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David L. Stanley
2022 Vuelta a España; A Preview

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David Stanley is an experienced cycling writer. His work has appeared in Velo,, Road, Peloton, and the late, lamented Bicycle Guide (my favorite all-time cycling magazine). Here's his Facebook page. He is also a highly regarded voice artist with many audiobooks to his credit, including McGann Publishing's The Story of the Tour de France and Cycling Heroes.

David L Stanley

David L Stanley

David L. Stanley's masterful telling of his bout with skin cancer Melanoma: It Started with a Freckle is available in print, Kindle eBook and audiobook versions, just click on the Amazon link on the right.

David L. Stanley writes:

With the coming of El Otoño comes the year’s third Grand Tour, the Vuelta a España. La Vuelta returns for its 77th edition from August 19 to September 11, 2022. It highlights three opening days in the Netherlands. The teams start with a 23-km team time trial in Utrecht. A travel day follows two flat Dutch stages as the race returns to Spain with a Day 5/Stage 4 hilly race from Vitoria-Gasteiz to Laguardia. Vitoria-Gasteiz might look familiar. It’s a regular host of the Itzulia Basque Country. From there on, the Vuelta is a trek through the hilliest terrain all of Spain has to offer.

Once considered the least international and least prestigious of the three Grand Tours, since La Vuelta has been moved from April to late August, the daring and innovative course design has given the race equal footing with the Giro. Much of the credit for the parcours must go to Aragonese ex-pro Fernando Escartin. An ace climber, most notably with Kelme, he uses social media extensively to seek out the toughest, most interesting, and challenging routes throughout the whole of the Spanish peninsula.

Fernando Escartin at the 2019 Vuelta. Sirotti photo.

This year, the race serves up massive climbs across the familiar mountain ranges of the Pyrenees, Sierra Nevada, Picos de Europa, as well as several wind-swept flat days on the plains. As Spain in August is usually hot, the long-term heat spell that has hit Europe hard will certainly tell in the riders’ fatigue as the three weeks progress.

There is a trio of riders with three titles each. Primoz Roglič (Jumbo-Visma) added his third consecutive victory in 2021. Tony Rominger has three victories; the Swiss streak ran from 1992-1994. Alberto Contador, el Pistolero, took his wins in 2008, 12, and 14. The legitimacy of Roberto Heras’ victories are still a subject for debate. But not up for debate is the late dominance of Roglič—a combined time gap of 7 minutes, 39 seconds over nine weeks of racing is dominance indeed.

2021 Vuelta winner Primoz Roglic with his Jumbo-Visma teammates. Sirotti photo

Before we look at the parcours and the players, let’s mention three men who won’t sign on at the Utrecht start and one who will. Tadej Pogačar (UAE Team Emirates) and Jonas Vingegaard (Jumbo-Visma) are still in recovery mode from the Tour. They’ll look elsewhere to regain their form for the Wollongong, NSW Worlds from 18-25 September. Egan Bernal (Ineos Grenadiers) is also in recovery mode from his 62 kph January crash into a bus.

The one rider who will sign on that needs mention is Movistar evergreen Alejandro Valverde. Born in 1980, the 42 year old Balaverde hails from Murcia. This will be his last Grand Tour (so he says). One of the finest all-rounders in history, he won La Vuelta in 2009. While cycling fans won’t miss his involvement with Operación Puerto, he did his time, and we will miss his willingness to risk a loss as he dared to win.

Valverde climbing in stage 13 of the 2019 Vuelta. Note that he's wearing a Rainbow Jersey. Sirotti photo.

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LE VIAJE - La Vuelta 2022:
It starts with a 23-km team time trial. This, as usual, will be a breathtaking event, a ballet being fought out on 8 pairs of wheels. The cliché is accurate—“You won’t win the race in the TTT, but you sure can lose it.” With several teams being purpose-built for the extraordinary climbing that awaits over the 3 weeks, we will see several teams lose significant chunks of time. In addition, with several teams still to be named in toto, we might see a team less than perfectly prepared for the 24 minute effort. There will be crashes, and surely some riders dropped as they are unable to handle the flatland pace.

Lots of corners in the opening time trial.

The course features 6 days listed as flat, and oddly, 2 or 3 of them are indeed, flat. The others are seriously rolling to punchy along the way. Five stages are classified as “hilly.” Think Liege–Bastogne–Liege or Ronde van Vlaanderen when you think hilly. Lots of short, steep shockers between start and finish. Stage 4, from Vitoria-Gasteiz–Laguardia, features 1 km at 10% up to the finish. Stage 17, from Aracena to Monasterio de Tentudía is another tester. A day for the early attackers, perhaps, on the 162.3 kilometers long route. Yet, the finale, with a 10.3 kilometers climb to the line offers an opportunity for riders who have been able to ride in the wheels throughout the day to jump away. They’ll grab a victory from the GC men who will not be unhappy to see them go. Not with two of the toughest mountain stages over the next three days on offer for real time gains.

The stage 10 time trial will have a real opportunity to re-shape the GC for the final week and one-half. At 31 km, it is long enough for a GC climber to be exposed as a less than complete rider. If a GC contender suffers a crash in the days before Stage 10, the wear and tear could certainly cost him minutes in the TT. In a rarity, the TT comes directly after a rest day. For most riders, this is no problem. Still, the body, especially at the end of a long season, is an odd beast. Even with a 2 hour recovery ride, the legs and lungs may rebel. The heat of Alicante, in the southwestern Costa Blanca, with August temperatures of 90F/32C-plus, could be spell a bad day in Elche.

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There are 8 days in the mountains. There are 8 summit finishes. Let that sink in.

Stages of interest, tactical or terrainical:

STAGE 9 - The Vuelta continues in Asturias on stage 9, which precedes the second rest day. The brutal Les Praeres wall first featured in La Vuelta 2018. Simon Yates took the win before he went on to win the red jersey that year. The climb in the Sierra de Peñamayor is 3.9 km of pain with an average gradient of 13%. The final climb welcomes riders with a 16% slope in the first 2.2 km. By the way, there are 4 categorized climbs which precede the Brute.

STAGE 14 - Just 24 hours before the Sierra Nevada stage, Stage 14 finishes on one of Andalucia’s toughest single climbs, La Pandera in Jaén. Long stretches of this climb feature 10% or more gradients which run up a very narrow, rough road to a former military base at the summit.

STAGE 15 - A day in which even the strong climbers will suffer a beat-down. This day packs more than 4.0 km of vertical climbing into just 148 km of linear travel. The riders enter the Alto de Hazallanas, a 7.3 km climb with an average gradient of 9.8%. The route offers no relief, as it continues to ascend into Sierra Nevada, a ski resort at 2,510 meters above sea level. The last bit—the Alto Hoya de la Mora—rises 817 meters in the course of 12 km for an average of 7%. From Güéjar Sierra to the finish line, the riders cover 19.3 km of torture at 7.9%.

Stage 15 profile. Grown men may weep.

STAGE 17 – This is a rolling stage. Mostly. Until the finale. The Montasterio de Tentudía is a hilltop monastery. The road starts to climb at KM 152. The first 2.3 km rises at 7.1% before it levels out a bit. But that’s a mere tease. The dash for the top is 4.1 km at 7.5%. From base to finish, the ascent to the monastery is 10.3 km long and averages 5%.

STAGE 20 – The penultimate stage guarantees the race’s outcome is in question until the final climb. From Moralzarzal to Puerto de Navacerrada, the peloton covers 4 extremely steep climbs. Over 181 km of racing, the stage features 46 linear km of climbing. In short, roughly 1 out of 3 km is uphill. The average gradient, and averages are meaningless at the end of three barbarous weeks of racing, is near 6.5%.

STAGE 21 – If there are any true sprinters left, the 97 km from Las Rozas to Madrid are mostly downhill. Too little, too late.

What will it take to win this year’s Vuelta?
1) Supreme climbing ability. Historically, the Vuelta is a climber’s race. This year’s parcours stays on form. It’s not just sheer altitude. It’s meters gained and lost. It’s gradient. It’s the repetition of climb after climb.
2) Recovery ability. As in every Grand Tour, the rider who can best recover overnight will win.
3) Team. Given the intensity of the climbs, any man with a real hope at the top step in Madrid better have a couple of world-class climbers on hand (looking at you, Bora-Hansgrohe) to shepherd their top dog through the first few climbs of each day and cover the attacks. In addition, the team better be able to put in a solid team trial performance.
4) Time trial skills. At 30 km, it might be only a 35-40 minute effort, but given the brutality of the climbing stages, any GC hopeful best not give away more than a minute or so to the others.

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(Note: As this is written on 11 August, 2022, many teams have not yet finalized their Vuelta rosters. Some changes may occur. As always, wager at your own risk.)

Bora-hansgrohe. Sergio Higuita, Jai Hindley, Emanual Buchmann, and Wilco Kelderman. Higuita is having an excellent season, with a win at Catalunya, 2nd at Tour de Suisse, and 5th at Liege–Bastogne–Liege. His TT skills are not stellar, as is typical of most pocket-sized climbers, but his TdS result shows he is passable. Jai Hindley won this year’s Giro, a grueling test of overall skills. He must be considered the team leader and the favorite for the race’s final Camiseta Roja. Buchmann is also on a fine year, with a stellar 7th place in the Giro. Wilco is having a quiet year, yet he has 5 top ten overall results in Grand Tours over the last five years. A super team, for certain. This is a team with three legitimate contenders for overall victory. With Rolf Aldag at the helm, and Enrico Gasparotto, Bernie Eisel, and Torsten Schmidt running the show, the egos of “The Band of Brothers” should remain focused.

Wilco Kelderman racing in the 2022 Giro d'Italia. Sirotti photo

Richard Carapaz (Ineos Grenadiers). The Ecuadorian is a massively talented GC rider, with 5 top-4 finishes in 9 Grand Tour starts. He also has a fine supporting cast. Pavel Sivakov comes into the Vuelta with a win in Burgos. Ethan Hayter just won a rugged Tour de Pologne. Lastly, Tao Geoghegan Hart’s climbing skills are hors categorie, he knows how to win (Giro d’Italia, 2020), and with a quiet season, might be the key rider; the guy to step up if Carapaz falters.

Remco Evenepoel (Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl). Let’s talk Remco. He will win several stages. Any hilly stage with a certain sting in the tail favors Evenepoel’s skill set. He will not win the overall. But he certainly will vie for the green sprinter’s jersey. The 22-year-old from Aalst is supremely talented and loaded with confidence.

Remco Evenpoel at San Sebastian earlier this year.

Jumbo-Visma: Primoz Roglič and Sepp Kuss. Primoz is this year’s Great Unknown. With Sepp Kuss at his side, the healthy winner of the last three Vueltas is certainly a serious contender. But no one knows how healthy he is after his Tour de France injuries. The time off may have given his system a chance to recover and he might show up on fire. He might also struggle just to get to Madrid. If he’s not healthy, look for Kuss to snag a win on a mountaintop finish. Maybe two wins. He’s earned the opportunity.

Mikel Landa (Bahrain Victorious). He won’t win. Yet he can certainly finish on the podium. The man from Murgia can climb, he knows how to parse out his energy, and his 3rd place in this year’s Giro shows he’s still at his peak. He won’t lack for help, either, with Haig and Bilbao and Luis Leon Sanchez along for the race.

UAE Team Emirates: Joâo Almeida and Brandon McNulty. The Portuguese rider is primed for a break-out Grand Tour. Almeida, with climbing ace McNulty at his side, is a strong threat to take the Vuelta. He was riding a peak Giro until sidelined by Covid-19. If we assume he has recovered completely, he has the team firepower to support him in the team time trial and on the flatter stages.

Simon Yates (BikeExchange-Jayco). Simon has ridden strongly over the last few weeks as he ramped up his prep for the Vuelta. Yet, a win at Vuelta a Castilla y León and another at Ordiziako Klasika is not enough upon which to base a prediction. Still, he is a fine time trialist and always an excellent climber. The team is high-powered, and highly motivated. They need a strong performance to avoid relegation. One-half of the Bury Boys, Simon knows how to win in Spain (the 2018 victor). He could surprise in the 3rd week.

Simon Yates after winning the 2018 Vuelta a España. Sirotti photo

My Podium (in alphabetical order, as this race is going to be far too close to pick).
• Joâo Almeida (UAE Team Emirates)
• Richard Carapaz (Ineos Grenadiers)
• Jai Hindley (BORA-Hansgrohe)

This year’s Vuelta will not resemble this Tour past where Tadej Pogačar (UAE Team Emirates) and Jonas Vingegaard (Jumbo-Visma) battled mano-a-mano for three weeks. What La Vuelta ’22 will resemble are the Battle Royals of the late 1800s; free-for-alls with a half dozen men or more tossed into the arena until one man only was standing.

That last man standing is named Jai Hindley.

Jai Hindley in pink after winning the 2022 Giro. Up next, red?

David Stanley, like nearly all of us, has spent his life working and playing outdoors. He got a case of Melanoma as a result. Here's his telling of his beating that disease. And when you go out, please put on sunscreen.


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