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Vuelta a España 2020

The ‘Vuelta’ is traditionally the last of the three Grand Tours, and still will be even in this somewhat unusual year in which coronavirus has thrown the entire racing calendar into disarray. The 75th edition of the Spanish tour begins on 20 October and will involve a course that is three stages shorter than usual. The tour should have originally started in Utrecht, Netherlands, but the Dutch stages have been cancelled to simplify things. Instead, the Vuelta will set off from the cycling-mad Basque Country, which has produced sporting legends such as five-time Tour de France winner Miguel Induráin, who clocked up 91 professional victories but unfortunately never won the Spanish Grand Tour.

Starting in Irún, the race features 18 demanding stages through the north of the country before reaching the Spanish capital of Madrid, where the overall tour winner will be crowned after 2,882.8 km. The route includes not only four flat stages and a time trial but also five tough mountain stages, where, as usual, the peloton will be largely dominated by climbing specialists. Pure excitement is guaranteed! The organisers have come up with something very special for the 6th stage: the royal stage crosses into France and ends with a spectacular summit finish on the famous Col du Tourmalet. At 2,115 m, the iconic Pyrenean pass also marks the ceiling of the Vuelta, i.e. the highest point the cyclists will reach. Anyone looking to win the tour needs to be up with the leaders here… providing snow and ice do not put a spoke in the wheel and make the pass uncycleable, that is. A further highlight – and now quasi a trademark of the Vuelta – will be the climb up to the Alto de l’Angliru in Asturias. This has repeatedly featured in the route since 1999. Twenty-four percent climbs test the legs of the best climbers and are among the toughest in the entire cycling calendar.

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. The holding of this year’s event in October/November is likely to be a one-off.

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’.

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The BORA – hansgrohe line-up

Twenty-seven professional cyclists from nine different countries in one team. After all, teamwork makes the dream work in cycling. Even though only one of them can be 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 and grab water bottles, keep the competition at bay and lead out the sprinters in the sprint.

Teamwork is a top priority in the BORA – hansgrohe team; it’s how the team has constantly developed, improved and become more successful. The team started in the third division in 2010, still under the name Team NetApp, and constantly evolved and improved 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. The 2020 season was no ordinary one and, due to unfortunate crashes among other things, more challenging for the team than hoped. However, this naturally means that it is highly motivated to achieve success at the Vuelta.

Twenty-two 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.

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Pascal Ackermann

Whether at the Classics or in stage races, the 26-year-old German from Rhineland-Palatinate is always among the top favourites for stage victories on the flat. And he is setting out to build on his achievements from the Giro 2019 by winning such stages at the Vuelta. Pascal is heading for his second Grand Tour full of confidence as he has already proven at this year’s Tirreno – Adriatico that he deserves his place on the start line. He is also well aware that while many levers can influence his success, without a positive attitude and belief in yourself, you will never be the first to cross the finish.

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Felix Großschartner

The 26-year-old Austrian has been on the team since 2018 and is a proven mountain and stage race specialist. Felix chalked up his first major victory 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 an international tour for the BORA – hansgrohe team. This year, he has already taken in the Spanish air at the Vuelta a Burgos, where he celebrated a stage win. As such, he’s highly motivated for the Spanish Grand Tour.

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.

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Martin Laas

Like Ide Schelling, the 27-year-old Estonian only joined the team this season. He has fast legs for sprints but also does well in the mountains. The Vuelta is his first Grand Tour and he naturally wants to do himself proud. After all, he already proved that he’s in great shape at the Tour of Slovakia in September, where he won two stages and the sprinter’s jersey. Before heading to Spain, he’s replenishing his energy reserves at home with his family, ready to go all out.

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Jay McCarthy

The 28-year-old Australian has been part of the BORA – hansgrohe team for four years. With this year’s Vuelta his seventh Grand Tour and his third Spanish Tour, he brings plenty of experience to the table. His good humour is also an added bonus for any team, as, after all, teamwork makes the dream work. Like many cyclists from Down Under, his European home is in Andorra, which the Vuelta has passed through various times. Aside from the still somewhat questionable flying visit to the Tourmalet, however, no border crossings are planned for this year’s race.

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Ide Schelling

At just 22, Ide is the youngest cyclist on the BORA – hansgrohe team. The Dutchman from The Hague had probably imagined his first year as a professional somewhat differently, but this coronavirus-marked year has certainly given him the chance to learn a great deal and possibly even offered him more opportunities than expected. He was able to start his first racing season with the Tour Down Under and, following the coronavirus-induced break, to even get two monuments (Lombardia and Liège – Bastogne – Liège) under his belt. Now it’s the Vuelta’s turn and his motivation to learn a great deal from the race and do a good job couldn’t be any greater.

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Andreas Schillinger

At 37, ‘Schilli’ is an old hand on the team and has been a member since it was first established in 2010. The line-up at his first Grand Tour, the Giro d’Italia 2012, involved nine cyclists, of whom only one had Grand Tour experience. This year’s Vuelta is now his seventh Grand Tour, making his experience worth its weight in gold. The races back in Schilli’s early days on the team are incomparable with those of today. Even the approach to meals was completely different. Whereas the team still ate in hotels back then, where it wasn’t necessarily possible to assess what or, importantly, how much the professional cyclists would eat, the team now travels with a cooking truck and its own chef. Schilli is one of the most important domestiques in the team; as the road captain, he retains an eye on the big picture and keeps everyone calm. He has a particularly firm friendship with Pascal Ackermann, Michael Schwarzmann and Rudi Selig, and benefits from their ability to all work well as a team.

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Michael Schwarzmann

Despite only being 29, Michael Schwarzmann is already a long-standing member of the team and a loyal domestique, who pushes himself to breaking point for his team mates. Like Andreas Schilinger, he has been a constant member since 2010. He is good friends with Pascal Ackermann and Rudi Selig; all three live by Lake Constance, regularly train together and achieve joint successes.

The Vuelta is a race that seems to suit ‘Schwarzi’ particularly well. He’s been on the start line three times already and performed well. With his black hair and black moustache, he looked so much like a Spaniard at the 2016 edition of the race that a Spanish television team tirelessly tried to interview him in Spanish about his second place in one of the stages. This led to the team briefly nicknaming him Carlos. At his fourth Vuelta, he will provide optimum support to the team as always and in particular to Pascal, who he will lead out on the sprints.

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Rüdiger Selig

The 31-year-old has been demonstrating his sprinting skills in the BORA – hansgrohe colours since 2016 and naturally offers a great deal of experience. He’s found his place in the team in Pascal Ackermann’s sprint train. Their personal friendship and the fact they live so close to one another also help to create a ‘blind understanding’ during races. After all, you don’t have long to think about decisions in the sprint. His favourite way to relax is by spending time with his great love Bob Galopp, his Dalmatian.

Photo credit:

BORA – hansgrohe I bettiniphoto

BORA – hansgrohe I veloimages.com

BORA – hansgrohe I Ralph Scherzer