As a former winner, twice second, twice third, fourth and fifth overall in the Vuelta since 2003, Alejandro Valverde’s home race holds few secrets for the Spaniard. And at the Vuelta launch on Saturday the 33-year-old said he did not agree with those claming that the 2014 race route was be a lot easier than 2013.
“Maybe it’s a bit less hard but the Vuelta is always difficult,” the Movistar rider stated categorically. “It’s the riders who make a race tough, more than the route itself.”
Asked to pinpoint a stage that could be particularly challenging, the Spaniard said, “I don’t know the Aralar [stage 11 summit finish] climb, but it’s clearly very hard.”
“Overall there are a lot of shorter, punchy climbs, which will make it difficult, even without the Pyrenees.”
“I don’t think the final time trial will cause any changes, unless there’s a 15 or 20 second gap between two of the top riders’ placings. On paper it should all be decided.”
He said he preferred a short, almost symbolic time trial on the last day to a bunch sprint stage because “when it’s 120 kilometres and ends on the [central Madrid avenue of Paseo de la] Castellana your head disconnects early on and then when you start going flat out on the last few laps it’s very tough. At least in 10 kilometres it’s all over quickly.”
It was, he said, far too early to start naming favourites - although he then reeled off a list including “Contador, Purito [Rodriguez - Katusha], Samu [Samuel Sanchez.”
Valverde’s team-mate Nairo Quintana may be in the Vuelta, although after racing the Giro in May it has yet to be decided whether the young Colombian will be up for a second Grand Tour in one year. After missing out on the 2013 Vuelta, Contador, though, confirmed his presence in a recorded video clip sent in from his training camp in the Canary Islands, stating simply “see you there in Jerez de la Frontera on August 23rd.”
As for the little-known early climb to Cumbres Verdes, the race’s first summit finish, several of the Spanish riders know it from their amateur days when it was used as a time trial in the Tour of Granada.
“It’s one of those draggy, difficult climbs where it’s really hard to find a steady pace,” commented 2008 Olympic road-race winner Samuel Sánchez, present at the Vuelta presentation and still on the hunt for a team in 2014.
“For sure it’ll do some real damage. It’ll be like last year at [the Sierra Nevada stage] of Hazallanas.”
In the Cadiz congress hall, there was also an ongoing discussion as to which stage would be the toughest day in the mountains. Route co-designer Fernando Escartín opted for stage 16 to La Farrapona, just 159.8 kilometres but with five first category climbs, whilst 1988 Tour de France winner Pedro Delgado plumped for stage 20, which culminates with the Hors Categorie ascent to Ancares - two kilometres longer than in 2012, when Purito Rodriguez won ahead of Contador and Valverde and using the more difficult Galician approach road to the summit.