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Vuelta Stage 20: Where Dreams Will Soar, and Crash

Jose Jordan, AFP

Stage 20: Benidorm — Alto de Aitana, 193.2km

What's It About?

Settling all family business. Barzini, Philip Tataglia, Moe Green, Stracci, Cuneo. It's time to see who is the real Capo di tutti capi.

ChrisF's Dirt and Rock Pairings

Where we never take things for granite. And time for the big finish.

After 19 stages through the Iberian Peninsula, with a brief incursion in the French Pyrenees, we now know that, had Africa and Europe not drawn closer 20 million years ago, the Vuelta a España would not have mountain passes – no climbs and no descents. The mountains of Alicante, besides providing a great finale for the Vuelta, are also a reminder that the Mediterranean was once wider, that Africa and Europe were further apart and that the planet is constantly changing.

The mountains of Alicante also formed when the Iberian Peninsula was compressed between the two large continents. Throughout the stage we go up and down mountain passes surrounded by important mountains. For example, Ponoig Mountain, in Polop de la Marina (1181 metres) is a rough and rocky mountain range, with extremely steep slopes, covered by screes and impressive rocks and walls.

Africa and Europe, closer together. Apart from awesome topography, this phenomenon also brought us the Punic Wars!

About 3 kilometres southeast of the route, between Benimassot and Balones, is the impressive setting "Les Agulles dels Frares" or "Friars' Needles". It is a spectacular karst landscape formed by large limestone pinnacles or hillocks, standing almost 50 metres tall. These were formed by the dissolution of limestone rocks and are similar to the well-known stone cities, among them Torcal de Antequera (Malaga), los Mallos de Riglos (Huesca) or the pinnacles of the Montserrat Mountain Range (Barcelona).

Throughout the topography of these mountains, one could never finish finding unique spots. It would be an impossible list to create and, what follows, is only a sample to encourage the curious:

●  North of Benimarful, near the Beniarres Dam, is the Gaianesse Lagoon, that is not strictly a lagoon, or a coastal saltwater lagoon, but is in fact a fresh water lagoon. It is originally an endorheic lagoon, the last of the 2016 Vuelta. As in other similar lagoons, it was drained in order to grow crops and to fight malaria, but in 2004 the drainage system collapsed and the water reappeared.

●  The mountain ranges house a multitude of paleontological deposits. La Querola is just one example near the route; it features an enormous variety of fossils from 120 million years ago: Phylloxeras, Crioceras, Holcostephanus, Acanthodiscus, Lissoceras, Neocomites, Hoplites, Belemnites, Duvalia, etc.

●  There are thousands of precipices, such as the one at El Molinar whose edges still have traces of the numerous water mills that were once there. Currently, there is only one restored water mill.

●  There are spectacular chasms. Culminating the Aitana Mountain Range, the Avencs (chasms in Valencian) de Partagat are a unique group of fractures that have split the terrain giving way to immense limestone blocks that slowly slide down the mountainside, in the direction of the locality of Benimantell. The dimensions are spectacular; the cracks that separate the rock blocks are over 100 metres long, with a depth of over 20 metres.

In other words, there's a rock for every occasion.

Course Features

La Carta:

Vuelta st 20 map

El Profilio:

Vuelta st 20 profile

Could be intriguing, but in all likelihood it will come down to that final ascent to Alto de Aitana. It's not nearly the scariest one in the Vuelta, but it's long enough and gets a touch harder as it goes on, giving the hopefuls some hope.

Alto de Aitana

Whom Does it Favor

Hm, for the stage I might just go ahead and say Chris Froome. We shall see what he has left in the tank, but the lower gradients here mean that he can set his fast tempo, spin his legs like the flutterings of a hummingbird, and enjoy a nice hard attack all the way to the line. That said, it's a long day in the saddle, and Movistar will almost certainly be the strongest team, so their ability to control the tempo and hammer the field (assuming Quintana feels up to it) will likely limit the damage that Froome or anyone else could hope to inflict on the final climb.

Pick to Win

Well I guess I just said it already. But while Froome may take the stage, Quintana will have no trouble keeping him in sight to seal the overall victory.