2014 Vuelta a Espana route: Toned down but not tamed

The 3,181.5km route of the Vuelta a España was officially unveiled yesterday in Cadiz. The 69th edition has pared back the excesses of summit finishes and long transfers to offer a more balanced parcours. However, it’ll still be a race for the mountain goats.

Route map of 2013 Vuelta a Espana (image: Unipublic)

Map of 2014 Vuelta (Image: Unipublic)

The route

Kicking off with the customary team time trial in the south-western town of Jerez de la Frontera, the race heads north-east initially through Andalucía, where it spends much of the first week, with some tricky coastal stages in potentially stifling temperatures. The first summit finish comes on stage six, in the Sierra Nevadan town of La Zubia, where riders will tackle the short, steep Cumbres Verdes. On stage nine, the peloton will crest one of the Vuelta’s best known summits at Valdelinares.

Stage 9 concludes the opening week with a tough summit finish

Stage 9 concludes the opening week with a tough summit finish

Stage ten near Zaragoza provides the setting for a hilly 34.5km individual time trial and ushers in a testing second week in the cooler, greener north which concludes with a triple whammy of mountainous stages in the Asturian Pico de Europa region. A new summit at La Camperone wraps up stage 14, followed by stage 15’s familiar conclusion at Lagos de Covadonga, which provided thrilling action in 2012, then an arduous stage 16 finishing atop Farrapona after which the general classification will become much clearer.

Stage 15 profile

Stage 15 profile

Similar to its last two editions, the last five stages offer the prospect of a late upset. Set in Galicia, these include a summit finish on stage 18 and the queen stage 20 to the unpaved Puerto de Ancares before the final 10km individual time trial around Santiago de Compostela. The race last finished here in 1993 with a ding-dong battle for supremacy between Alex Zulle and Tony Rominger. The latter prevailed to record his third consecutive victory. Interestingly, the Vuelta hasn’t finished with a time trial since 2004.

Stage 20 profile

Stage 20 profile

Overall impressions

Former 1988 Tour de France winner and Vuelta commentator Pedro Delgado summed it up nicely:

From stage ten onwards there are no gifts whatsoever.

Unipublic has persisted with its winning formula but, with its 11 uphill finishes, it remains a testing parcours which should keep us on the edge of our seats until at least the penultimate, if not the final, stage. One can also see more clearly the influence of majority stakeholder ASO as the race celebrates towns well-known to tourists and locals alike with fewer and fewer kilometres of arid empty landscape and motorways.

Where might the race be won and lost?

It’s easy to focus on the big summit finishes, particularly the three in the second week. But, like last year, overall contenders could slip out of contention in week one or expend too much effort in the middle week, leaving them unable to cope with the rigours of week three.

It’s clear riders will need to carefully measure their efforts, particularly if this is their second grand tour of the year. Interestingly, there are also a large number of coastal stages, especially in northern Spain, where the weather might prove unexpectedly decisive in dashing hopes.

11 summit finishes sounds excessive but this year there’s only one set of back-to-back-to-back ascents rather than three. In addition, the organiser has a number of shorter stages and only one over 200km. Distance has been sacrificed to leave the riders fresher and more able to attack on those final decisive climbs.

Grand tours – and the Vuelta in particular – are all about general classification riders rather than sprinters. I think five likely stages is more than enough though given that the World Championship parcours in Ponferrada allegedly favours strong classics riders such as Fabian Cancellara (Trek) and Peter Sagan (Cannondale). Maybe they’ll take part in the Vuelta as preparation?

2014 Vuelta a España stages

August 23rd: Stage 1 – Jerez de la Frontera, 12.6km, team time trial

August 24th: Stage 2 – Algeciras to San Fernando, 174.4km

August 25th: Stage 3 – Cadiz to Arcos de la Frontera, 188km

August 26th: Stage 4 – Mairena del Alcor to Cordoba, 172.6km

August 27th: Stage 5 –Priego de Cordoba to Ronda, 182.3km

August 28th: Stage 6 – Benalmadena to La Zubia, 157.7km

August 29th: Stage 7 – Alhendin to Alcaudete, 165.4km

August 30th: Stage 8 – Baeza to Albacete, 207.4km

August 31st: Stage 9 – Carbonera de Guadazaon to Valdelinares, 181.0km

September 1st: Rest day

September 2nd: Stage 10 – Monasterio de Santa Maria de Veruela to Borja, 34.5km individual time trial

September 3rd: Stage 11 – Pamplona to San Miguel de Aralar, 151km

September 4th: Stage 12 – Logrono to Logrono, 168km

September 5th: Stage 13 – Belorado to Obregon, 182km

September 6th: Stage 14 – Santander to La Camperona, 199km

September 7th: Stage 15 – Oviedo to Lagos de Covadonga, 149km

September 8th: Stage 16 – San Martin del Rey Aurelio to La Farrapona, 158.8km

September 9th: Rest day

September 10th: Stage 17 – Ortigueria to A Coruna, 174km

September 11th: Stage 18 – A Estrada to Monte Castrove en Meis, 173.5km

September 12th: Stage 19 – Salvaterra de Mino to Cangas de Morrazo, 176.5km

September 13th: Stage 20 – Santo Estevo de Riba de Sil to Puerto de Ancares, 163.8km

September 14th: Stage 21 – Santiago de Compostela, 10km individual time trial

Link: Official website

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