A familiar cascade of uphill finishes will shape the Vuelta a España in 2020, with the summit finishes on the Tourmalet and the Angliru and a brutally difficult week-three time trial all but certain to decide the final outcome of the race.
The 2020 Vuelta’s eight summit finishes start with one of the Basque Country’s best-loved ascents, the Arrate, which traditionally hosts the ‘queen stage’ of the Vuelta al País Vasco, on stage 4. The last summit finish of the 2020 race will be on the technical, exposed slopes of La Covatilla in Spain’s far west, just 24 hours before the finish in Madrid.
Other eye-catching features of the 2020 Vuelta are its three opening stages in Holland. The flat opening team time trial on Friday, August 14, is some 10km longer than 2019’s curtain-raiser. The 23.3 kilometres could be enough to establish some important differences between the favourites. Then there’s also a very rare incursion into Portugal in the final week.
Focused almost entirely in the northern half of Spain, the 2020 Vuelta route completely bypasses the southern and eastern parts of the country, including Catalunya, returning after the Dutch leg to start stage 4 in the border town of Irún in the Basque Country.
A quick but very hilly dash through neighbouring Navarre on stage 5 then precedes the first ultra-difficult summit finish, the unprecedented Laguna Negra de Vinuesa on stage 6. However, that day’s climbing pales in comparison with what is on offer on stage 9 through the Pyrenees, just 135.6km long but by far the hardest single day’s racing of the 2020 Vuelta a Espana.
Into the mountains
If an unprecedented [for the Vuelta] finish on the Col du Tourmalet wasn’t daunting enough, the Pyrenean giant will be preceded by the first category Portalet, the special category Aubisque and the short, unclassified ascent of the Soulor. While the time cut could play a crucial role on such a short, hard stage, it also means that come the Vuelta’s second rest day [the first is for a transfer back to Spain from Holland], an out-and-out climber will surely be in the red jersey of race leader.
Stage 9 packs a monster mountain punch, but, globally, the Vuelta’s second week is by far the most difficult of the three. A brief but tricky incursion into the southern hills of the Basque Country on stage 10 precedes another difficult summit finish on stage 11, the Alto de Moncalvillo. This in turn sets the race up for a double whammy of Asturian mountain stages, which could be dubbed, indeed, ‘the Contador weekend.’
First of these northern Spanish summit finishes is stage 15’s Alto de la Farrapona – where Contador effectively sealed his overall win in the 2014 Vuelta ahead of Chris Froome – while stage 16 ends with Spain’s toughest single climb, the Angliru, where Contador pulled down the curtain on his career in spectacular style in 2017. If that wasn’t enough for any Contador nostalgists out there, the Angliru is also where the Spaniard effectively won the Vuelta in 2008, and he remains the only rider ever win there twice.
Ezaro time trial and passage through Portugal
Crunch moment number three of the Vuelta is the time trial to Ezaro that opens the third week. The course first takes in rolling terrain on north-west Galicia’s coastline, and then rises up the brutally difficult two-kilometre ascent to the Ezaro dam. As the only individual time trial, this could be where the non-climbing specialists make some gains, but with such a difficult finale, it could well prove to be a stalemate.
Two stages taking the Vuelta in and out of Portuguese territory have more interest for their rarity than the terrain: this will be the first time that the Vuelta has visited Spain’s westerly neighbour since 1997. So it will be up to the Vuelta’s final summit finish of La Covatilla to confirm the overall leader’s status in the GC, although by then, with such a hard middle segment, the GC battle could well have been decided.
An interesting development in 2020 is a big increase in the number of hilly stages beyond the summit finishes. They each feature a tough climb between 10 and 25 kilometres from the finish, and then either a fast downhill or rolling terrain to close out the day’s racing.
In 2019, only one stage through the sierras of Madrid was of this type, but this time out stages 5 to Lekunberri, 8 to Sabiñanigo, 10 to Villanueva de Valdegovia and 17 to Ourense all have at least one classified climb almost immediately preceding the finish. In fact, the notoriously difficult San Miguel de Aralar climb, just before the finish of stage 5 in Lekunberri, could well be where the Vuelta’s GC battle begins in earnest.
Not that the sprinters can complain, however. There are seven stages with flat finishes, two of them – predictably enough given it is the centre of the Netherlands – even before the race has reached Spain. The fast men should have a final opportunity on the Vuelta’s grand finale in Madrid.
Vuelta a España 2020 stages
Friday, August 14 – Stage 1: Utrecht-Utrecht (TTT), 23.3km
Saturday, August 15 – Stage 2: s’Hertogenbosch – Utrecht, 181.6km
Sunday, August 16 – Stage three: Breda – Breda, 193km
Monday, August 17 – Rest day
Tuesday, 18 August – Stage 4: Irún – Arrate, 169.5km
Wednesday, 19 August – Stage 5: Pamplona – Lekunberri, 151km
Thursday, 20 August – Stage 6: Lodosa - La Laguna Negra de Vinuesa, 163.8km
Friday, 21 August – Stage 7: Garray - Ejea de los Caballeros, 190km
Saturday, 22 August – Stage eight: Huesca – Sabiñanigo, 185.5km
Sunday, 23 August – Stage nine: Biescas - Col du Tourmalet, 135.6 km
Monday, 24 August – Rest Day
Tuesday, 25 August – Stage 10: Vitoria - Villanueva de Valdegovia, 160.4km
Wednesday, 26 August – Stage 11: Logroño - Alto de Moncalvillo, 164.5km
Thursday, 27 August – Stage 12: Castrillo del Val - Aguilar del Campo, 163.6km
Friday, 28 August – Stage 13: Castro Urdiales – Suances, 187.4km
Saturday, 29 August – Stage 14: Villaviciosa - Alto de la Farrapona, 170.2km
Sunday, 30 August – Pola de Laviana - Alto del Angliru, 109.2km
Monday, 31 August – Rest Day
Tuesday, September 1 – Stage 16: Muros - Ezaro (ITT), 33.5km
Wednesday, September 2 – Stage 17: Lugo – Ourense, 205.8km
Thursday, September 3 – Stage 18: Mos – Porto, 178km
Friday, September 4 – Stage 19: Viseu - Ciudad Rodrigo, 177.7km
Saturday, September 5 – Stage 20: Sequeros - Alto de la Covatilla, 175.8km
Sunday, September 6 – Stage 21: La Zarzuela – Madrid, 125.4km