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La Vuelta: preview

August 19, 2014

La Vuelta is the third of the grand tours. The Spanish tour may not have the history or reputation of the Giro and Tour, but recently La Vuelta has been very entertaining. Gone are the boring long flat transition stages and in their place are many tough shorter challenges. We are also seeing more of the top riders compete and the peloton is more international. A few decades ago the race was dominated by the local riders, including some dodgy tactics to make sure that foreigners did not have a chance. Most infamously Scottish climber Millar was targeted by most of the peloton, and a few fans as well, to conspire to prevent him winning in 1985. Pedro Delgado won that year and now designs the greatly improved courses.

The parcours can be split into two halves for several reasons. The first 9 stages are in the south and east, then the race is in the north and north west. These two areas are traditional strongholds for cycling in Spain, so hopefully the local fans come out. The first half is also the easiest, in term of mountains at least, but it can be very hot with temperatures regularly above 40 degrees. Most of the stages are lumpy rather than hilly but there are a couple of steep finishes on Stages 6 and 9. Many of the well-known tourist attractions could be shown off as the race passes the likes of Ronda, Cordoba, Granada and Cadiz.

The individual time trial on stage 10 is a neat divider between the two halves. Then the race heads north into the high country, but not all stages are mountainous. Steep climbs to the finish line have become a real feature of La Vuelta, and this is true again of Stages 11, 14, 15, 16, 18 and 20. A race with eight uphill finishes certainly favours the climbers. The riders really suffered in cold weather last year, perhaps this year will be kinder.

We will see all the World Tour teams (AG2R, Astana, Belkin, BMC, Cannondale, FDJ, Garmin Sharp, Lampre Merida, Lotto Bellisol, Movistar, OPQS, Orica Greenedge, Europcar, Giant Shimano, Katusha, Sky, Tinkoff Saxo, and Trek.) They will not all be strong compared to the Tour or Spring Classics, as this late in the season there can be conflicts with rider transfers and the upcoming world championships. The wild card entries will be Caja Rural Seguros RGA, Cofidis, IAM, and MTN Qhubeka. The lack of Spanish teams is very noticeable. Only one world tour team and they cannot even field more than one wild card team. The great cycling nation has fallen far.

The entrants this year is looking particularly good for the race. The Tour suffered from the lack of Colombians (particularly Giro winner Nairo Quintana and runner up Rigoberto Uran) then when Froome and Contador crashed out. They will all be at racing plus last year’s winner Horner. The contest is mouthwatering.

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