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PAMPLONA, Spain (VN) — Ten uphill finishes and only one individual time trial tips the 2012 Vuelta a España clearly in favor of the climbers, with one name rising to the top: Katusha’s Joaquim Rodríguez.
A spectacular 21-stage Vuelta — set for August 18 to September 9 — was unveiled Wednesday in Pamplona in a route that’s loaded with short, steep summit finales that have been the currency of late for the Spanish tour over the past few years.
Back are such climbs as Lagos de Covadonga and the Bola del Mundo, but it’s the steep and explosive climbs in northern Spain that should crown the eventual winner of the season’s final grand tour.
Everyone agreed that this profile is ideal for Rodríguez, who’s held the leader’s jersey in the past two Vueltas only to lose it to stronger time trialists. With only one time trial and 10 uphill finales, this could be “Purito’s” big chance.
“It’s a surprising, it’s demanding, it will be a beautiful Vuelta. There are a lot of hard stages,” said Rodriguez. “Everyone knows that I really suffer in time trials, so this Vuelta route is ideal for me. Even the one time trial has a climb, which will help me limit my losses.”
Samuel Sánchez, climber Igor Antón and defending champion Juanjo Cobo all agreed that this is ideal terrain for Rodríguez.
“This Vuelta is for someone like Purito,” said the defending Olympic champion Sánchez. “We’ve seen last year that these explosive stages are ideal for him.”
The 67th edition of the Spanish tour returns to Pamplona 18 years after it last played host to a stage. It should be a spectacular start to what looks like a challenging and explosive route.
For the third year in a row, the Vuelta opens with a 16.2km team time trial, this time in downtown Pamplona, tracing part of the route used each summer during the San Fermínes fiesta and the Running of the Bulls. The only other TT comes in the second week in a hilly, 42km route in Spain’s Galicia region that features a third-category climb midway through the stage.
With 10 uphill finishes, the Vuelta is clearly tipped in favor of the climbers. The first comes no sooner than stage 3, with a summit finish on the first-category Arrate summit featured in the Vuelta al País Vasco.
“It’s a mythic climb for those of us in Basque Country,” said Antón, who doesn’t discount his own chances. “You have to be ready and not lose time in these first stages.”
There’s another uphill finale in stage 4 and again in stage 7 before rolling into Andorra for stage 8 in what will be the fourth uphill finale in a week of racing.
“You have to pay attention right from the start, to not lose time, everyone must be on a good level right from the start,” said two-time winner Denis Menchov. ” As we’ve seen in the past Vueltas that there’s a lot of tension with these short, but steep uphill finishes.”
Sprinters won’t get many chances. On paper, stages 2, 5 and 7 look likely for sprinters in the first half, but even stages such as the ninth into Barcelona features a sharp, third-category climb in the final 10km that could bust up the peloton. In the second half, even rolling stages to Valladolid in stage 18 and stage 19 to La Lastrilla could be difficult to control against breakaways and heavy crosswinds.
From Catalunya, the Vuelta entourage makes a long transfer from Barcelona to Galicia, with the riders and journalists taking a flight and the auxiliary staff making a long, 1,100km drive.
Four stages across Galicia feature hilly terrain and narrow roads. The Vuelta’s lone individual time trial is 42km over technical roads and hits a third-category climb midway through the route, something that the Spanish goats like at first glance.
Three decisive climbing stages are packed into northern Spain around the brutal climbs in Asturias. The first is a short, 154km roller coaster ending atop Ancares. Following that is a return to Lagos de Covadonga and a four-climb “queen” stage in stage 16 finishing atop Cuitu Negro, which includes two closing kilometers (that still need to be paved) up the side of a Spanish ski area.
“These three days are decisive,” Sánchez said. “Everyone knows Lagos and you can lose everything there if you have a bad day. These stages should resolve almost everything.”
A string of transition stages carries the Vuelta to the final showdown up the Bola del Mundo, the demanding climb in the mountains north of Madrid.
“The idea is to fight for the Vuelta and to be with the best,” Cobo said. “It’s a Vuelta ideal for Joaquim, a very demanding Vuelta. We want to be in the best possible condition to make a real fight so that the fans can enjoy the show.”
The 2012 Vuelta route stays completely in the northern half of the country, with Madrid its southern-most point. The race also returns to shorter stages around 150km to 170km, rather than longer stages of 180km to 200km.
“Northern Spain will deliver us the Vuelta we wanted,” said race director Javier Guillén. “We are sticking with a formula that works, with shorter stages that are explosive and wide-open.”
Five-time Tour de France winner Miguel Indurain, who hails from Navarra, was the star attraction among a big crowd of media and public who piled into Pamplona’s congress center. Recently retired Carlos Sastre was also in attendance.
Missing were Team Sky’s podium tandem of Chris Froome and Bradley Wiggins, both at a team training camp.
Alberto Contador (Saxo Bank), also at a team camp in the Canary islands, also did not make the trip as he waits the outcome of his long-running clenbuterol case. Contador has hinted he might race this year’s Vuelta if he’s cleared on doping charges by the Court of Arbitration for Sport, a decision that could come as soon as this week.
Vuelta a España 2012 route
Saturday 18 August. Stage one: Pamplona – Pamplona, team time trial, 16.2km
Sunday 19 August. Stage 2: Pamplona – Viana, 180km
Monday 20 August. Stage 3. Oion – Arrate (Eibar). Summit finish, 153km
Tuesday 21 August. Stage 4: Baracaldo – Valdezcaray. Summit finish, 155.4km
Wednesday 22 August. Stage 5: Logroño – Logroño, 172km
Thursday 23 August. Stage 6: Zaragoza (Tarazona) – El Fuerte del Rapitán (Jaca), 174.8km
Friday 24 August. Stage 7: Jaca – Motorland (Alcañiz), 160km
Saturday 25 August. Stage 8: Lleida – Santuario Canolich (Coll de la Gallina). Summit finish, 175km
Sunday 26 August. Stage 9. Andorra – Barcelona, 194km
Monday 27 August. Rest day and Transfer Barcelona – Ponteareas
Tuesday 28 August. Stage 10: Ponteareas – Sanxenxo, 166.4km
Wednesday 29 August. Stage 11: Cambados – Pontevedra, individual time trial, 42km
Thursday 30 August. Stage 12: Vilagarcía – Mirador de Ezaro (A Coruña), 184.6km
Friday 31 August. Stage 12: Santiago de Compostela – Ferrol, 172.4km
Saturday 1 September. Stage 14: Lugo – Los Ancares. Summit finish, 152km
Sunday 2 September. Stage 15: La Robla – Lagos de Covadonga. Summit finish, 186.7km
Monday 3 September. Stage 16: Gijón (Villa de Jovellanos) – Cuitu Negro. Summit finish, 185km
Tuesday 4 September. Rest day
Wednesday 5 September. Stage 17: Santander – Fuente Dé, 177km
Thursday 6 September. Stage 18: Aguilar de Campoo – Valladolid, 186.4km
Friday 7 September. Stage 19: Peñafiel – La Lastrilla, 169km
Saturday 8 September. Stage 20: La Faisanera Golf – Bola del Mundo. Summit finish, 169.5km
Sunday 9 September. Stage 21: Cercedilla – Madrid, 111.9km