We knew from the start in 2012 that the route had been designed for a Spanish winner and if the rumours are to be believed then the 2013 route will be too. Rumours are that the 2013 edition will have no less than 12 summit finishes - thats two more than the 2012 route which Alberto Contador himself has since said:
"I think having 10 summit finishes as the Vuelta did was over the top. But in that sense, I believe far more in summit finishes than in stages that finish 20 kilometres after a climb".
I suspect Contador will not be in any hurry to race the 2013 Vuelta with his eyes firmly set once again on the Tour de France, but those who do line up at the start of the vuelta will not just have a possible 12 summit finishes to contend with - some of those finishes will be harder than last year, much harder.
Here is the stage profile for new climb, Haza Llana - a brutal 24km climb from Güéjar Sierra to Iram. The photograph above is taken on the way to the summit (which will be the highest the Spanish race has ever gone!) and the photo below shows the wall's of snow at the side of the road. Believe it or not, these photographs were not taken during the winter months!
The climb averages just under 6% over the 24kms though as is usual with Spanish climbs this is deceiving as the slope is very irregular, with the gradients persistently rising above 10% on the main drag. The climb starts with a 5km stretch averaging well over 11% with ramps of 15-21% throughout. Similarly the climb ends with a 2km stretch averaging 12% with the final run in to the finish around 17% - it isn't the steepest finish in the Vuelta, but after 24km's of constant up-hill it will feel like the most difficult.
The full route will not be announced until January but it's pretty obvious that the Vuelta is looking to build on its 2012 success, the problem is could the race have gone too far this time? With some already criticising the 2012 route for being mountain-heavy, 2013 could force such a small selection of favourites that the competition element of the race is drowned out by the desire to make things as tough as possible. Mountain top finishes are my favourite - they produce drama like no other type of finish but there is a line and a limit to rider capabilities and this alone can lead to talk of riders using alternative 'methods' just to be competitive in the race and this would be a massive step backwards in the fight against doping. It has been argued that although this years Vuelta was entertaining thanks to a very close battle between the leading three riders, it didn't necessarily make for good TV - indeed you could tune in to the final 10 minutes of each stage and be forgiven for thinking you had pressed the 'repeat' button.
The jury is still out on this one and I will reserve judgement until the full route is revealed in January, though it's safe to say the Sprinters will be heading for Italy and France in 2013...