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 win La Vuelta in 2020 ahead of Richard Carapaz.

The 2021 Vuelta a España is the final Grand Tour of the 2021 cycling season, a grand finale to an exciting season. 

The 2020 Vuelta Espana overlapped with the Giro d’Italia after both were rescheduled for October and November amidst 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 Primoz Roglic 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 Roglic’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 Roglic would lose the lead to the offensive Richard Carapaz. However, Roglic held on to win the Vuelta a España for the second consecutive season. His margin of victory to Carapaz was just 24 seconds.

Related – Tour de France 2021 Guide

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.

La Vuelta a España 2021 - Stage 1 ITT (Burgos. Catedral VIII Centenario 2021 > Catedral) - 14th August

La Vuelta Espana Stage 1

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

La Vuelta Espana Stage 2The 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

La Vuelta Espana Stage 3The 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

La Vuelta Espana Stage 4The 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

La Vuelta Espana Stage 5The 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

La Vuelta Espana Stage 6Stage 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

La Vuelta Espana Stage 7The 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

La Vuelta Espana Stage 8On paper, stage 8 looks like a straightforward sprinters stage with two short climbs 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

La Vuelta Espana Stage 9Stage 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

La Vuelta Espana Stage 10After 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.

La Vuelta a España 2021 - Stage 11 (Antequera > Valdepeñas de Jaén) - 25th August

La Vuelta Espana Stage 11Only 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.

La Vuelta a España 2021 - Stage 12 (Jaén > Córdoba) - 26th August

La Vuelta Espana Stage 12The 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.

La Vuelta a España 2021 - Stage 13 (Belmez > Villanueva de la Serena) - 27th August

La Vuelta Espana Stage 13Stage 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.

La Vuelta a España 2021 - Stage 14 (Don Benito > Pico Villuercas) - 28th August

La Vuelta Espana Stage 14That 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 following 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.

La Vuelta a España 2021 - Stage 15 (Navalmoral de la Mata > El Barraco) - 29th August

La Vuelta Espana Stage 15The 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.

La Vuelta a España 2021 - Stage 16 (Laredo > Santa Cruz de Bezana) - 31st August

La Vuelta Espana Stage 16The 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.

La Vuelta a España 2021 - Stage 17 (Unquera > Lagos de Covadonga) - 1st September

La Vuelta Espana Stage 17The 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.

La Vuelta a España 2021 - Stage 18 (Salas > Alto d'El Gamoniteiru) - 2nd September

La Vuelta Espana Stage 18The 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.

La Vuelta a España 2021 - Stage 19 (Tapia > Monforte de Lemos) - 3rd September

La Vuelta Espana Stage 19Are 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.

La Vuelta a España 2021 - Stage 20 (Sanxenxo > Mos.Castro de Herville) - 4th September

La Vuelta Espana Stage 20Now 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.

La Vuelta a España 2021 - Stage 21 ITT (Padrón > Santiago de Compostela) - 5th September

La Vuelta Espana Stage 21La 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

Predictions

As it is the final Grand Tour of the season, it can be difficult for a team or rider to specifically target the Vuelta a Espana from the beginning of the season. With the Tour, Giro and a plethora of other top-level stage races beforehand, riders that had planned to start in Spain are more susceptible to suffering a drop in form or an injury which prevents them from starting. This means that the lineups will remain provisional until the final week before the race.

That said, several of top GC riders are reportedly planning to take the startline in Burgos. None more noteworthy than Tadej Pogacar. We still wait to see what Pogacar will produce at the Tour de France, which is his main target for the 2021 season. Depending how his time in France goes, Pogacar may choose to skip La Vuelta. However, if Pogacar does start, he’ll be one of the very top favourites. He has ridden the Vuelta once before — it was his first Grand Tour in 2019 and he finished 3rd. The steep climbs in Spain suit Pogacar down to a tee.

Primoz Roglic has won La Vuelta two years in a row but is unlikely to start this season. This may change depending on his performance at the Tour de France.

Egan Bernal won the 2021 Giro d’Italia, which means he already has two of the three Grand Tours in his pocket at the age of just 24. Only nine riders have won two Grand Tours in a single season, a feat most recently achieved by Chris Froome when he won the Tour and Vuelta in 2017. If any of the riders in the current peloton are to achieve the feat, Bernal would be one of the favourites. He may partner Richard Carapaz or Adam Yates.

Movistar always enter their home Grand Tour with a strong squad, and that will be the case once again this season. Enric Mas, Alejandro Valverde and Miguel Angel Lopez could all start. The trio have all finished on the podium at the Vuelta España in their career already.

Mikel Landa looked to be in sumptuous form at the Giro d’Italia earlier in the season before he cruelly crashed out early on. The Spaniard is one of the best pure climbers in the world, and if he can re-discover that form after recovering from his injuries, he could be one of the riders to beat in Spain.

It’s too early to make any meaningful predictions for the 2021 La Vuelta a España. However, if we had to make an early selection, it’s difficult to see past Tadej Pogacar.

We can expect to see Caleb Ewan among the sprinters starting in Spain. Before the season began, the Australian set himself the goal of winning a stage at all three Grand Tours in one calendar year. The diminutive Australian won two stages at the Giro d’Italia, ticking the first of three boxes on his to-do list. He still needs to win at the Tour de France, but if he does, a stage win at La Vuelta would put him among illustrious company.