Preview: Vuelta a España 2013

Eleven summit finishes with Angliru as the final decisive climb

The 2013 Vuelta a España, will take an anti-clockwise route around Spain, starting with four stages amongst the hills and sea lochs of Galicia before heading south through Extremadura and Andalusia, eastwards into Catalonia, Andorra and France before returning to the north for the showdown on the ultra-hard Angliru - where Juan Jose Cobo effectively sealed victory in the 2011 Vuelta by dropping Sky riders Froome and the previous race leader, Bradley Wiggins.

Although there is a team time trial to start off with - beginning on a large batea (a floating wooden platform traditionally used for shellfish farming) on one of Galicia’s many sea inlets - the riders will only have to wait one day before tackling the first summit finish of the Vuelta on the long but not excessively tough Alto da Groba.

The next will come just 24 hours later, at the Mirador de Lobeira, with a fourth hilly stage in Galicia further shaking up the classification before the race starts to wend its way south. Missing, however, will be a much-expected stage round the Ponferrada World’s Circuit of 2014.

Whilst Galicia's difficult start will surely have shaken up the general classification, the next big sort-out comes in three summit finishes in Andalusia as the race returns to Spain’s deep south after bypassing it completely in 2012. A 16-kilometre ascent of Peñas - Blancas outside Estepona, and then two days later a 6.5 kilometre climb of Haza Grande in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountains, have never been used before in the Vuelta. In between, though, the climb of Valdepeñas de Jaén, last tackled in 2011 and so short and steep it is known as the Mur de Huy of Spain, will make a welcome return. Combined with the extreme heat that features regularly in Andalusia in August - the last time the Vuelta went there, in 2011, it was in the high thirties - the gaps on the overall classification should be significant by the time the race leaves the south.

A painfully long transfer to Aragon sees the race reach its mid-way point with an individual time trial, the only one of the race, with two more flattish stages preceding the next triple whammy of mountain stages, in the Pyrenees. Whilst the Coll de la Gallina summit finish is hardly an easy start, Peyragudes - a continuation of the better known Peyresourde climb, with a three kilometre descent preceding the final, gentler rise up to the finish - will come at the end of a long stage over several Pyrenean cols.

In a nod towards its past, the last Pyrenean stage ends at Formigal, where the Vuelta had its first ever mountain top finish back in 1972, 40 years previously - with a victory for legendary Spanish climber, the late Jose Manuel Fuente.

By this point the Vuelta would be almost decided, were it not for the third and last set of three back-to-back mountain stages through Cantabria and Asturias - Fuente’s home region. First off is Peña Cabarga, where Vuelta 2011 runner-up Froome and Juanjo Cobo had a spectacular climbing duel - with the Briton taking his first Grand Tour stage. 24 hours later the race reaches Asturias, with an ascent of the Naranco climb: formerly used as the finish in a popular one-day race, it is now frequently a part of the Tour of Asturias.

If the Pyrenean trek to Peyragudes will almost certainly be the most difficult day-long test for the overall classification contenders, the organisers have saved the toughest single climb of the race for what is effectively the last day of the Vuelta. Last used in 2011, the 13 kilometre slopes of the Angliru has regularly decided the overall outcome of Spain’s biggest bike race. And with only a largely ceremonial stage to go in 2013, from Leganes to Madrid, the Angliru will surely play the same role again this autumn.

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