Time to tick the third GT off. I must say, I do like the route better this year.
Team time trial. Shorter than last year, meaning the time gaps will not be very big.
If you like the circuit from Volta Ciclista a Catalunya stage 7, this one is for you. The Castell de Montjuic is on the menu, with bonus seconds (6, 4, 2) on the line. A different descent leads them to the run in of 1250m at 4.3%.
A trip to Andorra will see the first legs being tested. Coll d’Ordino is not the hardest climb in the world, but the teams would want a good position for the descend which is not the easiest. Plus, there are bonus seconds at the top. Arinsal is a proper climb, a new one and those who live in Andorra will know it well. Time to hand over the jersey?
We will see the first sprint in Tarragona. Some of the sprinters will be tested on the two categorized climbs. The road rises with 4.1% the last 500m.
We should see the second sprint the day after.
It is a day where the road rises until 50 km of racing, expect a fierce fight for the breakaway. Then, the team with the leader’s jersey will hope some will help them protect it. As of now, it is difficult to say if it is a GC battle or a breakaway day. We will see gaps in the GC, that much I can say. It was used in 2019, seeing the breakaway win.
Just a 200km long sprint stage with a very late right turn 300m out.
A brilliant stage that again can tip both way in La Vuelta. Xorret de Catí was last used in 2017, seeing Alaphilippe win from the breakaway. It has 2300m at 13.9%. Brutal.
Last day before a well earned rest day. One I think the breakaway will be happy to take. A very irregular climb so to say. We will likely see moves in the GC group too but the gaps will not be huge.
Time trial, a very important day. Most of the favorites excel at this, it will be good to see them up against each other.
Last used in 2020 La Laguna Negra de Vinuesa seeing Disco-Dan Martin beating Roglic and Carapaz in a sprint. On paper, it should be a day for the breakaway with the GC battling it out behind.
The sprinters get another one here, a fourth stage for them.
A big one. Perhaps the most important stage. Col d’Aubisque, Col de Spandelles and Col du Tourmalet. If you replace Tourmalet with Hautacam, you have the stage 18 of the Tour de France 2022 more or less. It is Tourmalet from the opposite side compared to the Tour de France, the one Pinot won in 2019. The distance of it do the damage. I like the bonus seconds at top of Col de Spandelles.
This stage is not for the faint hearted either. The climbs do come a bit far from the line and the long valley from Puerto de Larrau to Puerto de Belagua will make it easier than it could have been. You’d want a good satellite rider if you want to make a big move. Bonus seconds at the top of Puerto de Larrau.
Last day before the last rest day. A day for the breakaway, I think most of the sprinters are just a bit exhausted after the last two days of racing.
A very short stage. We will see some sort of GC battle on Bejes, it is that tough but nothing that matters. It should be a day for the breakaway despite it being easy to control.
Alto de L’Angrilu. Just a monster of a climb. The last two times (2020 and 2017) have seen smaller gaps than expected, but 6 km at 13.6% is no easy task. An important day.
Another important GC day. Up or down all day, with 4100 climbing meters. Twice climbing Puerto de la Cruz de Linares. Here, you have to do the damage near the bottom. It makes it debut. And the first time over, there are 6, 4 and 2 seconds up for grasp.
Breakaway or sprint? They usually fool the eyes.
I hope to see this stage more than once in my life. Despite the gradients being single digits, 4450m of climbing and 207.5 km of racing. It has to be good. The steep part of Alto san Lorence dé El Escorial are on cobblestones! Atleast some of it are. Oh, and the steep part is 560m at 14.3%. Big day for the GC – it is the last chance they get.
A sprint in Madrid.
Which stages will determine the winner?
I think these five stages are the most important. Stage 10, the time trial. The reason is Evenepoel. Last year, he had a margin of 2:41 after the time trial, now that won’t be the case here. We know he loves to ride offensively and he likely will the first week but this is his weapon. Everyone with a realistic chance for the podium must do a good time here. The length is shorter than in 2022, but Mas lost 1:51 against the clock last year, and lost by 2:02 in Madrid.
Stage 14 is a joker. The first reason is after stage 13. Second reason is Col Hourcére and Puerto de Larrau. They are two very difficult climbs. There is a valley but most of it is a descend, it is more or less 11 km of false flat. You only need one rider going all out here – your typical Wout van Aert pull. The damage must be done on the first two climbs and it can.
Of course the Angrilu is on the list too. Despite we’ve not seen big gaps the past two times. I compared it to Puy de Dôme, and the Angrilu is way harder. If we can see big gaps there, we should see big gaps in Spain. The reason for the small gaps must be the riders were at the same level on that day and not the climb itself. It is, if you count the whole climb, another 45 min effort.
Last but not least, stage 18. Puerto de la Cruz de Linares is no easy climb. This late in a Grand Tour, everyone can have an off day.
Enough with the stages. Most of the mountain top finishes are not on long climbs. That suits Evenepoel, Roglic and Ayuso. Meanwhile, Tourmalet and Alto de L’Angliru are 45 minute efforts, this is were the diesels come in – Vingegaard, Almeida and Thomas. What all six of them have in common is a very good time trial. With that said, the most important day must be stage 13. We will talk seconds on many days, to Tourmalet you can lose minutes.
Vingegaard – the Tour de France winner has decided to come here for the double. It has not been done since Chris Froome decided to in 2017, meaning it can be done. Vingegaard is by far the best Grand Tour rider in the peloton now, beating Pogacar with that margin two years in a row is a statement. It will be the first time Vingegaard attempts two Grand Tours a year which makes it difficult to say just how well he goes. I think he is on a different level this year, compared to 2022 and the reason is the consistency we’ve seen this season. He starts as the favorite, the news from the team camp that he is at the same level as in the Tour de France is frightening for his opponents.
Roglic – winning the Giro d’Italia this year. We had Evenepoel and Hart leaving, they looked to be the two strongest contenders. With blunt honesty, beating Thomas and Almeida is in my book not enough to put him in the same category as Vingegaard. One could argue the crashes in Italy was the reason for the small winning margin. In Burgos, he looked very comfortable – riding more calculated than usually. He knows it is only one off-day from Vingegaard that makes him the leader for the team and Primoz is hungry for a fourth title. However, despite his class, peaking at the Giro and the Vuelta the same year is very difficult. Nibali is the closest we’ve seen to succeed at this back in 2013.
Evenepoel – he will be attempting to take his Grand Tour win in Spain again. Many aspects talk for him, as we only have two very long mountain top finishes. He has severely improved his sprint, meaning bonus seconds is another weapon now. The long time trial is where he will hope to make the difference. I just do not think it will be enough. He was not proper tested in the third week in 2022 and we didn’t see him tested in the third week of the Giro d’Italia this year. I think the podium is realistic but I think he will fall short on Tourmalet or Angrilu.
Ayuso – he is the only favorite who has not raced a Grand Tour this season. I think that is extremely wise. It will likely leave him fresh in the third week, where we often se the “double-attempters” fade. He is good against the clock, winning two time trials this year. The thing is his climbing. It is difficult to say, 27th on Thyon 2000 (returning to racing) and inconsistent in Tour de Suisse. Last year here, he climbed well but he will need to add another level if he wants to fight for the win. With these young riders you never know.
Almeida – attempting the double as in 2022, where he didn’t finish the Giro d’Italia. With this level of competition, I think it will be very difficult for him to reach the podium. It is just a very difficult task at hand. He is usually very consistent in Grand Tours with his worst result being a 6th overall if he made it to stage 21.
Thomas – I will say the same for Thomas but I will have another take on it. Thomas and Almeida are similar in many aspects. Diesels, a good time trial and riding their own tempo. Thomas just has a lot more experience. Now, that does not mean he can do a strong Giro-Vuelta double but I do have a gut feeling telling me that he will do well here.
Arensman – 6th in his last two Grand Tours. He did the Giro-Vuelta double last year and got a good result in both. Arensman is a rider, I rate highly. He is consistent and he is fantastic in the third week. He lack the explosiveness but he makes up for it in his time trial and his ability to stay fresh.
Mas – crashed out of the Tour de France, now back in Spain. He has three 2nd places at La Vuelta, one day he hopes to get a win. The main issue will be his time trial. As I said, he lost a lot of time against the clock in 2022, something he must improve to fight for the podium. He has had a month or so to train after his broken collarbone, I think he is a podium contender.
Vlasov – he has attempted six grand tours and finished three. Still, he has what it takes to fight for a top-10. He is often hit by bad luck which he must avoid to fight for a top-5. He has become better against the clock but his main issue is still very long climbs.
Landa – last man on the list. His time trial will be a problem, as usual. Yet, he has climbed better this season than in a long time. Actually since LBL. If he finds his climbing legs again, he should be a top-10 candidate.
⭐⭐⭐ Roglic, Evenepoel
⭐⭐ Thomas, Mas, Ayuso
⭐ Landa, Vlasov, Arensman, Almeida
Who will win?
I think Jumbo-Visma will dominate this race. I will take a win for Jonas Vingegaard, the best Grand Tour rider in the world.