The last 21-day Tour of the 2021 cycling season, the Vuelta a Espana, has abandoned its traditional Madrid finale in favor of a decisive individual time-trial. Here are the key stages along the mountainous route:
Stage 1: Around Burgos 4.4 miles
Olympic time-trial champion Primoz Roglic will wear his gold armband for the first time, maybe even ride a golden bike, as is his right as winner of the individual effort at Tokyo. Given his physical superiority and likelihood of a massive performance form the Vuelta champion here, coupled with the 100-degree-F heat, anyone wishing to rival him might do better keeping their powder dry here.
Stage 5: Tarancon to Albacete 114.5 miles
Not only do two of the so-called flat stages end with short-sharp climbs, this run was chosen for the narrow roads in the closing stages which are often subject to winds across flat planes, making the likelihood of breaks in the pack called echelons, a good possibility. So a balance between wanting to stay at the front in case their is a break, or whether to avoid that in case there is a pile up on narrow roads, will set the tone.
Stage 9: Puerto Lumbreras to Alto de Velefique 116.8 miles
A very tough pure mountain stage with 4,500m climbing and paced just before the first rest day will surely suit Egan Bernal’s abilities. The second climb with a slight gradient of 6.4 percent for 8 miles may well do a great deal of damage with all the action set in the second half of the stage, that will set the tone or the second week.
Stage 14: Don Benito to Pico Villuercas 103 miles
The first climb is on a concrete road, and it may only be 2 miles long but is at a whopping 15 percent gradient. The second one is a long slow affair to a summit finish and is being seen as where the Vuelta, if not won, might be lost.
Stage 17: Salas to Alto de Gamoniteiro 99 miles
A new challenging mountain stage none of the riders will be familiar with and which they must negotiate not once but twice. A similar experiment on the Tour de France this year produced an impressive finale on Mont Ventoux. The final ascent of la Collada Lomena is 5 miles at 14 percent slope so will suit only the strongest of the remaining hopefuls.
Stage 21: Padron to Santiago de Compostela 21 miles
Late and long individual time-trials in both the Giro d’Italia and the Tour de France have provided tense finales recently with Tadej Pogacar producing a Tour de France upset in 2020 and Tao Geoghegan Hart assuring a nervy Giro d’Italia win the same year. This long and rolling run will figure high on any strategy from pre-race favorites Primoz Roglic and Egan Bernal.
RBA/AFP Photos: Bettini