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Vuelta boss considers North Africa start

The leader will wear red but not this version

The leader will wear red but not this version

Vuelta a España director-general Javier Guillén has revealed that as well as considering a return to the Basque Country for Spain’s national tour, he is also investigating the possibility of taking it to North Africa for the first time. Guillén also admitted that the mainly red design of the new leader’s jersey is going to be tweaked again before the next edition of the race kicks off in late August with a team time trial under floodlights in Sevilla.

Since taking over the race at the end of 2008, Guillén has consistently sought ways of boosting its profile and popularity in the face of competition from other sports in Spain and a drastic reduction in TV coverage. “We’ve got to be innovative,” he said in an interview with sports daily AS.

Consequently, after a highly successful start in the Netherlands for the 2009 Vuelta, which drew hundreds of thousands of fans out to the roadside and saw the race cover 50 per cent of its costs in just four days, Guillén is looking closely at further innovations. With the Giro already considering what would be the first start for a major tour outside continental Europe, it may just be that the Vuelta will trump their Italian rivals by taking Spain’s national tour to Africa.

“Our target now is North Africa, But there are difficulties,” Guillén admitted. “First of all because they’ve got no cycling culture. Secondly, because we don’t want to upset anybody. If we go to Ceuta, then we have to go to Melilla, and if we go to both how will that be seen in Morocco?” Guillén said of the two Spanish enclaves that are totally surrounded by Moroccan territory and whose status is disputed by Morocco.

Guillén’s determination to innovate could clearly be seen clearly in the new red and black leader’s jersey unveiled by Spanish designer Custo Dalmau last month. The black spots on the jersey were, said Dalmau, inspired by the cheetah, the world’s fastest animal. But after much debate about the jersey, Guillén confessed that the design will be changing again before this year’s 75th anniversary edition of the race.

“We’ve spoken with Custo and he agrees with the changes that we want to make. The jersey will have less black in it and the red tone will be more intense. We are aware that the presentation of the jersey created lots of debate, but that doesn’t bother me. On the contrary, I relished the fact there was a debate between the need for modernity and respect for tradition. We’re also working on a new mountains jersey that will have polka-dots like the Tour’s, but will be different,” said Guillén.

He also dampened expectations of a call for a return to the Vuelta’s long-time starting date in April. “It’s a difficult affair, but we’re forgetting about it now. I think the old dates worked better, but others have convinced me of the opposite… as we’re now assured of better participation,” he stated. He did admit, though, that he would like to have the race start a week earlier in August in order to avoid a clash with the start of the football season in Spain.

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Peter Cossins has written about professional cycling since 1993 and is a contributing editor to Procycling. He is the author of The Monuments: The Grit and the Glory of Cycling's Greatest One-Day Races (Bloomsbury, March 2014) and has translated Christophe Bassons' autobiography, A Clean Break (Bloomsbury, July 2014).