[Underneath article was written before the start of the Vuelta and has not been updated]
One could argue that the GC battle will boil down to the stages 6, 8, 11, 12, 13 and 17. In addition, there are many race in which you can lose the Vuelta, such as the first two stages. Stage 1 finishes at the Sanctuary of Arrate after a brutal climb, but the race itself is not very demanding. Same story on day two, when the riders tackle the unforgiving concrete ramps of the Alto de San Miguel de Aralar before flying down into Lekunberri.
No, the real GC action will probably get going on the sixth day of La Vuelta. The riders venture into the Pyrenees and into France to ascend the Aubisque and finish on top of the Tourmalet. Which is a monster of 19 kilometres at 7.4% with a last kilometre at over 10%. Less intimidating, but still hard, is the Alto de Moncalvillo in the finale of stage 8. The finish climb is 11 kilometres long and slopes at 9%.
The Spanish Grand Tour brings out its heaviest artillery in the second weekend. Stage 11 travels over three huge ascents to La Farrapona, which is a 16.5 kilometres climb at 6.2%. Not very spectacular on paper – but things start to change when you focus on the last 6.5 kilometres. This section goes up at 9.4%.
Stage 12 is extremely brutal. Five ascents are crammed together in a race of merely 110 kilometres and the last one is the notorious Angliru. Which is a beast of a climb: 12.5 kilometres at 9.8%. The second half is even more intimidating with an average (!) gradient of 15%.
The day after the Angliru is a rest day and then it’s up to the GC riders with good time trialing skills (Dumoulin, Froome) to put time into their opponents. The first 31.9 kilometres are pan-flat and the last 1.8 extremely steep. How steep? This steep: 14.6%.
The last chance for GC riders to move up in the GC appears on the penultimate day. Although the race is not very hard it in itself, teams could make it hard by putting pressure from the start. The route takes in five climbs at fairly shallow gradients before the finish climb to ski resort La Covatilla is 9.8 kilometres long with an average gradient of 7.1%.
Pinot returns to racing after a disappointing Tour de France. He is one of the most gifted riders of his generation, but coping with pressure is still his Achilles heel.
Five men who do know how to perform well under pressure line-up at La Vuelta. Valverde, Dumoulin, Carapaz, Roglic, and Froome – they all won at least one Grand Tour.
Favourites 2020 Vuelta a España
*** Tom Dumoulin, Richard Carapaz, Primoz Roglic
** Daniel Felipe Martínez, Chris Froome, Thibaut Pinot, Enric Mas
* Aleksandr Vlasov, Wout Poels, Alejandro Valverde, Esteban Chaves, Michael Woods