Vuelta a Espana heads back to the mountains at La Pandera

The Vuelta a España heads back to the hills with a vengeance on Saturday as the race tackles the second of its three summit finishes in Andalusia, Spain’s most southerly region.

While Wednesday’s ascent to Calar Alto was extremely tough because of its altitude, the sheer amount of vertical metres of climbing and the atrocious weather conditions, the ascent itself is not so difficult, as Igor Anton, who won there in 2006, told Cyclingnews. But La Pandera, the first of the 2017 Vuelta’s four summit finishes to be rated Hors Categorie – together with Sierra Nevada (stage 15), Los Machuchos (stage 17) and, of course, the Angliru (stage 20) – is another story altogether.

Rearing up to 1,872 metres above sea level, the road on the 12-kilometre La Pandera climb is – barring the start – relentlessly narrow, steep, badly surfaced in places and with very few false flats.

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Although the climb technically starts on the ‘A’ road that precedes la Pandera, the ‘real’ ascent begins after a couple of kilometres when the race swings right off the main A road and onto the steeply rising narrow track through the olive groves that proliferate in the region, nine kilometres from the summit.

Positioning will be crucial, as 1988 Tour de France winner Pedro Delgado observed in his special previews for Spanish television TVE, Pericopuertos. “You have to be well placed right from the foot of the climb even if the bunch is lined out by this point. Very near the bottom, after a couple of kilometres, it immediately gets tough, with a ramp of 15 percent,” Delgado said, adding of the moment the road swings hard right onto the steeper segment: “This is where the fiesta will start. Slam it in the small ring and get ready to die.”

After seven kilometres of constantly varying gradients between three percent (not many of these) and a maximum of 13 percent (four kilometres from the top) on a narrow road going up through a rocky, empty mountain landscape, there is a brief respite very close to the top as the road swoops down. Then the final kick up at eight percent takes the race to the summit of the climb. “It’s more likely that we’ll see an attack by one of the top GC contenders today than in Sierra Nevada on Sunday,” Delgado concludes.

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