With the route for the 2016 Vuelta a Espana revealed, where will the race be won or lost?
The Vuelta a Espana 2016 route has been confirmed, with the season’s final Grand Tour packing ten summit finishes and two time trials into 3,277km of racing.
Rolling out with a team time trial in Ourense, north west Spain, on Saturday August 20, much of the race is centred on northern Spain to avoid long transfers and includes a detour across the border into France.
As ever the race finishes in Madrid, on Sunday September 21, with a flat final stage but where will the battle for the red jersey – won in 2015 by Astana’s Fabio Aru – be played out? We’ve picked out six key stages.
Stage eight – Villalpando to La Camperona, 177km
The first uphill finish comes as early as stage three, when the category-three Mirador de Ezaro will provide an early test of the legs, but the first week finishes with significantly bigger tests.
Stage eight is the first of those and thought it barely changes in gradient for the first 163km to Cistierna it ramps up sharply on the La Camperona finale.
Around ten kilometres in length, the climb saves its most punishing sections until late on, with thigh-numbing gradients approaching 20 per cent.
Ryder Hesjedal was victorious on the climb in 2014 and, with a busy summer and little time to recovery between the Tour de France, Olympics and Vuelta, it could well be an ascent which catches some of the big contenders out.
Stage ten – Lugones to Lagos de Covadonga, 186.6km
The Lakes of Covadonga have become an iconic part of the modern Vuelta a Espana, and stage ten of this year’s race will be the 20th to have finished there since its 1983 debut.
Lucho Herrera, Laurent Jalabert and Britain’s Robert Millar are all among the former winners on the picturesque summit – but don’t let the beauty of the stage distract from its brutal nature.
Having already climbed the category-one Alto del Fito earlier on stage ten, the peloton then heads to the ESP-rated (that’s equivalent to a hors categorie rating at the Tour de France) 12.6km Lagos de Covadonga ascent to conclude the stage.
An average gradient of 7.3 per cent is tough in its own right but there are sections significantly steeper, while La Huesera, close to the 7km to go mark, sure to sort the men from the boys with a 15 per cent drag for some 800m.
Stage 14 – Urdatx-Dantxarinea to Col d’Aubisque, 195.6km
Plenty more climbing follows stage ten, including stage 11, which like stage eight is virtually flat before ramping up with a category-one summit finish at Pena Cabarga.
It’s stage 14, however, which is likely to swing the battle for the red jersey significantly, as the race heads across the border into France.
After a brief detour the previous day on an undulating stage from Bilbao to Urdax-Dantxarinea well suited to a breakaway from , stage 14 crosses into France after just one kilometre of racing.
From Laruns, the climb is 16.3km in length, and despite a gentle opening come with an average gradient of 7.2 per cent thanks in no small part to the mid-section ramping up to more than 13 per cent.
Stage 17 – Castellon to Mas de la Costa, 173.3km
Back into Spain and there’s no let-up for the peloton with a short, punchy stage to Aramon Formigal on the cards after the Aubisque, before a rare flat stage and the final rest day.
The final, decisive week then kicks off with more climbing – in fact stage 17 will be only minutes old when the peloton climbs from Benicasim up the cat-two Alto del Desierto de las Palmas.
Two more second category climbs follow – the Alto de la Sarratella and Puerto de Benasal, and then an uncategorised ascent into Llucena.
And the stage concludes with the ninth summit finish of the race, the brutally steep Alto Mas de la Costa.
Though less than four kilometres in length, the gradient rarely drops below double digits – an average of 15 per cent disguising some brutal sections of closer to 20 per cent, including the final drag to the finish.
Stage 19 – Xabia to Calpe, 39km ITT
Not all of the race is about brutal climbs, and stage 19 offers a testing 39km individual time trial, which could shake up the GC ahead of the final weekend.
Though the coastal route is largely flat – its highest point, at Teulada, is 170m – wind could be a factor and the stage is long enough for significant gaps to open up.
The route that comes before the time trial should mean it is the climbers in control by stage 19, but if one of them can put the power down on the time trial course – a Nibali, Uran or Contador, for example – it could make a decisive difference.
Stage 20 – Benidorm to Alto de Aitana, 184km
Race organisers have already expressed their wish that, whoever wins, it is on the penultimate day that the race is won – as it was with Aru last year.
And in anticipation of that, an incessantly lumpy stage with a big sting in the tail awaits, with five climbs packed into the 184km in all.
The category two Coll de Rates, Alto de Tollos and Puerto de Tudons climbs all feature, sandwiching the cat-three Alto de Ebo, but it is the final ESP-rated ascent which should decide the race.
The Alto de Aitana marks the highest point in the Alicante province, and offers up a punishing 22.3km slog to the summit – at an average gradient of six per cent.
It is certainly a fitting finale for the battle for overall honours before the largely ceremonial procession into Madrid for the winner on the final day.
Vuelta a Espana 2016 route
Saturday August 20: stage one – Laias do Mino (Ourense), 29.4km TTT Sunday August 21: stage two – Ourense to Baiona, 159km Monday August 22: stage three – Marin to Mirador de Izaro, 170km summit finish Tuesday August 23: stage four – Betanzos to San Andres de Teixido, 161km sf Wednesday August 24: stage five – Viveiro to Lugo, 170km Thursday August 25: stage six – Monforte to Lunitra, 163km Friday August 26: stage seven – Maceda to Puebla de Sanabria, 158.3km sf Saturday August 27: stage eight – Villalpando to La Camperona, 177km sf Sunday August 28: stage nine – Cistierna to Alto del Naranco, 165km sf Monday August 29: stage ten – Lugones to Lagos de Covadonga, 186.6km sf Tuesday August 30: rest day one Wednesday August 31: stage 11 – Colunga (Museo Jurasico) to Pena Cabarga, 168.6km sf Thursday September 1: stage 12 – Corrales de Buelna to Bilbao, 193.2km Friday September 2: stage 13 – Bilbao to Urdatx-Dantxarinea, 212.8km Saturday September 3: stage 14 – Urdatx-Dantxarinea to Col d’Aubisque, 195.6km sf Sunday September 4: stage 15 – Sabinanigo to Aramon Formigal, 120km sf Monday September 5: stage 16 – Alcaniz to Penicola, 158km Tuesday September 6: rest day two Wednesday September 7: stage 17 – Castellon to Mas de la Costa, 173.3km sf Thursday September 8: stage 18 – Requena to Gandia, 191km Friday September 9: stage 19 – Xabia to Calpe, 39km ITT Saturday September 10: stage 20 – Benidorm to Alto de Aitana, 184km sf Sunday September 11: stage 21 – Las Rozas to Madrid, 102.5km
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