[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 6, 8, 9, 10, 12, 14, 15, 18 and 20. These are all mountain stages with trying finales, with the exception of stage 10, which is an ITT. Roglic and Yates in particular will look forward to this chrono race. Roglic is Olympic Champion in the discipline, while Yates re-invented himself by winning an ITT in the recent Giro. Obviously, Evenepoel is an outstanding time trialist as well. The question mark hovering around the Belgian youngster is whether he will be able to survice the mountain stages. He cracked in the Tour de Suisse, although he is a strong climber.
After a series of flat and hilly stages, the GC battle is likely to ignite in the race to Pico Jano. Following a number of intermediate climbs the finale is played out on the irregular climb to the line of 12.6 kilometres long. The GC action intensifies in the second weekend with two mountain races in a row. Stage 8 takes in five intermediate climbs before finishing on the Collado Fancuya. The 10.1 kilometres climb goes up at double digits for long stretches in the second half. Stage 9 serves more of the same, but the finish climb is much more explosive. Les Praeres de Nava is merely 3.9 kilometres long and goes up at an unforgiving 12.9%. Yates feels at ease on the brutal ramp. In 2018, he climbed into the red jersey on Les Praeres. He then kept the leader’s jersey until the end to win his only Grand Tour until now.
After the second rest day the ITT specialists are expected to distance their opponents. GC wise this is the day for Roglic, Yates and – if he survived aforementioned mountain stages – Evenepoel. The parcours is 31 kilometres long and virtually flat.
The stages 12 and 14 are similar. Both are played out on predominantly flat routes until the finale kicks in. Stage 12 finishes on a 19 kilometres climb, while stage 14 goes uphill for the lion’s share of the last 35 kilometres. The finish climb serves 8.4 kilometres at 7.8% with quite a few double digit ramps.
The riders head for the roof of La Vuelta in stage 15. And again, most climbing is saved for last. With 50 kilometres remaining the riders enter the Alto del Purche (9.1 kilometres at 7.6%) before continuing to the Alto de Hazallanas (7.3 kilometres at 9.6%) and Alto Hoya de la Mora (12.2 kilometres at 6.8%). These last two climbs merge into each other – without a descent -, so basically it’s one long finish climb with an average gradient of 7.9%. The finish is located at 2,510 metres above sea level in the Sierra Nevada.
The last week offers remarkably few opportunities in terms of the battle for the red jersey. On paper, only the stages 18 and 20 could serve as launch bases for GC attacks. Stage 18 revolves around the climb to Piornal. On two occassions – and on two sides – the riders tackle a 13.5 kilometres climb at 5%. In both instances it’s a regular ascent and the gradients are far from specacular, so it will be hard to gain time. It’s the last uphill finish in this year’s Vuelta.
Stage 20 is the last opportunity for GC riders to distance their rivals. The peloton traverses the Puerto de Navacerrada (10.1 kilometres at 6.8%), Puerto de Navafría (9.8 kilometres at 5.5%), Puerto de Canencia (7.5 kilometres at 4.9%), Puerto de la Morcuera (9.4 kilometres at 6.9%) and Puerto de Cotos (10.3 kilometres at 6.9%) before finishing on a plateau 6.7 kilometres after that last summit.
Primoz Roglic won the last three editions of the Spanish Grand Tour. Last year, the Slovene crowned a dominant performance with four stage wins, while he took the GC almost 5 minutes ahead of runner-up Enric Mas. The edition of 2020 was something else entirely, as he took the win only 24 seconds ahead of Richard Carapaz with Hugh Carthy in third at 1.15 minutes. In 2019, Roglic celebrated his GC triumph ahead of Alejandro Valverde and Tadej Pogacar, still only 20 year of age at the time. Simon Yates won the red jersey in 2018 ahead of Enric Mas and Miguel Ángel López.
BORA-hansgrohe has the strongest team in depth in terms of GC contenders. The German squad starts with three podium contenders: Wilco Kelderman, Sergio Higuita, and Giro winner Jai Hindley.
Favourites 2022 Vuelta a España
***** Primoz Roglic, Richard Carapaz, Simon Yates
**** Wilco Kelderman, Sergio Higuita, Jai Hindley
*** João Almeida, Mikel Landa, Remco Evenepoel, Ben O’Connor
** Miguel Ángel López, Enric Mas, Thymen Arensman, Hugh Carthy
* Thibaut Pinot, Tao Geoghegan Hart, Esteban Chaves, Louis Meintjes