Villuercas, the colossus of Extremadura

Extremadura returns to the Vuelta a España in a big way: with its first high finish on an unprecedented, tough and spectacular peak. Santi Blanco recognized her for AS.

The Vuelta was clear that its return to Extremadura could not be a testimonial step, that is why it worked together with the authorities so that the autonomous community was one of the main protagonists of the 2021 edition (August 14-September 5). An unprecedented goal was devised in Villanueva de la Serena (on August 27) and a new departure in Navalmoral de la Mata (on 29, on the way to El Barraco), which will accompany one of the days that have raised the most expectations: a stage whole in Extremadura soil that unites the two provinces ... and mountain! This will be the stage on August 28, between Don Benito (Badajoz) and Pico Villuercas (Cáceres), a colossus that will mean the first high end in the history of La Vuelta in Extremadura.

The ascent will be the main protagonist of the 14th stage. It will be climbed twice, since it has a previous step (by the Collado de Ballesteros variant, shorter but with really tough sections) and a second longer to the finish line at its summit, the roof of Extremadura that touches 1,600 meters altitude. A mountain that La Vuelta will put on the international cycling map, since it will be the first professional race to ascend to this peak, although it was the amateur Vuelta a Extremadura that worked at the beginning of the 90s to include this ascent in its route, at the top of which there is a military base (as stated in the book Where does Indurain come from? by Juanfran de la Cruz and Rafa Carbonero) .

Former runner Santi Blanco, before starting his professional career in which he won two stages in the Spanish round among other successes, was one of the participants in that race and wanted to accompany AS to recognize the climb and return to face its 30 ramps years later. "When Javier Guillén, director of La Vuelta, told me that they were going to include the ascent to Villuercas, I told him that I knew the climb and that it was hard. When I climbed it, it was in time-scale format, but I remember it well," says Blanco before to face the first ramps from the town of Guadalupe, where the round will not miss the opportunity to pass in front of the well-known Royal Monastery of Santa María de Guadalupe, in what will undoubtedly be one of the most picturesque images of the day.However, even before the ascent itself, the road spikes upwards. "And we must not forget at what heights of the race we will be and that the runners will have ascended a third-class pass and a first-class pass first. At this point they can already be touched," says Santi Blanco. That beginning of the port is not the most complicated section, but it already has respectable ramps. Because if something defines this port of 14.7 km at 6.5%, it is its regularity, with a short landing, but always maintaining the slope and continuous wear.

As you ascend, you will also discover the virtues of the Geopark that you cross, with a forest that opens up as you reach higher altitude. All for a route that is prepared, not only for the best cyclists in the peloton to ascend it as will happen in the race, but also for the experience of that cyclist who comes to meet it is complete. In each kilometer there are signs that indicate the length, the average slope, the wildest ramps ... Santi Blanco, who despite climbing at a good pace can enjoy the landscape, notices this: "I'm glad that La Vuelta has agreed upon in this area of Extremadura. It is a very beautiful climb and thanks to the passage of the race it will attract a lot of attention from those of us who are already only cyclists. People who do not know this area have to come to see it ".

But, with almost half the rise on his legs, Blanco twists the gesture. "This area is very hard," he warns from the bike. It is more than three kilometers in the middle of the ascent that exceeds 10% on average. Perhaps the key point of the port. "It is a good place to test it. Whether this stage is decisive will depend on how the riders face it and the decisions made from the car. Because it may be that there is too much respect because there are still the Asturian stages in the last week, but This port has enough ground to do damage and make a difference. But I also believe that for this you have to start in the middle and not wait until that final part, it may be late ".

Y is that as you get closer to the top, the vegetation opens up. And although that August 28, the normal thing is that the heat tightens and hardens the day even more, another key element may be the wind. Whoever has the idea of taking advantage of the final section, in which there are ramps that reach 15%, may find a significant obstacle. "It is a very open area. If someone decides that they want to try it there, they should know that the wind can hit them in the face and thus it is very difficult to open a hole ... and it is much easier to go to wheel", points Blanco.

An unmistakable sign that you are nearing the top is when the corridor begins to glimpse the antennas of the old military base, a transmission center located on the cliff, and that despite the fact that most of it is abandoned, the structures have been become a symbol of ascension. In fact, it has even inspired the Santini brand, the official brand of La Vuelta, to create an exclusive kit for this day designed with the antennas as the protagonists. Because this is not just any stage. La Vuelta wanted to return to Extremadura and has come across a port that is an authentic jewel.

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