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Vuelta a Espana

Mountainous 2012 Vuelta in extremis

Ten summits in the cards for Spanish tour

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Everyone called the 2011 Vuelta a España the hardest ever, but things could be even tougher for this year’s edition.

Leaks in the Spanish media a day ahead of Wednesday’s official unveiling of the 2012 route in Pamplona suggest an even harder Spanish tour than last year’s that had exasperated riders saying it was the hardest grand tour they’ve ever raced.

According to the Spanish daily AS, there will be no fewer than 10 mountain-top finishes out of the 21 stages in the 67th edition, set for August 18 to September 9.

Race officials are sticking to the new, but effective practice introduced two years ago of taking the Vuelta off the long, flat boring national highways and redirecting the stages into “España profunda” on smaller, narrower roads and into more challenging terrain.

According to the leaks published in AS, there will be six official mountain-top finishes, but four other short, but explosive, hilltop summits that will prove decisive in the final outcome.

The six summits of “alto montaña” will be Valdezcaray in stage 4, Coll de la Gallina in stage 8, Ancares in stage 14, Lagos de Covadonga in stage 15, Cuitu Negro in stage 16 and the return of Bola del Mundo in the penultimate stage in the same battleground that saw a shootout between Vincenzo Nibali and Ezequiel Mosquera at the end of the 2010 Vuelta.

Stage 3 will end atop the Cat. 1 Arrate climb featured during the Vuelta al País Vasco each spring, while stage 17 finishes atop the second-category climb at Fuente Dé deep in the heart of the Picos de Europa.

And finally, there will be two short but steep hilltop finales with the Fuerte Rapitán in Jaca and the Mirador de Ézaro in stage 12, both rated third category, but steep nonetheless.

According to AS, only four of the 10 mountain finishes have been featured before in the Vuelta as finish-line climbs.

Heavy on climbing, the route will only feature two time trials. The race will open with a team time trial in the heart of Pamplona and will trace some of the route used during the “Running of the Bulls” as part of the city’s San Fermines fiestas.

The only other time trial will come in stage 11 in Galicia.

The 2012 route will also stay entirely in the north of Spain, traversing Navarra, La Rioja, Basque Country, Aragon and Catalunya before transferring north to Galicia and Asturias. Its southern-most point will be Madrid.

Check back Wednesday to VeloNews.com as European correspondent Andrew Hood will have reactions and photos from the Vuelta presentation in Pamplona.

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