Everything you need to know about the Vuelta a Espa�a

Words by David Hicks

on 21/08/2018 14:18:13

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This week sees the start of the final grand tour of the year on road cycling's pro calendar - the Vuelta a Espa�a. Covering 3,272 kilometres of racing with 8 summit finishes over the course of three weeks, the Vuelta may be the less popular cousin of the Tour de France, but what it lacks in prestige compared to the Tour it more than makes up for in exciting racing.

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The Basics

The Vuelta a Espa�a, or Tour of Spain, is the youngest of cycling's three Grand Tours with the first edition held in 1935, inspired by the success of the Giro d'Italia and Tour de France. Besides some interruptions during the Spanish Civil War and World War II, the Vuelta has been held annually with 2019 marking the 74th edition of the race. Prior to 1995 the Vuelta occupied an earlier slot in the calendar, while modern editions of the race take place towards the end of the season in August and September, bringing a different dynamic to the race with riders eager to redeem themselves at the end of a difficult season or a disappointing Tour de France campaign, or looking for a final tune up before the World Championships.

While the route changes each year, the format of the Vuelta can be relatively regular from year to year - at least two time-trials, a trip to the Pyrenees, and a ceremonial finish in the Spanish capital Madrid. Just like its French and Italian cousins, the Vuelta is contested over 21 stages, with 2 rest days, and a number of classification jerseys up for grabs.

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Dates: 24th August to 15th September 2018

Location: Salinas de Torrevieja to Madrid

Distance covered: 3272.2km

Stages: 21, including two time-trials and eight summit finishes

Longest stage: Stage 17, covering 219.6km from Arabda de Duero to Guadalajara

Shortest stage: Stage 1, a flat 13.4km individual time trial from Salinas de Torrevieja

Last year's winner: Simon Yates, Mitchelton-Scott

The classifications

As with each of the Grand Tours, there are a number of jerseys up for grabs for the best performing rider over the three weeks:

  • General Classification: The Tour has the Maillot Jaune, the Giro has the Maglia Rosa, and La Vuelta has the La Rojo - although the colour has changed a few times during the race's history. The leader of the tour with the lowest collective finishing time for each stage will don red each day.
  • Points Classification: The green jersey signifies the leader of the points competition, with riders accruing points for their final position on each stage as well as at intermediate sprints. Much like the Tour's equivalent jersey, the points competition is weighted towards flat stages to find the race's best sprinter.
  • Mountain Classification: The King of the Mountains competition aims to find the best climber in the race by awarding points for the top riders across each categorised climb and summit finish. The rider with the most points gets to wear a polka dot jersey with blue spots on a white background.
  • Combined Classification: A departure from the other two Grand Tours, the Vuelta also rewards consistency across all terrain with the white combination jersey awarded the rider with the best total results in the general, points and mountain classifications.

Beyond the jerseys, there's also competitions for best team, most combative rider and best young rider.

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The Route

La Vuelta is often the most mountainous of all three grand tours, with outrageously steep climbs and completely new mountain top finishes a frequent fixture of the Spanish race. This year's edition sees three hilly and one mountainous stage within the first week, with tough climbs being a staple of the race.

The race kicks off this year with a short team time trial to determine who will be the first to wear the red jersey, with stage two being a dynamic 199.6km race with tricky climbs such as the Alto de Puig Lloren�a, a climb that has previous featured twice as a summit finish with an average gradient of 9.5%. The opening stages are likely to not be hugely telling, although stage 5 will see the race's first summit finish - a challenging 11.1km finale up to Pico del Buitre, averaging 7.8% but steepening towards the finish. To round off the week, stage 7 sees an epic climb on the grades of the Alto Mas de la Costa. Short and sharp, the climb runs for only 4.1km but within that hits a quad-splitting peak of 22.5%, which should make for an exciting finale.

From here stage 10 marks the individual time trial, a 36.2km sprint held in Pau, France. Aside from an initial climb the route stays flat, with two intermediate times being given at 11.9km and 24km. Favourite to win here is Primoz Roglic after a strong performance at the Giro d'Italia, although others such as Thomas De Gendt are in form to deny him the win. Stage 13 is the next notable stage and is sure to give riders grief. Six climbs preceed �rampas inhumanas�, a legendarily tough ascent towards a summit finish on Los Machucos. Stage 14 Is likely to end in an exciting sprint finish, with a flat finish after a long 3.5% ascent.

Stage 16 covers 144km over three mountains, ending on a long steady climb - definitely a stage that favours the groups climbers. From here stage 18 features four strong climbs before a short, shallow climb to the finish, with stages 19 & 21 favouring the sprinters en route to the final destination of Vuelta a Espa�a, Madrid.

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The Riders

This years Vuelta is shaping up to be an interesting one, with some big names missing from the line-up. The Vuelta consists of 22 teams, each with 8 riders much like the Tour and Giro. This year sees title holder Simon Yates (Mitchelton-Scott) not competing, as well as 2017 winner Chris Froome (Team Ineos) not competing due to recovering from injuries sustained in a training crash earlier this year.

So, who do you look out for? The top pick for many this year is Slovenian national Primo� Rogli? (Jumbo-Visma), who has shown great form through this year so far and is looking to turn on the heat for this 74th edition after being taken out of contention in the Giro d'Italia due to a crash. Teammate Steven Kruijswijk (Jumbo-Visma) will be supporting Rogli? but has to potential to take the win if plans go awry, coming off the back of a recent 3rd place finish at the Tour de France. Esteban Chaves (Mitchelton-Scott) will be coming in fresh off two months of training and has potential for some stage wins after a consistent season, could the old Chaves be making a return? Movistar have two hopefuls in the form of Richard Carapaz (Movistar) and Nairo Quintana (Movistar), bringing with them a strong team to this years Vuelta.

Britains best shot? James Knox (Deceuninck-Quick Step) is returning from injury in what is only his second World Tour season. Could this be where he clenches his first Grand Tour stage win? Tao Geoghegan Hart (Team Ineos) finished second overall to teammate Pavel Sivakov , and will no doubt be looking to put in a strong finish.

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Grand Tour ready bikes

The world's best road riders will have a fleet of bikes to choose from as they toe the start line in Malaga, including a number of new bikes released earlier this year. We've picked some of our favourite bikes with Grand Tour pedigree, but real world prices.

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