Viva la Vuelta! 21 stages covering 3336.1 km are on the plan for 2021. And unlike last year, the race will be held in the end-of-summer heat once again.
Let’s get down to the nitty-gritty. We have eight flat stages, four hilly stages and seven mountain stages. Throw in two individual time trials and two rest days, and there you have the 2021 Vuelta. As an added bonus, the race kind of skips around Spain, with a number of long transfers.
A bit more detail. The individual time trials (for a total of 40.9 km) bookmark the race as the first and last stages. Both might generously be called rolling, but “mostly flat” is really more appropriate. We have six mountaintop finishes, with the first one coming as early as stage 3.
Our personal and up-close look at these wonders:
STAGE ONE: Burgos-Burgos, 7.1 km, ITT
An individual time trial will kick things off this year. A quick dash through Burgos, starting and ending at the cathedral. And they even managed to find a little climb to build into the course, so that the KOM jersey can be awarded immediately!
STAGE TWO: Caleruega. VIII Centenario de Santo Domingo de Guzmán – Burgos. Gamonal, 166.7 km
And we already have a winner for the longest stage name town start! The sprinters will get their first chance today. It is not pancake flat, but there are some rather insignificant looking bumps along the way. And the day’s intermediate sprint comes only 16 km or so before the finish.
STAGE THREE: Santo Domingo de Silos – Espinosa de los Monters. Picón Blanco, 202.8 km
Enough of that easy stuff, let’s climb! It’s an interesting stage, with a small climb early on, and a lot of bumps before flattening out. Then BOOM! How about the race’s first mountaintop finish, after a roughly 7 km climb with gradients up to 17%? That will certainly get this race rocking ‘n’ rolling!
STAGE FOUR: El Burgo de Osma – Molina de Aragón, 163.9 km
Enough climbing, let’s go flat again. No, not the tires, please, just the roads. Ok, so it is more lightly-rolling than absolutely flat, but don’t be so picky. We’re going to predict a breakaway group vs. a bunch sprint finish.
STAGE FIVE: Tarancón – Albacete, 184.4 km
Two flat stages in a row, and yes, this one really is pretty flat. But wait! Much of the stage is across open areas and that means wind! Echelons! The peloton being blown into many little groups! Let’s just hope that our sprint team is in the first group.
STAGE SIX: Requena – Aldo de la Montaña de Culleray, 158. km
That ominous word “montaña” does indeed give you a clue about the finish in this stage. Ok, it’s only 1.5km and a cat. 3 climb, but still counts as a mountain stage. The course is rather odd, actually. Most of the first 74 km are downhill, followed by pancake flat until that climb comes with 1.5 km to go.
STAGE SEVEN: Gandia – Balcón de Alicante, 152 km
To make up for yesterday’s rather minimal mountain, today we have six climbs, starting with and then ending atop a cat. 1 climb. If we look closely, we can see a handful of flat kilometers, but other than that it is up and down, up and down.
STAGE EIGHT: Santa Pola – La Manga del Mar Menor, 173.7 km
Another sprint day, making it four in the first week. Once again, though, wind is possible, and there are a few bumps along the way. The sprinters will be happy to have some flat roads again, but how will those legs be after all that climbing yesterday?
STAGE NINE: Puerto Lumbreras – Auto de Velefique, 188 km.
What better way to end up the first week than with a rather nasty mountain stage? Nearly 4500 meters of climbing, and with three of the four climbs coming in the second half of the stage. Not enough for you? Then let’s finish atop an HC climb of 6.4 km and an average gradient of 13.2%. Do we know how to have fun, or what?
And a well-deserved one after all that sprinting and climbing! One short day to chill, rest the legs a bit, perhaps think about something else, drink some coffee, and brace for the upcoming racing.
STAGE TEN: Roquetas de Mar – Rincón de la Victoria, 190.3 km
It’s hilly today. That means, almost as flat as possible until the last 30 km, where there is a nearly 11 km long climb at 4.9% up a cat. 2 climb. And then all the way down to the finish line. An interesting concept, we guess.
STAGE ELEVEN: Antequera – Valdepeñas de Jaén, 133.6 km
And it’s hilly again! There is no flat in sight on this short stage. Instead, there is “leg-breaking terrain” with the possibility of high heat. And just before the finish we have the cat. 2 Puerto de Locubin – longish, but with an acceptable gradient. Sounds nice, doesn’t it? But shall we mention that after descending, there is a short ascent to the finish line, with gradients up to 20%. Now doesn’t that just sound like a good time?
STAGE TWELVE: Jaén – Cordoba, 175 km
“Hilly” is the key word this week. Today’s offering is, we would say, roughly 70 km rolling, followed by 40 km flat, and then two climbs (cat. 3 and cat. 2) with a flat 10 km run-in to the finish line. And for some reason the race website anticipates a bunch sprint here.
STAGE THIRTEEN: Belmez – Villanueva de la Serena, 203.7 km
No doubt the sprinters will be happy to return to a flat stage today. No doubt they will not really be thrilled at the prospects of over 200 km and extreme heat, but hey, you can’t have everything, right?
STAGE FOURTEEN: Don Benito – Pico Villuercas, 165.7
Time to get down to business! The opener is lumpy, up until the cat. 3 Puerto Berzocana. No descent but directly up the cat. 1 Alto Collado de Ballesteros – only 2.8 km, but on a narrow concrete track with an average gradient of 15%. That’s not enough, is it? Down we go, make a lap of a circuit course, then back up that climb – but this time we go 14.5 km up to finish line at Pico Villuercas. Let’s just hope the riders aren’t as confused as we are.
STAGE FIFTEEN: Navalmoral de la Mata – El Barraco, 197.5 km
What better way to end the second week than with another difficult mountain stage? No mountaintop finish, though. The first third of the day is easy enough, then we have, in order, climbs of cat. 1, cat. 2, cat. 1 and cat. 3. The last climb tops out only 5 km from the finish line, and with no real descent, we can expect the climbers and GC favorites to sprint it out for the win.
Time for the guys to lick their wounds and wonder if they have made a bad career choice. No, just joking! They love their job! Most of the time, anyway….
STAGE SIXTEEN: Laredo – Santa Cruz de Bezana, 180 km
A flat stage, and one for the sprinters. In fact, the last flat stage for the sprinters! There is a cat. 3 climb a bit more than halfway through. Sure, there will be a break group – and we’re going to predict a large group today – but the sprinters’ teams are going to be damned sure they don’t miss out on their final chance.
STAGE SEVENTEEN: Unquera – Lagos de Covadonga, 185.8 km
Back to climbing again. Today we have four climbs popping up at regular intervals: cat. 3, cat. 1, cat. 1 and HC. In fact, the cat. 1 is actually the same climb twice. If once is good, then twice is better, right? It is the Collada Lomena, 7.6 km long with an average gradient of 9.3% and up to 14%. To top it off, the final climb is 12.6 km with gradients up to 16%. We are all looking forward to this, right? Right?
STAGE EIGHTEEN: Salas – Altu d’El Gamoniteiru, 162.6 km
You thought that was fun yesterday? Just wait! Today we have four climbs again, but “with an elevation gain rarely seen before in La Vuelta.” Three tough climbs along the way, ending up with 14.6 km long climb with an average gradient of 9.8%, but with sections of 14% or more. Those legs are really going to be put to a test today!
STAGE NINETEEN: Tapia – Monforte de Lemos, 191.2 km
What a relief, it is only “hilly” today! Three ranked climbs (cat. 3 and two cat. 2s) in the first third, then nothing but ups and downs. Gonna be hard on those already-tired legs. It looks like a pretty obvious one for a break group to get away and stay away.
STAGE TWENTY: Sanxenxo – Mos. Castro de Herville, 202.2 km
The race website says this one will be “very entertaining for the spectators,” which also means the riders aren’t going to like it. The five ranked climbs (cats. 3, 2, 1, 2, 2) come in the second half. A “mini-Classic”, a “mini Liège-Bastogne-Liège”, it will indeed be fun to watch.
STAGE 21: Padrón – Santiago de Compostela, 33.8 km ITT
No ceremonial procession into Madrid this year, but an actual racing stage! Will the race actually be decided on the last day? Probably not, but we can dream, right? But as always, we consider every rider who makes it to the finish line today to be a winner.
Text: Susan Westemeyer
— Sjors Beukeboom to israelcyclingacademy.com