You might have thought a Tour of Spain route which started in pancake-flat northern Holland, as it does in 2009, would favour the time triallists. But you couldn’t have been more wrong.
In a thankfully brief Tour of Spain presentation broadcast live on state television on Wednesday, it emerged that the 2009 race route would include no fewer than five mountain top finishes. And that?s even though both the Pyrenees and the Angliru are off the menu.
Instead of one single climb (the Angliru) deciding the race like in 2008, the Vuelta?s challenge will be a hat-trick of summit finishes deep in southern Spain.
In the space of 72 hours, the race will tackle the notoriously difficult Velefique climb in the little-known sierras of Almeria, the never-ending grind up to Sierra Nevada and the short, punchy climb to La Pandera.
?It?s a Vuelta for climbers,? pointed out Alejandro Valverde (Caisse D?Epargne). ?But the racing won?t be over by the end of the second week.?
?At the end of the third there are two really hard days through the sierras west of Madrid and a final medium-length time trial in Toledo. It?s going to be very tough indeed!?
There are other challenges, too, starting with stage four?s running along an identical route to the last 100 kilometres of Liege-Bastogne-Liege. Expect Valverde to be close to the front on that stage – after all, he?s won Liege twice and finished second, all in the space of three years.
After the trek through the Ardennes and a long transfer by plane back to Spain, the real high mountains kicks in on stage eight of the Vuelta.
This is possibly the single hardest stage of the race, given there are eight (yes, eight) classified climbs on stage eight from Alzara to the deceptively difficult climb of Aitana in south-east Spain.
The next day the stage finishes on another tough climb – the short, sharp Xorret de Cati. It?s technically not a mountain top finish, given there?s a kilometre of headlong descent between the summit and the finishing line, but Xorret de Cati too, should open up some important gaps.
With so much climbing on offer, both Valverde and defending champion Alberto Contador (Astana), both of whom could be the top riders in next year?s Vuelta, said they were pleased by the 2009 route.
As Contador pointed out, ?the mountains are spread out, and there isn?t too much time trialling. It?s better for me than the 2008 route.?
?You have to be in top condition from day one: that day in Liege could catch a lot of people out, but the third week is much tougher than in previous years.?
And after doing a Giro-Vuelta double (and winning both) in 2008, Contador refused to rule out doing a Tour-Vuelta double next year.
?It?s the sort of route that makes you want to take part,? he insisted. ?I lke it a lot.?
2009 TOUR OF SPAIN: STAGES
August 29 to September 20, 2009
|1||Assen-Assen ITT||4.5 km|
|7||Valencia-Valencia ITT||30 km|
|8||Alzira-Alto de Aitana||206 km|
|9||Alcoi-Xorret de Cati||186 km|
|11||Murcia-Caravaca de la Cruz||191 km|
|12||Almeria-Alto de Velefique||174.5 km|
|13||Bejar-Alto de Sierra Nevada||175 km|
|14||Granada-La Pandera||157 km|
|17||Ciudad Real-Talavera de la Reina||175 km|
|18||Talavera de la Reina-Avila||187 km|
|20||Toledo-Toledo ITT||26 km|
Click on the map to enlarge. Route map courtesy of Unipublic.