Less summit finishes and more time trialling
The Vuelta 2014 is due to have its official launch on Saturday in Cadiz, but the Spanish newspaper ‘AS’ has unveiled what will very probably be the route, two days early.
The route apparently is set to contain one medium length and one short individual time trial (36 kilometres and 10 kilometres) - just eight kilometres more individual racing against the clock than in 2013 - as well as eight summit finishes and between one and three short, steep uphill finishes.
For the climbers, this sounds like a big drop from the Vuelta’s 12 summit finishes in 2013. But it should be remembered that some of those finishes were very short, like Valdepeñas de Jaén, making the reduction in difficulty fairly minimal. Either way, even if there are more sprint opportunities compared to 2013 like into Albacete - notwithstanding the infamous cross-winds of that flat, empty region of Spain - and Logroño, the tough third week, as in 2013 and in 2012, seems set to decide the race.
After a fourth start in its history for the Vuelta from the south-western city of Jerez de la Frontera, with (as has been the case since 2010) a team time trial, the Vuelta’s first summit finish will - according to AS - be in Cumbres Verdes on stage six. This is a five-kilometre climb with a steep middle section, near the town of La Zubia, where Cadel Evans has won in the past in the Vuelta a Andalusia.
Another difficult ascent, as the race leaves Andalusia, comes on stage nine to the ski station of Valdelinares in Teruel. Then after a rest day and short transfer north the most decisive part of the race begins.
Assuming AS is correct, the race’s main time trial will be a 36 kilometre race against the clock near Zaragoza on stage 10. Then 24 hours later comes its first major ascent, to the climb of Aralar in Navarre - where Miguel Indurain predicted there will be a key sort-out and which, combined with the time trial, should see the race’s first clear leader emerge.
Three summit finishes on stages 14, 15 and 16 - to the Camperona, the mythical Lagos de Covadonga and the Farrapona respectively - crank up the climbing action even further before a second rest day and five final stages in the north-westerly region of Galicia, where the Vuelta started in 2013.
With two of those Galician stages being mountain top finishes - stage 18 to Castrove and stage 20 to the notoriously difficult Ancares - and the last time trial in Santiago de Compostela being ultra-short, just 10 kilometres, the final stage will likely become a homage to the winner rather than decisive in itself.
Should AS’s leaked route be confirmed, whilst the Vuelta route appears to be marginally more balanced, one major logistical advantage is already clear: there is a huge drop on the very long transfers between the stages that have made the race even tougher in 2011 and 2012.
Whilst the Vuelta route is now much clearer, the participation remains uncertain, although Alberto Contador and Alejandro Valverde - the winners in 2012 and 2009 - both seem likely to take part, along with Joaquim Rodriguez, who finished on the podium in 2012 and fourth in 2013.