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VUELTA’22 Preview: Every Day is a GC Day! Who Can Win?

Vuelta’22 Preview: The Vuelta a España, the last Grand Tour of the year, starts on Friday with a team time trial in Utrecht, Netherlands. Ed Hood gives us his thoughts on the tough Spanish tour and who will be in ‘rojo’ at the finish in Madrid. Can Primoz Roglič make it four in a row?

Vuelta’22 teaser

Let’s get straight to the point; ‘Can Remco make the podium?’ Or, as PEZ mentor and soothsayer, Vik repeatedly tells me; ‘he’s a Classics rider, Lefevere is wasting his time putting him in three week stage races.’ Hold that thought and we’ll come back to it. . .

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Is a three week race the best idea for Evenepoel?

History:
The Vuelta is the youngest of the three Grand Tours; the Grande Boucle was first run in 1903 whilst the Corsa Rosa goes back to 1909 – so with a birthday of 1935 the Vuelta is the youngest of the three greatest stage races on earth.


The first Vuelta a España

It didn’t have a good childhood, no sooner born than growth was interrupted by the Spanish Civil War, it lurched through the dark days of World War Two and Franco’s reign before becoming the fully grown and most relaxed of the triplet of three week stage races it is now.

Lagos de Covadonga - Spain - wielrennen - cycling - radsport - cyclisme - Alberto Contador Velasco (Spain / Team Saxobank - Saxo Bank - Tinkoff Bank) - Alejandro Valverde Belmonte (Spain / Team Movistar) pictured during stage - 15 of the Vuelta de Espana - Tour of Spain 2014 - fram Oviedo to Lagos de Covadonga - photo Sabine Jacob/Cor Vos © 2014
Spain’s last Vuelta winner – Alberto Contador 2014

This year will be edition 77 and of those the home nation has triumphed in 33 of them. France is a distant second on nine GC wins; but whilst it was eight years ago when Alberto Contador took his third Vuelta [2008/12/14] you have to go all the way back to 1995 and Laurent Jalabert to find the last Frenchman to win. Spain also has most stage wins, 500 plus with Belgium second on some 200-odd and it was also a Belgian who won the first Vuelta way back in 1935, Gustaaf Deloor.

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1935 Vuelta action

Roberto Heras (Spain) is ‘recordman’ on four wins [2000/3/4/5] and 34 days in the leader’s jersey, but whilst Alex Zulle (Switzerland) ‘only’ won the race twice [‘96 & ‘97] he holds the record for days as race leader on 48 stages.

Roberto Heras, 16e. Etappe Vuelta van Gijon naar Alto de L´Angrilu Foto Cor Vos ©2000
Heras the Vuelta ‘recordman’

Of current riders it’s ‘Green Bullet’ – as he was known in his Kelme days – Alejandro Valverde who tops the list of leadership days on 27 with the retired Alberto Contador on 26.

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‘Balaverde’

Scotland’s own Robert Millar is respectably high in the ‘days of leadership’ stakes on 13 and two second places on GC; there should have been at least one win in there but those Spanish combines and his team manager’s ineptitude did for that dream – best not get me too into that subject, I get emotional. . .

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Robert Millar in Vuelta yellow

Merckx has ‘only’ nine days of leadership and one GC win in 1973 – with the Vuelta just days before the Giro back then he never returned; unpleasantly surprised by the non-stop, death or glory riding of the Spanish Kas team mountain men who made sure it was no easy win for the big Belgian. Merckx is one of the ‘Big Seven’ who have won all three of the Grand Tours along with Jacques Anquetil and Felice Gimondi [rest in peace], Bernard Hinault, Alberto Contador, Vincenzo Nibali and Chris Froome – that other stage race Colossus, Miguel Indurain never managed to win his home tour.

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Kelly and Caritoux – Vuelta winners

The closest winning margin was six seconds for Eric Caritoux (France) over Alberto Fernandes (Spain) in 1984. Incidentally, it’s generally accepted that Caritoux won that race ‘clean,’ according to those who know.

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Thirty-nine Vuelta stage wins for Delio Rodriguez

The record number of stage wins falls to Delio Rodriguez on 39 but that was way back in the 1940’s – in recent times ‘Ale Jet’ Petacchi racked up 20 whilst in 1977 Freddy Maertens (Belgium) won a remarkable 13 stages en route the overall victory.

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Freddy Maertens in the Vuelta’77 TT in Benidorm

Most consecutive finishes belongs to Federico Echave (Spain) who rode and finished every Vuelta between 1982 and 1995, Iñigo Cuesta started 17 times but was DNS on three occasions.

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Iñigo Cuesta started la Vuelta 17 times

And to close, the fastest Vuelta was 2001 when Ángel Casero (Spain) won at 42.534 kph – he was a Festina man so perhaps that explains it?

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Ángel Casero – Fast Festina man

The ‘Bull Ring.’

  • The first three stages will take place in the Netherlands.
  • There are 21 stages: six ‘flat’ – four ‘mid-mountain’ – seven ‘high altitude finales’ – two ‘uphill finales’ – one individual time trial and one team time trial.
  • It will visit 20 provinces and 352 municipalities over some 3,280 kilometres.
  • The shortest road stage is the 96.7 kilometres of the final stage into Madrid.
  • The longest road stage is the 193.2 kilometres of Stage Three in The Netherlands, Breda-Breda.
  • The highest point is at the 2,512 metres of ‘la cima Alberto Fernandez’ finish on stage 15

Vuelta’22 route

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Stage list

Key stages:
The big mountains will be crucial, for sure – but in a Grand Tour, ‘every day is a GC day’ – let’s run through them:

Stage One TTT: 23.3K in The Netherlands and pan flat – INEOS Grenadiers? Quick-Step? Jumbo Visma? – expect warp speeds. If you’re a skinny climber, it’s only gonna be 23 minutes, Amigo.

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Stage 1 TTT

Stage Two: For the fast twitch guys.

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Sprinter’s day

Stage Three: The race dips into Belgium and it’s another day for Tim Merlier. . .

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The Vuelta hits Holland and little bit of Belgium

Stage Four: Back in the Home Land, kind of, actually the Basque Nation; it might be for the break OR a Valverde/Alaphilippe/Matthews day with that uphill finale?

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A tough first day in Spain – Stage 4

Stage Five: Too tough for the pure fast twitch guys – it could be a GC rider who takes this one?

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Stage Six: The first, and a very tough, summit finish will give us big hints and regarding who’s hot – and who’s not. . .

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Stage 6

Stage Seven: An unusual profile, it could be a GC guy again or a ‘baroudeur’ but it’s unlikely to be a pure fast man even given that drop to the finish. . .

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A strange profile for stage 7

Stage Eight: One word? Savage.

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Stage 8

Stage Nine: Another summit finish on one of Viktor’s hated ‘goat tracks,’ with killer ramps to end another very taxing day.

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Stage 9 ‘goat tracks’

Stage 10: A time test, just under 20 miles, flat and fast – for the specialists or Primoz – or Remco. . .

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Stage 10 TT for Evenepoel

Stage 11: The break will go – but as Fraser used to say in the British TV sitcom, ‘Dad’s Army’; ‘They’re doomed!’ For the sprinters.

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Stage 12: OK, that’s enough of that sprinter nonsense – ANOTHER summit finish. . .

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Stage 12 on the south coast

Stage 13: It could go either way, sprint or breakaway – but if it’s the latter there’ll need to big wattages up that road.

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Break or bunch on stage 13

Stage 14: It finishes on the difficult La Pandera ascent, enough said. . .

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La Pandera to finish stage 14

Stage 15: If John McEnroe was in this peloton, we know what he’d say about this finish at 2,512 metres; ‘you cannot be serious!’ The day you can lose the Vuelta.

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How high? Yes, 2,512 metres

Stage 16: Probably for the sprinters, BUT I once saw Oscar Gatto win on a stage profile like this in the Giro with a madcap late solo attack.

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Sprint, or…

Stage 17: For the adventurers. . .

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Stage 17 to the Monasterio de Tentudría

Stage 18: If the word ‘Alto’ appears in the finish title it’s never a good thing if you’re, ‘big boned.’

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Stage 18 – watch out for the ‘Alto’

Stage 19: If you enjoyed the Puerto del Pialago then you’re in luck – you get to climb it twice today. This one for the breakaway.

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Stage 19 – Anyone for a break?

Stage 20: Three first and two second cat, climbs with a summit finish – could it all come down to today? Unlikely; by now everyone just wants to get home. . .

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The last climb of the 2022 Vuelta a España – Puerta de Navacerrada

Stage 21: Around those lovely fountains; I’d love to see Jake Stewart win. . .

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Into Madrid for the finalé

 

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Vuelta’22 map

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BUT does it really have to be so damn mountainous?

The Matadors:
First up, let’s tip our hats to four previous winners who are on the start line as we go to press but can’t win this edition:

  • Chris Froome [Israel-Premier Tech & GB] twice a winner has never regained the level he was at before that horror crash at the 2019 Dauphine but performed with honour at the Tour de France this year, however . . .
  • Vincenzo Nibali [Astana & Italy] is one of the select group of riders who have won all three Grand Tours and must be respected – but that Father Time dude is just not ‘into’ sentiment. . .
  • Nairo Quintana [Arkea Samsic & Colombia] enjoyed his usual strong start to the year and was a solid sixth in the Tour de France but the days of a Tour/Vuelta ‘double’ are gone. . .
  • Alejandro Valverde [Movistar & Spain] is a remarkable man, he’s won this race, 12 stages along the way and finished in the top 10 on stages a remarkable 113 times – I’d love to see a stage win but. . .


The old Toreros

Respects paid, here’s our ‘baker’s dozen. . .
João Almeida [UAE Team Emirates & Portugal] was riding a strong Giro – and then along came Covid. Since he came back he’s won his national title and was second in Burgos; tenacious and strong against the watch but some of the mega climbs might just be a wee bit too much for him.

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João Almeida – The climbs could be too much

Hugh Carthy [EF-Education Easy Post] was ever-aggressive and top 10 in the Giro, he was on the podium here two years ago and won on the legendary Angliru. Spain is where he learned his trade with Caja Rural and those crazy ascents suit his characteristics.

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Hugh Carthy at home in Spain

Richard Carapaz [INEOS Grenadiers & Ecuador] Olympic Champion, Giro winner in 2020 and second here in 2020 he’ll be recovered from letting the Giro slip through his fingers back in May – he can win it.

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A better Vuelta than his Giro – Carapaz

Remco Evenepoel [Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl & Belgium] favourite with many of the bookies – but as I mentioned right at the start, not with Viktor. Expect a strong early showing and a time trial win but a podium is unlikely.

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Can Remco Evenepoel do something?

Jack Haig [Bahrain Victorious & Australia] was on the podium last year, I tipped him for a good ride in the Tour but one of those notorious, ‘Tour early crashes’ saw that possibility evaporate. A man with a point to prove.

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Jack Haig – Top tip

Ethan Hayter [INEOS Grenadiers & GB] he can climb, sprint and time trial – and has just won the Tour of Poland, his biggest win yet. We observe with great anticipation his Grand Tour debut.

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Tour of Poland winner – Ethan Hayter

Jai Hindley [BORA-hansgrohe & Australia] he won the Giro, is a double possible? We know he can climb with the very best but does he have the motivation?

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Hindley a possible

Miguel Ángel López [Astana & Colombia] back from his recent brush with the authorities – we’ll say no more – he was well to the fore in Burgos and has been on the podium here before. The question is; ‘at 28 years-of-age, is he still Sooper?’

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Anything could happen with ‘Sooperman’

Enric Mas [Movistar & Spain] has twice been second in this race but he remains firmly in my, ‘Just Difficult to Drop’ file, rarely going on the offensive. He dropped out of the Tour late with Covid but all those stages may well be still be in his legs?

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Enric Mas – Difficult to drop

Ben O’Connor [AG2R Citroën & Australia] did someone say; ‘another Aussie with a point to prove?’ Fourth in the Tour last year, he went into the 2022 edition of, ‘The Big Loop’ with high hopes off the back of an excellent Dauphine – then there was the crash. . . If his head is right then he can contend; we know he can cope with those big mountain days.

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O’Connor – Something to prove

Primoz Roglič [Jumbo-Visma & Slovenia] at time of writing he’s on the start list but it’s not certain he’s completely recovered from the two broken vertebrae he sustained in his Tour de France crash – if he is then he’s the man to beat with the last three editions of this race notched on his top tube.

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Vuelta win No.3 for Roglič

Michael Woods [Israel-Premier Tech & Canada] there’s no question about his climbing abilities and he has two Vuelta stage wins to his name – but has he recovered from le Tour where he rode all but the last stage before the dreaded Covid (+)?

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Another Vuelta stage win for Woods

Simon Yates [BikeExchange-Jayco & GB] has won this race before but despite winning Castilla y Leon recently and finishing sixth in Donostia his form is infamously prone to ‘roller coaster-ing’ – witness the Giro where he won the Stage Two time trial, slumped then came back to win Stage 14 before quitting the race. To use the old cliché, ‘the road will decide’ for Simon.

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Vuelta win for Yates?

Libation recommendations? San Miguel and Alhambra for beers and if you need to mellow-out after the excitement of a summit finish then go for Soberano or Veterano brandies – they’re not for sophisticates but they hit the spot.

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Alhambra from the south of Spain should hit the spot

It wouldn’t be la Vuelta without a song

# Keep it PEZ for the daily ‘Stage Reports’, ‘Rest-day Round-ups’, ‘Race Breakdowns’ and all the news in ‘EUROTRASH’ Monday and Thursday. Viva la Vuelta! #

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