What makes the Vuelta a España so different than the Tour de France or Giro d’Italia? We asked the riders.
Heat, sharp climbs, and passionate fans set the Vuelta a España apart from the season's other grand tours.
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RINCON DE LA VICTORIA, Spain (VN) — It’s hard, it’s hot, and it’s at the end of the season.
How is the Vuelta a España different than other races on the calendar?
We asked some pros about what makes the Spanish grand tour so unique and different.
Zdeněk Štybar (Deceuninck-Quick-Step), sixth Vuelta start
The Czech superstar is using the Vuelta to build his condition for the upcoming worlds/Paris-Roubaix double following what’s been a troubling year or so. After suffering a string of setbacks, Štybar hopes to be hitting form just in time for a hot autumn.
And so, for Zdeněk Štybar, the Vuelta is all about climbing and suffering.
“The profiles are harder in the Vuelta. There is more climbing every day here. It’s a little bit more relaxed, so you can focus more on the racing. That doesn’t mean that the racing is easier. It’s just as hard as the Tour, or the Giro,” he said.
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Many say the Vuelta is the most relaxed of the grand tours, at least before and after the racing. Spain’s laidback culture and warmer confines of late summer mean that the intensity level of the Tour is knocked down a level or two.
But since it comes late in the summer, heat and humidity play a starring role, prompting teams to stay on top of hydrating their riders.
“What makes the Vuelta really hard is the heat. It takes a lot of energy from all of us. [What] you saw — an uphill start on Saturday — there was already a gruppetto of 100 riders, and that is not normal. You can see the heat is really taking a toll in the first week.”
Matteo Trentin (UAE-Team Emirates), third Vuelta start
The Italian star has won stages in all three grand tours, including the 2017 Vuelta, when he won four stages. Despite dominating that year’s bunch sprint, Chris Froome ended up winning the points jersey competition.
Like many, Matteo Trentin agrees the Vuelta has grown gradually more challenging during the past decade.
“In the last few years, the climbing in the Vuelta is very different. It’s not like in the Giro or the Tour, when you have climbs higher than 2,000 meters. Now there are a lot of shorter and steeper climbs, and that really makes this grand tour different.”
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Another plus? Shorter stages, which mean later starts. Though sometimes there are long transfers between stages, most days the riders can get an extra hour or two in bed before heading to the stage starts, usually around 1 p.m. or later.
Shorter stages, at least from Trentin’s perspective, make for aggressive, more dynamic racing.
“The stages are also shorter. You rarely go more than 200km, so that makes it easier for the breakaway to arrive, and gives more reason for the teams to race harder. Being the third grand tour of the season, it makes it harder to control for teams. People are getting tired at the end of the season. The Vuelta is more of a race for attackers and breakaways.”
Kiel Reijnen (Trek-Segafredo), fourth Vuelta start
The American veteran has yet to race the Giro or the Tour, but he loves the Vuelta. Back in a supporting role for Giulio Ciccone, Kiel Reijnen was tasked with protecting the promising Italian star in the flat, wind-heavy stages.
“Everything is a little different with COVID, but my favorite thing about the Vuelta is the fans, especially when we are close to the Basque Country. They really come out and support the racing here. I love racing my bike, but I love doing it even more when we can inspire people. Having some crowds again is really nice. I was really glad to see the Basque fans out there again.”
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For everyone, heat and humidity have been key factors so far in the 2021 Vuelta. With the route dipping south in the middle of August, temperatures have been north of 90F° since the start in Burgos nearly two weeks ago.
“The weather here is different here than a lot of other races we do. It’s super-hot. The only other race we do like this is the Tour Down Under. You really have to be careful and be sure you stay hydrated. I’m usually pretty good in the heat, but sometimes, like one time last week, you really feel the heat and you just blow a gasket. I went over the limit, and it’s too hot and you pay for it.”