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This Saturday the 66th edition of the Vuelta a Espana will begin.  The last of the Grand Tours for 2011, we’re not sure what we’re going to do without them here at PBK.  This year there will be twenty-one stages covering 3,300km throughout Spain, in what can only be described as a climbers race.  To us it just looks pretty brutal.  So without further ado, let’s take a look at the race!

The Route.

The picturesque town of Cordoba, the scene of a brutal finish.

With only one individual time-trial on stage 10, nine flat stages and ten mountain stages, the race has already been declared one for the climbers by Nibali (Liquigas Cannondale) who won in 2010.  The Vuelta will take in the Basque region for the first time in 33 years, before finishing in Madrid on the 11th September.  This year the race starts with a 13.5km Team Time Trial in the holiday-haven that is Benidorm.  With a start ramp literally on the beach, it should be quite a spectacle.  From there the riders will head in to the Sierra Nevada, where they will be presented with two main challenges: mountains; and heat.  Southern Spain in late August is likely to still be pretty warm, so there’ll be time to be gained or lost early on.

After the first day’s team time trial, the riders will have two relatively flat stages to find their Spanish legs before they hit the mountains on day four.  Stage four sees them leave Baza on a 170km stage to Cordoba.  The riders will go above 2000m twice on the way to Cordoba, once on the Alto de Filabres and then the Sierra Nevada which stands at 2126m and is at the end of the stage.  We can expect the altitude, heat and plenty of climbing to provide plenty of entertainment, those who haven’t got their game faces on early will be in for a shock – riding yourself in to this grand tour is not going to be an option.

The World Heritage site of Salamanca.

The riders then get three days of non-mountains, heading towards the North West region of Spain, before two medium mountain days (only one Cat. 1 climb in each days riding!) in stages eight and nine.  Both these stages  have mountain finishes, stage eight has ramps of 27 and 28 degrees, whereas stage nine finishes on a 1970m summit.  Watch out for some big names dropping out here, if they’re not on form then this is where you’ll start to see the stronger riders make their mark.

Stage ten (Monday 29th August) is the only individual time trial in this years Vuelta, taking place in the UNESCO World Heritage site of Salamanca.  At forty-seven km long and completely flat this should be one for the TT specialists, expect the likes of Bradley Wiggins (Team Sky) and maybe Denis Menchov (Geox-TMC) to potentially either make up some time, or put in some time on the climbers.

After a rest day, the riders are thrown straight back in with a mountains stage in stage thirteen.  After three Cat.3 climbs, the stage finishes with a 30km climb up La Manzaneda.  Stage twelve is a relatively flat stage, and is likely to be contested with a spring finish in the town of Pontevedra, watch out however for a cheeky breakaway attempt on one of the two cat. 3 climbs, teams with a sprinter will no doubt try and close down any attacks.

The view from the top of the Alto, an absolutely brutal climb.

The Vuelta now heads East, in to the Los Ancares region with a short 150km stage that includes two cat. 1 climbs amongst a host of cat. 3 climbs.  Because the riders haven’t done quite enough climbing yet, stage fourteen sees another mountain top finish on La Farrapona.  Climbing just over 1000m in just 16.8km, this HC climb is sure to claim some victims as fatigue takes its toll.  It’s this middle week which will leave its mark on the riders.  In Stage 15 the riders will tackle the infamous HC climb of Alto de L’Angliru.  Climbing 1245m in just 12.2km, there’s no easy way to the top. Stage 17 sees the riders face their final uphill finish in a stage from Faustino V to Pena Cabarga.  At 212.5km it’s a long one, when combined with the climbing finish with steep ramps we can expect it to be explosive, especially if the GC is still pretty tight.

We can look forward to the spectacle of the peloton flying through Madrid.

The riders now head to the Basque country, the smart money says that by stage 19 the chances are there will be a few clear GC podium riders – but if the Tour taught us one thing this year it’s that it could be close to the end.  Stage 19 from Noja to Bilbao ascends the Alto El Vivero twice, so watch out for a breakaway with a GC rider in the mix.  These final two days before they head to Madrid should be great to watch, expect plenty of support on the roads and if a Euskaltel rider wins a stage, the crowd will go wild.

As is tradition the Vuelta finishes in Madrid once again with the a short ride in to the city followed by ten laps of the finishing circuit.  Much like the final of the Tour in Paris, the stage will end with a sprint finish in the Plaza Cibeles.

 

PBK Wine Guide

As you know we take your enjoyment of the Grand Tours very seriously, therefore it would be irresponsible of us not to do a bit of wine research to make sitting down in the evening with the days highlights that bit nicer.

For the Vuelta we’re going to recommend a nice Spanish Rioja. Grown in the Basque, Navarre and La Rioja provinces of Alava in the North of Spain, this year the riders will go straight past the vineyards. Now a DOC wine, Rioja is characterised by the effect of oak ageing, which along with a slight vanilla note, make it a drinkable wine. Depending on how long the wine has been aged in oak, there are several classifications, check out a Rioja Crianza, which has been aged for two years (at least one of which is in oak) and the Rioja Reserva which has been aged for three years.

Easy drinking, a Rioja can be enjoyed on its own or with food, making it a great bottle to open when you sit down with the Vuelta’s highlights!

The Riders.

Lets hope the National Champs jersey brings him more luck at the Vuelta.

This year there are some big names riding, but also some big names missing from the start list.  At the time of writing not all of the squads have been confirmed, so bear in mind there may be changes!

Bradley Wiggins has bounced back from his Tour crash and broken collarbone to lead a strong Team Sky this year.  Following a victory at the Criterium du Dauphine in June, Wiggins had been hoping for a strong Tour, but a bad crash and broken collarbone means that the Vuelta will be his first race since stage 7 in France.  Wiggins hasn’t raced the Vuelta before which, combined with the fact he hasn’t raced for seven weeks and the Vuelta features so much climbing, must make him an outsider.  But if Sky have taught us one thing this year, it’s that we shouldn’t underestimate them.  There are some strong riders who, along with helping Bradley, will no doubt have their eyes on the stage prize.

With the Vuelta returning to the Basque region, watch out for Basque team Euskaltel-Euskadi.  Their riders all have roots in the Basque region and they’re partly funded by the Basque government so the Vuelta will be their time to shine.

No need to look worried Tom you'll be fine!

Quick Step will be hoping for a better Vuelta than Tour (I should know, they were my team in the PBK towers TDF sweepstake!).  They’re bringing the now recovered Tom Boonen and French national champion Sylvain Chavanel who are both hungry for success.  Supported by a strong team they’ll certainly be worth watching.

Katusha’s Joaquim Rodriguez is another rider to watch, the 32 year old has already announced his intent to win at the Vuelta, claiming he’s confident he can deliver a better result than last years fourth place.  Likewise Denis Menchov (Geox-TMC) is looking for his third Vuelta title having won it in 2005 and 2007.  Supported by Carlos Sastre (2008 TdF winner) he has finished strongly in the Giro this year and will have fresh legs after Geox-TMC failed to get a wildcard TdF place.

Liquigas Cannondale’s Vincenzo Nibali is another rider who will be hoping to make an impression.  The 2010 winner has had a good but not outstanding season with a GC 3rd place at the Giro, and a host of top ten finishes in the classics.  Summit stages and some furious riding should suit the shark and hopefully provide him with the top three finish he deserves.

Vaughters has high hopes for Ireland's Dan Martin

RadioShack’s Andreas Kloden will be looking to make amens, with the likes of Brakjovic working for him, we might well see the ‘Shack on the podium at some point.  Garmin Cervelo bring a balanced but mixed squad, Vaughters is looking to test Dan Martin on a Grand Tour, whilst also confident he can put in a good performance.  The experienced Christophe Le Mevel will no doubt contribute to the aggressive approach used with such success at the Tour by Garmin Cervelo.  Tyler Farrar is also down to ride, so watch for him in the sprints.

HTC-Highroad, in their last Vuelta, are bringing a team which includes Mark Cavendish, Matt Goss and Tony Martin to the party.  Cav, who won last years points competition, is unlikely to do so well this year we suspect.  This is partly due to the mountainous nature of the Vuelta this year, but also the impending World Championships, his performance last year left him with little in the tanks for the World Champs race in Australia.  We can expect a showdown in the TT between Tony Martin and Wiggins, if the season so far has been anything to go by it could be spectacular, especially when you add Cancellara (Leopard Trek) into the mix.

So there we go, a look at the 2011 Vuelta. Who have you got your eye on? Any tips we’ve missed? What are you going to do once this Grand Tour has finished?

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