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Vuelta a Espana 2021 – Stage 17 LIVE: Primoz Roglic eyes red as Egan Bernal plots Lagos de Covadonga Mission Improbable

Vuelta a Espana 2021 - Stage 17 LIVE: Primoz Roglic eyes red as Egan Bernal plots Lagos de Covadonga Mission Improbable

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LA VUELTA Men | Stage 17

11:45-18:20

182km: Demare on the move

Well, he can’t win a sprint for toffee so why not try to get in the break on the hardest mountain stage of the Vuelta so far? You have to salute Arnaud Demare’s spunk here – or is this the last throes of a fading Frenchman before he throws in the towel? Let’s see. For now, Demare goes clear with a Groupama-FDJ teammate and four other riders – including Angel Madrazo of Burgos-BH, Cesare Benedetti (Bora-Hansgrohe) and Mauri Vansevenant (Deceuninck-QuickStep).

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186km to go: Stage 17 is under way

On a slight bend on a sweeping downhill the riders pass under the kilometre zero banner and this decisive stage in the Asturias mountains has started – and it does so in cagey fashion with no riders keen to show their cards too early and the peloton riding along in one mass. That is until Israel Start-Up Nation, BikeExchange, Qhubeka-NextHash and Burgos-BH decide to push on…

Riders readying in the neutral zone…

The remaining 158 riders are rolling through the neutral zone ahead of today’s official start. It’s a cloudy and overcast day in Asturias with potential rain and thunderstorms looming. A reminder that we have Odd Christian Eiking in red, Egan Bernal in white, Romain Bardet in polka dots and Fabio Jakobsen in green ahead of today’s 186km test, which includes four categorised climb and the 22nd finish at Lagos de Covadonga in Vuelta history – not bad considering the first visit wasn’t until 1983.

Cruelly, quite a lot of this 5km neutral zone takes place as the riders go uphill – adding to the 4,400+ metres of altitude gain on the menu.

What’s on the menu?

As subdued as the race may have been thus far, Wednesday’s seventeenth stage should shake things up and breathe life back into the 76th edition of La Vuelta. Norway’s Odd Christian Eiking performed admirably in the Montes de Toledo last weekend and his Intermarche-Wanty-Gobert team defended the maillot rojo with pride – just as they did earlier in the race for Rein Taaramae, the previous rider to depose Primoz Roglic of the red jersey.

But on the first of two stages in the breathtakingly beautiful Asturias mountains, there will be nowhere to hide – especially if the weather forecast of heavy rain and thunderstorms proves correct.

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Interestingly, the damage on Wednesday may be done before the final climb up to the eerie Covadonga lakes, with the riders taking on two loops and an unprecedented double ascent of La Collada Llomena, a climb being used for the first time in Vuelta history. Almost 8km long and with an average gradient of 9.3% peaking at 14%, it’s a Cat.1 test sandwiched by a Cat.3 leg-stretcher and the 22nd ascent of the summit finish at Lagos de Covadonga.

When introduced in 1983, Lagos de Covadonga was touted as Spain’s answer to Alpe d’Huez and quickly became an iconic climb in the Vuelta. With its two lakes beneath the summit and stunning views over the Picos de Europa range, it was a climb of unspoilt natural beauty which boasted a stinging double-digit ramp, La Huesera, seven kilometres from the summit.

Several ledges and the downhill segment towards the lakes ahead of the final rise conspire to give the 12.5km climb a misleading average gradient of 6.9%. But it’s far tougher than that damning statistic suggests, with the Huesera ramp hitting a gnarly 16%.

Read Felix Lowe’s full preview of two ominous days in the mountains here

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