Among the many races on the 2020 road cycling season’s revamped calendar, La Vuelta Ciclista a España is amongst those which required the hardest work to accommodate given the Covid-19 pandemic and the requisite sanitary conditions. “It’s a brutal situation and we hope we can embody some hope and normality”, said Javier Guillen, Director General of Unipublic, who organises La Vuelta.
Guillen and his team are ready to welcome 176 participants to Irun, where the race will get underway on Tuesday. The Netherlands was originally supposed to host the start of the race, in Utrecht, but the Spanish Grand Tour’s Dutch trip has been pushed back (to 2022, most likely, while the 2021 edition is set to start from Burgos in the North of Spain). The world of cycling is thus headed to the Basque country for the first challenges of an 18-stage Vuelta (October 20th - November 8th).
The race organisers have also announced a series of restrictions to accommodate with the UCI and Spanish health protocols in order to fight the spread of the coronavirus. A public campaign was launched a week before the start, centered around the hashtag #LaVuelta20EnCasa: “La Vuelta 20 at home”.
La Vuelta follows guidelines similar to those displayed by Amaury Sport Organisation on the Tour de France, with a reinterpretation of what it means to support the race and the riders in 2020: “2” essential gestures (wear a mask and wash hands), “0” selfies, “2” metres of distance and “0” autographs. Many areas will be restricted, including the teams’ parking, all the high-altitude finales and a few other climbs.
“These restrictions, already important today, may be modified in accordance with the evolution of the situation over the coming days”, the organisers warn, while encouraging the fans to follow the race live on TV, on the web and on social media. To sum it up: “Help us to protect La Vuelta, please, stay home.”
The riders and everyone involved in the race will also be closely monitored, with isolated bubbles and steady testings. A team will have to leave the race if two riders are tested positive for Covid-19 within a 7-day period.
Late racing and lots of fighting in sight
“Working with new dates implies a lot of logistic changes”, Javier Guillen explained at the end of April. With the lockdown imposed in many countries at the time, including Spain, and everyone working on a new calendar and new protocols, the organisers of La Vuelta were preparing for major challenges while celebrating the 85th anniversary of the Spanish Grand Tour, whose first edition began on April 29th, 1935.
Through the times, La Vuelta has occupied different places in the calendar. Since it was moved towards the end of the Summer, in 1995, it has remained a stronghold for Spanish riders but also attracted the champions of the Giro d’Italia and the Tour de France for the final Grand Tour battle of the season. In 2020, the Corsa Rosa overlaps with La Vuelta, and Sunday 25 October will offer a superb double header with the closing ITT in Milano while the contenders of the Spanish Grand Tour face a summit finish atop the Col du Tourmalet.
Among those contenders, we’ll see stars of the Tour de France, some looking for more success, others for redemption. Winner of the 2019 La Vuelta, Primož Roglič (Jumbo-Visma) is set to ride the Spanish Grand Tour again, a few weeks after he saw his Tour de France dreams slip away from him on the eve of the finish in Paris.
The Slovenian star has won his first Monument, Liège-Bastogne-Liège, since then, and he’s coming to Spain with a very strong team, including the winner of the 2017 Giro d’Italia, Tom Dumoulin. The Dutch champion discovered his abilities for stage races when he only lost the overall leader’s red jersey to Fabio Aru on the penultimate stage of La Vuelta 2015.
The yellow and black train of Jumbo-Visma will reignite its opposition with the riders from team Ineos Grenadiers, who are facing a season without a Grand Tour success for the first time since 2014. After Egan Bernal and Geraint Thomas’ abandons on the Tour de France and the Giro d’Italia, Richard Carapaz will lead the British squad alongside Chris Froome, riding his first three-week race since his career-threatening crash at the 2019 Critérium du Dauphiné.
They will face another couple of riders who were very unfortunate in the last Tour de France: Groupama-FDJ’s climbing duo of Thibaut Pinot and David Gaudu, who were able to care for their injuries and will mostly aim for fun on the Spanish roads. Pinot knows how to do it - he took two stage wins when he last rode La Vuelta, in 2018.
The Irish sprinter Sam Bennett (Deceuninck-Quick-Step) also won two stages of La Vuelta, last season. And he’s coming back with an impressive supporting cast to hunt victories (Archbold, Mørkøv, Stybar, Bagioli…). It all promises major battles. The wait is almost over!