Vuelta Preview: La Vuelta España starts in Burgos this Saturday with a time trial and finishes three weeks later in Santiago de Compostela with another contrarreloj – From one Cathedral to another. Ed Hood has had a good look at the course, history and the top riders in the Spanish Grand Tour.
Who can beat Primoz Roglič?
The 2021 edition is the ‘La Vuelta de las Catedrales’. The organisers’ blurb tells us;
‘The Spanish grand tour’s 76th edition will take off in front of the Burgos Cathedral on the 14th of August and will take place entirely within Spanish territory up until the very last stage, that will conclude in the Santiago Cathedral on the 5th of September.’
PEZ knows both towns, my amigo Davie and I were strolling through Burgos one day, taking in the sights, an old guy ambled up to us; ‘you are tourists, yes?’ We confirmed his suspicions and without prompting, he was off and running; ‘This was a Fascist town you know, it still is, see those cathedral steps over there? Goering stood on those steps back in the Civil War, Burgos was the base for the Condor Legion, the Germans who fought here for Franco.’
Guernica by Picasso – Museo Reina Sofia
The old fella was quite correct; the planes which flew the infamous mission to bomb the ancient Basque capital of Guernica – a day of infamy immortalised by Picasso in his painting of that name – flew from Burgos.
Burgos Cathedral – Vuelta’20
Now that I’ve blown my invite from the Burgos Tourist Board to the Stage One time trial which constitutes the first eight kilometres [a prologue has to be less than eight kilometres] of the 3336.1 kilometres of the 2021 Vuelta, let’s go the other end of the race and Santiago de Compostela. The final – and possibly decisive 33.7 kilometres of the race – take place in that other ‘cathedral city’, Santiago de Compostela against the watch with the organisers, ‘hoping for a Pogačar 2020 Tour late drama’ – but it’s unlikely, more likely is Primoz Roglič confirming his third consecutive Vuelta win – but more of that later.
Santiago de Compostela – It was wet in 2014
My memories of beautiful Compostela are less controversial; we stayed in a lovely old pension over-looking the mossy façade of the cathedral which is the conclusion of The Camino de Santiago, known in English as the ‘Way of Saint James’, a network of pilgrims’ ways, marked by the sign of the seashell, leading to the shrine of the apostle Saint James the Great in the Galician cathedral; tradition has it that the remains of the saint are buried there. It may be a city of particular religious significance but it’s also a party town, if you make it to the final contrarreloj then be sure to try, Bar O Gato Negro which was founded in 1920, it’s in a jumping, narrow alley not far from the cathedral and a ‘real deal’ of a bar. Senor Covid permitting, of course.
Bar O Gato Negro in Santiago de Compostella
Top and tailed by time tests outside cathedrals but what else is on the agenda? We have 45 categorised climbs, with three ‘mega’ ascents, two of them finishing atop mountains in the last week.
‘But I’m a sprinter?’ There are four days for you, amigo – maybe more if you’re lucky? The race just about everything Spain has to offer; apart from religious shrines there’s heat, history, beaches, rocky coastlines, plains and of course – them mountains. We pick our stages which for one reason or another, we think will be, ‘interesting’. The route is unusual for modern Vuelta in that it takes in most of the land mass of the nation, except for Catalonia and the North East Mediterranean coast.
Stage Two heads south but Stage Three then goes north back towards the Bay of Biscay and the first altitude finish of the race on the fresh Picon Blanco. The first selection coming very early, a Vuelta trademark.
Stage 3 – Nice finish up the Picon Blanco
There’s a transfer back south for Stage Four to Molina de Aragon with Stage Five continuing the trek south to Albacete, scene of bitter battles in 1936 at the start of the Civil War.
Stage 5 for comeback man Jakobsen
Stage Six take the race to the Mediterranean coast and PEZ editor Alastair Hamilton territory. If the word ‘Alto’ is in the name of the finish then Alto de la Montaña de Cullera just north of Gandia is one to make the sprinters wince, with ‘alto’ and ‘montaña’ in the same breath.
Stage 7 – A lumpy day, good for a break
Stages Seven and Eight continue the march south along the Med coast before Stage Nine to the ‘renowned’ as the organisers would have it, Alto de Velefique which will be the toughest day of the race thus far.
Home town action for Valverde on stage 9
Stages Eight and Nine are in Murcia, which is Valverde Heartland; he’ll be out to pull off an ‘exploit’ – let’s hope [probably forlornly] that Mas can fill his boots once the ‘Green Bullet’ fires his last shot. The rest day will be most welcome.
Another tough day on stage 11
Stage 10 and they continue to track the Med. coast to Rincon de la Victoria before Stage 11 heads north west into the interior and Valdepenas de Jaen where it’s a ‘Flèche Wallonne finish’.
Cordoba Mosque and a ‘Flèche Wallonne finish’
Stage 12 takes in another World Heritage place of worship, the Mosque–Cathedral of Córdoba, built by the Moors during their centuries in Spain but converted to a Christian place of worship during the ‘Reconquista’, literally the ‘re-conquest’ when Christian forces ousted the occupying Moors.
Stage 14 should sort things out
Stage 13 continues the trek north, tracking the Portuguese border whilst Stage 14 is one of the toughest of the race and if the Velefique didn’t shuffle the pack fully then the Pico Villuercas certainly shall. The organiser tells us it’s; ‘an extremely tough unprecedented La Vuelta climb that stands out for its spectacular nature.’ Gruppetto!
Stage 15 to El Barraco, home of José María Jiménez – Stunningly brilliant, but…
Stage 15 continues north to El Barraco, birthplace of Tour de France winner, Carlos Sastre and the late, erratic but brilliant on his day, José María Jiménez. Rest in peace, sir. The rest day sees a big transfer north to the Bay of Biscay with Stage 16 a loop back round to the coast the appetiser for two monstrous days.
Lagos de Covadonga – Stuff of legend
Stage 17 is the stuff of legend, finishing at the Lagos de Covadonga – I wouldn’t be a proud Scotsman if I didn’t record that Robert Millar won that stage in 1986. Respect. Covadonga was the scene of the first battle where Christians triumphed over The Moors in the ‘Reconquista’. The Christian leader, Pelagius took his men into the cave at the base of the climb the night before the battle to pray and ask for a ‘sign’. It is said the Virgin manifested herself in the cave – now a place of pilgrimage – and the next day the battle was won; if you pick up on places with ‘aura’ your skin will prickle here.
Stage 18 and a new summit finish on the Altu d’El Gamoniteiru
Stage 18 continues with another description that doesn’t make good reading if you ain’t super-skinny; ‘a brand-new mountain pass expected to go down in history: the Altu d’El Gamoniteiru’, complete with sections of concrete paving. To the sprinters we say; ‘vaya con Dios’.
Stages 19 and 20 could be crucial
Stage 19 slices south across Galicia before Stage 20 and what could be another critical stage which heads back north, parallel to the coast; with steep ascents and cross winds ripping in off the Bay of Biscay this, ‘Ardennes in Galicia’ stage could be just as crucial as the final timed part of the pilgrimage to Compostella. An interesting and diverse route – we like it a lot.
And now to the 64,000 Euro question; ‘and the winner is?’ For the answer we turn to our friends, the bookies – or as they say in polite English circles, ‘the turf accountants.’
There’s no sentiment or rose tinted glasses among those dudes, just cold hard cash; here are the odds on the win:
Three in a row for Roglič
# 10/11 are pretty short odds and that’s what they give to Super Slovenian, Primoz Roglič [Jumbo Visma], if you have any doubt about his recovery from his Tour de France crash exit then you obviously didn’t see the Olympic Time Trial where he iced the field. A top chronoman, strong climber and backed by a very strong team it’s certainly hard to see past him.
Giro/Vuelta double for Bernal
# 9/2 looks like a good bet on Colombia’s Giro winner, Egan Bernal [INEOS Grenadiers]. He’s been quiet since the Corsa Rosa but a Grand Tour makes huge demands on a rider’s system and recovery is key. His recent fourth spot on the Lagunas de Neila stage in Burgos behind skinny Englishman, Hugh Carthy point to the fact that his shape is good – but good enough to beat Primoz?
Olympic champion Carapaz – Good outside bet
# 9/1 looks like another good bet for Ecuador’s Olympic Road Race Champion and Bernal’s team mate, Richard Carapaz. But a one day race is one thing, three weeks among the Sierras is another for a man not long out of a tough Tour de France.
Carthy winner on the l’Angliru
# 10/1 is posted against aforementioned Preston man and 2020 Angliru-tamer, Hugh Carthy [EF Education-Nippo] and all of that climbing will suit his reed-thin frame.
# 14/1 for Yates, A. another ‘Brit’ and ‘Ineos Man’ – but a team can’t have three leaders, however, on his day he’s an excellent climber and we’re sure to see him in the lead group when the tarmac rears.
Landa coming into form
# 18/1 gets you ‘Mikey’ Landa [Bahrain Victorious & Spain], if he was going to win a Grand Tour then it would have happened before now albeit his recent win in Burgos shows his shape has finally come good again.
Movistar will be hoping for something ‘special’ from Miguel Ángel
# 22/1 against the man Ron Hatch of Eurosport refers to as, ‘Sooopermaan’, Miguel Ángel López [Movistar & Colombia] started the season with wins in the Ruta del Sol then the Ventoux Challenge but the Dauphine was poor by his high standards and DNF in le Tour a disaster; he’ll be out to make amends and the man can be ‘special’ on his best days.
Sep Kuss and Enric Mass at 25/1
# 25/1 will get you Enric Mas [Movistar & Spain] or Sep Kuss [Jumbo Visma & USA] with a tough Tour de France in both men’s legs it’s unlikely either will be at their best. Mas looked to have the world at his feet after his Vuelta podium with Quick-Step in 2018 and whilst he’s a consistent stage race performer doesn’t have the ‘sparkle’ of a big tour winner. Talented climber, Kuss will be ‘in service’ to Primoz but may be given some freedom?
Padun and Sivakov at 28/1
# 28/1 is for Ukrainian hard man, double Dauphine stage winner, Mark Padun [Bahrain Victorious] and the man with the best genes in the peloton, with mum and dad both former pros, Pavel Sivakov [INEOS Grenadiers & Russia] who’ll have a job to do for Egan and Richard.
First GT for Pidcock
# 33/1 are the odds on the phenomenon that is Britain’s Olympic Mountain Bike Champion, Tom Pidcock [INEOS Grenadiers] who’ll be hoping for a more auspicious Grand Tour than his contemporary and fellow precocious talent, Remco achieved in the Giro.
And a peek in the, ‘how are the mighty fallen’ fallen file reveals, Roman Bardet at 80/1, Fabio Aru at 100/1 and Esteban Chaves at 250/1 – changed days. Primoz to win and a great scrap for the podium places is what we look forward to seeing. . .
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