If Jonathan Vaughters pens a quick letter to Javier Guillen, it doesn't fall on deaf ears and La Vuelta is called off on the race's second rest day, then at least we would have had a fitting de facto final weekend.

Sure, we wouldn't get Tuesday's individual time trial with its uphill finish on the Mirador de Ezaro, or the penultimate stage showdown on the Alto de la Covatilla. But given what's in store in this Contador-themed double-header, I'd venture that the man in red on Sunday evening will still be on the race summit a week later in Madrid.

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So, what's on the menu? Certainly no tapas.

First up is Saturday's outrageous Stage 11 which, with over 5,000m of climbing, is by far the most brutal day this Vuelta. After three first-category climbs of increasing height and barbarity, the 170km stage concludes besides the beautiful lakes of Someido after the Alto de la Farrapona. It's not the hardest of climbs, but what comes before will make it feel like purgatory.


It was here, after a final five kilometres consistently above 10 per cent, where Contador all but sewed up his 2014 Vuelta triumph, pulling clear of Chris Froome in Stage 16 to move over one and a half minutes clear of the Sky rider and Alejandro Valverde on GC.

While Contador has long since retired, both Froome and the Spanish veteran Valverde are in this 75th edition of La Vuelta – but both are a long way short of the kind of form that will see them in the mix on the Farrapona. More likely, both riders will be burned matches by the time their respective teammates Carapaz and Enric Mas light things up – no doubt in response to a move being made by that man Roglic. If he hasn't imploded by then, that is.

Back in the race lead after his problems last weekend, Roglic has had a superb week in northern Spain – picking up two stage wins and moving back onto the race summit. The Slovenian is riding like the kind of man who will go on to win a second successive Vuelta – or the kind of man who's getting as much out of this race while he can.

It's that hard to tell. Roglic has been peaking for as long as any of us can remember – a slight blip on the final climb of the Tour (where he conceded the yellow jersey to compatriot Tadej Pogacar) and another in the Worlds (where he finished sixth) the only occurrences of any display of mortality.

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Most riders would have packed up after losing the Tour, but Roglic not only bounced back to win a monument at Liege-Bastogne-Liege, he's now setting the agenda in the Vuelta – whether in yellow, green, red or, as has been occasionally the case, all three (plus a bit of blue, white and black for good measure).

But that's where the doubts creep in. As superb as Roglic has been, does outsprinting your rival for 10 bonus seconds on the eve of the race's hardest weekend suggest an era of indomitability or, rather, betray an air of resignation as to the depths you may plummet on these dual summit showdowns. If you expect the worst, then why not at least go out with a bang?

We'll know in good time. If not on Saturday, then on Sunday. Stage 12 is perhaps where the real damage will be done: a short but cruel 109.4km stage which sees the race return to the jewel in the Asturian crown. It was here, on the almost comedic gradients of the Alto de l'Angliru, where Contador delivered his final farewell – taking the last win of his illustrious career on his last competitive day of racing.


It's now over three years since Contador last fired his trademark finger-pistol over the line after he held off Froome and Wout Poels to win on the Angliru to elicit a collective roar of applause (and relief) all over Spain. A lot has happened since Contador signed off in style: Froome, whose victory in that 2017 Vuelta was the second part of his Grand Tour grand slam, has since become a mere footnote, while Poels (a two-time runner-up on the Angliru) now rides at a different team. A whole new generation, meanwhile, has stepped up and taken on the mantle.

Perhaps the best thing about this Contador Weekend is that the one stage is incomplete without the other: we may not see the full extent of the damage inflicted by the ride to Lagos de Someido until we see how the protagonists' legs respond in the shorter second part on Sunday, complete with its maximum gradient of 23.5 per cent.

Can Roglic keep on cashing cheques that his body can't find the funds for and will Carapaz's own Tour fatigue filter through? As was the case with the Giro, we may see some riders placed further back who rise up the standings. This could be a chance for the likes of Dan Martin, Hugh Carthy, Esteban Chaves and even Wout Poels to lay down a marker and capitalise on any slip up from the two stand-out riders of this race.

And then there's the Movistar trident. Valverde, Mas and Marc Soler are all within four minutes of the top; how the Spanish team attacks this weekend dedicated to their old friend (and mentor) Alberto may dictate the kind of race we see in the final week.

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