La Vuelta gave us another three weeks of amazing bike racing came to its climactic close in Madrid on Sunday, with Remco Evenepoel becoming the first Belgian in 44 years to win a Grand Tour. As always La Vuelta was full of thrills and spills, with some coming out looking better than others at the conclusion.
While we could give you a run-of-the-mill recap of the race looking at each stage and how they were won, we’ve decided to go down a different route and present you with La Vuelta of La Vuelta. Essentially we’re going to take you on a tour of Spain and the Netherlands through the lens of a bike race while still covering the most important aspects of the past three weeks of racing.
Utrecht and the Netherlands
The Grand Depart of this year’s race saw the riders set off from well outside of Spain, starting in the city of Utrecht and embarking on a short tour of the Netherlands for the opening three stages.
Utrecht is a city that is steeped in Medieval history, the centre of the city dating back to the 14th century. Its stunning canals provided an amazing backdrop to the opening stage that saw Jumbo-Visma lay down an early marker by winning the urban team time trial.
The city is also renowned for its religious artefacts due to the Museum Catharijneconvent being home to a large collection of Christian relics that hark back to the days of old. It certainly took a near godly performance by Sam Bennett to take the stage win on day two, marking a comeback for the Irish sprinter.
It was soon time to leave Utrecht though and head down to North Brabant and the small yet charming city of Breda, built on a confluence of the rivers Mark and Aa. It is also the home of a famous castle that was built during the Renaissance era, and now where Sam Bennett doubled up after a pan flat bunch sprint.
The Beautiful Basque Country
The Basque Country is one of the most eccentric and, in all honesty, rebellious regions in the whole of Spain. Its people have a wonderful cultural identity that sets them apart from the rest of the country and they’re extraordinarily enthusiastic cycling fans, making it a superb place to hold a bike race.
Stage 5 of the Vuelta saw the riders head into the medium mountains of the Basque Country. Naturally this resulted in a large breakaway escaping the bunch, and Spaniard Marc Soler seized the opportunity to take a brilliant solo victory after a stinging attack on the final climb, the Alto del Vivero.
The following day, the peloton set off from the city of Bilbao, which gave the travelling circus a night in the Basque Country to remember. Bilbao is a city of hills, seated in a valley surrounded by fantastic climbs, and it’s also a foodies’ paradise thanks to the selection of meats and cheeses on offer (Basque Cider is also something we’d recommend!).
It became an iconic day on the race too, with Jay Vine proving that he deserves his spot in the World Tour by taking victory atop the Pico Jano. Remco Evenepoel also wrestled control of the race on this day and never really looked like losing it.
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‘Sunning it up’ on the Costa Blanca
By the time the first rest day arrived, it was already apparent that this was going to be a particularly attritional edition of the race, and everyone needed a break in the Spanish sun. Thankfully for the riders, the rest day came as the race approached the Costa Blanca.
Of all the regions in this race, this may be the most familiar to British readers as it is home to the city of Alicante, just down the coast from Benidorm. While Benidorm is a tourist’s paradise, Alicante is much more reserved in its appeal which is one of its draws for cyclists. Being a port, there is a wide array of seafood on offer as well as plenty of history to discover.
Something that the Vuelta peloton will not have indulged in this time is the climb to the top of the Castillo de Santa Bárbara, which while tough, provides some priceless views of the Spanish coastline. Priceless is a very apt phrase to describe the result of the stage that finished in Alicante too.
Remco Evenepoel took his maiden Grand Tour stage win on the streets of Alicante following a superb individual time trial performance that put all of his rivals to the sword. There was no time for laying on the sun loungers though, as the race hurtled on through Spain.
It was into one of largest regions in Spain for second rest day in Jerez de la Frontera, but first the riders needed to earn this break with a trip into the Sierra Nevada. This venture into the visually awe-inspiring Andalusian mountains was always going to be a tough affair and it proved just that as Thymen Arensman managed to hold off a charging GC group to take a sublime stage win as Evenepoel once again defended the race lead.
The Sierra Nevada is a must-visit location for cycling fans. Not only does it have some of the best climbs in Spain within its borders, but it also has one of the most diverse biospheres in the country. The National Park stretches for over 85,000 hectares that contain everything from snow-capped peaks to gushing rivers, all of which will take your breath away.
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When the rest day arrived in Jerez you could forgive the teams for not paying much attention to their surroundings, instead focusing on recovery. Us fans could take in the sights and sounds of yet another lovely medieval city though and boy does Jerez deliver. The city is built around an 11th century fortress that still stands proud and is now a popular park.
If dancing is your thing, then Jerez is the place to be in Andalucía. The city is well-known for its Flamenco music that is sure to put you in the mood to boogie, and the locally produced sherry may do the trick too.
The majesty of Madrid
The traditional close of La Vuelta nearly always sees the riders take on a bunch sprint on the roads of the Spanish capital of Madrid. We may have visited the city many times over the years, but it never fails to amaze and inspire both the fans and riders.
After dominating the green jersey competition, it looked likely that Mads Pedersen would take the win on the final stage and reinforce his grip on green. This would not be the case though, as a totally unexpected winner emerged from the frenzy of the peloton. Juan Sebastián Molano was meant to be the lead-out man for Pascal Ackermann, however the German’s lack of speed was clear, and his Colombian teammate managed to hold off all comers to take a surprise victory.
Bathed in the moonlight of Madrid, Remco Evenepoel became a Belgian legend draped in the colours of a Spanish Matador as he won La Vuelta for the first time. It was also time to say goodbye to both Vincenzo Nibali and Spanish legend Alejandro Valverde as both came over the line in their final Grand Tour.
Maybe now Evenepoel could now relax and enjoy some Spanish tapas in the multitude of bars that fill the evening streets of Madrid, perhaps he could even wash it down with some sangria to celebrate this monumental moment in cycling history.
There we have it folks, the final Grand Tour of the season is complete, and we now have to wait for it to all start again at next year’s Giro d’Italia. If you’ve been inspired by some of the locations visited by this edition of the Vuelta, then make sure to take out cycling travel insurance with Yellow Jersey before making the trip