By Les Clarke
This year's Vuelta a España, as in previous years, has no clear favourite, and nothing is a certainty. Except, of course, that riders will face heat, winds and plenty of climbing in a race that is unforgiving and usually dominated by climbers. Held over 3368.5km, the 60th edition of the 'Spanish loop' features three individual time trials, nine days of climbing with 11 cat 1 climbs and a quality field of riders intent on making a mark on the Pro Tour in the final Grand Tour of the year.
Last year's winner, Roberto Heras, has already said that "the Ordino-Arcalís, Lados de Covadonga and Pajares stages are going to be the hardest." Most climbers are pleased with the race route, and according to Liberty Seguros' Joseba Beloki, although there are "no explosive summit finishes, it should be good for the climbers." He also believes that "the race will be hard throughout, but the second week looks particularly tough. The stages to Valdelinares, Andorra and Aramón Cerler will be real deciders."
The usual Spanish suspects are there, including Heras, Mancebo, Beltran, Sevilla and Gonzalez de Galdeano, plus a host of Pro Tour stars including Tom Danielson and Erik Zabel are scheduled to be making appearances in Spain after a disappointing July. Floyd Landis is back after wearing gold in 2004, where he reveled in his role as a senior team member. After the hype and glamour of the Tour riders are faced with an extremely tough test, with harsh conditions and partisan crowds.
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