La Vuelta a Espana 2021: Route, predictions and contenders
Rouleur looks ahead to La Vuelta a España 2021. We analyse the route, contenders, storylines and more ahead of the final Grand Tour of the year. Primoz Roglic won La Vuelta in 2020 ahead of Richard Carapaz.
The 2021 Vuelta a España is the final Grand Tour of the 2021 cycling season, taking place between 14th August and 5th September.
The 2020 Vuelta a España overlapped with the Giro d’Italia after both were rescheduled for October and November amid the coronavirus pandemic. This prevented riders from riding both races, something that is commonplace when the races take place in their usual slots on the calendar. This may have weakened the startlist very slightly, but a plethora of the world’s strongest still arrived at the Vuelta with strong intentions.
That was clear on stage one, when Primož Roglič won on the Arrate climb. It wasn’t a procession for the Slovenian though, he lost time on stage 6 and surrendered the red jersey to Richard Carapaz. The 33-kilometre time trial on stage 13 swung the tide back in Roglič's favour, he won the stage - his fourth of the race - to leap back into the lead.
The race had been shortened due to the coronavirus pandemic from 21 to 18 stages. On the penultimate stage 17 which finished on the Alto de la Covatilla, for a few fleeting moments, it looked like Roglič would lose the lead to the offensive Richard Carapaz. However, Roglič held on to win the Vuelta a España for the second consecutive season. His margin of victory to Carapaz was just 24 seconds.
With that eventful race behind us, we're excited to see how this year's Vuelta will unfold. Here is the everything you need to know about the race and route, along with our predictions on who will take the top prizes.
Related – the hardest climbs at La Vuelta
Related – Tour de France 2021 Guide
Red Jersey / General Classification
Image credit: Justin Setterfield/Getty Images
However, the Ineos Grenadiers enter with an exciting lineup. After winning the Giro d'Italia earlier this season, Egan Bernal looks most likely to be their leader. If Bernal wins the red jersey, he’d become the eighth rider to win all three Grand Tours. Olympic road race champion Richard Carapaz also starts, whilst Adam Yates and Pavel Sivakov may play roles in the GC too. If Ineos are to win the Vuelta, utilising their numbers may be their best bet.
Movistar have numerous options, with Enric Mas, Miguel Ángel López and Alejandro Valverde all starting. Movistar could only manage fifth in the GC last year after Valverde was second in 2019. Competing on home soil, anything less than a podium finish would be disappointing for Movistar.
Mikel Landa looked to be in sumptuous form at the Giro d’Italia this season before he was cruelly taken out of the race in the first week. The Spaniard is one of the best pure climbers in the world. If he can re-discover that form after recovering from his injuries, he could be one of the riders to beat in Spain.
Alex Vlasov, Romain Bardet and Felix Großschartner are some of the other riders who could play a role in the GC.
King of the Mountains Classification
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Geoffrey Bouchard has only started three Grand Tours in his career, but he has collected two KOM jerseys already. This is largely down to the Frenchman’s aggressive style — he jumps into the breakaway at every opportunity. We can expect to see him attacking with regularity again, making him a key contender for the KOM jersey.
With so much climbing talent in their ranks, Bahrain - Victorious have numerous riders capable of winning the KOM jersey. Gino Mäder and Wout Poels wore the KOM jersey at the Giro d’Italia and Tour de France respectively earlier this season.
Guillaume Martin won the KOM jersey at a canter last year — he had almost triple the points of Tim Wellens who was his closest challenger.
By virtue of being one of the best climbers and a good sprinter, Primož Roglič is one of the favourites for the KOM jersey. Egan Bernal, Richard Carapaz and any of the other GC contenders that perform consistently in the mountains also have a chance.
Despite that, Geoffrey Bouchard is our pick to win the king of the mountain’s classification. The Frenchman’s aggressive riding style will help him join plenty of breakaways and accumulate points throughout.
Image credit: Justin Setterfield/Getty Images
The points classification is often won by a general classification rider at La Vuelta a Espana — Primož Roglič, Alejandro Valverde and Chris Froome are some of the recent winners. Although the likes of Jasper Philipsen and Michael Matthews have a chance if they chase points aggressively, we think the GC riders and climbers could come out on top again.
With Miguel Ángel López and Enric Mas looking more likely to lead the GC, Alejandro Valverde could be Movistar's best chance in the points jersey. Valverde can finish well in the high mountains, but also possesses a powerful sprint.
We haven’t seen Tom Pidcock at a Grand Tour yet, so it’s hard to know what his specific aims will be. He outsprinted Wout Van Aert this season and won the U23 Giro last year — Pidcock can perform with the best on almost any terrain. With that in mind, if the points jersey is a goal for him, he has a chance.
However, we are picking Primož Roglič to win the points classification for the third consecutive year. Roglič will pick up points on a variety of stages which makes him difficult to beat.
Young Rider Classification
Image credit: David Ramos/Getty Images
Egan Bernal is the heavy favourite to win the young rider classification. The Ineos rider will face competition from Alex Vlasov, though he defeated the Russian by just under seven minutes at the Giro earlier this season. Enric Mas won the jersey last year, though he's turned 26 since and is therefore ineligible.
Other riders with a chance include Michael Storer, Lucas Hamilton and Pavel Sivakov. However, it would be a major surprise if Egan Bernal doesn’t win the young ride classification.
How and Where to Watch La Vuelta
You can watch La Vuelta a España live on Eurosport, the Eurosport player or GCN+ if you are based in the UK.
La Vuelta a España Route
The Vuelta has gained a reputation for including a plethora of short and steep climbs, and that doesn't change one bit in 2021.
Map of the 2021 route (credit: lavuelta.es)
La Vuelta a España 2021 - Stage 1 ITT (Burgos. Catedral VIII Centenario 2021 > Catedral) - 14th August
The Vuelta España kicks-off with an 8km time-trial in and around the city of Burgos. There are numerous notable ramps in the first half of the stage, including the third category Alto del Castillo, which is 1.3km in length and averages 3.3%. The first across this point will gain the first KOM jersey of the race, whilst the first to the line will wear red.
La Vuelta a España 2021 - Stage 2 (Caleruega. VIII Centenario de Santo Domingo de Guzmán > Burgos. Gamonal) - 15th August
The riders travel south for the start of stage 2, but will return to Burgos for the finish. With no KOM points on offer, the leader of that competition can conserve their energy and enjoy the jersey. With just 5km to the finish, there is a very short, uncategorised kicker which has the potential to shake things up, but it would take a valiant ride to avoid the expected mass sprint.
La Vuelta a España 2021 - Stage 3 (Santo Domingo de Silos > Espinosa de los Monteros. Picón Blanco) - 16th August
The first mountain-top finish, and it is the Picón Blanco. The mountain is used regularly on the Vuelta a Burgos, where recent winners include Mikel Landa, Remco Evenepoel and Miguel Ángel López. The climb is 8.1km in length and features a punishing 9% average gradient. This stage cannot be underestimated by the main GC protagonists as there is the potential for wild time gaps early on.
La Vuelta a España 2021 - Stage 4 (El Burgo de Osma > Molina de Aragón) - 17th August
The largely rural stage 4 features rolling terrain throughout although there are no categorised climbs. The finish in Molina de Aragón drags uphill at an increasing percentage, but levels off in the final 500 metres. The punchers will play their card here, but the sprinters will do their utmost to hold on in the final kilometres and are the stage favourites.
La Vuelta a España 2021 - Stage 5 (Tarancón > Albacete) - 18th August
The race heads to the south-east of Madrid for stage 5 which concludes in Albacete. The pure sprinters are the clear favourites here.
La Vuelta a España 2021 - Stage 6 (Requena > Alto de la Montaña de Cullera) - 19th August
Stage 6 is defined by the final 1,800 metres. The preceding 85 kilometres are entirely flat, but the finish on the Alto de la Montaña de Cullera is a puncher’s dream. The 1.8km climb is over 9% on average and the winner of the stage will be decided here.
La Vuelta a España 2021 - Stage 7 (Gandia > Balcón de Alicante) - 20th August
The race is now just north of Alicante and stage 7 is one of the most challenging stages thus far. Six separate categorised climbs add up to over 3,600 vertical metres of climbing. In typical Vuelta style, the final climb is absurdly steep. The Balcón de Alicante is just under four kilometres in length and over 9.5% on average. The preceding climbs also provide an opportunity to open up the stage early.
La Vuelta a España 2021 - Stage 8 (Santa Pola > La Manga del Mar Menor) - 21st August
On paper, stage 8 looks like a straightforward sprinters stage with two short climbs being the only obstacles. However, almost the entire stage takes place on the South-East coast of Spain which, depending on conditions, could provide the chance for echelons to form. If not, the seaside resort of La Manga will host a sprint finish.
La Vuelta a España 2021 - Stage 9 (Puerto Lumbreras > Alto de Velefique) - 22nd August
Stage 9 is the final stage before the first rest day and features the longest climbs of the Vuelta thus far. The Alto Collado Venta Luisa is 21 kilometres long but also includes some flat sections. The main battlefield will be the Alto de Velefique, which is 12.8km and 7.3% on average. With a rest day to follow, the general classification candidates may not be afraid to attack early.
La Vuelta a España 2021 - Stage 10 (Roquetas del Mar > Rincón de la Victoria) - 24th August
After the first rest day, the Vuelta continues to travel in a clockwise direction around Spain, travelling between Almeria and Malaga on the south coast. The main effort is the Puerto de Almachar, which starts 19 kilometres from the line. The ascent is 4.6km and just under 9% on average. From the peak, the road descends to the finish in Rincón de la Victoria.
Read our full stage 10 preview
La Vuelta a España 2021 - Stage 11 (Antequera > Valdepeñas de Jaén) - 25th August
Only two climbs are categorised on stage 11, but there are over 2,500 metres of climbing on the menu. The stage's major effort is the Alto Valdepeñas de Jaén, which is a second category climb at 9 kilometres which averages 5%. From the mountain peak, just 8 kilometres remain. The riders will descend for the next 6km, but the road cruelly kicks uphill again to the finish where percentages cross the 10% mark. If numerous riders reach this section together, this climb will form the decisive time gaps.
Read our full stage 11 preview
La Vuelta a España 2021 - Stage 12 (Jaén > Córdoba) - 26th August
The race heads north for stage 12 which concludes in Córdoba. However, the route doesn’t provide any respite to those that struggle going uphill. Two climbs of a similar length present the chance for those feeling strong to push on again, before the road descends into Córdoba.
Read our full stage 12 preview
La Vuelta a España 2021 - Stage 13 (Belmez > Villanueva de la Serena) - 27th August
Stage 13 is the first change for the sprinters in, well, a while. Rolling terrain provides the makeup for the stage but there are no clear opportunities to attack away. Although the road drags uphill slightly in the final 5 kilometres, the percentages shouldn’t be severe enough to send the sprinters into the red. The GC contenders will hope to take a day off.
Read our full stage 13 preview
La Vuelta a España 2021 - Stage 14 (Don Benito > Pico Villuercas) - 28th August
That day off will be very much required considering what stage 14 has to offer. The Puerto Berzocana will first sap the legs, which is swiftly followed by the absurdly steep Alto Collado de Ballesteros — the 3km climb is 13.6% on average. These climbs are only the precursor to Pico Villuercas. The mountain is over 16km in length and has an irregular gradient. The winner here must be one of the strongest climbers at the race.
Read our full stage 14 preview
La Vuelta a España 2021 - Stage 15 (Navalmoral de la Mata > El Barraco) - 29th August
The race has now moved just west of Madrid and the stages do not get any easier. The Alto de la Centenera, Puerto de Pedro Bernardo and Puerto de Mijares and Puerto San Juan de Nava add up to almost 4,000 metres of climbing across the stage. With almost no flat terrain after the climbing begins, there could be teams attempting to blow up the race early on. The final rest day will be very well received after this.
Read our full stage 15 preview
La Vuelta a España 2021 - Stage 16 (Laredo > Santa Cruz de Bezana) - 31st August
The race travels back to Northern Spain after the final rest day for what looks more like a hilly classic than a Grand Tour stage. The Alto de Hijas and Alto de San Cipriano are the two categorised efforts. They are under 5 kilometres in length and take place some way out from the line, but later uncategorised hills mean the stage is far from over. A multitude of riders could win this one.
Read our full stage 16 preview
La Vuelta a España 2021 - Stage 17 (Unquera > Lagos de Covadonga) - 1st September
The final couple of big mountain stages will be next and if we don’t know who will win the red jersey yet, we’ll have a good indication after stages 17 and 18. Four categorised climbs make up stage 17, including two ascents of La Collada Llomena, which is 7.8km and 9.1% on average. The stage doesn’t finish there though, with the Lagos de Covadonga still to come. The climb is 12 kilometres long and averages 7%. However, a few short downhill sections to the top mean that when the road goes uphill, it’s deceptively difficult. A pivotal stage in the GC.
Read our full stage 17 preview
La Vuelta a España 2021 - Stage 18 (Salas > Alto d'El Gamoniteiru) - 2nd September
The early climbs on stage 18 are remarkably difficult yet again, but arrive slightly earlier in the stage. The Alto del Gamoniteiro is the final HC category climb of the 2021 Vuelta a España, and might well be the most difficult climb of the race. At 15 kilometres and almost 10% on average, it’s a monster. With a lengthy time-trial still to come, the pure climbers will be desperate to gain time on the better time-trialists here.
Read our full stage 18 preview
La Vuelta a España 2021 - Stage 19 (Tapia > Monforte de Lemos) - 3rd September
Are there any sprinters left? Well, those that have conquered the consecutive climbing stages could be rewarded with the chance to sprint in Monforte de Lemos. There are no severe obstacles in the final kilometres that could thwart the sprint, but there are some difficult climbs very early. Here, attacks will be prevalent and impossible to control, meaning the early breakaway also stand a great chance.
Read our full stage 19 preview
La Vuelta a España 2021 - Stage 20 (Sanxenxo > Mos.Castro de Herville) - 4th September
Now on the very east coast of Spain, just north of Portugal, stage 20 will host the final categorised climbs of La Vuelta 2021. In isolation, none of these climbs are close to the most demanding of the race. However, the categorised efforts are ridden in quick succession with no respite. The Alto Castro de Herville is the final climb, and is 8.3km at 5.3% on average with some steeper gradients. We could see some attacking racing as the GC challengers on a good day will open up the race early. A stage that despite not featuring any top category climbs, could be one of the most selective of the race.
Read our full stage 20 preview
La Vuelta a España 2021 - Stage 21 ITT (Padrón > Santiago de Compostela) - 5th September
La Vuelta 2021 will conclude in Santiago de Compostela, the capital of the Galicia region in Spain. 33.7km on the time trial bike will have serious consequences for the GC with minutes to be won and lost. By the finish line, we’ll finally know the winner of the 2021 Vuelta a España.
Stage profiles via La Flamme Rouge