Covadonga returns but no Tourmalet - Vuelta a Espana announces route for 2021
While the Basque Country and Catalunya miss out, there is plenty to play for for every type of rider in this year's Vuelta route. More sprint stages than we have seen in recent years are balanced by plenty of mountains – including a stage with “an elevation gain rarely seen at La Vuelta” that finishes on Altu d'El Gamoniteiru.
Irene Lozano of Spain Secretary of State for Sports during the 76th Tour of Spain 2021,
The Vuelta a España announced its 2021 route on Thursday, with a parcours dubbed ‘La Vuelta de las Catedrales’. The race will begin in the cathedral city of in Burgos on 14 August before finishing a month later in Santiago de Compostela on 5 September.
In a return to a more traditional approach to Grand Tour route planning, the 2021 Vuelta makes a pretty good fist of getting round the whole of the country of which it is notionally a ‘tour’. There will be seven stages in the southern part of the country, as well as four days in the rarely-visited western region of Extremadura. The final week takes place in the regions along Spain’s Atlantic coast, which is much more frequently visited.
The Vuelta a Espana 2021 route was announced on 11 February
The Lagos de Covadonga, always an exciting showpiece climb, makes its return to La Vuelta on stage 17, as the route winds its way westward through the northern regions of Cantabria, Asturias and finally Galicia.
There is no rest for the riders, with the Altu d’El Gamoniteiru, another Asturian beast on the menu at the end of a day that La Vuelta with “an elevation gain rarely seen at La Vuelta” packed into just 159 kilometres.
There are 42 kilometres of time trialling across two stages, with the Madrid city centre crit on the final day abandoned in favour of what is certain to be a picturesque conclusion to the race – an individual time trial finishing in the shadow of the Santiago de Compostela. The first day is also a time trial of just eight kilometres.
No Tourmalet, Catalunya, Pais Vasco
Last year the much-anticipated Tourmalet stage of La Vuelta was abbreviated because of increased COVID-19 restrictions in neighbouring France. Sadly, cycling fans will have to wait at least one more year before seeing the La Vuelta peloton scale this mighty beast, with no stages planned in the Pyrenees for 2021. It's worth noting there are also no finishes over 1,800m in the entire race, so those riders who excel at high-altitude will have to make their gains elsewhere.
The regions of Catalunya and the Basque Country are set to miss out entirely this year
It is a notably easier start to the race than we saw in 2020, with the first real climbing stage arriving on day seven and a finish on the Balcon de Alicanté, which is making its Vuelta debut. The first week comes to a close two days later with a summit finish on the especial climb, Alto de Velefique.
The middle week, which mostly sees the peloton make its way along the south coast in a series of flat or intermediate stages, will conclude with two mountainous stages in Extremadura.
La Vuelta is a long way off and the start list is often defined by how the other races earlier in the season have played out. That being said, it’s understood that Fabio Aru will lead UAE Team Emirates and Enric Mas will return to his home Grand Tour once again in the colours of Movistar, after running an impressive, Zubeldia-esque fifth last year. There are no indications yet as to whether Primoz Roglic will return to defend his 2020 maillot rojo.
Roglic clings on during Stage 17 to secure Vuelta glory
Speaking earlier this month, Sir Dave Brailsford confirmed that Ineos Grenadiers will be bringing Adam Yates to lead at La Vuelta, with the possibility of adding Egan Bernal to the squad as well depending on how the Colombian goes at Il Giro.
The course could work to the favour of riders like Yates, who prefer the opportunistic, attacking style of racing over performance against the clock and cold-blooded control in the mountains. There are enough intermediate stages for some unpredictable breakaway wins as we have become accustomed to seeing at La Vuelta, and there is a bumper crop of sprint stages at this year's edition, too. Don't be surprised to see the same guys battling for green in France make their way to Spain in the search of a few more wins this year.