The Spanish Vuelta

This international cycling race takes place each year in Spain, over three weeks in September. Find out more about the race and its history, how the teams work, the meaning of the various jerseys and the route map for this year...

The 2014 Vuelta will be the first to finish outside of Madrid since 1993. It starts in the city of Jerez de la Frontera in southwest Spain on 23 August and finishes in the northwestern Galician capital Santiago de Compostela on 14 September. It will feature 21 stages with a total distance of about 3181.5 miles. The final stage will consist of a 10 Km long individual time-trial ending at Plaza del Obradoiro.

What is the Vuelta?

The Vuelta Ciclista a España (Cycling Tour of Spain) is a grueling professional cycling race that takes place across Spain in daily stages over three weeks. There are 21 stages with two rest days taken during the course of the race. Since 1994 the race has always finished in Madrid. Occasionally the race dips into other countries. It is considered one of the three Grand Tours in cycling, along with the Tour de France and the Giro d’Italia.

The rider with the lowest overall time at the finish is the winner of the race and is awarded the winner's jersey. Time bonuses are given to a certain number of front finishers on non time-trial stages.

A Brief History of the Vuelta

Begun in the spring of 1935, the Vuelta was created to serve as an advertising tool for the Spanish newspaper Diario Informaciones. At the time, riders were using heavy bikes which were generally unsuitable for rough roads and climbing. If a bike was damaged, the rider had to repair it themselves or find a substitute bike, with some riders being forced to finish on bikes borrowed from spectators.

The first Vuelta started and finished in Madrid, with the riders covering a grueling 3,425 Km (2,128.2 miles) in 14 stages over 17 days, with one punishing stage 310 Km (192.6 miles) in length. Of the 50 riders that started, only 29 finished.

Today the race takes place late in the race season and is considered by most top riders to be an important preparatory race for the World Championships which take place in October.

The Basics of the Vuelta

Tactics and Techniques

Though the race is won by an individual, the tactics of that individual's team are vital to his success. Each rider is chosen for their individual strengths: one is chosen as team leader, some are sprinters, some are steady for long distances, some are climbers. The job of these doméstiques is to ensure their team leader does well and is protected from dangerous situations.

As cycling is done at high speeds, crashes are a relatively common occurrence. Teams will try to place their leader in a position within the péloton (main group of riders) that will keep him out of harm's way. Team directors must anticipate dangerous situations and advise the team.

Aerodynamics is an extremely important aspect of cycling. Bikes, clothing and equipment are designed to have as little "drag" as possible, much like an aeroplane, meaning that as they move through the air there is as little wind resistance as possible. Along these same lines, drafting is used extensively in cycling. If two riders are riding one in front of the other, the rider in front will use much more energy (up to 40 percent more) than the rider in back due to wind resistance. This means that the rider in back will have more energy to use later, such as in a sprint situation or when climbing up a mountain. The doméstiques work to protect the team leader (who is a good all-around rider), so he can conserve his energy for the right moment.

An objective of every team is to get another team to do as much work as possible, while conserving their own energy for when it's needed.

In team time trials, the entire team shares the workload. They ride in a single-file line and the first rider peels off the front at certain intervals and slowly falls back to the end of the line. Throughout the course of the time trial, this rotation happens over and over again.

Jerseys

Different coloured jerseys are awarded at the end of each stage to the following:

  • The rider with the lowest accumulated time overall
  • The rider with the most points accumulated overall
  • The best overall climber
  • The best combination rider

The recipients wear their awarded jersey during the next stage.

The assigned jersey colours have changed several times over the years. The leaders jersey was gold in recent years, however for 2010 the jersey, designed by Spanish design house Custo, is red.

  • Red jersey (maillot rojo; formerly the gold jersey or maillot oro): The leader of the general classification at the end of each stage is awarded this jersey.
  • Green jersey (maillot verde): The rider who has accumulated the most sprint points over the course of the race is awarded the green jersey.
  • Blue polka-dot jersey (maillot lunares azules): The blue polka-dot jersey is awarded to the best climber or “King of the Mountains” (KoM).
  • White jersey (maillot blanco): The white jersey is awarded to the rider with the best ranking in the general classification, the points tally and KoM classification.

Race Etiquette

Although this is a race, certain unofficial courtesies are followed by most riders.

It is considered unsportsmanlike to attack in the following situations:

  • When food and drinks are being picked up in designated feed zones
  • While a rider is relieving himself
  • When a leading rider has a mechanical problem and must stop to exchange bikes or change a tire
  • When the stage comes through a rider's hometown, the rest of the péloton will generally allow that rider to lead as the race comes through. The péloton will also generally allow a rider to lead the race for a short time on his birthday.

Attending the Race

The Vuelta a España website has maps and time schedules (some information is in Spanish only) that detail when the first riders can be expected through certain points on the course, depending on their estimated speed. Local roads will be closed as the race comes through; contact local traffic police or the tourism office for expected closure times.

When referring to the published race schedule it's helpful to know that each regular (non time-trial) stage begins with a “neutral start (salida neutralizada)”, with the riders slowly cycling for a short distance before the real start of the clock and race.

Race-viewing tips

Many spectators bring a picnic lunch to enjoy on the side of the road as they wait for the cyclists to ride through. The roads the riders will take will be closed anywhere from one day to a few hours before the race comes through, therefore it is important to get situated for viewing well in advance.

It is very important to stay well clear of the roadway as riders come through so as not interfere with their movement (riders have had their careers ended by injury and spectators in the road have been killed in collisions with cyclists).

Interesting Notes

  • The Vuelta was suspended during the Spanish Civil War and World War II
  • In early Vueltas it was not unusual for riders to take refreshment breaks that included cigarettes and alcoholic cocktails
  • In 1968, terrorists detonated a bomb during the race along the road to Pamplona; no riders or bystanders were injured
  • Tony Rominger of Switzerland (1992-1994) and Spanish rider Roberto Heras (2000, 2003, 2004) have the most number of wins by a rider
  • Miguel Indurain, legendary Spanish rider and five-time winner of the Tour de France, was never able to win a Vuelta a España

Further Information

  • For results, information and viewing options for the Vuelta from Steephill Bike Travelogue: Click here