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Vuelta a Espana

Vuelta a España hits Spain’s ‘green coast’ to put the peloton into the red

Week 1 preview: After three nervous days in the Netherlands, the peloton faces a challenging week littered with climbs and possibly heavy rain.

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VITORIA, Spain (VN) — The “real” Vuelta a España kicks into gear Tuesday with a tricky stage 4 across Spain’s Basque Country featuring trademark climbs and an heart-stopping uphill finale befitting the Spanish grand tour.

The first full week in Spain traces across the northern “green coast,” with stages in the Basque Country, Cantabria, and Asturias, concluding with a pair of uphill finales at week’s end that will separate the wheat from the chafe.

“Once we get to Spain, it’s a typical Vuelta. It’s hard every day, and there’s always something that you need to be aware of and switched on for,” said 2018 Vuelta winner Simon Yates. “There’s never any time to rest in the Vuelta.”

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Tuesday’s rude reality of a second-category and a late third-category climb before a steep wall finish will come as a relief to a peloton full of climbers after three nervous days of racing on the flats of the Netherlands.

The possibility of rain and wind will only heighten the stakes, but no one’s complaining.

The peloton landed on Spanish soil overnight to bring the season’s third grand tour back to home roads, albeit without Michael Woods and Steff Cas, both of whom crashed out before the Vuelta left the Netherlands.

Officials lauded the Dutch star after big crowds cheered the peloton, but there was grumbling inside the bunch about dangerous and narrow roads littered with traffic islands and round-abouts designed not for space-age bicycles but rather to slow down modern car traffic.

That rarely adds up to pleasant racing conditions for riders, and everyone will be looking forward to the relatively wide-open roads of northern Spain in stage 4 that runs from Vitoria to Laguardia.

“There were a whole lot of traffic circles and roads we are not accustomed to,” Mikel Landa he told AS on Sunday. “We are happy to get out of here.”

Week 1 riddled with climbs across northern Spain

Sam Bennett won two stages, but will be struggling to hold the wheel in week 1 in Spain. (Photo: Bas Czerwinski/Getty Images)

Jumbo-Visma will continue to play hot potato with the Vuelta’s red jersey in Tuesday’s fourth stage.

After Robert Gesink and Mike Teunissen each held it for a day after the team roared to victory in Friday’s team time trial, Edoardo Affini carried the red jersey back to Spain.

The first full week across northern Spain will go a long way toward deciding who will be in position to win the 2022 Vuelta.

Jumbo-Visma took 13 seconds on arch-rivals Ineos Grenadiers, and another second on Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl.

Tuesday’s uphill finale should see the jersey remain within Jumbo-Visma if a big break doesn’t pull clear.

Tuesday’s uphill kicker could see three-time defending champion Primož Roglič or perhaps even Sepp Kuss slip into the red tunic. Somewhat surprisingly, Kuss joked he wouldn’t even want to have the Vuelta’s race leader’s jersey.

“Oh no, I’d rather not,” Kuss told VeloNews at the finish of stage 3 in Breda, laughing. “It’s a lot of extra to do. I’d rather finish the stage and get on the bus.

“We’ll see, it would be cool to be in it but it depends on how you do it, I guess,” he said. The last American to wear the Vuelta leader’s jersey was winner Chris Horner in 2013.

The rest of the week unfolds in typical Vuelta fashion.

Stage 5 runs from Irún to Bilbao across the Basque Country’s rugged coastline, with three third-category climbs stacked up before two more even harder second-category climbs and a fast run into Bilbao.

“Home team” Euskaltel-Euskadi will be targeting a stage win on home roads.

“No one’s more excited than us,” said Jorge Azanza, lead sport director at the Basque squad. “We came out of the Netherlands pretty good, because the goal from day one was to avoid crashing.

“We know these roads better than anyone, and we’ll be chasing the breakaways,” he said. “We hope one of them has a chance, and we can get our riders into the right move. To race at home, in front of our fans, there’s nothing bigger for us. We’ll feel a big push, and we hope we things go our way.”

Stage 6 sees the Vuelta’s first summit at Pico Jano, one of the new summits in this year’s race. With 12.6km at 6.7 percent grades, it’s enough to show who will not be winning the 2022 edition.

Only the Vuelta would feature a first-category summit in what could be called a sprinter’s stage on Friday. A long, grinding climb over the Cat. 1 Puerto de San Gloria leads to Cistierna, ideal for any fast finishers to win out of a reduced bunch sprint.

Saturday’s 153.4km eighth stage to Colláu Fancuaya, another new climb deep in the Cantabrian range, will start to reveal who has the legs to win.

Sunday’s return to Les Praeres, where Yates won a stage en route to the overall in 2018, will put an exclamation mark on what should be a wild, attack-riddled, and exciting week.

And to make things even more interesting (or miserable), forecasters are calling for rain and cool temperatures all week.

Just as the Vuelta should be.

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