Alberto Contador’s big smile during the glitzy presentation of the 2010 Tour of Spain in Seville on Wednesday said it all really – that next September’s route favours the climbers, big time.
In their favour the mountain specialists have no less than six summit finishes, the last using roads through the Sierras of Madrid that Contador knows like the back of his hand. And for the testers? Just one individual time trial.
The first summit finish comes as early as stage eight at Xorret de Cati, the incredibly steep climb in the mountains of Alicante that did such damage in this year’s race.
But there’s also a stage finish at Pal in the Pyrenees on stage eleven, the same ascent where Dan Martin had Alejandro Valverde in serious trouble in the Tour of Catalunya.
Three mountain top finishes feature in the second week in the Picos de Europa, one of them the mythical Lagos de Covadonga climb – home to some of the last wolves in Europe.
And as if all that wasn’t enough, there’s a 13 kilometre ascent of the Bola de Oro in the Sierras of Madrid, the first ten being the ascent to Navacerrada but the last three kilometres on a poorly cemented track with gradients of up to 21 percent.
The only time trial, 46 kilometres long, is totally flat, starting and finishing the town of Peñafiel on stage 17.
But it’s the one real opportunity the non-climbing specialists will have to make an impact. And there are only five clear stages for the sprinters.
For Contador, in fact, the route is almost so tough it may make him think again about tackling two major Tours in one year.
As the Spaniard admitted, Astana next year will be much weaker than in 2009, and after going all out in the Tour de France he and the squad may well lack the firepower for another major stage race.
“I’d have like there to have been one more time trial, before the mountains, so we could control things a bit more effectively,” Contador told Cycling Weekly.
“But apart from that, I’ve got no real complaints.”
“I think the time trial will decide the overall winner, not the final mountain top stage. In any case, it’s stilll a great route for the climbers.”
Other new features include a switch in colour for the leader’s jersey from gold to red, using a design that has a lot to owe to the Spanish national football team.
The biggest innovation, though, is the 16.5 kilometre opening team time trial through the streets of Seville.
This will be held from 9 pm to 11 pm at night, in a bid to avoid the extreme heat in Andalusia at that time of year.
“It’ll be daylight for the early teams and night for the later ones,” pointed out 2008 Olympics road-race winner Samuel Sanchez, “that could make it complicated.”
As early as stage three there are two first category climbs immediately preceding a 1.5 kilometre uphill finish in Malaga. But that’s only the beginning in a race which will be very tough to keep under control – and all the more exciting for that.