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Vuelta’17: The PEZ First Look!
Vuelta First Look: The Vuelta a España has the reputation for serving up a hard menu and this year is no different. Mountain stages, summit finishes, a long individual time trial and l'Angliru, could it be much worse? Yes, they could forego the five flat stages. Ed Hood ran his expert Grand Tour eye over the Vuelta '17 route to give us his 'first look' impressions.

Anglirú - Spanje - wielrennen - cycling - radsport - cyclisme - Vuelta 2011 - Tour of Spain - Ronde van Spanje  - etappe-15 Avilés > Anglirú - sfeer illustratie - foto Sabine Jacob/Cor Vos ©2011

The koalas and wallabies are running for cover as the photogs look for those ever more sad photo opportunities; yes, the World Tour has come back to life in the Tour Down Under. And here I am wishing the season away with a look at the 2017 Vuelta; first of all, let’s look at how the organizers summarize their race:

The Parcours:
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 flat stages and 1 flat with high-altitude final stage
• 8 hill 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 bike race on the planet. . .

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.

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.

Santiago de Compostela   - Spain  - wielrennen - cycling - radsport - Alberto Contador Velasco (Spain / Team Saxobank - Saxo Bank - Tinkoff Bank) cyclisme -    pictured during  stage - 21 ITT Time trial Indivudual of the Vuelta de Espana - Tour of Spain 2014 - from  Santiago de Compostela to Santiago de Compostela  - photo LB/RB/Cor Vos © 2014Contador Vuelta '14 winner

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 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,  16e. Etappe  Vuelta van Gijon naar Alto de L´Angrilu Foto Cor Vos ©2000Roberto Heras fights l'Angliru in the Vuelta 2000

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.

Wielrennen - cycling - cyclisme -stockphoto - archief - archive  -Laurent Jalabert Vuelta  foto Cor Vos ©1997Jalabert and Zulle in '08

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.

Hoogvliet - wielrennen - cycling - radsport - cyclisme - Archief Tour de France 1987 - Pedro Delgado )PDM) - links Robert Millar - foto Cor Vos ©2008Millar and Delgado, best not mention the Vuelta

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.

Merckx in '73

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.

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 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?

Angel Casero in 2001

The Stages:
On Thursday, the 12th of January, Unipublic announced the itinerary of the 2017 Vuelta that will commence on the 19th of August with an team 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 time trial and sprinters’ stage two on French soil we have:

Anglirú - Spanje - wielrennen - cycling - radsport - cyclisme - Vuelta 2011 - Tour of Spain - Ronde van Spanje  - etappe-15 Avilés > Anglirú -  Joaquin Rodriguez (Katusha) - Daniel Martin (Team Garmin - Cervelo)  - Christopher Froome  - Bradley Wiggins (Team Sky) - foto Sabine Jacob/Cor Vos ©2011Vuelta '11 and 'Purito' in the green jersey

Stage Three: 158.5K from Prades to Andorra – the GC will get an early shuffle in the thin air of 'Purito' Rodriguez stamping ground albeit the finish is downhill.

Stage 3

Stage Four should be for the sprinters.

Stage Five: from Benicassim to Alcossebre over 173.4K is the first of the ‘summit finishes’ – steep and nasty.

Stages Six is for the baroudeurs and Stage Seven for the sprinters – but just maybe a breakaway?

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.’

Aru on the Xorret de Cati in the 2016 Volta a la Comunitat Valenciana

Stage Nine: Orihuela to Ciudad del Poeta Miguel Hernandez 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 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

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. . .

Stage 13 is for the fast men.

Stage 14 - Savage!

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 massive final.

The second rest day comes in Logrono before the very important Stage 16 Circuit of Navarro 42K ITT.

Stage 17

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

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 organizers will be hoping so.

Anglirú - Spanje - wielrennen - cycling - radsport - cyclisme - Vuelta 2011 - Tour of Spain - Ronde van Spanje  - etappe-15 Avilés > Anglirú -  Juan Jose Cobo Acebo (Team Geox - TMC) - foto Sabine Jacob/Cor Vos ©2011Juan José Cobo on l'Angliru

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.

The best of 2016 Vuelta a España

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 where more of his musings on our sport can be found.


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