The Vuelta a España, the third and final Grand Tour of 2013, gets underway with a team time trial in the autonomous region of Galicia - which combines an Hispanic flavour with a distictly Celtic one - this evening.
Here's our preview of the opening week of the race, together with videos from GCN, as well as organisers, Unipublic, who have also made the full roadbook available to download here (warning - it's a big file).
First, you can find a flythrough video of the full route of the race here.
Next, Daniel Lloyd and Simon Richardson of GCN run the rule over some of the stars expected to shine over the next three weeks.
Now, let's look at the first week's racing in more detail, together with videos showing a flythrough of each stage, including the profile. Videos for Stages 5 to 7 will be added once they are available.
Saturday 24 August
Vilanova de Arousa > Sanxenxo (27 km)
For the fourth year in a row, the Vuelta starts with a team time trial. Following Seville in 2010, Benidorm a year later and Pamplona last year, this time it’s the Celtic region of Galicia in the north west of the country that plays host to the start of the race, now in its 68th edition.
The 27 kilometre course today starts on a pontoon in the harbour at Vilanova de Arousa, then heads south, sometimes skirting the coast, other times heading inland, towards the finish at Sanxenxo. It’s an undulating course in places, but the maximum elevation is just 90 metres.
Sunday 25 August
Pontevedra > Baiona, Alto Do Monte Da Groba (176.8 km)
They don’t mess around at the Vuelta, do they? Today’s opening road stage has the first of 11 summit finishes that feature this year, and what’s more, it’s a Category 1 ascent, the Alto do Monte da Groba – an 11 kilometre climb with an average gradient of 5.6 per cent, but which hits 10 per cent early on.
It’s a tough stage to call. The overall hopefuls will watch each other like hawks, but with three weeks still to race it’s perhaps too early to try and grab the race lead. That final climb eases off in the middle section, followed by a false flat before it rears up in the last 2 kilometres. Maybe a day for the break?
Monday 26 August
Vigo > Mirador de Lobeira / Vilagarcía de Arousa (172.5 km)
There’s another summit finish today, a Category 3, which could see a puncheur in the mould of Orica-GreenEdge’s Simon Gerrans or world champion Philippe Gilbert of BMC Racing, who won two Vuelta stages last year, launching an attack on the final, 2 kilometre climb with a gradient averaging 10 per cent.
Today’s route twists and turns along Galicia’s rugged coastline, which could make things very interesting should the wind get up – all of those with their eyes on the overall win, as well of those looking for stage honours here, will want to keep near the front and out of trouble in case echelons form.
Tuesday 27 August
Lalín/a Estrada > Fisterra. Etapa Fin del Mundo (186.4 km)
Billed as the “Stage of the End of the World,” it finishes in the ancient fishing port of Fisterra. The town derives its name from the Latin Finis Terra, and is one of the most westerly points of mainland Europe – and, for most of its history, pretty much the end of the known world for the continent’s inhabitants.
The finale isn’t as tough as the past two days – around 100m of steady climbing in the last 2.5 kilometres – but the damage will have been done on the Mirador de Ezaro climb, crested 34.4 kilometres out, and which tested Alberto Contador on its Vuelta debut last year. A hard day, with barely a metre of level road.
Wednesday 28 August
Sober > Lago de Sanabria (168.4 km)
The fifth and final day in Galicia – the stage route crosses the border into Castile y Leon – and it’s another hard day in the saddle, with nearly 3,200m of climbing including two Category 3 ascents, the Alto do Covelo, the summit of which comes just before the halfway point, and the Alto de Padornelo, crested 31.5km out.
While it’s not impossible that the sprinters’ teams will be able to keep any breakaway in check and reel it in ahead of the finale, they will have their work cut out and may want to keep their energy for a more clear-cut opportunity tomorrow; we wouldn’t be surprised if a break stayed out.
Thursday 29 August
Guijuelo > Cáceres (177.3 km)
The first nailed-on bunch finish opportunity of this year’s Vuelta has been a while in coming, and you can guarantee that the race’s fast men won’t let it slip away. The terrain early on encourages a break to get away, but it’s likely to be kept on a tight leash.
Undulating terrain towards the tail end of the stage means that leadout trains will need to be vigilant against and late attacks; moreover, we’re into Extremadura today, and faraway from the coast with little prospect of a calming breeze, the heat could cause problems.
Friday 30 August
Almendralejo > Mairena de Aljarafe (195.5 km)
The first week of the 2013 Vuelta draws to a close with what, on paper, looks like another day for the sprinters and with opportunities few and far between in this year’s race, it’s not one they will want to waste.
A closing loop also means that they will get a taste of what is in store in the finale of a stage that takes the race south into the province of Seville, including an uphill drag in the final kilometre that includes a right-hander through a roundabout some 800m or so out.
Play Fantasy Cycling and win great prizes from Halfords!
Have you entered your team for the Fantasy Vuelta yet? Pick the right riders on the road to Madrid and you could be walking away with a Boardman road bike worth £999!
We've teamed up with Halfords to bring you a great prize pot for the third and final grand tour of the season. The high street and online retailer has hugely expanded its cycling catalogue in recent months with thousands of products from premium brands, and we've got some of that gear to give away to the top players in the Vuelta.
First prize is a Boardman Carbon Fibre road bike, Boardman's £999 carbon-framed race machine. With a full carbon frame and fork and good quality Shimano and FSA componentry it's a whole lot of bike for the money. Not that money will be involved if you win…
The players that fill the podium will be walking away with a pair of Lake CX331 shoes worth £259.99. Our Mat gave these an exceptional 9/10 when he tested them last year, they're a cracking pair of high-end, mouldable race shoes for the serious cyclist.
There's a prize every day, too. Win any stage and you'll be getting your hands on a Halfords Essential Bike Toolkit worth £34.99. This handy set contains pretty much everything you need for day-to-day maintenance of your bike, all in a strong plastic case
If you head up the purist league (no transfers during the race) then your reward will be a Gore Phantom 2.0 jacket worth £119.99. It's a high-quality softshell that's windproof and breathable, and it comes in mens' and ladies' versions too, so there'll be one to fit you just right.
On top of all that, we'll do our usual raffle: one lucky player will get a prize just for entering a team. So even if you're no good at Fantasy Cycling you're still in with a chance of winning an Adidas Outfit – short sleeve jersey, long sleeve jersey and bib shorts – worth over £150. It's worth picking nine riders just for that.
The Vuelta may have already started but you can still enter a team and there's stage prizes every day, as well as the raffle. and hey, you're not too far behind! To get started, just head over to the Fantasy Cycling site. Good luck!
Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.