The organisers of the Vuelta a España have announced the race will be reduced to 18 stages for 2020 after the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic has massively disrupted the road racing season.
The Vuelta's planned start in the Netherlands was cancelled on Wednesday morning and now race organiser Unipublic have said the race will instead start in the Basque Country on the planned route from Irun to Arrate originally designed as stage 4.
Unipublic still have not announced the exact dates of the race. The UCI is set to announce a revised calendar next week, with the Spanish Grand Tour expect to be held in late October and into November if the COVID-19 pandemic is under control and if permitted by the Spanish government.
The Vuelta a España was set to start from Utrecht with a team time trial and two road stages: stage 2 finishing in Utrecht and the third stage starting and ending in Breda.
The Basque Country is now set to host the Grand Depart, with the stage from Irun to Arrate, Eibar the first day of racing. The stage ends with climb of Alto de Arrate - a category 2 ascent beginning in Eibar that is 7.2km long with an average 6.2 per cent gradient.
"Obviously, when you design the race, you hope to never have to make changes of this magnitude, but we have to be sensible with the current situation and we have to accept that it is very difficult to replace an official departure at this late stage, given all the institutional and logistic planning that it involves," race director Javier Guillén said.
Now the second stage, the 151km route from Pamplona to Lekunberri will have the category 1 Alto de San Miguel crested 17km before the downhill run to finish - quite a difficult start for a Grand Tour. The Col du Tourmalet will be used during stage 3.
The last time the Basque Country hosted the start of the Vuelta a España was in 1961 when San Sebastián hosted the opening team time trial.
"To have that passion for cycling that is so present in the Basque Country from the very first day makes this change in plans much more pleasant," race director Guillén.
"In any case, we only hope that this unprecedented health crisis is resolved soon, that we can all return to normal, including La Vuelta – that will again consist of its traditional format and duration of 21 stages and two rest days in 2021," he concluded. Organisers Unipublic still have not announced the date of the race.
Holding the Vuelta's start will be a boon for the Basque Country which lost the Clasica San Sebastian and Itzulia Basque Country WorldTour races, which were cancelled for 2020 on Wednesday.
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