Around this time last year, the 2020 Vuelta a Burgos took place in unprecedented circumstances. Road racing had only recently resumed following the lockdown-enforced break, and the feasibility of holding events during a pandemic was still uncertain.
Now the sight of riders wearing masks on the podium and standing at a distance while giving interviews have become commonplace, so much so that, even as safety measures remain in place, the 43rd edition of the Vuelta a Burgos feels much like a normal edition.
That means the five-day stage race will, as ever, be a key warm-up race for the Vuelta a España. Several riders are using it to build their form leading into the final Grand Tour of the season, and many of the stages offer a glimpse of what’s to come in that race.
The fact that the Vuelta a Espana this year begins in Burgos, with the first three stages all taking place in the region, make this year’s Vuelta a Burgos even more relevant than usual, as reflected by the stellar line-up that will line-up this year.
A Giro d’Italia rematch
Strikingly, the majority of the top favourites were all involved in the GC race at the Giro d’Italia earlier this spring, to the extent that this almost feels like a rematch — six of the riders who finished in the top eight on GC are all set to ride in Burgos.
That includes Giro champion Egan Bernal (Ineos Grenadiers), who made a solid return on Saturday on his first race since winning pink by finishing in the group of favourites at San Sebastian. He’s Ineos’ star name, but might end up playing a support role for compatriot Ivan Sosa, who has an exemplary record at the Vuelta a Burgos having won four stages in the last three editions, and back-to-back overall titles in 2019 and 2018.
The other Giro podium finishes, Damiano Caruso (Bahrain-Victorious) and Simon Yates (BikeExchange), are also riding in Burgos, although unlike Bernal they aren’t riding with an appearance at the Vuelta a Espana in mind. But fourth-place finisher Alexander Vlasov (Astana-PremierTech) is, and hopes to improve following an underwhelming showing at the Olympics.
For Romain Bardet (DSM) and Hugh Carthy (EF Education-Nippo), this will be their first race since finishing seventh and eighth at the Giro, so their form is a mystery, but both could feature in the race for overall victory.
And whereas all of these riders already have a strong Grand Tour showing in the bag for 2021, Mikel Landa (Bahrain-Victorious) enters the race looking to redeem his season having crashed out of the Giro. He was eager to make an immediate impression on his first race back at San Sebastian, when he attacked on the Erlaitz climb, and will hope to ride into the form that saw him finish second overall at last year’s Vuelta a Burgos.
The race route
Stage 1 will resemble the opening stage of the Vuelta a Espana, with a finish at the city of Burgos against the backdrop of its famous cathedral. But unlike at the Vuelta, this will be a road stage rather than a time trial, with the modest climb of 1.1km at 6.1 per cent that leads to Burgos castle hosting the finish, making this one for the puncheurs.
A probable bunch sprint at Briviesca follows on stage 2 for the few sprinters present, before a mountain stage featuring the familiar Picon Blanco on stage 3. The steep, 9 per cent slopes of Picon Blanco have hosted a finish on each of the last four editions of Vuelta a Burgos, and every time there have been big gaps.
Those planning on riding the Vuelta a Espana will take it especially seriously, as it also hosts a stage finish during the opening week of that race, although unlike at the Vuelta this stage will finish after a descent to Espinosa de los Monteros rather than at the top.
The sprinters have another chance to go for success in Aranda de Duero, on the penultimate stage, before the climactic GC showdown on Saturday. The stage features four climbs in total, but it’s the finishing climb of Lagunas de Neila, which has hosted the final stage of every Vuelta a Burgos since 2015, that will once again be decisive. Ranked ‘especial’, it climbs for 12km at an average of 6.2 per cent, and although not as steep as Picon Blanco, will possibly be even more important as the only mountain top finish of the race.