Road

How the Vuelta a Burgos found itself at the center of the cycling world

The COVID-19 pandemic altered pro cycling's calendar, and placed the often-overlooked Burgos Tour at the epicenter of the sport.

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BURGOS, Spain (VN) — Normally this time of year, it’s the Tour de France that’s making headlines.

July and the Tour are rites of summer for any cycling fan.

And by the last week of July, the peloton is typically zooming down the Champs-Élysées. The final battles of the Alps or Pyrénées are already played out, and there’s time for a tidy time trial and final parade on France’s most famous stretch of road.

Not this year.

The 2020 season was supposed to be an Olympic year, and everything on the cycling calendar was shuffled around to make room for the giant sports bonanza. Even the Tour bows to the mighty force of the Olympic Games, and the Tour was nudged one week earlier on the calendar.

Then coronavirus happened. Then everything stopped. Then the wheels came off the international racing calendar. Paris-Nice was the last big show. Then everyone went into lockdown, quarantines, or scampered home under the threat of travel bans.

And four months later, when cycling dared to raise its head, cycling’s brain-trust gathered together via a series of Zoom chats to carve up the world calendar. The Tour de France here. The Giro d’Italia there. The classics? Oh yeah, squeeze them in where you can. The Vuelta a España, well, it’s always sunny in Spain, right? November works.

When the dust settled, the stakeholders came up with a calendar that made everyone happy; at least everyone who didn’t cancel their races or put things on ice until there’s a vaccine.

And there was the Vuelta a Burgos.

Flash-forward four dizzying months later, the Vuelta a Burgos found itself accidentally at the center of the cycling world.

How? Well, when the stakeholders were carving up the new cycling world, Burgos stayed right where it was.

This year’s dates — July 28 to August 1 — were the race’s original dates when the 2020 calendar was finalized. In an Olympic year, the Tour de France was pushed ahead one week earlier. The Vuelta and other dates were also tweaked to make room for the sport world’s four-year goliath, and the little ol’ Burgos tour was readjusted as well.

And when all the other races were rescheduled, Burgos stayed right where it was.

So when the dust resettled after the COVID storm, Burgos was happily first in line in the new cycling order.

Local organizers and backers couldn’t be happier.

The five-day stage race along the edges of Spain’s northern meseta is usually a stop-gap race on the international calendar. Over the years, the Burgos tour has smartly carved out a sweet spot between the end of the Tour and the start of the Vuelta. Positioned where it is, the race typically picks up a few Vuelta-bound stars looking to hone their form ahead of the season’s final grand tour. It might also see a big name or twos coming off the Tour before heading to the beach.

The Burgos tour is a big deal within Spanish cycling, perhaps the biggest one-week stage race in Spain behind the Vuelta a País Vasco and the Volta a Catalunya. With only five stages and a limited budget, however, it’s never going to aspire to much more on the international calendar. In a normal year, the Burgos tour would draw a handful of WorldTour teams.

There’s nothing normal about 2020.

This year, for one glorious, albeit odd, week, everyone’s eyes on are Burgos.

No less than 14 WorldTour teams are racing. OK, there’s no Egan Bernal or Chris Froome, but it has a rock-solid start list, by far the best it’s ever had. Remco is here, and so is half of Belgium.

And the best thing about this happenstance is that it puts Burgos and its incredibly diverse, perhaps overlooked region of Spain deservedly in the spotlight.

Some might consider Burgos “fly-over” country in a nation that boasts such highlights as Granada, Málaga, Barcelona and Sevilla.

Far off the tourist trail, Burgos and its province is packed with historical cities, sites and landscapes that largely go unnoticed except for the most avid of Spanish travelers or the “peregrinos” plying the Camino de Santiago.

To the south is the thriving “Ribera del Duero” wine region, which any self-respecting Spanish wine aficionado will tell you is the best in Spain. To the north are the rugged Cantabrian Mountains, home to some of Europe’s remaining wild brown bears. Southeast of Burgos are the Sierra de la Demanda, the traditional finish line of the “queen stage” and a dark, brooding range near the world-famous Atapuerca cave paintings.

If that’s not enough, then there’s Burgos, proudly boasting its 13th century Gothic cathedral and the tomb of El Cid. The “centro histórico” is packed with lively tapas bars, serving up Burgos’s own style of blood-sausage.

It’s likely that no one is going to change their vacation plans after watching this week’s Vuelta a Burgos.

And it’s very likely that next year, once the COVID scare has calmed down, everything will go back to normal on the racing calendar, and the Vuelta a Burgos will recede to its low-key spot on the calendar.

But as the saying goes, races gets you places, and for this one glorious week in a wildly atypical year, the Vuelta a Burgos is the center of the cycling universe.