2012 Vuelta a España: A Look at the Stages Where Race Will Be Won and Lost

Will ProtheroeContributor IIIAugust 18, 2012

Photo: lavuelta.com
Photo: lavuelta.com

Today sees the 67th edition of the Vuelta a España start in Pamplona with a team time trial. This year's Vuelta promises to be intriguing with the Grand Tour return of Alberto Contador after his suspension.

After this year's Tour de France aided the time-trialists, the Vuelta is set to be a showdown for the climbers. The route includes seven mountain top finishes which means that one bad day could prove fatal for any of the favourites.

The sponsors will have the opportunity to get their names on TV on day one with a team time trial. However, at just over 16km it shouldn't lose anyone too much time.

The fireworks could start very early as stages three and four both finish with steep climbs.

Stage three finishes up the eight kilometre Arrate climb and stage four takes the riders up a steep final climb to Valdezcaray. While these stages won't decide the outcome of the race, they could serve as a platform for someone to take vital seconds away from his rivals.

After a fairly flat stage five, stage six will be another punishing day in the saddle as the riders face another summit finish to El Fuerte de Rapitan.

The first proper day in the mountains comes on stage eight when the race makes its way into Andorra. The final climb is extremely steep in places and could see some contenders fall by the wayside.

The race will really start to take shape as the riders finish the 40km time trial from Cambados to Pontevedra. A category three climb means that it's not a course for the pure time trial specialists, but it could be tailor made for Alberto Contador and Chris Froome to take big chunks of time away from their rivals.

Stages 14 to 16 are where the pure climbers will surely attempt to attack. Three summit finishes in a row mean that there should be some dramatic racing as the race really begins to shake out.

In stage 15 the race will ascend the Lagos de Covadonga for the 18th time in Vuelta history. The race first finished on its slopes in 1983 when Marino Lejarreta took the stage on his way to a second place finish overall. Since then the stage has been won by such legendary names as Robert Millar and Laurent Jalabert.

The final section La Huesera, or 'the Boneyard', is where the stage could really come to life. The final seven kilometres takes the gradient up to 15 percent.

After going over three category one mountains, the riders face another incredibly tough climb on stage 16. The last 3km on the Cuitu Negru average 14 percent and this looks set to be the last chance for riders to forge an assault on the leader's jersey.

However, if the race is still close then we could be headed for another grandstand finish when the riders head up the Bola Del Mondo on the penultimate stage of the race.

In 2010 we were treated to a classic battle on its slopes when Vincenzo Nibali and Ezequiel Mosquera went toe-to-toe for overall victory. If this year's leader is within striking distance then he can expect a nervous day in the saddle as attacks will be certain.

After 3,360km of tough racing, the winner of the 2012 Vuelta a España will be crowned on the streets of Madrid. The final stage is a nice short stage that the remaining riders will cherish after an absolutely brutal three weeks of riding. A bunch sprint is almost inevitable here before the celebrations begin.