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Gruelling Vuelta a España promises action and unpredictability

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The Vuelta 2010 route launch was held in Seville, Spain - the location for the opening team time trial next August.

The Vuelta 2010 route launch was held in Seville, Spain - the location for the opening team time trial next August.
(Image credit: Shane Stokes)
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The Vuelta 2010 route launch took place in the Palacio de Congresos y Exposiciones, a fairly striking building.

The Vuelta 2010 route launch took place in the Palacio de Congresos y Exposiciones, a fairly striking building.
(Image credit: Shane Stokes)
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The Vuelta had full billing there today.

The Vuelta had full billing there today.
(Image credit: Shane Stokes)
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Bernard Hinault in intense discussion.

Bernard Hinault in intense discussion.
(Image credit: Shane Stokes)
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Hinault talks with Angelino Soler, the 1961 Vuelta champion.

Hinault talks with Angelino Soler, the 1961 Vuelta champion.
(Image credit: Shane Stokes)
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Ezequiel Mosquera, Samuel Sanchez, Alberto Contador and Alejandro Valverde at the presentation.

Ezequiel Mosquera, Samuel Sanchez, Alberto Contador and Alejandro Valverde at the presentation.
(Image credit: Shane Stokes)
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Between Sanchez, Contador and Valverde, they have racked up numerous stages plus three overall victories in the race.

Between Sanchez, Contador and Valverde, they have racked up numerous stages plus three overall victories in the race.
(Image credit: Shane Stokes)
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Mosquera said he is looking forward to the mountains in 2010.

Mosquera said he is looking forward to the mountains in 2010.
(Image credit: Shane Stokes)
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Former Vuelta and Tour de France winner Pedro Delgado was one of those presenting the new route.

Former Vuelta and Tour de France winner Pedro Delgado was one of those presenting the new route.
(Image credit: Shane Stokes)
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Many past stars and Vuelta winners were brought out on stage, including Hinault, Soler and Delgado.

Many past stars and Vuelta winners were brought out on stage, including Hinault, Soler and Delgado.
(Image credit: Shane Stokes)
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The 75th anniversary and 65th edition of the race celebrated its heritage with this gesture, and also with some stirring video clips from older editions.

The 75th anniversary and 65th edition of the race celebrated its heritage with this gesture, and also with some stirring video clips from older editions.
(Image credit: Shane Stokes)
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Sanchez, Contador and Valverde sit on stage and check out the details on small tv screens.

Sanchez, Contador and Valverde sit on stage and check out the details on small tv screens.
(Image credit: Shane Stokes)
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They then posed for photos...

They then posed for photos...
(Image credit: Shane Stokes)
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...and didn't seem too perturbed by the paparazzi shots.

...and didn't seem too perturbed by the paparazzi shots.
(Image credit: Shane Stokes)
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The last time many of the Vuelta people saw Valverde, he was clad in the Maillot Oro.

The last time many of the Vuelta people saw Valverde, he was clad in the Maillot Oro.
(Image credit: Shane Stokes)
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The riders were presented with a book of images from this year's race.

The riders were presented with a book of images from this year's race.
(Image credit: Shane Stokes)
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We guess that's going in a prominent place on his coffee table.

We guess that's going in a prominent place on his coffee table.
(Image credit: Shane Stokes)
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Sanchez isn't officially allowed to wear the Olympic logo due to OTT IOC rules, but his gold earrings celebrate his victory.

Sanchez isn't officially allowed to wear the Olympic logo due to OTT IOC rules, but his gold earrings celebrate his victory.
(Image credit: Shane Stokes)
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Sanchez was runner-up this season and would be all too willing to climb to the top step of the podium.

Sanchez was runner-up this season and would be all too willing to climb to the top step of the podium.
(Image credit: Shane Stokes)
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The Tour de France will be Sanchez's main target next year; he'll make a decision about Vuelta participation closer to the date of the race.

The Tour de France will be Sanchez's main target next year; he'll make a decision about Vuelta participation closer to the date of the race.
(Image credit: Shane Stokes)
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Valverde gave interviews to the journalists present, and also to radio stations via mobile phone.

Valverde gave interviews to the journalists present, and also to radio stations via mobile phone.
(Image credit: Shane Stokes)
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Providing his CAS appeals go in his favour, Valverde will be targetting the Tour and also possibly the Vuelta.

Providing his CAS appeals go in his favour, Valverde will be targetting the Tour and also possibly the Vuelta.
(Image credit: Shane Stokes)
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Sanchez fulfills a photos request.

Sanchez fulfills a photos request.
(Image credit: Shane Stokes)
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Sanchez also had radio interviews to do.

Sanchez also had radio interviews to do.
(Image credit: Shane Stokes)
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Valverde's other tasks included signing jerseys.

Valverde's other tasks included signing jerseys.
(Image credit: Shane Stokes)
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Valverde puts his signature on a Maillot Oro. With the leader's jersey turning red next year, is this the last time gold-coloured ones are seen?

Valverde puts his signature on a Maillot Oro. With the leader's jersey turning red next year, is this the last time gold-coloured ones are seen?
(Image credit: Shane Stokes)
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Contador was also asked for photos.

Contador was also asked for photos.
(Image credit: Shane Stokes)
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Contador may attempt a Tour-Vuelta double next season.

Contador may attempt a Tour-Vuelta double next season.
(Image credit: Shane Stokes)
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How to tempt a badger...

How to tempt a badger...
(Image credit: Shane Stokes)

Unveiled today in what was a glitzy presentation held in Seville, the route of the 65th Vuelta a España appears to guarantee plenty of attacking and a race full of suspense.

This year’s champion Alejandro Valverde, last year’s victor Alberto Contador plus the 2009 runner-up Samuel Sanchez were guests of honour and all three were salivating at the thoughts of what will be in store.

“It is a very nice Vuelta, and a hard one,” said Valverde, who won his first Grand Tour in September and wants to add to that tally.

Double Tour de France winner Contador gave his own approval. “I think it is going to be a great Vuelta for those watching. It’s going to be a special edition of the race. I like the route, although I would have liked another time trial in it.”

Sanchez will also agree with the last sentiment, especially as he finished second behind David Millar in the penultimate test of this year’s race. However he too was happy with what he saw.

“It is a good Vuelta. It is a great course for climbers. There is a time trial of 46 kilometres, and plenty of stages that are very hard. For example, I think the climb of Cottobello on stage 16 is going to be a very tough and, for me, that will be the Queen stage of the Vuelta.”

Today’s presentation can best be billed as epic, taking place in a huge auditorium (the Palacio de Congresos y Exposiciones de Sevilla), and featuring stirring video segments complete with soaring music, dramatic slo-mo images and glitzy graphics. The opening clip focussed on the history of the race, underlining that this 65th Vuelta is an important anniversary for the event.

Black and white film of the riders on crude road surfaces segued into more colourful shots, taking those present on a chronological journey through the years and featuring many of the great champions and big battles. Images of the 2008 and 2009 editions were then followed by the real meat of the launch; namely the details of next year’s route, and an insight into what kind of race it should be.

The 2010 Route

The action gets underway on Saturday August 28th with an unusual 16.5 kilometre team time trial on the streets of Seville. Holding it at night-time, it guarantees that the later teams will complete their test in total darkness, and while street lighting will be used, there will clearly be higher concentration required than usual.

Day two is most likely one for the sprinters, although the 173 kilometre route from Alcalá de Guadaíra to Marbella includes two category three ascents. The second of these is over 1,100 metres in height and will entice strong riders to attack and try to foil the fast men.

The following stage makes things far more difficult again, thanks to two ascents of the first category Puerto de Léon, plus an uphill finish into Málaga. The final 1.5 kilometres up to the Castillo de Gibralfaro could see gaps open in the general classification and, if Columbia HTC’s Allan Peiper is right, the big guns may already be to the fore. If so, this will have repercussions for quite some time afterwards.

“From day three there will already be a climber in the lead, and his team is going to have to take control,” he predicts. “Whether that is Valverde, Contador or Samuel Sanchez, his team is going to have to handle the race, and to control it for the next 20 days is going to be difficult.”

Of course, one tactic is to try to pass it to another team; the following day’s lumpy 177 kilometre run to Valdepeñas de Jaén fits the bill for a breakaway to go clear. The sprinters’ chances will be complicated by the second of two second category climbs, topping out just 6.2 kilometres from the finish, but they will be gladdened by the far-flatter fifth stage. At 194 kilometres, it is one of the longest of the race and will almost certainly see the peloton arrive en masse into Lorca.

Stage six is 50 kilometres shorter and could once again go to the bunch sprint specialists, providing they can limit their losses on the second category Cresta del Gallo and regain contact before the streets of Murcia. Stage seven is even more straightforward, with a third cat climb midway through the stage being the only pimple on the horizon.

“There could be some really good sprinters in the race,” Peiper said, “and they’ve got quite a few opportunities.” This is certainly one of them.

Into the mountains

A galloper should be smiling that evening in Orihuela, but that grin will turn to a grimace on the subsequent stage, the 188.8 kilometre race to the Xorret del Catí. It could be a nightmare for non-climbers, with plenty of peaks and troughs. A trio of second cat climbs are followed by the first category Xorret del Catí, and while the road descends from the summit, it pitches up again shortly before the line.

Six more categorised climbs follow on stage nine, the 187 kilometre race from Calpe to Alcoy, making the first rest day a very welcome one.
A long transfer north moves the race towards more big mountains. One category one climb en route to Vilanova i la Geltrú is reasonable enough of the organisers, but it’s simply a teaser before the altogether more unpleasant slog up to Andorra on Wednesday September 8th.

The Vuelta’s first ‘especial’ category ascent to Pal comes at the end of the race’s longest stage (208km) and is going to wreak havoc in the bunch.

A real picture of the contenders will emerge that evening, and whoever is in the new leader’s Maillot Roja (red jersey) should be able to maintain it on the flatter stages which follow, to Lleida and Burgos respectively.

Once those are completed, the sprinters will fade from view for the next four days. A trio of summit finishes will turn the race on its head once again, and will greatly reduce the number of riders who can win the race. The first category ascent to Peña Cabarga is short but very steep, averaging ten per cent and including tougher pitches.

Stage fifteen to the Lagos de Covadonga climaxes with the second ‘especial’ climb of the race, and is then followed by a jagged-tooth journey to Cotobello.

“For me, this is the Queen stage of the Vuelta,” said Samuel Sanchez, referring to the three first category ascents which will lie in wait that afternoon. The Asturian lives close to there and promised today that he would be particularly motivated to leave his mark on the stage.

The final push to Madrid

After a transfer to Peñafiel, the Vuelta’s only individual time trial will take place on Wednesday September 15th. It’s completely flat, has long, straight sections and will appeal to the big gear mashers, with those lining up for the world championship TT having a chance to test their legs prior to flying to Australia.

It’s a relatively short 46 kilometres in length and may not prompt massive time differences, but it will give a chance for the more rounded rider to take a bit of time out of the climbing specialists.

Once that’s completed, just four stages remain in the race. Three of those are likely to be for the sprinters, with the finishes in Salamanca, Toledo and Madrid certain to play a big part in the fight for the points classification. That leaves one stage for the climbers, and the penultimate day’s battleground will be special indeed.

The ascent of Navacerrada has featured before in the race, but this stage tags on a completely new climb afterwards, the Bola del Mundo. It features rough road surfaces and has gradients of up to 12.5 per cent, ensuring that the general classification will remain in question right up to the final weekend.

Carlos Sastre is as yet unsure if he will take part in theVuelta, but expects that day to have a major effect on the race. “This stage involves climbing three passes: Navacerrada, Los Leones and these last three kilometres in La Bola del Mundo, which I’ve been told are really tough,” he said, raising expectations that things could go right to the wire in this Vuelta.