[Underneath article was written before the start of La Vuelta and has not been updated]
One could argue that the GC battle will boil down to the stages 7, 9, 14, 17, 18 and 21. Obviously, GC riders have to be alert throughout the race with a special mention as early as stage 3 with its summit finish at the Picón Blanco. It’s a brutal climb – 7.8 kilometres at 9.3% -, but the race itself is not very demanding.
No, the GC action will probably get going for real on the seventh day of La Vuelta. The riders tackle five intermediate ascents before the final haul up to the Balcón de Alicante. This climb totals 8.9 kilometres with the second half rising at 8.2% and featuring 1 kilometre at 11.2%.
Two days later is a chance for climbers with stamina to distance their rivals. After cresting the 40 kilometres long Alto Collado Venta Luisa halfway through the race, the finale is played out on the Alto de Velefique. Which is a 13.2 kilometres climb with an average gradient of 7.3%.
Stage 14 is a tricky race in the remote region of Extremadura. The GC action could go haywhire – with emphasis on ‘could’. The route is far from flat, although the ascents are never excessively long or steep. The finish climb is a 16.5 kilometres climb at 6.5% to the Pico Villuercas.
The Spanish Grand Tour brings out its heaviest artillery in the last week of action. Stage 17 takes in a double ascent of the brutal Collada Llomena before finishing near the Lagos de Covadanga, which is a staple climb of La Vuelta. The illustrious ascents owes its awe not so much to its distance (12.2 kilometres), nor to its average gradient (7.2%), but to its erratic profile. The first 6 kilometres climb at double digits gradients before the second half casually alternates between short drops and 20% ramps.
Arguably, stage 18 is the hardest of the entire Vuelta. Adding to the hardship is the fact that it comes straight after the Lagos de Covadonga stage. The Asturian race takes in four climbs and an elevation gain of more than 5,000 metres. Moreover, three of the climbs are extremely steep. The final toil is the Gamoniteiro, which is a 15.2 kilometres climb at 9.6%. The first kilometres are relatively easy, but the rest is simply intimidating. The last kilometre goes up at 13%.
A undulating ITT to Santiago de Compostela rounds out La Vuelta on the final day. Which is good news for Primoz Roglic, while the likes of Mikel Landa and Enric Mas will be less pleased.
In terms of GC riders, La Vuelta is set to serve the most interesting Grand Tour of 2021. Egan Bernal was the last Tour de France winner before Tadej Pogacar took the reins in the world’s most biggest cycling race. The Colombian struggled in 2020, but bounced back this spring by winning the Giro d’Italia. Roglic was dominant in all multiple stage races this year until he crashed out of contention early on at Le Tour. The Jumbo-Visma leader won La Vuelta in 2019 and 2020, so he is defending his title.
Favourites 2021 Vuelta a España
**** Primoz Roglic, Egan Bernal
*** Mikel Landa, Enric Mas, Adam Yates, Aleksandr Vlasov
** Hugh Carthy, Romain Bardet, Alejandro Valverde, Richard Carapaz
* Miguel Ángel López, Sepp Kuss, Maximilian Schachmann, Giulio Ciccone