Nairo Quintana (Movistar) was poised to win the Vuelta a España after holding off Chris Froome (Sky) in the final mountain stage won by Pierre Latour (ag2r-La Mondiale). The Briton attacked repeatedly in the finale of the last climb to the Alto de Aitana but he could never drop the red jersey, who, barring a crash, will win his second Grand Tour after the 2014 Giro d'Italia on Sunday. Esteban Chaves jumped away from the favourites' group in the penultimate climb to leapfrog Alberto Contador...
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Nairo Quintana (Movistar) en la 20a etapa de la Vuelta a España 2016 © Graham Watson
Up and down between Baetic mountains
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.
The rising of all mountain ranges occurs when rocks fracture and bend. Throughout the Vuelta we have seen several examples of folds and in this second last stage there are some notables ones, such as the fold at Penyal Roig, in Parcent. It is a fold in massive limestone dating back 60-30 million years (Cretaceous and Palaeogene Periods).
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.
Chasms. Vertical karst cavities, in front of karst galleries that have preferably a horizontal development.
Scree or rock talus deposits. Rock deposits on mountainsides, normally at the foot of almost vertical rocks. The majority form when water penetrates the tiny fissures and breaks the rocks when it freezes.
Jersey wearers after the stage 21
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