The race director of the Vuelta a España, Javier Guillén, has told the Spanish media that finishing the rescheduled and shortened Spanish Grand Tour this year, in the face of a second wave of the coronavirus in Europe, had been a huge challenge, and that he hopes that the Vuelta can return to its usual August calendar slot next year.
This year's race was moved from a calendar slot of August 14-September 6 to October 20-November 8, with the final day in Madrid pulling the curtain down on the interrupted and elongated 2020 season.
The Vuelta was also shortened to 18 stages following the removal of both the opening three stages, which should have taken place as part of a Gran Salida in the Netherlands, and two stages in Portugal, due to concerns about COVID-19.
Instead, the opening stages were moved to the Basque Country, with a race start in Irún. That the race then made it almost three weeks later to Madrid at all was a huge achievement, and one which Guillén believes deserves some praise.
"Leaving Irún and arriving in Madrid was a very difficult challenge to undertake," he told Marca on Monday. "We have been able to take it day by day, and we have to give credit to the responsibility taken on by the riders and their teams, as they're really the engine that makes it all move."
Guillén said that the principal stress was the threat of any positive COVID-19 tests during the race. On the first rest day, in Vitoria-Gasteiz on October 26, the 684 tests carried out all came back negative, as did 681 tests on the second rest day on the following Monday in Muros.
"For me [the most stressful time] was the first rest day, because that's when we could really test whether the bubble was working or not," admitted Guillén. "Then the second day of testing gave you the peace of mind of being able to get to Madrid. You live those days with a lot of tension."
Asked whether the race could make a permanent move to a later calendar slot, Guillén admitted that pre-race fears that the early November weather could have made things difficult proved unfounded, but that a mid-August start for the three-week race was definitely preferable.
"Cycling's a summer sport," he said. "We were able to hold the race later this year because the weather was very kind to us. Spain is normally beautiful in autumn, but the start of the race next year is due to be on August 14, and that would be the best time for it."
Next year's Vuelta is due to start inside Burgos Cathedral, and Guillén – and everyone involved in professional cycling – will be happy if the 2021 season can be run without any rescheduling, postponements or cancellations.
"I hope that nothing that we have had to put into practice this year will have to be put in place next year," he said.
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