The return of the Volta a la Comunitat Valenciana in February 2016 has generated a huge amount of interest from teams, race organisers report, with 34 squads applying for one of the 20 spots available for the five-day stage race. Astana have already said they would send Vuelta a España winner Fabio Aru to the event.
Running from February 3rd - 7th, the early season race is back on the calendar for the first time since 2008, when Valencia-born rider Rubén Plaza (Lampre-Merida) won it. Plaza went on to win stages in the Tour de France and Vuelta a España this year.
For Spain, the return of the Volta a la Comunitat Valenciana represents an all but unprecedented reversal of the trend of recent years, during which numerous races were reduced in length or folded completely. The country’s hardest economic recession in decades has left gaping holes in sports sponsorships, and large spaces on the race calendar. To name but a few, Valencia, the Setimana Catalana and the Vuelta a Aragon have all disappeared.
However, 2001 Vuelta a España winner Angel Casero and his brother Rafael, also a former pro, have spearheaded a locally-based effort to revive at least one of these week-long events, traditionally the backbone of Spanish professional racing. In Valencia’s case, the race dates back to 1929 and has been won by the likes of Eddy Merckx, Bernard Hinault and Stephen Roche. "A lot of people, amongst them myself and my brother, were very keen to seen Valencia return to the calendar," Casero told Cyclingnews. "So we started to work together to try and make it happen."
The race will clash with the Tour of Dubai, the Etoile de Besseges, the GP Etruschi and the Herald Sun Tour, but Casero says a slot in February was what they preferred nonetheless. "We wanted dates at this time of year because that’s when it was traditionally held, either at the beginning or the end of February. It forms a good block of racing for the teams in this part of Spain, starting with Mallorca (January 28 - 31st) and then running on through to Murcia (February 13), Almeria (February 14th), and then the Vuelta a Andalucia (February 17-21st).
"We got the dates confirmed by the UCI last autumn, and since then it’s been something of a race against the clock to get it all organised."
Interest in racing in February in Spain is high, and Casero says 34 teams have applied for a slot in the Valencia race, including Astana and Team Sky. 10 of the squads will be WorldTour, the other 10 selected from Pro Continental and Continental teams.
The route itself has the typical format of an early season event, in this case starting with a fairly short, 17 kilometre individual time trial in northern Valencia, running from Benicasim to Oropesa, before two less complicated stages. The biggest climbing challenges will come on stage 4, starting in Orihuela, and containing two mountain passes prior the short but notoriously steep ascent to Lloret de Cati. The final stage is for the sprinters, ending on a city centre circuit in Valencia. "The aim is for the starts and finishes of the two intermediate stages to be decided in the next 10 days."
Casero says he is already fielding a host of questions about whether he plans to revive the GP Luis Puig, the one-day event in the southern half of the Valencia region which traditionally preceded the main stage race itself, but which folded in 2005. But he is cautious, saying "for now, I want to get the stage race off the ground. There’s plenty of time for that."