Stage 1: Utrecht – Utrecht, 23.3km (team time trial)
Two years after it was supposed to begin in Utrecht, the COVID 19-delayed Dutch start to the race will finally get underway in the Netherlands. The race opener is, surprisingly, only the fourth time in the Vuelta’s history that the race will begin outside the host country.
Hosting the Gran Partida is a coup for Utrecht, which makes history in being the first to complete the hattrick of grand tour starts. The Giro d’Italia began there in 2010 and the Tour de France did likewise in 2015.
This time around, the action begins with a 23.3 kilometer team time trial. This is considerably longer than the previous TTT opener at the Vuelta, a 13.4 kilometer race at Torrevieja in 2019. Taking place entirely within Utrecht, it is a pan flat course winding around the streets of the city. Speeds will be very high and technical abilities will also be put to the test.
While the gaps between the best teams will likely be tight, it will be crucial to avoid any misfortune. Three years ago the Jumbo-Visma team of Primoz Roglic had a mass crash on wet roads and lost 40 seconds. Whatever about the victory, staying upright will be the most important concern.
Stage 2: Bolduque – Utrecht, 175.1km
Like Utrecht, Bolduque—which is called ‘s-Hertogenbosch in Dutch—is hosting a stage of the race for the first time ever. It previously hosted the Grand Départ of the Tour the France back in 1996. It is the birthplace of the painter Hieronymus Bosch, whose art was and is feted in Spain.
Given the topography throughout most of the Netherlands, it will be of zero surprise that stage two of the race is almost completely flat. It hosts just one climb, the category four Alto de Almerongse, which is located 105.1 km after the start and 70km from the finish. This is just 2.1km long and averages a mere 2.4 percent in gradient, and will serve primarily to allocate the race’s first King of the Mountains jersey. There are also a bonus sprint 17 kilometers from the finish.
A big bunch gallop to the line is the most likely outcome, although Utrecht’s flat terrain and relative proximity to the sea could see echelons if the wind is blowing. If so, expect teams like Quick-Step AlphaVinyl and Jumbo-Visma to try to break things up, both for the red jersey and also for the stage honors.
Stage 3: Breda – Breda, 193.5 km
Day three is the final stage in the Netherlands and again offers nothing for the flyweight climbing specialists. Beginning and ending in the town of Breda, which is also a first-time host to the race, it features just one category four climb.
The ascent of Rijzendeweg is 400 meters long and 3.7 percent in slope, and tops out at a towering 25 meters above sea level. The highpoint of the stage comes earlier and is just 29 meters high, but a very gradual rise to that point means it doesn’t even rank as a category four climb.
There is once again a bonus sprint some 23 kilometers from the line. Without strong winds, the sprinters will be licking their lips at the prospect of a stage win prior to the first rest day.
Stage 4: Vitoria-Gasteiz – Laguardia, 152.5km
Following a transfer from the Netherlands back to Spain, the race will resume with a much more typical Vuelta profile. It begins with the race’s 20th start from Vitoria-Gasteiz, the capital city of the cycling-mad Basque Country and runs 153.5 lumpy kilometers to Laguardia, which is making its debut as a finish location.
Described as one of Spain’s most beautiful towns, Laguardia features many historic buildings and will be a spectacular backdrop for the day’s battle. The parcours will be slightly more to the liking of the lighter riders, with a decent amount of undulation. A flat opening 50 kilometers is followed by the second category Puerto de Opakua (km 61.9), which averages 6.9 percent over five kilometers, and then further rolling roads before a sprint at Lagrán (km 118.3) and then the day’s other categorized climb, the cat. three Puerto de Herrera.
This is followed by a rapid 12 kilometer drop down into Laguardia and then a two and a half kilometer rise to the finish line.
Depending on how the stage is ridden, the terrain could thin the peloton out of the specialist sprinters, making it a finish for the more versatile fastmen and the puncheurs.
Stage 5: Irun – Bilbao, 187.2km
Continuing the trend of a literal ramping-up of the difficulties, stage five departs Irun for the fifth time in Vuelta history and travels 187.2 difficult kilometers to the popular finish town of Bilbao. The latter is hosting a stage end for the 44th time in history and the road there and before will be thronged with passionate Basque fans.
The first half of the stage is flat to rolling, but things become considerably more difficult after that. There are five categorized climbs in all; these begin with the third category ascents of the Puerto de Gontzagarigana (km 95.6, 5.3 km at 4.5 percent), the Balcón de Bizkaia (km 102.4, 4.2 km at 5.6 percent) and the Alto de Morga, which is 125.4 km after three start, and averages 3.5 percent over 8.6 km.
There are then two ascents of the second category Alto de Vivero climb, at km 144 and again at km 173, 14km from the finish line. This climb averages 8 percent and is 4.6 km in length. With the descent concluding just two kilometers from the finish line, there could be some high stakes racing all the way to the conclusion of the stage.
Stage 6: Bilbao – Ascensión al Pico Jano. San Miguel de Aguayo, 181.2km
This stage is the first high mountain day in the 2022 Vuelta a España and the concluding summit finish is guaranteed to reshuffle the general classification. The climb of the Ascensión al Pico Jano. San Miguel de Aguayo is being used for the first time ever as a Vuelta finish and should spark fireworks. It is 12.6 km in length, averages 6.55 percent and has three stretches of 11 percent or over.
Before then, there is plenty to soften up the field. An undulating opening hour and a half of action is followed by the second category Puerto de Alisas (km 77.7), 8.7 km in length and 5.8 percent gradient. A long mainly flat section acts as a bridge between that and the start of the day’s middle climb, the category one Collada de Brenes (km 145.8). This averages 8.2 percent over 6.8 kilometers but includes pitches of 15 percent, providing a possible platform for attacks prior to the day’s summit finish.
The stage will give the best indication thus far as to who are the strongest riders in this year’s Vuelta.
Stage 7: Camargo – Cistierna, 190km
Making its debut as a Vuelta start town, Camargo is a town which had great strategic importance during the War of Independence. It will be interesting to see if this 190 kilometer stage to Cistierna could have a similar effect on the Vuelta race leadership. While the destination is being used for the first time as a stage end town, its two previous appearances as a stage start saw the race leadership change each time.
In 2016 David de la Cruz took over temporarily at the top, while two years later Simon Yates seized a leader’s jersey he wore all the way to the race conclusion in Madrid.
The stage has a unusual profile, with a largely flat opening 75 kilometers leading onto the day’s sole categorized climb, the first cat Puerto de San Glorio (km 125.8). This is 22.4 kilometers in length, averages 5.5 percent and includes one sector a little over halfway up of 11 percent.
The summit is however followed by 64 mainly downhill kilometers, thus introducing an element of uncertainty as to what will happen if the race does splinter on those slopes. The most likely outcome is that the day’s breakaway stays clear to the finish, and that the GC riders will bide their time prior to two difficult summit finishes on stages 8 and 9.
Stage 8: Pola de Laviana – Collau Fancuaya, 153.4km
Two years ago Pola de Laviana hosted the race for the first time, with that stage ultimately bringing the riders to the top of the Alto de l’Angliru. This time around the finale is slightly less fierce, but the first-ever finish atop the Collau Fancuaya will nevertheless be a crucial point in the race.
The 153.4 kilometer stage has a jagged profile with no less than six categorized climbs. Riders will be under pressure immediately with the second category Alto de la Colladona (km 9.8) rearing up very soon after the start line. The 6.4km, 7 percent ascent is followed by the similarly-ranked Alto de la Mozqueta, which at 6.8 km in length and 6.6 percent is almost identical in difficulty.
There is a slight respite after that summit with the next three climbs all category three ascents with a maximum altitude of 520 meters. However the Alto de Santo Emiliano (km 66.5), the Puerto de Tenebreo (km 98.1) and the Puerto de Perlavia (km 113.8) will soften up any weakening legs prior to the big concluder, the first category Collau Fancuaya.
This is 10.1 km in length, averages 8.5 percent but, crucially, has pitches of 19, 17 and 17 percent, including a very steep final kilometer.
Stage 9: Villaviciosa – Les Praeres, Nava, 171.4km
Day nine of racing brings the third summit finish thus far, reflecting a heavy opening week to the Vuelta, and ends with a wall of a climb.
The action begins with the second-ever stage from Villaviciosa, coming two years after the town’s debut. There are a quintet of climbs to reckon with. The cat two Alto del Torno sparks things up off 55.6 km after the start, and is followed by the tougher Mirador del Fito (km 93), a first category challenge which averages six percent over nine km and has three ramps of ten percent in steepness.
The Alto de la Llama (km 118.1) and La Campa (km 148.6) are more straightforward cat three ascents but simply act to whet the appetite prior to the big decider, the final climb of Les Praeres Nava.
This is, to be blunt, a brute. It may be just 3.9 kilometers long but it averages 12.9 percent and features points which are 23 and 24 percent respectively. Four years ago Simon Yates triumphed here and the finish is tailor-made for a similarly-explosive general classification contender.
Stage 10: Elche – Alicante, 30.9km (individual time trial)
The race’s second rest day is followed by a different type of test for the peloton, with the flat, fast individual time trial providing 31.1 kilometers of opportunity for the specialists against the clock.
Elche had an important historical role during Roman times and indeed earlier than that, and last featured as a start town 27 years ago. Alicante has hosted six previous finishes at the Vuelta and is well known to the pro riders as a pre-season training area.
Training will be far from the minds of those targeting the stage; the TT will provide opportunity to those hunting a stage win but also to the GC contenders who may have lost a little time in the mountains, or indeed who may be looking to consolidate gains made.
Stage 11: ElPozo Alimentación – Cabo de Gata, 191.2km
The 2022 Vuelta a España doesn’t offer as much as it might to the sprinters, and they will be keen to seize their opportunity on stage 11. The stage lacks any categorized climbs and while there are short, steep rises along the route, it seems destined to finish in a big bunch gallop. However the fact that the stage skirts the coastline leaves it open to the possibility of sidewinds and possible splits.
ElPozo is hosting a stage start for the first time ever, having previously been the location for a finish in the 2017 edition. Cabo de Gat is making its debut as a finish venue.
Stage 12: Salobrena – Penas Blancas, Estepona, 192.7km
Salobrena is a popular tourist location in the Granada area thanks to the Arab fortress located there plus a general historic past. Its first time hosting a stage of the Vuelta is on a stage where the race returns to the mountains after a brief respite. Flat and fast early on, the second half of the stage features an uncategorized climb just after 130 kilometers of racing, and then more flat roads before a daunting finale.
The concluding climb was used once before, back in 2013, but this time around the ascent extends a further four km to make things more difficult. It is 19 km long and while it averages 6.7 percent, it includes sections which are considerably more steep, including four which are 14 percent or above. That spells opportunity for those who are feeling good, and danger for those who are not.
Stage 13: Ronda – Montilla, 168.4km
The stage is another temporary respite for those who fear climbing. Location of the stunning Puente Nuevo bridge, Ronda appears as a depart town for the first time ever, while the vineyard-rich Montilla is a new finish location.
Uphill roads soon after the drop of the flag followed by undulations make it likely an early breakaway will build time, but a flatter finale points towards a big chase and the likelihood of a big gallop to the line. The final kilometers are slightly uphill, which will please the puncheurs and more versatile sprinters.
Stage 14: Montoro – Sierra de la Pandera, 160.3km
The recurring nightmare for the climbing-phobic riders continues on the Vuelta’s 14th stage. It is the fifth of eight summit finishes, although those concerned do have the consolation of a mostly flat opening half to the 160.3 km journey.
An early break seems inevitable, but the riders will have their work cut out to build a sufficient buffer before an increasingly difficult second part to the stage. The third category Puerto de Siete Pilillas (km 107.2) is followed by the second cat Puerto de Los Villares (km 148.2) which, in lacking a descent, essentially acts as a first step towards the summit of the category one Sierra de la Pandera.
This 8.4 km climb averages 7.8 percent but has multiple sectors of 15 percent, including one inside the final kilometer.
Montoro appeared once before back in 2000 on a stage won by the Dutchman Jans Koerts, and the area is regarded as one of the greatest nature destinations in Spain. It is one of the last refuges for the Iberian Lynx. The Sierra de la Pandera has hosted finishes of the race five times, with the last being in 2002 when Roberto Heras triumphed.
Stage 15: Martos – Sierra Nevada Alto Hoya de la Mora.Monachil, 153km
Yet another uphill finish, yet another day for the GC riders. The olive-centered town of Martos is making its debut in the Vuelta, while the Sierra Nevada Alto Hoya saw Vuelta action once before in 2017 when the Colombian climber Miguel Angel Lopez finished more than 30 seconds ahead of Ilnur Zakarin.
The early roads are constantly up and down, including the category three Puerto del Castillo (km 33.8), with a more humane sector just after the halfway point preceding the cat one Alto del Purche (km 110.4). This features three points of 15 percent or above along its 9.1 km ascent, and may see probing attacks prior to the day’s big concluder.
The Sierra Nevada Alto Hoya is a staggering 19.3 km in length and while the average gradient is a touch under eight percent, the early slopes include ramps of 17, 18 and 20 percent. There is another section of 11 percent inside the second half of the climb, something which may light the fuse more than five kilometers from the summit.
Over 4,000 meters of climbing plus likely hot temperatures could make this one of the hardest of the stages in this year’s race.
Stage 16: Sanlúcar de Barrameda – Tomares, 189.4km
The third rest day of the race will give pause to a wearying peloton prior to a day for the sprinters. Those riders have just one more chance after this one, the final stage in Madrid, and so the pressure will be on for them to deliver.
Start location Sanlúcar de Barrameda is featured as a commemoration of sailor Juan Sebastián Elcano, who became the first person in history to circumnavigate the globe in landing there 500 years ago. It hosts the Vuelta for the first time, while Tomares had one previous finish in 2017 when Matteo Trentin triumphed.
The 188.9 km stage is practically pan flat, although there is an uncategorized short, steep climb approximately 10 km from the finish line. The last three kilometers rise slightly, but nothing that will give the sprinters a restless night beforehand.
Stage 17: Aracena – Monastère de Tentudia, 162.3km
Making a first-ever departure from the town of Aracena, the 2022 Vuelta a España becomes the first edition of the race to visit all eight Andalucian provinces. It begins in one of the most biodiverse-rich areas of Spain and concludes 162.3 km later at a finish line by the 13th century Tentudía Monastery, which is also making its race debut.
While the second cat final climb is the only categorized ascent on the stage, there are plenty of uphills on what will be a difficult day likely exacerbated by high temperatures. A breakaway is almost certain, and with the final ascent being just 10.3 km in length and averaging just five percent, such a move may well stay away to the finish.
Notwithstanding its average gradient, the last climb is however sufficiently steep in places to put any wearying GC contenders under pressure.
Stage 18: Trujillo – Alto de Piornal, 192km
A Vuelta of discovery and exploration continues with another first-time start, and also another finish not used before. The locality of Trujillo was important during Roman times and again during the Middle Ages, while the town of Piornal is the highest in all of Extremadura.
The 192 km stage is yet another one for the climbers; undulating roads early on lead to the second category Alto de la Desperá (km 109.7) and then twin ascents of the Alto de Piornal, approaching from two different directions. Both of the approaches are rated first category, and average 5 percent over 13.5 km. The second ascent has a steeper final two kilometers, setting things up for a big finale.
Stage 19: Talavera de la Reina – Talavera de la Reina, 138.3km
Talavera de la Reina is one of the most important cities in the La Mancha region and was a place of considerable importance during the Middle Ages. It has been declared the City of Pottery and has hosted six previous starts of the Vuelta.
Those looking closely at stage 19 will notice two interesting aspects. The start and finish are both in this city, and the stage is comprised of two laps of a large circuit taking in the Puerto del Piélago. The category two climb is 9.3 km in length and 5.6 percent average gradient, with the second of those ascents being followed by 42.2 largely downhill kilometers to the finish.
It will likely be a day of consolidation rather than change in the general classification but with Madrid fast approaching, challengers to the red jersey will nonetheless seek opportunity to attack.
Stage 20: Moralzarzal – Puerto de Navacerrada, 181km
The penultimate day in the Vuelta a España is also the last mountain stage, and the race organizers have planned a big one. Starting for the first time in Moralzarzal, a historic city which had a significant role under Muslim rule, and finishing for the sixth time at the Puerto de Navacerrada, the stage will be the big showdown of the 2022 event.
The day’s five climbs include two ascents of the category 1 Puerto de Navacerrada, albeit from different directions. The first approach averages 6.8 percent over 10.3 km and begins very soon after the drop of the flag. It crests the prime line after 34 km, with a descent and then a long plateau at over 1000 meters elevation being followed by the second category Puerto de Navafria (km 92.8) and Puerto de Canencia (km 126.8) climbs.
The final 46 kilometers are the hardest of all, with the jaded riders tackling first the category one Puerto de la Morcuera (km 143.7), a 9.4 km climb with an average slope of 6.9 percent and cresting at just under 10 percent in gradient, and then the final mountain of the race.
The Puerto de Cotos brings the riders to the Puerto de Navacerrada via a different approach. It is another category one climb and like the Morcuera, is has an average steepness of 6.9 percent. A section of 10 percent comes close to the summit and may well see an all-out attack by anyone within touching distance of the red jersey. However a 6.7 km false flat after the summit will require any riders who are clear to fend off chases behind, making for a dramatic finale to the Vuelta’s climbing action.
Stage 21: Las Rozas – Madrid, 96.7km
The final stage is the sixth departure from a city known as the home of the national soccer team and takes the riders 96.7 km to Madrid, the location of 76 previous finales to the race.
It is an almost totally flat affair and includes nine laps of a 5.8 km finishing circuit. Sprinters who have endured the Vuelta’s multiple summit finishes will summon all of their remaining energy to fight for stage honors, while the race leader will prioritize staying out of trouble and celebrating his overall success.