This Saturday the 67th edition of the Vuelta a Espana will begin. The last of the Grand Tours for 2012, we’re not sure what we’re going to do without them here at PBK. This year there will be twenty-one stages covering 3,300km throughout Spain, in what can only be described as a climbers race. To us it just looks pretty brutal. So without further ado, let’s take a look at the race!
The southern Spain tourist board seem to have annoyed the Vuelta organisers as this year’s race goes as far south as Marid where the final stage finishes. Unlike this year’s other Grand Tour routes, the Vuelta organisers aren’t scared of pushing the riders too hard and have embraced the mountains full heartedly. Altogether there will be13 mountain stages with 6 summit finishes. With only 2 sprint finishes during this year’s Vuelta this is not a race for the sprinters.
So let’s have a look at each stage individually.
Stage 1 Pamplona
The 2012 Vuelta will begin in Pamplona with a team time trial. The 16.5km course will kick off the Spanish Grand Tour along the streets of Pamplona. During July these streets play host to the running of the bulls during the San Fermin festival. Thankful all the bulls are long gone but there may be a few bull in a china shop performances during this TT as the riders power around the narrow streets of the historic city.
Stage 2 Pamplona to Viana
The peloton then heads to Viana which sees the riders cross 181km of relatively flat Spanish country side. Riders will briefly enter the Rioja province but there won’t be any time to enjoy the local wine as the peloton sets up for a sprint finish on the streets of Viana. La Chapela, a 3rd category climb, will be the biggest challenge of the 100km from the finish.
Stage 3 Faustino V to Eibar
Slightly different to the other Grand Tours we’ve witnessed this year, the Vuelta heads to the hills early on as the peloton embark on their first mountain stage of the race. Despite the route only being 155 kilometres long, it promises to be an intense stage that will allow the stronger riders to stamp their authority on the Vuelta early on.
Stage 4 Barakaldo to Estación de Valdezcaray
The 4th stage of the Vuelta will unfold during the 160kms between Barakaldo and Valdezcaray. Some spectacular scenery will be contrasted by some tough riding as the riders head towards the Rioja region. A mountain top finish at the top of Valdezcaray will allow the GC contenders to create some time between themselves and their nearest competitors.
Stage 5 Logrono to Logrono
Stage 5 sees the riders ride a circuit which starts and finishes in the city of Logrono which sits on the banks of the Ebro River. The course is around 40km long with the riders passing through Logrono three times. This is a stage for the sprinters although only for those that can handle a few lumps along the way. The main GC contenders may well save themselves for tomorrow’s more challenging Jaca stage. The last time the Vuelta passed through Logrono two years ago Oscar Freire was victorious.
Stage 6 Tarazona to Jaca
A little taste of things to come as the riders hit the Pyrenees for the first time on the 2012 Vuelta. This stage is pretty simple until the latter part of the stages when the gradient gets steeper. The final sections of climbing will suit the puncheurs and the more powerful riders in the peloton. A late break could provide a win for a sole rider.
Stage 7 Huesca to Alcañiz
This should be a stage for the sprinters with the finish taking place on a race track which usually hosts Moto GP races. However, wind speed and direction could play a major part in deciding the outcome of this race as some may try to take advantage of tired legs and make a break for it. If the peloton gets split some sprinters may lose out on a stage win before the peloton hits the mountains tomorrow.
Stage 8 Lleida to Andorra
Expect some steep, tricky descents that will test even the most fearless of riders. A summit finishes promises to play havoc with tired legs which have been turning for just over a week. A real opportunity for the GC contenders to gain some time as the last 4km averages around 9% giving a real opportunity for the mountain goats in the peloton to ride away and take the victory.
Stage 9 Andorra to Barcelona
This stage is prime target for a breakaway for those not in GC contention as the peloton takes part in the second longest stage of the 2012 Veulta. It’s been over a decade since we’ve seen the Vuelta come to Barcelona, since then Spain’s second city has appeared in the Tour de France in 2009. A gradual drop from Andorra to the city of Barcelona promises some fast descents, if the teams with sprinters get themselves organised we may see a sprint finish.
Stage 10 Ponteareas to Sanxenxo
After their first rest day the peloton embark on another day in the saddle. Although this stage is fairly flat the biggest climb of the day comes within the first 30km as the riders hit the 3rd category climb of Alto de San Cosme. On paper this is the Vuelta’s ‘easiest’ stage with the route following the outline of the coast very closely. Although a sprint finish is predicted, narrow roads may have a say in this, favouring a breakaway which the peloton may struggle to catch.
Stage 11 Cambados to Pontevedra (ITT)
Stage 11 sees the riders compete in the only individual time trial of the 2012 Veulta. A flat start on wide open roads will leave the riders exposed if the wind picks up, eventually the route turns into a 3rd category climb over Alto Monte Castrove. A big descent on the other side will test all aspects of the riders technical time trialling abilities.
Stage 12 Vilagarcía de Arousa – Mirador de Ézaro
A fairly straight forward stage until the final few kms where the gradient rises to 13.5% giving the riders a real test before the finish line. Specialists of short sharp climbs will be looking to take advantage of this stage.
Stage 13 Santiago de Compostela to Ferrol
A fairly lumpy section at the start of the stage shouldn’t trouble the riders too much as the peloton looks to head towards a sprint finish in Ferrol. A selection of small hills towards the end of the stage could shuffle things up, with teams possibly struggling to control the peloton to set up their sprinters.
Stage 14 Palas de Rei to Puerto de Ancares
A tough stage with 5 mountains to conquer during the day with a mountain top finish to top it all off. This will be a very important stage for those who are in GC contention. With a series of short sharp climbs throughout the day a small breakaway group of small riders could make a real impact on this stage.
Stage 15 La Robla to Lagos de Covadonga
It may not be as tough as the Angliru or several of the other epic ascents that the Vuelta organisers have located recently but Lagos de Covadonga is arguably the race’s classic climb. Appearing for the 18th time on the route, it has regularly provided the launchpad for a move towards overall victory. A very important stage for the GC contenders.
Stage 16 Gijón to Valgrande-Pajares
Three 1st category climbs will test the peloton today which promises to be one of the most exciting stages of this year’s Vuelta. A 22% final rise will sap even the strongest legs as on the riders compete for the mountain top finish.
Stage 17 Santander to Fuente Dé
The riders should be refreshed after a their second rest day, and they’ll certainly need it with some fairly serious climbing to be done today with a summit finish at the end. This stage has the making of a breakaway group victory with 3 big climbs in the second half of the stage.
Stage 18 Aguilar de Campoo to Valladolid
A flat stage will be gladly welcomed by the riders after several tough days in the mountains. A fairly straight forward stage in terms of race tactics it will be the teams who managed to negotiate their speed men over the mountains successfully who will be looking to take the stage victory. The wind may have a small part to play but no upsets are expected. Expect a fast day of riding with an even faster finish.
Stage 19 Peñafiel to La Lastrilla
This looks like one of the final stages that a breakaway groups could make a real impact on a stage. The sprint teams will want to keep things together to hopefully get an extra team run through in before the big finale in Madrid.
Stage 20 La Faisanera to Bola del Mundo
Stage 20, the penultimate stage of this year’s Vuelta and the deciding competitive day of riding. There’s plenty of climbing along the way but it all looks small compared to the finish on the Bola del Mundo which rises to 2,247m and finishes on a rough road with sections over 20% near the top. This stage will crown the 2012 Vuelta winner.
Stage 21 Cercedilla to Madrid
Much like the final stage of the Tour de France there will be a festive atmosphere for much of the day until the real racing takes place as they hit the circuit in Madrid as the teams compete to set up their riders for the final sprint finish of the 2012 Vuelta.
So there you have our guide to the route. Check out our Vuelta one’s to watch blog which looks at the main contenders for this year’s Spanish Grand Tour. Are there any particular stages that you’re looking forward to? How do you think the Vuelta compares to the other Grand Tours. As usual let us know in the comments section below.