Cycling

Primoz Roglic in contention for Vuelta a Espana's epic mountain challenges

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Primoz Roglic
Primoz Roglic
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Rescheduled and rerouted, the Vuelta a Espana sets off from the Basque Country on Tuesday with defending champion Primoz Roglic vying for the winner's red jersey after his dramatic capitulation in the Tour de France.

The chasing pack includes a back-from-injury Chris Froome in his last major race for Team Ineos before the four-time Tour de France winner leaves for Israel Start-Up Nation.

Roglic looked set to win the Tour de France last month until the rider, who will turn 31 later in October, fell apart on a stunning penultimate day, opening the way for fellow Slovenian Tadej Pogacar to take victory.

Since then Roglic has restored some pride by winning the Belgian one-day classic Liege-Bastogne-Liege, profiting from Julian Alaphilippe's premature celebrations to nip past the Frenchman on the line.

Organiers of the Vuelta, the last of cycling's big three tours, have swatted away a series of disruptions from Covid-19.

The planned August start in the Netherlands was switched to 20 October in Spain and then a three-day foray into Portugal was slashed.

In a radical move, the Vuelta has banned the publicity caravan that precedes each stage and spectators will be barred from nine of the mountainsides where the travelling enthusiasts normally gather.

Facial recognition technology will be used instead of pens to reduce the risk of infection. Riders usually register with a signature, needing to use a pen and paper. Instead a computer will analyse the riders' physical characteristics.

Spain is battling one of the highest rates of coronavirus infection in the European Union, with nearly 900 000 infections and more than 33 000 deaths.

The 22 teams of eight riders will not venture further south than Madrid on a gruelling route of 2 882 kilometres that features eight hilly and five mountainous stages. A long and lonely individual time-trial could decide the winner.

Fears the stars would fail to show up have not materialised as Giro winners Tom Dumoulin and Richard Carapaz top the roster while climbers such as Spaniard Enric Mas and Frenchman Thibaut Pinot add to the lustre.

Froome's 'strange year'

Froome's appearance provides interest as he bids to overcome horrible injuries from a high-speed crash last year.

It will give fans the chance to see if the seven-time Grand Tour winner, who was dropped from Ineos' Tour de France lineup this year, is back on top form when two mountainous stages are followed by a draining individual time-trial mid-race.

It is the kind of contrasting terrain where Froome, now 35, once so often destroyed his rivals.

"It remains to be seen, I think it's possible," said Froome of his chances of victory. "It's been a very strange year, so who knows."

The 2020 Vuelta actually starts five days before the Giro d'Italia ends after a tightly packed rescheduling of the main races of the season because of the pandemic.

List of stages for the 2020 Vuelta a Espana cycling tour which starts at Irun in the Basque Country on Tuesday and ends in Madrid 11 November:

Stage 1, 20 October

Irun - Sanctuary of Arrate, 173km mountains

Stage 2, 21 October

Pamplona - Lekunberri 151.6km hills

Stage 3, 22 October

Lodosa - Laguna Negra 166.1km mountains

Stage 4, 23 October

Soria - Ejea de los Caballeros 191.7km flat

Stage 5, 24 October

Huesca - Sabinanigo 184.4km hills

Stage 6, 25 October

Biesca - Col du Tourmalet 136.6km mountains

Rest day, 26 October

Stage 7, 27 October

Vitoria - Valdegovia 159.7km hills

Stage 8, 28 October

Logrono - Moncalvillo 164.5km mountains

Stage 9, 29 October

Castrillo del Val - Aguilar de Campoo 157.7km flat

Stage 10, 30 October

Castro Urdiales - Suances 185km flat

Stage 11, 31 October

Villaviciosa - La Farrapona 170km mountains

Stage 12, 1 November

Pola Laviana - Angliru 109.4km mountains

Rest Day, 2 November

Stage 13, 3 November

Muros - Mirador de Ezaro 33.7km Individual time trial

Stage 14, 4 November

Lugo - Ourense 204.7km hills

Stage 15, 5 November

Mos - Puebla de Sanabria 230.8km hills

Stage 16, 6 November

Salamanca - Ciudad Rodrigo 162km

Stage 17, 7 November

Sequeros - La Covatilla 178.2km mountains

Stage 18, 8 November

Hipodromo de Zarzuela - Madrid 125.2km flat

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