VUELTA’16: PEZ Preview Stats And Stages
Race Preview: The final Grand Tour of the season starts on Saturday in Galicia and the 2016 Vuelta a España is looking to be the best of the three week races. Many of the star riders will be on the start line of a tough course – In part 1 of your preview, Ed Hood takes us through the Top Five stages and looks at the statistics of the Spanish stage race.
We’ll let the Vuelta Organisation intro what was last year the most interesting and competitive of the three Grand Tours. It starts in that rocky and beautiful corner of the Iberian peninsula. . .
“Galicia: a marvellous region combining the charms of the Atlantic Ocean and the neighbouring mountains to display splendid landscapes, is a land of cycling. Like in 2013, it hosts the Grand Depart of the Tour of Spain, the most spectacular grand Tour every year.
Holder Fabio Aru is not defending his title but the quality of the well-balanced course of this 71st edition as well as the presence of Chris Froome (Team Sky), Alberto Contador (Tinkoff) and Nairo Quintana (Movistar), as well as fast improving Esteban Chaves (Orica-BikeExchange), French veteran Jean-Christophe Péraud (AG2R-La Mondiale), American Tejay Van Garderen (BMC), Dutchman Steven Kruijswijk (LottoNl-Jumbo), France’s Warren Barguil (Giant-Alpecin), Tour de Suisse winner Miguel Angel Lopez (Astana), South-Africa’s Louis Meintjes (Lampre-Merida), “Senor Three Grand Tours in a Row” Alejandro Valverde (Movistar), and ambitious American Andrew Talansky (Cannondale-Drapac) make up for a promising three weeks.”
I couldn’t have put it better myself – but first, those statistics that you need to be ‘The Man’ on the club run when the chat turns to the year’s last 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 birth date 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 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.
This year will be edition 71 and of those the home nation has triumphed in 32 of them – with 544 Spanish stage wins over those years – France is second on nine GC wins; but whilst it was just two 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.
Roberto Heras (Spain) is ‘record-man’ 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 both could add to that, this year; but less so Valverde who’ll be riding his third Grand Tour of the year – it’s a wonder the kids recognise him when he comes home at the end of the season!
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 – best not get too into that subject, I get emotional. . .
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.
The closest winning margin was six seconds for Eric Caritoux (France) over Alberto Fernandez (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.
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?
La Vuelta 2016 isn’t one Mario Cipollini would have enthused about; of the 21 stages only the two chronos and Stage 21 into Madrid do not include categorised climbs.
The organisers reckon there are six sprinter stages but the baroudeurs may well have something to say about that – there’ll be no sunny meanders down the Adriatic coast or robotic chasing down of doomed breaks on pan flat roads through Les Landes in this race. But if you’re of the climbing persuasion them the 10 mountain top finishes will be right up your street. The profiles speak for themselves so we’ve decided to concentrate on the five stages we think will be crucial.
Stage One: is as close to pan flat as it gets in this race at just 29.4 kilometres so it’s not a stage to worry about or is it? Ponder this, lose just three seconds per kilometre and you’re one and a half minutes off the lead before the race has really started. The climbers won’t savour this one; Orica-GreenEDGE averaged 57.841 kph to win the TTT in 2013 Tour. . .
The first week is all up in the north west of Spain; wild, green, rolling, wet, Galicia – you could be in Brittany or Scotland. They don’t even speak Spanish up there; Gallego is the language – on the Xacobeo-Galicia team bus that was lingua franca. The race spends it’s first two weeks getting from the North West to the Pyrenees before a last week on the Mediterranean coast and then a transfer for the last stage into Madrid. The interior and south are shunned but since the population is sparse in these regions, it’s no surprise.
There are three stages in the race which finish on a climb the organisers rate ‘special’ – and in a race which spends so much time battling with gravity you’d best pay attention if the organisers single stages out.
Stage 10: Say it quietly, with respect, ‘Lagos de Covadonga’ in the Picos de Europa. Not a climb with sweeping vistas – not until you’re very near the summit, at least – the road clings to the valleys and folds of the mountain as it weaves it’s way up through the moorland past boulder fields and the odd lone, gnarled tree.
More often than not the clouds will enter into a conspiracy with the mountain closing the visibility right down – providing an advantage to those brave enough to go it alone. It’s the scene of the legendary battle of Covadonga, the first victory in the ‘Reconquista,’ the Christian ‘re-conquest’ of Iberia from the Moors; if you’re up there on a misty day you half expect to see the Asturian chieftain, Pelagius emerge from the murk brandishing his sword. It’s another worldly place; there’s even a ‘phantom’ lago to go with Enol and Ercina – Bricial which only appears once every five years provided there’s been enough rain or snow melt. . .
Lejaretta, Delgado, Millar, Herrera, Delgado – they’ve all won up here – then turned and gone back down, just like the Angliru, this is the road to nowhere. And did we mention the cat. 1 Alto de Fito 20K prior to Covadonga?
Super steep Peña Cabarga follows as Stage 11; then roller coaster stages through the Basque Lands; Stage 12 has four categorised climbs and a downhill finish into Bilbao; Stage 13 has SEVEN categorised climbs.
Stage 14: is the next one with that ‘special’ label; no surprise, it’s the mighty Aubisque on the French side of the border. The survivors of the first three cat. 1 climbs of the day – Col Inharpu, Col de la Pierre Saint Martin and Col de Marie-Blanque have 17 kilometres to grind from Laruns to the summit. Whilst Covadonga wraps it’s victims in rock, mountain gorse, tight hairpins, cloud and ramps, L’Aubisque is open and magnificent with stunning views – but it’s actually steeper on average than Covadonga at 7.2% to Covadonga’s 6.87% albeit the Asturian climbs gentle lead in lowers the average gradient.
If you have a ‘jour sans’ today then it’s going to cost; there’s no swooping descent to pull time back on – just a ten mile plus slog to 1,709 metres above sea level. Sky’s ace Basque climber, ‘Mickey’ Landa has already nominated it as the key stage of the race – as the man who won the toughest stage of the 2015 Vuelta his opinion has to be valued, although he has announced on Wednesday evening that he will not be riding.
Stage 15 is another mountain top finish as is Stage 17, whilst Stage 19 is our fourth key stage, on paper it’s an easy one, 39K and only gently rolling; a ‘contrarelloj’ – time trial. It comes late in the race so any fatigue is magnified, no team mates, no wheels to sit on and no ‘riding in’ – it’s a 50 minute effort and the big chronomen will be ‘on’ from kilometre one to make it count.
As is the way with the Grand Tours in this era the day before the final ‘show’ stage has to be a monster, this Vuelta is no exception with one cat. 3 and three cat. 2 climbs as the appetisers for the final 22.3K grind up the Alto de Aitana where Stage 20 finishes down there in Al Hamilton territory – Valencia.
It’s ‘only’ 6% on average but is wearing on for 15 miles on what could well be hot and windy conditions. Whilst Stage 14 to the summit of the Aubisque looks on paper to be the ‘Daddy’ the race could well come down to this day – the organisers will be hoping so.
The last stage is the one the sprinters have been dreaming of for three weeks, no climbs and for many the last sprint they’ll contest in 2016.
That’s the stats and stages dealt with – in our next look at the 2016 Vuelta we’ll name names. . .
You will be able to follow the 2016 Vuelta a España with PEZ and you can watch live on Steephill.tv.
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 1,200 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.