La Vuelta is an underrated race. As the third Grand Tour on the calendar, it seems like some cycling fans dismiss it as being a lesser contest. Sure, the general classification field may not be as strong this year as in previous editions, but it offers great racing none-the-less. What I like about it, is that it’s a race of redemption. It’s one last chance for riders who may have had a difficult season offset by injury or illness.
La Vuelta is also a race that showcases teams we don’t often see in bigger races. The Spanish Pro-Continental teams such as Burgos – BH, Caja Rural-Seguros RGA, and Euskadi – Murias get little coverage of this magnitude outside of this race. These teams are so small, only the Basque team has a website that actually functions in English. How can you not like that? I find it charming.
The last of the Grand Tours, La Vuelta, like Il Giro and Le Tour, was organized to increase the circulation of a sponsoring newspaper. While the first edition was held in the spring of 1935, the Spanish Civil War and World War II prevented the race from being run annually until 1955. In 1995 the race moved to late summer to avoid scheduling conflicts with the Giro d’Italia. 1995 also saw the World Championships move to October. Since then, La Vuelta became an important race for those preparing for Worlds.
A look at a list of past Vuelta winners, like the other Grand Tours, is a veritable list of cycling legends. Jacques Anquetil won in 1963, followed by Raymond Poulidor in 1964. 1968 saw a victory for Felice Gimondi. Eddy Merckx won by nearly four minutes in 1973. A personal favorite, Freddy Maertens won in 1977. Bernard Hinault won the next year, followed by Joop Zoetemelk in 1979. Pedro Delgado took the 1985 edition. The first Columbian to win a Grand Tour was Luis Herrera in 1987. Sean Kelly was victorious in 1988. I could keep going, but I’ll just skip ahead to local legend, Chris Horner’s 2013 victory. Horner is the only American win the Vuelta. In case you missed the race that year, Horner beat Vincenzo Nibali, Alejandro Valverde, and Joaquim Rodriguez to take the honors.
This is where La Vuelta really sets itself apart from Le Tour and Il Giro. Sure, the Tour has iconic climbs like Mont Ventoux, the Hautacam, and Alpe d’Huez. Yes, the Giro has Monte Zoncolan, Colle delle Finestre, and Mortirolo. The Vuelta has the Alto de l’Angliru, with an average gradient of 9.8% and a maximum gradient of 23.5%. The Alto de los Machucos averages 8.7% and maxes out at 26%. Alto de Puig Llorença averages 9.1% with a max of 21%. Granted, the race organizers seem to be taking it easy on the riders this year, as they haven’t included these leg breaking climbs.
I look forward to watching La Vuelta unfold this year. Those looking for redemption include Richie Porte of BMC Racing, Vincenzo Nibali of Bahrain Merida, and Nairo Quintana of Movistar. Will one of these riders take the overall, or will the race see an outsider like Michał Kwiatkowski of Team Sky, Miguel Ángel López of Astana, or perhaps one of the Yates brothers of Mitchelton-SCOTT pull it off? I’m looking forward to seeing how the race plays out. Thanks for reading, and as always, keep the rubber side down!