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If you are new to the Vuelta a España or can’t commit three weeks to watching every stage (although we strongly recommend you try that first) here are what should be the seven most dramatic stages to watch. For 2015, The Vuelta features a number of coastal stages including the Costa del Sol, Costa Blanca and Costa del Azahar, as well as the Atlantic coast of Cantabria and Asturias. To keep things interesting for the climbers, all nine of the summit finishes in 2015 are new to the race! Here’s our top-seven list:
Words: Ben Atkins
Image: Yuzuru Sunada
Sunday, August 23.
Stage 2: Alhaurín de la Torre–Caminito del Rey (165km)
No gentle introduction to the Vuelta this year. No easy first week for the sprinters. As the Giro d’Italia did in Liguria, after an initial team time trial, the Vuelta throws the peloton into the hills of Andalucía, including the first of the race’s nine summit finishes. While the climb up the spectacular Caminito del Rey (“King’s Pathway”) is only Cat. 3, and will be within the capabilities of those fast men that can climb—perhaps John Degenkolb or Michael Matthews—it sets the tone for what will be a very tough first week. And this area is not known as the Costa del Sol for nothing; Andalucía in August will be very, very hot!
Friday, August 28.
Stage 7: Jódar–La Alpujarra (188.3km)
We’ve already had two uphill stage finishes, but this is the first of the big ones with a Cat. 1 finish through the Sierra Nevada National Park to the Alto de Capileira. It’s not the steepest of climbs, at an average of just over 5 percent, but it’s more than 19 kilometers long. The stage’s only other classified climb is the Cat. 3 Puerto de los Bilancares, but the terrain will be rolling all day along the rough roads of the Andalucían interior, while heat will make it a tough stage for everybody.
Sunday, August 30.
Stage 9: Torrevieja–Cumbre del Sol (168.3km)
If the 264-kilometer stage 9 of the Giro d’Italia was reminiscent of Liège-Bastogne-Liège, this one positively screams Flèche Wallonne. Most of the Vuelta’s stage 9 will consist of a pleasant northerly jaunt along the Costa Blanca from the seaside resort of Torrevieja, but the final climb to the summit of the Cumbre del Sol is steep enough to rival the Mur de Huy that comes at the end of the Belgian classic. The riders will tackle the Cumbre del Sol twice, although the first time will be in the opposite direction. It’s only 1,361 feet (415 meters) high, but its classification as Cat. 1 says everything you need to know about how hard it will be. While riders like Joaquim Rodríguez and Alejandro Valverde will likely be battling for the overall race lead, we could witness a stage finish battle between them reminiscent of any in the Ardennes—particularly if the likes of Philippe Gilbert or Rodríguez’s teammate Dani Moreno are present, along with any number of single-day specialists who have one eye on the upcoming world road championships.
Wednesday, September 2.
Stage 11: Andorra la Vella–Cortals d´Encamp (138km)
This stage will hurt. At only 138 kilometers, it’s one of those short, sharp stages that the Vuelta pioneered, and has made a specialty of in recent years. Taking place entirely in the Pyrenean Principality of Andorra, this saw-toothed monster takes in an incredible six mountain passes, including one Cat. 2, four Cat. 1s and one especial (hors-catégorie in French), with virtually no flat road all day. Riders will either be climbing or descending for almost the entire distance, offering no chance to rest, and making essential things like eating and drinking more difficult. This is one of the key stages in the race where the winner will emerge, while many of the hopeful challengers could come unstuck. As if this stage wasn’t tough enough, it comes straight after the Vuelta’s first rest day. Riders who allowed their legs to stiffen up after a hard opening 10 days could come unstuck here.
Monday, September 7.
Stage 16: Luarca–Ermita de Alba (184km)
There’s no Alto de l’Angliru in this year’s Vuelta, but the region of Asturias could possibly have gone one better with the Ermita de Alba. While, at less than 7 kilometers, it’s only half the length of its more famous neighbor, this never-before-climbed especial mountain averages a 11.2-percent grade and features pitches up to 30 percent! Many of the steepest sections come in the final kilometer, which averages around 15 percent, and coming as it does at the end of a very mountainous 184 kilometers—with the last 65 kilometers featuring the Cat. 2 Alto de Tenebredo and Alto del Cordal, and Cat. 1 Alto de la Cobertoria before the closing climb—the unthinkable could happen and we could see riders forced to walk to the finish line. Whoever is wearing the red jersey at the end of this stage will likely be the final winner in Madrid.
Wednesday, September 9.
Stage 17: Burgos TT (39km)
There is just one individual time trial in this year’s Vuelta, and the rolling to flat 39-kilometer loop around Burgos shouldn’t offer too many problems for the top riders. There will be a lot of sore legs after the Ermita de Alba stage two days before, legs that may have been allowed to stiffen on the second rest day, but, as usual, this stage gives one of the few chances to the rouleurs to take back time from the pure climbers.
Saturday, September 12.
Stage 20: San Lorenzo de El Escorial–Cercedilla (181km)
Where the Giro and Tour have packed their toughest stages into the third week, this year’s Vuelta gives its riders a relatively easy time, with no more summit finishes and relatively few mountains. But the penultimate day will be one of the toughest of the race, with the sprinters that are left almost able to look longingly at Madrid from the top of at least one of the four Cat. 1 climbs that this stage features. It’s rare that a summit finish doesn’t feature on the Vuelta’s penultimate day, and the downhill finish from the Puerto de Cotos into Cercedilla will make it hard for any challengers to dislodge the race leader. Many climbers will wish that the stage would turn uphill at the top of the opening climb, the Puerto de Navacerrada, to the top of the Bola del Mundo—as it last did in 2012—but there will be far more riders in the peloton thankful that it doesn’t!