By Antonio J. Salmerón
Although the Vuelta a España is until now a sprinter's business, the terrain will soon point upward - as soon as stage five on Wednesday, in fact, leading to the Covatilla climb. This summit was discovered for the Vuelta by former professional Laudelino Cubino, and may hurt those who lack competition badly this early on the parcours. One of the 2006 Vuelta favourites, Alejandro Valverde (Caisse d'Epargne) lost more than two minutes there in the 2004 edition of the race, compared to Roberto Heras (Liberty) and Santi Perez (Phonak) - both riders were later discovered to have been boosting their performances with blood doping.
After a bridging stage, another summit finish will see the riders on the top of El Morredero, where Heras, with Kelme at the time, started his palmarès in 1997. Galicia will be the waiting room of one of the decisive stages, two days later: the La Cobertoria climb, known as the "Spanish Tourmalet". This was the scene where Alex Zülle (ONCE) or Pablo Escartín (Kelme) had to bury their hopes for general classification. It consists of ten kilometres of climbing at a maximum gradient of 9.4 percent. But before even getting there, the riders will have to master the difficulties of El Puerto de Connio and El Rañadoiro, of first category, El Cerredo, of third category, and San Lorenzo, an Hors Catégorie climb.
Cuenca will be the scene of 33 kilometres against the clock will be disputed, and where the specialists may recover the lost time in the mountains. The riders will return to Andalucia in the Vuelta finishing straight with the very hard final stage on Calar Alto. There will be three days of great efforts, including the Monarchil and La Pandera climbs, where two years ago Vinokourov triumphed.
The last time trial will take place in Rivas Vacimadrid, on the penultimate day of competition. It will replace the traditional stage in the Madrilenian mountain range before the race finally gets to stroll along the capital's roads on Sunday, September 17.