The Vuelta a España is famed for featuring savage climbs throughout the race – with climbs like the Angliru and Covadonga having carved their own mythology in the race. This year is no exception, with the 2021 route boasting some of the longest and steepest climbs on the continent. It will offer a nice platform for a field that includes the world’s best climbers, with Mikel Landa, Adam Yates and Egan Bernal looking likely to start in Spain this year.
We took a close look at the most challenging climbs that the riders will face at the 2021 Vuelta a España, and how they may affect the race.
Picón Blanco - Stage 3
Remco Evenepoel climbs the Picón Blanco at the 2020 Vuelta a Burgos (Image credit: David Ramos/Getty Images)
The Picón Blanco has lots of recent pro cycling history, with the Vuelta a Burgos featuring the Picón Blanco regularly. The climb is critical in deciding the final winner of the Vuelta a Burgos, and Remco Evenepoel, Mikel Landa and Miguel Ángel López are some of the riders that have won on the mountain previously.
No rider will be able to win the Vuelta España on the Picón Blanco as it takes place on stage 3. However, every GC rider must be ready for this early test, and it cannot be underestimated.
The ascent is not known for its length — it is just under 8km long — it is instead revered for its punishing gradients. The climb averages 9.3%. It starts at easier percentages with the first kilometre averaging 6.5%, whereas the final 5km combine to average 10%. At these gradients, the strongest riders will be able to make a significant impression.
Alto de Velefique - Stage 9
La Vuelta a España visit the Alto de Velefique in 2017 (Image credit: Tim de Waele/Corbis via Getty Images)
The Alto de Velefique has featured at the Vuelta a España before — as recently as 2017. It was the penultimate climb on stage 17 which was won by Miguel Ángel López. This year, however, it will host the conclusion of stage 9.
The climb is both long and steep at 12.8km and 7.3% on average. The most punishing percentages occur in the first five kilometres, with the fourth kilometre averaging a leg-sapping 11.7%. The climb eases slightly in parts towards the top, with the final kilometre averages just 4.3%. This means that any riders looking to be offensive must attack beforehand if they are to make any major time differences.
The ascent peaks at around 1,800 metres above sea level, so those that cope with high altitude well may target this one.
Puerto de Mijares - Stage 15
The peloton ascends the Puerto de Mijares at the 2011 Vuelta a España (Image credit: Tim de Waele/Corbis via Getty Images)
Previously a feature at La Vuelta a España 2011, the Puerto de Mijares is one of the longest climbs on the 2021 route. At 20.4 kilometres, this one is a lengthy test. However, the percentages average 5.5%, and although there are a couple of steeper ramps, the gradient remains fairly steady throughout.
The climb takes place on stage 15, and although it isn’t the final climb of the stage, its length means it could have a significant impact. Once the Puerto de Mijares is crested, just under 40km will remain, much of which is downhill. If any of the GC favourites want to shake things up and test their rivals, the Puerto de Mijares provides a good opportunity to do so.
Lagos de Covadonga - Stage 17
Thibaut Pinot celebrated winning atop the Lagos de Covadonga in 2018 (Image credit: Michael Steele/Getty Images)
The Lagos de Covadonga has been raced at La Vuelta a España as recently as 2018. There, it concluded stage 15, which was won by Thibaut Pinot after a searing attack with 6km left. Four minutes separated the first 15 riders at the finish that day and we can expect a similarly brutal climb again this year.
The ascent averages 6.9% over 12.5km, but this doesn’t tell the full story. There is a plateau section around 7km in and two downhill portions afterwards. This means that the trickiest kilometres lie in the first half of the climb. Between the first and seventh kilometres, the road averages a pulsating 9.8%. We can expect to see attacks aplenty, and an abundance of swings in the general classification on the exhausting Lagos de Covadonga.
Lagos de Covadonga. Photo credit: Tim De Waele/ Getty Images
Alto d'El Gamoniteiru - Stage 18
The Alto d'El Gamoniteiru is new to La Vuelta a España this year. However, we can say with certainty that it is one of the hardest, and perhaps the most challenging climb found on the 2021 route. The climb averages an eye-watering 9.8% over almost 15km. This mountain isn’t for the faint-hearted.
Preceded by two category one and one second category climb, stage 18 could be the queen stage of La Vuelta a España this year. The Alto d'El Gamoniteiru is set to host fireworks.
Cover image: Tim De Waele/ Getty Images