Anybody wanting to win the Vuelta in 2007 will have to be prepared to hit the ground running, with an ultra-difficult first ten days then followed by a relatively uncomplicated second half.

Just like in 2006, the 2007 route kicks off with a almost unreasonably tough first week, which includes an ascent of the Lagos de Covadonga – Spain?s most legendary climb on stage four. A long time trial in Zaragoza on stage eight is the next major challenge, then immediately afterwards there are two mountain top finishes in the Pyrenees.

The second half is far less complex. Following a long transfer south, stage 15 takes the riders though the sierras of Andalusia, and includes the same climb prior to Granada that poleaxed Alejandro Valverde in this year?s race. In the third week the Vuelta heads north for two hilly stages outside Madrid, the high point being a double ascent of the first category Alto de Abantos on stage 19. After a flattish 25 kilometre time trial, the curtain comes down with a flat stage for the sprinters into Madrid.

?It?s very much a race of two halves.? Valverde?s directeur sportif, Eusebio Unzue, told CW at the presentation in Madrid. ?it?s good for Valverde, and I like the way the first part will open up the race. However the second part is very much a Vuelta to be ridden defensively.?

?I?ve been fourth, third and second, so it?s about time I won the Vuelta.? a belligerent-sounding Valverde added. ?Having said that my top priority in 2007 will be the Ardennes Classics and the Tour. I?m not ruling out the VUelta, though.?

What is unusual is the absence of an opening time trial: instead the race begins in Vigo in northwest Spain with a normal mass-start stage.

But any sprinter who has taken the maillot de oro will not hold it for long: stage four?s summit finish at Covadonga – a climb which has often decided the race in the past – will inevitably push the gc riders to the fore.

Even stranger for the Vuelta, though, is stage eight?s 49 kilometre time trial at Zaragoza, a distance far longer than usual for cycling?s third major Tour. Flat and exposed, the race against the clcok should be a perfect opportunity for David Millar to shine like he did this year in the Vuelta?s time trial at Cuenca. ?That time trial will be an objective for David.? Millar?s directeur sportif Joxean Fernandez Matxin confirmed. ?First for him in 2007 is the Tour prologue, but the Vuelta?s important, too.?

Together with the two Pyrenean stages that follow hard on the heels of the first big race against the clock, this long time trial could be where the Vuelta winner emerges. If not, then the race?s two summit finishes at Cerler and Andorra?s Arcalis should at the very least see a solid leader in the maillot de oro.

The final ten days are nearly not so challenging, although there are some difficult stages. After the Pyrenees and a long transfer down to the Mediterranean coast at Oropesa, four days designed for the sprinters precede the mountainous stage 15 to Granada

The third week has equally few highpoints, although stage 18?s long grind through the sierras outside Avila could see a few surprises. Then the climb of Abantos, which is tackled twice in the 2007 Vuelta on stage 19, was where Spaniard Isidro Nozal lost the race in 2004, so again it could put the leader on the defensive.

But overall, the 2007 race seems designed less for the mountain climbers and more for the all-rounders. The one possible drawback of the route is that the last 10 days could seem a little dull after such an exciting opening week. ?In any case it?s the riders who make the race, not the other way round.? Vuelta boss Victor Cordero told CW. ?And I?m sure 2007 will prove no exception.?

Tour of Spain 2007

Saturday September 1st: stage one: Vigo – Vigo 145km

Sunday September 2nd: stage two: Allariz – Santiago de Compostela 150km

Monday September 3rd: stage three: Viveiro – Luarca 155km

Tuesday September 4th: stage four: Langreos – Lagos de Covadonga 182km

Wednesday September 5th: stage five: Cangas de Onis – Reinosa 155km

Thursday September 6th: stage six: Reinosa – Logroño 195km

Friday September 7th: stage seven: Calahorra – Zaragoza 140km

Saturday September 8th: stage eight: Cariñena – Zaragoza 49km (time trial)

Sunday September 9th: stage nine: Huesca – Cerler 174km

Monday September 10th: stage 10: Benasque – Arcalis (Andorra) 220km

Tuesday September 11th: rest day

Wednesday September 12th: stage 11: Oropesa – Algemesí 190km

Thursday September 13th: stage 12: Algemesí – Hellín 167km

Friday September 14th: stage 13: Hellín – Torre Pacheco 150km

Saturday September 15th: stage 14: Puerto Lumbreras – Villacarrillo 205km

Sunday September 16th: stage 15: Villacarrillo – Granada 205km

Monday September 17th: second rest day

Tuesday September 18th: stage 16: Jaén – Puertollano 165km

Wednesday September 19th: stage 17: Ciudad Real – Talavera de la Reina 180km

Thursday September 20th: stage 18: Talavera de la Reina – Ávila 154km

Friday September 21st: stage 19 Avila – Alto de Abantos 135km

Saturday September 22nd: stage 20 Collado Villalba – Collado Villalba (individual time trial) 25km

Sunday September 23rd: stage 21: Rivas VaciaMadrid – Madrid 100km

Total no of kilometres 3241km