La Vuelta a España, the Tour of Spain cycling road race, is used to being regarded as the little brother of the three Grand Tours of Europe, lacking some of the history and tradition of the tours of France and Italy. The fact remains, however, that La Vuelta has come a long way since its inaugural event in 1935 when a mere 50 riders covered the 14 stages of the race. Not only has the number of racers increased but, funnily enough, the sportsmen no longer take alcohol as their on course refreshment or borrow bicycles from members of the public when they crash their own!
The race was initially conceived by the owners of the daily newspaper, Informaciones, who had seen the impact the French and Italian tours had had on the circulation of L’Auto and La Gazzetta dello Sport respectively after they had sponsored races in their country. There was little continuity during the race’s early years as both the Civil War and the Second World War had their inevitable impact on sport. In fact, the race has been an annual event now since 1955. Originally the race was held during the spring but in 1995 it was changed to the beginning of September and that has become its permanent place on the calendar.
Spain, of course, has its fair share of mountains and therefore some difficult mountainous sections of the race, for example, the Alto de el Angliru in Asturias is an 8 mile climb to over 5,000 feet which, at Cueña les Cabres, has a gradient of 23.6% – one of the steepest in Europe. Such climbs tend to make la Vuelta a race which suits the climbing specialists in the field and often deters the more sprint-minded cyclists from participating.
As might be expected, Spain has produced by far the greatest number of winners of the final Maillot de Oro – the golden jersey which is the counterpart to the Tour de France’s yellow jersey. Similarly to other major tours, there are numerous other coloured jerseys to compete for; perhaps the most distinctive being that for the best sprinter – a blue jersey with a very fetching yellow fish, sponsored, needless to say, by Spain’s fishing industry.
Some of the sport’s most famous names have been among the winners of La Vuelta, including Bernard Hinault (France) in 1978 and 1983, Eddy Merckx (Belgium) in 1973, Tony Rominger (Switzerland) in 1992,93,94, and Jan Ullrich (Germany) in 1999. Spain’s own Roberto Heras was the champion in 2000, 2003 and 2004.
In the race’s biggest single doping controversy, Heras actually was originally declared the winner in 2005 but lost the title after testing positive for drugs.
Spaniards don’t need many excuses to have a party and, when La Vuelta is in the vicinity, they will take their flags and banners, camp by the roadside for the day, eat enough to feed a family for a week and cheer enthusiastically every time a cyclist goes past, especially a Spanish one. It’s a great day out!
For this year’s race itinerary see the La Vuelta de Espana website.
Recent Winners of La Vuelta
|2012||Alberto Contador||Spain||Saxo Bank-Tinkoff|
|2011||Juan José Cobo||Spain||Geox-TMC|
|2009||Alejandro Valverde||Spain||Caisse d\'Epargne|
|2004||Roberto Heras||Spain||Liberty Seguros|
|2003||Roberto Heras||Spain||U.S. Postal Service|
|2002||Aitor González||Spain||Kelme?Costa Blanca|
|2000||Roberto Heras||Spain||Kelme?Costa Blanca|