It’s time for La Vuelta, the final grand tour of the season. I love all things Spain, including this race. While others show you every kilometre live, the Vuelta continues to be old school, there’s really no need to show the early part of most stages. As usual, it’s the standard mix of wall finishes, and some longer mountains thrown in too. This year, it looks a little easier than previous editions, hopefully we have a big fight for the red jersey, one that goes all the way to Madrid.
The first of the proper mountain stages doesn’t come until the second weekend, with the finish on Colláu Fancuaya. The climb is 10.1km at 7.7%, and it should provide the first real test for the main GC contenders.
The next day comes the finish on Les Praeres, a climb I remember well from 2018, when Simon Yates took an excellent win. 3.7km at 13.3% is horrible for those riding, but brilliant for us watching.
The very next stage, with a rest day in between, is a crucial TT in Alicante. Almost 31km and pan flat, this will hurt most of the climbers, but it’s perfect for Roglič, Evenepoel and Almeida.
The highest finish in the race comes in Sierra Nevada. The climb might not look that hard, but the opening 4.7km averages 10.7%, the problem is the next 17km which averages 5.6%. As the climb finishes at 2430m above sea level, the mountain will be harder than the numbers suggest.
Primož Roglič – it was revealed on Monday that he’s fit to do the race, but it’s obvious he won’t be at his very best at the start of the race. Jumbo-Visma will hope that Roglič can grow into the race, they’ll be happy that the first mountain stages don’t come until the second weekend. The TT is a good one for him, he can put time into all his rivals, apart from Remco and Almeida. That battle will be decided in the mountains, and Roglič will be confident of winning his fourth consecutive red jersey. Remember, his record in Spain is incredible.
Remco Evenepoel – despite his undoubted talent, his potential is still unknown in a grand tour. Even when you think back to the Tour de Suisse, he couldn’t follow the best in the mountains, can he really beat the best in the world and win the red jersey? The good news for Remco is the presence of steep climbs, he showed in San Sebastian that this is an area where few can match him. The other good bit of news for Remco is the lack of a “proper” mountaintop finish, something around 15km at 8%, which he struggles with. If it goes according to plan, he’ll be in the lead after the TT, then we’ll see if he can hold it until Madrid.
Jai Hindley – brilliant at the Giro but winning two grand tours in the same year is very difficult, even for the very best.
Ineos – they arrive with the strongest team, but can they make it count? They have Carapaz, Sivakov, Rodríguez and Geoghegan Hart all of whom could challenge for the red jersey. Deciding on a hierarchy will be hard, especially with Carapaz leaving the team, but Ineos have an excellent record in grand tours. Personally speaking, I’d love to see Geoghegan Hart back at his best, but it’s more than likely Carapaz or Sivakov will be their best option.
Miguel Ángel López – nearly got his stage win in Burgos but made a mistake by attacking too early. This year, he’s only managed three stages in a grand tour, which is something that could be of benefit for him. While others arrive with some fatigue, López comes in fresh and raring to go. The mountain stages are good for him, there aren’t many better when the gradient goes above 10%. He’ll obviously lose time in the TT but will hope to put the Europeans to the sword in the high-altitude stage.
João Almeida – he was sitting 4th in the Giro when he had to quit, his target for the Vuelta must be the podium. Just like Remco, the route is a favourable one for him, especially the lack of a classic mountaintop finish. He’s excellent on his TT bike and seems to be getting better at dealing with the steep climbs, this is a race he should be challenging to win.
With just three flat sprints in the race, this isn’t a grand tour for the fast men. Stages 2, 3 and 21 are the big sprint days, but with so much time in between, we could see many quicks not going all the way to Madrid. The organisers have awarded 50 points to the winner of these stages and stages 13 and 16, both of which are tricky finishes.
The next category down gets 30 points for the winner, they are stages 4, 5, 11, 17 and 19. I’m not sure why stage 11 isn’t a 50 pointer, it is much easier than the others in this category. In fact, the quick men don’t stand a chance of winning any of the other stages.
Stages 6, 8, 9, 12, 14, 15, 18 and 20 get 20 points for the winner, these are the mountain stages. Finally, the ITT also gets the winner 20 points.
Fabio Jakobsen dominated this competition in 2021, he won three stages and was second in another two, but it was Roglič who won it the year before. If the pure sprint days are shared out between the fast men, the jersey will go to a GC rider. If a sprinter is going to win the jersey, he needs to win four stages, in my opinion.
I love that the Vuelta give the puncheurs a chance, this category is different compared to the other grand tours. This is the breakdown:
HC – 20, 15, 10, 6, 4 and 2.
Cat 1 – 10, 6, 4, 2 and 1.
Cat 2 – 5, 3 and 1.
Cat 3 – 3, 2 and 1.
Cat 4 – 2 and 1.
There’s just 1 HC climb, 14 cat 1s, 14 cat 2s, 11 cat 3s and just 4 cat 4s. If you are a puncheur, it’s possible to rack up a lot of points taking cat 2 and 3 climbs. The other grand tours always see the KOM jersey go to a pure climber, the Vuelta offers hope to others. It’s been a while since one of these riders took home the jersey, but when you consider Davide Villella, Omar Fraile and Simon Clarke have triumphed here, it shows you just what can be done.
The red jersey will be won by Primož Roglič.
The sprint jersey will be won by Remco Evenepoel.
The KOM jersey will be won by Jesús Herrada.