Wednesday, 10 August 2011

The Vuelta 2011 race preview

Saturday 20th marks the start of the 66th Vuelta e Espana. Starting in Benidorm with a 13.5km evening Team Time Trial and ending on September 11th in Madrid, the route of 3300km is a mix of 9 flat and 10 mountain stages. Six of the stages will end with summit finishes including the Angliru climb which returns after a 3 year absence. This year’s Vuelta promises to be hard and is sure to be dominated by the true climbers. However with many of the ‘plain’ stages providing opportunities for bunch finishes, there is sure to be a hot points competition as the sprinters fine tune their form ahead of the World Championships in Denmark in October. The first week will see them battle it out particularly on stage 3. Starting in the province of Alicante and finishing in Murcia, this stage is one of the shortest with just two cat 3 climbs.
While the Pyrenees does not feature in this year’s route, there is a return to the Basque region after a three decade absence. Following protests in 1978 that saw the course blocked the race has not returned before this edition. But with the Basque’s being lead by a non nationalist they have lobbied for this return and the final week will showcase this as the peloton travels from Bodegas Faustino (the start of stage 17) through to Vitoria-Gasteiz for the final showdown on stage 20.

With two mountain stages before the time trial and a second week that includes some of the toughest climbs as Folgueriiras of Aigas is climbed ahead of the Puerto de Ancares (stage 13) the day before the riders return to the region of Asturias after a two year absence to climb the La Farrapona right before the Alto de Angliru (stage 15) there are sure to be fireworks in the race for the Red Jersey. But there is no certainty that a leader will emerge in this second week that will safely carry the Jersey into Madrid at the end of the third week. The winding route of stage 17 could lead to a dangerous breakaway into the complicated Sía and Alisa mountain passes and this could shake up the GC. If times are close then the Puerto de Urquiola could prove to be the deciding factor on the penultimate stage.