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A summer heat wave could make what’s an already a climb-heavy and challenging Vuelta a España even harder.
With forecasters calling for record temperatures across much of Spain — including an expected high of 47C (116F) this week in Córdoba in southern Spain — teams and riders are bracing for what could be one of the hottest editions of the Spanish grand tour in several years.
“Anyone who can handle the heat will be at a distinct advantage during this Vuelta,” said Bike Exchange sport director Matt White in a phone interview with VeloNews. “It will be warm already in Burgos and only get hotter as we head south.”
The 76th Vuelta clicks into gear Saturday in Burgos in Spain’s Castilla y León region, where temperatures are expected to reach the mid- to upper-90s over the weekend.
Burgos is expected to cool off by mid-week next week, but by then, the route drives southeast across Spain’s central meseta before hitting the Mediterranean Coast.
From there, it’s more than a week more of racing across Valencia, Murcia, Andalucía and Extremadura, four regions in the southern half of Spain notorious for its extreme heat during the summer.
Vuelta is one week earlier, and hotter, due to Olympics
With two of the three opening weeks of the Vuelta being contested in August, White expects temperatures to be a major factor in deciding who wins the 2021 Vuelta.
“Some guys just perform better in it,” White said. “The guys who can win this Vuelta must be able to handle racing in hot temperatures. It could be one of the hottest we’ve seen in a few years.”
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The heatwave engulfing Spain and parts of Europe could see the peloton facing its most extreme temperatures for the first time since 2019.
Last year’s pandemic calendar saw the major grand tours pushed back into September, October and even early November. This year’s Giro d’Italia and Tour de France, back in their traditional spots on the calendar, only saw a few days where heat was a major factor.
It’s been several years since the Vuelta will see temperatures this hot.
Last year, with the race postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic, the Vuelta ended in early November, assuring cool temperatures across the three-week course.
The other editions over the past few years have stayed largely in northern Spain, and extreme heat was rarely a major concern.
Overall, the heat and the Vuelta are often synonymous, and this year even more so.
With the Olympic Games juggling the calendar, the Vuelta is starting a week early, with two of its three weeks being contested in August, when temperatures are at their most extreme across the Iberian peninsula.
Teams are already bracing for what could be two weeks of heat-influenced racing before the race finally dips into the northern part of Spain for the final week, where temperatures are traditionally much cooler.
Top riders will be incorporating some mid-day training rides into their routines before arriving to the Vuelta just to give their bodies a chance to adjust to riding and racing in very warm temperatures.
Teams will also tweak their nutritional and rehydration protocols to make sure riders are fully replenished after each day of racing.
With stage starts sometimes as late at 2 p.m., the peloton is often racing during the hottest part of the day.
White said the extreme heat not only takes it out of the athletes, but puts a damper on the action.
“It can make the race more negative,” White said. “Guys cannot race flat-out four or five hours a day in temperatures that are in the 90s. It does impact the performance.”
Any winner will need to endure the potentially race-breaking extreme heat before finding reprieve in the final week, where the Vuelta’s most decisive and challenging stages await.