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Announcing a route favourable to climbers and designed perhaps in a bid to entice Alberto Contador to participate in what could be his final pro season, the parcours of the 2016 Vuelta a España was released today.
Totalling 3277.3 kilometres in length and featuring no less than ten summit finishes, the Grand Tour is very much pitched to the uphill specialists. There are just two races against the clock, a 29.4 kilometres opener for teams, and a 39 kilometre individual test.
That sets the scene for a big showdown between the sports’ climbers, and should lead to another very dramatic edition.
Race organiser Javier Guillen has said that he hopes the race will prove as dramatic as the 2015 edition, where Fabio Aru finally managed to break Tom Dumoulin’s grip on red on the penultimate stage and take his first Grand Tour.
As the route map shows, the race is highly concentrated in the northern part of the country, with a small number of stages also taking place on and near the east coast. It concludes with a stage in the centre of the country to Madrid.
That contrasts with the 2015 parcours, which was scattered throughout the country and imposed very considerable demands on teams and others in terms of transfers.
A race that is concentrated more in certain areas be an attempt by Guillen to entice a strong field to take part. The Spaniard is aware that the Olympic Games could potentially take the gloss off the lineup and prompt those who doubled up in the Tour de France and Rio 2016 to have second thoughts about racing in Spain.
However, with the world championships taking place on very flat terrain in Qatar, he will hope that the peloton’s climbers will opt to ride the Vuelta and then wind their seasons down.
Ten summit finishes set tone for tough race
The race gets under way on August 20 in Galicia with a 29.4 kilometre team time trial from Balneario Laias to Castrelo de Miño (Ourense). Stage two is on hilly terrain and stretches 159 kilometres from Ourense to Baiona, with things getting considerably tougher on day three with the first summit finish of the race.
That takes the riders from Marín in Pontevedra to the very difficult Mirador Ézaro, where the race leader’s red jersey may well change hands.
That uphill theme continues 24 hours later with the stage from Betanzos to San André de Teixidó, another summit finish.
After that three out of the race’s seven flat stages are clustered, with the sprinters having chances into Lugo, Luintra and Puebla de Sanabria before a trio of yet more summit finishes.
These conclude at the top of the climbs to La Camperona, Alto de Naranco and Lagos de Covadonga, and are certain to reshuffle the general classification.
The first rest day will be held on August 30, allowing the riders a chance to recover somewhat prior to the second section of the race.
The action then restarts in Colunga with a 168.6 kilometre stage to the top of Peña Cabarga. Stage 12 is a flat run to Bilbao, then the riders will encounter a hilly leg to Urdax.
That brings the riders close to the country’s northern border and the following day’s stage is held mainly in France, with the summit finish of the Col d’Aubisque beckoning.
That will be the Vuelta’s queen stage, with the riders slugging it out on the Inharpu, Pierre de Saint-Martin and the Col de Marie-Blanque before the final 17 kilometre climb.
The race then returns to Spain for another uphill finish in Formigal, with the sprinters having a chance on September 5 into Peníscola.
After the second rest day, the final five stages will take place. The climbers have one more chance to shine before the time trial, with the summit finish to Mas de la Costa and then a flat leg to Gandía being followed by that 39 kilometre race against the clock.
From there the identity of the final winner will be much more clear, with the penultimate stage to the summit of the Alto de Aitana offering one last chance to shake things up before the concluder in Madrid.
2016 Vuelta a Espana:
Stage 1, Saturday, August 20: Balneario Laias to Castrelo de Miño (Ourense), 29.4 km (team time trial)
Stage 2, Sunday, August 21st: Ourense to Baiona, 159 km
Stage 3, Monday, August 22nd: Marín to Mirador Ézaro, 170 km (uphill finish)
Stage 4, Tuesday, August 23rd: Betanzos to San André de Teixidó, 161 km (uphill finish)
Stage 5, Wednesday, August 24: Viveiro to Lugo, 170 km
Stage 6, Thursday, August 25: Monforte de Lemos to Luintra, 163 km
Stage 7, Friday, August 26: Maceda to Puebla de Sanabria, 158.3 km
Stage 8, Saturday, August 27: Villalpando (Zamora) to La Camperona 177 km
Stage 9, Sunday, August 28: Cistierna to Alto de Naranco, 165 km (uphill finish)
Stage 10, Monday, August 29: Lugones to Lagos de Covadonga, 186.6 km (uphill finish)
Rest day, Tuesday, August 30.
Stage 11, Wednesday, August 31st: Colunga to Peña Cabarga, 168.6 km (uphill finish)
Stage 12, Thursday, September 1st: Los Corrales de Buelna to Bilbao, 193.2 km
Stage 13, Friday, September 2nd: Bilbao to Urdax, 212.8 km
Stage 14, Saturday, September 3rd: Urdax to Aubisque, 195.6 km (uphill finish)
Stage 15, Sunday, September 4: Sabiñanigo to Formigal, 120 km (uphill finish)
Stage 16, Monday, September 5: Alcañiz to Peníscola, 158 km
Rest day, Tuesday, September 6.
Stage 17, Wednesday, September 7: Castellón to Llucena. Camins del Penyagolosa, 173.3 km (uphill finish)
Stage 18, Thursday, September 8: Requena to Gandía, 191 km
Stage 19, Friday, September 9: Xàbia to Calpe, 39 km (individual time trial).
Stage 20, Saturday, September 10: Benidorm to Alto de Aitana, 184 km (uphill finish)
Stage 21, Sunday, September 11: Las Rozas to Madrid, 102.5 km