Start location: Mataró
Finish location: Barcelona
Start time: 13:11 CEST
Finish time (approx): 17:30 CEST
Hosting the Olympic Games are widely credited with transforming Barcelona, instigating the town’s regeneration when the event took place in 1992. Prior to the Games, it was an unremarkable industrial town, not impoverished, but neither seen as an especially attractive destination. That changed dramatically as the town underwent preparations to host, and many industrial buildings and abandoned factories on the seafront were knocked down in order to restore the white, sandy beaches it is famous for today. New roads were built and the infrastructure improved, while the Olympic Village was constructed in the previously run-down Poblenou district now, along with many more venues — most prominently the Olympic Stadium in Montjuïc, outside which today’s stage finishes.
Situated on a hill that overlooks the rest of the town (and with a name that translates to ‘Jewish Mountain’, in relation to a medieval Jewish cemetery that was found here), Montjuïc was the area in which the town of Barcelona was first founded, and from where it spread from. Its location on high ground has long made it of strategic importance as the site of many fortifications, including the 17th century castle that still stands today. And in terms of cycling, it's this high ground that has deemed it the ideal location for stage two to finish atop.
Stage two profile sourced via the Vuelta website
The climb up to Montjuïc castle will be familiar to anyone who follows the Volta a Catalunya stage race that takes place in the spring. Every year the race ends with a circuit in Barcelona, the centrepiece of which is the climb, which always sees a dramatic climatic battle for overall victory. This year it witnessed a thrilling showdown between Remco Evenepoel and Primož Roglič, the former attacking multiple times on the climb to try and drop Roglič, who just about managed to hold on and seal overall victory.
Crested with less than 4km to ride, and followed by a short, untechnical descent and 1km shallow rise to the finish line, this finale will be a repeat of the Vuelta a España’s last stage in Barcelona 11 years ago. On that occasion, Philippe Gilbert and Joaquim Rodríguez attacked together on the climb to ride away to the finish, the former taking the stage win in a two-up sprint, and the latter gaining a handy 12 seconds over his GC rivals Chris Froome and Alberto Contador. Unlike that stage, which took place at the end of the opening week, this is very early in the Vuelta for the GC riders to already be attacking, but contenders in the similarly punchy mould of Rodríguez may want to strike a similarly mutual beneficial allegiance with a punchy stage-hunter like Gilbert. Although the climbs earlier in the day are too modest and tackled too early to have much of an impression on the race, the ascent at Montjuïc alone is enough to deny the sprinters; while the vital statistics paint a modest picture of a 2.6km climb averaging just 4.3%, the final 900 metres, that rise at an average touching 10%, are hard enough for the peloton to spit into pieces.
Not only will the climbs likely deny the few sprinters that have turned up to this Vuelta, but their sheer lack of numbers means it's especially difficult for any one team to control the inevitable attacks that will come on the final ascent. Therefore it's going to be the puncheurs and possibly even the GC contenders that will be at the head of things in the final kilometres. Looking down the start list, the wealth of climbers makes it extremely difficult to know who will be able to stay in contention.
Primož Roglič (Jumbo-Visma) has never shied away from taking early wins in the Vuelta, and he's more than capable of following attacks and winning from reduced sprint. Remco Evenepoel (Soudal-Quick-Step) too would normally enjoy a short, steep ascent like this in order to launch as solo attack for the line, but it is perhaps too early for the Belgian to try something in this race.
Iván García Cortina and Oier Lazkano look like possible candidates from Movistar, the former particularly if he can make it in touching distance over the final climb and reach a sprint.
Omar Fraile looks like the pick from Ineos Grenadiers, and boasts a punchy enough sprint to win on terrain like this.
Marc Soler never shies away from a breakaway, particularly in his homes race, while his team-mate Juan Sebastián Molano would definitely win from a sprint if he could defy the odds and hang-on over the final climb.
We think Primož Roglič will win the second stage.