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Pamplona locks into final countdown for Vuelta start

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Saxo Bank lines up for the fans in the center of Pamplona

Saxo Bank lines up for the fans in the center of Pamplona
(Image credit: Susanne Goetze)
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Team Sky's Rigoberto Uran is interviewed

Team Sky's Rigoberto Uran is interviewed
(Image credit: Susanne Goetze)
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Miguel Indurain at the 2012 Vuelta

Miguel Indurain at the 2012 Vuelta
(Image credit: Sirotti)
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Sunshine greeted the teams and the world's press at the presentation ahead of the 2012 Vuelta

Sunshine greeted the teams and the world's press at the presentation ahead of the 2012 Vuelta
(Image credit: Sirotti)
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Movistar will be hoping to perform well in the 2012 Vuelta

Movistar will be hoping to perform well in the 2012 Vuelta
(Image credit: Sirotti)
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Lotto-Belisol

Lotto-Belisol
(Image credit: Sirotti)
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Liquigas-Cannondale

Liquigas-Cannondale
(Image credit: Sirotti)
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Lampre-ISD at the 2012 Vuelta a Espana

Lampre-ISD at the 2012 Vuelta a Espana
(Image credit: Sirotti)
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Katusha are raring to go

Katusha are raring to go
(Image credit: Sirotti)
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Miguel Indurain is Spain's greatest ever cyclist but never won the Vuelta

Miguel Indurain is Spain's greatest ever cyclist but never won the Vuelta
(Image credit: Sirotti)
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Orica-GreenEdge

Orica-GreenEdge
(Image credit: Sirotti)
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The team presentation of the 2012 Vuelta a Espana

The team presentation of the 2012 Vuelta a Espana
(Image credit: Sirotti)
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Bullfighting is one of Pamplona's most symbolic sports

Bullfighting is one of Pamplona's most symbolic sports
(Image credit: Sirotti)
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Pamplona is the start city for the 2012 Vuelta, and is famous for its bulls

Pamplona is the start city for the 2012 Vuelta, and is famous for its bulls
(Image credit: Sirotti)
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Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank are presented to the media

Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank are presented to the media
(Image credit: Sirotti)
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Team Sky ahead of the 2012 Vuelta a Espana

Team Sky ahead of the 2012 Vuelta a Espana
(Image credit: Sirotti)
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Alberto Contador salutes the photographers ahead of the 2012 Vuelta a Espana

Alberto Contador salutes the photographers ahead of the 2012 Vuelta a Espana
(Image credit: Sirotti)
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Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha)

Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha)
(Image credit: Sirotti)
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RadioShack-Nissan in Pamplona ahead of the 2012 Vuelta a Espana

RadioShack-Nissan in Pamplona ahead of the 2012 Vuelta a Espana
(Image credit: Sirotti)
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Rabobank at the team presentation of the 2012 Vuelta a Espana

Rabobank at the team presentation of the 2012 Vuelta a Espana
(Image credit: Sirotti)
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Garmin-Sharp

Garmin-Sharp
(Image credit: Sirotti)
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Astana's riders at the 2012 Vuelta a Espana

Astana's riders at the 2012 Vuelta a Espana
(Image credit: Sirotti)
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Euskaltel-Euskadi meet the home fans in Pamplona

Euskaltel-Euskadi meet the home fans in Pamplona
(Image credit: Sirotti)
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Riders and media gather ahead of the 2012 Vuelta a Espana

Riders and media gather ahead of the 2012 Vuelta a Espana
(Image credit: Sirotti)
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Cofidis are ready for the start of the 2012 Vuelta

Cofidis are ready for the start of the 2012 Vuelta
(Image credit: Sirotti)
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Chris Froome (Team Sky) is one of the pre-race favourites for the 2012 Vuelta

Chris Froome (Team Sky) is one of the pre-race favourites for the 2012 Vuelta
(Image credit: Sirotti)
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Omega Pharma-Quick Step at the 2012 Vuelta a Espana

Omega Pharma-Quick Step at the 2012 Vuelta a Espana
(Image credit: Sirotti)
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Vacansoleil-DCM prepare for the 2012 Vuelta a Espana

Vacansoleil-DCM prepare for the 2012 Vuelta a Espana
(Image credit: Sirotti)
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AG2R La Mondiale

AG2R La Mondiale
(Image credit: Sirotti)
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Andalucia will be looking to perform well on home soil

Andalucia will be looking to perform well on home soil
(Image credit: Sirotti)
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Argos Shimano are one of the wildcard invitees for the 2012 Vuelta a Espana

Argos Shimano are one of the wildcard invitees for the 2012 Vuelta a Espana
(Image credit: Sirotti)
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BMC Racing Team at the 2012 Vuelta

BMC Racing Team at the 2012 Vuelta
(Image credit: Sirotti)
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Caja Rural

Caja Rural
(Image credit: Sirotti)
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Cofidis are presented to the press and fans ahead of the 2012 Vuelta

Cofidis are presented to the press and fans ahead of the 2012 Vuelta
(Image credit: Sirotti)
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FDJ-BigMat

FDJ-BigMat
(Image credit: Sirotti)
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Alberto Contador was a major focus for the fans at the start of the Vuelta

Alberto Contador was a major focus for the fans at the start of the Vuelta
(Image credit: Susanne Goetze)
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The presentation area

The presentation area
(Image credit: Susanne Goetze)
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Juan Jose Cobo (Movistar) plays down his form as defending champion

Juan Jose Cobo (Movistar) plays down his form as defending champion
(Image credit: Susanne Goetze)
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Miguen Indurain was on hand to kick off the Vuelta

Miguen Indurain was on hand to kick off the Vuelta
(Image credit: Susanne Goetze)
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The Garmin-Sharp team

The Garmin-Sharp team
(Image credit: Susanne Goetze)
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Garate and Inigo Cuesta

Garate and Inigo Cuesta
(Image credit: Susanne Goetze)
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Chris Froome (Sky) heads onto the stage

Chris Froome (Sky) heads onto the stage
(Image credit: Susanne Goetze)
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Angel Vicioso and Oscar Pereiro

Angel Vicioso and Oscar Pereiro
(Image credit: Susanne Goetze)
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Contador and his Spanish lieutenants

Contador and his Spanish lieutenants
(Image credit: Susanne Goetze)
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Bjarne Riis with Inigo Cuesta

Bjarne Riis with Inigo Cuesta
(Image credit: Susanne Goetze)
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Behind the scenes, FDJ gets ready

Behind the scenes, FDJ gets ready
(Image credit: Susanne Goetze)
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Andalucia lines up

Andalucia lines up
(Image credit: Susanne Goetze)
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AG2R in the green room

AG2R in the green room
(Image credit: Susanne Goetze)
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Team Sky on display in Pamplona

Team Sky on display in Pamplona
(Image credit: Susanne Goetze)

As Pamplona swelters in what locals say is one of its worst heatwaves in many a year, the northern city is also counting down to its first ever Vuelta a España start this Saturday: a 16.5 kilometre team time trial that will establish the initial differences between the 198 riders taking part in 22 different squads in this year's race.

Those teams were presented on Friday evening, with Alberto Contador getting the biggest cheers from the Spanish fans.

There may be small time gaps on such a short race against the clock, but with Chris Froome's losing the 2011 Vuelta by a mere 13 seconds still fresh in the peloton's collective memory, it's unlikely anyone will be easing back on the Vuelta's opening stage.

Racing starts in the early evening, when local Pro Conti team Caja Rural roll down the start ramp in the historic Plaza del Castillo square in central Pamplona at 19:03 local time.

With teams off at four minute intervals, the last squad to get into action will be Movistar, containing defending champion Juan Jose Cobo at 20:27. Hopefully the mid-afternoon temperatures that touched 39 degrees on Friday - and which are expected to do so again on Saturday - have at least begun to ease slightly by that time of day.

As for the course itself, "It's flat but it's also a very technical circuit," Sky's locally born rider, Xabier Zandio said on Thursday, "there are a lot of roundabouts. It's tricky, so the objective will be to lose as little time as possible - or to win!"

Sky will certainly be keen to put memories of last year's opening team time trial in Benidorm behind them, when they placed third last after two riders clipped wheels mid-way through, and to cap it all their team captain Kurt Asle Arvesen crashed and fell.

Appropriately enough for a city internationally famous for its bull-runs - when every July tens of thousands of people sprint alongside wild bulls let loose in its cobbled, narrow city centre alleys - the stage will include sections of the same streets used in the bull-runs and finish in Pamplona's bull ring.

Around 15,000 people are expected to pack into the ring to watch the spectacle, with a free hour-long concert by rock band La Oreja de Van Gogh following the end of the race as an added attraction.

The riders themselves will ride across a red carpet laid over the ring's sandy surface to the centre. Rather than taking the time gaps at the entrance to the ring for safety reasons, as had been rumoured, the times will be calculated, as per usual, on the finish line itself when the fifth rider from each team crosses it  - meaning those final metres will be anything but ceremonial. There is so little space in the central area that a second main door in the building will be open so that riders, as they slow after their race, can still freewheel at speed out of the opposite side of the bull ring and back into the streets rather than having to brake hard and risk crashes.

As if all of this were not enough nods by the Vuelta's organisers towards Pamplona's most famous activity, local team Caja Rural have managed to convince the UCI to let them have specially designed 'bull-runner' kit - a white body length skinsuit with red bands, with the helmet also relfecting traditional 'bull runner' gear - just for the team time trial stage, as a way of paying homage to their home town of Pamplona. Rumours, though, that live bulls would be let loose in the streets of Pamplona to encourage the riders to pedal slightly harder on the Vuelta's opening leg are completely unfounded. We hope.

But if some of the biggest cheers today are for the Caja Rural squad, curiously the rider guaranteed to raise the roofs off Pamplona's elegant central buildings every time he puts in an a appearance in this year's Vuelta isn't even racing. Miguel Indurain, born and bred in nearby Villava, is unquestionably the main star of the Pamplona start.

The five times Tour winner Indurain never won the Vuelta, although he finished second in 1991 and was (and remains) its youngest ever leader way back in 1986. The Vuelta was his last ever Grand Tour, abandoning en route to the Lakes of Covadonga climb in 1996 before retiring early in 1997.

"The organisation have worked very well in improving the design of the Vuelta route in recent years," Indurain said recently. "The stages are shorter and have the necessary ingredients to keep the riders happy." He also admitted this January, when the route was published, that as a specialist time triallist with so many mountain top finishes featuring in this year's Vuelta, he personally would have been ‘stuffed'. This year,