The way I see it, the Vuelta Espana is a lot like ex-Australian cricketer, Trevor Chappell. Highly respectable and quality-laden in its own right. But seemingly destined to be forever stuck in the shadow of its more illustrious siblings: the Tour de France and Giro d’Italia. This is a real shame because, quite frankly, the Vuelta is often the most exciting Grand Tour of the year. It certainly was in 2012 as Spain’s Alberto Contador returned from his meat-tainted vacation to take all before him and claim his national Tour for Saxo-Tinkoff. After the borefest of Wiggo’s 3-week procession to Paris in July 2012, it was just the shot in the arm the sport needed.
There are several reasons why the Vuelta is often a cracker of a race. Top riders often use it to hone their form for the World Championships which traditionally occur soon after the Vuelta finishes (this year they start just one week later, in Tuscany, Italy). Underachieving teams are always desperate to use the 21 stages to make amends for poor Giros and Tours, which in turn helps to attract and retain sponsors, not to mention pick up much-needed UCI points. Whilst fringe riders are equally as keen to put on a good showing in Spain; in order to secure new contracts for the following road season.
But what of the race’s history? Well, here’s a quick primer; 10 bite-sized Tapas servings of Vuelta trivia – so when the 68th edition of the race starts with a 27km Team Time Trial in Galicia on the weekend, you’ll be well sated.
1) The Vuelta was first run in 1935. After being abandoned for several years due to such unfortunate events as the Spanish Civil War and WW2 it’s been an annual fixture of the cycling calendar since 1955.
2) Not surprisingly Spanish riders have won the Vuelta GC more times than any other nation, 31. Robert Heras holds the most titles with four.
3) Incredibly, Belgium’s Freddie Maertens won 13 stages at the 1977 Vuelta.
4) Ireland’s Sean Kelly and France’s Laurent Jalabert have each won the Points Classification four times.
5) Inigio Cuesta has ridden in more Vuelta’s than any other rider, 17 from 1994 – 2010. He finished 14 of them. Federico Echave has finished the most in succession, 14 from 1982 – 1995.
6) The smallest ever winning margin was just six seconds, in 1984.
7) This year’s race is 3,319km long. But the longest ever Vuelta took place in 1941: 4,442km.
8) Nowadays the GC leader wears the red jersey. But this colour has changed several times over the years. It began as orange in 1935, became white in 1941, then back to orange in 1942. From 1945 to 1950 it was white with a horizontal red stripe, then from 1955 to 1997 it was yellow, except for 1977 when it was orange. In 1998, the yellow was switched to gold. And in 2010 the current colour of red was introduced.
9) In the early days the Vuelta was held in Spring, typically April. It was moved to September in 1995.
10) With a whopping 13 mountain stages in the 2013 Vuelta (including Stages 2 and 3) and 11 summit finishes, this year’s race must be sending very sharp shivers down the spines of sprinters.
How’s that, Trev?