Vuelta a España
by: David Díaz Blanco

The Tour de France, Giro de Italia, and Vuelta a España make up the "Big Three" world road cycling competitions. The Vuelta a España takes place on Spanish roads and has been raced by the greatest cyclists ever like Merckx, Hinault, Fignon, Lemond, Indurain, and many others. Each has fought for the yellow (now golden) jersey. The 2001 edition follows the route that was opened during the 2000 race. It is made up of shorter stages in order to achieve a more spectacular race.

During the decade of the 90's, the great 3 week races have tried to choose the best cyclist of the world by going over endless stages that cover more than 200 km each with usually 5, 6, or even 7 mountain passes. This type of racing caused the the racers to develop a strategy based on endurance. This type of racing is not popular to watch for most except those of us devotees.

What fans like the most is to see amazing attacks, impossible solo breakaways, and all the finer points and strategy that make us love cycling. Enrique Franco, Vuelta's director, decided to make the 2000 edition of the Vuelta a España to have shorter stages to regain some of that lost emotion. This proved to be very successful and make for a great battle.

The same philosophy is followed in 2001 edition, introduced in Madrid. Although the hardest pass in the race last year (Asturias located Angliru), will not be climbed this time, there are two new uphills: A 18 km time trial at the Ordino Arcalís Ski Resort and a stage finishing in Aitana. This latter is an unknown uphill even to local riders because it is restricted exclusively for military use. It is considered as a Special Category one.

The first stage, a time trial will choose the first cyclist to wear the golden jersey (distinctive of Vuelta's leader). 15 km of this stage will be surrounding Salamanca, homeland of 2000 edition winner, Roberto Heras. The first two weeks will be very difficult ones for a team to control the race. It will be also very difficult for sprinters to reach the finish in first place.

The fifth stage will lead the race to the pass of Vuelta: Lagos de Covadonga. Before competitors reach this finish placed in this wonderful National Park, they will climb Fito (1st Category). Because of its short 133 km distance, the climbing specialist will "Cuadro de texto", start attacking right from the hotel's stairs.

The next stage reaches Torrelavega and the city will lend its streets to the second time trial. This is the town where Oscar Freire was born and lives in. His mentor González Linares has helped the organizers choose the route. I know it well and surely all the racers will not finish in the same group.

The eighth stage features an uphill finish. It has the "Alto de la Cruz de la Demanda", a very interesting 1st Category pass. This means 4 consecutive stages where competitors wanting to win the Vuelta can as well put themselves in the first places or lose any opportunity to win.

The 10th stage finishes at the La Molina Ski Resort, another uphill finish. This stage has a long and hard 20 km pass called La Creueta.

The 11th stage will finish at another Ski Resort, Pal. The race has two 2nd category passes, three 1st category passes, and the last one considered Special Category. A short race at just 154 km, but more than one will rather stay in bed at the hotel then attempt this stage.

After this stage there will be an uphill time trial in Ordino Arcalis. After so many hard stages, it will be easy to lose time here.

The 12th stage is very interesting as it takes place in the Pyrenees and ends in Aitana. It is over 211 km and has an unknown hard pass at the finish. There are 8 major passes during this stage. The first climb is an independent pass called Tudons and it has and average slope of 4.9%; the rest have a slope of 7.7%.

The Aitana stage closes the second week of racing and completes the hardest part of the race. Among the last days, there are two that can be important ones: During the 20th stage at Abantos pass (1st Category), will be climbed two times. The stage at Guadalajara will remain a mystery until ridden by the riders. Enrique Franco has promised that is will have many surprises during it.

For 2001 the Vuelta a España has an excellent route that will provide plenty of fight and spectacle.