The stage 1 time trial around Burgos provided the first, minor, time gaps in the battle for the red jersey. However, the ascent of Picón Blanco will leave nowhere to hide with gradients well over 10%. Those hoping to contend in the general classification must be at their best, otherwise their bid for the Vuelta a España could be extinguished already.
Stage 3 profile
The riders will climb the Puerto del Manguello 40km into the stage. The ascent is third category, and provides the first king of the mountain’s points of the stage. Sepp Kuss currently holds the KOM jersey.
The next 140km sends the peloton north towards Picón Blanco, where later, the stage will be decided. After an intermediate sprint in Medina de Pomar with 36km left, the next categorised climb arrives in the Alto de Bocos. The climb is third category and averages 6.3% over 2.8 kilometres.
Next: Picón Blanco. The mountain is used frequently at the Vuelta a Burgos, which is one of the final preparation races prior to the Vuelta a España. Mikel Landa, Miguel Ángel López and Remco Evenepoel are some of the riders that have won on the climb in recent years.
Picón Blanco profile
Although stage 3 of the Vuelta a Burgos featured Picón Blanco this season, the stage continued after the climb was crested, with a descent to the finish in Espinosa de los Monteros. Despite a crash in the descent, Romain Bardet won solo to claim his first victory since 2018.
The ascent is defined by its steep, gruelling gradients rather than its length. At 7.6km, the climb isn’t particularly long for a first category climb, which offers 10 KOM points to the stage winner. However, the climb averages 9.3%, with three of the final five kilometres averaging at least 10%. This is a brutal mountain which won't be merciful.
Over two and half minutes separated stage winner Remco Evenepoel and the 20th place finisher Jack Haig when the Vuelta a Burgos last finished atop Picón Blanco. We can expect to see similar carnage this year, with GC favourites scattered across the road as they cross the finish line.
Image credit: Stuart Franklin/Getty Images
Romain Bardet attacked on Picón Blanco at the Vuelta a Burgos earlier this month to win solo in Espinosa de los Monteros. The Frenchman, who finished on the podium of the Tour de France in 2016 and 2017, had endured a difficult couple of seasons with AG2R La Mondiale as his form faded. However, he is a revitalised figure with Team DSM, which is confirmed by 14th place in the stage 1 time trial — a discipline he often struggles in. With fond, recent memories of Picón Blanco, can Bardet reproduce that performance at the Vuelta?
Movistar haven’t enjoyed much Grand Tour success this season — they are yet to win a stage and have Enric Mas’ 6th place at the Tour de France to show for their efforts. However, they have started La Vuelta well with Mas and Miguel Ángel López in a good position early on. 'Superman Lopez' won on Picón Blanco in 2018 — could he be the man to conquer the mountain again?
After crashing out of the Giro d’Italia earlier this season, Mikel Landa was forced to refocus on La Vuelta a España. His initial time trial was unspectacular, but when on form, Landa is one of the best climbers in the world. Bahrain-Victorious have a plethora of climbing talent in their ranks too, with Jack Haig, Damiano Caruso, Gino Mäder and Mark Padun all present.
The Ineos Grenadiers still have their options open, and they’ll hope to keep all three of Adam Yates, Egan Bernal and Richard Carapaz in contention overall. Using the three riders to attack Roglič and Jumbo-Visma later in the race may be the best tactic for the Grenadiers. They have the team to take on Picón Blanco and send one of their three leaders on the attack, but they may choose to play things more cautiously at this stage of the race.
Egan Bernal lost 27 seconds to Primož Roglič on stage 1 (Image credit: Stuart Franklin/Getty Images)
Hugh Carthy enters La Vuelta in a buoyant mood — he won the final stage of the Vuelta a Burgos atop Lagunas de Neila, which features steep pitches similar to Picón Blanco. Four of his previous five pro victories have occurred on Spanish soil, and he proved last year that he's one of the best on steep climbs when he won on the Alto de l'Angliru.
Giulio Ciccone and Alex Vlasov are two other GC contenders that have the ability to perform well here. Other riders to keep an eye on include Guillaume Martin, Michael Storer, Rafal Majka and Felix Großschartner.
Although it’s hard to look past Primož Roglič on a climb which suits him supremely well, we are picking Romain Bardet to win stage 3 of the Vuelta a España. The Frenchman knows how to win on Picón Blanco and won’t shy away from attacking. His impressive stage 1 time trial shows that he is in fine form and is a genuine GC contender at the 2021 Vuelta a España.
Cover image: Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images