AS we race towards the start of the Vuelta a España 2015, athletes are eyeing up a cycling course that really puts the Costa del Sol on the map.
Stretching for 3,360 kilometres and 21 stages, the first eight will take place in Andalucia, with several passing right along the coastline.
This year marks the 80th year, but only the 70th actual event since the inaugural cycle back in 1935.
The first Vuelta left from Madrid and traversed 3,425 kilometres but involved only 50 cyclists carrying their own tools to fix their bikes on the go.
The Vuelta didn’t become annual, however, until after the end of the Spanish Civil War and World War II.
The race, one of the three Grand Tours alongside the Tour de France and the Giro d’Italia, still seems to favour Spaniards, with Salamanca-born Roberto Heras holding the record of four wins, and Madrid’s Alberto Contador as one of only six men to win all three tours.
Favorites for the red jersey (the Vuelta’s marker of pack leader) this year include two Spaniards, Alejandro Valverde and Joaquim Rodriguez, both sons of amateur cyclists, and Nairo Quintana, a Colombian whose parents saved up to buy him a second-hand bike to bike 16 km to school every day.
Chris Froome, British cyclist for Team Sky and current Tour de France reigning champion, is a favorite after placing second last year.
He delayed announcing his participation, after committing to competing in back to back Tour de France and Olympic events, but declared his intentions by tweeting: “Tough, but always exciting for the viewers #bringiton”.
After Froome jokingly requested a flatter time trial for 2015, the director of the Vuelta Javier Guillen in fact granted this, with a flat stretch in Burgos, along with one of the most challenging climbs in Andorra, with a 5,200 metre climb in only 138 kilometres.
The race begins with a burst of speed in Puerto Banus, with a 7.4 km time trial on August 22.
The first stretch on the 23rd brings the cyclists to Alhaurin de la Torre, ended 165 km away in Caminito del Rey, its first Vuelta visit.
Starting from Mijas, the path heads straight for Malaga on August 24.
After Malaga, the riders come to the starting line at Estepona, where they will travel 10 km through the city center and 20 on the Estepona coastline all the way to Vejer de la Frontera 203 km away on August 25.
The town hall predicts that the event will bring in €300,000 in tourism and lodgings for those involved in the race.
Between August 26 and 29, the race will run its course through Andalusia, tracing the countryside through Rota, Alcala de Guadaira, Cordoba, Cazorla, Jodar, La Alpujarra and finally Puebla de Don Fadrique.