With the Tour de France and Olympics road race done and dusted, many of the world's top cyclists are now turning their attention towards the Vuelta a España - which commences on 18 August – and what better preparation could there be than this five-day stage race around the province of Burgos in northern Spain?
The event is now regarded as one of the highest-profile contests on the Spanish cycling calendar and has been run 33 times since it's inauguration in 1946.
The route for 2012 comprises 775km of rolling roads and here we take a closer look at what each stage will offer:
Wednesday 1 August: Stage One – Miranda de Embro to Complejo Karstico Ojo Guarena - 135km
The race heads out to the north west of Mirand de Emro and the first three intermediate sprints will all be contested before the road winds its way up the Alto de Bocos (Cat. 3 after 112km). Once that punchy climb has been scaled, the route passes on to Barcenillas de Cerezo where the peloton begin one and a half laps of a lumpy 23km finishing loop. Halfway around they will find the Ojo Guarena, and it is the second ascent of this third-category climb that will prove decisive as the stage ends on top of its 750m summit. Although this stage is unlikely to have a major bearing on the GC, it will certainly open up a few small time gaps and give us an early indication of which riders will fancy their chances later in the week.
Thursday 2 August: Stage Two - Burgos to Burgos - 141km
The sprinters will looking to get off to a flyer here as three intermediate sprints are sandwiched into the first 30km of action. Once those have been swept up the route continues on to a 44km clockwise loop which includes three ascents of the Alto del Castillo. This third-category climb is unlikely to cause too many problems, especially given the distance between each crossing, but a steep summit finish on the third ascent should tempt a number of late attackers as the GC contenders mark each other out in the safety of the bunch.
Friday 3 August: Stage Three – Santo Domingo De Silos to Lerma - 159km
The Alto de Arroyo (Cat 3. After 24km) should provide the springboard for an early breakaway as the road arches around to the north west of Santo Domingo De Silos before continuing along another of this race’s characteristic loops. Two ascents of the Alto del Majadal (Cat 3. After 72km and 130km) could sort the wheat from the chaff, but any sprinters that manage to stay in the bunch after climbs those will fancy their chances as the road drops steadily over the final 29km before what should be a flat-out finish along the cobbled streets of Lerma.
Saturday 4 August: Stage Four – Dona Santos to Ciudad Romana de Clunia - 170km
Any sprinters that missed their chance of Friday will be looking to make amends here as this is the flattest of this year’s five stages. The route winds its way along the country roads to the south east of Dona Santos, and although there is a slight lump after the third intermediate sprint at Penaranda (90km), it shouldn’t trouble the fast men and the bunch is likely to be as one as they sweep into Ciudad Romana de Clunia for a punchy uphill finish in the town centre.
Sunday 5 August: Stage Five - Areniscas de los Pinares to Laguna de Neila - 155km
The race organisers have very much saved the toughest day ‘til last with no less than seven categorised climbs on this concluding day of action. Three second-category and one third-category climb will already have been crested before the peloton passes on to the Alto de Pasil de Rozavientos, and it is on this first-category brute where main contenders will no-doubt come to the fore. The Alto del Collado (Cat. 2 after 159km) could see a few more weary faces fall off the pace, but it is on the Lagunas de Neila where the race will be decided. This hors-categorie beast tops out at over 1800m and the first man to the summit here could well seal the overall victory in the process.
A mountainous final stage could play into the hands of Rigoberto Urán and Sergio Henao, but Ben Swift will have his eye on the sprint stages while Juan Antonio Flecha, and Ian Stannard are always looking out for any breakaway chances which might arise. Danny Pate and Xabier Zandio could also spring a surprise, but Davide Martinelli will be there solely for experience as he begins life as Team Sky’s first stagiaire.
Xabier Zandio earned one of his most memorable race victories here in 2008, while Team Sky achieved top-10 finishes in four of the five stages of the 2010 edition. Morris Possoni also finished fifth overall in the team’s only Vuelta a Burgos appearance to date.