Vuelta a Espana

Short and explosive: The 2013 Vuelta a Espana blasts off from the gun

Packed with short, explosive stages, the 2013 Vuelta hopes to build on the excitement of last year's edition

Short and explosive: that’s the mantra for the 2013 Vuelta a España.

It’s a climber fiesta for the season’s third grand tour, unveiled Saturday in Galicia, with no fewer than 11 summit finales set for the 21-stage romp across Spain from August 24 to September 15.

Two hard days across the Pyrénées — Coll de la Gallina and the Peyragudes in stage 14 and 15 — and the fearsome L’Anglirú on the penultimate day should prove the most decisive stages.

With one individual time trial (stage 11), perhaps six days for the sprinters and a team time trial to open the action in northwest Spain, it’s clear where the Vuelta will be won: in the mountains.

A handful of top Spanish stars in attendance during Saturday’s presentation were quick to call the route demanding and unpredictable.

“It will be very hard right from the first stages,” said defending champion Alberto Contador (Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank). “You never know where the race can be decided. You can never relax on this course.”

Contador won last year’s Vuelta in a dramatic, final-week attack, something race organizers are hoping to see a repeat of with a demanding, punishing course.

Alejandro Valverde (Movistar), second to Contador last year with three stage wins, echoed his rival’s observations.

“It’s scary just looking at it,” Valverde said in a broadcast on Spanish TV. “There are a lot of mountains, but that’s what the fans want to see and that’s the most important. It will be a race for climbers and you have to arrive ready to race, because the opening days can prove very important for the GC.”

Vuelta organizers are sticking to the blueprint they’ve introduced over the past successful editions and have kept most of the stages between 160km and 180km.

That keeps the action tight and packs in most of the exciting attacks within an hour of racing from the finish line.

The exception is the 232km stage 15, the Vuelta’s longest, which will be an old-school battle of attrition over four first-category climbs in what will be the “queen stage.”

“It’s the longer stages where the real differences can be made,” judged Contador, who still has not confirmed whether he will defend his title. “There’s only one time trial, and it has a climb as well, but it comes a day after a rest day, so there could be some important differences made.”

The route sweeps counterclockwise across Spain, starting in Galicia in northwest Spain, before turning south toward Andalucia. A transfer takes the race to Catalunya and into the Pyrénées for the second week.

The final push across the Cantabrian mountains will see the return of L’Anglirú, loved by fans and hated by many in the peloton. With ramps as steep as 27 percent and weather that is often poor, the L’Anglirú could decide everything on the penultimate day.

“Fans want to see epic racing,” said Vuelta race director Javier Guillén. “The Vuelta already has its personality and the fans know what they can expect. We have delivered a spicy course.”

Return to France

Unlike last year’s Vuelta, which stayed only in the northern half of the country, this year’s edition takes in nearly every corner of Spain plus a return to France for the “queen stage” across the Pyrénées.

The Vuelta opens with five days in the verdant northwest corner of Spain in Galicia along the narrow fiords called “rias baixas.

An opening 27km team time trial on rolling, sinuous roads will deliver up the first race leader’s jersey, but it will prove slippery to hold onto. With time bonuses and a bumpy opening week, the race should see plenty of attacks and movement in the GC.

With 11 summit finales on the menu, things get interesting right from the gun. Stage 2 features a first-category finale up Alto de Groba and the next day punches to the top of the Cat. 3 Mirador de Lobeira.

Those opening stages could prove decisive in the GC battle. If someone gains a marked advantage, rivals might race for the podium instead of racing to win.

“There is the risk that the Vuelta could be decided too early,” said Euskaltel-Euskadi manager Igor González de Galdeano. “The fans get hooked on the Vuelta every day, so let’s not hope things get settled too soon and the race loses interest. I hope it turns out like it did in 2012.”

With 33km to go, the route in Stage 4 tackles the short but punishing Mirador de Ézaro, featured in last year’s Vuelta, with ramps as steep as 30 percent, making it one of Europe’s steepest roads.

Stage 5 detours through the desolate region around Lago de Sanabria, home to some of Spain’s last surviving wild wolves.

Stage 6 and 7 are the first chances for any sprinters who bother to show up for the Vuelta as the route turns south, plowing across the flats of Extremadura and into Andalucía.

Three straight uphill finales at the Cat. 1 Peñas Blancas, Cat. 2 Valdepeñas de Jaén and the “especíal” summit category at Hazallanas should prove explosive and hard to control.

After a long transfer toward Catalunya, the second week opens with the lone ITT, a rolling 38km route that features a third-category climb that will help the mountain goats limit their losses against any TT specialists.

“The time trial is not too long, so that’s better for me,” Valverde said. “The route is demanding from the first day. There’s no chance to catch your breath. That’s what people want to see today.”

Two transition stages across Catalunya will give sprinters and stage-hunters a chance to shine before a trio of climbing stages across the Pyrénées.

Stage 14 tackles three climbs before ending atop the La Gallina climb in Andorra. The next day pushes into France with four first-category climbs, including the Peyragudes summit finale where Valverde won a stage in the 2012 Tour de France.

The threesome concludes with the grinding climb to the Formigal ski area, perhaps a day for attackers to make a run for a stage win as the GC riders collect their breath for what lies ahead.

The final week includes a shot for the sprinters into Burgos before three more uphill finales squeeze the peloton to the core.

Peña Cabarga, where Juanjo Cobo fended off Chris Froome to secure victory in 2011, and the Naranco climb in Asturias serve as appetizers for the return of the L’Anglirú, back in the Vuelta for the sixth time.

The penultimate stage up the horrific climb will settle the business of who will win the Vuelta before a final parade route down the Paseo de la Castellana in Madrid to put an exclamation point on what looks to be a wild and unpredictable route.

• La Vuelta by the numbers: 1 team time trial, 1 individual time trial, 2 rest days, 6 flat stages, 11 summit finales, 13 stages of medium or high mountains, 21 stages, 41 rated climbs (3 ‘especial,’ 14 Cat. 1, 5 Cat. 2, 19 Cat. 3), 65 time trial kilometers, 2,380 meters (highest point at Port de Envalira), 3,319 total distance in kilometers

Stages of the 2013 Vuelta a España

Stage 1 – Saturday, August 24: Villanova de Arousa to Sanxenxo, 27km (team time trial)

Stage 2 – Sunday, August 25: Pontevedra to Alto de Groba, 176.8km (medium mountains)

Stage 3 – Monday, August 26: Vigo to Mirador de Lobeira, 172.5km (Cat. 3 finale)

Stage 4 – Tuesday, August 27: Lalín to Fisterra, 186.4km (medium mountains)

Stage 5 – Wednesday, August 28: Sober to Lago de Sanabria, 168.4km (medium mountains)

Stage 6 – Thursday, August 29: Guijelo to Cáceres, 177.3km (flat)

Stage 7 – Friday, August 30: Almendralejo to Mirena de Aljarafe, 195.5km (flat)

Stage 8 – Saturday, August 31: Jerez de la Frontera to Alto de Peñas Blancas (medium mountain)

Stage 9 – Sunday, September 1: Antequera to Valdepeñas de Jaén, 174.3km (Cat. 3 finale)

Stage 10 – Monday, September 2: Torredelcampo to Alto de Hazallanas, 175.5km (category “especíal” finale)

Rest day – Tuesday, September 3

Stage 11 – Wednesday, September 4: Tarazona-Tarazona, 38km (individual time trial)

Stage 12 – Thursday, September 5: Maella to Taragona, 157km (flat)

Stage 13 – Friday, September 6: Valls to Castelldefels, 165km (medium mountain)

Stage 14 – Saturday, September 7: Bagá to Coll de la Gallina, 164km (Cat. 1 finale)

Stage 15 – Sunday, September 8: Andorra to Peyragudes, 232.5km (Cat. 1 finale)

Stage 16 – Monday, September 9: Graus to Formigal, 147.7km (Cat. 1 finale)

Rest day – Tuesday, September 10

Stage 17 – Wednesday, September 11: Calahorra to Burgos, 184.5km (flat)

Stage 18 – Thursday, September 12: Burgos to Peña Cabarga, 186km (Cat. 1 finale)

Stage 19 – Friday, September 13: San Vicente de la Barquera to Alto del Naranco, 177.5km (Cat. 1 finale)

Stage 20 – Saturday, September 14: Avilés to Alto de L’Anglirú, 144.1km (category “especial” finale)

Stage 21 – Sunday, September 15: Leganés to Madrid, 99.1km (flat)

For more, see the Vuelta website: