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Notes from the Evil Desk

Did the desk do that?
Photo by Joshua Lott/Getty Images

Today, an important event as far as pre-season cycling goes occurred in Madrid, when the route for...wait, I said evil desk. We don't have an evil desk. Mine is very polite, in fact. The evil desk is certainly not the thing that ate Jens. Anyway, I'm referring to the Vuelta route for 2017, which was revealed today. The Vuelta's route announcement is a cherished thing, mainly because it doesn't take long, every single one of the profiles are posted on Twitter in no time at all and we cycling writers get something to prattle about on some otherwise uneventful day in early January. Also, the Vuelta can be pretty evil with its stages right? So, while I could give a rough overview of the thing, I'll go through all the stages, and the evil desk I will rate them in order of how evil they are.

Stage one is a team time-trial through Nîmes (Fun Fact: This is the first time a Grand Tour has started in another Grand Tour-owning country since Nice hosted the Giro in 1998. It is only the third time the Vuelta has started outside of Spain). For years I thought I liked team time-trials. I do not, I was merely lulled by the excitement that comes with the beginning of a Grand Tour into thinking that the Vuelta (and the Giro for a while, thank goodness they've stopped) had stumbled upon a good way to start them. A thirteen-kilometre team time-trial isn't going to do much to separate the teams. Expect the red jersey to swap around between Movistar riders for a day or two.
Evilness factor: 4
Sure, time-trials are hard, but thirteen kilometres isn't going to dislodge too many guys. Unless they come up with a technical route, of course, but there's no word on that yet.

Stage two is a reasonably lengthy flat outing through France, as though ASO didn't think we'd get enough in that other race they're peddling. Don't expect a sprinters' showdown, you're not going to get one.
Evilness factor: 2 (or for the viewers, like six or seven).

Stage three looks bloody excellent. It is early to say this, but it may be the best-designed stage three of a Grand Tour I have ever seen. In it, the race moves from France into its home country, but the stage finishes in the capital of Andorra after cresting two category one Pyrenean climbs, reaching a high point of 1820 metres above sea level and then a category two before a hair-raising descent to the finish. This stage will rule some out of contention for the race straight away,

Evilness factor: 7

It's pretty early for such a big stage, right? I'm thinking the shock of having to do proper climbing before stage eight alone will frighten at least a few people.

Stage four is yet another stage for the sprinters, ending at the sports stadium which will host the 2018 Mediterranean Games, which are a thing.
Evilness factor: 1

Stage five is a lumpy outing with five categorised climbs, all rated two and three. It ends with a hilltop finish which is around three kilometres at nine per cent.
Evilness factor: 5

Stage six seems to be the first definite "breakaway stage." There's a lot of climbing and descending from kilometre thirty to kilometre one hundred and eighty-seven, and there's just no way any sprinter's team is going to lug him over all of that to have a go at this stage. It shouldn't have the fastest average speed of the race.
Evilness factor: 4

Vuelta bull Jose Jordan, AFP/Getty Images

Stage seven is another one of those Vuelta stages in the first week when they're not sure if it's the right time to go for the mountains, but they make use of a) the altitude and b) a late hill to provide a launchpad. I have a prediction for this one: Nobody will be able to remember what happened after the race is finished.
Evilness factor: 3

Stage eight has six kilometres of action, and everyone in the peloton will know it. This will lead to the best part of one hundred and seventy-eight kilometres of inaction, as the peloton readies itself to hit the ascent and descent of Xorret de Cati, where Wout Poels won the Vuelta a Communitat Valenciana last year. It's four kilometres up and two down, hitting twenty-two per cent in places. It's unlikely to shake up the GC any more than stage three did, but for the second Saturday of the Vuelta, it's a pretty decent chance at some excitement.
Evilness factor: 6

Stage nine hit the ascent of Cumbre del Sol, when we all took a double take in 2015 and saw that Tom Dumoulin might just be serious about going for GC when he (it's a surprise just to remember it) dropped Chris Froome and took the win on a four kilometre hill which I'm pretty sure has signs by the road that would ordinarily say the percentage of the slope, but just read "pain" instead. This should cause some separation.
Evilness factor:

Greg LeMond once described that stage of the 1986 Tour when Bernard Hinault escaped with Delgado and nearly nicked the race from him as "like a flat stage with the Marie-Blanque." That's what stage ten is, except in place of the Marie-Blanque there's the Collado Berrnejo. Breakaway. Next?
Evilness factor: 5
I simply cannot guess what is expected to happen on this stage.

Stage eleven contains the race's first real summit finish, with the double whammy of Andalucian climbs finishing at the Calar Alto observatory.

The final climb is sixteen kilometres long at an average of around six per cent, but there's a long flat and false flat section in the middle, in between the two steeper ramps. This may be where the eventual winner makes his first real.
Evilness factor: 8

On stage twelve, a couple more Andalucian climbs are crested before a flat finish. No chance whatsoever of anything of much import happening.
Evilness factor:

Stage thirteen is another (it's, like, the third, but I'm this close to sighing and saying "yet another") flat stage. Questions? None? Oh, there's you at the back. Yes, feel free to sleep until thirty seconds before the end of the stage. No more? Okay, we're done here!
Evilness factor: 2

Stage fourteen looks like a great-looking mountain stage in Jaén, with climbs of increasing difficulty until it reaches the first Especial category climb of the race, the Sierra de la Pandera. Note, one hundred and thirty-seven kilometres in, the ascent of Valdepeñas de Jaén, where Igor Anton lost everything in 2010, Nicolas Roche lost the red jersey in 2013, and everyone loses traction on the incredibly steep gradients. However, in the middle of the stage, it ought not to have any say on the race.

Evilness factor: 9

Stage fifteen forms the second half of a bumper Vuelta weekend — much like this year's stage fifteen, it's a very short stage, only reaching one hundred and twenty-seven kilometres and finishing at Hoya de la Mora, as near as makes no difference to two thousand five hundred metres above sea level, and if I'm reading correctly, part of the way up Picos de Veleta.

The stage also passes over the Alto de Hazallanas, where Chris Horner staked his claim for the Vuelta in 2013. There's a lot of altitude in a very small number of kilometres...just expect fireworks.
Evilness factor: 9
We have a weekend scoring eighteen for evilness!

Stage sixteen is a quite long, quite flat time-trial, at forty-two kilometres, rather similar to the one that gave Chris Froome a spark of hope going into the final mountain stage this year. The Vuelta spent a few years doing time-trials of similar length to this, but there was always a category one or two climb to accompany it. However, this will be the third year in a row to have this sort of flat, forty kilometre test.
Evilness factor: 7

Stage seventeen ends with another summit finish on the Alto de los Machucos, which, as the translation gnomes inform me, means "height of the hurts." It's nine kilometres long at an average of seven or eight per cent. Nothing particularly special, but it could be a place to recoup any losses made in the previous day's time-trial.
Evilness factor: 7

That is the profile of stage eighteen. Does it look like one to you? I've got nothing against finishes on short ramps, but they have a time and a place. That time and place? The first ten stages. I haven't the faintest idea what this is doing on the Thursday before Madrid, like the guy in third is going to launch a solo raid or something. It's utterly pointless to have this stage here. Expect a breakaway win.
Evilness factor: 5

It seems that the organisers want to make sure nothing happens until the penultimate stage. There is no greater waste for a cycling race's final Friday than to schedule an inconsequential flat stage if you ask me, and that is what they have done for stage nineteen.
Evilness factor: 4
I'm willing to forgive it in this case however, because...
Stage 20 brings the most feared climb the Vuelta has to offer. Yes, back for the first time since recovering from the shock it got from Chris Horner winning the Vuelta in 2013, it's Alto l'Angliru, which obviously needs no introduction. Like, seriously, the word "Steep" can sum it up pretty well. "Inhumane" - (Oscar Sevilla) does it too. In 2013, there were people riding 34x32s. It's the last throw of the dice for the GC, and it it's close there should be a slugfest to the line.

Evilness factor: 10!

Stage 21 shows that the Vuelta organisers have a fundamental misunderstanding as to why the stage around Paris in the Tour is a parade. There are famous landmarks, dangerous cobbled streets, millions watching just for the event and teams who aren't yet dead-eyed enough with tiredness to want nothing more than to get home. It's 100 kilometres of drudgery, followed by probably the slowest sprint you'll get in Grand Tours all year.
Evilness factor: 11

So who's doing the Vuelta? Aru and Nibali, I expect. Froome, as well, he seems to want to make a crack at winning it. Also, Contador will probably go, along with Pinot, perhaps. Of course there's also whoever gets injured early in the Tour de France and comes back for revenge. This is obviously a route which will favour the strongest climbers — it's the Vuelta. However, time-trialling skills will be equally important. Making predictions for a race that's eight months from now is foolish, obviously, so I won't make any.

Weigh in! How evil is the Vuelta? What was that nonsense about a desk earlier? Is l'Angliru the hardest climb there is? Anything!