The Vuelta a Andalucía is the second major stage race in Spain and will be taking place between February 16th to the 20th over five stages.
No major summit finish appears in this year's race, though the route takes in some of the most undulating of Southern Spain's stunning Andalusian landscape. The highest peak of the entire race comes early on stage four, nudging a moderate 1,500 metres above sea level.
This sharp, rolling profile has attracted some of the best puncheurs around. With very little in the way of top tier sprinters, some second string fast men, such as Corbin Strong, Stefano Oldani and Orluis Aular will have the chance to make a name for themselves.
This year’s race may not have any major mountain passes for the riders to contend with, but there are still some tough tests for the riders looking to fight it out for the overall title.
Stage one: Ubrique to Iznájar (200.7km) February 16th
The first stage is an open book. The first half of the stage, between the start in Ubrique to just before the intermediate sprint at Los Corrales, includes two categorised climbs along with various kicks. The stage then flattens out for most of the second half, aside from a 7.8km climb which averages 3.3% that tops out 12km from the finish.
Stage two: Archidona to Alcalá la Real (150.6km) February 17th
Day two has a set of short and sharp peaks peppered across the second half of the stage, with three kicks coming quickly — one after the other — in the closing stages, including an uphill finish to Alcalá la Real.
Stage three: Lucena to Otura (152.6km) February 18th
Although likely to be a sprint stage, day three does still have some challenges. There are four categorised climbs dotted along the route, with a long false flat up to Alto de Cacín. But with the final 30km being either flat or downhill, the sprinters should have their chance.
Stage four: Cullar Vega to Baza (165.6km) February 19th
A long day of climbing awaits the riders on the penultimate stage of the race, with three of the largest categorised climbs in the whole event coming in one day. However, the most painful climbs come at the start and the finish will be fought out on shallower and shorter climbs.
Stage five: Huesa to Chiclana de Segura (167.1km) February 20th
The final stage of the race should be the most selective thanks to the 7.1km climb to the finish in Chiclana de Segura, averaging a respectable 5.2%. But that’s after three other categorised climbs, which are likely to thin the field considerably. With 40km between the final two climbs, there’s every chance of the peloton being brought together for a final summit-finish battle.
There are some strong names down to ride the ‘Ruta del Sol’ with the terrain suiting the best puncheurs around. But it has also attracted some of the most feared climbers, including defending champion Miguel Ángel López.
Photo credit: Luca Bettini/ Pool/AFP via Getty Images
But the Colombian will find it tough to retain his crown given the strength of the field this year. Bahrain Victorious, for example, are set to bring a supremely strong team of Jack Haig, Domen Novak, Edoardo Zambanini, Damiano Caruso, Mikel Landa and Wout Poels.
British star climber Simon Yates is also down to ride with a solid team from BikeExchange-Jayco there to support him.
Ineos will continue to support rising star Carlos Rodriguez following his excellent showing at the Volta a la Comunitat Valenciana, where he came third on general classification.
Michael Woods makes his season debut for Israel Premier Tech — the seasoned campaigner is well suited to the punchy climbs in Andalucia and could perform well if he is fully recovered from a stomach bug which put his participation in doubt.
Other big names are Carlos Rodríguez, Mauri Vansevenant, Alexey Lutsenko, Emanuel Buchmann, Ben O’Connor and Benoît Cosnefroy.
As far as sprinters go, while the profile and route hasn’t attracted many sprinters, there are a few that will merit attention — Eritrean star Biniam Ghirmay has shown an amazing turn of speed this season after winning Trofeo Alcúdia. He also turned heads when finishing second in the Under-23 Road World Championships in Leuven last year, behind FIlippo Baroncini. He could find himself involved in the GC fight while also targeting the sparse sprint finish opportunities.
Eritrean supporters at the U23 Worlds when Biniam Ghirmay took the silver medal (Photo credit: Getty)
Along with Ghirmay, Corbin Strong makes his debut for Israel-Premier Tech, while other names to watch include Matteo Trentin, Orluis Aular, Stefano Oldani, Niccolò Bonifazio and Florian Sénéchal.
If nothing else, we can predict with certainty that this will be an exciting five days of racing, with each stage throwing up surprises.
For the overall, we are going to go for one of the more punchy riders who will consistently sit amongst the front of the field — Alexey Lutsenko. The Kazakh rider will be aiming to sweep up stage races as he aims for a top Grand Tour finish in 2022.
Alexey Lutsenko at the 2020 Tour de France (Photo credit: Alex Whitehead/SWpix.com)
When it comes to individual stage wins, we would expect Bonifazio to be the fastest in a bunch sprint, but Ghirmay has a wonderful chance to take at least one stage in this race.
Mikkel Honore could prove himself as a solid GC contender for QuickStep Alpha Vinyl. Honore had a strong season in 2021 and with the strength of his team and a parcours which suits his all-round abilities, the Danish rider could pose a serious threat to the overall hopefuls.
Cover image: Gonzalo Serrano winning the opening stage of the 2021 edition of the race (Photo credit: Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images)