Interrupted only by the Guerra Civil Española (Spanish Civil War) and World War Two, the Vuelta a España has been a mainstay of world cycling since 1935. From Andalusia to Galicia, and from La Rioja to the mountains of Valdelinares, the Vuelta a España is a tour that shows us the heart of a beautiful and diverse country, filled with history and intrigue.
Now that the 2014 Vuelta is well under way, and the peloton have taken to the montañas, it’s a great time to reflect on the history of the Spanish tour, the great cities, towns and scenery involved and the tales of cycling glory and misfortune experienced through the years.
The race format
As in the Tour de France, the Vuelta a España is a three week intense bike race across mountains, rolling flats and narrow town roads. Taking place all across Spain, the Vuelta a España crosses through the entire country, putting riders through grit and grimace for consecutive race days until they are rewarded a short rest every so often.
Eye candy – where to look out for
Spain is often misunderstood as a country with a few beaches, a party city (Barcelona) and a capital (Madrid), but if you sit down to watch the Vuelta this year, you’ll realise it’s much more than that. Here are just a few of the Vuelta a España’s hidden gems featured in this year’s race:
Real Monasterio de Santa María de Veruela – or ‘Veruela Abbey’
Situated in northern Spain, Veruela Abbey is a 12th Century monastery and church, complete with awe-inspiring gardens and grounds. Maintained since it’s construction in 1146, Veruela Abbey and it’s grounds has passed through many different hands and empires in the last millennia.
This year, the cyclists passed through the abbey as they started the individual time trial stage, which German Tony Martin won.
It’s the perfect late-summer stroll, and even though the Vuelta has passed, you can still drop by.
Santander – Not just for surfing.
The only city on the northern coast of Spain that faces south, Santander is perhaps what we typically think of as ‘Spain’. With it’s beautiful beaches, lush green grassland and rocky coastlines, it was a perfect match for the start of stage 14, where Canadian rider, Ryder Hesjedal (pun intended), rode (there’s another) a kilometre shy of 200 through the mountain stage to victory.
A Coruña – a flat, Atlantic stage and a beautiful north-western city.
Situated in the municipality of Galicia, A Coruña is a vibrant, coastal city with plenty to offer besides La Vuelta (I know right, life outside of cycling, really, it exists?) In A Coruña you can find scenes like the courtyard below, as well as culture, Roman architecture and a stunning harbour, you really could stop off here for a couple of days while you watch stage 17 finish on the 10th September.
Santiago de Compostela – a suitable ending
This year the Vuelta ends in spectacular fashion at Santiago de Compostela in Galicia in north western Spain. The city of Santiago, or Saint James, is full of Holy historical sights, after all, it was built on a old Roman cemetery. After an eternity of history’s invasions and empires, Santiago de Compostela finally found itself as a Christian pilgrimage site. It’s holy heritage is a perfect ending to a great tour and a testament to a country with a rich history of power, turmoil and change.
For now however, let’s welcome in the final stages of La Vuelta and celebrate the sport of cycling in Spain!