La Vuelta A España
The climbing in this year’s Vuelta is set to be epic. Among the featured climbs are Alto de l’Angliru, the Col du Tourmalet, Col d'Aubisque, Port de Larrau, Port d'Arinsal, Col d’Ordino, Col de la Pierre St. Martin… its going to be a fun year to watch the chase for the blue polka dot jersey.
Yep, the polka dots for the best climber in the Vuelta are blue!
There will be 7 mountain stages, 6 hilly stages with plenty of climbing for their own right, and 2 flat stages with a climb finale and summit finishes. The mountain stages and summit finishes are covered below, as well as on their Stage pages.
Official map of la Vuelta a España route
Brief Tour Overview:
For the first time in 61 years, la Vuelta will start in Barcelona, with a team time trial in the heart of downtown. From there the riders head north into Andorra, taking on the Col d’Ordino and the Port d’Arinsal.
From there the ride goes south along the Mediterranean coast for some flat stages and 3 summit finishes. After an individual time trial in Valladolid, a couple of flat stages, one of those (stage 11) with a Cat 1 summit finish. And then, its on to the Pyrenees.
Two stages highlight some of the best climbs in France, stage 13 ending at the top of the Col du Tourmalet. From there the tour rides west and takes on perhaps the most feared climb in all of cycling, the Alto de l'Angliru (World #52) in stage 17. The tour ends in Madrid.
Fun Facts about the 2023 Vuelta:
- The riders of the 2023 Vuelta will climb a total of 169,669 ft (51,715 m)
- The Vuelta covers a distance of 1960 miles over 21 days (3153.8 km)
- The biggest climbs in the Vuelta are:
- The highest elevation is 6,939’ (2,115m) above sea level, in Stage 17 at the top of the Tourmalet.
- The hardest climb of the 2023 Vuelta is Alto de l'Angliru with Col du Tourmalet a distant second. The average grade of this 7.7 mile (12.4 km) monster is a stunning 11.2%. Alto de l’Angliru is the 52nd hardest cycling climb in the world.
- Steepest segments:
- ½ mile: Angliru (19.7%)
- Mile: Angliru (18%)
- 2.5 miles: Angliru (15.8%)
- 5 miles: Angliru (13%)
- 1 kilometer: Angliru (19%)
- 2 kilometers: Angliru (17.4%)
- 5 kilometers: Angliru (15.5%)
- 10 kilometers: Angliru (12.2%)
- Distance: Stage 20 - 129.2 miles / 208.2 kilometers
- Most elevation gained: Stage 18 -14,550’ / 4,435 meters.
- 29,252 ft of climbing will take place outside of Spain
Stage 3 (mountain stage #1)
The first mountain stage ends on the summit of the Pal-Arinsal Ski Resort. The huge category 1 climb preceding it is the Col d’Ordino, one of Andorra’s most popular climbs. Only 8 points are available for winning the climbs on stage 2, and with 20 points up for grabs on stage 3, this day will definitely decide who wears the blue polka dots for the first week.
The Col d’Ordino
Stage 6 (mountain stage #2)
The second mountain stage will include 2 category 3 climbs (Puerto de Arenillas at mile 30 and Alto Fuente de Rubielos at mile 50), before a summit finish at the Javalambre Observatory. Alto de Javalambre is a category 1 climb, gaining 2,970 ft in 7.4 miles, and breaking a 15% grade multiple times.
Alto de Javalambre
Barren landscape around the Javalambre Observatory (visible on hill on left)
Stage 8 (mountain stage #3)
After one of the flattest stages in the tour comes one of the hilliest days in the tour, so hilly that it’s classified as a mountain stage. However, none of the climbs of the day exceed 2,000 ft gained. One climb sticks out on the profile, the Xorret de Cati. Only 2.5 miles long, this category 1 climb averages over 11% and at times reaches gradients above 20%. After climbing 10,400’ already in the stage, these gradients will be a test for even the toughest riders in the world!
The climb begins in the community of Castalla
Panoramic views at the top of the Xorret de Cati
Stage 11 (flat with summit finish)
Stage 11 is a flat/rolling stage with an epic summit finish at the beautiful Laguna Negra Vinuesa in the Sierra de Cebollera National Park. Almost ¼ of the stage’s climbing will come in the final ascent.
The lagoon, located at 5,700’ above sea level, is surrounded by a scenic jagged ridge.
Stage 13 (mountain stage #4)
There are 4 sets that could each be considered the toughest back-to-back days in pro cycling this year:
The day starts on a category 3 climb, the Col du Pourtalet, where the riders cross into France. What comes next is a loop the Tour de France has done dozens of times: attacking Tourmalet from the west by means of the iconic Pyrenean climbs, the Aubisque and Spandelles.
Did the Vuelta get inspiration from 2022 TdF’s Stage 18? 🤔
The summit finish at Tourmalet
Tourmalet is often described as one of the best bike climbs in the world
Col d’Aubisque is another epic French Pyrenees climb included in this years Vuelta.
The Tourmalet and Aubisque are HC climbs in this stage. In the Vuelta a España, Hors Categorie climbs are called “ESP”, or “Especial” - designating that the climb is so hard that it’s above categorization.
Col du Tourmalet was also in Stage 5 of this year’s Tour de France, but climbed from the east.
Stage 14 (mountain stage #5)
This is the second day in the French Pyrenees. Starting in Sauveterre-de-Béarn, the route goes south back into the Pyrenees to do another two HC climbs, Col Issarbe (Col Hourciere) and the Port de Larrau.
The incredibly scenic Port de Larrau leads to the French-Spain border
After the riders cross back into Spain at the Port de Larrau, and the stage ends back at the French border at the Col de la Pierre Saint Martin. The Col de la Pierre Saint Martin has multiple routes that are some of the hardest in France. The Spanish side, while a challenging climb, is much easier.
The Col de la Pierre Saint Martin
Stage 16 (flat with summit finish)
After the second rest day, the riders will do a very short but rolling stage along the coast of the Bay of Biscay before a steep climb to the finish. Ending in Bejes, the Salto de la Cabra (La Hermida) is only a category 2, but with extra points awarded from also winning the stage. This climb has the third steepest average gradient of the Vuelta (9%)
The stage will take the riders into the Cantabrian mountains for the next two days. This mountain range which extends from the Pyrenees to the Atlantic is one of the most beautiful parts of Spain, and the Vuelta pays it a visit every year.
The riders will only climb the Salto de la Cabra to the town of Bejes, halfway up the full climb.
The final hairpins leading to the finish in Bejes
Not a bad place to watch a stage finish…
Stage 17 (mountain stage #6)
As it often does, the Angliru will probably decide who wins the Vuelta, and will almost certainly decide who the strongest climber in the tour is, and who wears the blue polka dots into Madrid. Fortunately, there are only two Category 1 climbs before the Angliru, which glancing at the profile above should show you the magnitude of just what this monster climb is.
There is a fun story behind this climb: this road was paved for the sole purpose of becoming a cycling climb. In the late 90s, the Vuelta organizers wanted their own Alpe d’Huez, Tourmalet, Stelvio, Ventoux. Thus, they decided to create a new road up the Pico La Gamonal mountain in the most scenic part of Spain, Las Ubiñas-La Mesa National Park.
But perhaps they got carried away, and made it too hard. This climb is so steep in places that the team cars have stalled. A team manager once said: "What do they want? Blood? They ask us to stay clean and avoid doping and then they make the riders tackle this kind of barbarity. Former Scottish pro David Millar famously stopped a half-meter short of the finish on Angliru and refused to cross the line in protest: "We are not animals and this is inhuman.”
The Angliru (#25 World) is one of the few world ranked climbs to ever be included in a Grand Tour. We presume that in general the race organizers in general stay away from climbs of this caliber of destruction to keep the riders more focused on racing. However, as we’ve learned, not the case for the Vuelta organizers!
Other world ranked climbs to be included in Grand Tours are:
# of times included
Vuelta a España
Colle delle Finestre
Vuelta a España
Alto de l'Angliru
Passo dello Stelvio
Croix de Coeur
Monte Grappa/Bocca di Forca
Tour de France
Col de la Loze
*Monte Crostis was scheduled to be in the 2011 Giro, but the stage was canceled.
Stage 18 (mountain stage #7
This is the last mountain stage (but not the last climbing stage - Stage 20 features over 14,000’ of climbing, and is only a “Hilly” stage!). 5 categorized climbs are certainly going to test the riders, 2 of those being Cat 1 climbs: Puerto San Lorenzo, and the Puerto de la Cruz de Linares, which is actually done twice. During this stage we’ll see who’s recovered from the Angliru the day before!
The Puerto San Lorenzo is the biggest climb of the day and the highest elevation
The riders will cross the summit of Puerto de la Cruz de Linares before circling back and doing the same climb from the same direction again. Brutal!