The Vuelta boasts five new summits, shorter stages, and plenty of uncertainty

An unconventional closing week across Spain's rugged Sierra de Gredos could up-end the Spanish grand tour

Photo: BrakeThrough Media

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Short, fast, hot and hard — that pretty much sums up any Vuelta a España.

A quick glance confirms that the 2019 edition will live up to the billing: There’s no stage longer than 200km in the route peppered with climbs over the northern half of Spain. There are five new summits, and even one day — stage 9 in Andorra at 96.6km — under 100km. With a short detour into and Andorra and France — including a key 36.2km individual time trial in stage 10 — the 2019 Vuelta should deliver as the race that no one can predict.

This year’s edition won’t disappoint anyone who loves the style of aggressive and unpredictable racing that the Spanish grand tour delivers.

“Every Vuelta is hard,” said Trek-Segafredo’s Peter Stetina. “There might have been a time when it was easier, but the Vuelta is as hard as any race now.”

There could be more than a few surprises lying in wait, however, especially in an unconventional final week across Spain’s rugged Sierra de Gredos, a region that typically has not seen much racing action in the Vuelta’s third week.

Rather than end on such emblematic climbs as L’Angliru or Bola del Mundo, the Vuelta’s final week will be fought out across the stark landscapes of Spain’s northern meseta.

The 2019 Vuelta serves up plenty of short and painfully steep climbs. Photo: Tim de Waele/Getty Images

So, where will the race be won?

A few stages stand out among the 21-stage, 3290km route starting August 24 with a team time trial in Torrevieja and ending in Madrid with a traditional mass gallop on September 15.

Stage-hunters and sprinters will get their chances sprinkled across the route, but the real battle — like any Vuelta — will play out on eight uphill finales underscoring another climb-heavy edition. Perhaps the route is not stacked with as many “walls” as in previous editions, but this Vuelta measures up. There’s hardly a chance for GC riders to let down their collective guard.

No siestas allowed.

“Compared to other grand tours, the Vuelta offers more chances for the escapees,” said Lotto-Soudal sport director Mario Aerts. “The course difficulty of this year’s Vuelta is comparable to the one of previous editions. There will already be a lot of clarity, GC-wise, on the second rest day, both stage fifteen and sixteen are relatively short but really hard.”

The opening team time trial sets an important pecking order within the peloton, and the first week is book-ended by a decisive stage in Andorra. There are a few opening-week steep climbs to eliminate the wheat from the chafe that cannot be overlooked. The first serious winnowing out will come in Andorra in stage 9 with the action-packed, five-climb stage ending at Cortals d’Encamp.

While the race lacks the high summit finishes of the Alps, there are five new summits on tap. Photo: Tim de Waele/Getty Images

Following the first rest day, the Vuelta’s main time trial on a power course in Pau on stage 10 should see a major opportunity for Primoz Roglic (Jumbo-Visma) to position himself for a podium run against a peloton filled with Latin American climbers.

“Overall, with the amount of meters of climbing, this year is one of the hardest we have seen in recent years for the Vuelta,” said Julian Dean, sport director at Mitchelton-Scott. “Andorra is definitely a key stage but also once we get up to Asturias there are some climbs that we have never done before.”

The Vuelta will head back to the super steep Los Machucos climb. Photo: Tim de Waele/Getty Images)

Indeed, the second week is loaded with the trademark steep climbs that has made the Vuelta so entertaining. Los Machucos, the beyond-steep climb that was so decisive in Chris Froome’s 2017 victory, is back in stage 13, followed by two major tests backed up in stages 15 and 16 in Asturias. The finish up Sanctuario de Acebo (8.1km at 9.8 percent) in stage 15, followed by the longer, grinding Alto de la Cubilla (18km at 6 percent) the next day should see the podium contenders surge to the front.

On paper, it appears as the final week lacks a bit of a punch. There isn’t a punctuation mark to end the Vuelta, but instead a series of challenging, undulating terrain offers up some intriguing possibilities to set up the race for attack-driven tactics. Even transition stages have some unexpected features that could catch any leader on siesta off their guard.

Spain’s Sierra de Gredos — hard, knobby climbs along Spain’s inhospitable middle spine — is the main protagonist in the final week. It’s new terrain for the Vuelta to face on the third week, and it could upend the GC. The undulating nature of the terrain could see a strong team snuff out the action, or open the door for adventurists to try to blow apart the race.

Per usual, Spain’s oppressive August heat will increase the challenge of this year’s Vuelta. Photo: Tim de Waele/Getty Images

Can anyone say “Froomigal“? Organizers are certainly hoping to see a repeat of dramatic, race-changing dynamics.

While a few marquee names are missing, including defending champion Simon Yates (Mitchelton-Scott), this year’s Vuelta start list reads like a who’s who of cycling’s next big stars. Primoz Roglic (Jumbo-Visma), Richard Carapaz (Movistar), Miguel Ángel López (Astana) and Tao Geoghegan Hart (Ineos) all line up as pre-race favorites.

With an intriguing course profile and a start list filled with ambition, the 2019 Vuelta should not disappoint.

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