FLORENCE, Italy (VN) — The 2018 Vuelta a España promises to twist and turn with known and new climbs throughout the three weeks of racing. From Málaga, where the race starts Saturday with a time trial, until the final tests in Andorra, the stars will be on alert.
This year, the big names the field include Richie Porte, Adam and Simon Yates, and former winners Nairo Quintana, Vincenzo Nibali, and Fabio Aru.
“Everyone racing will find something in this route, that is why I think we are going to see a race with a lot of quality and uncertainty, and my wish is for the Vuelta to live up to its unpredictable label,” race director Javier Guillén told the EFE news agency. [related title=”More Vuelta news” align=”right” tag=”Vuelta-a-Espana”]
“The overall should be decided at the end, the route includes the triptych to Camperona, Praeres de Nava, and Lagos de Covadonga, a demanding time trial, and the final days in Andorra that can turn over the general classification.”
The 8-kilometer time trial in the south of Spain will not produce big differences, but the seconds add up in the fight over three weeks. Strong time trial riders like Porte will want to take an early advantage in stage 1 that will allow them to go immediately on the defense.
The stage 4 Alfacar finish is short, but seriously steep. The general classification climbers will have their first battle here north of Granada. It climbs 12.4km to reach Sierra de la Alfaguara. The middle section is the toughest, at 11 percent.
The new climbs
Stages 14 and 17 both end with climbs up the Praeres in Asturias and Balcón de Bizkaia — both of which the Vuelta has never featured on its menu. The riders will be deep into the three-week tour by this point. The Praeres is a very demanding mountain climb that reaches 15 percent to finish at 750 meters above sea level. It is not much, but two weeks of racing beforehand and several sharp climbs in stage 14 will make the difference.
Balcón de Bizkaia at its steepest, 23.5 percent, hits as hard as climbs such as Monte Zoncolan or Alto de l’Angliru, but it lasts only 7.3km and averages a “gentle” 4.3 percent. It is supposed to be just as hard as the Praeres climb, running over a recently paved road on the Mount Oiz in the Basque Country.
The long time trial
The 32.7km time trial to Torrelavega will help balance the climber-friendly race route. Coming in the third week, stage 16, means it will suit those time trial specialists who survived the summit finishes that ended the second week, including stage 15 to Lagos de Covadonga on the Sunday beforehand. Anyone who excels in time trials will want to gain time on climbers like Quintana to have a chance to win the overall after the third week.
The final two tests take place in the Principality of Andorra nestled in the mountains between France and Spain. These stages will sort out the overall before the parade sprint stage through Madrid on the Vuelta’s final day. Stage 19 to La Rabassa, where Alessandro Ballan won in 2008 before his world championship win, climbs 17km to 2,025 meters above sea level. Because it is the only significant climb of the day and because it reaches high altitudes, a top contender could crack.
Stage 20 contends with stage 15 as the queen stage of the 2018 Vuelta a España with its five climbs, including three classified at Category 1 and the hors catégorie Coll de La Gallina. It is the shortest road stage at 97.3km and contains around 4,000 meters of climbing, which includes the final 3.5km ascent to the Canolich Sanctuary.