A Climbing feast
The two hardest stages of La Vuelta a España fall in the middle of the race. Most Grand Tours would save their key spots for the final week, but La Vuelta does things differently and this weekend is tailor-made for climbers. Saturday and Sunday will be absolute must-sees and a very good reason to brave the late start times of La Vuelta.
Stage 11 showcases four ascents of increasing difficulty through the Asturian mountains. La Vuelta visited the summit finish on La Farrapona in 2014. The mountain climb lies in the Picos de Europa and back then it served as finish climb to the queen stage of that year’s edition. The race boiled down to an Alberto Contador vs Chris Froome clash, with El Pistolero taking the spoils with a lead of 14 second.
The legendary climb of the Alto d’Angliru is one of the hardest in cycling and is the key point of the action-packed Stage 12, which is just 109 kilometres long! It will be hell for leather from the drop of the flag, with the strongest climber emerging at the top of the hardest test in this year's Vuelta.
An absolute beast of a climb that features eye-wateringly steep gradients and is one the riders mention with a shudder.
The climb never disappoints and has been the scene of legendary encounters across the years, with one of the most famous showdowns in recent memory a knockdown, drag-out duel between Vincenzo Nibali and Chris Horner in 2013.
Watch out for the Cueña les Cabres (the goat path), the steepest section of the climb, with two kilometres remaining.
La Vuelta does things a bit differently from the other Grand Tours in France and Italy, and while not many would place the Spanish race above it’s European counterparts in terms of conventional beauty, there is a stark majesty to the surroundings. Impossible pinnacles of rock, alien plains of unlikely shades and vast, deep gorges break up the traditional procession of mountains and valleys that you’ll see elsewhere in the world.
A cast of superstars
Primož Roglič heads a Jumbo-Visma squad looking to make up for a Tour de France that ended in ultimate disappointment and his main rival and current red jersey wearer Richard Carapaz is similarly looking to pick up the pieces for INEOS Grenadiers coming from that same race.
A mixed cast of stars follows them, from ageing stalwarts of the professional peloton in Alejandro Valverde, Esteban Chaves and Dan Martin, to yet more examples of the young riders that are taking over the sport in 2020, the likes of Hugh Carthy and Sepp Kuss.
Sprinters often treat the Vuelta as an afterthought. In the past we’ve seen second-tier sprinters like Matteo Trentin and Magnus Cort Nielsen claim multiple stage wins in the bunch kicks but the 2020 Vuelta features some of the top names in the business. Sam Bennett is fresh off his Tour de France green jersey victory and German powerhouse Pascal Ackermann has won against all comers these past few years.
A young cadre of Jasper Philipsen, Gerben Thijssen, Alexis Renard and Max Kanter – none of which is above 23 years of age – are looking to establish a name for themselves by taking their best career win to date and they look hungry for success.
Stage 10 tonight is their next chance to fight it out for sprint dominance, but the uphill drag in the finale will change the dynamic from previous stages.
Expect the unexpected
Who knows what’s around the next corner? Nobody really knows, and the 2020 La Vuelta has already thrown a few cats among the pigeons (or in this case mountain ponies).
For the racing itself, we’ve seen dramatic upheavals during previous editions of La Vuelta. Think Tadej Pogačar attacking on the penultimate stage last year 50 kilometres out, a long-range Alberto Contador assault that saw the Spaniard overturn Joaquim Rodriguez’s minute lead late in the race or Fabio Aru finally overcoming Tom Dumoulin after weeks of chipping away at his lead. This weekend could similarly be the scene of legendary moments that are talked about for years to come.