The parcours for the 2023 Vuelta a España will be announced in early January, but already a lot is known about the recorrido, with mythical climbs such as the Col du Tourmalet and Angliru set to take centre stage.
Moved back a week later than usual due to the earlier hosting of the Glasgow-held World Championships, the third and final Grand Tour of the year will begin in Barcelona on August 26 and finish in the Spanish capital of Madrid on September 17.
In between then, the race will head into the small nation of Andorra – home to dozens of pros and 21 different climbs – and then cross over the Pyrenees once again into France to tackle the mighty Tourmalet. The peloton will also ascend the famous Angliru, and perhaps even the Lagos de Covadonga in a demanding final week.
Race director Javier Guillén has been talking up the route ever since Remco Evenepoel won the 2022 edition, and the Spaniard recently told Europa Press that “it will be a very mountainous and international Vuelta… the route will be spectacular.”
He added: “It will be a Vuelta decided at the end – no one will be able to relax in the final [week]. We are working on a final stage that will break the profile of a classic mountain stage with so many climbs. It is planned that everything will be decided there. It will be a Vuelta that fans will like. The mountains are going to decide the Vuelta.”
Un inici català – a Catalan start
As previously announced, Barcelona will host the team presentation and the first two stages, with an opening stage team time trial around the Catalan capital getting things underway.
Stage two will take the peloton on a route around Barcelona and its surrounding landscape, before an uphill finish at Alto de Montjuic. The city climb is short at just 2.2km, but the final kilometre contains sections of over 10 percent, prompting GC riders to immediately mark their territory.
The third stage will begin in the province of Barcelona in an as-yet-to-be-announced town, but it has been confirmed to finish in the Principality of Andorra.
Whether or not the Vuelta will tackle a major climb so early in the race is yet to be seen. The ski stations of Arcalís and Arinsal represent the most likely mountain top finishes, having both been used in the past, but it is thought that the stage may end in the capital of Andorra la Vella. Either way, the stage will finish at an elevation in excess of 1,000m.
It doesn’t look likely that the Vuelta will hang around in Andorra for long, though, with the race resuming in Spain the following day for a predicted sprint finish in a town or city in the province of Tarrogana.
A la vallana muntanyosa – into hilly Valencia
All but a few of the men’s WorldTour teams are currently training in the community of Valencia, and they will be back in the region for the 2023 Vuelta.
It has been reported that the race will spend two stages in the province of Castellón, the favoured spot of Mathieu van der Poel, with one of Spain’s most mountainous areas offering a selection of appealing climbs for the race organisers to choose from.
Guillén has already confirmed that the seventh stage will take place in Valencia, although it is not yet known whether that will include the city itself or its surrounding towns and villages.
The second weekend is predicted to begin with a mountainous stage in Alicante, possibly finishing atop the climb of El Miserat. Never before used and only recently asphalted, it was Evenepoel’s benchmark steep climb during his preparation for the 2022 Vuelta. At 7.3km long and averaging over 9%, the final two kilometres see multiple ramps in excess of 17%.
Following that, it is thought that the race will conclude its journey down the east coast with a stage in the Murcia region, with more climbs expected to be on the menu.
El regreso al norte – the return to the north
There is conflicting reports as to where the Vuelta will spend its first rest day, and equally there is confusion as to how exactly the race will head back north in time for its second Pyrenean showdown.
Both the Sierras de Gredos and Guadarrama, often used in the race, could be used for a midweek mountain battle, while it has also been mooted that the race could pass through or close to Madrid.
What does look certain is that somewhere in the province of Huesca will wave the peloton off on a midweek stage that they will take on two French beasts: the Cols du Aubisque and Tourmalet.
It was originally planned that the 2020 edition of the race would finish atop the Tourmalet, but Covid disruption prevented that from happening. This time around, however, the Vuelta will head to one of cycling’s most famous passes, with the Aubisque acting as a leg-sapping warm-up.
The race won’t be staying long in France though, with the Port de Larrau – described by some as the toughest climb in the Pyrenees – forming part of what the organisers anticipate will be the Queen stage. The Piedra de San Martín climb is also expected to feature that day.
A stage – likely to be during the race’s third weekend – has been confirmed to begin in the city of Pamplona, with a finish likely to take place in Lekumberri, the race route possibly including a double ascent of the near-10km climb San Miguel de Aralar. The 2020 edition went up the same pass.
Una última semana durísima – a very hard final week
A second and final rest day will take place in Valladolid, the city that is situated in one of the flattest areas of the whole country. It’s therefore little surprise that the organisers will take advantage of the terreno llano to include a pan-flat time trial in around the city when the race resumes. It has been reported that the total distance will be 33km.
The race will then cross back over into the Cantabrian Mountains, with Guillén promising a variety of etapas, including Classic-like parcours to keep the peloton guessing and to force general classification drama.
It’s possible that one stage could finish at Fuente Dé, the site of Alberto Contador’s memorable 2012 win when he attacked more than 50km from the finish line.
While that remains uncertain, it looks increasingly probable that one stage will finish at Lagos de Covadonga, one of the race’s most mythical ascents, and one that it has visited frequently. It also seems likely that the climb’s closest town, Cangas de Onís, will act as a stage start.
That will be a precursor to the showstopper that is Angliru. Often touted as the hardest climb in professional cycling, with a seven kilometre section averaging no less than 13.8%, Britain’s Hugh Carthy memorably won atop the Asturian beast in 2020, the last time the race visited.
Following that dramatic conclusion – likely to take place on the final Saturday – the race will then head to Madrid for a processional stage around the capital’s streets.
The full route will be unveiled on January 10, 2023.