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Vuelta a España 2017 preview: Alberto Contador’s last stand

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A team time trial to start, the Angliru right before the finish and 49 classified climbs in between. It’s the Rouleur guide to the Vuelta a España 2017, the most exciting Grand Tour of the season

Photographs: Offside/L'Equipe

72nd Vuelta a España
21-day stage race, Spain
August 19 to September 10

 

Stage 1, Saturday August 19th, Nîmes to Nîmes (13.7 km) – TTT
Stage 2, Sunday 20th, Nîmes to Gruissan (203.4 km)  – Flat
Stage 3, Monday 21st, Prades Conflent Canigó to Andorra la Vella (158.5 km) – Mountain
Stage 4, Tuesday 22nd, Escaldes-Engordany to Tarragona (198.2km) – Flat
Stage 5, Wednesday 23rd,  Benicàssim to Alcossebre (157.7 km) – Hilly
Stage 6, Thursday 24th, Vila-real to Sagunt (204.4 km) – Hilly
Stage 7, Friday 25th, Llíria to Cuenca (207 km) – Hilly
Stage 8, Saturday 26th, Hellín to Xorret de Catí  (199.5 km) – Hilly
Stage 9, Sunday 27th, Orihuela to Cumbre del Sol (174 km) – Flat
Rest Day Monday 28th, Provincia de Alicante
Stage 10, Tuesday 29th, Caravaca Año Jubilar 2017 to ElPozo Alimentación (164.8 km) – Flat
Stage 11, Wednesday 30th, Lorca to Observatorio Astronómico de Calar Alto (187.5km) – Mountain
Stage 12, Thursday 31st, Motril to Antequera (160.1 km) – Hilly
Stage 13, Friday 1st September, Coín to Tomares (198.4 km) – Flat
Stage 14, Saturday 2nd, Écija to Alto Sierra de La Pandera (175 km) – Mountain
Stage 15, Sunday 3rd, Alcalá la Real to Alto Hoya de la Mora (129.4 km) – Mountain
Rest Day Monday 4th, Logroño
Stage 16, Tuesday 5th, Circuito de Navarra to Logroño (40.2 km) – ITT
Stage 17, Wednesday 6th, Villadiego to Monumento Vaca Pasiega (180.5 km) – Mountain
Stage 18, Thursday 7th, Suances to Santo Toribio de Liébana (169 km) – Hilly
Stage 19, Friday 8th, Caso Parque Natural de Redes to Gijón (149.7 km) – Hilly
Stage 20, Saturday 9th, Corvera de Asturias to Alto de l’Angliru  (117.5 km) – Mountain
Stage 21, Sunday 10th, Arroyomolinos to Madrid (117.6 km) – Flat

 

Total Distance: 3324.1km

 

5 flat stages and 1 flat with high-altitude finale
8 hilly stages
6 mountain stages
1 individual time-trial stage
1 team time trial stage

 

Previous Winners
2016 Nairo Quintana (COL)
2015 Fabio Aru (ITA)
2014 Alberto Contador (ESP)
2013 Chris Horner (USA)
2012 Alberto Contador (ESP)
2011 Juan José Cobo (ESP)
2010 Vincenzo Nibali (ITA)
2009 Alejandro Valverde (ESP)
2008 Alberto Contador (ESP)
2007 Denis Menchov (RUS)

 

Rouleur Musette — Vuelta Red

 

Four-Time Winner 
Roberto Heras 2000, 2003, 2004, 2005

 

Three-Time Winners
Tony Rominger 1992, 1993, 1994
Alberto Contador 2008, 2012, 2014

 

Roberto Heras leads at the 2004 Vuelta

STAGES OF NOTE

 

Stage 1 – Go! Team

Significant for being one of only three team time trials on the 2017 WorldTour calendar – and the only one to feature in a Grand Tour – La Vuelta’s first stage will most likely find a BMC rider in rossa by the day’s end.

 

Though Quick Step are the current world champions, BMC took the TTTs at this year’s Volta Catalunya and Tirreno Adriatico, while Rohan Dennis also won the individual event at the latter.

 

It’s the first time the Vuelta has ever started in France, the Nîmes circuit has a technical start, with nine corners of 90 degrees or more in the early kilometres, before opening out and giving the power men the chance to take over.

 

Stage 9 – Up ‘n at ’em

Listed as a flat day but most definitely not one for the sprinters, Stage 9 races along the Levante coast before shooting to the sky on the newly notorious Cumbre del Sol.

 

Just as it did in 2015, the Vuelta will tackle the climb twice, only summiting the second time round. That was, arguably, the day Tom Dumoulin announced himself as a true contender, countering Chris Froome in the closing metres after it looked like the stage was lost.

 

 

Stage 17 – Goat Tracks of my Tears

Perhaps the most exciting thing about the Vuelta a España is how much scope it still offers for discovery. This year, there is no more terrifying newbie than the Alto de Los Machucos summit finish.

 

At just over seven kilometres long, the road rises up to over 25% for the better part of a kilometre, before plateauing momentarily and rearing up almost as much again.

 

It’s not a short stage, at 180 kilometres, so maybe no-one will bother doing anything, but anyone who hasn’t brought their best legs is sure to be found out here.

 

Stage 20 – Angliru of attack

 

Vuelta a Espana
Pavel Tonkov climbs through the rain and mist on the Angliru in 1999.

 

The final stage proper of the Vuelta threatens to be a serious showstopper. The organisers evidently took a look at the lack of short summit finishes at the Tour and thought “well, if they’re not gonna, we will”. This will be the seventh time the Angliru has featured in the race, despite only making its first appearance in 1999.

 

The Angliru has since become the Vuelta’s Stelvio or Alpe d’Huez – a totemic climb the race had long needed. Charly Wegelius described the first time he rode it – in 2002 – in his memoir, Domestique:

 

The climb was so steep that if I rode sitting down I would lift my front wheel off the floor when I pulled back on the bars, and if I rode out of the saddle my back wheel would spin around hopelessly, costing me yet more energy. It was savage; Dave Millar was so appalled by it he ended up abandoning the race 150m before the finish line.

 

Reach for the Sky: Angliru and La Vuelta

 

The Riders

 

ITV’s Daniel Friebe calls the Vuelta “that nightclub everyone swears before they go out that they’re not going to end up in, but that everyone always does”. The 2017 edition feels more like an after-party at someone’s house. The one that everyone was actually looking forward to far more than going out in the first place.

 

While a few of its “all-star cast” of riders have had seasons they’ll be hoping to redeem – Aru, Nibali, Chaves – for most – Froome, Barguil, Bardet – it is an opportunity for some big-time racing outside the pressure cooker environment of the Tour de France.

 

Alberto Contador bids farewell to the sport at his national tour, while the Yates brothers ride together in a big stage race for the first time since the 2015 Tour de France. Expect a significant improvement on their 50th and 89th positions (does it even matter which way round?) from that occasion.

Yates. Definitely one of the Yates twins.

 

Dark horses and wildcards

 

One intriguing unknown quantity is Julian Alaphilippe. The 25 year-old is riding his first Grand Tour of the year, after being kept out of action due to knee surgery. Will he be fresh as a daisy or will his racer’s edge be rusty?

 

George Bennett heads the LottoNL-Jumbo nine. The New Zealander was having the season of his life before retiring ill from the Tour de France, and will have his eyes on a top ten finish in Spain.

 

Simon Yates

 

Adam Hansen wasn’t in the original Lotto-Soudal line-up. Then, suddenly he was. We had thought the end of an era was upon us, but due to a team-mate’s broken hip, Hansen will start his 19th consecutive Grand Tour. Hansen will be looking to show he’s more than just a finisher, however, so expect to see him getting stuck into the race.

 

Aqua Blue make their – and an Irish team’s – first ever Grand Tour start. We’re excited to see Rouleur columnist Larry Warbasse in full Captain America kit, as U.S. national champion. Can he add to this season’s success?


Larry Warbasse blog: Tears Before Bedtime

 

Whether it’s in the peloton, gruppetto or the breakaway, you’re sure to spot the hot pink jerseys of Manzana Postobon over the next three weeks. Dutch rider Jetse Bol is going to be their man in the mountains. The 27-year-old finished in the top ten in three out of five stages of the Volta a Burgos, for an impressive tenth place overall.

 

A POTTED HISTORY

 

The Mayor of Madrid dropped the flag on the first Vuelta a España in 1935. Due to its late start – 32 years after the Tour; 26 later than the Giro – La Vuelta has often been playing catch-up with its more mature siblings.

 

For much of its history, the Vuelta’s problem stemmed from its traditional calendar placement in late spring/early summer. The first running of the race ended just a few days before the Giro, while subsequent editions overlapped.

 

The race frequently struggled to attract a world-class field of riders prepared to take it seriously, and not treat it as preparation for something else, or an afterthought.

 

Two of the biggest years for the Vuelta were 1955, when it attracted a truly international field for the first time, and 1995, when the race moved to September.

 

Shop Vuelta inspired products:

The Wonderful Socks: £16

Rouleur Vuelta Musette: £10