: The Vuelta 2005 is set to kick off with a 9-km.
prologue against the clock, starting in downtown Granada, a city that hosted a stage start or finish so many times in past editions,
and going uphill to the Alhambra, with a short but very steep ascension to the palace (whose name means "Red Castle” in
Arabic) built by the caliphs of the Nasrid dynasty when they used to rule the southern half of the country during the Middle
Ages. Given the uphill profile of the last part of the ride, the prologue might have some surprises in store, and award the "Jersey
Oro” to someone not belonging to the exclusive clubs of "race of truth” specialists.
But anyone grabbing the overall leader’s mantle in the Andalusian heat of late August is likely to have a hard time
maintaining it through the following days, featured by predominantly flat stages where the fastest wheels of the peloton should be
awarded plenty of bonus seconds, very useful to anyone wishing to be lifted to the top of the overall. Stage 2 runs from Granada
to Córdoba, another town that made its mark on history during the Medieval Age, when Los Moros were dominating the
Southern part of the Iberian peninsula (or "Al-Andalus” as it was called), and chose this same city, hosting what is arguably one
of Europe’s nicest Mosques, as their capital.
But the Tour of Spain 2005 peloton will find little or no time to visit it, as riders have to get back in the saddle the following
day, for the first stage stepping into the Castilla-La Mancha region, a 150-km. ride finishing into Puertollano. The race continues
throughout Castilla La-Mancha territory over the next three days, as a way to celebrate to celebrate the fourth centennial of the
the publication of El Ingenioso Hidalgo Don Quijote de La Mancha - the famous story of Don Quixote, written by the
most famous figure in Spanish literature, poet and novelist Miguel de Cervantes.
Then on to Argamasilla de Alba (for the longest stage of the race, covering 220 km. and starting in Ciudad Real), hosting a
stage finish for the first time like Puertollano does, and Cuenca (start at Alcázar de San Juan) with more food for the Petacchis,
Zabels and McEwens of the pack, although the last leg getting underway on Castilla La-Mancha soil, from Cuenca to the
Valdelinares Ski Resort on Thursday, September the 1st, features the first uphill finish of the contest, where the overall
contenders may give the first real show of their skills/condition, and we may have a first clue of who’s hot and especially
who’s not, like it’s often the case in similar (hilly and early) stages. This mountain top finish is new to Spain’s Grand
Tour, but not to several Spanish -and foreign- riders, as it’s a common one in the Vuelta a Aragón stage race.
After Castilla-La Mancha, it will be time for Aragón and the Comunitat Valenciana to host the Vuelta protagonists in the
stage from Teruel to Vinaroz, when the race first meets the sea. Another "Mediterranean” (and certainly not one for the
mountain goats) stage is set to take place the next day, Saturday, the third of September, with the bunch making it to Catalunya
in the leg going from Tarragona to the seaside resort, and often starting point of a Catalan week stage in late March, of Lloret de
The Tour of Spain continues its route northward. But before meeting the Pyrenees, it stops in Barcelona, and not for an
"average” stage, but for a crucial ride against the clock, a 35-km. event finishing into (but also starting at) the Camp Nou
stadium on Sunday, September 4.
And the very next day, the Vuelta finally makes its way to Los Pirineos, or Els Pirineus as they’re called in
Catalan language, in the stage going from Catalunya, and notably from the Girona area where many U.S. top riders have their
European HQs, to the fellow Catalan-speaking Principality of Andorra, a tiny geopolitical extravaganza (A nation with two heads
of state, neither of whom is from the nation itself, a Principality with two "co-princes”, neither of whom is actually a Prince, the
first one being none else than the French President, and the second being the Bishop of the nearby town of la Seu d’Urgell in
Spanish Territory. Is there anything more bizarre on the political scene?), but well-known to hardcore cycling fans worldwide, as
it hosted countless mountain stages in the history of both La Vuelta and Le Tour de France.
And the contest we’re talking of will be no exception to the rule, with the second hilly stage of the race finishing into the
Andorran hamlet of Ordino-Arcalis, which gained the status of cima Alberto Fernández (e.g. highest peak of the Vuelta)
being located at an altitude of 2.230 m asl an ascent coming after a third category climb and two first category ones that go
under the names of Alto de Toses and Montaup respectively. The following day the Vuelta gets back into Spanish territory, with
the peloton covering the route from Andorra to the ski resort of Cerler on Aragonese territory. Our heroes have to climb the
difficult Alto de Cantó (Cat.1) and the easier Bretui, Perves and La Espina before making it to the final ascent.
With the Camp Nou "race of truth” and the Pyrenean mountain monsters over, but three terrible stages in a row - making
this second week the hardest one of the race - looming ahead, the Vuelta boys are allowed to take a well-earned day off (with a
transfer to Logroño, main city of La Rioja, a region of Northern Spain well-known also because of its wines) on Wednesday,
September 7. And the overall contenders should save their legs also, as the race resumes with the flat and relatively short stage
going from Logroño all the way to Burgos, another one for the sprinters, and probably also the last one for some of the
But nobody eager to wear that Golden thingy in Madrid come September 18 will be allowed to save his legs over the next
three days, that make an extraordinary week-end of climbing, climbing and climbing, with three mountain top finishes on the
slopes of Northern Spain, and several other difficulties. The first one comes Friday, September 9, with the race going up (for the
first time) to the Sanctuary of Our Lady of La Bien Aparecida, named after the Patroness Saint of Cantabria …
… whose help many a good sprinters could need over the week-end, ’cause after Friday’s demanding leg, the Vuelta has
more mountains for them (and the others). Mountains like the legendary climb of Lagos de Covadonga in the Asturias region,
one of the Tour of Spain’s most traditional ascents, that hosted several "epic” battles and, among other things, saw Roberto
Heras (who didn’t take the stage anyway, as he crossed the line in third after Russian solo winner Andrei Zintchenko and
Moldova’s Igor Pugaci) clinch the Gold Jersey in the Y2K edition of the race, an edition he was going to dominate.
And if nothing should prevent the climbing sensation from Béjar from being in the bunch at this point of the race, he would
definitely be a protagonist this time too. But don’t write off the chances of any other good climber to write his name in a list of
stage winners also featuring the likes of Basque Country’s very own Marino Lejarreta (Covadonga‘s first hero back in the days
of 1983) plus Pedro "Perico” Delgado (1985 and 1992), Scotland’s Robert Millar (1986), climbing legend Luis "Lucho” Herrera
(1987 and 1991) and fellow Colombian Oliverio Rincón (1993), as well as none else than His Majesty Laurent Jalabert, two-time
winner at the Lagos (first in 1994, and later as the race got back there in 1996). Ah, btw - the Lagos de Covadonga final climb
of this stage comes only after four previous ascents took their toll on the legs on many riders.
One week away from the race end, the "mountain trilogy” comes to an end, and so does the sprinters’ ordeal, with another
uphill stage, from Cangas de Onís to Valgrande-Pajares. It’s the third straight mountain top finish, the sixth one in the 2005 Tour
of Spain … but also the last one in the race. Indeed, maybe with the intention to provide the fastest riders with some more
incentives to stay in the bunch, the Vuelta organizers - who sidelined the Angliru for the second consecutive time - made the
quite unusual decision not to include any super-demanding mountain stage with a string of major difficulties in the last week.
So should we say "we have a winner” with one week in advance? We’d better not, as even if the majority of remaining
stages (mostly running inside Castilla y León territory) since the competition resumes after the second rest day should be won by
sprinters or "stage hunters” making/getting into the right breakaway, "no major difficulties” doesn’t mean "pancake flat routes”
after all, and riders will have to tackle the hills of the "Sierras” north of Madrid in a couple of the so-called "medium mountain
stages” plus, as if this wasn’t enough, GC contenders will steal the spotlight again on the penultimate day.
After the race pays homage to the great climber José Maria ”El Chava” Jiménez, who passed away about one year ago,
with a stage passing through his home roads and both starting at and finishing into the wonderful walled city of Avila (another
traditional stage finish), where someone’s attacking attitude could give the overall leader of the moment a run for his money, it
will be time for the final, decisive (if the gaps are not that wide at least) effort, the 40-km. ITT from Guadalajara to Alcalá de
Henares, birthplace of … here we go again, Miguel de Cervantes! A "race of truth” that could change the name of the gold
jersey wearer, or could not, but one thing’s for sure: on the evening of Saturday, September the 17th, we’ll be able to say "we
Indeed, unlike in many recent editions (2001, 2002 and 2004) the closing leg into Madrid will not be an ITT but just an
"average”, flat road stage, with riders being given the chance to test the circuit hosting the Elite Men Road Race at the World Champs no more than seven days later. You can betcha we’ll have an unusual - for a Grand Tour last stage - number of sprinters competing that day, and not with taking line honors as their only target…