Vuelta organisers Unipublic have today revealed the route of this year's race, which gets under way on Saturday 24 August with a team time trial from Vilanova de Arousa to Sanxenxo on the Galician coast and concludes three weeks later with the traditional final stage in Madrid. The route was officially unveiled at a presentation at the Teatro García Barbón in Vigo, the biggest city in Galicia.
Last year's race was played out exclusively in the northern half of the Iberian peninsula, with the closing stage in the Spanish capital the suthernmost point of the route. The forthcoming 68th edition is more of a true 'Tour of Spain' - it starts in the north west, then skirts the Portuguese border as it heads south into Andalucia.
There's then a transfer north for the second half of the race, taking in Catalonia and the Pyrenees - one stage ends in Andorra and there's also a skip over the French border for a stage finish at Peyragudes to celebrate the 100th edition of the Tour de France - as it heads towards Asturias, with a potentially decisive penultimate stage finishing on the fabled Angliru ahead of that final day in Madrid.
It's decidedly a climber's course, with minimal time trialling - only 38 kilometres alone against the clock out of a total parcours of 3,319.1 kilometres - and 13 medium or high mountain stages compared to just six flatter ones that could end in a bunch sprint. As is typical of the Vuelta, those mountain stages kick in early, too - three of the first four road stages are categorised as such.
The first of those ends with a summit finish, the first of nine stage that end with a Category 1 or even hors-categorie ascent, those tough finished coming thick and fast during the final week of the race ahead of that appointment on the Angliru. The 2012 edition gives this year's race a lot to live up to, and in GC terms much will depend on who is actually riding, but there should be some cracking racing.
Unipublic have also issued a flythrough video of the route. We have to admit we're not finding the new music as stirring or evocative of Spain as that used on similar videos for the past couple of editions of the race though.
As to who the big challengers may be, since the Vuelta comes so late in the season, it's near impossible to tell. This time last year, the likelihood was that Alberto Contador would either be serving a ban, or would be taking a break following the Tour de France. The mainly backdated ban that he received in February meant he sat out the Tour, but was back for the Vuelta and won it in style.
The other two podium finishers last year, Alejandro Valverde and Joaquim Rodriguez, have both made the Tour their priority, although in the latter's case that may depend on who he is riding for should Katusha not secure its WorldTour licence.
The 2011 edition also shows how difficult a race the Vuelta is to call months in advance. No-one at the start of the year would have predicted Juan Jose Cobo as the winner with Chris Froome runner-up, and third overall Bradley Wiggins only rode the race after his Tour de France campaign ended early due to that broken collarbone at the end of the first week.
What is likely though is that with a tough course at the road world championships in Tuscany a couple of weeks after the Vuelta ends, riding at least part of the Vuelta will be seen as ideal preparation for those with ambitions of succeeding Philippe Gilbert in the rainbow jersey - the Belgian himself had a lacklustre 2012 season before riding himself into form with a couple of cracking stage wins in Spain.
Details of all stages appear below and you can find full details of each of them on the Vuelta website.The stage by stage commentary only apears to be in Spanish at the moment - clicking the union flag to bring up the English version gives details of last year's race, so switch to the Spanish version for this year's stage-by-stage profiles.
Stage* Date Start and Finish km 1 TTT S 24/8 Vilanova de Arousa > Sanxenxo 27.0 2 M S 25/8 Pontevedra > Baiona Alto Do Monte Da Groba 176.8 3 P M 26/8 Vigo > Mirador de Lobeira/Valagarcía de Arousa 172.5 4 M T 27/8 Lalín/a Estrada > Finisterra 186.4 5 M W 28/8 Sober > Lago de Sanabria 168.4 6 P T 29/8 GuiThulo > Cáceres 177.3 7 P S 30/8 Almendralejo > Mairena de Aljarafe 195.5 8 M S 31/8 Jerez d/l Frontera > Estepona/Alto de Peñas Blancas 170.0 9 M S 1/9 Antequera > Valdepeñas de Jaén 174.3 Rest M 2/9 10 M M 3/9 Torredelcampo > Güéjar Sierra/Alto de Hazallanas 175.5 11 ITT W 4/9 Tarazona > Tarazona 38.0 12 P T 5/9 Maella > Tarragona 157.0 13 M S 6/9 Valls > Castelldefels 165.0 14 M S 7/9 Bagà > Andorra, Collada de la Gallina 164.0 15 M S 8/9 Andorra > Peyragudes 232.5 16 M M 9/9 Graus > Sallent de Gállego. Aramón Formigal 147.7 Rest T 10/9 17 P W 11/9 Calahorra > Burgos 184.5 18 M T 12/9 Burgos > Peña Cabarga 186.0 19 M S 13/9 S Vicente d/l Barquera > Oviedo/Alto del Naranco 177.5 20 M S 14/9 Avilés > Alto de L´Angliru 144.1 21 P S 15/9 Leganés/Parquesur > Madrid 99.1 * Stage types: TTT: team time trial; M: mountains; P: plain; ITT: individual time trial