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Vuelta’15: The PEZ Preview

The third and youngest Grand Tour of the year starts on Saturday in Puerto Banús with a 7.4 kilometre team time trial. From then on the Vuelta a España gets tougher as it works its way north towards the climbs Andorra and Asturias. Our most experienced GT follower, Ed Hood, runs his eye over the course and riders as the PEZ coverage starts to build.

It seems like yesterday we were getting ready to go to the ‘pink race’ – colour clichés are hard with the Vuelta; whilst the leader’s jersey is now red, it used to be gold and when ‘I were a lad’ it was ‘amarillo.’ No matter what the jersey colour, it starts this Saturday on that sun kissed, millionaire’s playground, Puerto Banús.

You know the drill, you need the stats – we got ‘em . . .

The Vuelta is the youngest of the 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.

It didn’t have a good childhood, no sooner born than its growth was interrupted by the Spanish Civil War; its adolescence was through the dark days of Franco’s reign before becoming the fully grown and most relaxed of the triplet of three week stage races which it now is. This year will be edition 70 and of those the home nation has triumphed in 32 of them with France second on nine; but whilst it was only last year 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.

Wielrennen - cycling - cyclisme -stockphoto - archief - archive  -Laurent Jalabert Vuelta  foto Cor Vos ©1997
Zulle & 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 ‘Green Bullet’ – as he was in his Kelme days – Alejandro Valverde who tops the list of leadership days on 27 with Contador on 26. It’s quite possible that Valverde could add to that this year but Contador won’t – a Giro win and painful Tour will suffice for Alberto’s 2015 season.

Cor Vos Archives
So close for Robert Millar

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 did for that dream.

Eddy Merckx
Merckx: “Oh, those Spaniards!”

Eddy Merckx has ‘only’ nine days of leadership and one GC win in 1973 – with the Vuelta finishing 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.

The closest winning margin was six seconds for 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 – in 1977 Freddy Maertens (Belgium) won a remarkable 13 stages en route the overall victory.

Laatste Archief Tour de France 1978
Not known for his climbing, Freddy Maertens won the Vuelta with 13 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. And to close, the fastest Vuelta was 2001 when Angel Casero (Spain) won at 42.534 kph – he was a Festina man so perhaps that explains it?

Stage One:  A 7.4K TTT on the water front at Puerto Banús – can you see anyone beating Movistar?

Neither can we.

Tour de France 2015 - 102a Edizione - 9a tappa Vannes - Plumelec 28 km - 12/07/2015 - Movistar - foto Vincent Kalut/PhotoNews/BettiniPhoto©2015
Movistar: TTT winners?

Stage Two: No time is wasted in reminding the riders that there are plenty of hills in this Vuelta – and finishes atop nasty climbs like the Alto de la Mesa taking in the spectacular Caminito del Rey, hacked out of the solid rock of a cliff face.

The sprinters will love it. . .

A sharp start to la Vuelta, stage 2

Stage Three: Into Malaga is far from flat but the last 50K are such that the sprint trains can control it; albeit there’s a ‘ramp’ in the last 10K.

The Puerto Leòn mid-stage will be a problem for some

Stage Four: The profile is pan flat UNTIL the finale into Vejer de la Frontera where it rears Godzilla-like, Moreno? Sagan?

Stage Five: It’s hot, it’s flat so one for the sprinters – but watch for those echelons on the way to Alcala de Guadaira.

Stage Six: The clichéd ‘not an inch of flat’ stage to Sierra de Cazorla – whilst there are no mega ascents it’s a toughie with an uphill cat. 2 finish for Valverde or Rodriguez.

Quite a summit finish

Stage Seven: More of the same but with a 20K cat. 1 finish up to Alpujarra – the GC will be taking shape by now.

Stage Eight: Into Valverde’s home town of Murcia; predominantly downhill early with two ‘spikes’ late in the day, a hard one to predict but Valverde will want it – bad.

Stage Nine: And another cat. 1 finish up to Cumbre del Sol which is actually climbed twice in the stage – with 20% grades it’s one for the small and/or skinny men.

He’s neither small nor skinny, Al Hamilton climbs the Cumbre del Sol

Stage 10: Despite a late cat. 2 climb there’s 22K of descent and flat to the line – the lead-out men will work hard this day.

Stage 11: Savage! That’s the only word, particularly coming right after the rest day – a second, four firsts and an HC climb all packed into 138K around Andorra. You can lose the Vuelta today.

Six climbs on the road to Andorra

Stage 12: There’s a cat. 2 in the middle but the sprinters will not be denied today on the streets of Lleida.

Stage 13: A ‘medium mountain’ stage – that’s one for the breakaway and the GC guys will be happy to let the right combination go all the way to Tarazona.

A downhill finish to Tarazona, the rest of the day is far from easy

Stage 14: There’s a cat. 1 finish on the Alto Campoo off the back of the cat. 1 Puerto del Escudo – enough said.

Another summit finish on the Alto Campoo

Stage 15: Another cat. 1 finish to Alto de Sotres and its sections of ‘super steepness’ – not the day for a ‘jour sans.’

The Alto de Sotres; 1,230 meters of torture

Stage 16: ‘And the beat goes on’ with seven categorized climbs and an HC finish atop Alto Ermita de Alba and it’s 30% ramps – great for TV but not so clever if you’re aboard the autobus.

‘Rest day tomorrow, boys. . .

Stage 16 has seven categorised climbs

Stage 17: A 40K chrono around Burgos – if Froome needs to get time back then here’s his chance. . .

Chartres - France - wielrennen - cycling - radsport - cyclisme -  Christopher Froome (Sky)  pictured during the 19e etappe - stage 19 (53,5 km) time trail - TT - tijdrit - contra le montre - zeitfahren - of the 99th Tour de France 2012  - from Bonneval > Chartres - foto Cor Vos ©2012
Froome’s time trialing isn’t what it used to be

Stage 18: With 208 spiky kilometres to Riaza it’s one for the break – and again the GC guys will be happy to see the right one vanish up the road. . .

Stage 19, a day for a break?

Stage 19: This one is all about the cobbled ramp to lovely walled city of Avila there’s a cat. 2 on the run in but it all be decided on those cobbles.

Stage 20: Four first cats but a downhill finish to Cercedilla and not as hard as some of the previous horrors; there could be ambushes this day – legs are sore and riders’ thoughts are slipping to Madrid. . .

The final appointment

Stage 21: A circuit race in the heart of beautiful Madrid with the fountains and art galleries as backdrop – we say Bouhanni, if he’s survived the Sierras.

Madrid - Spain - wielrennen - cycling - radsport - cyclisme -  illustration - illustratie pictured during stage-21 of the Vuelta a España 2013 (WT) from Leganés / Parquesur to Madrid 109,6KM - photo LBRB/Cor Vos © 2013
Madrid and home!

With the Giro and Tour it’s not too difficult to decide who’ll be on the podium; whole seasons are built around those races. The Vuelta is a different beast; for the Spanish it’s their home race and a ‘must,’ for others the chance to make amends for a disappointing/disastrous Tour – especially if next year’s salary partly depends upon a result – and for some it’s merely an obligation to fulfil. We look at the dozen names – in alphabetic order – which caught most caught our eye of an as yet incomplete start list but please remember that last minute changes to rosters do happen after we go to press.

Fabio Aru (Astana & Italy): whilst his Lazarus-like late resurrection in the Giro was a tad difficult to digest there’s no doubt that the parcours – except for that nasty chrono – will suit the slim man from Sardinia. He was fifth last year and won two stages along the way; a podium is possible if management can handle a situation where the team potentially has three leaders.

Fabio Aru looking for a podium place

Joe Dombrowski (Cannondale-Garmin & USA): rides his first Grand Tour; it’s fitting that he follows Aru – the man the Virginian beat to win the Girobio in 2012. He won in Utah; we wait with interest upon his Grand Tour debut.

stage 7 of The Larry H.Miller Tour of Utah 2015
First Grand Tour for the winner in Utah

Christopher Froome (Sky & GB): not content with winning the Tour he wants ‘the double’ in the race where he first burst upon the scene with second behind Cobo (who?) in 2011. He was fourth in 2012; desperate to win his own Grand Tour after all those politics in the 2012 Tour won by team mate Wiggins – but those Spaniards are tough to beat at home. He was second again last year after his disastrous Tour – Contador had an equally disastrous Tour but just had the edge on the double Tour de France winner. There’s little doubt he’s serious about this race and Sky have given him a strong team – but Geraint Thomas will be one tired boy come that last week.

Two Grand Tours in one season?

Mikel Landa (Astana & Spain): his talent was confirmed at the 2015 Giro with two stage wins and third spot on the podium behind team mate Aru. Word is he’s headed for Sky for 2016 so perhaps he’ll have ‘problems with his radio’ if he’s in the right place at a crucial moment? That said, we’ve seen little of him since the Giro and he may be a ‘going through the motions man.’

Mikel Landa might not hear team orders

Rafa Majka (Tinkoff-Saxo & Poland): he won a stage in Le Tour where Tinkoff were ‘all for Alberto’ but he didn’t go too deep – if his motivation is strong the parcours suit the man who’s ribs threaten to pop through his skinsuit. And Sagan will keep the pressure off him early on.

Tour de France 2015 - stage 11
Tinkoff-Saxo team leader for the GC

Vincenzo Nibali (Astana & Italy): to quote the man himself; ‘I wasn’t even the brother of the man who won the Tour in 2014 in this year’s race (2015).’ Nibali’s consolation Tour stage win doesn’t mean much to Astana; they’ll want a repeat of his 2010 win, that’s if Fabio isn’t ‘the man’ – or maybe it’s Mickey. . .

Tour de France 2015 - stage 19
Astana team leader or 1 of 3?

Nairo Quintana (Movistar & Colombia): may look about 47 years-old but he’s actually only 25 years-old and he rode onto the podium in the Tour – too much to expect a sparkling Vuelta? We think so but he’ll still be hard to get rid of.

One step up from the Tour podium would be something for the Colombian

Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha & Catalonia): has been third, fourth three times, sixth and seventh in the Vuelta. We think his podium days are behind him but he’ll be there on the ramps finding that gear that the others can’t.

Tour de France 2015 - stage 12
Some stage wins for Purito, but overall, we don’t think so

Sammy Sanchez (Spain & BMC): upheld BMC honour after Tejay slid out of the picture back in July; always ‘there’ en France he’s been second, third, sixth and seventh in the Vuelta. He’s a pro’s pro but that Tour de France is hard for your system to forget. . .

Tour de France 2015 - stage 11
Maybe a ‘Top Ten’ for Samu

Andrew Talansky (Cannondale-Garmin & USA): seventh here in 2012 is his best Grand Tour finish; can he better it – maybe?

Cannondale-Garmin leader, but how high can he finish

Alejandro Valverde (Movistar & Spain): he just keeps on winning and racking up those podiums; this year gave him his best Tour finish, third but he’s won the Vuelta in 2009 been second twice, third three times, fourth and fifth. He knows the race, he know himself but he’s another who’s system will still be trying to shake off Le Tour.

Flèche Wallonne 2015
Valverde and/or Quintana, it worked well in France, maybe also in Spain

Tejay van Garderen (BMC & USA): his confidence will have taken a huge dent after his abandonee in Le Tour when in a podium position; can he bounce back? It’s difficult to see.

Van Garderen needs to make up for his Tour disappointment

Despite his having ridden and won Le Tour, we see Froome atop the podium but behind him we see men who have skipped the Tour and built their reserves back up from the Giro or who were just coming to form as the Tour ended – Aru second, Nibali third.

But don’t bet the house on it!

PEZ will be giving the Vuelta the respect it deserves with daily reportage and Al Hamilton roadside not to mention the best of race photography. For TV coverage go to steephill.tv.

You know it makes sense to keep it PEZZED.

Hasta Mañana.


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.

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