The Vuelta a España can always be relied upon to deliver a feast of climbing, and the 2024 route is about as on-brand as the race gets, with a total of nine summit finishes and plenty more mountains besides.
That’s music to the ears of certain GC contenders who would have responded with trepidation to the number of time trialling kilometres and unconventional gravel stages announced for both next year’s Giro d'Italia and Tour de France. Unlike those routes, the Vuelta is unambiguously a race for the pure climbers, with two time trials amounting to only 34km (barely more than half the other two Grand Tours) and all the major GC stages defined by little other than their uphill roads.
The organisers have pitched this race squarely at climbers, with little on offer for anyone else. Sprinters in particular get a raw deal; the fact the organisers have named only one of the twenty-one stages as ‘flat’ suggests they're not even trying to convince any to come.
For fans of speculator scenic views and epic uphill racing, the Vuelta therefore promises to be a treat, though curiously, the climbs that will define the race are very different to the similarly mountainous 2023 edition. Whereas the Pyrenees formed the cornerstone of last year’s race, this time that mountain range is avoided altogether. Instead, its summits are scattered across the three weeks, with big tests posed everywhere from Extremadura, to Sierra Nevada, to Asturias and finally, Cantabria set to determine the outcome.
STAGE ONE: LISBON > OEIRAS, 12KM ITT
For the fifth time in history the Vuelta a España will begin overseas, this time across the border in Portugal, for a short, flat individual time trial starting in Lisbon.
STAGE TWO: CASCAIS > OURÉM, 191KM
The riders will remain in Portugal for the first (and second longest) road stage of the race, which is likely to be a bunch sprint unless an opportunist can use the late category four climb to get enough of a gap.
STAGE THREE: LOUSA > CASTELO BRANCO, 182KM
The third and final stage in Portugal is again odds-on to end in a bunch sprint, with the rolling terrain settling down for a flat final 40km.
STAGE FOUR: PLASENCIA > PICO VILLUERCAS, 167KM
The race crosses the border in Spain and into the mountains of Extremadura for the first proper GC test, with the finish atop the category one Pico de Villuercas, the last of four mountains to be tackled.
STAGE FIVE: FUENTE DEL MAESTRE > SEVILLA, 170KM
With no climbs whatsoever on the menu, and taking a generally downhill trajectory with a decline of about 500m in altitude over the course of the day, this is the only stage of the whole race that the organisers have labelled ‘flat’, and therefore, surely one for the sprinters.
STAGE SIX: JEREZ DE LA FRONTERA > YUNQUERA, 181KM
Deep into what is nearly the southern most point of Spain, the riders will take on a series of Andalusian hills, and more than likely very hot weather, on the kind of day you’d expect a breakaway of non-GC threats to be allowed up the road to contest for the win.
STAGE SEVEN: ARCHIDONA > CÓRDOBA, 179KM
Most of the parcours is either undulating or flat, but a category two climb just 25km from the finish in Córdoba will likely deter the sprinters and provide the springboard for a breakaway winner.
STAGE EIGHT: ÚBEDA > CAZORLA, 159KM
The third of the race’s nine summit finishes, the Sierra de Cazorla is a new finish for the Vuelta, and, only 5km long and rated category three, will have only a limited effect on the GC.
STAGE NINE: MOTRIL > GRANADA, 178KM
Before tomorrow’s rest day and long transfer north, the riders face one more day in the oppressive heat of Andalusia, for what will be the sternest climbing test so far — a stage featuring three back-to-back category one climbs in the mountain range of Sierra Nevada, though a long 50km descent to the finish will temper the impact on the GC.
STAGE 10: PONTEAREAS > BAIONA, 160KM
The second week begins in Galicia with another day of climbing, featuring no hills that exceed 1,000m in altitude, but two that are nevertheless hard enough to be deemed category one.
STAGE 11: PADRÓN > PADRÓN, 164KM
An out-and-back route starting and finishing in Padrón will see the riders take on four moderately-sized climbs, the last crested 8km from the finish, in what will surely be a day for the breakaway.
STAGE 12: ORENSE > ESTACIÓN DE MONTAÑA DE MANZANEDA , 133KM
The shortest of the race at just 133km, and featuring no categorised climb for the first 117km of those, stage 12 is one of the most straightforward days of the race, until the category one Montana de Manzaneda climb to the finish turns it into a GC priority.
STAGE 13: LUGO > PUERTO DE ANCARES, 171KM
Three climbs earlier in the day will serve as a warm-up for the finish up Puerto de Ancares, the super-steep mountain whose gradients saw Alberto Contador all but seal overall victory ahead of Chris Froome at the 2014 Vuelta.
STAGE 14: VILLAFRANCA DEL BIERZO > VILLABLINO, 199KM
The highlight of what is, at 199km, the longest day of the 2024 Vuelta will be the 23km slog up the category one Puerto de Leitariegos, but a long descent to the finish in Villablino 16km later will dilute its impact.
STAGE 15: INIFIESTO > VALGRANDE-PAJARES, 142KM
Closing the second week will be a brutal mountain stage climaxing with the first ‘especial’ categorised climb of the race, and possibly the hardest of all: Cuitu Negru, the steep, uneven gradients of which had riders almost crawling to to the top of on its only previous Vuelta appearance in 2012.
STAGE 16: LUANCO > LAGOS DE COVADONGA, 181KM
After a much-needed rest day the GC riders are thrown right back into the thick of the action with yet another mountain top finish, this time at one of the most famous Vuelta climbs of them all, Lagos de Covadonga, hosting a finish for the 23rd time in the race’s history.
STAGE 17: ARNUERO > SANTANDER, 143KM
The first stage not to feature a major climb in the finishing stages for a whole week, the presence of two category two climbs during the first half give encouragement to puncheurs looking to win from a breakaway, but a flat final half gives the long-suffering sprinters a chance to get back into contention for what will be their last chance of a bunch finish.
STAGE 18: VITORIA-GASTEIZ > MAEZTU, 175KM
The rolling terrain of this stage through the Basque Country, featuring the category one Puerto Herrera, make this a very wise day for breakaway specialists to get up the road and contest for the stage win.
STAGE 19: LOGRONO > ALTO DE MONCALVILLO, 168KM
The penultimate mountain stage of the race will be all about the finishing rise up the category one Alto de Moncalvillo, where Primož Roglič both won the stage and made significant inroads into Richard Carapaz’s lead during the first week of the 2020 Vuelta.
STAGE 20: VILLARCAYO > PICÓN BLANCO, 188KM
With a gruelling total of seven climbs to be tackled, the organisers have saved arguably the hardest road stage until last; by the time the riders reach the final ascent of Picón Blanco, they’ll already be on their feet.
STAGE 21: DISTRITO TELEFÓNICA > MADRID, 22KM ITT
For the first time since the opening day, the time trial specialists have a stage against the clock to enjoy with a 22km finale in Madrid, which, though not particularly long, is flat enough for the better-equipped overall contenders to potentially cause last minute drama in the GC battle.