In 2015 The Vuelta experimented with several new climbs in Asturias, the Ermita de Alba and Sotres. In my opinion it was very successful as both climbs are stunningly beautiful and seriously steep; it certainly made for great viewing.
This year it’s back to the more traditional climbs with the inclusion of Los Lagos de Covadonga, along with the much shorter, but explosive, Alto del Naranco in Oviedo. I was hoping the L’Angliru would be included but, I guess because of the logistical nightmare involved in getting everything to the top of such a steep climb and the cost, it has been left out.
The Vuelta will have a distinctly Northern flavour in 2016, starting in Galicia before coming to Asturias via Leon. The climb of La Camperona in nearby Leon, which made its first appearance in the Vuelta 2 years ago, will make a fitting precursor to the Asturian stages.
Stage 9 will start in Cicternia in Leon near La Camperona and cross into Asturias passing spectacular reservoir at Riaño before heading up The Puerto de Tarna (If they fix the road in time otherwise they will have to change the route). This part of the stage will offer spectacular views as the race makes the transition from the more baron landscape of Leon into the rich, fertile lanscape of Asturias.
It’s pretty much all downhill until the Alto de Santa Emiliano, which isn’t the toughest of climbs so I don’t foresee any splits in the peleton. It’s then on to the Alto de la Manzaneda, a shorter but tougher climb with ramps up to 13% so there is a slight chance of a breakaway attempt here, although because it’s just over 3km’s the peleton might decide to stay together.
From the Manzaneda it’s on to Oviedo and the final climb of the day, the Alto del Naranco. This should make for an explosive finish with the GC contendors doing battle to the top but because this year the Asturian stages are earlier than normal I don’t see it being as significant a stage finish as it was when say Horner attacked Nibali on the steep ramps to the finish.
All in all, I think it’s quite a bland stage and considering everything Asturias has to offer I was quite disappointed when I saw the parcours. The scenery along the route is nice but not spectacular, which is disappointing considering all the stunningly beautiful routes available, the climbs are not particularly challenging and it doesn’t really promote the best of what Asturias has to offer in terms of cycling. Still, you never know I could be wrong.
Stage 10 is a bit more like it, but is still far from being epic. Starting in Lugones just outside Oviedo, the route heads to Gijon and then works its way along the coast to Colunga. Like stage 9, we could well see a breakaway as it’s pretty flat all the way to Colunga. Here the route heads inland and heads up the Alto del Fito. This is a tough, medium length climb with the last 5km hovering between 8% and 12%. With these percentages we’re sure to see riders drop off the back as the climbers take control, but I would imagine that the front group will still be quite large by the time they reach the top.
It’s then a short run down to Covadonga and the highlight of the stages in Asturias the famous climb of Los Lagos de Covadonga. This is where the fireworks should begin and where the cream will rise to the top. This stunning climb always provides excellent viewing and although it doesn’t have the 20%+ ramps of climbs like the L’Angliru the main GC contenders are sure to pull away as they battle for position.
With a finish like Los Lagos the stage is always going to be a good one but again, I think the organisers could have made it even better, it shouldn’t disappoint though.
After a rest day, stage 11 starts in Asturias and heads to Cantabria along the coast before finishing atop the Peña Carbarga.
To conclude, I would say the stages in Asturias should be great viewing but in many ways I feel they are disappointing and unimaginative (probably due to cost of fixing roads and logistics). Last year the organisers did a great job adding new climbs and choosing areas that really showed off the beauty of Asturias and what a great place it is to ride. This year, the routes will do little to put Asturias on cycling map, despite it being one of the best places to ride in Europe. If the organisers in Asturias want the Picos de Europa to be considered in the same light as the Pyrenees, Alps and Dolomites they need to do better and be more imaginative and consistent.
FOOTNOTE: My good friend Mark has just pointed out to me an error in the Profile for stage 10. You cannot climb El Fito from Ribadesella, you climb it from Colunga so the riders would somehow have to get all the way back.