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VUELTA A ESPAÑA: The PEZ First Look – ‘Horror’ Mountain Stages

2020 Vuelta Route: The 2020 Vuelta a España is a very northern affair. The start is in Holland, probably the toughest day is in France, two stages are in Portugal and the final stage to Madrid is the most southerly point – A very different Spanish Grand Tour. Ed Hood has a ‘First Look’ at the route and dissects each stage from Utrecht to Madrid.

The 2019 start had mountains, probably as high as the ones in Utrecht

Personally, I’m not a fan of Grand Tours starting outside their home nation but it rakes in the Euros and if you want to start in a cycling crazy country, The Netherlands is a good place to start. The race totally ignores the south and east of the home nation and whilst it has the usual several ‘horror’ mountain stages the sprinters are well catered for with at least six opportunities.

The chronomen will be scratching their heads on how to ride the main TT but it bears a marked similarity to the 2017 Bergen Worlds TT which Dumoulin, Roglic and Froome all coped with. Overall, if you want to win this 75th Vuelta but can’t climb with the very best – forget it.

Stage 1: Friday 14/8 Utrecht – Utrecht 23.2km TTT
Pan flat and at this distance the ‘Big Chrono Beasts’ could open decent gaps on the lightweights.

Stage 2: Saturday 15/8 ‘s Hertogenbosch – Utrecht 181.6km flat
There’s a third cat. ‘bump’ in there so as the climbers’ jersey can be awarded but this one for the sprinters – Deceuninck – Quick-Step Dutchman, Fabio Jakobsen will already have a red ring round this one.

The mountains of Utrecht

Stage 3: Sunday 16/8 Breda – Breda 193.2km flat
Stage elevation in metres? Zero – another for Fabio.

Stage win for Jakobsen?

REST 1: Monday 17/8 transfer to Spain
Three rest days – I remember when there were NONE.

Stage 4: Tues. 18/8 Irún – Sanctuary of Arrate 169.5km mid mountain
The Basque country is not flat however and the breakaway artists will like this roller coaster with two third and two second cat. climbs – the jersey will change hands for sure.

Stage 5: Wed. 19/8 Pamplona – Lekunberri 151.0km mid mountain
Despite this being classed as an intermediate stage, there’s a first cat. climb in there with 17K to go; given the stage starts in Big Mig’s home town of Pamplona, the col is the appropriately named Alto de San Miguel.

‘Big Mig’ would have loved it

Stage 6: Thu. 20/8 Lodosa – Laguna Negra 163.8km mid mountain
‘Laguna Negra’ – ‘black lagoon’ – as in ‘monster from the’ and our first really tough day with a first cat. finish and apart from the descent off the second cat. at half distance a profile which challenges gravity ALL the way.

Another tough day – Stage 6

Stage 7: Fri. 21/8 Soria – Ejea de los Caballeros 190.0km flat
The breaks will go but with the final 22K downhill – as Fraser, the Scottish character in the British TV comedy show, ‘Dad’s Army’ used to say; “they’re doomed!”

Stage 7: Strange profile

Stage 8: Sat. 22/8 Huesca – Sabiñánigo 185.8km mid mountain
A breakaway day for sure, not an inch of flat road but nothing overly savage – Jackie Durand would have liked this one.

Long break Jackie

Stage 9: Sun. 23/8 Biesca – Col du Tourmalet 135.6km mountain
If Alejandro Valverde tells you this is a hard stage then you best believe him – with a first and two ‘special’ category climbs crammed into just 135K and a finish atop the mighty Tourmalet, this a day you can lose the Vuelta. A climber in red after this day. Meanwhile the sprinters will tear this page out of the race bible and burn it.

Not a day for the sprinters

REST 2: Monday 24/8.

Stage 10: Tues. 25/8 Vitoria Gasteiz – Valdegovia 160.4km mid mountain
Vitoria, Basque capital with hard roads, tough hills, more breakaways and big crowds in what is Spanish cycling Heartland.

The Basques will be out

Stage 11: Wed. 26/8 Logroño – Moncalvillo 164.5km mountain
‘Alto’ in the stage finish name is never a good sign if you’re a big dude – and sure enough it’s a mountain top finish after another hard day at the office.

A hard finalé

Stage 12: Thurs. 27/8 Castrillo del Val – Aguilar de Campoo 163.6km flat
Stage elevation, 53 metres, that’s more like it; ‘I know yesterday was tough but it’s the same for the other sprinters’ the DS’s will be telling their fast men.

Cross-winds could be a problem

Stage 13: Fri. 28/8 Castro Urdiales – Suances 187.4km flat
Apart from a third cat. ‘blip’ in the middle this one is flat BUT not so flat as to totally rule out a breakaway win?

That mountain in the middle

Stage 14: Sat. 29/8 Villaviciosa – La Farrapona 170.2km mountain
Savage/brutal, you chose – a third cat. then four firsts including a mountain top finish. And tomorrow it gets worse…


Stage 15: Sun. 30/8 Pola Laviana – L’Angliru 109.2km mountain
Two third and two first cat. climbs would make for a tough enough stage but they’ve gone and tacked the monstrous Angliru on to the end of it – all shoe horned into just 109 kilometres. Another day you could lose the Vuelta.

Contador’s last win on l’Angliru 2017

REST 3: Monday 31/8

Stage 16: Tues. 1/9 Muros – Mirador de Ézaro 33.5km ITT
Just 20 miles to ride the day after the third rest day but a tricky parcours to play; flat but rearing up with 1800 metres to go – difficult for legs numbed by pummelling the 58 ring will find the finale hard to take. Some may change bikes?

The finish will be a tough one

Stage 17: Wed. 2/9 Lugo – Orense 205.8km mid mountain
Breakaway for sure, not an inch of flat.

Stage 18: Thurs. 3/9 Mos – Porto 178.0km flat.
The parcours LOSES 50 metres, happy days for the sprinters as the race takes in its fourth nation – Portugal.

Two stages in and out of Portugal for the sprinters

Stage 19: Fri. 4/9 Viseu – Ciudad Rodrigo 177.7km flat
The second day in Portugal and despite the lumpy bits this looks like another for the big finishers; the team of the sprinter on form will work hard for him as will the teams with a fast man but with nothing to show for all those mountains.

There will be a battle on the final climb of the 2020 Vuelta a España – La Covatilla

Stage 20: Sat. 5/9 Sequero – La Covatilla 175.8km mountain
This will probably be ‘coronation’ day for the man in red BUT if he has a ‘jour sans’ the organisers could perhaps get the day they’ll be hoping for – the tough, special cat. Alto de la Covatilla is preceded by a first cat. three thirds and second – a monstrous day.

Vuelta’18 stage 9 to la Covatilla was a good day for Ben King

Stage 21: Sun. 6/9 Hipódromo de Zarzuela – Madrid 125.4km flat
Beautiful Madrid, the huge crowds, the fountains and a last chance for the sprinter teams with no glory – but usually there’s a ‘stand out’ fast man and he’ll confirm on this day.

All in all it looks like a good parcours to us – roll on August…

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 1,800 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.

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