Stage 1 – The team time trial is back after two years. It will decide the first red jersey of the race and set the tone for the first week of the race. It is short enough that it shouldn’t have a big impact on the final general classification (GC) standings but will likely prevent a big fight for the red jersey until stage 4 at least. The Vuelta only has 31km of individual time trial so I don’t think and individual prologue should have been out of the question.
Stages 2 & 3 – Flat stages in the Netherlands. They will surely be exciting stages for the passionate Dutch fans which will help engage the TV audience for the inevitable sprint finishes.
Stage 4 – The race goes back to Spain after a rest day for a stage that is the first opportunity to disrupt the time gaps of the team time trial. The Puerto de Herrera isn’t a particularly difficult climb but, at 16km from the finish, might be enough for a small group of riders to escape and fight for the win amongst themselves.
Stage 5 – The second half of this stage shouldn’t be taken lightly, not even by GC contenders. After three 3rd category climbs in short succession the peloton will twice go over the Alto del Vivero, a short but steep, 2nd category climb. Since this is still in the beginning of the Vuelta a lot of riders will be separated by very small margins which means that the red jersey will probably be up for grabs. Riders are still fresh so the second half of this stage might be ridden at a high pace. If this is the case, GC contenders need to take the Alto del Vivero seriously, otherwise they may lose valuable time.
Stage 6 – I don’t understand the need to put big mountain stages in the first week but, to the Vuelta’s credit (and unlike the Giro), at least this isn’t a standalone mountain stage sandwiched between flat stages. This is the beginning of the fight for the red jersey. The riders should still be fresh and the Pico Jano is not the most difficult climb so I don’t anticipate a lot of time gaps between the main contenders. Regardless, we will surely see who is at the Vuelta to win it.
Stage 7 – Flat stage with a massive mountain in the middle. Since this is the end of the first week, it will be interesting to see which sprinters can get through the 1st category climb and if their teams will be able to catch the breakaway and give them a change at victory.
Stage 8 – Again I don’t think the approach to the final climb is difficult enough to create the top contenders major difficulties at this point of the race. The final climb is steeper than the one on stage 6 and, even though it’s only stage 8, I believe this is the point where the riders will start feeling the accumulation of fatigue that makes the late-second and third weeks of Grand Tours so tough. Probably not major differences, but the the group of riders fighting for the red jersey will be reduced even further.
Stage 9 – Again the approach to the final climb is not as difficult as it should be to make differences. Though by this point fatigue will start to play a part, the approach and the final climb are just too “easy” and short for differences to be made among the top contenders. In 2018, stage 14 finished at the same climb and the difference between 1st and 5th on the stage was a mere 7 seconds. Interestingly, though, that was the stage where Simon Yates got back his red jersey. A jersey he wouldn’t surrender until Madrid.
Stage 10 – Individual time trial after the second rest day. By this point of the race this will probably be the stage that puts the most distance between the top contenders. Alicante is a coastal town in the southeast of Spain so winds might be a problem for the climbing specialists. Other than that the fact that this is an easy, flat time-trial will be a bonus to specialists but a harsh day for the climbers.
Stage 11 – Flat stage. Will the sprinters’ teams still have the numbers and the power to bring this one to a bunch sprint?
Stage 12 – Weird stage. (Mostly) flat stage that finishes in a 20km, 1st category mountain. In 2013 Leopold Konig won stage 8 here. Not a lot of differences were made that day and I don’t a lot of differences will be made he either. Easy stage for the red jersey’s team to control.
Stage 13 – Same as stage 11. The course is flat enough that a couple of sprinters’ teams will be able to control the race and bring it to a bunch sprint.
Stage 14 – Similar to stage 12 but, in this case, the approach to the final climb is certainly tougher. At the end of the second week fatigue definitely plays a role and the Sierra de la Pandera is an iconic climb that will put even the top contenders in difficulty. This is where I think the Vuelta a España will really start being decided. From now on, there might not be the opportunity to make up for any lost time.
Stage 15 – The queen stage, in my opinion. Relatively short but with a difficult approach and hellacious final climb. Given how peculiar the third week of the Vuelta is (not as mountainous as we would have expected) I will take a chance and say that whoever owns the red jersey at the end of this stage will take it all the way to Madrid.
Stage 16 – Given how tough the first two weeks of the Vuelta are I don’t see many sprinters or sprinters’ teams being strong enough to contest a stage this late in the race. Still, this stage does come after a rest day (the third) which might mean that those sprinters and their teams are a bit fresher and willing to control the race.
Stage 17 – This looks like a breakaway stage to me. If the breakaway doesn’t have a lot of time to work with getting into the final climb I can see a combative GC contender trying to attack to gain time and potentially win the stage. I doubt any team wants to keep the breakaway in check all day to do this though.
Stage 18 – The second to last chance to make a difference in this Vuelta. The approach to the final climb is complicated which, coupled with the enormous fatigue the riders are feeling by now, makes for a very exciting final climb.
Stage 19 – This is a breakaway stage if I’ve ever seen one. No one will want to control it a stage like this. Too hard for sprinters (what will be left of them by this point) and too “easy” for GC contenders to make difference amongst themselves, this one will surely end with a breakaway win.
Stage 20 – And here we are. The final showdown between the favorites. It is a very tough stage, almost always contested above 1000m which is already tough in itself. Plus, the mountain passes and the weight of three weeks on top of the bike. All of this makes for a very difficult time for the riders. This is the only stage I see that can derail my stage 15 prediction.
Stage 21 – Champagne stage.
The Vuelta is my favorite Grand Tour. I love the dry landscapes, the heat, the mountains or the fact that it’s a “redemption” GT for a lot of riders.
For this years’ edition I like the introduction of three rest days. I wish one of the flat or two of the stages of the third week was moved up and replaced with one or two of the mountain or medium mountain stages of week 1. I don’t really see the purpose of high mountain stages in week 1. If the organization wants entertainment for TV purposes then just load some classics style stages at the end of the first week and make the leader’s jersey still up for grabs by that point. Still, as usual, this Vuelta’s profile has a lot of mountain finishes that will surely provide a fantastic TV product.
Again, from a purely competitive point of view I’d like to see more time trialling because I believe that the solo effort gauges crucial qualities that, in my opinion, a GT winner must have. Still, all GTs, not just the Vuelta, are moving away from it. It is not the msot exciting product for TV audiences. Hence, I will not complain too much about this.
To conclude, this is by far my favorite route of any GT for 2022. In the beginning of the season it’s always uncertain who will take part in the Vuelta so it’s pointless to speculate who could this route favor. The overwhelming amount of mountainous terrain compared to time trial certainly favors a climber. Then again, if the best time trialist is also one of the best climbers (as has been the case for the past three years) then even the climbers will be in a world of trouble.