Race director outlines his vision for the future of Spain’s Grand Tour
Vuelta a España director Javier Guillén has revealed his vision for the Spanish Grand Tour, revealing he is ready to discuss cutting the length of the race as long as there is some significant payoff, primarily a stronger field on the start-line.
Race organisers Unipublic, which is about to become a wholly-owned affiliate of Tour de France owners ASO, has long contemplated changes to the format of the Vuelta in order to boost its popularity among riders, fans and TV viewers. Some innovations have been made over the past two decades, notably a switch from an April to August start date and the introduction of a red leader’s jersey that’s more in tune with the colours of Spain’s national teams in most other sports.
Guillén spoke at a forum organised by Spanish sports newspaper AS, where he also confirmed that all the anti-doping tests done during this year’s race were negative. He affirmed there is still more to be done, especially in Spain, where top-level cycling is in decline but said the Vuelta can be used much more as a promotional tourism tool for Spain.
A two-week Vuelta?
Speaking about the possibility of these changes including the introduction of a third rest day or even a cut to the three-week duration of the Vuelta and the Giro d’Italia, so that they run for two weeks or a little more, Guillén stated: “That is a debate that is certainly going to take place.”
Guillén continued: “I can see the third rest day happening if there is a large transfer, like there is in the  Giro, which will start in Ireland. A cut from a three-week race must be done for the right reasons and would be accepted if a new calendar was brought in and other races were in agreement. But we would have to get something back in return. If this meant that we could count on Froome, Contador or Purito [Rodríguez] always riding, it would be welcome.”
The Vuelta director said that, “the route of the race would continue to be innovative”. He added that Unipublic will endeavour to draw on Spain’s geographical riches and will stick to its preference for short stages and “explosive finishes, which have given us most of our personality”.
Echoing the line long taken by ASO with the Tour de France, Guillén insisted the Vuelta is much more than a sporting event. It is, he suggested, a tool that can promote Spain and Spanish culture.
“We have to introduce the country’s geography and gastronomy as part of our offering. We have to be a great televisual spectacular that takes place on public roads and converts the race into a huge festival, focused on starts and finishes.”
He revealed Unipublic is already working with Spanish television network TVE on boosting the race’s televisual impact. “This is how the Tour works, and it achieves splendid results. Based on the television images you see, anyone would say there’s nothing ugly to see in France.”
Guillén lamented the current state of Spanish cycling, but insisted a rise in TV viewing figures for the Vuelta and the advent in 2015 of the new team backed by Spanish F1 star Fernando Alonso were signs of a change for the better. “The stronger the Vuelta is, the stronger Spanish cycling will be,” he concluded.