The 2023 Vuelta a España (“Tour of Spain”) starts on Saturday in Barcelona with a 14.8km stage team time trial through the city that will determine the first rider to wear the red jersey as the leader of the Vuelta’s General Classification.
This year’s Vuelta covers a total of 3,153km (1,955mi) over 21 stages, including a team time trial, an individual time trial, 15(!) stages with uphill or summit finishes, and one of the deepest list of contenders in any grand tour in the last 10 years. Here are five stages you won’t want to miss:
Stage 3 - Súria to Arinsal, Andorra (158.5km) - Monday, August 28
The Vuelta’s GC battle should begin in earnest as early as Stage 3, with the first summit finish of the Spanish grand tour. Beginning in Súria, the stage heads north toward the principality of Andorra, nestled high in the Pyrenees. The road climbs steadily for much of the second half of the stage, culminating with two Category 1 climbs: Coll d’Ordino (8.8km at 5.1 percent) followed quickly by the final climb to the finish line in Arinsal (8.3km at 7.7 percent). There are bonus seconds to the first three riders to the top of the Ordino, meaning the race could explode–even though it’s just the third day–near the summit, launching an aggressive race down to the valley and then up to the finish.
Stage 8 - Dénia to Xorret de Catí, Costa Blanca Interior (165km) - Saturday, September 2
The first week ends with two tough stages that should set the tone for the second week’s GC battles. Of the two, Stage 8 looks like it could be more explosive. Beginning along the Mediterranean coast in Dénia, the race quickly heads into the hills of Spain’s Costa Blanca, where five categorized climbs–and high temperatures–will be ready to greet the peloton. These climbs will make it hard for the riders to establish a rhythm, which means whichever team is protecting the race leader will have a tough time controlling the race.
The final is by far the toughest: the Category 1 Xorret de Catí. It’s just 3.9km long, which isn’t much, but it’s incredibly steep with an average gradient of 11.4 percent and a 2km section in the middle of the climb with pitches of 15 percent, 21 percent, 22 percent, 19 percent, and 18 percent. That’s gonna do some damage to an already tired peloton. The riders will summit the climb just 3km from the finish line, after plunging down a quick descent. Both a day for puncheurs and GC contenders, this could turn out to be the most exciting finale of the Vuelta’s first week.
Stage 13 - Formigal, Huesca la Magia to Col du Tourmalet 135 km) - Friday, September 8
Stage 13 brings the Vuelta back into the Pyrenees, for a monster climbing stage featuring four major summits and over 4,000m of climbing crammed into just 134.7km.
The day begins in Formigal, near the French border, and the climbing begins immediately with the Category 3 climb over the Puerto de Portalet (4.4km at 5.4 percent) and into France. The climbing begins again as soon as the riders hit the valley floor with the “Beyond Category” Col d’Aubisque (16.5km at 7.1 percent) followed quickly by the Category 1 Col de Spandelles (10.3km at 8.3 percent).
But it’s the final climb that has us most excited: a summit finish atop the most famous climb in the Pyrenees–the “Beyond Category” Col du Tourmalet (18.9km at 7.4 percent). The Tourmalet is often used in the middle of stages finishing on other climbs or in towns down the valley, but it’s been featured three times as a summit finish in the Tour de France and once in the Tour de France Femmes–just a few weeks ago, in fact.
These climbs are some of the most famous Pyrenean ascents in Tour de France history and the Vuelta organizers are sending a message by including them all in such a short stage–and in such quick succession. This is one of the most brutal stages in the race, and anyone hoping to win the Vuelta will need to be at his best on this difficult stage.
Stage 17 - Ribadesella/Ribeseya to Altu de L'Angliru (122.4km) - Wednesday, September 13
The reason we call Stage 13 “one of the most brutal stages in the race” is because Stage 17–a super-short (122.4km) stage with three categorized climbs including a summit finish on the “Beyond Category” Altu de l’Angliru–might give it a run for its money. Taking the riders through the rugged region of Asturias the stage begins on the coast and quickly heads inland for three categorized climbs, including two Category 1 ascents before the Angliru (12.5km at 9.8 percent).
Since the Vuelta first tackled it in 1999, the 12.5km climb has become one of the hardest in professional cycling. It’s more fierce than it looks on paper: the first 5.5km are actually rather easy, but the final 7km have an average gradient of about 13 percent, with five ramps at or above 20 percent. In 1999, some riders had their mechanics mount triple chainrings on their bikes, to give them extra-low gearing for the climb’s steepest pitches. Now riders just use compact gearing and cassettes with large cogs to keep their cadences high–or if they’re off the back, make it to the finish inside the time cut. And if it rains–as it often does in the Asturias region–the stage could be even more lethal.
Stage 20 - Manzanares El Real to Guadarrama (208km) - Saturday, September 16
In case the race still hasn’t been settled yet, the champion of the 2023 Vuelta will certainly be decided on Stage 20, an ascent-filled slugfest through the Guadarrama Mountains outside of Madrid.
This one’s just cruel: first of all it’s the longest stage of the Vuelta, at 207.8km. And it includes ten categorized climbs. Yes, they’re all Category 3 ascents–and some of them will be climbed more than once as the riders complete a series of circuits through the range. The day’s final climb of the day–the Alto San Lorenzo de el Escorial (4.6km at 6.6 percent)–comes just 12km from the finish line, making this the perfect place to launch a stage- and/or race-winning attract.
It’s a perfect day for riders who excel on the shorter, punchier climbs in races like the Ardennes, which make perfect as the Vuelta’s top-2 contenders: Belgium’s Remco Evenepoel and Slovenia’s Primož Roglič (Jumbo-Visma) have each won Liège–Bastogne–Liège. If the two riders are close heading into the final weekend, expect fireworks–if they have anything left in their legs to provide them.
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