Preview: Your stage-by-stage breakdown of the 2022 Vuelta a España route

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It’s time for the third and final Grand Tour of the season: La Vuelta a España. The 77th edition of the Spanish Grand Tour is shaping up to be a fascinating and hotly contested edition, but we aren’t talking about the riders today (follow the link for our contenders preview). In this preview we’re diving deep on everything you need to know about the course.

For the first time since 2017, this year’s Vuelta will start away from Spanish soil. The kicks off in Utrecht, the Netherlands, which was supposed to host the start back in 2020 before COVID swept the world. In hosting the start of the Vuelta in 2022, Utrecht becomes the first city to host the start of all three Grand Tours.

After three days in the Netherlands, the riders will take a rest/travel day to make their way to the north of Spain for the remaining six stages of the opening ‘week’.

There’s another long transfer after stage 9 as the riders head way down to Alicante in the south east of the country. Over the next week they’ll skirt along Spain’s southern reaches, before a final week that sees the riders head from the country’s south-west up to Madrid for the final stage.

In all, the riders of the 2022 Vuelta will cover a total of 3,280 km. And as you can see from the map below, it’s a race with plenty of long transfers, not just on rest days but between stages as well.

Head on down for a stage-by-stage breakdown of the 2022 Vuelta a España route.

Stage 1: Friday August 19 – Utrecht TTT (23.3 km)

For the first time since 2019 the Vuelta will start with a team time trial. In the words of the Vuelta’s technical director Fernando Escartín, the TTT course features “wide avenues, without technical difficulties.” It’s also the flattest bike race you could possibly imagine. We aren’t likely to see massive gaps between the top GC contenders here.

Who’s it for: The teams with a bunch of strong time trialists, especially those teams who invest heavily in TT performance. Look to Jumbo-Visma and Ineos Grenadiers in particular.

Stage 2: Saturday August 20 – ‘s-Hertogenbosch to Utrecht (175.1 km)

The second day in the Netherlands is the race’s first road stage. Starting in the town where the great Marianne Vos was born, this is a largely flat day with just a single Cat 4 climb to decide the first KOM leader.

This will be a sprint finish, but Escartín raises a tantalising prospect in his preview of the stage: “the proximity to the sea could provoke strong winds and add to the stage’s unpredictability.” Sounds great!

Who’s it for: The sprinters.

Stage 3: Sunday August 21 – Breda to Breda (193.5 km)

The Vuelta’s Dutch visit ends with another stage for the sprinters. You know it’s a flat day when the stage’s only climb is a Cat 4 and it’s very nearly the highest point of the day at 25 metres above sea level.

Who’s it for: The sprinters again.

Stage 4: Tuesday August 23 – Vitoria-Gasteiz to Laguardia (152.5 km)

After a travel day from the Netherlands to northern Spain, the riders encounter their first real lumps of this year’s race. There’s a Cat 2 climb early, then a Cat 3 that’s 7.3 km long (4.8% average gradient) and that peaks 15 km from the finish.

This stage could well end in a bunch sprint too – or more likely, a reduced bunch sprint – but that late climb does look like it could be a decent launch pad. At the very least, it will be where the more resilient fastmen will be looking to offload the pure sprinters.

To add extra intrigue to the stage, there could be wind in the closing kilometres into Laguardia. Plus, the last few kilometres are slightly uphill, including a steep kick with 500 metres to go. In short, it could be an intriguing stage!

Who’s it for: Probably the sprinters who also climb well, or the Classics-y puncheur types. A little hard to predict!

Stage 5: Wednesday August 24 – Irun to Bilbao (187.2 km)

A tricky medium mountain stage in the Basque Country featuring a total of five climbs. Two of those climbs are the second-category Alto del Vivero which the riders will crest with 43 km and 14 km to go. At 4.6 km long and an average of 8% this is a punchy climb that could offer the perfect opportunity for a late move.

Who’s it for: This one feels like it could be a day for the breakaway. Look for someone to attack late from that break.

Stage 6: Thursday August 25 – Bilbao to Ascensión al Pico Jano (181.2 km)

The first proper uphill finish of this year’s Vuelta. There’s a Cat 2 and a Cat 1 before the riders reach the final ascent which is itself 12.6 km at 6.6% all the way to the line at Pico Jano.

Who’s it for: Escartín reckons it’s a day for the breakaway and that seems like a pretty good shout. Still, this will give us the first indication of who among the GC contenders is climbing well.

Stage 7: Friday August 26 – Camargo to Cistierna (190 km)

The course profile for this one is a little peculiar. The riders starts out in the lowlands near the Cantabrian coast before tackling a long climb into the hills halfway through the stage.

That climb is listed in the roadbook as 22.4 km at 5.5% but as you can see from the profile, the road actually trends upwards for more than 50 km in the middle of the stage. From the top of that climb the route is downhill and flat into the finish in Cistierna.

Who’s it for: Probably the breakaway.

Stage 8: Saturday August 27 – Pola de Laviana to Colláu Fancuaya (153.4 km)

A tough day in the Asturias mountains with six climbs, including one right out of the start and a big one to finish with.

That last ascent is 10.1 km at 8.5%, including multiple steep ramps of 17% near the end. Ouch.

Who’s it for: This is one of those days that could be for the breakaway or for the overall contenders, depending on how the top teams decide to race it. Either way, this will shape the GC in some way.

Stage 9: Sunday August 28 – Villaviciosa to Les Praeres. Nava (171.4 km)

In Escartín’s words, this is an “extremely tough stage to conclude the first week of racing”.

There are four climbs throughout the stage, before the riders reach the brutal Nava climb to end the stage. This steep ramp is only 3.9 km long, but with an average gradient of 12.9%, it’s a torrid way to end the day.

Last time the race visited this climb, in 2018, Simon Yates took the stage on his way to overall victory.

Who’s it for: Probably another day for the GC men, like four years ago. Big gaps are possible on this final climb for riders that crack.

Stage 10: Tuesday August 30 – Elche to Alicante ITT (30.9 km)

The race’s sole individual time trial is “completely flat” and should not provide any real difficulties for the GC contenders. According to Escartín, “other riders with a more pronounced climber profile may struggle.”

There are only a few corners on the entire route so this won’t be terribly technical. That said, the final section tracks along the Levante coastline “where strong winds may be problematic.” Sounds intriguing.

Who’s it for: The TT specialists, including the more powerful GC contenders. The flyweight climbers won’t enjoy this one, particularly if the wind does whip up.

Stage 11: Wednesday August 31 – Elpozo Alimentación to Cabo de Gata (191.2 km)

This should be a day for the sprinters. Note though that most of the last 110 km runs along the Alboran coast which could open the door for some late crosswind action. We can only hope.

Who’s it for: The sprinters.

Stage 12: Thursday September 1 – Salobreña to Peñas Blancas. Estepona (192.7 km)

On stage 12 the riders will cross the province of Malaga from one end to the other in what is an almost entirely flat day … until the final climb. The Peñas Blancas ascent is 19 km long (6.7% average) and “a very tough finale that may make important changes to the general classification.”

Who’s it for: Probably the GC contenders, unless they really want the break to have it.

Stage 13: Friday September 2 – Ronda to Montilla (168.4 km)

There are a few lumps throughout the day but nothing categorised and nothing that will stop this ending in a bunch kick in Montilla. The road is slightly uphill for the final 1 km but this will still be a bunch gallop.

Who’s it for: The fastmen.

Stage 14: Saturday September 3 – Montoro to Sierra de La Pandera (160.3 km)

This Andalucian stage starts out easily enough, but things get gnarly in the back half. There’s a Cat 3 climb as a teaser, about halfway through the stage, and then it’s into back-to-back climbs to end the stage.

The Cat 2 Puerto de Los Villares is 10.4 km at 5.5% and then, with only a short moment of respite, it’s into the Cat 1 Sierra de la Pandera climb which is 8.4 km at 7.8% with several ramps of 15%. Tough day!

Who’s it for: Looks like a stage for the GC men to duke it out for stage honours.

Stage 15: Sunday September 4 – Martos to Alto Hoya de la Mora (152.6 km)

A day that includes more than 4,000 metres of climbing into the Sierra Nevada mountain range. The day starts out in the province of Jaén “where the heat will undoubtedly play an important role”, and then it’s climbing time.

There’s an early Cat 3, then the Cat 1 Alto del Purche (9.1 km at 7.6%), and finally the “special category” climb to Alto Hoya de la Mora: 19.3 km at 7.9% average, with the first few kilometres averaging well over 10%. Note that the finish line is at 2,512 metres above sea level – not insignificant altitude.

This is a super tough day to lead the riders in the final rest day.

Who’s it for: Hard to say whether the winner will come from the break or the GC group, but either way, the GC will change on this stage. Riders who grew up at altitude might fancy this one.

Stage 16: Tuesday September 6 – Sanlúcar de Barrameda to Tomares (189.4 km)

The riders come back from their final rest day to what will be a greatly appreciated easy day. There are a few small lumps in the final kilometres but this will end in a bunch sprint.

Who’s it for: The sprinters, in what will be their final chance of victory before the final stage in Madrid.

Stage 17: Wednesday September 7 – Aracena to Monasterio de Tentudía (162.3 km)

A day of constant ups and downs in the Extremadura region that Escartín describes as “a golden opportunity for a breakaway”.

The day’s only climb is the stage-ending Cat 2 ascent to the Monasterio de Tentudía which spans 10.3 km with an average grade of 5%. It’s “not excessively difficult” and is unlikely to create many big differences between the GC favourites. Then again, if someone’s on a bad day, a 10 km climb can still be problematic.

Who’s it for: Seemingly the breakaway.

Stage 18: Thursday September 8 – Trujillo to Alto de Piornal (192 km)

On stage 18, another day in Extremadura, the riders will climb the Alto de Piornal from three different sides. Those climbs are a Cat 2, then two Cat 1 ascents, the last of which concludes at the finish line.

That last ascent is 13.5 km at 5% which, depending on how it’s raced, could be another opportunity for the GC men.

Who’s it for: Could go either way. Perhaps one for the breakaway, but if the GC men fancy it, one of the overall contenders could take stage honours.

Stage 19: Friday September 9 – Talavera de la Reina to Talavera de la Reina (138.3 km)

A short but tough stage that consists of two laps of a big circuit. That circuit includes the Puerto de la Piélago climb (9.3 km at 5.6%) so the riders will get to tackle that twice.

The climbing is a long way from the finish though – the final ascent peaks 42 km from the line – so it might not be all that decisive.

Who’s it for: Feels like a day for the breakaway, but if the peloton agrees to a cruisier day, it might be that a decent-sized group makes it to the finish for a reduced-bunch kick.

Stage 20:  Saturday September 10 – Moralzarzal to Puerto de Navacerrada (181 km)

The penultimate stage of this year’s Vuelta and the final day in the mountains. There are five climbs on the menu through the Guadarrama mountain range, namely three Cat 1s and two Cat 2s.

The final of those climbs is 10.3 km at 6.9% and peaks 7 km from the finish line, before a flat run-in to Puerto de Navacerrada. This is a tough day, virtually all of which is raced above 1,000 metres. And with this being the last chance for the climbers, expect fireworks on the last climb.

Who’s it for: The GC men.

Stage 21: Sunday September 11 – Las Rozas to Madrid (96.7 km)

The stage is short, the route is flat, and the Vuelta will already have been decided. This will be a largely processional final stage into Madrid which will start easily then ramp up ahead of a bunch kick.

Who’s it for: The sprinters.

Stages to watch

If you aren’t in a position to watch every stage of this year’s Vuelta, but you still want to know the key stages to tune in for, we’ve got you covered. Here are the day that we think will make the most difference on GC.

Stage 6: The first proper uphill finish.
Stage 8: A tough day in Asturias with a summit finish.
Stage 9: A short but very steep climb ends a tough day.
Stage 12: Another uphill finish.
Stage 14: A lot of climbing towards the end.
Stage 15: A super hard day with a very difficult final climb.
Stage 18: Three climbs to finish with.
Stage 20: The final day in the mountains.

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