Less than three months on from the Vuelta a Espana's highly successful return to the Basque Country after an absence of 33 years, race director Javier Guillén has confirmed that Spain’s national tour will return to the region next year. Speaking during a visit to the Basque Country, Guillén revealed that the third stage of next year’s race will finish on the iconic Arrate climb above the town of Eibar.
After two opening days in Navarra, the 2012 Vuelta will move into the Basque Country with a stage between Oion and the Arrate. The fourth stage will also take part in the region. “This year we returned to the Urkiola and Vivero. And in 2012 we will be on another one of Basque cycling’s mythical climbs, the Arrate,” said Guillén. “I’m sure that this year’s success will be difficult to repeat, but I am also sure that this stage will also be a big hit with the fans.”
A key component of the much-missed Bicicleta Vasca stage race and now a regular feature of the Tour of the Basque Country, the Arrate last appeared on the Vuelta route in 1974. Agustín Tamames won the stage that day, but it is better remembered for the epic battle that raged all day between Spanish greats Luis Ocaña and José Manuel Fuente. Ocaña spent the whole day attacking his rival, who crashed heavily during the stage and later required stitches in his wounds, but managed to hold on to the leader’s jersey.
Featuring 8km of ascent and then a kilometre of descent into the finish, the Arrate offers a tough test. The route into the climb has yet to be decided, but Guillén indicated that the Vuelta may pass over it twice. He also revealed that funding for the stage will come from the local council in Eibar due to the cutbacks being made by the Basque regional government in the ongoing economic crisis.
Guillén has moved on to the neighbouring region of Cantabria today [Wednesday] to discuss alternatives for the finish of the Vuelta’s fifth stage. The Vuelta organization is considering two options: the first is a summit finish on the Peña Cabarga; the second is for Santander to host a stage finish for the first time since 2003.
Having featured in the last two editions of the race and produced thrilling finishes won by Joaquim Rodríguez and Chris Froome, the Peña Cabarga has quickly established itself as a Vuelta favourite. However, a city centre finish in Santander is also a strong option given the likelihood of more spectators turning out and the fact that the race will only be five days old at this point, perhaps making a second summit finish after the Arrate excessive.