish. As ever with a coastal route, wind could play a factor, but no particularly strong gusts are predicted so the peloton should be safe from that at least.

The Peñas Blancas climb is one of the longest that the riders have faced so far at 19 kilometers. It averages 6.7 percent across the whole distance, but it features some steeper ramps as it hits gradients up to 15 percent at times.

The most challenging sections come in the opening third of the climb and it starts off with an almost 10 percent gradient. It hits 15 percent before the road dips down into a short descent with nearly four kilometers ridden.

There are three more double-digit ramps to come, two in the opening half of the ascent and another just over a kilometer from the finish. Despite this, the gradient is quite steady throughout. It flattens out right before the line, and those with a good sprint could make up a few more seconds.

Small margins to be had

Leopold Konig won on the climb in 2013
Leopold Konig won on the climb in 2013 (Photo: Tim de Waele/Corbis via Getty Images)

Peñas Blancas has been used in the Vuelta a España once before back in 2013 when it featured as the summit finish for stage 8. There are few riders in this year’s Vuelta that were racing on that day, including Thibaut Pinot (Groupama-FDJ) — who finished fourth on the stage — Alejandro Valverde (Movistar), Rigoberto Uran (EF Education-EasyPost), Domenico Pozzovivo (Intermarché-WantyGobert), David de la Cruz and Vincenzo Nibali (Astana-Qazaqstan), and Mikel Landa (Bahrain-Victorious) to name a few.

On that day, Leopold König attacked out of the group of favorites to claim the win, while Nicolas Roche also darted clear to take the overall race lead. Nibali had gone into the day with the red jersey on his back, but he slipped to fourth overall by the finish line.

Despite the shakeups in the overall classification, the gaps were not huge at the top with less than a minute separating the top 28 riders. It’s unlikely that we’ll see another big Remco Evenepoel (Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl) demolition as we did in the opening week.

With some very big mountain days to come, Evenepoel would do well to consolidate his advantage and save himself for what is to come, but it remains to be seen if he’ll take the quieter day or look to eke out some more seconds in the GC battle. Despite his dominance of the race so far, his team has suffered some key blows with Pieter Serry abandoning ahead of stage 9 after catching COVID-19 and Julian Alaphilippe crashing out on stage 11.

The Belgian already goes into stage 12 with a sizeable margin in the red jersey with a gap of 2:41 over Primož Roglič (Jumbo-Visma) in second place. Meanwhile, Enric Mas (Movistar) — who has been one of the few riders capable of sticking with Evenepoel so far — sits in third at 3:03 after losing a chunk of time in the time trial.

Of course, it’s not just about the fight for the red jersey and there are some close battles further down the standings. With COVID-19 getting its claws into the GC contest following the departure of Simon Yates and Pavel Sivakov, who both tested positive for the virus Wednesday, everything hangs in the balance.