All posts in the Vuelta a España

Falling as it does near the end of the cycling calendar, the Vuelta a Espana, which gets under way Aug. 29 in Assen, Netherlands, is a race typically fraught with opportunity: a final chance for riders looking to make up for poor performance at the Giro d’Italia or Tour de France, a last hurrah for those hoping to salve the wounds of an entire season gone awry, or even a late-season audition for would-be stars angling to make their nation’s world championship team.

No doubt, the spotlight will be on a number of riders out to prove themselves. Cadel Evans will be among those seeking salvation. After back-to-back runner-up rides at the Tour in 2007 and 2008, the Silence-Lotto captain tumbled to 30th place at this year’s race and looked postively overmatched as he struggled to keep pace with powerhouses Alberto Contador and Lance Armstrong. But with defending Vuelta champion Contador and seven-time Tour winner Armstrong skipping the Spanish race, Evans should find his podium prospects greatly improved.

Liquigas leader Ivan Basso, too, should benefit from climber Contador’s absence. In his return to Grand Tour racing at May’s Giro — after nearly two years off the bike due to a doping suspension — Basso showed little of the form that enabled him to motor up the mountains en route to his convincing victory in 2006. And with up-and-coming teammate Franco Pellizotti’s third-place performance at the Tour still fresh in the mind, one has to wonder if Basso is beginning to feel the squeeze from within his own team.

And while Alexander Vinokourov holds what seems to be a secure place within his Astana squad, like Basso, the former Vuelta champion will undoubtedly be keen to make up for lost time, having only just returned from a two-year suspension in July.

Still others out to certify their skills at the season’s third Grand Tour will include Tom Boonen, the ace sprinter who’s gone flat since being caught with cocaine in April, Alejandro Valverde, still looking to get over that Grand Tour hump, and Boonen’s teammate Allan Davis, who has said he hopes his performance at the Vuelta will be enough to propel him to a spot on Australia’s Worlds team. Indeed, sprinters Boonen and Davis should sleep easier knowing they won’t have to face Mark Cavendish in Spain.

With so much at stake for so many riders, expect the jersey chases to be wide open.

A look at the course: This year’s Vuelta begins with a Dutch treat for the sprinters. Four flat days in the Netherlands should appease the speedsters before the difficulty spikes dramatically as the race moves into the Spanish peaks and the overall contenders take over. Assen will host the opening time trial, an utterly flat, 4.5-kilometer ride around the city’s motorcycle track.

After an early rest day following the fourth stage, at 224 kilometers the longest day at this year’s Vuelta, the race makes its first foray into Spain. Stages 5 and 6, crowded with category-two and category-three climbs, offer moderate challenges, but the standings won’t really begin to take shape until the following day at the Valencia time trial — a 30-kilometer affair that, like the prologue, is completely level.

From there, the route continues south, where Stage 8′s Alto de Aitana (1,525m) — the first of four uphill finishes in the race — and Stage 11′s Alto Collado Bermejo (1,200m) will soften up the legs for the punishment ahead. Following the second rest day, the Vuelta heads skyward. Stage 12 marks the beginning of three consecutive days in the high mountains, with the 175-kilometer 13th stage offering perhaps the most torturous test: two category-one climbs, plus an out-of-category finish on the Alto de Sierra Nevada — at 2,380 meters the highest point in this year’s race.

After that, the course mellows a bit before two more days of see-saw climbing in the Guadarrama mountains — Stages 18 and 19 — a bumpy final time trial in Toledo, then onto Madrid for the finale.

Opening statements: With its pancake profile and puny, 4.5 kilometers of roadway, the opening stage looks designed to put a time-trial specialist in the gold jersey on Day 1. The smart money is on Saxo Bank’s Fabian Cancellara, who’s won three opening races at the Tour de France since 2004. But keep an eye on Rabobank’s Lars Boom, the former cyclo-cross world champ and Dutch time-trial king making his Grand Tour debut, and Cervelo’s Ignatas Konovalovas, who stole a surprise win on the streets of Rome in the Stage 21 race-against-the-clock at the Giro

History of the Vuelta a España

The daily Informaciones with information about the Vuelta a España first edition

First held in 1935 and annually since1955, the Vuelta runs for three weeks in a changing route across Spain. The inaugural event (1935) saw 50 entrants face a 3,411 km (2,119 mi.) course over only 14 stages, averaging over 240km (149 mi.) per stage. It was inspired by the success of the Tours in France and Italy, and the boost they brought to the circulations of their sponsoring newspapers (L’Auto and La Gazzetta dello Sport respectively); Juan Pujol of the daily Informaciones instigated the race to increase his circulation.

Golden jersey
(Jersey Oro)

Blue jersey
(Jersey Azul)

Orange jersey
(Jersey Naranja)

White jersey
(Jersey blanc)