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The five mountains that will define the 2019 Vuelta a Espana

Joe Robinson
23 Aug 2019

The mountains come early at this year's Vuelta and continue all the way through to the penultimate day

Vuelta a Espana organiser ASO allows very little rest for the wicked when it designs each year's route. Unlike its Grand Tour siblings, the Giro d'Italia and Tour de France, little consideration for sprinters is allowed at the Vuelta and this year's route is no different. 

The 2019 race covers a total of 3,272.2km starting in Torrevieja on Saturday 24th August before concluding in Madrid on Sunday 15th September.

Four days will be hilly, nine stages will take place in the mountains. There will be 59 classified climbs, too, something that won't even bear thinking about for most of the peloton.

Among the barrage of classified climbs, some will have more impact on the race's outcome than others, so below Cyclist has broken down the five climbs that could be decisive in who wears red after 21 stages and will simply just create a spectacle to behold.

The five mountains that will define the 2019 Vuelta a Espana

Alto Els Cortals (5.7km at 8.3%) - Stage 9

If an alien beamed down from space and suddenly quizzed you as to what the Vuelta a Espana was all about, I’d suggest showing them Stage 9 of this year’s race.

While actually not in Spain as it's in Andorra, this stage design is something that could only be concocted Javier Guillen and the Vuelta race organisers.

Only 96.6km, five categorised climbs - one of which is hors categorie - and a 4km gravel section leading the pack into the day's summit finish. Utter, unmissable carnage.

Finishing that day off is the Alto Els Cortals, a 14.8km climb averaging 7% with a sustained section peaking over 10% around the middle.

This is the race’s first real test. Aspirations of winning the red jersey are likely to be blown out of the water for some here while others will start to believe they could enter Madrid two weeks later as the overall winner.

Alto de los Machucos (6.8km at 9.2%) - Stage 13

A monster of Grand Tour racing, Alto de los Machucos featured in the Vuelta for the first time two years ago.

It was more a goat track than a paved road, with gradients of 28, 22 and 17% consistently rearing up across the 9km climb that truly struck fear into the peloton.

Riders were hassling mechanics to swap out their standard chainrings for compact options while most rode with 32t cassette to combat the sheer lack of traction on the uncompromising concrete slab surface.

On the day, eventual race winner Chris Froome struggled to find his rhythm while the day’s original winner is no longer the winner.

That’s because Aqua Blue Sport’s Stefan Denifl, who crested Los Machucos first, was one of the riders implemented in the Operation Alderlass blood doping scandal. The Austrian was subsequently suspended and stripped of his results which included this Vuelta stage win.

Puerto del Acebo (8.2km at 7.1%) - Stage 15

A new summit finish for the Vuelta, Puerto del Acebo is uncharted territory. So much so, local race, the Vuelta a Asturias, has not even explored its slopes.

A bit of research on the internet shows its your typical Vuelta climb, constantly varying its gradient with parts of the climb rising up to 14% with a particularly rude final 2km that rarely drops under double-digit gradients.

There is the risk that unknown roads may promote defensive riding but, with the GC riders due to tackle the Vuelta, we are hoping for the opposite.

Its awkward nature should suit somebody like Miguel Angel Lopez of Astana, the punchy Colombian who thrives on difficult gradients, or maybe even Britain’s own Hugh Carthy of Education First, a real out-and-out mountain goat.

Either way, the Puerto del Acebo should produce fireworks on Stage 15.

Puerto do Cotos (13.9km at 4.8%) - Stage 18

Remember the heady days of 2015, those were the days. That year’s Vuelta was when we first discovered that Tom Dumoulin was a genuine Grand Tour contender and we all thought Fabio Aru was going to replace Vincenzo Nibali as Italy’s next Grand Tour darling.

Dumoulin lost the red jersey on the penultimate day of that year’s race to Aru on a stage that’s almost like-for-like to this year’s Stage 18, with two ascents of the Puerto de la Morcuera and then a final climb of the Puerto de Cotos before a descent to the finish.

The relentless climbing proved a step too far for the Dutchman that day but inspired him to chase Grand Tour ambitions and transition into one of the world’s best at racing over three weeks.

It was a great stage and here’s hoping for a repeat in 2019.

Alto de Gredos (9.4km at 3.8%) - Stage 20

A climb of only 3.8% for 9.4km seems quite pleasant, doesn’t it? Not if you’ve been chomping around the mountains of Spain for the past three weeks in the sweltering heat.

The Alto de Gredos is the final climb of this year’s race. The peloton know that once crested, it’s all smiles to Madrid, the final processional stage where small tapas plates and chilled wine awaits for those brave riders who managed to conquer Spain’s Grand Tour.

In reality, the shallow gradients probably prevent this from being a climb that could create huge time gaps in the GC but nothing ventured, nothing gained.