The 2018 Vuelta a Espana packs in the climbs, with nine summit finishes in all including some ascents set to be traversed by the Vuelta peloton for the first time.
As well as some new climbs to enjoy, a classic returns in the shape of the Lagos de Covadonga too – the picturesque but brutal ascent rated the second toughest in the race’s history after only the Angliru.
And while the Angliru, on which Chris Froome all-but-sealed his red jersey win last season, doesn't return for this year's Vuelta, there will be plenty of key ascents shaping the final destination of the red jersey in 2018.
Froome won't be racing, having competed in the last four consecutive Grand Tours, winning three in a row and finishing third at the Tour de France in July.
But there are still four former winners, including Nairo Quintana (Movistar) and Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain-Merida), on the start list, with a wealth of climbing talent set to take on the Spanish (and Andorran) peaks.
We’ve picked out some of the best, most brutal and most strategically important climbs of the 2018 Vuelta a Espana. Otherwise, check out our full preview of the route and contenders, along with the full TV schedule.
Sierra de la Alfaguara (Stage four)
There are three new summit finishes on the route of the 2018 Vuelta a Espana and the first to be tackled is the Sierra de la Alfaguara ascent to Alfacar.
The bare statistics tell the story – 12.4km in length with an average gradient of 5.6 per cent – the stage four route may pass through tourist favourites like Nerja but the stage is far from a stroll on the Costa del Sol.
Film fans might recognise the Alfaguara mountain range from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, and while this is not a final shot at glory on just stage four, it is a climb with potential to kill some early GC ambitions.
The steepest ramps are half-way up, to ensure plenty of thigh-numbing climbing to sort the GC contenders from the pretenders.
Alto de la Covatilla (Stage nine)
There are only two ESP-rated climbs on this year’s Vuelta a Espana route. Lagos de Covadonga is one, and the Alto de la Covatilla – which concludes stage nine – is the other.
This will be just the fourth time the climb has featured at the Vuelta, and the first since 2011 when Dan Martin won atop the ascent.
Beginning in Bejar, the climb rises for 19.9km, with an average gradient of 5.8 per cent that belies the sheer brutalness of some of the sky-pointing pitches. At its maximum, the gradient is nearer 16.5 per cent.
As well as being a sting in the tail of the final week, the Covatilla features a sharp finish of its own – a four-kilometre stretch where the gradient rarely drops below double figures and a penultimate kilometre where the average is just a fraction less than ten per cent.
Praeres de Nava (Stage 14)
Another debutant for the 2018 race, the Praeres de Nava concludes stage 15. It’s a short climb and it’s very steep – with eye-watering gradients rarely dipping below double digits.
With 160km of racing in the legs already, including four categorised climb, the final sting in the tail of the stage ramps up sharply at ten per cent for the first kilometre and then points even more skyward.
The gradient gradually increases as the climb goes on – 15, 16, 17 per cent at its steepest with 1.5km still to climb.
A small flat offers a little respite, but more double-digit ramps before a seven per cent slog to the finish means, while the climb will be new to many riders, it will not be forgotten in a hurry.
Lagos de Covadonga (Stage 15)
Quite simply, an iconic Vuelta a Espana ascent. While it does not feature until stage 15 – the concluding day of the second week – it will be a climb worth waiting for.
The 12.6km climb, which has been resurfaced since its last Vuelta a Espana appearance in 2016, averages 7.3 per cent but there are long stretches of more than double that.
Since it first appeared in 1983, the climb has been a Vuelta regular, blending brutal climbing with a beautiful backdrop and the glacial lakes of Enol and Ercina.
Nairo Quintana was victorious in 2016, on his way to the red jersey and the return to the most iconic of the Picos de Europa climbs will surely see the battle for the GC ignited this year too.
Balcon de Bizkaia (Stage 17)
No prizes for guessing, from its name, which region of Spain the third new summit finish, Balcon de Bizkaia, is situated in.
The Basque Country climb is going to be difficult not just for its stupidly steep pitches but also the condition of the road.
From Muntibar it is a 7.1km ascent with an average gradient of just over nine per cent, but there are sections towards the summit that are more concrete track than road.
It is steep, with pitches close to one-in-four in gradient, and it is narrow. The energy-sapping fight for position will be just as important as finding your climbing legs. If he were still racing, you would say this climb was tailor-made for Joaquim Rodriguez. Who will be his heir to the Spanish climbing throne?
Coll de la Rabassa (Andorra, Stage 19)
The 2018 Vuelta a Espana spends its final two mountain stages across the border in Andorra, with stage 20 packing six climbs into a 105.8km stage that promises to be an explosive conclusion to the GC battle.
It is the previous day, however, and the Coll de la Rabassa, that takes the Vuelta a peloton to higher heights, however – with the Coll de la Rabassa peaking at 2,015m up.
Queralt jqmj, via Flickr Creative Commons
The biggest challenge of the climb through Naturlandia is the length – 17.5km of ascending that is steeper at the start than the finish.
The very steepest gradient of 13.8 per cent is within the first kilometre, and it gradually flattens out a more sedate eight per cent (if an eight per cent pitch can ever be considered sedate) and then four per cent.