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by Matt de Neef
August 21, 2019
It’s time for the Vuelta a España, the third and final Grand Tour of the season. The race gets underway this Saturday in Torrevieja and will be contested over 21 stages and 3,272km. Here’s what you should know about the 2019 Tour of Spain.
The 2019 Vuelta is the race’s 74th edition.
The Vuelta is easily the youngest of the three Grand Tours. Where the Giro d’Italia has had 102 editions since its start in 1909, and the Tour de France has had 106 editions since 1903, the Vuelta only began in 1935.
The race was originally held in spring, but in 1995 it moved to September to avoid clashing with the Giro d’Italia.
This year’s race marks the 10th anniversary of the leader’s red jersey.
“La Roja” made its debut on stage 1 of the 2010 Vuelta a España. Mark Cavendish was the first to wear it, after his HTC-Columbia team won a 13km team time trial in Seville. “Cav” was first across the line, taking red.
Cavendish wearing the first “La Roja” at the 2010 Vuelta.
What did the Vuelta leader wear before 2010? In its first two years — 1935 and 1936 — the leader’s jersey was orange. It was white in 1941 (when the race resumed after the Spanish Civil War), orange again in 1942, red briefly in 1945 (after a two-year hiatus due to World War II), red with a white stripe from 1946 to 1950 (the race wasn’t held from 1951-54), yellow from 1955 to 1998 (except for orange in 1977), and then gold from 1999 to 2009.
This year’s race starts in the south east of Spain and finishes up in Madrid.
Saturday’s opening stage takes place in Torrevieja, a town on the Costa Blanca in the Alicante region. Over the first week the race works its way north up the Spanish coast towards Andorra, before ducking into the small principality on stage 9. The second week begins with a brief visit to France, before heading west across Spain’s northern coastline towards the Cantabrian Mountains in the Asturias region.
The Vuelta ends with a few stages near the centre of the country, culminating with the final stage in the national capital, Madrid.
There are eight uphill finishes in this year’s race.
Of those eight, three come in the first week, four come in the second, and just one comes in the final week.
Here are the stages with uphill finishes:
Stage 5: The first summit finish, with a final climb of 11.1km at an average of 7.8%.
Stage 6: A 7.9km rise at 5% after a hilly day.
Stage 7: A short but steep final climb (4.1km at 12.3%) on a day with four climbs.
Stage 9: Two big climbs, then the last 22km is mostly uphill (it ends with 5.7km at 8.3%).
Stage 13: A day with seven climbs, including a 6.8km ascent at 9.2% (max 25%) to finish.
Stage 15: Four mountains, concluding with a tough 7.9km at 9.7%.
Stage 16: 144km, three mountains, and the final climb is 17.8km at 6.2% (see below).
Stage 20: Six climbs, the last of which is 3.5km at 7% (after a stepwise final 10km).
The profile for stage 16 of the 2019 Vuelta.
There are two time trials in this year’s race.
The race begins with a 13.4km team time trial in Torrevieja. It’s a short and flat stage, meaning the time gaps between GC contenders will likely be reasonably small.
The other time trial is an individual race against the clock on stage 10. It’s the first stage back after the first rest day and it will be held just outside Pau, in southern France. Interestingly, the only ITT of this year’s Tour de France was also held in Pau, on a different course just a few kilometres away.
The Vuelta ITT is 36.2km long and while it does feature some climbing, it’s a relatively flat affair. That said, the distance is such that there are likely to be decent time gaps between riders on this stage.
There are 10 stages that look most likely to shape the general classification.
There are the eight uphill finishes detailed above, there’s the stage 10 ITT, and then there’s stage 18. Held in central Spain this mountain stage features four big climbs, the last of which is 13.9km at 4.8% and peaks about 26km from the finish. From that summit it’s flat for a few kilometres, downhill for more than a few, then gently uphill for the final 4km. This is a tough day that will likely have an impact on the overall standings.
Stage 18 doesn’t finish uphill but it should still help to shape the general classification.
Of course just about any stage can have an impact on the GC, whether due to crosswinds, crashes, mechanicals, illness or any number of other factors.
There are three former winners on the startlist.
Alejandro Valverde (2009), Fabio Aru (2015) and Nairo Quintana (2016) are all back at the Vuelta in 2019. You’ll note that two of those riders are from the same team …
Movistar goes into the Vuelta with three contenders for the GC.
It’s become something of a tradition at recent Grand Tours. Not content with one or even two leaders, Movistar takes a trio of would-be leaders into the Vuelta. Valverde is more likely to finish somewhere inside the top 10 than win the thing (he was ninth at the Tour this year), and Nairo Quintana hasn’t been at his Grand Tour-winning best since 2017 (he was eighth at the recent Tour de France), but Movistar’s third leader is a big chance indeed.
Richard Carapaz won the Giro d’Italia back in May in what was something of a surprise victory. If he wins the Vuelta it will be no surprise at all. The Ecuadorian is a gun climber and assuming he brings the same form into the Vuelta as he did the Giro, well, he’ll be quite hard to beat.
UPDATE: Carapaz will miss the Vuelta due to a crash at a post-Tour criterium last weekend.
Jumbo-Visma has two big threats for the overall.
Tom Dumoulin hasn’t joined the team yet but Jumbo-Visma already has plenty of GC firepower for the Vuelta. Steven Kruijswijk recently finished third at the Tour de France (his fourth Grand Tour top-five), and Primoz Roglic finished third at the Giro d’Italia earlier this year (his second Grand Tour top-five).
The pair showed at last year’s Tour de France they are both capable of a good result in the same race (Roglic was fourth, Kruijswijk was fifth) and it would be a great surprise if Jumbo-Visma didn’t have at least one rider in the top five at this year’s Vuelta. A podium finish should be the goal.
Astana has two great options as well.
Miguel Angel Lopez finished third at the Vuelta last year (likewise at the Giro) and has been impressive this year with overall wins at Colombia 2.1 and the Volta Catalunya. Jakob Fuglsang, meanwhile, will be looking for redemption after a very frustrating Tour de France. He went into that race as one of the overall contenders (having won the Criterium du Dauphine in the lead-up) but crashed out on stage 16 while sitting inside the top 10.
If Fuglsang can ride at the same level he did earlier in the year (at the Dauphine and in the Spring Classics) he’ll be a good chance of his first Grand Tour podium, if not his first victory.
Esteban Chaves is back leading Mitchelton-Scott’s GC ambitions at a Grand Tour.
The Colombian has had a tricky few seasons with illness, but he came back in a big way at the Giro this year with a rousing stage win. Now, the 29-year-old has been given the nod to race for the general classification again.
Chaves was second overall at the Giro in 2016 and has been third (2016) and fifth (2015) at the Vuelta. As such, he’s more than capable when he’s at his best, it’s just a question of whether he will be at his best or whether he still has some work to do with his recovery.
Chaves was third at the Vuelta in 2016, behind Quintana and Chris Froome.
As ever, the battle for the top 10 will be heavily contested.
Rigobero Uran has GC ambitions for EF Education First and is capable of reaching the podium if the chips fall his way. Fabio Aru (UAE-Team Emirates), meanwhile, is still on the mend after iliac artery surgery earlier this year, but says he’s making good progress. It’s hard to see him adding to his 2015 title, but a top 10 is within his range (he was 14th at the Tour in July).
Wilco Kelderman will lead Sunweb’s quest for a strong GC placing. After abandoning the Tour with back pain, Kelderman is a good shot at the top 10 at the Vuelta. He was a very impressive fourth in 2017 and 10th the following year, plus he was seventh at the Giro in 2014. In short: a top 10 is very achievable.
Kelderman was fourth at the 2017 Vuelta and 10th in 2018 (pictured here).
Tao Geoghegan Hart (Ineos) crashed out of the Giro d’Italia earlier this season but will get another shot at Grand Tour GC at the Vuelta. He’ll be sharing the leadership with Wout Poels who’s normally employed as a super-domestique, but does have a sixth place finish at the Vuelta on his palmares (in 2017 while riding for eventual winner Chris Froome).
Meanwhile, both Rafal Majka and Davide Formolo (Bora-Hansgrohe) are capable of finishing inside the top 10. Majka was third in 2015 while Formolo was ninth in 2016 (plus 10th at both the 2017 and 2018 Giri).
The sprinters will probably only have five real chances at victory.
The Vuelta is traditionally the Grand Tour with the fewest opportunities for the sprinters and that holds true in 2019. Only stages 3, 4, 17, 19 and 21 look likely to end in bunch sprints, while stage 2 could as well, depending on how the bunch races the second-category climb that arrives with 25km to go.
Note that the stage 19 finish is particularly interesting — the final kilometre is uphill on cobblestones, but it should still end in a sprint.
According to technical director Fernando Escartin, stage 19 ends with “a gentle 1 km climb over cobblestones”.
Sam Bennett will be the big favourite in the sprints.
It’s still hard to work out why Bora-Hansgrohe didn’t take Sam Bennett to the Giro or the Tour this year. He’s won 11 races in 2019, a staggering nine of them at WorldTour level, making him the most successful sprinter in the world this year. And the Irishman is in stellar form right now — he won the first three stages at the Binck Bank Tour last week, which certainly won’t hurt his confidence heading into the Vuelta.
It’s hard to imagine Bennett not winning at least one stage. Having his mate Shane Archbold back on lead-out duties certainly won’t hurt.
Sam Bennett wins stage 1 of the BinckBank Tour.
Fernando Gaviria is looking for his first win in three months.
Perhaps Bennett’s biggest rival in the sprints will be Fernando Gaviria (UAE Team Emirates). The Colombian hasn’t shown the sort of dominance he did last year — he’s won four races so far this year, compared to 10 by the same point in 2018 — but if he can find some form in Spain, Gaviria will be a very good chance of taking a Vuelta stage win on debut.
The Vuelta could be Fabio Jakobsen’s big breakout.
The Dutch sprinter has been notching up plenty of victories for his Deceuninck-QuickStep squad since joining the WorldTour last year, but at 22 he still lacks the profile of his more fancied rivals. That might change at the Vuelta. The Dutch road champion has five wins for the year, including a couple at WorldTour level. It’s very possible he’ll add a Vuelta stage win to that.
Jakobsen won stage 4 of this year’s Tour of California.
The Vuelta offers a great chance for other aspiring sprinters to make a name for themselves.
Given the relative paucity of opportunities for the sprinters at the Vuelta, many of the biggest names tend to stay away. The result is a slightly more open sprint field, offering chances for up-and-comers to take a breakthrough victory.
Max Walscheid (Sunweb) is an example of one such rider. He’s had a handful of WorldTour podium finishes but is yet to crack a big victory. This might be his chance. Likewise for his fellow German Phil Bauhaus (Bahrain-Merida) who already has two WorldTour sprint wins on his palmares, but is yet to win at Grand Tour level.
Luka Mezgec is in ominous form.
Just keep an eye on Luka Mezgec (Mitchelton-Scott) in the sprints too. The Slovenian has found some impressive form in recent months, winning a stage of the Tour of Slovenia, and two at the recent Tour of Poland (where he beat the likes of Fernando Gaviria and Pascal Ackermann).
Luka Mezgec wins stage 5 of the Tour of Poland.
There’ll be plenty of chances for the stage-hunters and opportunists at this year’s race.
In between the days for the sprinters and the days where the GC men will come to the fore sit a slew of stages where the breakaway riders will contest the victory. Each team has a bunch of riders that will be looking for these opportunities. Here’s are some that you should keep in mind.
Thomas De Gendt (Lotto Soudal) is the best breakaway rider in the world, something he reminded us of with a remarkable victory on stage 8 of the recent Tour de France. He’s won at the Vuelta before (in 2017) and he’ll be a solid bet to repeat that feat in 2019. De Gendt’s Polish teammate Tomasz Marczynski, meanwhile, won two mountain stages at the 2017 Vuelta and could factor again too.
Dylan Teuns (Bahrain-Merida) is a dangerous rider that showed on stage 6 of the Tour this year that he can win from the break on difficult terrain. Philippe Gilbert (Deceuninck-QuickStep) has done plenty of winning in his time, including five stage wins at the Vuelta. Ben King (Dimension Data) won two stage from breakaways last year and will be keen to show that success was no fluke.
King winning stage 4 of last year’s Vuelta.
Basque rider Mikel Nieve (Mitchelton-Scott) might be looking after Chaves for much of the race but if he gets away in the mountains, he’s a strong contender to add to the stage win he took at the 2010 edition. And Pierre Latour (Ag2r-La Mondiale) won at the Vuelta in 2016 and showed some good form at the recent Tour of Poland — keep an eye on him too.
And then there’s Astana. The team might be riding for GC with Lopez and Fuglsang but they’ve got a host of strong contenders for breakaway victories as well. Ion and Gorka Izagirre, Luis Leon Sanchez and two-time Vuelta KOM Omar Fraile — it’s quite the line-up for the Kazakh team.
Tadej Pogacar will be well worth keeping an eye on.
Pogacar won the Amgen Tour of California this year, confirming his world-class talent even at just 20 years old. The Vuelta will be his first Grand Tour and he heads to the race “with the aim of learning as much as possible”. Don’t be surprised to see him riding well beyond his years. He’s a very exciting prospect who has a massive future ahead of him.
Tadej Pogacar winning stage 6 of the Amgen Tour of California, setting him up for overall victory.
Sergio Higuita (EF Education First) will also be worthy of your attention. The 22-year-old Colombian finished second behind Pogacar at the Tour of California, he was fourth overall at the recent Tour of Poland, and he’s also racing his first Grand Tour (after transferring to the WorldTour mid-season).
Higuita’s British teammate Hugh Carthy will be an interesting one to follow too. The 25-year-old finished just outside the top 10 at the Giro earlier this year in what was a true breakout performance. Expect more of the same in his second Vuelta.
This is the first year the Vuelta will have a jersey for the best young rider.
Hard to believe, right? Bizarrely, the Vuelta only introduced a best young rider classification in 2017. The leader was designated not with a special jersey, but rather with a red bib. This year the leader of the young rider classification will wear a white jersey, just like at the Giro and the Tour.
Riders to watch for the white jersey include those mentioned above: Pogacar (the youngest rider in the race), Higuita, Carthy, Geoghegan Hart and perhaps Australia’s Ben O’Connor.
Sergio Higuita will be worth watching at this year’s Vuelta.
You can catch the Vuelta a España live on TV from most territories around the world.
If you’re in Australia and keen to watch the Vuelta, SBS is your best bet. Each stage will be streamed live and free via the Cycling Central website and SBS OnDemand. Selected stages will be live on SBS Viceland as well. SBS Cycling Central has all the details.
If you’re in the US, livestreaming is available via Fubo.tv and NBC Sports. In Canada, Flobikes is streaming the race live. Note that a 20% discount is available at Flobikes for CyclingTips’ VeloClub members.
Eurosport is likely your best bet if you’re in the UK or Europe. Of course, be sure to check your local guides or steephill.tv for more information about region-specific broadcast information.
If you’d like to follow the race via Twitter, the official account is @lavuelta and the official hashtag is #LaVuelta19.
Who’s your pick to win the 2019 Vuelta a España? Which riders are you most looking forward to watching over the three weeks?