The Vuelta a España has completed it's first week and has brought a mix of exciting mountain stages and nervous sprint days as the peloton continue their three-week pilgrimage from Burgos to Santiago de Compostela.
The last of the trio of Grand Tours in the cycling season, the race started on Saturday, August 14 with it finishing on Sunday, September 5 after 3417 gruelling kilometres with a time trial on the first and final stages.
This year's race will not feature the capital city of Madrid as it usually does and has gone down the same route as the Giro d'Italia with a time trial in Santiago de Compostela to hopefully keep the action going right to the end.
In 2021 the event takes place entirely within the Spanish borders due to complications with Covid-19 regulations in other nations.
The racing got going with a 7.1km prologue around Burgos with the start ramp being placed just outside the famous cathedral in the city and then finishing back outside it again after a hill course that should show who has form.
It didn't take long for the race to throw it's first summit finish in either as stage three saw a finish on the Picón Blanco, a climb that featured in the recent Vuelta a Burgos.
After that, the race wound its way down to the south-eastern coast with multiple summit finishes along the way including the Alto de la Montaña de Cullera and the Aldo de Velefique.
The climbs are peppered throughout the course with occasional moments to breathe with flat stages for the sprinters. But the main focus of the race, as ever, is the climbs with the new climb Pico Villuercas on stage 14 joining the Lagos de Covadonga and Alto d'El Gamoniteiru.
The final road race stage is described as a "mini-classic" by the organisers with five short and sharp categorised climbs coming in the second half of the stage. There is a shark-tooth look to the start as well with 11 uncategorised climbs visible on the stage profile.
The race will come to an end with an individual time trial into the famous pilgrimage city of Santiago de Compostela.
One new inclusion to the race is the bonus sprints at the top of some key climbs during the race in an attempt to make the race more exciting.
Vuelta a España 2021 route
Stage one - Burgos to Catedral (7.1km, ITT)
The start of the Vuelta a España is a tricky one with a 7.1km prologue around Burgos starting at the Catedral VIII Centenario 2021 before heading up a 1.2km long climb that averages a gradient of 7.1 per cent.
After that, there is a fast descent before a flat second half to the route and the finish at the cathedral again. Overall contenders will have to be careful but also put in a big effort to avoid losing too much time, however, big gaps are not expected.
Stage two - Caleruega to Burgos (166.7km)
Day two at the race sees a chance for the sprinters over the 166.7km route but a few awkward hills throughout the day could cause some issues. A late intermediate sprint may also cause havoc in the bunch with just over 16km to go.
Stage three - Santo Domingo de Silos to Picón Blanco (202.8km)
The third stage comes and the usual early summit finish at the Vuelta rears it's head. The monstrous climb of the Picón Blanco is a 7.6km climb of pure hell with the average gradient hitting 9.3 per cent with highs of 18 per cent.
This is the first time that bonus seconds will be placed on an earlier climb too with the penultimate climb of the day holding a handful of seconds for whoever is bold enough to claim them.
Stage four - El Burgo de Osma to Molina de Aragón (163.9km)
A classic Spanish stage will see the Vuelta peloton travel over a largely flat route at high altitude with no classification points except one intermediate sprint in the middle of the day.
But, the final kilometre is entirely uphill. This could be just about short enough for some pure sprinters to really go for it, but the puncheurs will be keen to get rid of the fastest men with attacks, which will potentially drag out some of the GC contenders. A stage for anyone.
Stage five - Tarancón to Albacete (184.4km)
An unusually pan-flat day on stage five will see an almost certain mass sprint to the line with the chance of a Grand Tour victory.
Stage six - Requena to Alto de la Montaña de Cullera (158.3km)
The sixth stage returns to the usual Vuelta form with another largely flat day that's ended by another horrendous climb in the shape of the Alto de la Montaña de Cullera that has an average of 9.4 per cent over it's punchy 1.9km.
Stage seven - Gandía to Balcón de Alicante (152km)
The first fully major mountain day arrives on stage seven with six huge ascents on the menu over just 152km of racing. Once again a bonus sprint is featured on the penultimate climb to try and encourage early attacks but with an 11km climb to the Balcón de Alicante to come it's unlikely.
Stage eight - Santa Pola to La Manga del mar Menor (173.7km)
The route doesn't stay climbing for long though as it's back to sea level and a beach-side finish in La Manga de Mar Menor and another bunch sprint.
Stage nine - Puerto-Lumbreras to Alto de Velefique (188km)
Another massive day in the mountains again as the riders don't get a chance to get into a tempo of one style of racing. Four categorised climbs but only two are likely to shape the race with the 29km Alto Collado Venta Luisa starting the second half of the stage and a finish on the 14km Alto de Velefique.
A vital day before the first rest day in the Almería region.
Stage 10 - Roquetas de Mar to Rincón de la Victoria (190.3km)
Week two kicks off with a tough one to predict. A completely flat stage aside from one 10.9km climb averaging 4.9 per cent with some very steep kicks before almost all descending to the line in Rincón de la Victoria.
This stage looks to have breakaway written all over it but with the bonus seconds on the top of the climb, will any GC teams want to get involved.
Stage 11 - Antequera to Valdepeñas de Jaén (133.6km)
Yet more climbing for stage 11 with at least 15 ascents to tackle on this route. That being said, there is only one climb that is categorised and that is the penultimate climb up the Puerto de Locubín, 8.8km at an average of five per cent.
That's followed by a sharp kick to the line for the last 3.6km to the line in Valdepeñas de Jaén in the hot Andalusia sun.
Stage 12 - Jaén to Córdoba (175km)
Another day that looks to have breakaway all over it is this stage. A large break will look to get away with the race winning move most likely coming on the final climb with around 20km to go up to Alto del 14 per cent, genuinely the name that is down for the climb.
Stage 13 - Belmez to Villanueva de la Serena (203.7km)
The GC contenders can then breath as it is back to a very flat day, but this is one of the last chances for the fast men in the race. They will also have to battle extreme heat in the Extremadura. Another late intermediate sprint could cause a few issues too as bonus seconds are available.
Stage 14 - Don Benito to Pico Villuercas (165.7km)
Stage 14 is a huge day for the GC with a brand new climb for the race. The Pico Villuercas. 14.5km at an average of 6.2 per cent but there are peak gradients of 9.8 per cent thrown in at the mid-way point and 15 per cent right at the very end of the brutal ascent.
There are also two other categorised climbs right in the middle of the race but the shark tooth hills between the first two mountains and the last could cause issues if the pace is high.
Stage 15 - Navalmoral de la Mata to El Barraco (197.5km)
Similar to the penultimate stage of the 2019 Vuelta which was won by now two-time Tour de France winner, Tadej Pogačar (UAE Team Emirates) after a long-range attack saw him climb onto the podium in his first Grand Tour ahead of Alejandro Valverde (Movistar).
Four climbs to deal with but the main one tops out with just under 40km to go, you would have to be a brave soul to try something there, but if your team tactics are bang on and you're on a wonderful day, then it would be worth it as they head into the second and final rest day in Santander.
Stage 16 - Laredo to Santa Cruz de Bezana (180km)
Likely to be the last certain sprint day, stage 16 kicks off the final week with a bit of a slow burner. This does depend on how many sprinters and team-mates are left by this point, but it should be a day for the quick men.
Stage 17 - Unquera to Lagos de Covadonga (185.8km)
If there was ever such a thing as the 'poster mountain' the Lagos de Covadonga would be just that for this year's Vuelta. The 12.5km climb has a fairly light average gradient of 6.9 per cent, but it is anything but with gradients regularly hitting over 10 per cent with spikes at 16 per cent. The Average is only brought down by three short downhill runs close to the top.
Before they even get there though the peloton has to make its way up three other climbs with large gaps between al three it could be an awkward day to control. The middle climbs are laps up the brutal Collada Llomena. A 7.6km climb with an average gradient of 9.3 per cent with regular kick ups at 14 per cent. The second passage sees riders take bonus seconds too.
Stage 18 - Salas to Altu d'El Gamoniteiru (162.6km)
Stage 18, bizarrely, is the last huge mountain stage of the race with four climbs to take one, three of which are massive with a humungous ascent up to the Alto d'el Gamoniteiru after 14.6km of 9.8 per cent average gradients and peaks at almost 15 per cent along the way.
Stage 19 - Tapia to Monforte de Lemos (191.2km)
Stage 19 is one of those days where really, anything can happen. Three punchy categorised climbs start the day before rolling terrain turns to flat with occasional very short kicks and a flat finish.
It could be a sprint but this does look to have break written all over it yet again. Fast men who can get over a hill or two and have diminished teams could maybe look to sneak into a large breakaway like Matteo Trentin (UAE Team Emriates) did on stage 10 of the 2017 Vuelta. The year he won four stages.
Stage 20 - Sanxenxo to Mos. Castor de Herville (202.2km)
The final road race stage of the Vuelta has been designed with excitement in mind. The organisers, ASO, have called this a "Mini Classic" in their stage notes on the Vuelta website and it looks to be just that.
A very good comparison would be the fifth stage at this year's Tirreno-Adriatico won by Mathieu van der Poel (Alpecin-Fenix) after a huge solo effort where he held off Tadej Pogačar and Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Visma) to Castelfidardo. That will be what ASO hope to see.
Stage 21 - Padrón to Santiago de Compostela (33.8km, ITT)
Lastly, the 33.8km test against the clock beckons. Riders who are not strong in the time trial will hope they have enough time on their better TT rivals so that they can keep their GC placings as they tackle to undulating course with an uphill finish and a nasty kick inside the last 400 metres to the cathedral in Santiago de Compostela, thus ending the three week pilgrimage and deciding our winner.
Hi, I'm one of Cycling Weekly's content writers for the web team responsible for writing stories on racing, tech, updating evergreen pages as well as the weekly email newsletter. Proud Yorkshireman from the UK's answer to Flanders, Calderdale, go check out the cobbled climbs!
I started watching cycling back in 2010, before all the hype around London 2012 and Bradley Wiggins at the Tour de France. In fact, it was Alberto Contador and Andy Schleck's battle in the fog up the Tourmalet on stage 17 of the Tour de France.
It took me a few more years to get into the journalism side of things, but I had a good idea I wanted to get into cycling journalism by the end of year nine at school and started doing voluntary work soon after. This got me a chance to go to the London Six Days, Tour de Yorkshire and the Tour of Britain to name a few before eventually joining Eurosport's online team while I was at uni, where I studied journalism. Eurosport gave me the opportunity to work at the world championships in Harrogate back in the awful weather.
After various bar jobs, I managed to get my way into Cycling Weekly in late February of 2020 where I mostly write about racing and everything around that as it's what I specialise in but don't be surprised to see my name on other news stories.
When not writing stories for the site, I don't really switch off my cycling side as I watch every race that is televised as well as being a rider myself and a regular user of the game Pro Cycling Manager. Maybe too regular.
My bike is a well used Specialized Tarmac SL4 when out on my local roads back in West Yorkshire as well as in northern Hampshire with the hills and mountains being my preferred terrain.
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