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The Vuelta a España has a reputation for heavy use of big mountain stages, steep climbs, and all-round unpredictability.
The 2022 edition of the race will be no different with a leg-sapping eight summit finishes, plus plenty more climbing elsewhere, even on the sprint days.
There are also two time trials, one individual and one team, that will surely cause some splits in the overall classification.
Across the three weeks of racing, there are an inordinate amount of places where the GC fight could ignite and standings get turned on their heads. With so much to take in, VeloNews has tried to distill some of the most important moments into five key stages.
Stage 8: La Pola Llaviana/Pola de Laviana to Colláu Fancuaya
This is the first part of a summit finish doubleheader at the end of the opening week of the Vuelta a España. It’s not the first summit finish of the race, with that honor going to the Ascensión al Pico Jano. San Miguel de Aguayo on stage 6, but it’s a tough day out with some 3,300 meters of ascending.
The climbing begins right away with the second category Alto de la Colladona beginning right out of the traps. A further four climbs litter the 153.4km route, one of which is another second category ascent followed by three cat. 3 peaks. It’s all building the fatigue in the legs before the ride to the finish line up the Colláu Fancuaya.
The Colláu Fancuaya, situated in the Asturias region, is new to the Vuelta and one not to be missed. Unlike some of the recent new additions to the Vuelta, the Colláu Fancuaya is fully paved. That’s probably where the good points stop. It is 10.1 kilometers long and has an already nasty average gradient of 8.5 percent. However, the road ramps up well into double figures with a 19 percent section halfway up and another 17 percent stretch near the top.
This one’s going to hurt.
Stage 9: Villaviciosa to Les Praeres. Nava
After the tough finale to the previous day’s stage, there will be some tired legs already and riders will be looking forward to the imminent rest day, but they’ll have to tackle another difficult day in the Asturian region. It’s a little longer than the previous day and packs in a few flat roads to savor, but that doesn’t last long.
Following the opening ascent of the Alto del Torno, the first major challenge comes around the halfway point of the stage with the Mirado del Fitor. It’s nine kilometers at an average of six percent but it packs in some doubt-digit gradients along the way that will certainly thin the peloton out.
Two more third-category climbs come before the finish at Les Praeres.
When a 3.9km climb is given cat. 1 status then you know you’re in trouble. The whole climb averages 12.9 percent, but that is brought down by the 4.2 percent gradient towards the top. For much of the climb, the gradient hovers between 12 and 16 percent but there is a 23 percent section just under 2km in and another 24 percent bit right near the top.
It might be short, but this climb could blow the GC apart ahead of the second rest day.
Stage 10: Elche to Alicante
Following the team time trial around Utrecht on the opening day of the race, the only individual chrono kicks off the second week. It is where the likes of defending champion Primož Roglič and Remco Evenepoel would hope to make up some time on their less TT-inclined rivals.
With this chrono sitting almost smack in the middle of the race and some big mountains to come, the result should help spice things up over the coming days as distanced riders try to make up some time.
Starting in Elche, the course heads slightly downhill toward the intermediate check at 16km. After that, it remains almost pan flat all the way to the finish, except for a very small rise near the end. There are a few twists and turns along the way, but this should favor the time trialists with plenty of power.
Stage 15: Martos to Sierra Nevada. Alto Hoya de la Mora.
The second week of the Vuelta a España will end on a real high with the race’s only visit over the 2,000-meter mark. The Sierra Nevada range is known for its high-altitude peaks, it’s what keeps it snowy going into the spring despite its positioning in the south of Spain.
Any visit there is going to be grueling, and this will be the sternest of tests for the GC riders. Much of the over 4,000 meters of climbing is packed into the second half of the day with the first category Alto de Purche coming almost immediately before the final ascent of the Alto Hoya de la Mora.
The Purche looks small compared to the monster finale but it’s not to be sniffed at. The 9.1km ascent averages 7.6 percent and regularly dips into double figures on the way up. A small descent going into the final kilometer of the climb is a short bit of respite, but the riders will have to tackle a 15 percent ramp before cresting the top.
The descent to the valley will give the riders a little bit of time to steel themselves for what is to come. They’ll have to tackle a small unclassified climb before they can start the Alto Hoya de la Mora proper. This Sierra Nevada brute is just shy of 20km long and has an average gradient of 7.9 percent. The toughest part is at the bottom with a 20 percent section in the opening kilometer. After regularly hitting double digits in the first five kilometers, the road eases to a steadier gradient for the remainder of the climb, but it’s still tough and there will likely be some engines blown before the finish.
Stage 19: Talavera de la Reina to Talavera de la Reina
With just two second category climbs across a short 138km route, this is not the most obvious stage to put on this list but that’s what makes it perfect for something unusual to happen. The Vuelta a España is known for its unpredictability and it’s short stages like this one out and back from Talavera de la Reina that can throw everything up in the air.
Who can forget the 2016 Vuelta and the 118km stage 15 to Formigal that saw Nairo Quintana, and the Movistar team catch Team Sky off-guard and put over two minutes into their rivals? There is no big climb like there was on that day, but a determined team could still cause some trouble on this day.
The 9.3-kilometer Puerto del Piélago is the focal point of the day with the riders riding it twice as part of a long circuit to the north of Talavera de la Reina. Even if the GC riders don’t fancy a go at disrupting the race order, it is likely to be a fast and furious day with riders and teams hunting for a win before the race is over attempting to force a breakaway.