The 2011 Vuelta a España has finally been unveiled and it looks like another great route. The Vuelta is going to run from August 20th to September 11th over 21 stages and 3300km. At 3300km it is slightly shorter than the other Grand Tours of 2011 as the Giro is 3490km and the Tour is 3471km. The Vuelta, however, looks on first glance to be the hardest route of the three with 10 mountain stages and 6 mountain top finishes. Included in those mountain finishes is the Alto de L’ Angliru which is perhaps the most feared climb in pro racing with it’s insanely steep profile containing full km’s averaging 18% and the Cueña les Cabres at 24%.
This year’s Vuelta hits hard off the start in similar fashion to what we are accustomed to seeing with the Giro d’Italia. On just Stage 4 the peloton faces two Cat 1 climbs and the first mountain finish of the race up the steep and challenging 2126m Sierra Nevada slope. Quickly the climbs return as Stage 8 swings toward Madrid’s suburbs to San Lorenzo de El Escorial for 4 categorized climbs and finishing ramps of 27-28% in the town. Stage 9 follows with another massive finishing climb up to the La Covatilla ski resort at 1920m and the race closes out a demanding first portion with a 40km TT in Salamanca before the first rest day.
It’s possible that many teams will be reassessing strategies during the rest day as the harsh reality of four stages with potential to put riders in their place will lead to a dramatic and debate filled off day. When the riders return to the roads on Wednesday, August 31st, they head to the climbs again with another mountain-top finish on stage 11. Stages 12 is a sprinter’s go before the 13th, 14th and 15th pound through the hilly region os Asturias ending with Angliru before the second rest day on Monday, Sept. 5th.
The final section of the race will be a very special time as the race enters the Basque country for the first time in 33 years. While the 2011 edition may not have a massive mountain climb on the penultimate stage as did the 2010 Vuelta it does however have the hilly, sharp and demanding roads of the Basque region which feature in the Clasica San Sebastian and Vuelta a Pais Vasco. These roads are tricky enough to separate the worlds best riders in a one day classic, and if the margins are tight, we may see some fast, explosive racing throughout the last stages of the Vuelta. The race concludes in Madrid with the typical circuit race in the capital and puts the cap on what should be a spectacular race.