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Vuelta a Espana

Vuelta a España stage 15 preview: Sierra Nevada brings high-altitude centerpiece to race for red

GC pack will look to exploit any weakness in Remco Evenepoel on relentless 2,500m summit finish of stage 15.

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There’s no cooling down for the Vuelta a España peloton this weekend.

After a day of mayhem in the mountains Saturday, GC contenders and breakaway climbers will be keeping dinner-plate cassettes and skinny climbing wheels installed for the “queen stage” of the race Sunday.

Stage 15 to Hoya de la Mora takes red jersey Remco Evenepoel (QuickStep- Alpha Vinyl) deep into the lofty peaks of the Spanish Sierra Nevada on the second day of the Vuelta’s big weekend of climbing.

Evenepoel lost time on La Pandera on Saturday to set the hype off the charts for Sunday’s high mountain summit finish.

Jumbo-Visma, Movistar and Ineos Grenadiers will be looking to widen any chinks in Evenepoel’s armor after the Belgian bent but didn’t break Saturday.

“I’m still 1:49 ahead in GC, so nothing to really panic about,” Evenepoel said after stage 14.

“I’ll try to recover as much as possible and survive tomorrow. I have some sore muscles [after the crash on stage 12] but it should be gone by tomorrow or after the rest day … I hope this was my bad day for these three weeks.”

Also read: Roglič opens chink in Evenepoel armor on stage 14

Evenepoel will be straight onto the massage table before piling down the rice at the dinner table as he resets for a severe test for stage 15 on Sunday.

“It’s a pure mountain stage, over 4,000 meters of slopes in total. The stage will take off from the Province of Jaén, where the heat will, undoubtedly, play an important role,” Vuelta route director Fernando Escartín said.

“The second half is very tough, with climbs up the Alto del Purche and the Hoya de la Mora – a long, demanding mountain pass that was a La Vuelta 17 highlight.”

Sierra Nevada brings 19km and thin air to the battle-weary bunch

Expect more fireworks Sunday after the explosive final of stage 14 on Saturday.

The climb to Sierra Nevada dominates the parcours of stage 15 but the entire route is loaded with difficulty.

A rolling midsection to the 152km stage makes way for the 9km, 7.6 percent Alto del Purche in a climb that will sap the legs for the looming summit finish.

Dominant breakaway climbers like Richard Carapaz (Ineos-Grenadiers) and Jay Vine (Alpecin-Deceuninck) will want to punch into a decisive attack in the hunt for a third stage victory and stay clear of GC fireworks behind.

“Tomorrow is a stage that I know very well,” stage 14 winner Carapaz said. “I have been living nearby for many years, so I know the territory and we will try it, why not?”

No matter what happens on the Purche, the Alto Hoya de la Mora will decide the day Sunday, whether victory comes from the classification pack or a wiley escape move.

 

Long and leg sapping: The climb to Sierra Nevada.

An average grade nudging on eight percent across 19 kilometers of relentlessly upward-pointing tarmac makes the Sierra Nevadan summit the centerpiece of the Vuelta’s cruel collection of climbs as well as the high-point of the race.

Classification leaders Evenepoel, Primož Roglič (Jumbo-Visma) and Enric Mas (Movistar) will pedal 500 meters higher than the 2,000-meter benchmark that brings thin air and wobbly legs during a rare diesel climb in a Vuelta stacked with steep zingers.

South American altitude natives like Carapaz and Miguel Ángel López (Astana-Qasaqstan) will see some advantage in those crucial final high-altitude kilometers.

European racers should all be on a similar level now that time spent on lofty mountaintops in the Canary Islands, French and Italian Alps and Spanish Sierra are a central focus of grand tour preparations.

And for all but the strongest of climbers?

The Vuelta’s domestiques, sprinters and rouleurs will be clinging on tight and thinking of the rest day Monday.