La Vuelta a Espana

La Vuelta a Espana

We’re in the midst of a bit of a cycling extravaganza at the moment. The Giro d’Italia is underway, with all the twists, turns, ups and downs that the race (and the coronavirus) can throw at us. It’s been thrilling so far. If that wasn’t enough, the Vuelta a Espana has also just begun. It’s almost unprecedented for two of the Three Grand Tours to run simultaneously, but here we are, living in unprecedented times. La Vuelta a Espana is the youngest of the three Grand Tours, beginning its seventy-fifth edition on Tuesday the 20th of October. It would usually run, as the other two Grand Tours do, for three weeks, with two rest days breaking up the grind. This year, however, the race is slightly truncated, with eighteen stages, instead of the usual twenty-one.

The race will begin, this year, at Irun (more like Iride, am I right? Sorry.) and take us on a sweeping journey around Northern Spain, showing us the beauty of the country and, especially, of the Pyrenees mountain range, as the riders battle it out for supremacy on the road. The race will end in Madrid, as it always does, on November the 8th. The race will have four flat stages, eight hilly ones and five mountain stages, with one individual time trial. The race, despite its condensed nature, will (to the joy of the riders, I’m sure) retain its two rest days, on October 26th and November 2nd, respectively.

Inspired by what the Tour de France did for L’Auto and what the Giro d’Italia did for La Gazzetta Dello Sport, La Vuelta a Espana was instigated by Juan Pujol of Spanish daily newspaper “Informaciones,” hoping to bolster his papers sales in the same way as the Tour and the Giro had done before it. An all-Spanish affair, the first race was promoted by the bike manufacturers of Eibar. It ran from Eibar to Madrid and back to Eibar and was named “The Grand Prix of the Republic.”

While the first edition took place in 1935, the race, this year, is only in its 75th edition. The maths doesn’t quite add up there. Much like the Tour and the Giro, the race ceased during World War Two. The Vuelta, however, also had the small matter of the Spanish Civil War to contend with and, due to the economic fallout stemming from those two conflicts, the Vuelta A Espana was only held once between 1948 and 1955. Since then, however, the race has been annual, growing in prestige with each passing year and attracting an ever-larger pool of riders in the decades to follow the 50s, until now it stands alongside the Tour de France and Giro d’Italia as one of the big three.

Much like the Giro, Covid-19 looms ever large off the shoulder of the riders. It is always an uncertain thing – who will take the Grand Classification? This year, more-so than ever. This years Giro favourites have almost all been eliminated, either by a crash or by the virus and leaving, as I write this, Portuguese debutant Joao Almeida in pole position to take the Maglia Rosa. These are uncertain times indeed, but what is certain is that the final Grand Tour of the year has begun, and it is not to be missed.