A hundred years of the ‘Volta Ciclista a Catalunya’

The Catalan race is one of the oldest cycling events in the world. The ‘Volta’ started in 1911, 24 years before Spain’s own ‘Vuelta’ and only eight years after the first Tour de France.

F. Javier Rodríguez Baena

March 28, 2011 11:07 PM

Barcelona (CNA).- The Tour de France may be the most well-known cycling race in the world but from an historical perspective, the ‘Volta a Catalunya’ is right up there with its prestigious neighbour. The ‘Volta’ started in 1911, 24 years before Spain’s own ‘Vuelta’ and only eight years after the first Tour de France, also just two years after Italy’s ‘Giro’. The ‘Volta’ was Catalonia’s way of showing to the rest of the country and to the world that it could organise such an important event and thus spread a message of modernity.

The first ‘Volta’ consisted of just three stages and a total of 363 km. The first stage ran from Barcelona to Tarragona, the second from Tarragona to Lleida and the last stage linked Lleida to Barcelona. These distances are very different from the first Giro –the first edition totalled 2,448 km- and the first Tour de France which ran up 2,428 kilometres.

The first ‘Volta’ was organised by the Club Deportivo Barcelona and 34 cyclists took part of which only 22 made it to Barcelona three days later. Catalonia was optimistic during the early years of the 20th century years because of its high industrial levels, buoyant bourgeoisie and the dominant current of opinion that ‘Catalanism’ would either help Spain to recover from its chronic crisis or would achieve Catalonia’s independence. The ‘Volta’ is the sporting expression of this optimism and restlessness. Those were dynamic times, when the Club Náutico (Nautical Club) was created in 1909 and when the first planes flew over Catalan skies by 1910.

The first winner of the ‘Volta’ was Sebastián Masdeu although the early years were dominated by Mariano Cañardo and his seven triumphs in 1928, 1929, 1930, 1932, 1935, 1936 and 1939. Legends have come and gone after Cañardo, but none of them have overcome this record. The first foreign cyclist to win the race was Frenchman Joseph Pelletier in 1920. Other important individuals to conquer the race include Tour winners Anquetil and Eddy Merckx, the spectacular mountain climber Mariano Lejarreta, five-time winner of the Tour de France Miguel Induráin, French cycling legend Laurent Jalabert, Swiss rider Alex Zülle, the ill-fated Roberto Heras and the legendary ‘Chava’ Jiménez, who passed away in 2003.

This year’s race was made up of 7 stages starting in Lloret de Mar on the 21st of March and ending in Barcelona on the 27th of March. It crossed the Pyrenees, went through Tarragona, and entered every provincial capital –Lleida, Girona, Tarragona and Barcelona-. The 3rd stage proved to be the most important of them all as this stage crossed the highest and toughest mountain passes in the Pyrenees: Coubet, Toses, la Comella, la Massana, and Vallnord-Coll de Pal, a special category stage where the finishing line is at 2,030 metres.

Putting the doping controversy aside, Alberto Contador participated in this year's 'Volta'

The doping controversy involving the race’s main figure, Alberto Contador of the Saxo Bank team, did not prevent him from participating and winning this year’s edition of the race.