A year after the dullest Tour of Spain in the last decade, the 2008 route looks much more promising. But is that final week going to be a big anti-climax after the Angliru.
Featuring on stage 13, the Angliru is arguably the toughest single climb in Spain. The good news is it?s back after a six year absence: the bad news is that given its position in the race, you may well find yourself nodding off in the third week.
Yes, stage 14?s mountain-top finish on the Fuentes de Invierno ski station, a first category climb, could shake things up again. As could the stage 20 mountain time trial on Navacerrada just outside Madrid.
But both those challenges are for climbers – the pure time triallists do not get a look in. The chances are that after the Angliru, barring accident or illness, there will be no more changes of leader before the finish.
The race kicks off this Saturday with a short, largely symbolic team time trial running mostly along broad, modern boulevards in the commercial areas of Granada.
It?s very similar to the 2006 start in Malaga, also a team time trial – won by CSC and which allowed Carlos Sastre to lead a stage race for the first time in his career.
After three transition stages where the heat will be more a challenge than the terrain, the race suddenly gets tougher.
First up is a 42 kilometre time trial on the arid plains around Ciudad Real in central Spain. Then there?s a long, long transfer – like 700 kilometres long – to the foothills of the Pyrenees: hardly a rest day, although that?s what they call it.
The two days in the Pyrenees which follow will at the very least serve to show which riders are prepared to go all-out for the gold jersey and who is just along for the ride.
A twin ascent of the Rabassa first cat. climb after 200 kilometres of heavy terrain on stage seven may cause a major sort-out. The pessimistic view is that that coming so early in the race the favourites could well stick together and we?ll have half a dozen big names still together at the top.
Don?t expect too much of Pla de Beret, though – the summit finish on the folllowing day. Just six kilometres long followed by three flattish kilometres at the top, it?s one of the easiest climbs in the Pyrenees. It?s a total a mystery, in fact, why the race organisers have the nerve to call it a first category climb.
The Vuelta then rolls northwards to the presumably decisive stage of the Angliru, tackled for the fourth time in the race?s history.
12.5 kilometres long and with an overall average of 10 percent, the first half of the climb is relatively easy. But the second part, with gradients of up to 23 percent, mean this is where the Vuelta is won and lost: particularly if it rains.
So far so good. But then anti-climax sets in, as the last week could be extremely bland in comparison to what?s come before, particularly if a climber gains a big lead on the rest of the field on the Angliru. Let?s just hope it?s still close at the top, otherwise it could be downhill all the way to Madrid.
VUELTA A ESPANA 2008: STAGES
Stage/Date/Start & finish/Distance
Stage 1 30 Aug, Sat Granada – Granada (Parque Tec. Ciencias de la Salud) (TTT) 7.7km
Stage 2 31 Aug, Sun Granada – Jaén 167.3km
Stage 3 01 Sept, Mon Jaén – Córdoba 168.6km
Stage 4 02 Sept, Tue Córdoba – Puertollano 170.3km
Stage 5 03 Sept, Wed Ciudad Real – Ciudad Real (ITT) 42.5km
Stage 6 04 Sept, Thu Ciudad Real – Toledo 150.1km
05 Sept, Fri Rest Day
Stage 7 06 Sept, Sat Barbastro – Andorra (Naturlandia – La Rabassa) 223.2km
Stage 8 07 Sept, Sun Andorra (Escaldes – Engordany) – Salardú / Naut Aran / Pla de Beret 151.0km
Stage 9 08 Sept, Mon Vielha / Mijaran – Sabiñánigo 200.8km
Stage 10 09 Sept, Tue Sabiñánigo – Zaragoza 151.3km
Stage 11 10 Sept, Wed Calahorra – Burgos 178.0km
Stage 12 11 Sept, Thu Burgos – Suances 186.4km
12 Sept, Fri Rest Day
Stage 13 13 Sept, Sun San Vicente de la B. – Alto de L?Angliru 209.5km
Stage 14 14 Sept, Sun Oviedo – E. E. Fuentes de Invierno 158.4km
Stage 15 15 Sept, Mon Cudillero – Ponferrada 202.0km
Stage 16 16 Sept, Tue Ponferrada – Zamora 186.3km
Stage 17 17 Sept, Wed Zamora – Valladolid 148.2km
Stage 18 18 Sept, Thu Valladolid – Las Rozas 167.4km
Stage 19 19 Sept, Fri Las Rozas – Segovia 145.5km
Stage 20 20 Sept, Sat La Granja de S. I. – Alto de Navacerrada (ITT) 17.1km
Stage 21 21 Sept, Sun S. Sebastián de los Reyes – Madrid 102.2km
Total distance: 3,133.8km