“It’s very similar to last year but with even more climbs, it’s going to be really hard right the way through,” said Katusha’s Joaquim Rodriguez. “Possibly it’s the absolute hardest, but it’s pretty close.”
“Even the opening team time trial is long enough [27 kilometres] to make a big difference. And then with that first category climb on the second stage, we’ll immediately start seeing who’s going well and who’s not. Galicia is a very hard region to race in if you’re not in good shape!”
“It will be a question of survival of the fittest, we’ll see almost immediately who’s really interested in the overall. There’s no way you can ease yourself into the race. You’ll have to be in top condition right from the very start.”
“Even the time trial will be difficult, because it’s got a climb in it,” pointed out double winner Alberto Contador (Saxo-Tinkoff). “The wind could make a big difference, it’s very exposed and coming after a rest day that’s going to make it harder too.”
“That second stage climb, for example, you’ll still have sore legs from the team time trial.It’s going tobe very difficult, a very tense, hard race.”
Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) was questioned about the return to Peyragudes, a finish with good memories for him given he won there in the Tour de France, but recognised that “there’s so much climbing it’s almost frightening.”
“Galicia’s going to be hard enough, we know from previous years that it’s barely got a metre of flat. You can lose time very fast here...the Vuelta could be decided a long time before we get the Angliru. We’re going to be very tired when we get there. There’s more than enough opportunities to open up gaps on the rest.”
Contador said, though that the 232 kilometre mammoth Pyrenean stage, featuring four first category climbs, “was the sort I really like because it’s a real test of strength.”
“They’re taking a risk with so much climbing,” said Euskaltel team manager Igor Gonzalez de Galdeano, “so we’ll just to hope that the route goes as well as in 2012..”
“It could be decided too soon, though, and that could block the race badly. It’s a big gamble.”
Asked if it was too hard, Samuel Sanchez (Euskaltel) - who did not ride last year - said “we are paid to race against each other. I think it’s good.”
As for the Angliru, local rider Sanchez - who lives in nearby Oviedo - said “that’s one climb which will sort out absolutely everybody, it’s going to give the race a real sting in the tail.”
“Maybe there are not so many explosive climbs as last year, but there’s more climbing in general for sure.”
“There are no stages of over 250 kilometres,” race organiser Javier Guillen pointed out, “although there’s a lot of around 170 or 180 kilometres.”
“But we wanted a race with so many tough stages because that’s what the public likes. Spain is a country which allows us to go to a lot of different mountain ranges and go through a lot of different terrain, and we have to exploit that. Last year, which had 10 mountain top finishes, was a fantastic Vuelta and this year we want the same.”
Valverde and Rodriguez said the Vuelta was sure to be on their race programs, in Valverde’s case after the Tour de France - which Rodriguez said he is determined to race, too - whilst Contador said he had yet to decide if he would include it on his 2013 schedule.
“The Tour is my number one objective but the Vuelta is my home race and that’s always important. On top of that it comes at the end of the season and that makes it compatible with the Tour. I will talk things over with the team and then decide what I am going to do,” Contador said, before commenting that he could not decide whether he would ride the Vuelta yet. “For the riders it’s going to be very, very demanding, with a lot of tension.”
He refused to comment on the question of what his former team-mate Lance Armstrong might say in his interview next week, saying “he knows what he’ll say and anything else we say about it beforehand is just speculation.”
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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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