VUELTA’17: The PEZ PREVIEW!
Vuelta 2017 Preview: The third Grand Tour of 2017 kicks off in the French City of Nîmes with a team time trial on Saturday the 19th of August. The Spanish Tour has its unique short, fast stages with many a climb thrown in for added excitement. Ed Hood runs his expert eye over the course, history and the possible winner in ‘The PEZ Vuelta’17 Preview’.
It can’t be? It is!
It’s Vuelta a España time – it was just the other day I was writing the preview for the first spring Classic – Het Nieuwsblad…
But yes, it’s time for the final Grand Tour of the year, a chance to rescue a poor season or the crowning glory of a good one? Perhaps both for Sky’s man of many nations, Chris Froome; he won the Tour with hardly a stumble but there was little panache shown – and no stage win.
Vuelta’16 stage 11 – Chris Froome in winning mood
But more of that later, let’s look at the route.
Running from Saturday August 19th to Sunday September 10th 2017, the Vuelta will be made up of 21 stages and will cover a total distance of 3,297.7 kilometers.
• 5 (?) sprint stages
• 9 ‘hilly’ stages
• 5 mountain stages
• 1 individual time trial stage
• 1 team time trial stage
Distinctive aspects of the race
• 13.8 km team time trial
• 42 km individual time trial
• 50 summits
• 2 rest days
’50 summits’ and NINE summit finishes; ouch! and small wonder that PEZ’s cycling Nostradamus, Viktor refers to the race as the ‘Spanish Hill Climb Championships’.
Before we look at the route in a bit more detail, let’s remind ourselves about the stats behind the third biggest – and most simpatico – Grand Tour. . .
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.
Vuelta riders in 1935
It didn’t have a good childhood, no sooner born than its growth was interrupted by the Spanish Civil War it lurched through the dark days of Franco’s reign before becoming the fully grown and most relaxed of the triplet of three week stage races it is now.
The 1935 Vuelta Route
This year will be edition 72 and of those the home nation has triumphed in 32 of them – with 545 Spanish stage wins over those years – France is second on nine GC wins; but whilst it was just three years ago that 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.
Alex Zulle and Laurent Jalabert
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. Of current riders it’s the ‘Green Bullet’ – as he was in his Kelme days – Alejandro Valverde who tops the list of leadership days on 27 with Contador on 26.
Robert Millar and Perico Delgado
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 the Spanish Media’s collusion – did for that dream. Best not get too into that subject, I get emotional. . .
Merckx had trouble with the Spanish climbers
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 mountain men who made sure it was no easy win for the big Belgian. Merckx is one of the ‘Big Six’ who have won all three of the Grand Tours along with Anquetil, Gimondi, Hinault, Contador and Nibali – that other stage race Colossus, Miguel Indurain never managed to win his home tour.
‘Mr. Clean’ Eric Caritoux
The closest winning margin was six seconds for the man they all say rode on just bread and water, Eric Caritoux (France) over Alberto Fernandes (Spain) in 1984; the record number of stage wins falls to Dello Rodriguez on 39 whilst 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.
John Degenkolb won Vuelta’15 stage 21 in Madrid
Of current riders, John Degenkolb has most bouquets on 10 stage wins. Most consecutive finishes belongs to Federico Echave (Spain) who rode and finished every Vuelta between 1982 and 1995, Inigo Cuesta started 17 times but was DNS on three occasions.
Chris Horner on l’Angliru in 2013
The youngest winner was the 21 year-old Spaniard Angelino Soler in 1961, the oldest Chris Horner of the USA in 2013 at 41 years 327 days. No comment. And to close on the numbers, the fastest Vuelta was 2001 when Angel Casero (Spain) won at 42.534 kph – he was a Festina man so perhaps that explains it?
On Thursday, the 12th of January, Unipublic announced the itinerary of the 2017 Vuelta that will commence on the 19th of August with an individual time trial of 13.8K in the ‘Roman’ French City of Nîmes. For the third time in its more than 80 years of history, the Spanish tour will start from a city outside its borders, after Lisbon in 1997 and Assen in 2009.
The organizers summarize their race thus:
La Vuelta will kick off with two stages that will take place entirely on French soil, before arriving in another country that has become a recurring feature in the Spanish tour over the past few years: Andorra. The fourth stage of the 2017 edition will finish in Spain, more specifically in Tarragona, where it will then depart from the Autonomous Community of Valencia, Murcia, Andalusia, Navarra, La Rioja, Castilla y León, Cantabria and Asturias, before its usual finale in Madrid.
They continue by informing us that the race covers a lot of new ground;
Yet again, La Vuelta opts for departures and finales that are unprecedented in the history of the Spanish tour. In this edition, the riders will participate in a total of 14 departures that have not been previously seen in the race’s 71 previous editions, as well as in eight finales that are unknown to the Grand Tour cyclists.
We don’t have to wait long on the first mountain top finish, after the opening Stage One: team time trial in Nîmes – only the third time the race has started outside of Spain – and a (perhaps very windy) sprinters, Stage Two, on French soil we have:
Stage Three: 158.5K from Prades to Andorra – the GC will get an early shuffle in the thin air of ‘Purito’ Rodriguez’s former stamping ground albeit the finish is downhill.
Stage Four: over 193K to Tarragona should be for the sprinters, cherish it guys – there aren’t many.
Stage Five: from Benicassim to Alcossebre over 173.4K is the first of the ‘summit finishes’ – steep and nasty.
Stage Six: 173.3K from Villa-Real to Sagunt is for the baroudeurs – or maybe the sprinters? Stage Seven: Llirla to Cuenca, 205.2K another for the baroudeurs. Stage Eight: from Hellin to Xorret de Cati 184K, finishes downhill but that final ascent before the drop to the line is a ‘video nasty’ – the organizers call it a ‘Vuelta icon’.
Stage Nine: Orihuela – Ciudad del Poeta Miguel Hernandez to Cumbre del Sol over 176K flatters to deceive with a long flat run-in before it delivers another summit finish.
The province of Alicante entertains the field on their first rest day.
Stage 10: to El Pozo over 171K has the Collado Bermejo in the middle like a camel’s hump but it might just come down to a sprint if the fast men can marshal their troops on the long run in.
Stage 11: any stage that finishes at an observatory isn’t gonna be flat – and sure enough the 188K from Lorca to Observatorio Astronomico de Calar Alto has a savage double sting in the tail.
Stage 12: is for the gamblers; stage glory or spat out the back with five K to go – Motril to Atequera over 161.4K. Stage 13: Coin to Tomares over 197K is for the fast men.
Stage 14: Ecija to Sierra de la Pandera, 185.5K – in a word, ‘savage’.
Stage 15: Alcala la Real to Alto Hoya de la Mora over a ‘mere’ 127K – the Spanish Inquisition continues; ‘so you think you’re a climber?’ they ask as the burning coals torment your legs. Another massively hard final.
The second rest day comes at Logroño before the day the little climbers have been trying to forget. . .
Stage 16: Circuit of Navarro 42K TT, flat, fast and Froome?
Stage 17: We’re in the North now, and flat road are at a premium; Villa Diego to Los Machucos, 180K and again, the road rears at the end.
Stage 18: Suances to Santo Toribio de Liebana, 168.5K and yes, you guessed it – another summit finish.
Stage 19: The baroudeurs at last get thrown a crumb, 153K from Parque natural de Redes to lovely Gijon.
Stage 20: l’Angliru, a name to strike fear into the strongest heart, the stage starts in Corvera de Asturias and takes but 119.2K to reach the mythical summit – will it all come down to this day? The organisers will be hoping so.
Stage 21: is for the surviving sprinters around glorious Madrid and if I’m lucky enough to be there it’ll be Cafe Gijon and Museo Chicote on the Gran Via, the best bar in Madrid.
Fact number one – no rider has achieved a Tour/Vuelta ‘double’ since the Spanish stage race moved from spring to autumn in 1995; before that only French legends Jacques Anquetil and Bernard Hinault managed it prior to that, in 1963 and 1978 respectively. Can Froome do it? He was close last year with a win in France and second in Spain – and this year he’s used up much less of his reserves prior to and during Le Tour, doing ‘just enough’. He has to be numero uno favorite but he won’t have it all his own way; here’s the ‘PEZdozen’ for 2017.
Julian Alaphilippe (Quick-Step Floors & France): The French climbing sensation has had a troubled year, losing much of his season to a knee injury. But freshness is a big factor in a race where many riders are becoming very tired – a stage win at least for the wee Frenchman.
Fabio Aru (Astana & Italy): The skinny Sardinian went deep in the Tour and yet his fifth place could have been so much better if his team had ridden as a cohesive unit. We think too many candles were burned in Le Grande Boucle but another man we see winning a stage.
Romain Bardet (AG2R-La Mondiale & France): The slim man from the Auvergne rode a hard Tour – it’d have been a much poorer Tour without him – and we doubt that he can challenge overall with all those watts which went west in Le Tour, but the man is a racer and we expect him to be in a move or two.
Warren Barguil (Sunweb & France): See ‘Bardet’ above. The Vuelta is the first pro race that the 2012 Tour de L’Avenir winner shone in, taking two stages in the 2013 edition. He then ‘went quiet’ until this year’s Tour where he came back with a colossal ‘bang’ winning two stages, coming within millimeters on another, taking the mountains jersey and finishing in the top 10 overall. Perhaps there’s a clue in his 13th spot in Donostia-Donostia that the fuel tank isn’t completely empty?
Esteban Chaves (Orica-Scott & Colombia): He rode le Tour – did you hear his name mentioned once? Me neither. Unlike Aru, Bardet and Barguil the little Colombian didn’t go deep in the Tour, it was a training exercise for this race. The man was second in the Giro and third here last year, keep a close eye on him – and remember he has those Yates boys to back him up.
Alberto Contador (Trek-Segafredo & Spain): He’s won them all, Giro, Tour and Vuelta – unquestionably one of the greatest stage race riders of all time. The ‘but’ is that Father Time catches up with us all, even Alberto. We’re all glad to learn that this is his last season, there’ll be no embarrassing ‘one season too many’. His 2017 results: second overall in the Ruta del Sol, Paris-Nice, Catalunya and Pais Vasco then ninth in Le Tour after animating the last week would see many riders surrendering their right arm; so he’s quitting still among the world’s top stage race riders. Can he make the podium? It’s hard to envisage – but a stage win would be a fabulous way to bow out.
Christopher Froome (Sky & GB): There would be no pressure from the team on Froome to ride this race, it means little to Sky – it’s a ‘personal thing’. He’s been second on three occasions and ‘wants it bad’. His preparation will be meticulous, his team strong and that 42K time trial is made for him. But this is the Vuelta and like they used to say in the ‘Stingray’ puppet show; ‘Anything can happen in the next half hour!’ Ask Tom Dumoulin. . .
Steven Kruiswijk (LottoNl-Jumbo & The Netherlands): We expected more of him in the Giro after his brilliant but doomed 2016 performance. But there was no Tour to chip away at the reserves and he was good in Suisse Tour and the Tour de L’Ain. Maybe. . .
Rafa Majka (Bora-Hansgrohe & Poland): His Tour was a disaster but he did the right thing in quitting rather than grind himself into the dust. He was good in Poland, second to the rampant Teuns and prior to Le Tour was second in California and won in Slovenia. He’s been third here before so understands the race – we see him on the podium.
Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain & Italy): It’s hard to say, he could be brilliant, he could be average? He made the Giro podium but was nothing special in Poland – he’ll be fresh but your guess is as good as ours.
Domenico Pozzovivo (AG2R-La Mondiale & Italy): Few people look as bad on a bicycle as Chris Froome but the little Italian manages it. Sixth in the Giro, fourth in Suisse and sixth in Poland – he’ll be there or there about, but hard to see him on the podium.
Ilnur Zakarin (Katusha-Alpecin & Russia): Sixth in the Giro but nothing special in Austria or Poland; saving it for Spain? It’s hard to say but on his day he can climb and time trial with the best. As with Nibali, your guess will be as good as ours.
The PEZdiction? Chaves from Froome and Majka.
Stage 1: 13.7km Nîmes – Nîmes TTT
Stage 2: 203.4km Nîmes – Gruissan. Grand Narbonne. Aude
Stage 3: 158.5km Prades Conflent Canigó – Andorra la Vella
Stage 4: 198.2km Escaldes-Engordany – Tarragona. Anella Mediterránea 2018
Stage 5: 175.7km Benicàssim – Alcossebre
Stage 6: 204.4km Vila-real – Sagunt
Stage 7: 207km Llíria – Cuenca. Ciudad Patrimonio de la Humanidad
Stage 8: 199.5km Hellín – Xorret de Catí. Costa Blanca Interior
Stage 9: 174km Orihuela. Ciudad del Poeta Miguel Hernández – Cumbre del Sol. El Poble Nou de Benitatxell
Rest Day 1: Provincia de Alicante
Stage 10: 164.8km Caravaca Año Jubilar 2017 – ElPozo Alimentación
Stage 11: 187.5km Lorca – Observatorio Astronómico de Calar Alto
Stage 12: 160.1km Motril – Antequera. Los Dólmenes
Stage 13: 198.4km Coín – Tomares
Stage 14: 175km Écija – Sierra de La Pandera
Stage 15: 129km Alcalá la Real – Sierra Nevada. Alto Hoya de la Mora. Monachil
Rest Day 2: Logroño
Stage 16: 40.2km Circuito de Navarra – Logroño ITT
Stage 17: 180.5km Villadiego – Los Machucos. Monumento Vaca Pasiega
Stage 18: 169km Suances – Santo Toribio de Liébana
Stage 19: 149.7km Caso. Parque Natural de Redes – Gijón
Stage 20: 117.5km Corvera de Asturias – Alto de l’Angliru
Stage 21: 117.6km Arroyomolinos – Madrid.
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 1,500 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.