The Tip-Top Etapas From This Year’s Vuelta

If you’re looking for chaos, you’ve come to the right place. The Vuelta a Espana is the little brother of the three grand tours, but consistently produces some of the year’s most exciting racing. That’s thanks to the organisers throwing out the general format of a grand tour and packing the race with summit finishes, while the contenders all play their part by turning up in varying form.


This year’s race looks as exciting as ever, with a tough route that’s been backloaded with difficult days, and most of the big hitters planning on riding the race. We’ll be back with a preview of contenders once the full list is out (Porte, Nibali, Quintana, Pinot, Y1 and Y2, and others are all expected to race), but until then, here are some quick previews of the key stages.


Stage 4

The first uphill finish of the race comes on Stage 2, but at barely 3% for 5km, that shouldn’t shake things up too much. The first GC battle should come on Stage 4, with a finish in Sierra de la Alfaguara, right in the South of Spain. Earlier in the stage, the peloton will crest the 18 kilomtere long Carretera de la Cabra, and the finishing climb is also long; 12.4 kilometres at 5.4%, the steepest ramps of 11% come midway up the climb. A gentle introduction to climbing then.

Photo: Twila Federica Muzzi

Photo: Twila Federica Muzzi


Stage 13

Stage 13’s finish in La Camperona kicks off the hellish back half of this year’s Vuelta – while the opening days featured casual 12% gradients, the fun starts here folks. The Category 3 Alto de la Madera comes early in the stage, and the Categeory 1 Puerto de Tarna comes midway through, but those are just an entrée.


The final climb averages 6.5% for its 8.8km, but that number’s misleading with the climb jumping up in several steps. After an opening 4km of 3%, the riders hit 200m walls of 25% and 20% with false flat in between, before then averaging 16% for the final 2.4km. It’s a brutal climb, and indicative of many of the climbs in the final week and a half – brutally steep, irregular, exposed, climbs that will break several riders.


Stage 15

The Lagos de Covadonga is one of the more iconic Vuelta finishes and will host its 21st stage finish in this year’s race. The opening 165km are rolling and tough, with two ascents of the Mirador del Fito, which averages 9.3% for 4.4km. The Lagos de Covadonga is another irregular climb; it averages 10% for the opening 6km, before then going up in steep sections in the final 6km, with gradients up to 20%.


Stage 16

The opening day of the race is an 8km Individual Time Trial, but the more crucial day against the clock comes on Stage 16. A 32km route on flat roads, it’s one for TT specialists and there’s going to be some big time gaps.


 Stage 17

Into the Basque Country for Stage 17, and the riders will take on a rolling route that finishes with the Balcon de Bizkaia. 6 Categorised climbs in total, the final climb is the only Category 1 climb. It’s 7.1km long, but averages 9.1%, including a final 4km that averages 14% with sections at 34%. Another hellish day, it will suit the flyweight climbers.


Photo: Twila Federica Muzzi

Photo: Twila Federica Muzzi

Stage 20

The final mountain stanza of this year’s Vuelta could well be the toughest. It’s certainly the shortest at only 106km, but the organisers have slipped a casual 4000m of climbing in there. Racing through the Pyrenees, the peloton will crest six categorized climbs on the Queen Stage, including three Category 1 climbs and an Outside Category climb.


The peloton first climbs the Coll de la Cornella (4.7km at 6.8%), and then taking in a figure of eight loop, where they’ll crest the Category 1 Coll de Beixalis twice (10km at 6.5% with a section at 14%), and also the Category 1 Coll de Ordino, which is a more steady climb (11.2km at 6.5%). They’ll then go back up the other side of the Coll de la Cornella before the final climb of the race, the Coll de la Gallina. Busy.


The Gallina is rated as the hardest climb of the race by the organisers, and even though it’s “only” 7.7km at 7.8%, its probably going to feel like it after such a long three weeks and such a long stage. The steepest gradients come near the top around the several hairpins the final few kilometers.


Another thing to watch – the Vuelta generally avoids the Pyranees in September because it’s about the coldest place in the world. This one will be an epic without weather getting involved, but there’s a fair chance it will anyway.

Alex Clements