Some 10% smaller than France at around 505,000 square kilometres; but with only 60% of its neighbour to the north’s population with 44 million souls, Spain is not a populous country.
With long Atlantic and Mediterranean coastlines the bulk of the population is clustered around the coast – that explains those long, long spectator free stages across the endless high plains and mountains of the interior.
The capital city Madrid – with a population of 3.1 million – is at the geographic heart of the country. The 17 regions which constitute Spain, make for a culturally and linguistically diverse country; Catalonia has its own language – go to The Basque Country or Galicia and you’ll hear very little Castillan (that’s Spanish to us) spoken as the locals chat away in Basque or Galician.
Main industries are construction, cement, engineering, petro-chemicals, timber, iron, steel, automobiles and textiles; but the unemployment rate is one of the highest in the developed world. Life expectancy for males is 78 and for females 84.
Tony Rominger is the joint record man with Roberto Heras – both have three overall victories.
First held in 1935 the race only became an annual event in 1955, prior to that, the Civil War and ongoing crippling political and economic situation in Spain prevented the race blossoming as did the Tour and Giro. Unsurprisingly, it is the home nation – with 28 – which has the most wins; joint ‘record men’ are Toni Rominger (Switzerland) and Roberto Heras (Spain) on three; Heras did have four but was declassed in 2005 for failing drug controls.
Snow was a common sight in the Vueltas of old.
Where It Fits
Until 1995 the race was held in May, with snow being an ever present menace to the riders in the high mountain stages. Arguments have raged ever since about its present late season spot – mainly due to the fact that many of the peloton are thinking of winding down for the year, not contesting the third biggest race on the planet. But in recent years Ullrich, Heras, Menchov and Vinokourov have all used the race as a late vehicle to make their seasons worthwhile.
Looking Back: 2008
A rampant Contador won with ease (albeit cushioned by time bonuses) last year from Astana team mate Levi Leipheimer (the gossip was that Alberto couldn’t afford to slip up or Levi would take his chance); Carlos Sastre was third with Galician hero Ezequiel Mosquera fourth. None of last year’s podium will be on the start line for this year – but Mosquera certainly will.
Alberto Contador completed his Grand Tour hat trick with the win in 2008.
The race starts with four days in The Netherlands – not one for the purists! – with a 4.5 kilometre prologue in Assen then two of the only true ‘sprinter stages’ in the race; stage one is Assen – Emmen and stage two is Zutphen – Venlo. The others being 17 and 21 – time tests apart, the rest of the route book looks more like a catalogue for high precision hand saws.
The race starts with four days in the Netherlands.
Whilst gravity won’t be playing much of a roll these first three days, her close friend – atmospheric pressure, just might. There aren’t many days when the wind doesn’t blow in the Lowlands, especially with autumn approaching.
Stage 4 from Venlo has the look of an Ardennes Classic – it even finishes in Liege – and as Stephen Roche would say; ‘you don’t win a Tour on any one day, but you can certainly lose it’ – this could be that day.
Stage 4 makes a little foray into Wallonia and takes in some of the grand Ardennes climbs.
The first rest day is early – Day Five – to give the mechanics and soigneurs a chance to drive across most of Belgium, all of France, the Pyrenees and a chunk of Spain, to Tarragona; aren’t they lucky!
Stage 5, Tarragona is a spiky at the start and just might be a sprinter’s stage but is more likely to be a day for the breakaway to sprint it out in Vinaros.
The Tour of Spain doesn’t quite take in all of Spain this year, but the route is without question a fantastic one.
Stage 6 is a circuit around Xativa and those saw teeth are still sharp at the end – a breakaway and autobus day.
The Stage 7 time trial around Valencia is made for the big gear men – it says ‘Bert Grabsch’ to me.
Stage 7’s time trial is followed by the first mountaintop finish in Stage 8. It’s a doozy: Aitana.
Stages 8, Alzira – Alto de Aitana and 9, Alcoy – Xorret de Cati are horrific with multiple mountains to scale; two days when you might not win, but you can sure-as-hell lose it.
Stage 9 completes the three-day GC trifecta. If a rider has hopes for overall glory, he had better be on point here.
Stages 10 out of Alicante and 11 from over night stop Murcia to Caravaca de la Cruz are unrelenting ‘transition’ stages – the second rest day won’t have come a moment too soon for many.
Stage 12 from Almeria is another horror; 174 K, 3550 metres of climbing and a mountain top finish – Alto de Velefique – that should sort the men from the boys; or rather the normal men from those with dangerously low body fat levels.
It’s back to mountaintop joy for Stage 12: Alto de Velefique is on the menu today.
Stage 13 out of Berja doesn’t get any better with two monster climbs and another mountain top finish to Sierra Nevada.
It wouldn’t be a Vuelta without the legendary climb of Sierra Nevada, would it?
Stage 14 from Granada sticks with the mountain top finish theme; La Pandera is a gruesome way to end a stage – but not if you’re on the sofa with a beer.
La Pandera is a mean way to finish up a stage – perfect for this year’s Vuelta.
Stage 15 out of Jaen might just be a sprinters day with its downhill finish to Cordoba – but there’s a lot of climbing at the ‘back end’ (copyright Dave Duffeld)
Stage 16 from Cordoba to Puertollano is for the breakaway, but Stage 17 from Ciudad Real might just see a mass charge into Talavera de la Reina.
Stage 18 out of Talavera is a toughie, especially with that famous cobbled climb into the wall city of Avila at its end.
Stage 19 drops back out of Avila and so do the last kilometres of this stage to La Granja glass works – it’s just a pity about the three first cat climbs in between.
Stage 19 doesn’t have a summit finish, but those three Cat 1 climbs will definitely tickle.
Stage 20, Toledo and its chrono time again; but this one is only 26 K on roads for the specialists.
Stage 21, Madrid and any sprinter left standing and worth his salt will feel better at the start today as the stage finishes with fast, flat laps of the Paseo de Castellana and it beautiful fountains.
La Vuelta 2009 Stages:
Stage 1: Sat 29 Aug, Assen – Assen, ITT, 4.8km
Stage 2: Sun 30 Aug, Assen – Emmen, 203.7km
Stage 3: Mon 31 Aug, Zutphen – Venlo, 189.7km
Stage 4: Tue 1 Sep, Venlo – Liиge, 225.5km
Rest Day 1: Wed 2 Sep.
Stage 5: Thu 3 Sep, Tarragona – Vinaros, 174km
Stage 6: Fri 4 Sep, Xativa – Xativa, 176.8km
Stage 7: Sat 5 Sep, Valencia – Valencia, ITT, 30km
Stage 8: Sun 6 Sep, Alzira – Alto de Aitana, 204.7km
Stage 9: Mon 7 Sep, Alcoy – Xorret del Cati, 188.8km
Stage 10: Tue 8 Sep, Alicante – Murcia, 171.2km
Stage 11: Wed 9 Sep, Murcia – Caravaca de la Cruz, 200km
Rest Day 2, Thu 10 Sep.
Stage 12: Fri 11 Sep, Almerнa – Alto de Velefique, 179.3km
Stage 13: Sat 12 Sep, Berja – Alto de Sierra Nevada, 172.4km
Stage 14: Sun 13 Sep, Granada – La Pandera, 157km
Stage 15: Mon 14 Sep, Jaйn – Cуrdoba, 167.7km
Stage 16: Tue 15 Sep, Cуrdoba – Puertollano, 170.3km
Stage 17: Wed 16 Sep, Ciudad Real – Talavera de la Reina, 193.6km
Stage 18: Thu 17 Sep, Talavera de la Reina – Бvila, 165km
Stage 19: Fri 18 Sep, Бvila – La Granja. Real Fбbrica de Cristales, 179.8km
Stage 20: Sat 19 Sep, Toledo – Toledo, ITT, 27.8km
Stage 21: Sun 20 Sep, Rivas-Vaciamadrid – Madrid, 110.2km