ISN’s first Vuelta a Espana: The Big Preview

VUELTA A ESPAÑA
October 20 – November 8, 2020

The unusual COVID-19 season continues, as we now head to Spain and the Vuelta in late October. Will the pandemic play a role? Will the weather play a role? Who knows – we certainly don’t! But we assume there will be a lot of exciting action in this race, which is definitely one for the climbers.

The Vuelta has bounced around the calendar over the years. Originally held in late spring, it was moved to early autumn, and now – due to unusual circumstances – to late autumn. It is also only 18 stages this year, and starts on a Tuesday, instead of the usual Saturday.

So not only is it the first Grand Tour to be held in October, the first to start on a Tuesday (as far as we know), and so on, it is also a first for Israel Start-Up Nation in many respects. Our first Vuelta ever! The first Vuelta for five of our riders, and the very first Grand Tour at all for four of them.

It’s a “last” too – Rory Sutherland is riding his last Vuelta, his last Grand Tour, his last race for Israel Start-Up Nation, in fact his very last race ever, as he heads into retirement.

Race organizers have spared nothing in planning an exciting and challenging shortened course. Of the 18 stages, there are only four flat stages! Even the individual time trial, which is 90% flat, ends atop a Cat. 3 climb.

Our goals in Spain? “The main goal is to win stages. We will fight for that, and we need to choose the proper stage for each rider,” says Sport Director Oscar Guerrero.

“But this doesn’t mean that we will not have an eye on the GC. We want to see how the first week goes for Dan Martin, how his shape is. After the Queen stage (stage 6), with three big climbs of Portalet, Aubisque, and Tourmalet, we will see the real picture of the race – whether we continue fighting for the GC or go only for stages.”

THE TEAM

As in the Tour de France, we will be led by veteran Dan Martin, who says he is in excellent form. He will be supported by an interesting combination of veterans and Grand Tour debutants: Rory Sutherland, Reto Hollenstein, Omer Goldstein, Mihkel Räim, Matteo Badilatti, Alexis Renard and James Piccoli.

“The season has been nonstop for me since the restart, but I’ve always had the Vuelta in the back of my mind, especially after my injury just before the Tour,” Dan said. “It was always our plan to come to the Vuelta so I’m excited and mentally prepared for the next three weeks.”

“I got my first Grand Tour stage win and my first top ten on GC at the Vuelta ,so it’s a race I have very good memories of. We have a really fun team and I’m just looking forward to racing again. There are a lot of stages that suit me and I’m feeling good. I would love to get a stage win and then see what we can do on the GC.”

Rory and Reto will be the top domestiques and helpers for Dan, keeping him out of the wind in the flat and doing what they can in the mountains. James and Matteo, tackling their first Grand Tours, will be Dan’s main support in the mountains.

Mihkel is our man for the sprints. Omer and Alexis will help out where they can, and all the riders will have their chances to get into a breakaway and go for a stage win.

“I’m very excited to race in my first Grand Tour, and I waited a long time for it. It’s big challenge but also a great opportunity to prove myself before the end of this season. I’ve had a strong preparation so far and a good calendar of racing, so I think I’m ready,” Omer said.

“My personal goal is to get into some breakaways and try to take the win from there. I also really want to help Dan in the GC and do the best for the team.”

DAN MARTIN

Our Irish veteran is by far the team member with the most experience at the Vuelta. This is his seventh participation, he finished seventh overall in 2014 and won a mountain stage in 2011.

Oscar: “Dan is our leader. The goal is to go for stage wins, but we will see if he is also able to fight for a top GC placing.”

RORY SUTHERLAND

This is Rory’s last race! And as long as his career has been, it is hard to believe that this is only his third Vuelta. We know we can count on our Australian to go out in style.

Oscar: “As a domestique, his role is to support Dan every day, as much as possible, in the flat and part of the climbs.”

RETO HOLLENSTEIN

This is the second Vuelta for our Swiss rider, who has put in a full schedule the second half of the season. Perhaps he will cast an eye on the time trial?

Oscar: “Another domestique, who will do all he can for Dan.”

OMER GOLDSTEIN

One of our Grand Tour and Vuelta debutantes! The Israeli will definitely look to join the right break group – but his main goal will be to help the team and arrive at the final stage in Madrid.

Oscar: “It is his first Grand Tour, so he needs to learn what it is like. He will work for the team, and in the last two weeks he will have a few options to be in a breakaway and fight for a stage win.”

MIKHEL RÄIM

Our Estonian sprinter is finally tackling his first Grand Tour! The second half of the season got off to a rough start for him, as he broke a bone in his hand in the Tour of Sibiu, but he has bounced right back.

Oscar: “He is our sprinter for this race. We will help him as much as possible to get a win in the few sprint stages. In the other stages, he will protect Dan in the flat.”

MATTEO BADILATTI

This is the first Grand Tour for our Swiss climber. He’s another prized helper who has put in a full schedule the second half of the year, both of one-day and stage races. He finished the Sibiu Tour on the podium, as third overall.

Oscar: “We will be counting on him in the mountains, to be there to help Dan. In the last two weeks, maybe he can try to get in a break group and fight for a stage win.”

JAMES PICCOLI

James will be representing the Canadian roots of our Israeli team in his first Grand Tour. As a climber, he has a very important role in supporting Dan on the numerous mountain and hilly stages in Spain.

Oscar: “He will need to learn how to deal with a three-week Grand Tour as it goes along, while also filling the role of Dan’s main helper in the climbs. James will also have options to get into a break in the last weeks.”

ALEXIS RENARD

This will be a learning experience for the “baby” on the team – it is the first three-week race for our 21-year-old Frenchman. His job description will be helping the team where he can and surviving!

Oscar: “Another Grand Tour newcomer, who must learn how to cope with the strains of a three-week race. As a domestique, he will work for the team, and then look for a chance in the last weeks of the race.”

THE STAGES

STAGE 1, IRUN – ARRATE.EIBAR, 173 km

Starting off with a bang! Flattish for the first 70 km then three Cat. 3 climbs, and a mountaintop finish – on the very first stage. A real challenge and a chance for the GC candidates to show their stuff early.

STAGE 2, PAMPLONA – LEKUNBERRI, 151.6 km

It doesn’t look hard at all – until the final 25 km or so. The climb up the San Miguel de Aralar has some less-than-ideal road surfaces, and tis followed by a fast and we hope not too dangerous descent to the finish line.

STAGE 3, LODOSA – LA LAGUNE NEGRA-VINUESA, 166.1 km

Almost all uphill today, with a Cat. 3 climb in the middle and a Cat. 1 mountaintop finish. We will look for a break group to make it to the end today.

STAGE 4, GARRAY.NUMANCIA – EJEA DE LOS CABALLEROS

A very long but gentle descent from 1100 m to 250 m at the halfway point, then relatively flat until the finish. The men with the fast legs – if they have survived the first three stages! – will be eager to show their stuff in the first bunch sprint.

STAGE 5, HUESCA – SABIÑÁNIGO, 184.4 KM

What a surprise, we’ll be climbing again today. It is bumpy up until the final 70 km, then we have three climbs in a row before gliding into a flat finish. We don’t look for the sprinters to take this one, though.

STAGE 6, BIESCAS – COL DU TOURMALET, 136.6 km

An old and familiar friend makes an appearance today – weather permitting! Into France we go, for first the Cat. 1 Alto del Portalet, then the HC Col d’Abisque and topping it off with a climb up the HC Tourmalet! Nothing but ups and downs, strong climbers, and a large grupetto….

STAGE 7, VITORIA-GASTEIZ – VILLANUEAVA DE VALDEGOVIA, 159.7 km

A rest day for those tired legs yesterday, and now they need to climb again. Today they face not one but two climbs up the Cat. 1 Alto de Orduña – and this could well be a make-or-break day for GC candidates.

STAGE 8, LOGROÑO – ALTO DE MONCALVILLO, 164 km.

Yes, you guess right, more mountains. The closing climb “is much harder than it looks”, with gradients of 13-14% in the final three kms. Fall back here and you can bury your GC dreams.

STAGE 9, B.M. CID CAMPEADOR.CASTRILLO DEL VAL – AGUILAR DE CAMPOO, 157.7 km

A flat stage! The sprinters will be happy for this rare opportunity. A break group will surely get away with high hopes for the win, but you can bet the sprinters’ teams will do their best to make sure that doesn’t happen.

STAGE 10, CASTRO URDIALES – SUANCES, 185 km.

The second consecutive flat stage! Pure joy for the sprinters! Well, there’s maybe a few things they should look out for. A Cat. 3 climb about two-thirds of the way through will be the perfect launching pad for a break group, and then the finale is a 2 km rise with a 5% gradient – just enough to possibly cause problems for those “pure” sprinters.

STAGE 11, VILLAVICIOSA – ALTO DE LA FARRAPONA.LAGOS DE SOMIEDO, 170 km

Enough of these easy flat stages, we are back into the mountains! Things start easily with a Cat. 3 climb topping out at kilometer 10, but then we face four Cat. 1 climbs. For the last half of the race there is nothing but ascending and descending, with, of course, a mountaintop finish.

STAGE 12, LA POLA LLAVIANA/POLO D LAVIANA – ALTO DE L’ANGLIRU, 109.4 km

Is there a word that strikes more fear into cyclists’ hearts than “Angliru”? With two Cat. 3 and two Cat. 1 climbs plus the HC Angliru mountaintop finish, this stage is short but anything other than sweet. Why is the closing climb so feared? Well, the many sections of gradient over 20% may well have something to do with that. Good luck to all who must keep an eye on the time limit today!

STAGE 13, MIRADOR DE EZARO, DUMBRÍA, 33.7 KM

The previous day was a desperately needed rest day, to recover both physically and mentally from the challenging Angliru. And hopefully today’s individual time trial will be a bit easier – even if it does, inevitably, involve climbing. Much of the course follows the coastline, so there is a good chance of wind. And just to add to the fun, the final 1.5 km is a Cat. 3 climb.

STAGE 14, LUGO – OURENSE, 204.7 KM

This stage is described only as “hilly”, which the profile would seem to support. Three Cat. 3 climbs and what little flat terrain there is comes between hills in the last half of the day. We are calling this a day for a break group to make it to the end.

STAGE 15, MOS – PUEBLA DE SANABRIA, 230.8 KM

A super-long stage today, and once again “hilly”. Five Cat. 3 climbs and a winding terrain set this one up as a really tempting target for a break group. The race is starting to wind down, and this may be the only chance left for some riders to go for success.

STAGE 16, SALAMANCA – CIUDAD RODRIGO, 162 KM

We seem to have gotten stuck in the “hilly” stage program, but the riders probably prefer that to being stuck in the “mountain” stage program. Significantly shorter than yesterday’s stage, it still manages to contain a Cat. 2 and a Cat. 1 climb, plus, of course, very little flat anywhere at all.

STAGE 17, SEQUELS – ALTO DE LA COVATILLA, 178.2 KM

Yes, we have mountains again in this penultimate stage. From start to finish we have Cat. 1, Cat. 3, Cat. 3, Cat.3, and Cat. 2 before topping it all off with a finish atop the HC Covatilla. 13.3 km long and gradients up to 16% may not sound like fun but will bring back fond memories to Dan Martin, who won here in 2011!

STAGE 18, HIPÓDROMO DE LA ZARZUELA – MADRID, 124.2 km

At last, the long-awaited final stage! And a flat stage which deserves the title of flat. Only one sprinter will gain the glory of winning in the Spanish capital city, and only one rider will claim the red jersey atop the final podium, but everyone who has made it this far can be celebrated.

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