The hardest climbs of the Vuelta a España 2023? Tourmalet, Angliru, Cruz de Linares

Weeks two and three hold some serious challenges for GC contenders and their team-mates

Angliru
(Image credit: David Ramos)

With no less than 10 summit finishes, this year's Vuelta a España is a climber's dream. Not all of these are high mountains but nearly all are around or well above the 1,000m altitude mark – tough climbs. Some are tougher than others though, the climbs that the riders (GC pretenders or not) are likely to sleep just a little more fitfully the night before. These are the places where the race will be affected, even decided.

Col du Tourmalet

Stage 13 | Formigal > Col du Tourmalet | 134.7km

Making its first ever appearance in the Spanish tour, this Pyreneen beast is a Tour de France mainstay that has seen many exhilarating battles between the top riders. It became the first ever big mountain climb to feature in a Grand Tour back in 1910, when Tour founder Henri Desgrange sent riders up on unmade roads and first man over, Octave Lapize spat 'assassins' at the officials waiting at the top.

Stage 13 of this year's Vuelta takes place largely over the border in France. A relentlessly up-and-down affair, it softens riders' legs by way of the Col d'Aubisque (HC) and Spandelles (1st cat) before reaching the slopes of the Tourmalet. It's not long, but with over 4,000m of climbing packed into 134km, it's brutal. 

The riders approach the mountain from Luz St Sauveur in the west, and face 19km (11.8 miles) of climbing at an average 7.4%. It ramps up significantly in the final three kilometres, which are all above 10 per cent and will provide a fearsome finale for tired legs.

The last rider to win here in a Grand Tour 

The holder of the Strava KoM is none other than Thibaut Pinot in a stonking 48.03, set during the 2019 Tour de France. That was the last time it appeared as a summit finish in a Grand Tour, and Pinot won the stage too.

Angliru

Hugh Carthy grimaces toward victory on the Angliru in 2020

(Image credit: David Ramos / Getty Images)

Altu de l'Angliru

Stage 17 | Ribedesella > Altu de l'Algliru | 122.6km

This Asturian beast has been called the hardest climb in pro cycling, and not without reason. It's most famous for its super-steed gradients, which peak at 24% – no wonder Grand Tour riders were using compact chainsets and outsized sprockets as far back as 2008, when such things were rare on consumer road bikes and Alberto Contador's won on the climb using a reputed 34x28 gear.

Starting from the village of La Vega, the Angliru climbs 12.9km (8.2 miles) at an eye-watering average 9.3%. It begins in a comparatively leisurely manner, with the first five kilometres averaging just over 7%. Riders are then treated to a nearly flat sixth kilometre, but in a climb averaging over 9%, this mild start can only mean much harder things to come. And so there are – the following six kilometres average a brutal 13.6%, with the 11th kilometre in particular offering up unparalleled nastiness at an average 17.5%.

The Angliru first appeared in the Vuelta in 1999, and the last rider to win on its slopes was Britain's Hugh Carthy (EF Pro Cycling) in the 2020 race, when he left Richard Carapaz and Enric Mas trailing in his wake.

Cruz de Linares

Stage 18 | Pola de Allande > Cruz de Linares | 178.9km

Topping out at a trifling 845m above sea level, it would be easy to dismiss this Vuelta debutant, the Cruz de Linares. But make no mistake, but the time the riders finish stage 18 after nearly three weeks of racing, its slopes will be etched into their consciousness.

Climbing up from the south, its slopes begin way down at 130m altitude, so it's no wonder the average gradient is a fiendish 9% over its nine short kilometres. What's more, they top out at 18 per cent – this is one for the strongest riders. The peloton has to tackle its slopes not once but twice, back to back, before finishing on the summit to round out the serious climbing in this year's race.

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After cutting his teeth on local and national newspapers, James began at Cycling Weekly as a sub-editor in 2000 when the current office was literally all fields. 


Eventually becoming chief sub-editor, in 2016 he switched to the job of full-time writer, and covers news, racing and features.


A lifelong cyclist and cycling fan, James's racing days (and most of his fitness), but he still rides regularly, both on the road and on the gravelly stuff.