Six mountain top finishes and just one individual time trial in the 2011 Vuelta a Espana, despite the absence of the Pyrenees, mean the climbers will once again be dominating in this year’s race.
In the race route revealed on Wednesday in Alicante – although a large part had already been leaked on the Internet – the summit finishes are spread throughout the route, with the first coming in the shape of a 25 kilometre grind up to Sierra Nevada on stage four.
However, it is the four mountain-top climbs in the second week that look set to shape the race: La Covatilla on stage nine, the Manzaneda on stage 11, the little-known La Farrapona on stage 14 and – above all – the Angliru on stage 15.
Famous both for its notoriously steep middle section as well as the huge numbers of fans that traditionally turn out for Spain’s single most difficult climb, with few really mountainous stages coming in the third week, the Angliru will be almost certain to decide the race yet again.
“The organisers are really keen to keep the climbers happy, and we’re grateful to them,” Tour of Spain veteran Carlos Sastre said.
“It’s very similar to last year, not so much for the sprinters and a lot for the climbers,” added double Vuelta winner Pedro Delgado. “This is going to be another really spectacular route.”
Just as in 2010, there are several stages with tricky uphill finishes, too. The first is on stage two, with a five percent climb at the finish in Playas de Orihuela, and on stage five for a second year running, there will be a finish in Valdepeñas de Jaen, Spain’s answer to the Mur de Huy, with its final kilometre containing slopes of up to 27 percent.
The biggest innovation in the 2011 Vuelta is the return to the Basque Country, Spain’s cycling heartland and which has been off the route for political reasons for the last three decades. Neither of the two hilly stages which finish in the region, though – to Bilbao and Vitoria – is expected to have a major impact on the race classification overall.
The race also features around six flat stages, which should suit Mark Cavendish if – as is widely expected – he returns to the Vuelta for a second time as part of his build-up to the World Championships in Denmark.
The change in dates, to a week earlier, could prove a two-edged weapon for the Vuelta. Whilst many more fans are likely to line the route given more of the race is in holiday time, the extra August heat – particularly on the inland stages – could make it really tough going for the riders.
Vuelta a Espana 2011: Stages
Saturday August 20: stage one: Benidorm-Benidorm – team time trial 16km
Sunday August 21: stage two: La Nucia – Playas Orihuela 171.5km
Monday August 22: stage three: Petrer – Totana 164km
Tuesday August 23: stage four: Baza – Sierra Nevada 172km
Wednesday August 24: stage five: Sierra Nevada – Valdepeñas de Jaén 200km
Thursday August 25: stage six: Ubeda – Cordoba 185.7km
Friday August 26: stage seven: Almadén – Talavera 185km
Saturday August 27: stage eight: Talavera – San Lorenzo del Escorial 182km
Sunday August 28: stage nine: Villacastin – La Covatilla 179.5km
Monday August 29: stage ten: Salamanca – Salamanca: individual time trial 40km
Tuesday August 30: rest day
Wednesday August 31: stage 11: Verin – La Manzaneda 171km
Thursday September 1: stage 12: Ponteareas – Pontevedra 160km
Friday September 2: stage 13: Sarria – Ponferrada 150km
Saturday September 3: stage 14: Astorga – La Farrapona 173.2km
Sunday September 4: stage 15: Aviles – Angliru 144km
Monday September 5: rest day
Tuesday September 6: stage 16: La Olmeda – Haro 180km
Wednesday September 7: stage 17: Oyon – Peña Cabarga 212.5km
Thursday September 8: stage 18: Solares – Noja 169.7km
Friday September 9: stage 19: Noja – Bilbao 157.9km
Saturday September 10: stage 20: Bilbao – Vitoria 187km
Sunday September 11: stage 21: Circuito del Jarama – Madrid 94km