Vuelta 2012: Stage Profiles and Analysis



La Vuelta 2012

I always hate the ASO site, in which you have to click multiple times to get one profile for one stage. User-unfriendly in my opinion. That's why I bundled the stages in this post, together with a few comments by me. Notice that I distinguished between hill finishes, mountain finishes and mountain stages, something that should give an indication where the excitement should be (no guarantees, obviously) and which days you should be ill.

Stage 1: Pamplona - Pamplona Team time trial
Saturday August 18

Team time trial, what more to say?



Stage 2: Pamplona - Viana Flat stage
Sunday August 19



First normal stage is flat, for the sprinters.

Stage 3: Faustino V - Eibar (Arrate) Hill top finish
Monday August 20



This stage finishes on the steep climb, well-known from the Tour of the Basque Country, where it features as the finish of stage 3 since the demise of the Euskal Bizikleta. We will see the same strange downhill of 2km with finish in the middle of nowhere as in the 6-day race, which always suited Samuel Sanchez, who won here on three occasions.
As the route towards the final climb is flat, the stage is early in the race and the climb is relatively short, this will most likely be a disappointment.
 
Stage 4: Barakaldo - Estación de Valdezcaray Mountain top finish
Tuesday August 21



The first real mountain stage, with a quite steep first category climb in the beginning of the stage, and a finish in a ski station. In Spain, this means wide roads and non-impressive gradients. The last climb starts promising, with gradients of about 7 or 8 percent, but the last few kilometers are barely more than false flats. Combined with the easy run towards the climb, some headwind and the mentioned roads, I don't expect big gaps here.

Stage 5: Logroño - Logroño Flat(ish) stage
Wednesday August 22



We start where we begin. That's not bike racing, is it? I have to say, I'm not a fan of finishing circuits like this. The climbs in the circuits can upset the sprinters though, but are most likely not hard and frequent enough to provide any real excitement.

Stage 6: Tarazona - Jaca Hill top finish
Thursday August 23



In my opinion the most interesting stage until this point, with two 3rd category climbs in the final part of the race, finishing on top of the last. The last climb should be close to 10% on average, Purito will have a big chance for another stage win here.
 
Stage 7: Huesca - Alcañiz. Motorland Aragón Flat stage
Friday August 24



This flat stage finishes on a motorracing circuit, the new (2008) Motorland Aragón track, designed by infamous mr. Hermann Tilke. Tilke is renowned for designing boring circuits, and this particular one will be the decor for a probably boring stage. The circuit hosts MotoGP races since 2010, in addition to a series of minor motorracing series.



I don't think this particular circuit is bad-looking though, with interesting overtaking opportunities in the hairpin that is turn 16, as well as in turn 1, and a good-looking turn 4-7 complex. Anyway, let's stick to cycling. A chance for the best sprinter on a well-surfaced and wide road.

Stage 8: Lleida - Andorra. Collada de la Gallina Mountain top finish
Saturday August 25



Andorra stages are usually a disappointment, due to the relatively shallow gradients and big roads. This one could be different though: the climb is not long, but quite steep, with km 3-1 from the finish at more than 11% on average, before flatting out to just over 8% in the final kilometer. The second category climb just before that also features gradients of well over 11% in the last 1.5 kilometer. Once the riders are over the top there, the initial part of the descent is technical and steep, something for the specialists. This can be one of the most exciting stages of the Vuelta this year.
 
Stage 9: Andorra - Barcelona Flat stage
Sunday August 26



One of the more glamorous and long stages of this years Vuelta. If you want to place a bet on which stage will be the fastest, this might be your answer (I don't take responsibility for this advice :) ). However, despite the fact that the stage is on average downhill, there is a little climb that can upset the day for the sprinters, and not an anonymous one: the Montjuic. In 2009, Hushovd won a Tour stage when the finish was on this little icon, near the Olympic park, this time, the riders will have to descend again, to finish slightly uphill.

Monday August 27 Rest day

Stage 10: Ponteareas - Sanxenxo Flat stage
Tuesday August 28



A flat stage, on the other side of Spain (between the Portuguese border and Santiago de Compostela). Sprinters day again, I guess, although the wind may be a factor as we are near the coast.

Stage 11: Cambados - Pontevedra Individual time trial
Wednesday August 29



The Vuelta a España does only feature one individual time trial this year, but it can upset a lot of the contenders, although there is a bit for everyone. You have to be strong and you have to be able to power yourself over a small, but nasty third category climb and subsequently the fast and technical descent. An interesting setting for a time trial, a good climber can limit his damage here.
 
Stage 12: Vilagarcía de Arousa - Dumbría. Mirador de Ézaro Hill top finish
Thursday August 30



With an average of 14% and a maximum of 28%, the 1.8km final hill will attract all attention in this stage, although the scenery surrounding the climb should be stunning too. Starting the climb, the average percentage, 11.5%, in the first 500 meter will be the least of the problems of the riders, because after that it kicks up to 21.8% for the next half kilometer. After a kilometer, it flattens out to 9.5% before delivering a final kick of 18.3% in the last 300 meters. Second stage win for Purito? Who knows.

Stage 13: Santiago de Compostela - Ferrol Flat stage
Friday August 31



The beautiful and legendary town of Santiago de Compostela is the decor of the start of stage 13, on Friday 31 August. A bad omen? I'm sure there will be plenty of tourists pleading for something else. Among them the sprinters in this Vuelta, they have another chance for the victory, although at this point a breakaway could be successful too.

Stage 14: Palas de Rei - Puerto de Ancares Mountain stage
Saturday September 1



September 1, traditionally more or less the start date of the Vuelta, finds the riders in already the third weekend of the race this year. In my opinion, this is the first real mountain stage of the year, with a lot of undulation before arriving at the foot of the Puerto de Ancares, a steep final climb. It starts easy, but the last 10km of the climb are steep, on average about 8 or 9%, with parts up to 13%.
 
Stage 15: La Robla - Lagos de Covadonga Mountain top finish
Sunday September 2



The final climb is well-known in the Tour of Spain, last year it was Barredo who won here. Not much more to say really, a closed race to the last climb, with probably a breakaway victory and small gaps in GC, especially considering the bigger stages before and after this one.

Stage 16: Gijón - Valgrande-Pajares. Cuitu Negru Mountain stage
Monday September 3



The third mountain top finish in a row, and if stage 14 wasn't the queen stage, this is. Two first category climbs have to be conquered before the last assignment of the day. The climb is easy in some parts, but the latter part will leave a bad impression in the minds of the riders, with percentages of 15% between kilometer 8 and 6 from the finish, and 12, 13 and 18% in the last 3 kilometers. It is another chance for the real climbers to open a gap.

Tuesday September 4 Rest day

Stage 17: Santander - Fuente Dé Hill top finish
Wednesday September 5



We start today in the town, well-known for one of the best and biggest banks in the world (yes, I've shares :D ), to finish on a steady incline 180km later. With an average of 3.2% over 24km, it is not a stage for the GC contenders, but one for the breakaway specialists. The final part shouldn't be underestimated though and would be perfect for a good climber in a small group: the gradient briefly goes up to nearly 10% close to the finish.
 
Stage 18: Aguilar de Campoo - Valladolid Flat stage
Thursday September 6



A flat stage for the climbers, and for the sprinters too. Apparently, there is chance of strong winds though, so watch out Anton and Quintana!

Stage 19: Peñafiel - La Lastrilla Flat stage
Friday September 7



A flat stage for the time trail specialists, and for the cobble riders too. Chances are it is not really flat though, but sprinters should be able to survive in this stage at height.

Stage 20: La Faisanera Golf. Segovia 21 - Bola del Mundo Mountain stage
Saturday September 8



The Vuelta is in it's last weekend, but far from over. Avid followers will remember the last time (also the first time) the Bola del Mundo (Top of the world) featured, with a heroic duel between eventual overall winner Nibali and stage winner Mosquera. Mosquera attacked at the bottom, Nibali was able to catch up with him after a mountain-long chase, to secure the overall by a few seconds. Will we see another duel like this? It all depends on the form of the riders, but the climb is promising, with a concrete insanely steep section for the last few kilometers, where sprinters will go by foot.

Stage 21: Cercedilla - Madrid Flat stage
Sunday September 9



This is the traditional we-want-to-be-the-Tour-the-France-but-just-aren't last stage in the Vuelta, finishing in Madrid on a local circuit. The sprinters will have their final say to close the last Grand Tour of the year, unusually early.
 
A couple and bits and pieces from Arnout's thorough run-through of the route.
- The Viana finish, though still a sprint, is on a shallow uphill incline. It was featured in the 2010 Vuelta al País Vasco, with Alejandro Valverde proving the victor in a messy sprint against Óscar Freire. However, Óscar was not peaking and the sprinting fields in País Vasco are understandably thin, so I would expect this still to be won by a sprinter, but it might be more like Sutton's win in Orihuela last year than a Cavendish romp.
- The run-in to Eibar before Arrate isn't really flat per se, it's very hard to find that much pure flat in Gipuzkoa, but given that they've categorised the Puerto de Vitória you can probably guess that these uncategorised ones aren't going to tail off all but the worst climbers. I'm still annoyed at how stupidly easy the Arrate stage is up until then. Just a half decent lead in climb like Kanpazar or Karabieta and you'd have bigger gaps there than on the godawful stage to Valdezcaray.
- The Logroño stage should be the same circuit, but one lap against the clock.
- Motorland Aragón is probably Tilke's best work. Features some interesting off-camber corners.
- I wish the Andorra stage had a couple more climbs to open it up, like La Rabassa or Ordino, just to put a bit more in the riders' legs. Then again, the one-climb stage to Pal in 2010 was really good, when it had every right to suck.
- I may be wrong, but I think the categorised climb on Montjuïc is the other side of the park - the climb used in the old Escalada de Montjuïc race and in the 2010 Volta a Catalunya. After descending from this the riders will finish on the same rise from Plaza España up to the Olympic complex that was used in the 2009 Tour, which isn't worth categorising. The Tour run-in was wide and flat, whereas with the small climb just before the rise up to the finish, this stage might be tougher to control, and while I wouldn't expect GC gaps unless someone goes and does a Frank Vandenbroucke-in-Ávila job on it, it has the potential to be pretty exciting.
- Purito would seem to be the favourite at Ézaro, but we ought to bear in mind that the stage before then may see echelon action, and Purito's not got the best record in them (understandable given his size). Hard to win the stage from two minutes behind the péloton.
- Barredo won on Covadonga in 2010; it is very frequently used (and is perhaps the Vuelta's signature climb in the way that Alpe d'Huez is the Tour's) however. This stage is about as good a leadup to it in the way of early climbs as possible, though, and I do feel that while I do like the climb, it's probably due a bit of a layoff from the Vuelta. They can still use it for Asturias or something like that.
- They've gone with three big MTFs in a row here, with Ancares, Lagos de Covadonga and Cuitu Negru. I am concerned, therefore, that with the difficulty of the Cuitu Negru finish, that the other two may be raced overly conservatively... and then the action limited to the last 5-6km on Cuitu Negru too. I'm recalling 2009, when the riders finished on Velefique, Sierra Nevada and La Pandera on consecutive days, and they rode Velefique like a group ride, except for some short late digs for a few seconds from Mosquera and Gesink, because everyone was worried about leaving themselves short of energy for the difficult stages to come.
- Fuente Dé is a really awful choice for a finish. There's a short steep hill outside Potes they use in the Circuito Montáñes, there's Cueva el Soplao round the corner, why Dé?!
- Mosquera and Nibali's epic duel in 2010 wasn't really going from the bottom per se, since the Bola is an extension of the Navacerrada climb. Mosquera went from the bottom of Bola in that he went from the top of Navacerrada, however the steep gradients, fan pressure and concrete surfaces really made those last few kilometres seem like time was standing still, especially with time gaps being sporadic and my ridiculous Mosquera cheerleading.
 
Stage 16

The climb, which is a 2,8km extension of the Pajares ski station, includes slopes of up to a vicious 25% and hasn't even been surfaced. Samu says"It'll be a really hard stage. Even before you arrive at the base o that last climb, you'll have done the Alto de San Lorenzo and the Cobertoria. In addition, you'll already have done 16 stages. The rider who comes out of that stage with the leader's jersey on has got a great chance to keep it all the way to the end".
 
Dec 30, 2011
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Arnout said:
As the route towards the final climb is flat, the stage is early in the race and the climb is relatively short, this will most likely be a disappointment.
I would be inclined to disagree that this will be a disappointing climb considering that it is the first one of the race and will be probably raced at full pace, especially as riders come to the Vuelta expecting the racing on the final climb to be full out whilst the racing before not to be more benign due to the generally flat terrain previous.
Arnout said:
The first real mountain stage, with a quite steep first category climb in the beginning of the stage, and a finish in a ski station. In Spain, this means wide roads and non-impressive gradients. The last climb starts promising, with gradients of about 7 or 8 percent, but the last few kilometers are barely more than false flats. Combined with the easy run towards the climb, some headwind and the mentioned roads, I don't expect big gaps here.
.
Mount Etna?
This climb though nothing like it has all the ingredients that it may become unerringly similar and of course that means total devastation..

Arnout said:
Andorra stages are usually a disappointment, due to the relatively shallow gradients and big roads. This one could be different though: the climb is not long, but quite steep, with km 3-1 from the finish at more than 11% on average, before flatting out to just over 8% in the final kilometer. The second category climb just before that also features gradients of well over 11% in the last 1.5 kilometer. Once the riders are over the top there, the initial part of the descent is technical and steep, something for the specialists. This can be one of the most exciting stages of the Vuelta this year.
On the other hand this one though I agree that it may be a cracking stage I dont think the final climb offers enough to create significant time gaps similar to PDBF this year.
Arnout said:
A flat stage for the time trail specialists, and for the cobble riders too. Chances are it is not really flat though, but sprinters should be able to survive in this stage at height.
I have a feeling that the non GT specialists will be too fatigued to truly give it a go on this stage, maybe there will be a large break which may take the stage generally a strong rider for example the like of Chavanel, but I dont see individual attacks succeeding or working.

Remember also that these guys may have gone home already (though they have more time to prepare) for the WC in order not to over cook themselves prior to the race.

Good work though..
 
Aug 29, 2011
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Lots of mountain finishes, and actually quite a few multi-mountain stages, altho I presume many will go to the breakaway. Pretty unbalanced route with only a short TTT and hilly ITT, though.
 
The ITT could still wind up being pretty important though, since there's only really the Ancares stage where attacks before the final climb could be that important; even most of the multi-climb stages are ones where the amount of shallow climb/false flat between earlier climbs and the MTF mean attacks will be unlikely except for perhaps an exploratory expedition to test opponents' legs on La Cobertoria. Those that are steep enough for me to reasonably expect attacks from the bottom are mostly too short to create big gaps (Arrate, La Gallina) and those that are long are too shallow until quite late in the race, while the super steep finishing sections of Cuitu Negru and Bola del Mundo may discourage anybody from attacking on the 'normal' climbs of Pajares and Navacerrada, leaving it all to the last 5km. Which just leaves the puncheur stages, Ancares and Covadonga. So while it obviously isn't a course for the Leipheimers of this world, it's not a race where the ITT will be as irrelevant as the general statistics (40km of ITT vs. 7 MTFs and a bunch of puncheur finishes too) would have you believe.
 

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