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Vuelta a España Preview: Stages 19-21
By Locutus
Date: 9/4/2002
Vuelta a España Preview: Stages 19-21

Stage 19 has a few categorized climbs, but does not end in an uphill finish. The 177.8 km course from Bejar to Avila begins with the climb of the Cat 3 Alto de la Hoya before heading into some hilly terrain. This should prompt an early breakaway of opportunists eager for a stage win. The major difficulty of the day comes at 98 km, where the riders must ascend the 16.7 km climb of the Cat 1 Puerto de Serranillos. The climb shouldn't cause any major attacks from the GC leaders as its steepest point in only 8% and it crests 63.1 km from the finish line. The final climb of the day is the Cat 2 Puerto de Navalmoral, which crests at 22.8 km from the finish. The long descent towards the finish could provide another launch-pad for Giro champion Paolo Savoldelli (Index-Alexia). With the climb so near the finish, the stage should go to a man in a breakaway; if Savoldelli isn't heavily marked on this stage, look for him to take the stage honors ahead of a series of chasers.

Stage 20 should see another long breakaway on the 141.2 km between Avila and Warner Brothers Park. The riders face the Cat 3 Alto de la Paramera right out of the gates, and this should serve as a launch pad for a pack of opportunists who are well down on the GC. The Alto de la Paramera crests at 15 km, and then is followed by a long descent heading into the climb of the Cat 3 Alto Navas del Rey at 66 km. The remaining 75.2 km is pretty much flat as a table-top; as this is the last chance for the sprinters to have any glory, their teams should come to the front and haul back the breakaways. But with this many miles in the legs, anything can happen. Meanwhile, the GC men will just be looking to stay upright and out of trouble heading into the final individual time trial.

Stage 21 is the final showdown. Last year, Angel Casero jumped over Oscar Sevilla in the final time trial to take the overall victory. The course this year covers rolling terrain over 41.2 km. The stage starts in Warner Brothers Park (will a giant, plushy Daffy Duck or Bugs Bunny be launching the riders down the start ramp?) and ends in Santiago Bernabéu Stadium in Madrid. The finish should provide a startling spectacle, as the booming sound of a stadium filled with fans will greet each of the riders as they roll in for a finishing lap. If the winner is Spanish, the noise will likely be deafening.

The top five from last year's final time trial were as follows: Santiago Botero (Kelme) @ 45' 33", Levi Leipheimer (US Postal) @ 14", David Millar (Cofidis) @ 37", Angel Casero (Festina) @ 45", Klaus Möller (Milaneza) @ 56". This year Botero and Möller are legitimate podium contenders, and David Millar is talking about a top ten finish. Casero (Team Coast) will likely have some time to make up after the Angliru, and climbers like Simoni, Sevilla, and Heras will be out of their element on such a course. While the mountains will likely cause some big time gaps, this final time trial should still be full of implications for the final podium. It should provide a spectacular conclusion to what will be the most exciting Grand Tour of the year.

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