Septima_etapa_La_Vuelta_2017

Scenes from the finish line of the seventh stage of last year’s La Vuelta a España, which was eventually won by Britain’s Chris Froome.

In case you didn’t know, cycling is extremely popular in Spain… which is why the news that La Vuelta a España – the professional cycling event that winds its way across the length and breadth of the country once a year – sets off from Málaga this Saturday has created much excitement…

But, didn’t we already have La Vuelta back in February? Well, yes, but that was the Vuelta a Andalucía, the intra-region race which started off in Fuengirola and finished around 200 kilometres away in Barbate, Cádiz province.

Although it was certainly an honour for the Costa del Sol to experience the firing of the starting gun at February’s event, the importance of La Vuelta a España to the international cycling community is, ahem, way ahead of the chasing pack.

This year’s edition sees the field of up to 176 riders representing 22 teams set off from Málaga’s Pompidou Centre on an eight-kilometre time trial around the city on Saturday. The following two stages are from Marbella northwards towards the Caminito del Rey (164 kilometres) and, on Monday, a hilly ride between Mijas and Alhaurín de la Torre (182 kilometres). On stage four, riders depart from Vélez-Málaga and pedal across the provincial border to Alfacar (near Granada).

The ensuing stages take riders on a mixture of flat tracks and hill climbs through other parts of Andalucía, into Murcia, through parts of Castilla-La Mancha and Castilla y León, up to Galicia, then eastwards along the northern regions of Asturias and Cantabria before reaching the Basque Country, then from Aragón to Cataluña before scaling the mountains of Andorra.

From there, riders head inland to Madrid province, where the final and 21st test is the 100-kilometre street dash from Alcorcón to the centre of Spain’s capital. Although the eventual overall points winner may well be known by the time this last sprint gets underway, there could be all to play for given the somewhat convoluted points system and various prizes on offer for different stage wins.

Experts have named four favourites among the international field to take the coveted prize: Alejandro Valverde, Vincenzo Nabali, Fabio Aru and Nairo Quintana (winners of the 2009, 2010, 2015 and 2016 editions, respectively).

Who’s your money on? Leave us a comment below if you will be following the event – either as an expat on the Costa del Sol or otherwise – or if you have any predictions of your own…