As has become tradition in recent years, La Vuelta once again features a variety of summit finishes, mostly with minimal difficulties before the final climb. Against expectations however, is the absence of the super-steep ‘Rampas Inhumanas’, that have been the face of the Vuelta for many years. The only exception to this is the climb to Les Praeres, which is immensely steep, but very short, making big gaps unlikely. The majority of climbs are of consistently moderate gradient, which gives an advantage to the heavier and more aero GC riders rather than the featherweight climbers.
For serious time gaps to occur, the race relies on the TTT, ITT and particularly the Queen Stage, which features a new ascent to Sierra Nevada at 2509m, beginning with the hellish Hazallanas climb.
In this article we will preview the most important climbs of the La Vuelta a España 2022, with previous performances, expected watts and predictions on which riders each climb is suited towards. All watts and times are calculated using standard values for wind, draft, temperature and etalon weight of 60kg.
Pico Jano, Stage 6
The ascent to Pico Jano is one of the new climbs of La Vuelta and also symbolic of the overall theme of the parcours. The 12,4km at 6,66% average should not strike fear into any serious contender, but with a 1,5km flat section between 6km and 4,5km to go and the last part of the climb being 4,2km at 6,83%, making serious gaps is a practically impossible task.
With little time gain reward on offer for a GC team chasing a break all day and Jumbo-Visma’s ambivalence to Roglic first week Vuelta stage wins, we will likely see a classic first mountain stage of a Grand Tour, with a large breakaway taking the stage as well as the red jersey. Possible contenders for this include Jay Vine, Rein Taaramae, Jan Hirt, Bob Jungels, Thibaut Pinot or Mark Padun.
The GC contenders meanwhile will not go all out and a rather large group of favourites will arrive. It is of course still possible that a few of the big names will drop completely on this day, as not all of them will have arrived in top shape for this Vuelta. Last year for example, Jack Haig, who would eventually finish third overall, and Richard Carapaz, both lost over a minute on the first summit finish to Picon Blanco, but that was a much harder proposition than Pico Jano.
W/KG Prediction: 6,10w/kg ~ 30’12min – 24,63km/h – 1641 VAM
Colláu Fancuaya, Stage 8
La Vuelta presents yet another new climb as the second summit finish of the race. The 10,2km long and 7,88% steep Collau Fancuaya does not look like a particularly hard climb, but with this being the third hardest ascent of the race, some climbers will be desperate to create gaps. The climb is really suited to Roglic who has won numerous stages with a punchy attack on steep gradients at the end of climbs, such as Moncalvillo in 2020.
Despite this, with Roglic already having an advantage from the team time-trial, the lighter climber teams like Movistar (Mas), Bora (Hindley), Astana (Lopez) or BikeExchange (Yates) must try to test the Slovenian whilst questions about his shape remain after his recent abandonment of the Tour de France.
Just like on most stages in the first week, the breakaway should once again have a good chance on this stage and it will certainly be targeted by the climbers hoping for a stage win.
W/KG Prediction: 6,30w/kg ~ 27’49min – 22,00km/h – 1734 VAM
Les Praeres, Stage 9
The ascent to Les Praeres is the only Rampas Inhumanas climb of this year’s Vuelta. Despite the obvious difficulty of the 3,77km long incline at 13,29%, the gaps are unlikely to be massive. This can be seen by looking at the 2018 Vuelta, when eight riders finished within 30 seconds, as Simon Yates set the climbing record of 15’22min at 6,67w/kg.
Whilst the Briton lines up at La Vuelta 2022 for the first time since his victory in 2018, he will not be the favourite on this finish as Primoz Roglic is consistently reaching an immense level on steep 15min w/kg tests over the last three years (Superga, Almachar, Puy Mary). The last rider to beat Roglic on such a ramp was Alejandro Valverde on Mas de la Costa in 2019, when he outkicked Roglic to take his last Vuelta stage win.
The big question mark is Remco Evenepoel, who has struggled on steep gradients in stage racing this year in Tirreno Adriatico and the Basque Country. However in the one-day Clasica San Sebastian, he dropped Simon Yates on the steep Erlaitz climb and with such shape he could possibly even challenge Primoz Roglic on this finish.
W/KG Prediction: 6,80w/kg ~ 15’09min – 14,93km/h – 1984 VAM
Peñas Blancas, Stage 12
A finish on Peñas Blancas is nothing new for La Vuelta, but this year’s 19km climb at 6,56% is an extended version of the previously used ascent. Leopold König managed to take the stage to Peñas Blancas in 2013, but gaps between the main GC riders did not eventuate, as the low gradient, low altitude and easy stage before the climb punishes aggressive racing more than defensively sitting in the draft. However with the added 4,3km compared to 2013, it might be possible to create gaps this year, as the climb is expected to take over 45 minutes. The longer a climb is, the better for Miguel Angel Lopez, who always attacks if he feels good, even on unsuitable terrain or shallow gradients. On Pico Villuercas last year, 14,4km at 6,3%, he attacked Roglic for a meagre four seconds with Kuss and Kruijswijk pacing behind, limiting any time gain.
The same situation could play out on Peñas Blancas, with no GC contender wanting to offer up a draft to a rival and several teams likely to still have domestiques available to chase deep into the climb. As draft still plays a big role here, tactical games with multiple leaders becomes more viable, like on the similar, but certainly harder climb to La Plagne (Dauphine 2021), when INEOS played the double leader strategy to perfection and managed to place Richie Porte in the leader’s jersey after he attacked and dropped Mas and Lopez.
Another rider that should like this climb is Remco Evenepoel, who is known to thrive on longer efforts in time trials, so a 50min climb from sea level, with practically no fatigue before and a low gradient, which favours his aerodynamic climbing position, might be perfect for him.
On paper, Hindley, Lopez, Evenepoel or Roglic could release huge watts on this climb, but the stage is more likely to end in tactical games that slow down the climbing time, as it will be tough to make an attack stick.
W/KG Prediction: 5,70w/kg ~ 48’48min – 23,36km/h – 1533 VAM
Sierra de La Pandera, Stage 14
La Pandera is the only famous Vuelta climb featured this year, having been used six times since the turn of the century. After climbing the already tough Puerto de Los Villares, 10km at 5,5%, the riders will immediately hit the 7,45km long incline at 8,87%, followed by a rolling 1km to the finish in La Pandera. In 2017, the race instead approached instead from the south, with a longer period of rest before the final proper climb started.
Despite the obvious difficulty of 20km of pretty much continuous climbing and, at times, the double digit gradients, the gaps on this climb are historically below 30 seconds between the top contenders. When Roberto Heras set the climbing record of 21’47min (6,48w/kg) in 2002, four riders finished within 20 seconds and eights riders within 50 seconds. In 2017, Lopez attacked well before the rolling last kilometre but was only able to gain four seconds on a compact group of Kelderman, Froome, Nibali and Zakarin.
This could be explained by the easy stages with no difficulties preceeding the Los Villares -La Pandera combination this year and in the past.
Nontheless the climbers will try to make an impression here and a high w/kg performance can be expected, so the climbing record of Roberto Heras could well be broken. Once again, a peak form Roglic would ordinarily be the favourite for such a finish from the GC group with the kick to the line after a brief period of recovery in the final kilometre.
W/KG Prediction: 6,50w/kg ~ 21’40min – 20,62km/h – 1831 VAM
Sierra Nevada, Stage 15
The hardest Sierra Nevada ascent ever used – 22,1km at 6,96% to 2509m via Alto de Hazallanas. With the Purche climb before, this is, without a doubt, the Queen stage of this race.
The key to this climb is the narrow Alto de Hazallanas, which is the first 7,2km of the overall Nevada climb, averaging 9,81% and with a first four kilometre stretch at double digit gradients. If Remco Evenepoel is still in GC contention at this point in the race, the other teams should pace this section above threshold, as Evenepoel has struggled when temporarily put above threshold on steep gradients early on climbs. One example of this is the Tirreno Queen stage, where the Belgian dropped on the first ascent to Cippo Carpegna after Majka lifted the pace, before climbing it faster on the second ascent – still losing four minutes to Pogacar.
This section is obviously also key for all the other GC contenders, as dropping here likely means completely falling out of the fight for a top five GC result. After the Hazallanas, the rest of Sierra Nevada is rather shallow and huge gaps on this part do not seem likely between the top GC riders. With his time buffer from the time trials, Roglic is likely to let Lopez take the stage, while managing the GC situation behind to his closest rivals, similar to how the race played out on Col de la Loze (Tour de France 2020) or Alto d’El Gamoniteiru (Vuelta a España 2021).
W/KG Prediction: 5,90w/kg ~ 57’22min – 23,11km/h – 1610 VAM
Puerto de la Morcuera, Stage 20
Just like in 2020, the third week of La Vuelta is really light, with Stage 20 being only the second mountain stage of the week after the summit finish to the Alto del Piornal on stage 18 (13,2km; 5,68%), a climb which is too easy to make a huge impact on the overall GC.
Stage 20 is quite similar to last year’s final road stage, with multiple medium difficulty climbs that could lead to big time gaps if the right tactics are applied. The Puerto de la Morcuera is the penultimate and hardest climb of the day, making it the logical location to start long range moves for the podium or GC win. In 2019, the same stage, with an added descent from Navacerrada towards Becerril de la Sierra, was used. That stage proved that it is really difficult to escape on the 9,1km; 6,95% Morcuera climb.
Back then, Miguel Angel Lopez set the climbing record of 22’20min after multiple attacks, but was promptly brought back by the other GC contenders on the descent. To create serious gaps on this stage, multiple leaders rolling attacks with satellite riders up the road will be needed like Yates-Bernal and Mader-Haig did last year on Stage 20. If still in GC position, this should definitely be the play for INEOS and Bora-Hansgrohe with the Sivakov-Carapaz and Hindley-Kelderman combinations. The only exception to this teammate requirement could be Remco Evenepoel, who has proven himself capable of converting even small gaps to big time gain on soft parcours, with his long solo attacks against large groups almost more effective on terrain with medium mountain climbs, followed by flat sections, as is the case in this stage.
W/KG Prediction: 6,20w/kg ~ 22’30min – 24,26km/h – 1685 VAM
Puerto de Cotos, Stage 20
The way the Puerto de Cotos climb plays out heavily depends on the race scenario. If a GC rider has obtained a gap earlier, it could develop into a high speed chase for the Vuelta win. Unfortunately for the fans, if that does not happen the last climb of the race, with its 9,2km at 5,83% is not hard enough to create gaps and will likely end in start – stop attacking like last year’s final climb to Castro de Hermeville, when Adam Yates threw away the GC podium instead of setting a consistent tempo to distance Jack Haig.
On the 2019 stage, the passive scenario applied and Lopez, Valverde, Roglic and Majka set a rather slow climbing record of 20’55min, that should be broken this year.
After the top of the climb, a 7km ridge line remains, where the stronger rouleurs of the GC contenders, Roglic, Kelderman and Evenepoel, could decrease or increase a gap, depending on their position on the road.
W/KG Prediction: 6,30w/kg ~ 19’52min – 27,77km/h – 1619 VAM
After dissecting the climbs of La Vuelta 2022, the contrast to 2021 could not be more stark. Whilst we do have the monstrous Sierra Nevada stage, there is not the same proliferation of hard mountain top finishes throughout the three weeks, such as Velifique, Picon Blanco, Gamoniteiru and Covadonga. This soft parcours makes any gains in the TTT and ITT even more important, as gaps on the climbs will be difficult to achieve and attackers harshly penalised for providing a draft to those with an already accrued time gain. For example, on Alto del Piornal riders save almost 0,5w/kg by sitting in the draft, given the speeds expected on such a climb.
This different parcours for a Vuelta makes Primoz Roglic and Remco Evenepoel the logical favourites for the overall win, but the question marks regarding Roglic’s recovery from his injury and Evenepoel’s stage race consistency could lead to an open and exciting race, with riders trying to gain back time in unexpected places.
Make sure to check in here during the race for watts estimations and articles on the various climbing performances over the course of the race.
Gabriel Stróżyk (@NaichacaCycling)