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The 2013 Vuelta a España, was presented today, and will have rare summit finish in France, at Peyragudes, its first in the country since Michael Rasmussen won at Cauterets in 2003. Yet again the race is extremely mountainous, with 11 summit finishes - one more than in 2012 - and a deciding stage on the Angliru.
Although the roads of Andorra feature regularly in the Vuelta, it has rarely had finishes in France - just three in the last 20 years. According to reports in MARCA on Saturday, Peyragudes, where Alejandro Valverde won in the 2012 Tour, will come at the end of an extremely difficult mountain stage through the eastern Pyrenees.
It will also be preceded by another tough summit finish - the Coll de la Gallina in Andorra, where the three riders who made up the 2012 (Alejandro Valverde, Alberto Contador and Joaquim Rodriguez) first managed to distance fourth-placed Chris Froome.
These are just three of the highlights of an exceptionally difficult 2013 Vuelta, with the climbers once again almost certain to have the whiphand. Overall, the 2013 course will take an anti-clockwise route around Spain, starting with four stages amongst the hills and sea lochs of Galicia before heading south through Extremadura and Andalusia, eastwards into Catalonia, Andorra and France before returning to the north for the showdown on the ultra-hard Angliru - where Juan Jose Cobo effectively sealed victory in the 2011 Vuelta by dropping Sky riders Froome and the previous race leader, Bradley Wiggins.
Although there is a team time trial to start off with - beginning on a large batea (a floating wooden platform traditionally used for shellfish farming) on one of Galicia’s many sea inlets - the riders will only have to wait one day before tackling the first summit finish of the Vuelta on the long but not excessively tough Alto da Groba.
The next will come just 24 hours later, at the Mirador de Lobeira, with a fourth hilly stage in Galicia further shaking up the classification before the race starts to wend its way south. Missing, however, will be a much-expected stage round the Ponferrada World’s Circuit of 2014.
Whilst Galicia's difficult start will surely have shaken up the general classification, the next big sort-out comes in three summit finishes in Andalusia as the race returns to Spain’s deep south after bypassing it completely 2012. Two, a 16 kilometre ascent of Peñas - Blancas outside Estepona, and then two days later a 6.5 kilometre climb of Haza Grande in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountains, have never been used before in the Vuelta. In between, though, the climb of Valdepeñas de Jaén, last tackled in 2011 and so short and steep it is known as the Mur de Huy of Spain, will make a welcome return. Combined with the extreme heat that features regularly in Andalusia in August - the last time the Vuelta went there, in 2011, it was in the high thirties - the gaps on the overall classification should be significant by the time the race leaves the south.
A painfully long transfer to Aragon sees the race reach its mid-way point with an individual time trial, the only one of the race, with two more flattish stages preceding the next triple whammy of mountain stages, in the Pyrenees. Whilst the Coll de la Gallina summit finish is hardly an easy start, Peyragudes - a continuation of the better known Peyresourde climb, with a three kilometre descent preceding the final, gentler rise up to the finish - will come at the end of a reportedly ultra-long stage over several Pyrenean cols.
In a nod towards its past, the last Pyrenean stage ends at Formigal, where the Vuelta had its first ever mountain top finish back in 1972, 40 years previously - with a victory for legendary Spanish climber, the late Jose Manuel Fuente, aka el Tarangu.
By this point the Vuelta would be almost settled, were it not for the third and last set of three back-to-back mountain stages through Cantabria and Asturias - Fuente’s home region. First off is Peña Cabarga, where Vuelta 2011 runner-up Froome and Juanjo Cobo had a spectacular climbing duel - with the Briton taking his first Grand Tour stage. 24 hours later the race reaches Asturias, with an ascent of the Naranco climb: formerly used as the finish in a popular one-day race, it is now frequently a part of the Tour of Asturias.
But if the Pyrenean trek to Peyragudes will almost certainly be the most difficult day-long test for the overall classification contenders, the organisers have saved the toughest single climb of the race for what is effectively the last day of the Vuelta. Last used in 2011, the 13 kilometre slopes of the Angliru has regularly decided the overall outcome of Spain’s biggest bike race. And with only a largely ceremonial stage to go in 2013, from Leganes to Madrid, the Angliru will surely play the same role again this autumn.
Saturday August 24th: stage one: Vilanova de Arousa - Sanxenxo (team time trial) 27km
Sunday August 25th: stage two: Pontevedra - Alto da Groba 176.8km
Monday August 26th: stage three: Vigo - Mirador de Lobeira 172.5km
Tuesday August 27th: stage four: Lain - Fisterra 186.4km
Wednesday August 28th: stage five: Sober - Lago de Sanabria 168.4km
Thursday August 29th: stage six: Guijuelo - Caceres 177.3km
Friday August 30th: stage seven: Almendralejo - Mairena de Aljafare 195.5km
Saturday August 31st: stage eight: Jerez de la Frontera 170km
Sunday September 1st: stage nine: Antequera - Valdepeñas de Jaén 174.3km
Monday September 2nd: stage 10: Torredelcampo - Haza Llanas 175.5km
Tuesday September 3rd: rest day
Wednesday September 4th: stage 11: individual time trial: Tarazona 38km
Thursday September 5th: stage 12: Maella - Tarragona 157km
Friday September 6th: stage 13: Valls - Castelldefels 165km
Saturday September 7th: stage 14: Baga - Coll de la Gallina 164km
Sunday September 8th: stage 15: Andorra - Peyragudes 232.5km
Monday September 9th: stage 16: Graus - Formigal 147.7km
Tuesday September 10th: rest day
Wednesday September 11th: stage 17: Calahorra - Burgos 184.5km
Thursday September 12th: stage 18: Burgos - Peña Cabarga 186km
Friday September 13th: stage 19: San Vicente de la Barquera - Naranco 175.5km
Saturday September 14th: stage 20: Aviles - Angliru 144.1km
Sunday September 15th: stage 21: Leganés - Madrid 99.1km
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