VIGO, Spain (AP) — Spanish Vuelta organizers unveiled a 2013 route on Saturday that favors climbing specialists with several mountain stages.
The 68th edition goes back to touring the entire country after last year's race was confined to the northern half of the Iberian peninsula. Following its start in the northwest, riders will have to fend off the extreme August heat of southern Andalucia before returning to the north for a series of grueling mountain challenges.
Race director Javier Guillen said the Vuelta is characterized by its "epic" climbs. "We are coming from having an incredible Vuelta, and so we can't lower the bar now. I am convinced this year will be even better," Guillen said. "The Vuelta now has a personality. The public knows what it is going to get. We had to look for a spicy route because that is the kind of epic cycling people like."
The course becomes more difficult for sprinters as the days go by with the race's single individual time trial coming on the 11th stage. Three days later riders leave Spain through the Andorran Pyrenees before entering France for a critical 15th stage that ends in the Peyragudes summit.
Alejandro Valverde, the 2012 runner-up behind fellow Spaniard Alberto Contador, won a stage ending in Peyragudes in last year's Tour de France. "We all enjoyed the Vuelta last year and things went well for me," said Valverde, who rides for Movistar along with 2011 winner Juan Cobo. "I didn't arrive in good shape but ended up on the podium. This year, the course looks similar so I will try to do well."
Riders will face 13 mountain stages in all. A trilogy of northern mountain stages culminating with a summit finish in the Alto de L'Angliru peak on the penultimate day could be decisive. The 3,319-kilometer (2,062-mile) race is divided into 21 stages — with two rest days — and will begin with a team time trial in Rias Baixas on the northwestern coast of Galicia on Aug. 24. It ends with a traditional arrival in Madrid on Sept. 15.
Guillen did not say whether Russian team Katusha will be invited to the race after the International Cycling Union rejected its application for a world tour license. Spain's Joaquin Rodriguez, who finished 2012 as the world's highest ranked cyclist, is a member of Katusha and finished the 2012 Vuelta in third place after leading much of the way.
Katusha has appealed the decision to the Court of Arbitration for Sport. If the CAS doesn't rule in its favor, the team will rely on invitations to compete in races. "We are not going to get ahead of ourselves," Guillen said. "We are going to wait until the final decision and then we will decide if we need to invite a team or not."
The Vuelta is the third of cycling's major races along with the Tour and Giro d'Italia.