60th Vuelta a Espana – Course Preview Part 1
Once again the race organisers have produced a Vuelta that will not have a dull day, with short intense stages that will test the riders to their limits. A look at Stages 1 to 6: compact, short, exciting stages that start with a Individual Time Trial and end with a mountain top finish….
GRANADA – GRANADA (I.T.T), 7.0 Kms
Granada has featured in the Vuelta since it was first run in 1935, when Max Bulla, the Austrian rider, won stage 10 into the famous city. That stage was between Murcia and Granada and took Max around 10 hours to complete the 285 kilometres.
At the time, many of the riders started the day by drinking a cocktail made by Perico Chicote. Orange Bitters, Grand Marnier, Cordón rojo, Curaçao naranja, English gin and half a glass of Italian vermouth were the ingredients of the magic formula which allowed them to face the race.
In 2005 the short sharp 7 kilometre Time Trial will establish the first rider to wear the Gold Jersey and also highlight any rider not in ideal shape for the following three weeks of racing.
GRANADA – CÓRDOBA, 189.3 Kms.
The bonus seconds from the three intermediate sprints should lead to a hectic day's racing and the Alto de San Jerónimo, twelve kilometres from the finish line, adds a twist in the tail to the stage.
The stage is very similar to Stage 17 in the 2003 edition of the race, and then, David Millar broke away from the peloton on the Alto de San Jerónimo to win ahead of Alberto Martinez, Oscar Sevilla, Michael Rasmussen and Unai Osa; with Erik Zabel Leading the peloton home 41 seconds back.
An intriguing stage which should see a frantic battle on the Alto de San Jerónimo, and could well see the peloton split on the first day of road racing.
San Jeronimo - Courtesy
CÓRDOBA – PUERTOLLANO, 153.3 Kms.
The third Cat climb of the Sierra de Cardeña is the only obstacle of the day, and it should be a day for the sprinters in the finish of Puerto Llano.
However, it will also be a day when the contenders for the General Classification must beware of crashes as the peloton will still be nervous and not into its rhythm. In 1936 the expected fight between the first two classified riders the previous year, Deloor and Cañardo, was cut short due to a fall suffered by the Spanish rider in the first stage. A dog crossed in Cañardo´s way and he fell to the ground, suffering several wounds in his legs and head. In spite of this accident, he was able to reach the finish, although his chance of becoming the winner had vanished completely.
CIUDAD REAL – ARGAMASILLA DE ALBA, 232.3 Kms.
A long and completely flat stage, however the wind and its windmills, immortalized by Cervantes, will be the main guest in this cycling party. Expect to see the stronger teams try to force the pace and split the race into echelons, more associated with cycle road racing in Holland than the land of Don Quixote.
It is ten years since the Vuelta a España changed its starting date from April and began in September. In 1995 the Vuelta showed the incredible supremacy of the ONCE team in general and of Laurent Jalabert in particular; he wore the Gold Jersey from stage three, won 5 of the 22 stages and also won both the Points and Mountains competition.
Also in 1995 the Italian sprinter Adriano Baffi, won Stage 19 in Calatayud, in Aragón, thirty-seven years after his own father Pierino did the same in Vuelta a España 1958 in Zaragoza.
ALCAZAR DE SAN JUAN – CUENCA, 176.0 Kms
With the cobbled climb up to the castle in the old town of Cuenca with just 10 kilometres to the finish expect to be dazzled not only by the high excitement of the race but also the scenery.
Dali - Courtesy
Contenders for the Gold Jersey must be alert on this stage and right at the very front of the peloton when they hit the short sharp climb. The Peloton could well split and any one who misses the top group will have to use team resources to get back on, or worse, a few seconds on General Classification.
When Minali won in Cuenca in 1996, the crowds were even larger than normal. Not only was there a top class field with riders like Jalabert, Zülle, Casagrande, Dufaux, Rominger, Mauri, Escartín, and Jimenez but Miguel Indurain; following his Tour defeat and his Olympic Gold Medal in Atlanta was making a rare Vuelta performance. It seemed at times that the whole of Spain had turned out to see the Legend race.
But the Spanish public would only see “El Rey” race for 11 more days. He abandoned on stage 13 and so ended his professional career in Covadonga, on his way to Los Lagos.
The race itself saw Dufaux pit himself against the Mighty ONCE Team. Zülle became leader in the individual time trial stage in Avila and he kept this leadership until Vuelta a España visited France where he handed the Maillot over to his team partner, Laurent Jalabert, born in France.
Next day, viral problems reduce the strength of the ONCE Team.
Dufaux realizes that fact and launches an attack on a large scale; Alex Zülle, who ate at a different hotel from the rest of the team the night before, is the only ONCE rider able to respond to Dufaux’s assault and is the winner in Madrid.
The race is a triumph for Swiss cycling. Three Swiss men share the podium; Zülle, Dufaux and Rominger.
CUENCA – E. E. ARAMÓN VALDELINARES, 217.0 kms.
Stage 6 and the first real test, and also the first time the Vuelta has visited the Ski Resort of Valdelinares. However the finish has been a favourite in the Vuelta a Aragón for many years, but usually starting from Teruel. One 3rd and two Category 2 climbs will nicely warm the riders legs up before they face the mountain top finish, 2,000 metres high, 8.6 climbing kilometres with an average ascent of 6.5. No one will Vuelta today, but a bad day in the saddle could be a disaster.
In 2004 Vuelta a Aragon used the same finish and Denis Menchov won the hill top sprint ahead of Stefano Garzelli, Leonardo Piepoli and Koldo Gil.
These four riders had put well over a minute (and more) to the rest of the field.
So a very dangerous day for the Golden Jersey seekers of Spanish Ski Resorts.
The Man of La Mancha - Courtesy