The 2015 Vuelta a España route is due to be officially unveiled on Saturday. But seemingly endless leaks to the Spanish media, combined with an official presentation of the first four stages late last year already show that the Vuelta will include its usual high number of summit finishes: four in the first week alone and nine in total.
GC favourites expected to take part include Alejandro Valverde and Nairo Quintana (Movistar) as well as Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha). A repeat performance for Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo) is said to be very unlikely given he is already taking part in the Giro and Tour already. There is no indication yet whether Chris Froome (Team Sky) or Fabio Aru (Astana), both of whom were key GC factors in last year’s Vuelta, will be present at the start in Porto Banus on Saturday August 22nd.
The Vuelta’s almost excessively star-studded line-up of 2014 might be difficult to repeat but one thing is certain: with four summit finishes in the first week in the southern region of Andalusia, as well as an opening time trial - possibly individual - any favourites keen to succeed Contador as the Vuelta winner will have to hit the ground running. Extremely hot weather, always a factor in Andalusia in August, could make a difficult first week even tougher.
The added interest for fans - and challenge for the riders - is that none of the summit finishes in the entire Vuelta a España have ever formed part of the race before. Some, like Vejer de la Frontera on stage four are just 1,500 metres long. However, from the Caminato del Rey high in the southerly sierras of Malaga on stage two to the Ermita del Alba hermitage in a remote area of Asturias in northern Spain at the end of the second week, all of the final ascents are unprecedented in the Vuelta’s 80 year history.
The Pyrenees will be back with a vengeance too, given one entire stage, the 14th, will be held in Andorra. Together with the Ermita del Alba stage, they will likely be the hardest mountain stages of the race. The traditionally decisive Angliru climb will be missing for a second year running.
After its first week in Andalusia and then a long trek up the Mediterranean coast towards the Pyrenees, the third week - in the regions of northern and central Castille before a final mountain showdown just west of Madrid - is set to have a much more traditional format. First off is a long, flattish time trial that could well compensate for such a lengthy spell of mountain climbing in the first two weeks.
There are no summit finishes, new or otherwise, and instead traditional favourites like Navacerrada are expected to feature, prior to fast descents to Avila and Cercedilla. If a clear leader has emerged after the Burgos time trial - if past Vueltas are anything to go by - these final mountain stages are likely be a little superfluous.
The final stage sees the Vuelta return to its traditional finish in central Madrid, although it has yet to be decided if this is a time trial - unlikely - or a usual bunch sprint on the Paseo de la Castellana.
Provisional Vuelta 2015 route
Stage 1 - Saturday August 22nd: Porto Banus - Marbella (team/individual time trial?)
Stage 2 - Sunday August 23rd: Alhaurin de la Torre - Caminito del Rey (summit finish 1)
Stage 3 - Monday August 24th: Mijas - Malaga
Stage 4 - Tuesday August 25th: Estepona - Vejer de la Frontera (summit finish 2)
Stage 5 - Wednesday August 26th: Cadiz? - ?
Stage 6 - Thursday August 27th: Cordoba? - Cazorla (summit finish 3)
Stage 7- Friday August 28th: Jodar - Capilleira (summit finish 4)
Stage 8 - Saturday August 29th: Granada? - Murcia
Stage 9 - Sunday August 30th: Torrevieja - Cumbre del Sol (summit finish 5)
Stage 10 - Monday August 31st: Valencia - Castellon
Andorra (rest day 1) - Tuesday September 1st
Stage 11 - Wednesday September 2nd: Andorra - Andorra (summit finish 6)
Stage 12 - Thursday September 3rd: Andorra - Lleida
Stage 13 - Friday September 4th: Catalayud (?) - Tarazona
Stage 14 - Saturday September 5th: Vitoria - Fuente del Chivo (summit finish 7)
Stage 15 - Sunday September 6th: Comillas (?) - Soltres (summit finish 8)
Stage 16 - Monday September 7th: Luarca (?) - Ermita del Alba (summit finish 9)
Burgos (rest day 2) - Tuesday September 8th
Stage 17 - Wednesday September 9th: Burgos - Burgos: individual time trial (40kms?)
Stage 18 - Thursday September 10th: Roa de Duero - Valladolid
Stage 19 - Friday September 11th: Medina del Campo - Avila
Stage 20 - Saturday September 12th: San Lorenzo del Escorial (?) - Cercedilla
Stage 21 - Sunday September 13th: ? - Madrid.