Stage 11: Andorra la Vella - Cortals d'Encamp
This one's definitely the Queen Stage...
This stage is full on from kilometre zero. It starts at the foot of the Collada de Beixalis, only the fifth of the climbs in difficulty, yet rising to 1790 metres. After the descent there is very little respite before the Coll d'Ordino, before a long descent to the Coll de la Rabassa. The Rabassa is the hardest climb of the day, apart from the fourth climb, and the first Especial category climb of the Vuelta - the Collada de la Gallina. The climb already has a reputation in the Vuelta, last time they rode up it, 14 people abandoned in the snow, in early September. While the weather won't be like that this time, there is a chance of thunderstorms. After the largest climb of the day, there's a rise, a cat. 2 climb - and a ludicrous intermediate sprint - before the final 8 kilometre steep rise. The stage contains over 5500 vertical metres.
More teeth than a comb.
The final climb is irregular, with steep sections, and a flat section at the end.
People like Pedro Delgado have said that this may be the hardest ever stage, despite its modest length. Half the riders have called it epic, and Dan Martin suggests it's harder than the profile suggests.
All sorts of things could happen. Will Dumoulin lose the jersey? Probably. But I'd have said that he would fall out of contention on most of the stages already gone by if you'd asked me before the Vuelta, so what do I know? Dumoulin's going beyond what he's ever done before, but even still, six big mountains might be a step too far for him, there hasn't been anything like this stage so far in this Vuelta. Who'll inherit the jersey? Joaquím Rodríguez and Fabio Aru are the best placed.
Assuming as I do that Valverde will beat Chaves on this stage, I think he'll make up the one point deficit to go into the green jersey.
It looks like Fraile's tenure in the polka-dot jersey is over. He's just not strong enough a climber to take the points where he needs them. Good effort though.
Dumoulin leads, but isn't safe.
My personal favourite for this stage is Joaquím Rodríguez. He lives around the roads where the stage will be contested, and has not lost significant time on any stage so far. While he might have some trouble if this stage is an anarchic attack fest, if a decent sized group appears together on the final climb, he looks good to win it.
Chris Froome was strong on the hardest climb so far, but did get dropped on stage 7. He's been erratic so far, but if he's waxing instead of waning on the mountains of stage 11, he's likely to make some time up. However, even on the stage that he did do well on, he was dropped in the initial attacks, so perhaps some dedicated riding from a strong team could put him out of the picture.
Fabio Aru looks the best of the other GC contenders. He attacked on stage 7 and did well on stage 9. He could get another GT podium.
Alejandro Valverde and Nairo Quintana came to the Vuelta looking to win, but they both looked distinctly below par in the first week, despite Valverde's win on an uphill sprint. They both struggled on stage 9.
Finally, can we count out Tom Dumoulin? He climbed brilliantly at the start of the race, and came back from the brink of defeat to win on stage 9.