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Mountaintop finishes aplenty for 2016 Vuelta

MADRID (AFP) — A series of demanding mountain stages will once again dominate the Vuelta a España, in a 2016 route unveiled by organizers Saturday in Santiago de Compostela, Spain.

A total of 10 mountaintop finishes will make this a race for the climbers, though there is some encouragement for time trialists, with a team TT kicking things off in Ourense and a 39-kilometer individual time trial just two days before the final stage in Madrid.

Most of the climber-friendly days come in the first two weeks of the race, which crosses the north of the country, starting by the Atlantic Ocean in Galicia before moving through the Basque country and, finally, into the Pyrenees.

Just as in last year’s dramatic edition — in which Fabio Aru (Astana) snatched the lead from Tom Dumoulin (Giant-Alpecin) on the penultimate day of the race — the queen stage comes in the Pyrenees, but this time on French soil, on stage 14 from Urdatx-Dantxarinea to Aubisque.

Still, the leaders’ red jersey could still be up for grabs in the final week when the Vuelta heads south to the region of Valencia by the Mediterranean Sea.

A long and mostly flat ITT should allow the more skilled time trialists to make up ground before a final mountain finish on the penultimate stage from Benidorm to Alto de Aitana.

“It will be difficult to beat the 2015 edition, but that is what we aspire to,” said race director Javier Guillen. “I think the race will be decided in the time trial on the third last stage.”

However, Guillen might not be able to call upon an all-star cast as in recent years due to the Rio Olympics, which fall between the Tour de France and the start of the Vuelta.

Colombian Nairo Quintana (Movistar) has committed to the race, but other GC stars like Aru, Alberto Contador (Tinkoff), Chris Froome (Sky), Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) have not, with other objectives that could potentially keep them from making the start.

Stage-by-stage

Stage 1: August 20, Laias to Castrelo de Mino (29.4km team time trial)
Stage 2: August 21, Ourense to Baiona, 159km
Stage 3: August 22, Marin to Mirador de Ezaro, 170km
Stage 4: August 23, Betanzos to San Andres de Teixido, 161km
Stage 5: August 24, Viveiro to Lugo, 170km
Stage 6: August 25, Monforte de Lemos to Luintra, 163 km
Stage 7: August 26, Maceda to Puebla de Sanabria, 158,3 km
Stage 8: August 27, Villalpando to La Camperona, 177km
Stage 9: August 28, Cistierna to Oviedo/Alto Naranco, 165km
Stage 10: August 29, Lugones to Lagos de Covadonga, 186.6km
First rest day: August 30
Stage 11: August 31, Colunga to Pena Cabarga, 168.6km
Stage 12: September 1, Corrales de Buelna to Bilbao, 193.2km
Stage 13: September 2, Bilbao to Urdax-Dantxarinea, 212.8km
Stage 14: September 3, Urdax Dantxarinea to Aubisque, 195.6km
Stage 15: September 4, Sabinanigo to Aramon Formigal, 120km
Stage 16: September 5, Alcaniz to Peniscola, 158km
Second rest day: September 6
Stage 17: September 7, Castellon to Llucena, 173,3 km
Stage 18: September 8, Requena to Gandia, 191km
Stage 19: September 9, Xabia to Calpe (39km individual time trial)
Stage 20: September 10, Benidorm to Alto de Aitana, 184km
Stage 21: September 11, Las Rozas to Madrid, 102.5km