Just like the Vuelta a España's one individual race against the clock in 2012, this year's test in Tarazona represents the one opportunity for the time triallists to regain the upper hand on the climbers. But if 2012’s technical and lumpy time trial made it impossible for the chrono-men to do so, 2013 is another story altogether.
Starting and finishing in Tarazona and 38.8 kilometres long, the time trial begins with a steady, grinding climb on well-surfaced roads. The climb is never steep, and there are sections where it flattens out briefly, but for the first six kilometres as the time trial heads out into the countryside around Tarazona on a double-width ‘A’ road, it is anything but technical.
This changes abruptly but briefly when the race goes through the small hamlet of Los Fayos. The road narrows and for half a kilometre or so the race goes onto gnarly little backstreet roads. It’s only when the course climbs out of the hamlet and onto the start of the climb, the third category Alto de Moncayo, that the route broadens out again.
The start of the Moncayo climb is actually almost three kilometres before it ‘officially’ begins in the Vuelta route maps and it is the hardest part too: a long, relentlessly rising ramp that takes the road away from the small clumps of woodland and little rivers, into the rolling dry semi-desert that makes much of the region seem so bleak.
The ‘official’ climb starts when the road reaches 720 metres above sea level - compared to 485 metres above sea level in Tarazona - and swings right into the national park, which consists of a huge area of forest. Now on a single track, the climb is very long - nine kilometres and rising to 1090 metres above sea level - but it is not at all steep. .
The first serious hairpin and slightly tougher gradient comes after about seven kilometres and the only technical segment, as the road switches direction and leads quickly towards the summit, is reached on very gently rising roads.
The downhill, following a couple of tricky corners, is very fast. Running down a single track, it’s easy to imagine riders hitting speeds of 80 kmh or more.
Coming out of the forest, there is a difficult right hand bend which the riders will reach at speed and a short technical section through a little village. The road kicks up briefly before swinging left onto an ‘A’ road where the only segment of flat road comes. This lasts three kilometers. This is also the only part of the course which is really exposed and if the wind is strong, it could put less well-built riders in trouble.
The final six kilometres of descent is again straightforward on wide, largely well-surfaced roads. All-in-all a course which essentially consists of 18 kilometres of very gentle climbing - apart from one steeper ‘ramp’ of around two kilometres - and 18 kilometres of very gentle descending is made for out-and-out time triallsts who can handle a bit of a gradient.
The weather, too, looks good for fast times: it is set to be warm, dry and clear all day, with temperatures rising to a hot but tolerable 30 degrees in the afternoon.
On paper, it’s a good opportunity for riders like Tony Martin (Omega Pharma - Quick Step) to repeat his 2011 triumph, whilst the Vuelta’s climbers will have a tough time holding their own. With eleven summit finishes in this year’s race, though, they can hardly complain.