Preview: Here’s what you should know about the 2020 Vuelta a España

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The Giro d’Italia is still going, the Tour of Flanders happened last weekend, the world championships was held a few weeks before that CHECK THIS / CHECK WORLDS NORMALLY AFTER and yet the Vuelta a España is about to begin. Yep, it’s been weird year.

Starting this Tuesday October 20 and running until November 8, the WHAT edition of Spain’s Grand Tour isn’t your normal bike race. Assuming it all goes ahead as planned — far from a certainty — here’s what you can expect.

The race

At the time of writing Spain is in the midst of a second wave of coronavirus CHECK THIS with DETAILS. The capital of Madrid, where the race is set to end in a few weeks, is currently under lockdown. Will the race make it that far? I wouldn’t want to put money on it.

A mobile COVID-testing lab will follow the race around and riders are being tested several times throughout the race. Fans are being banned from a bunch of mountain passes throughout the race and MORE DETAIL FROM WEBSITE. In other words, precautions are being taken but knows how long the race will last.

The course

On the subject of coronavirus, this year’s Vuelta has been stripped back from 21 stages to 18. It was originally set to start with three stages in the Netherlands, but those were chopped out due to ‘The Rona’ and the race will instead start with what would have been stage 4.

This year’s Vuelta starts in the Basque Country in the north east of Spain CHECK THIS and stays in the northern half of the country for the entire 18 days. In fact the planned conclusion in Madrid is as far south as the race gets.

According to race organisers, this year’s Vuelta comprises the following:

– 4 flat stages
– 8 hilly stages
– 5 mountain stages
– 1 individual time trial
– 2 rest days (after stage 6 and stage 12)

If it wasn’t clear from that breakdown, this is a race for the climbers. The climbing starts from the opening stage and features throughout the 18 days of racing. Of the 13 days designated as hilly or mountain stages, six finish with decent climbs to the line. The individual time trial also finishes on a climb too.

Here’s a stage-by-stage breakdown of the route:


Stage 1: Relative flat to start with but lumpy in the back half. Three cat 3s, Cat 1 to end. Last is 5km long, peaks less than 3km from the line
Stage 2: Two Cat 3s, Cat 1 (9.4km at 7.9km) peaks about 17km from the finish. Downhill
Stage 3: Gradually uphill all day, 1st cat to end: 8.6km at 5.8%
Stage 4: bunch sprint. Possible wind?
Stage 5: 2 Cat 2s, Cat 3. Last one peaks 18km from line.
Stage 6: Up and down all day, 136km stage, into France, Three big climbs all over 15km llong. Tourmalet to finish: 19km at 7.4%
Stage 7: Two ascents of Puerto de Orduña (7.8 at 7.7%), last peaks 19km from finish.
Stage 8: Cat 2, then Cat 1 to finish: Alto de Moncalvillo (8.3km at 9.2%)
Stage 9: Flat, sprint
Stage 10: Mostly flat, but 2km at 5% to end. Strong sprinters
Stage 11: Cat 3 out of the start, then four Cat 1s, finishing atop the final one: 16.5km at 6.2%
Stage 12: 2 Cat 3, 2 Cat 1, then Angliru to finish! 12.4km at 9.9% Over 10% for last 7km
Stage 13: ITT. all flat then 1.8km at 14.8% Bike change?
Stage 14: Three cat 3,s could be a sprint, could be a break
Stage 15: Longest of race 230km. Breakaway day? 5 Cat 3s, last at 19km to go
Stage 16: Cat 2 and a Cat 1. Last 35km from finish. Breakaway?
Stage 17: Cat 1, 3 cat 3s, Cat 2, then HC to Covatilla (11.4km at 7.1%)
Stage 18: Sprint in Madrid

The race for red

As the Giro is reminding us, changes on the GC are possible on just about any stage of a Grand Tour, whether due to the route, the conditions, or, most importantly, how the stages are raced. This year’s Vuelta is no exception — the climbing starts stage 1 and just about every day has some sort of difficulty for the GC contenders to be mindful of.

Still, there are a handful of stages that are particularly conducive to changes in the GC battle.

Stage 3: Cat 1 climb to end
Stage 6: Tourmalet to finish
Stage 8: Alto de Moncalvillo
Stage 11: Cat 1 climb to finish
Stage 12: Angliru to finish
Stage 13: The individual time trial
Stage 17: Covatilla climb to finish

The GC contenders