The 2015 Vuelta a España route was unveiled last week, so our most experienced Grand Tour watcher, Ed Hood took a close look at the route and some background on la Vuelta. From the deep south to Andorra in the north and then back to Madrid, Ed crosses the plains and mountains of España.
It doesn’t seem like 20 years since the Vuelta moved from the original date in the spring – as the first Grand Tour of the season – to the current autumn slot and last Grand Tour of the year. The weather in Spain in April can change from frozen roads and snow to baking heat over night. And there was the proximity to the Giro in May – the feeling was the later date would provide more stable weather and the race would be perfectly placed as a final polish for the World Championships.
The first editions had a new ethos; shorter, sharper and faster – the reasoning being that there would be less reason for riders to ‘prepare’ (kit up) for a race which didn’t involve six and seven hour grinds. Over the years that thought process has been eroded and as PEZ’s cycling sage and soothsayer Viktor says; ‘it’s now the Spanish Hill Climb Championships.’ With four summit finishes in the first week it’s hard to argue with him – Freddy Maertens wouldn’t win 13 stages in this Vuelta.
The race kicks off with a TTT from rich man’s playground Puerto Banus to Marbella, a mere 7.4 K and pan flat so expect warp speeds and is anyone betting against Movistar? Me neither. And if you’re driving down for the start park the car somewhere discrete; because if you don’t have a Bentley/Ferrari/Maserati/Roller, well… Puerto Banus is actually named after the man who developed it in the 70’s, Jose Banus who was apparently a buddy of Franco.
Stage 2 sees the first summit finish at Caminito del Rey – but not the on the fabled, one metre wide pathway which clings to the rock face like a CGI from an Indiana Jones Movie. The race remains in Andalucía; visiting English tourist faves Malaga, where the race finishes on Stage 3 and starting in Estepona on Stage 4 – which also has a hill top finish at Vejer de la Frontera. ‘English’ pubs, book shops, laundries, bakers and butchers abound on the coast and there’s no need to be without your ‘full English’ breakfast. I was there with Saunier Duval at their 2008 training camp and couldn’t believe my eyes – some of the coastal strip could easily have been a London suburb. But I digress.
Stages 5 and 6 head east around the north of Andalucía and the odds are on baking heat with Stage 6 starting in historic Cordoba and ending in another summit finish at Alto de Cazorla. (It’s never a good sign if it starts with ‘Alto.’) Cordoba was a Roman then Moorish city and a thousand years ago was the world’s most populous.
Stage 7 finishes high in the Sierra Nevada in Capilleira; back in 2008 I was on these roads with the Saunier Duval team at their January training camp in Granada – with my buddies Riccardo Ricco and Leonardo Piepoli. Whatever became of those guys? The roads in this area are quiet and ideal for training but tough with gnarly surfaces and all the climbs you could ask for.
Stage 8 takes the race into Murcia, the city which gives it’s name to the province and home to a certain ‘Green Bullet’ as they used to call Alejandro Valverde – with no prizes for who’ll be the tightest marked man that day.
Stage 9 runs up the coast from Torrevieja to Cumbre del Sol and another summit finish but only after the second ascent of this video nasty – the views will be stunning, though. Valencia isn’t too far away, so we’re in Al Hamilton country – those journo buffets will be hit hard. And on the subject of chow, if you have a paella here it’s just as likely to be made with rabbit or chicken as it is seafood.
Stage 10 is out of Valencia north along the coast to Castellón; if you like architecture check out Santiago Calatrava’s stunning City of Arts and Sciences building in Valencia. Sen. Calatrava is alleged to have been paid 100 million Euros for the gig so you can imagine that the city authorities were a tad miffed when bits of it started falling off . . .
The rest day is in Andorra at over 1,000 metres; when Martin and I spent the night there on Tour de PEZ a year or two ago I couldn’t help but be aware that the difference the height made to my breathing – albeit Andorrans are some of the longest lived folks in the world.
Stage 11 is brutal with 5,200 metres of climbing in just 138 kilometres of ‘Purito’ Rodriguez designed parcours around the principality of Andorra; the gruppetto will sweat on the time cut in this one and the race could be won and lost here. Or – it could be a damp squib as riders refuse to commit until late in the day. My late Spanish climbing heroes from the 70’s Jose Manuel Fuente and Luis Ocaña could only have dreamed about stages like this one.
Stage 12 from Andorra to the Catalan city of Llieda and Stage 13 from Calatayud to Tarazona – with both towns in the province of Zaragoza, part of Aragon – lead the race east towards the three days of denouement in the Cantabrian Mountains. Vitoria, where the Basque flag flies from every house – and where the police had to deal with years of ETA terrorism and wear balaclavas to protect their identity when on crowd control duties – sees the start of Stage 14 with the finish on Alto Campoo after a 20 K plus slog.
Picturesque Comillas on the coast with it’s beach and Gaudi villa is the start for Stage 15. A few years ago, on a Vuelta de PEZ trip my amigo Dave Henderson and I hung out in Comillas on the rest day and watched with respect as Alberto Contador signed autographs, shook hands and cuddled grannies – and not a Paparazzi in site. The stage may start at sea level but the finish isn’t – the second of three savage days in the mountains where the bears and wolves still roam free with the line at Alto de Sotres.
Stage 16 from Luarca to the savage Ermita del Alba by way of another six categorised climbs is the second last mega mountain stage and if the climbers have any cards left then they best slide at least some of them out of their sleeve on this brutal day.
The second rest day is in Burgos; ‘a Fascist town, there are pictures of Goering and the priests standing on the steps of the cathedral – and it’s still a Fascist town !’ the old guy in the bar told Davie and I. The city was indeed Franco’s HQ in the Spanish Civil War and one of the air bases for The Condor Legion, the German force which fought on the side of Franco’s rebel army.
If they have anything left, Stage 17 is one for the strongmen – a ‘Contrarreloj’ over 39 K where a climber could loose a minute every 10 kilometres to the men who can churn those big gears unrelentingly for around 50 minutes. Roa de Duero to Riaza is the parcours for Stage 18; Riaza is close to Segovia with it’s wonderful Roman Aqueduct and Meson Candido restaurant famous for it’s suckling piglet and lamb. I can recommend the lamb but you’ll have to ask Al Hamilton about the piglet.
Lumpy Stage 19 is from Medina del Campo in Castile and León to the lovely old walled city of Avila; you take a bend and it sits there proud and beautiful in the middle of a barren plane. Tour winner, Carlos Sastre hails from Avila and the cafe con leche in the wee bars around the town’s market is second to none.
The huge monastery at San Lorenzo de El Escorial to Cercedilla forms the route for Stage 20; talk about ‘sting in the tail’ – how about four first cat. climbs? The finish comes off the last climb but it could come down to this day.
Madrid is where they come home in Stage 21 to race over Spain’s gold reserves located below the Paseo de la Castellana; with Spain’s best bar, Museo Chicote right there on the parcours – at Gran Via 12.
Let me at least catch sight of a start sheet first please, guys!
It was November 2005 when Ed Hood first penned a piece for PEZ, on US legend Mike Neel. Since then he’s covered all of the Grand Tours and Monuments for PEZ and has an article count in excess of 1,100 in the archive. He was a Scottish champion cyclist himself – many years and kilograms ago – and still owns a Klein Attitude, Dura Ace carbon Giant and a Fixie. He and fellow Scot and PEZ contributor Martin Williamson run the Scottish site www.veloveritas.co.uk where more of his musings on our sport can be found.