Just a month after finish of the Tour de France, the final Grand Tour of the 2011 season, the Vuelta a España will begin on Saturday in Benidorm. The 66th edition takes in the entire length and much of the breadth of Spain, from the Mediterranean coast to the Basque country then back to Madrid for the traditional finish.
Cyclingnews has put together a stage-by-stage guide of the race, with key details, descriptions, and insider analysis from race director Javier Guillén, Movistar’s David López, Euskaltel-Euskadi’s Igor Antón and Johnny Weltz, the Garmin-Cervélo DS and ex-ONCE pro.
Javier Guillén has again decided to kick off this year’s race with a team time trial - though uniquely it starts on a beach.
"The start ramp will actually be right on the sand, which will provide a great spectacle."
After only three days of racing the Vuelta arrives at its first high mountain peak, with a testing finish on the difficult Sierra Nevada. Igor Anton, who abandoned the race while wearing the leader's jeresey in 2010, felt that the climb could well surprise many coming so early in the race.
"This is going to be a complicated stage. You will need to be well placed going onto the final climb because there will be some significant gaps at the finish today."
The crucial time trial in Salamanca on stage 10 could prove the undoing of riders like Joaquim Rodriguez who completely collapsed in last year’s test. Johnny Weltz predicts with a flat and windy course similar to last year, riders like Bradley Wiggins and Denis Menchov will be able to put in significant gains on their rivals.
"It’s not normal for the Vuelta to have a very long time trial like this and it will really suit guys like Denis. Like last year’s time trial though, this will throw up some surprises."
The race may have been decided by the time the race reaches the Basque country, but neither of the stages are easy. Stage 19 from Noja to Bilbao will test the legs of the peloton and the double ascent of the Alto El Vivero could be the springboard for a general classification contender to get away. David Lopez a veteran of the Vuelta, is anticipating another day of full-gas.
"I’d expect breaks to go all the way on both stages [in the Basque country] - but the stage will be very intense and the action will be full on from the start."
To check out all the details of a mountainous Vuelta, be sure to visit each of stage previews here.