Next Saturday sees the kick off of the 2018 season’s final Grand Tour, the 73rd Vuelta a España. The highlights are two time trials, including a 8-km affair to launch proceedings in Malaga, and nine summit finishes, three of them new. The race runs south to north and ends with tough mountain stages in the Basque country and Andorra. It’s a hard parcours that favours the climbers. Without Geraint Thomas and Chris Froome lining up, but four previous winners and Michael Woods scheduled to tackle this arduous route, anticipation is high.

Last year, Ilnur Zakarin edged out Wilco Kelderman for the final podium spot, his first in a Grand Tour. Photo: Sirotti

Week 1
The day after the flat time trial in Malaga, the riders face the first summit finish on Cat. 3 Caminito del Rey. The race stays in the south for a few lumpy days that should ultimately belong to the sprinters, except for 162-km Stage 4 and its 12-km summit finish where heat might be a determining factor. On the last stage before the first rest day, Especial category finishing climb La Covatilla will certainly eliminate at least one contender.

Week 2

Sprinters will have more opportunities in the beginning of Week 2, with three days that will suit them before three days for the climbers. Stage 13’s finish on La Camperona is where Ryder Hesjedal won in 2014. Nairo Quintana’s 2016 win on 12.2-km, 7.2 per cent Lagos de Covadonga, the Especiale category summit finish of Stage 15, helped set the table for his GC victory.

Week 3
Things swing back the way of the strong men at the start of Week 3, with a gently rolling time trial of 32.7-km to create some big gaps. The next day sees a new summit finish on Monte Oiz, the final three-kilometres of which are 12% average.

The two stages in Andorra will be key. First comes Stage 19, which is essentially flat through Catalonia until the 12-km ascent to Naturlandia. The final day of GC skirmishing is insane: 105-km of constant climbing and descending. Five categorized climbs lead to the finale on the Coll de la Gallina with switchbacks of 16-18%.

2018 Vuelta a España

Stage 1, Saturday August 25: Málaga, 8km (ITT)
Stage 2, Sunday August 26: Marbella–Caminito del Rey 163.9-km (summit)
Stage 3, Monday August 27: Mijas–Alhaurín de la Torre 182.5-km
Stage 4, Tuesday August 28: Vélez-Málaga–La Alfaguara (summit) 162-km
Stage 5, Wednesday August 29: Granada–Roquetas del Mar 162-km
Stage 6, Thursday August 30: Huércal-Overa–San Javier 153-km
Stage 7, Friday August 31: Puerto Lumbreras–Pozo Alcón 182-km
Stage 8, Saturday September 1: Linares–Almadén 195.5km
Stage 9, Sunday September 2: Talavera de la Reina–La Covatilla 195-km (summit)
Monday September 3, rest day 1
Stage 10, Tuesday September 4: Salamanca–Fermoselle 172.5-km
Stage 11, Wednesday September 5: Monbuey–Luintra 208.8-km
Stage 12, Thursday September 6: Mondoñedo–Mañón (Cabo Estaca de Bares) 177.5-km
Stage 13, Friday September 7: Candás–La Camperona (summit) 175.5-km
Stage 14, Saturday September 8: Cistierna–Les Praeres (summit) 167-km
Stage 15, Sunday September 9: Ribera de Arriba–Lagos de Covadonga (summit) 185.5-km
Monday September 10, rest day 2
Stage 16, Tuesday September 11: Santillana–Torrelavega (ITT) 32.7-km
Stage 17, Wednesday September 12: Getxo–Monte Oiz (summit) 166.4-km
Stage 18, Thursday September 13: Ejea–Lleida 180.5-km
Stage 19, Friday September 14: Lleida–Naturlandia, Andorra (summit) 157-km
Stage 20, Saturday September 15: Escaldes-Coll de la Gallina, Andorra 105.8-km (summit)
Stage 21, Sunday September 16: Alcorcón-Madrid 112.3-km

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