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The day before the official presentation of the 2006 Vuelta a Espa¤a takes place in Madrid, the Spanish press has released some its key details, notably the fact that there will be just four summit finishes in a race that typically features six mountain finales.
According to AS, the four summit finishes for next year will be at La Covatilla, La Cobertoria, Calar Alto and La Pandera. The Cobertoria is the only new finish of the quartet, and the inclusion of this Asturian mountain suggests that there will be no stage finish on either the Angliru nor at Lagos de Covadonga. The likely inclusion of the Covatilla adds an interesting element to the race as it is located above Bejar, the home town of three-time Vuelta winner Roberto Heras who recently tested positive for EPO and was stripped of a record-breaking fourth title.
AS claims there will be three time trials, but that the first of them will a team time trial in the starting city of Malaga. The other two TTs are reported to be no longer than 35km in length. They take place in Cuenca and Rivas Vaciamadrid.
The obvious conclusion to draw from the sketchy details is that this is a route for all-rounders, and perhaps drawn up to favour Spain's latest cycling star, Alejandro Valverde. The only problem with the theory is that Valverde has recently said that his only major tour next season will be the Tour de France.
Vuelta owners Unipublic have revealed that the 2007 race is likely to visit the north-western region of Galicia for the first time in more than a decade. A stage is being planned across this rugged countryside into the city of Lugo.
Meanwhile, almost as much Spanish media attention is being focused on what will be happening away from the Vuelta presentation as at it. Liberty Seguros team manager Manolo Saiz, who oversaw Heras's victory last year and his disgrace this, will not be in Madrid, but at a pre-season training camp for his riders that, claims AS, has been set up partly to prevent Saiz from having to answer questions about Heras.
Even more intriguingly, AS suggests that the management team behind the Active Bay company that owns the Liberty Seguros team are investigating ways in which Saiz could be moved out of his hands-on position as directeur sportif and into a more managerial role. The move would require a new team manager being brought in to direct day-to-day team operations on the road, with Saiz working above them more on the planning side.
The paper suggests that the move is being undertaken to insure that the Liberty Seguros company maintains its sponsorship through to 2008 following a series of scandals that hit the team last season. But the 64,000 euro question is whether Saiz, who is known for controlling every aspect of his team's set-up, would agree to work with someone else, and delegate responsibility to that person.
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