Stage 9: Torrevieja/Cumbre del Sol. Benitatxell, 168.3 km
The Vuelta forgets how to categorise climbs.
This stage starts only 20 metres above sea level, and stays flat until well after the 100 kilometre mark, when there seems to be two long laps of a circuit, going most of the way up what looks like the other side of the finishing climb, before a downhill run, a bump and the finishing climb.The intermediate sprint comes close to the finish, so it's possible the more sprintingly inclined of the GC riders could look to take a few seconds from their time.
This is a steep climb, with an average gradient of ten per cent, but a category one? Really, Vuelta organisers? Stage 7's finishing climb was a proper category one, but this is no more than a category two. I'm not a usually a fan of ASO's way of doing the categorisation, but this would never be more than a cat 2, maybe even cat. 3.
This jersey can definitely change hands here. Esteban Chaves has a tenuous grasp on it as it is, and while neither Tom Dumoulin nor Nicolas Roche are likely to challenge on such steep gradients, Alejandro Valverde is, and Chaves' lead of 50 seconds is not big enough to withstand a Valverde win if he has a bad day. However, is a bad day really likely? Every time the road has risen, Chaves has risen to the occasion, looking untroubled on the first mountain finish on Friday, and winning on the finishing hills of stage 2 and 6. He should keep the jersey, but behind him the GC should change, Dumoulin maybe falling back behind Roche or Valverde.
Thanks to Sagan's close encounter with a motorcycle, Chaves still holds this jersey. A Valverde win nets it for the Murcian.
Chaves placing well on this climb, or Aru winning would take the jersey from current leader Omar Fraile.
Chaves looks even more like keeping it.
On current form, Esteban Chaves is the top pick, simply. On every single climb, he has looked at ease, winning on the short climbs, and sprinting ahead on steep gradients. The final climb is short and has steep gradients, so this is an ideal stage for this Vuelta's Chaves.
Can he repeat? There's no reason to think not, he looked sprightly on stage 7's long climb and stage 8's short one, but he is the boring pick.
Fabio Aru is another man with a good chance. He looked the strongest on stage 7, based on him being the only man to attack at the end of the stage, taking seven seconds. He's got a good punch, and is alright at short climbs.
Nicolas Roche is not the best at steep gradients, so his best chance of a stage win is if he were to attack when the gradients ease off for a while after about a kilometre. He rode well on stages 2 and 4, and may possibly be the leader of Sky.
Alejandro Valverde and Joaquím Rodríguez are close to a podium stop, and Valverde winning could propel him into second or third.