The Ruta del Sol 2018 (February 14-18), otherwise known as the Vuelta a Andalucia, will see Chris Froome return to racing for the first time since news of his adverse analytical finding broke at the 2017 Vuelta a España broke in mid-December.
Froome has ridden the Ruta del Sol on two occasions in the past, finishing in 50th place while working as a domestique in 2011, before returning in 2015 when he won the race overall ahead by just two seconds ahead of Alberto Contador.
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On that occasion Froome’s victory was secured with a dominant performance on the summit finish to Alto de Allanadas, a climb that returns to the race in 2018 at the end of stage two and could prove to be the decisive moment of the event as the only proper summit finish.
Stage four sees another uphill finish to hilltop town of Alcalá de los Gazules, however this is less than half the length of the 5.5km Alto de Allanadas and should see smaller time gaps.
The final race winner should be decided on the final time trial, which is 14.2km in length and generally flat with a start and finish in the coastal town of Barbate.
The Ruta del Sol was first held in 1925, before not returning to the cycling calendar until 1955. Since then it has been held every year apart from 1978, with Alejandro Valverde winning the race for five of the last six years. The event is a 2.1 category race and part of the UCI Europe Tour.
Why is Chris Froome allowed to race in the Ruta del Sol?
While some figures including Vincenzo Nibali and UCI president David Lappartient have called on Team Sky to voluntarily suspend Froome from racing while he is under investigation for an adverse analytical finding at the 2017 Vuelta a España, Froome is perfectly entitled to take to the start line in southern Spain.
This is due to the nature of the substance which Froome was found to have twice the permitted concentration of in his urine in a test conducted after stage 17 of the 2017 Vuelta.
Salbutamol is not classified as a “specified substance” by the World Anti-Doping Agency, meaning that Froome is not subject to a provisional suspension which would have seen him suspended from riding while the investigation was ongoing.
Instead Froome, who denies breaking anti-doping rules which allow athletes to take a maximum of 800mg of salbutamol per 12 hours, and, with Team Sky’s backing, has vowed to clear his name, will continue his preparation for the Giro d’Italia as normal. However if he is found to have broken the rules, then it is likely that any ban will see his results at the Ruta del Sol wiped out.
Ruta del Sol 2018 route
Stage one, February 14: Mijas to Granada, 197.6km
The opening stage of the Ruta del Sol features six classified climbs including a rude start to affairs with a second-category climb crested just 9.4km after the flag drops. The repeated climbs should be enough to drop any pure sprinters foolish enough to enter this hilly race, but we should still see a bunch sprint on the flat finish in Granada.
Stage two, February 15: Otura to La Guarda de Jaén (Alto de Allanadas), 140km
The toughest summit finish of the race, the Alto de Allanadas returns to the Ruta del Sol for the first time since 2015 when Chris Froome used it to set up overall victory. The climb may only be 5.5km in length, but features some brutally steep gradients on a narrow road, hitting 21 per cent halfway up and averaging 12 per cent for much of the final two kilometres.
Stage three, February 16: Mancha Real to Herrera, 166.1km
The only real flat road stage of the Ruta del Sol, stage three should see a relaxed day for the GC riders as the makes its way along wide roads towards a seemingly inevitable bunch sprint in Herrera. However with exposed roads for much of the day there is always the chance for crosswinds, especially if the wind blows from the south.
Stage four, February 17: Sevilla to Alcalá de los Gazules, 194.7km
The hilltop town of Alcalá de los Gazules presents the riders with a punchy summit finish with more double digit gradients to get their teeth into. At less than two kilometres in length this stage does not offer as much opportunity for forcing gaps as stage two, but will still see action regardless of the state of the GC.
Stage five, February 18: Barbate to Barbate, 14.2km (ITT)
The coastal town of Barbate is pretty much as far south as it’s possible to get in mainland Spain, with the town playing host to the 14.2km time trial that will decide the race winner. The profile may look flat, but it tops out at around 150m from the start at sea level, meaning an uphill start to the stage and fast if untechnical descent back towards the finish.
Ruta del Sol 2018 stages
|Stage one||Wednesday, Feb 14||Mijas to Granada||197.6km|
|Stage two||Thursday, Feb 15||Otura to La Guarda de Jaén (Alto de Allanadas)||140km|
|Stage three||Friday, Feb 16||Mancha Real to Herrera||166.1km|
|Stage four||Saturday, Feb 17||Sevilla to Alcalá de los Gazules||194.7km|
|Stage five||Sunday, Feb 18||Barbate to Barbate||14.2km (ITT)|
Ruta del Sol 2018 live TV guide
The 2018 Ruta del Sol will be shown live on Eurosport in the UK, although full details of the day-by-day TV coverage are still to be announced.
In 2017, the Ruta del Sol received an hour of live television coverage each day on Eurosport 1, generally starting around 15.00. There was also the chance to catch up with an hour of highlights broadcast on the evening of each stage as well as the following morning
Ruta del Sol 2018 favourites
The start list is still to be confirmed (see below), but a number of big riders have announced that they will be heading to the Ruta del Sol.
Alongside Froome, defending champion Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) is one of the major favourites, especially having won the overall and two stages at the Volta a la Comunitat Valenciana in early February. Valverde should also be joined on the Movistar team by Mikel Landa, who was a key domestique in Froome’s Tour de France triumph last July but has since left Team Sky for the Spanish squad.
Another WorldTour team with multiple options for the overall is Astana, who should come with both Luis Leon Sanchez and Jakob Fuglsang in their squad who finished second and third respectively behind Valverde at Valenciana. Other GC contenders could include Steven Kruijswijk (LottoNL-Jumbo), Amaro Manuel Antunes (CCC Sprandi Polkowice), and Jesus Herrada (Cofidis).
Ruta del Sol 2018 start list (to be confirmed)
Ag2r La Mondiale (Fra)
SANCHEZ Luis Leon
EF Education First-Drapac (USA)
Lotto Soudal (Bel)
BAK Lars Ytting
VAN DER SANDE Tosh
DE TIER Floris
Team Sky (GBr)
DE LA CRUZ David
Caja Rural-Seguros RGA (Esp)
CCC Sprandi Polkowice (Pol)
ANTUNES Amaro Manuel
Delko Marseille-Provence KTM (Fra)
Direct Energie (Fra)
Israel Cycling Academy (Isr)
Rally Cycling (USA)
DE VOS Adam
Sport Vlaanderen- Baloise (Bel)
VAN GESTEL Dries
VAN HECKE Preben
Wanty-Groupe Gobert (Bel)
VAN MELSEN Kevin
Vérandas Willems-Crelan (Bel)
DE BIE Sean
Ruta del Sol: last year’s top 10 (2017)
2. Alberto Contador (Esp) Trek-Segafredo, at 1 sec
3. Thibaut Pinot (Fra) FDJ, at 6 secs
4. Wout Poels (Ned) Team Sky, at 21 secs
5. Diego Rosa (Ita) Team Sky, at 45 secs
6. Mikel Landa (Esp) Team Sky, at 48 secs
7. Sebastien Reichenbach (Sui) FDJ, at 52 secs
8. Rigoberto Uran (Col) Cannondale-Drapac, at 1-29
9. Ondrej Cink (Cze) Bahrain-Merida, at 1-48
10. Javier Moreno (Esp) Bahrain-Merida, at 1-50
Ruta del Sol recent winners
2017 Alejandro Valverde
2016 Alejandro Valverde
2015 Chris Froome
2014 Alejandro Valverde
2013 Alejandro Valverde
2012 Alejandro Valverde
2011 Markel Irizar
2010 Michael Rogers
2009 Joost Posthuma
2008 Pablo Lastras