La Vuelta 2021
Held in Spain, La Vuelta is the third and final Grand Tour, and this year is no different. The 76th edition of the Spanish tour kicks off on 14 August in Burgos, capital of the Castilian province of the same name. Cycling is big in the province, and it hosts the Vuelta a Burgos race just a week before the Spanish Grand Tour. Riders have to conquer a total of 3,336.1 km spread over 21 stages and two rest days as they make a special kind of pilgrimage from Burgos to Santiago de Compostela. Even without stages in the Pyrenees this year, La Vuelta lives up to its reputation as arguably the most mountainous Grand Tour. There are eight flat stages, but two of them end with a shorter mountain finish. The rest of the race has four hilly stages and seven mountain stages, six of which end in summit finishes, while the finishing line for the other is only 5 km and a few metres in altitude below the final peak. Whoever wants to top the rankings at the end needs to be good at time trials as riders will need to race against the clock for a total of just under 42 km over the two time trial stages – one on the first day and one on the last day.
BORA – hansgrohe I bettiniphoto
An 8 km individual time trial kicks off the race, finishing in front of Burgos Cathedral. The first summit finish on the route takes place on the third day of a very diverse first week. Stages 7 and 9 will push the front runners: stage 9, the final one before the first rest day, features the highest point of the tour – the Alto Collado Venta Luisa (1,967 m) – and a summit finish on the Alto de Velefique in Andalusia (top category climb). The second week sees the riders make their way back from the south to the centre of the Iberian Peninsula. Stages 14 and 15 make for a real climber double-bill before the second rest day, which will be sorely needed as more top climbing action is still to come. Stage 17 includes a total of four climbs and ends with the Lagos de Covadonga, a picturesque and equally prestigious summit finish, part of the Vuelta route for the 22nd time since 1983. The following day sees another possible queen stage with another four climbs and a finish on the steep Alto d’El Gamoniteiru. It will start to be clear by this point who has a good shot at winning. After another two stages with slightly shorter climbs, the last day will be make or break for the winner, with the individual time trial from Padrón to the pilgrimage city of Santiago de Compostela.
The history of the Vuelta began 75 years ago and is dominated by a passion for cycling and Spanish culture. Inspired by the great successes of the Tour de France and the Giro d’Italia, Juan Pujol, owner of a Spanish newspaper, inaugurated the Vuelta in 1935. That year, 50 cyclists took on the 3,425 km route in just 14 days for the first time. Ten stages were in excess of 250 km, which seemed almost impossible if you look at historical bikes from the time. Save from a few interruptions, the Vuelta has been held annually since 1955. To establish itself alongside the other two major tours and make the race varied and interesting, new ideas have been repeatedly tried out. The aim was to live up to the reputation of a ‘Grand Tour’. Traditionally, the profile has always been rather undulating and particularly ideal for accomplished climbers.
In 1995, the international cycling association UCI changed the cycling calendar and moved the Spanish Tour from April to August. Unlike at the Tour de France, the special jerseys have changed colour from time to time. Currently, the overall leader wears the red ‘Maillot Rojo’, the leader of the points classification the green ‘Maillot Verde’ and the best climber the blue polka dot ‘Maillot Lunares’.
The BORA – hansgrohe line up
Twenty-nine professional cyclists from ten different countries in one team. Teamwork makes the dream work in cycling, after all. Even if only one of them is the first over the finish line, winning is a success for the whole team because you can’t win in cycling without domestiques who provide slipstreams, go grab water bottles (the so-called “bidons”), keep the competition at bay and lead out the sprinter for the sprint.
Teamwork is top priority in the BORA – hansgrohe team, that’s how they constantly develop, improve and become more successful. The team started in the third division in 2010, still under the NetApp team name, and was evolving and getting better all the time until it was promoted to the first division in 2017. Just two years later and with a total of 47 victories under its belt, the team advanced to the second-best team in the WorldTour division. Resting on laurels is out of the question; in the past two years, the team has been continuously developed, refreshed and also rejuvenated in order to remain competitive. In the process, the team took an unconventional approach and looked outside the box, by, for example, signing up a mountain biker and a ski mountaineer and also relying on many young talents.
23 teams with eight riders each compete in the major three-week-long Grand Tours. These include sprint stage specialists, all-rounders and naturally climbers and overall classification cyclists, who vie for the coveted overall victory. At BORA – hansgrohe Felix Großschartner is the man for the general classification, and he’s looking to reinforce his strong ninth place from last year. That means Maximilian Schachmann can go after the stage wins, while this race sees Anton Palzer, Ben Zwiehoff, and Jordi Meeus making their Grand Tour debuts.
Cece, as his teammates call him, hails from South Tyrol. Besides his native Italian, he also speaks German, English, French, some Spanish, and if they weren’t enough, Polish too since love brought him to Poland. This means that he can communicate with most of the riders in the peloton in their native languages. Cesare was one of the first riders who Ralph Denk recruited to his 2010 line up, a team that was in the third division and known as Team NetApp back then. Cece is one of the best and most loyal domestiques in the peloton. He gives it everything he’s got to help his team; he prefers to stay out of the spotlight. So, you can imagine how wild the cycling world went when this team player par excellence battled to win the 12th stage of the Giro d’Italia 2019. It was the first win in his professional career, and at one of the biggest and most prestigious races in the world. No one in the peloton would have begrudged Cece his win.
At 24 years old, Patrick may be one of the youngest rider on the whole BORA – hansgrohe team, but he’s definitely full of drive and fighting spirit. His two younger brothers are also strong cyclists, and the whole Gamper family are very sporty. His mum is a 15-time world skibobbing champion, and Patrick and his brothers also won several youth skibobbing championships. Hailing from Tyrol, the exceptionally tall Gamper loves the tough classics most of all, and he’s a skilled rider in time trials. He came fourth in the time trials on his home turf in the 2021 Austrian National Championship and a respectable third in the road race. So, it’s only a matter of time before Patrick clinches his first win as a pro.
The 27-year-old has been on the team since 2018 and is a proven mountain and overall classification specialist. Felix chalked up his first big win in 2019 when he won one stage and topped the overall standings at the Presidential Cycling Tour of Turkey. It wasn’t just his victory, it was also the first overall win at a large international tour for the BORA – hansgrohe team. A noteworthy 9th place at the Vuelta a España in 2020 also earned Felix international recognition. And in preparation for the Giro d’Italia, he has already been very attack-minded at the Tour of the Alps, finishing the final stage with an impressive solo victory. Felix is also open to other sports: he relaxes by playing golf and likes to ski in winter. We’re crossing our fingers that the roads remain clear during the Vuelta though so he won’t need his skills in the snow.
The 27-year-old Estonian joined the team in 2020. He has fast legs for sprints but also does well in the mountains. The Vuelta is his second Grand Tour, and he naturally wants to do himself proud. After all, he already proved what he’s capable of at the Tour of Slovakia in 2020, where he won two stages and the sprinter’s jersey. The pancake enthusiast and father of two has already achieved several sprinting wins and won the general classification at the 2015 Tour of Estonia. He’s looking to lead the sprint finishes at La Vuelta.
The 23-year-old Belgian sprinter joined the team in 2021, and he put on an impressive performance straight away. After achieving a strong fourth place at Nokere Koerse, he then clinched a stage win and earned a day in the yellow jersey at the Tour de Hongrie. He narrowly missed a podium finish at the Belgian National Road Race Championships, however, coming in fourth in a peloton of excellent riders. Standing tall at 190 cm, the Flemish rider particularly likes the family atmosphere at BORA – hansgrohe in combination with the team’s scientific approach. Now he’s making his Grand Tour debut in Spain in his first year as a pro, and he’ll be trying his luck in the sprint finishes together with Martin Laas.
From one of the most successful ski mountaineers to professional cyclist. Anton’s – or Toni’s – story, and everything else that goes with it, is anything but conventional. This combined with his cheery and open personality meant he attracted a lot of attention right from the start of his cycling career. Hailing from Bavaria, Toni is a nice guy who has fun cycling, and this joy is infectious. But he’s not in the peloton just for enjoyment, he can keep up really well, especially in the mountains, and he has just proven that in his first stage races. Now he’s also about to make his Grand Tour debut, and it will be interesting to see how he does. Whatever happens, he’s sure to bring the cheer!
Max has been on the starting line with team BORA – hansgrohe since 2019. The 26-year-old cyclist from Berlin had no trouble settling in, claiming six victories in his first year and bagging the title of German national champion. His second year started even more successfully: he achieved a stage and an overall win at the prestigious Paris–Nice “Race to the Sun”. And the third year? Defending his title at Paris–Nice and repeating his success as German champion, as well as achieving top results at the Tour de Suisse and at the challenging Tokyo road race, boosting his confidence and bringing him to the attention of cycling elites. He’s both the key domestique and the wild card at the Vuelta, and he has already clearly shown that he doesn’t shy away from big names. iVamos Max!
Ben went pro in 2021 and is one of several BORA – hansgrohe team members to have changed their careers to road cycling. Hailing from the Ruhr, the law student had realised that he could probably achieve more on the road than on his mountain bike. The team management was impressed by his phenomenal performance data, which Ben went on to reinforce with his spectacular results at his first challenging road stage race, demonstrating his climbing skills and proving to be a very valuable domestique. His long-term goal is to ride at the Tour de France one day, so his participation at La Vuelta a España is another step in the right direction towards realising his goal