[Underneath text 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 3, 6, 10, 13, 14, 17, 18, and 20. These are all mountainous stages with trying finales, with the exception of stage 10, which is an ITT. Remco Evenepoel and Primoz Roglic will look forward to this chrono race. Roglic is Olympic Champion in the discipline, while Evenepoel recently stormed to the ITT world title. Last year, the two also battled it out for La Vuelta’s ITT victory on a similar course (yet, slightly longer and entirely flat) and the balance tipped in the Belgian’s favour. Or, actually, more than tipped – he gained 48 seconds.
Starting with Vingegaard and Roglic as joint team leaders, Jumbo-Visma aims to become the first team ever to win all three Grand Tours in a single year. The two Grand Tour winners of 2023 have powerful support, as Sepp Kuss, Wilco Kelderman, Dylan van Baarle, Jan Tratnik, Attila Valter, and Robert Gesink round out the squad.
Red jersey days
After the TTT of day one and the hilly stage of day two, we’ll get a first glimpse of the on form riders in stages 3 and 6, while the GC battle is expected to really catch fire in the second week. Kicking off with the ITT (stage 10), the red jersey will be at stake in stage 13, as the race traverses the Col du Aubisque and Col de Spandelles to finish at the Col du Tourmalet. Which is a brutal beast of 18.9 kilometres with an average gradient of 7.4% and a final kilometre at double digits.
The next day is just as brutal, as stage 14 takes in an elevation gain of 4,600 metres, all crammed together inside the last 100 kilometres. Two HC climbs – Col Hourcère (11.1 kilometres at 8.7%) and Puerto de Larrau (14.9 kilometres at 8%) – precede a relatively easy finish climb: Puerto de Belagua (9.5 kilometres at 6.3%). Chances are that the team with the biggest ambitions (a.k.a. Jumbo-Visma) will put pressure during the first two ascents to try and finish it off on the climb to the line.
On paper, the most iconic race travels to the Alto de El Angliru. To reach that ruthless mountain the riders have to conquer the Alto de Colladiela (7.8 kilometres at 7.1%) and Alto Cordal (5.4 kilometres at 9.2%) first. The latter is a kind of Angliru light – very steep, but half as long – and after the descent it’s time for the real thing. The first 5 kilometres go up at 7% and then the shit hits the fan. The final 7 kilometres climb at an unforgiving 13% – in short, a bad day on the Angliru means bye bye red jersey.
Chances are that the winner of the 2023 Vuelta will be known at the end of the following day. Stage 18 features over 4,600 metres of climbing, the majority of which is stacked in the finishing circuit. The riders tackle the Puerto de la Cruz de Linares twice, an ascent of 8.3 kilometres at 8.6% with the first half solely double digit material.
Stage 20 is the last opportunity for GC riders to distance or overhaul their rivals. It’s not a proper mountain stage, although the elevation gain (4,362 metres) surely sends a different message. The riders are to traverse ten classified summits in a 207.8 kilometres long race. The last climb is crested with 12 kilometres remaining.
Roglic won the 2019 to 2021 editions of the Spanish Grand Tour back to back before Evenepoel took over the title last year. The Slovene dropped out after a hard crash in the finale of stage 16. He was sitting in second at that moment, 1.26 minutes behind the red jersey. Eventually, Eric Mas finished in second on GC – at a little over 2 minutes – and Juan Ayuso in third – at almost 5 minutes.
Favourites 2023 Vuelta a España
***** Primoz Roglic, Remco Evenepoel
**** Jonas Vingegaard, Enric Mas, Geraint Thomas
*** João Almeida, Aleksandr Vlasov, Mikel Landa, Juan Ayuso
** Thymen Arensman, Hugh Carthy, Damiano Caruso, Romain Bardet
* Egan Bernal, Jay Vine, Sergio Higuita, Einer Rubio, Eddie Dunbar