Wednesday 11 January 2012

Vuelta heads for the hills

Los Ancares is just one of the aspects of the 2012 Vuelta
that make it very much a race for the climbers
(image credit: FCPB CC BY-SA 3.0)
The 2012 Tour de France bowed out of the mountains arms race that has seen the three Grand Tours adding longer, steeper and ever more challenging climbs as the battled to lay claim to the toughest Queen Stage over the last few years, finally deciding that enough is enough and organising an event that a non-grimpeur might have a chance of winning rather than searching out some topography to outdo the Mortirolo, Zoncolan and Angliru; but the Vuelta a Espana has apparently reminded itself that a far a many fans are concerned, the mountains maketh the tour and gone in the other direction entirely, introducing more and tougher climbs for this year.

Last year's race, which ventured into the Basque Country for the first time in a generation, proved that there are some beautiful mountain roads in the north of Spain and this year the race has a very northern flavour - there are no stages south of Madrid, seemingly a strange choice since the sport ha a large fan base in the lower latitudes of the country. Coll de la Gallina, Los Ancares, Bola del Mundo, Valdezcaray, Lagos de Covadonga, Cuitu Negro, the Coll de la Gallina and Arrate will all test the peloton to the limit - last year, Mark Cavendish abandoned the race; explaining that he's a sprinter and the race had no sprints left. This year, the sprinters have their chances reduced to Stages 10, 12, 13, 17, 19, and 21, with 2 and 18 not out of reach for those who suffer less than others on the climbs. That's six sprint stages of which 13, 19 and 21 will by no means be easy wins - so who knows how many will even bother showing up?

It's not going to be a race for the time trial specialists either, with organisers reducing the individual TT to a mere 40km, so expect teams to send their finest climbers to compete on some stunning and very hard stages.

Stages 1-21 altimetry (click to enlarge):

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