Vuelta organiser rules out April return, considering start in North Africa
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Friday, March 19, 2010

Vuelta organiser rules out April return, considering start in North Africa

by VeloNation Press at 9:38 AM EST   comments
Categories: Pro Cycling, Vuelta a España

The organiser of the Vuelta a España, Javier Guillén, has ruled out a return to the previous timeslot for the race in early April. In recent years a lack of attention paid to the race by the media and the Spanish public has been blamed on its placing towards the end of the season, and there has been talk that the race might try to shift back to the original pre-Tour de France dates.

However Guillén, who took over in 2008 as the new Vuelta organiser, doesn’t now envisage that happening.

“It is a difficult subject, almost forgotten,” he told the Spanish newspaper AS. “I believe that the old dates are better, but others convinced me otherwise. Of the current riders, only Íñigo Cuesta experienced the Vuelta in September and, in addition, the current month guarantees better participation.”

He does however feel that the race would benefit from starting slightly earlier, in that it will avoid a clash with the soccer season. Guillén gives his thumbs up to “the idea of moving the race start in August by one week, because we would  have less competition,” he said. “It wouldn’t coincide with the starting of the Liga and could create an interest to drag those audiences [on board]."

Another way to increase global interest is to start the race outside Spain. The Vuelta a España kicked off in Holland last year and he said that the experiment was even more successful than he had hoped.

“We arrived there with some expectations but experienced the opposite, a resounding success,” he explained. “In the cyclotourist event beforehand there were 11,000 participants; then you can appreciate the significance of the brand of the Vuelta a España. Those four stages took up 50 percent of our budget, yet even so they earned us four million [Euro].

He has not ruled out returning there, but is looking elsewhere. One possibility is to head across the Straits of Gibraltar to North Africa, thus starting the race on another Continent. That would certainly generate headlines.

“Our challenge is now in North Africa,”  he said. “But it's hard ... Firstly, because they have no culture of cycling. And secondly, because you have to do without anyone feeling hurt: if we go to Ceuta, we have to go to Melillao, and if we go to both, how would we go to Morocco ...".

The latter has laid claim to the two neighbouring autonomous cities, which Spain insists have been part of its own country since the 15th century. Morocco gained independence from Spain in 1956, and this is an ongoing political hot potato.

Another potentially sensitive idea is to take the race to the Basque Country for the first time since 1978. "We have a close relationship with the Government of Euskadi and we would go before the end of the current legislature, but things have to be done properly. I do not want it to happen that this issue is politicised.” He said that if there was any danger that the latter would happen, the plans would be cancelled.”

Red jersey to be changed:

Guillen spoke about the controversial decision to change the leader’s jersey from a gold one to a red top, created by Spanish fashion designer Custo Dalmau. He confirmed that the new-look garment didn’t receive widespread admiration.

“We have spoken with Custo and he agrees that we want to introduce variations,” he said. “The jersey will have less black colour and the red tone will be more intense. We know that its presentation created controversy, but did not bother me; actually, I liked the debate between modernity and tradition. We are also working on a new polka-dot jersey, like the Tour, but different. "

The first leader’s jersey will be awarded late on the day of the opening team time trial in Seville. The race against the clock will be held between 9 and 11pm at night, with the last teams relying heavily on street lighting. Despite the potential risks, he thinks it is important to experiment. "You have to do new things and for the riders this doesn’t require a significant effort, the journey is short.”

It's as yet very uncertain if 2009 race winner Alejandro Valverde will be there. He is looking increasingly likely to face a global ban, having lost his CAS appeal earlier this week. Guillen said that the situation should have been resolved prior to the start of last year’s Tour of Spain. “We already said that his case should have been resolved before the Vuelta. Now what? Now this does grave damage to our race that could have been avoided perfectly."

He insists that Valverde was clean when winning the race, saying that the biological passport has made a big difference in the sport.


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