Vuelta a Espaņa - Vuelta returns to Basque Country

Wed, 12 Jan 14:38:00 2011

The Vuelta a Espana will visit the Basque Country for the first time since 1978, 2011 race organisers said at the course presentation.

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When the race last visited the region, considered Spain's cycling heartland, the event descended into chaos and two stages were cancelled as separatists blocked the route with barricades, strewed tintacs on the roads and flung sand into riders' eyes.

More than three decades later, the 2011 route will feature two hilly treks through the Basque Country, with a stage finish in the final week looping through Bilbao and another in its capital Vitoria.

"We have to thank the organisers for bringing the race to our home," 2010 race leader and talented climber Igor Anton, who rides for the Basque team Euskaltel-Euskadi, said.

"The route goes past my home, over climbs I know well, and I'm sure the Basque fans will respond positively en masse."

Britain's David Millar, a former Basque Country resident and five-times stage winner of the Tour of Spain, said the decision to return to the region was a very big deal.

"This is where sport's good, it can reach out beyond that political stuff," he said.

"The Basque fans are the best in cycling, they're like the Dutch fans in the 1980s and they deserve a big race."

"One of the race's most popular teams, Euskaltel-Euskadi, won't care if they come first or 50th overall so dong as they win one of those two stages in the Basque Country - the whole place would go crazy."

Race organiser Javier Guillen said he was expecting a warm welcome.

"There's no doubt that this will contribute greatly to things settling back to normal there," he said. "But all I can say really is that we're delighted we're going.

"The Basque Country has a superb fan base in cycling, the terrain is wonderful for racing and I just hope it doesn't take another 33 years for us to get there again."

Six summit finishes on the 2011 route will favour the mountain men, with the 11-kilometre ascent of the mythical Angliru climb on Stage 15 likely to decide the winner.

"It's the hardest single climb in Spain," Anton said. "If it gives me the chance to wear the leader's jersey when we go into the Basque Country a few days later, then so much the better."

The 2011 Tour of Spain starts in Benidorm on August 20 and finishes on September 11 in Madrid.

Reuters

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