The race starts with a team time trial beginning on a large batea (a floating wooden platform used for fishing) in the municipality of Vilanova de Arousa.
Given the flat profile of the stage, it could be a direct competition between Team Garmin-Sharp and Team Omega Pharma-Quick Step. With possible GC contender Dan Martin as their leader, the men in argyle will have extra motivation to perform well on this stage. Belkin Pro Cycling Team has an outside chance to upset the time-trialing powerhouses.
This year’s Vuelta wastes no time in getting down to business with the first mountain-top finish coming just two stages into the race. Before the uphill finish the riders will contest the cat 3 Alto de San Cosme climb 63km from the start.
After a flat run into the final climb, the riders will take on the 11km Alto Do Monte Da Groba which is long but not excessively tough at an average gradient of 5.6% (max 10%). With the final kilometre of the uphill averaging at 7.5%, this stage will see punchy climbers coming to the fore.
This stage is almost entirely flat apart from a slight uphill finish at Mirador de Lobeira. This is a sharp climb which eases a little in the last kilometre. Fastmen who can also climb — like Edvald Boasson Hagen, Michael Matthews and Zdenek Stybar — will relish this stage.
That said, the party could be spoiled by a perfectly timed late attack which makes this stage’s finale a must watch.
Stage 4 is the first rolling stage of the race and features more than 2,500m of climbing. The jagged terrain should be perfect for a breakaway attempt and the final 2km see the road tilt upwards — perfect for a long drag to be fought out between the escapees.
Stage 5 — Sober to Lake Sanabria (174.3 km)
While there are no massive climbs on stage 5, there’s still enough to make it difficult for the pure sprinters. The first climb of the stage is the category 3 Alto do Covelo which averages 4% over 10.9km. The second climb, Alto do Padornelo, is a gentle hill with a 2.6% average gradient over 11km.
The stage marks a transition from the Galicia region to Zamora, a city in Castile and León region. The rolling nature of the terrain will make it very difficult for the sprinter’s teams to control the attacks but if they’re able to reign in the attacks, the stage could end in a sprint finish.
Stage 6 — Guijuelo to Cáceres (175 km)
The stage starts in the municipality of Guijuelo located in the province of Salamanca and enters the region of Extremadura. The terrain is suited for the fastmen of the peloton and will almost certainly end with a sprint finish, in the UNESCO World Heritage city of Cáceres.
Stage 7 — Almendralejo to Mairena de Aljarafe (205.9 km)
On stage 7 the race continues towards the southern tip of Spain, beginning in Almendralejo (“land filled with almond trees”), a town famous for its wine. The last 80km are straightforward and should see a fierce battle between the sprinter’s teams.
Stage 8 — Jerez de la Frontera to Estepona. Alto Peñas Blancas (166.6 km)
Stage 8 will likely see the first real shake up in the general classification. The final, stage-ending climb of Alto Peñas Blancas is 14.5km long with two steep opening kilometres that have a maximum gradient of 12.5%. The Category 1 climb eases up in the middle but in total it still manages to average 6.6%. Just one of many days for the climbers and the GC contenders.
Stage 9 — Antequera to Valdepeñas de Jaen (163.7km)
Stage 9 is a largely simple affair, with just the one 3rd category climb to contend with. But it’s the final ramp into the finishing town of Valdepeñas de Jaén, a favourite among Vuelta race organisers, that will wreak havoc. With ramps above 20%, and approaching 30% according to race organisers, this final push to the line will make for spectacular viewing.
Stage 10 — Torredelcampo to Güéjar Sierra/High Hazallanas (186.8km)
On the last stage before the first rest day the riders will face their first proper mountain stage. The 1st category Alto de Monachil climb peaks with roughly 27km left in the stage and will force a selection in the field.
The final climb to High Hazallanas might only be 7km long but the first 5km is at an average of 11% — more than enough to remove all but the very best climbers and the GC contenders from the head of the race.
Stage 11 (ITT) — Tarazona to Tarazona (38.8km)
The first stage back after the first rest day is the Vuelta’s only individual time trial. It’s not your average pancake flat time trial — sure there are some flat sections but the route is dominated by a third category climb and the descent off the other side. Expect Vincenzo Nibali to feature in this stage, just as he did in the uphill time trial in this year’s Giro.
Stage 12 — Maella to Tarragona (164.2km)
Stage 12 is one of only a handful of flat stages in this year’s race and the fastmen won’t want to squander their opportunity. Assuming they can get over the 3rd category Alto del Collet climb 70km before the end, this will almost certainly be a stage for the sprinters. Mind you, with the final section of the stage being along the Mediterranean coast, the wind could play a role.
Stage 13 — Valls to Castelldefels (169km)
The wind could be a factor on stage 13 as well — a day that ends with a flat run-in tailor-made for the sprinters, but that also features a 2nd and 3rd category climb early in the piece.
With the race heading to Pyrenees on the following stage, the sprinters won’t have many opportunities for stage wins for a while, perhaps giving them extra motivation to drag themselves over the two climbs to contest the finale on stage 13.
Stage 14 — Baga to Andorra/Collada de la Gallina (155.7km)
The first day in the Pyrenees. With four tough climbs for the riders to tackle this is a day that could prove decisive in the quest for the general classification.
The stage passes through Andorra and ends with the Collada de la Gallina, a climb which featured in last year’s race and saw Alejandro Valverde win a memorable battle against Joaquim Rodriguez and eventual winner Alberto Contador.
Could Valverde repeat his performance from last year and help set up an overall victory?
Stage 15 — Andorra to Peyragudes (224.9km)
Stage 15 is the longest of this year’s Vuelta at with four more Pyreneen climbs to tackle, this is sure to be another monumental battle. The final 75km and final two categorised climbs of the stage will be raced across the border in France as a tribute to the 100th edition of the Tour.
After tackling the Port du Bales and Peyresourde climbs the riders will end the stage with the short climb up to Peyragudes, which first featured at the Tour de France last year. Alejandro Valverde won that particular stage as well.
Stage 16 — Graus to Sallent de Gallego/Formigal Aramon
The third and final day in the Pyrenees is the easiest of the three, 147km long with only three categorised climbs for the riders to contend with. None of the climbs are particularly challenging, but the final climb to the Fomigal ski resort is reasonably long — 30km mostly uphill.
This is the final stage before the second rest day so expect to see plenty of action on the final climb with many riders giving their all before a day off.
Stage 17 — Calahorra to Burgos (189km)
For the sprinters that have managed to fight their way through the Pyrenees stage 17 will be looking like a great opportunity — a day that features just two third category climbs and a flat run in to the finish. In fact, after this stage, only the short and flat final stage into Madrid will be in reach of the sprinters as the race soon heads to the mountains of Asturias.
Stage 18 — Burgos to Peña Cabarga (186.5km)
Of the four remaining stages, three are uphill finishes, including stage 18 which finishes with the Alto de Peña Cabarga, a climb which played host to a fierce battle between Chris Froome and José Cobo in the 2011 Vuelta. Froome won the battle but Cobo won the war, taking out the race overall by 13 seconds over Froome.
Froome isn’t racing this year’s Vuelta, and neither is Cobo, but the rider who won the 2010 stage to Peña Carbaga is: Joaquim Rodriguez.
Stage 19 — St. Vicente Barquera to Oviedo/Alto Naranco (181km)
The day starts in the municipality of San Vicente de la Barquera which is famous for its fishing port and beaches. The riders will have no time to enjoy the beautiful surroundings though as they will try to save their energy for the final mountain stage of Angliru.
The 177km long stage will not make much difference in the general classification but will provide one last chance for the non-GC riders to win a grand tour stage. Most of the route will hug the coastline before making an inland turn at 103km.
If the breakaway hasn’t already created a large gap, the climb of Alto de la Manzaneda (3.6km at 6.2%) will provide a perfect platform. The final climb of Alto del Naranco is a gentle hill — 5.7km at 4.2% — ideally suited to a punchy escapee.
Stage 20 — Avilés to Alto de L’Angliru (142.2km)
For Stage 20, the race returns to Alto de l’Angliru — 13km at 10% — one of the most difficult climbs in the world. This will be the sixth time in the history race of the race that the fabled slope of l’Angliru has been tackled.
The short stage will start in the town of Avilés and move down south toward the mountain. The stage is made even harder with Alto del Cordal appearing on the route, just 20km before the final climb.
If the general classification hasn’t already been settled, this climb will definitely reveal the winner of the race. This climb will see a big fight between the Colombian duo of Sergio Henao and Rigoberto Uran, the Spaniards — Valverde and Rodriguez — and Vincenzo Nibali.
Stage 21 — Leganes to Madrid (109.6km)
With the race finally settled and climbing over, the final short stage will see the sprinters come back again in the limelight. The pan flat route should provide a fast finish where ex-teammates Bos and Matthews may go head-to-head for one last stage win of the race.