It’s been a cracking 68th edition of the Vuelta so far, with some fantastic racing and some equally spectacular scenery, and we’re expecting more of the same in the second week as the race heads towards the Pyrenees.
Here’s our preview of what’s in store for the second week of the race, together with flythrough videos from GCN for Stages 8 to 10 – we’ll add more as they become available – and don’t forget you can still enter out Fantasy Cycling competition, with daily prizes to be one (see below).
It’s worth bearing in mind that we’re in the deep south of Spain for much of this week, so the heat will almost certainly be a factor in these stages.
Saturday 31 August
Jerez de la Frontera > Estepona. Alto Peñas Blancas (170 km)
The toughest summit finish yet, and a big day for the overall contenders. The final climb to Alto de Peñas Blancas, making its Vuelta debut, is 14.5km long with a maximum gradient of 12.5 per cent at an average 6.6 per cent. Two intermediate sprints in the preceding 30km should ensure a fast approach.
Astana’s Vincenzo Nibali should still be in the red leader’s jersey he won in 2010, and with the Italian likely to have the upper hand in Wednesday’s time trial, this is a day when his rivals need to take the race to him; Movistar have worked hard on the mountain stages to date, so expect more of the same today.
Sunday 01 September
Antequera > Valdepeñas de Jaén (174.3 km)
The sole categorised climb on today’s route is the Category 2 Alto de Los Frailes, the summit coming 20km out, followed by what should be a fast descent, then a tough kick uphill for the last kilometre, the gradient topping 20 per cent in a couple of places on the ‘Wall’ of Valdepeñas de Jaén.
Previous winners here are Igor Anton of Euskaltel-Euskadi and Katusha’s Joaquin Rodriguez, and the latter has to be the favourite on this type of finale. But with the stage sandwiched by two big mountain finishes, much could depend on how tough yesterday’s final climb proved to be for the overall contenders.
Monday 02 September
Torredelcampo > Güéjar Sierra. Alto Hazallanas (175.5 km)
The hardest climb of the race so far– ‘Especial,’ or ‘Hors Categorie’ – comes at the end of today’s stage, and the last time it featured it proved pivotal when in 2009 Cadel Evans suffered a disastrous neutral service wheel change that gave the advantage in the fight for the overall to eventual winner, Alejandro Valverde.
Preceded by the Category 1 Alto de Monachil, the Alto Hazallanas averages a deceptive 5 per cent gradient over its 15.8km length, due to gentle lower slopes followed by a false flat and a short descent – but the last 7km are brutal, with the gradient seldom dropping below the mid-teens, and hitting 18 per cent in places.
Tuesday 3 September
Wednesday 04 September
Tarazona > Tarazona (38 km)
The inclusion of a Category 3 climb on today’s route means a Tony Martin victory isn’t necessarily a foregone conclusion, although the two-time world time trial champion looked in great form on that day-long solo break on last week’s Stage 6 when he was caught metres from the finish in Caceres.
Vincenzo Nibali destroyed the opposition on his way to taking the mountain time trial during May’s Giro d’Italia – the parcours today isn’t as tough as that was in terms of pure climbing, but it will suit him given that long descent back down to the Tarazona; you’d expect him to take time out of his rivals for the overall.
Thursday 05 September
Maella > Tarragona (157 km)
Opportunities for the sprinters are few and far between in this year’s Vuelta, and with the only categorised climb coming at around the halfway point of the route and a fairly flat final 20km or so – there’s a slight kick uphill from 2km out to the flamme rouge – it looks like a day for a bunch finish.
Having said that, the race has proven to be unpredictable in the first week, and now we’re past the halfway point, teams with nothing so far from the race, or riders out of contract who want to put themselves in the shop window, may fight to get into the day’s break and if it’s a strong one, it could take some pulling back.
Friday 06 September
Valls > Castelldefels (165 km)
Today’s stage ends in a seaside town just west of Barcelona, but has an excursion off the coast to tackle the Category 1 Alto del Rat Penat, only 4.3km long but with an average gradient of 10.6 per cent and topping out at 16 per cent. The summit comes 40km from the finish, with some smaller climbs on the way back down.
Unlikely to be one for the sprinters, and an overall contender or two may struggle to rejoin the group after that tough ascent, but more than anything, with the Pyrenees looming tomorrow, it looks like a day for the break or a late attack – local lad Juan Antonio Flecha, maybe, who knows that climb well from training?
Saturday 7 September
Bagà > Andorra. Collada de la Gallina (164 km)
It’s not every day a Grand Tour stage rides pretty much the length of a country twice. After entering Andorra, the race goes through capital Andorra La Vella then at the cheap fags, booze and fuel haven of Pas de la Casa on the French border, turns back for a slightly different route to the end, almost back in Spain.
There are four big climbs. The first, the ‘Especial’ category Port de Envalira, is a monster – the road rises for 20km before the official start of it, then averages 5.2 per cent for 36.7km. The final Collada de la Gallina is shorter but steeper – Contador, Rodriguez and stage winner Valverde joined battle here last year.
Play Fantasy Cycling and win great prizes from Halfords!
Have you entered your team for the Fantasy Vuelta yet? Pick the right riders on the road to Madrid and you could be walking away with a Boardman road bike worth £999!
We've teamed up with Halfords to bring you a great prize pot for the third and final grand tour of the season. The high street and online retailer has hugely expanded its cycling catalogue in recent months with thousands of products from premium brands, and we've got some of that gear to give away to the top players in the Vuelta.
First prize is a Boardman Carbon Fibre road bike, Boardman's £999 carbon-framed race machine. With a full carbon frame and fork and good quality Shimano and FSA componentry it's a whole lot of bike for the money. Not that money will be involved if you win…
The players that fill the podium will be walking away with a pair of Lake CX331 shoes worth £259.99. Our Mat gave these an exceptional 9/10 when he tested them last year, they're a cracking pair of high-end, mouldable race shoes for the serious cyclist.
There's a prize every day, too. Win any stage and you'll be getting your hands on a Halfords Essential Bike Toolkit worth £34.99. This handy set contains pretty much everything you need for day-to-day maintenance of your bike, all in a strong plastic case
If you head up the purist league (no transfers during the race) then your reward will be a Gore Phantom 2.0 jacket worth £119.99. It's a high-quality softshell that's windproof and breathable, and it comes in mens' and ladies' versions too, so there'll be one to fit you just right.
On top of all that, we'll do our usual raffle: one lucky player will get a prize just for entering a team. So even if you're no good at Fantasy Cycling you're still in with a chance of winning an Adidas Outfit – short sleeve jersey, long sleeve jersey and bib shorts – worth over £150. It's worth picking nine riders just for that.
The Vuelta’s a week old, so it’s probably too late to make an impact on the overall competition, but you can still enter a team and there's stage prizes every day, as well as the raffle.
To get started, just head over to the Fantasy Cycling site. Good luck!
Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.