Vuelta a Espana director Javier Guillén confirmed on Friday that its Grand Depart for 2017 will be in Nîmes, France on August 19 next year. Speaking at a press conference, Guillen started by emphasising the close cultural links between Nimes and Spain, given Nîmes has a strong tradition of flamenco and bullfighting.
Guillen confirmed that the first stage will, as has been the tradition in recent editions of the Vuelta, be a team time trial run entirely through the city "and showing both its modern and older side." Length-wise the time trial will be slightly shorter than the opening TTT stage of 27.8 kilometres in the Vuelta a Espana 2016.
A further stage will run through France towards Spain and after that "I am leaving it open to the media to speculate what happens, whether we'll have another stage in France or head directly into Spain," although a stage into or through Andorra is also possible. Asked if the Vuelta might tackle the Mont Ventoux given its proximity to Nîmes, Guillen said there was no likelihood of a summit finish on French soil.
Historically of the three Grand Tours, when it comes to Grand Departs, the Vuelta has tended to travel the least. The race has just two previous race starts abroad, in Lisbon in 1997 and Assen, Holland in 2009, in its 81-year history.
There are rumours that further down the line the Vuelta a Espana could start in Utrecht - a delegation from that city visited the Vuelta start in Ourense. Guillen also confirmed to Cyclingnews on Friday that various countries in northern Europe, including the United Kingdom, the Netherlands and Ireland, have shown interest in a Vuelta's Grand Depart.
Given the presence of Christian Prudhomme at Friday's press conference and reports of his meetings with various top town hall officials in Bilbao, rumours that the Tour de France could have one of its Grand Departs or a stage in Bilbao have already started to fly. The Tour has already had one Grand Depart in the Basque Country, starting from San Sebastian in 1992 with a prologue, won by Miguel Indurain.
The 2017 race will finish on September 10th, in Madrid.
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Alasdair Fotheringham has been reporting on cycling since 1991. He has covered every Tour de France since 1992 as well as numerous other bike races of all shapes and sizes, ranging from the Olympic Games in 2008 to the now sadly defunct Subida a Urkiola hill climb in Spain. Apart from working for Cyclingnews.com, he is also the cycling correspondent for The Independent and The Independent on Sunday.
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