Spain’s Vuelta will return to the Basque region for the first time in 33 years for its 66th edition, which will feature 10 mountain stages and six summit finishes, organizers said Wednesday.
The cycling race, the third of the Grand Tours after the Giro d’Italia and Tour de France, will cover a total of 21 stages this year, with two finishes in the northeastern region, in Bilbao and Vitoria. Backers of Basque independence have created security problems for the Vuelta in the past and the race has not returned to the region since 1978 when protesters blocked the course with metal barriers and sticks.
The regional Basque government, led by a non-nationalist for the first time, lobbied hard to have the Vuelta return to the region, where cycling enjoys a huge following, according to Spanish media. “Cycling fans in the Basque country are going to be delighted to have the race in their home once again,” Basque rider Igor Anton of Euskaltel said at the presentation of the race in the Mediterranean port of Alicante.
The race will open with a night time trial on August 20 in the seaside resort of Benidorm and will finish in the Spanish capital of Madrid on September 11. It will cover 3,295 kilometers (2,045 miles). The mountains come early, with the long climb to Sierra Nevada coming on the fourth stage.
One of the summit finishes will be to the top of Angliru mountain, considered to be one of the most demanding climbs in professional road bicycle racing.
The climb has only featured in four other editions of the race, most recently in 2008. Carlos Sastre, the winner of the 2008 Tour de France, said the race would be “hard” with “explosive” finishes. “We can be happy when there’s a route like this that favors the climbers,” he said.
There will be just two time trials, including a 40-kilometer individual time trial to be held in Salamanca just before the first of two rest days and the transfer to Galicia in the northwest. It is the third time that the city will host a stage of this type. “It is a very hard Vuelta,” said defending champion Vincenzo Nibali, who last year became the first Italian in 20 years to win the Vuelta.