The route

This year’s Vuelta a España starts with five stages in Galicia in north-west Spain before heading south through Extremadura and Andalusia and then east into Catalonia. The Vuelta visits Andorra on stage 14 and France on stage 15 before heading west over a number of stages to face the ultra-hard Alto de l’Angliru on stage 20. The race ends with a short flat stage into Madrid on September 15.

There’s no doubt this a race for the climbers, with 11 summit finishes and only 6 flat stages in 21 days of racing. For a stage-by-stage breakdown of this year’s Vuelta, check out our preview here.

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The general classification

With last year’s winner Alberto Contador absent and 2011 winner Juan Jose Cobo having lost his mojo, the race will be a good chance for last year’s second (Alejandro Valverde) and third (Joaquim Rodriguez) placed riders to make amends.

Valverde is a seven-time Vuelta a España stage winner and the outright winner of the 2009 edition of the race. A mechanical on the windswept 13th stage of this year’s Tour de France arguably cost Valverde a shot at the top five so expect him to be extra motivated in his home tour.

“Purito” has also won seven Vuelta stages in the past and you can expect him to add to that tally this year. He hasn’t raced since his third place at this year’s Tour de France so he’ll likely be fresh for the Vuelta. Expect him to feature on most if not all of the notable climbs.

Aside from Valverde and Rodriguez, the other big contender is, of course, 2010 Vuelta winner Vincenzo Nibali. Nibali is well rested after his Giro d’Italia victory earlier this year and is arguably the pre-race favourite having shown promising form at the Vuelta a Burgos a few weeks ago.

While Nibali has told the media his main aim for the rest of the season is the world championships in Florence, expect him to have a red hot go at the Vuelta.

While Nairo Quintana won’t be taking to the start of the Vuelta after his second place at the Tour de France, there are high expectations of his Colombian compatriots: Sergio Henao, Rigoberto Uran (who finished second in the Giro) and their training partner Carlos Betancur, who hasn’t ridden since he won the best young rider classification and came fifth overall at the Giro.

In the absence of Team Sky general classification heavyweights Chris Froome and Bradley Wiggins, and with Uran leaving Sky for Omega Pharma-QuickStep at the end of the season, Sky will be led at the Vuelta by Sergio Henao. With Uran on superdomestique duties expect to see all three Colombians — Betancur, Henao and Uran — at the head of affairs when the roads head skyward.

Ivan Basso is experiencing a resurgence in form and after a solid performance on the final stage of the Vuelta a Burgos he will fancy his chances of a top 5 in the general classification.

Michele Scarponi will surely have a role to play in the race and will hope to repeat his Giro d’Italia performance where he finished fourth in the general classification.

Another notable rider who missed out on a big results at the Tour is Roman Kreuziger. He had to support Contador even though he was in better form than his team leader. Kreuziger will be keen to deliver a top result for his Saxo Bank boss who is on the lookout for a new co-sponsor.

The sprinters

This year’s Vuelta certainly isn’t a race for the sprinters but there are still six stages that could end in a bunch sprint. John Degenkolb won five stages on his own last year but he won’t be in attendance this time around. Nor will the likes of Mark Cavendish, Andre Greipel or Marcel Kittel.

Michael Matthews showed some good form in the recent Tour of Utah and could be in the mix on the flatter stages. Theo Bos could be another one to keep an eye on in the bunch kicks. Another rider who could sweep away the rolling stages is Luis Leon Sanchez who will be making his first grand tour appearance of the year.

KOM classification

While the GC contenders are sure to feature near the top of the KOM classification, expect to see an Euskaltel-Euskadi rider or two in the mix as well. Mikel Nieve is climbing well, having worn the polka-dot jersey briefly at this year’s Tour de France. Igor Anton is also likely to play a role.

Other riders to watch include Leopold Konig from NetApp-Endura and David Arroyo from Caja Rural-Seguros RGA. Simon Clarke from Orica-GreenEDGE won the KOM classification in last year’s Vuelta, having worn the jersey for more than half the race, so he shouldn’t be discounted either.

Folding teams

With the imminent closure of Euskaltel-Euskadi and Vacansoleil-DCM teams at the end of the season, there is a glut of riders who don’t have a contract going in 2014. This makes the Vuelta one of the final opportunities for contract-less riders to show their wares and impress potential suitors.

Expect to see Euskaltel-Euskadi and Vacansoleil-DCM riders in plenty of breakaways and active in the many mountain stages throughout the race.

How to watch and experience the 2013 Vuelta

For live coverage of every stage of the 2013 Vuelta a España tune in to Eurosport’s coverage on Foxtel. SBS TV will also be broadcasting eight stages of the Vuelta live.

Here at CyclingTips we’ll be publishing daily updates from the race through the Rocacorba Daily and weekly photo galleries that feature the best moments of the race. We’re also excited to have Cannondale’s Cameron Wurf posting his daily diary from the Vuelta here every day.

To complement our coverage of the Vuelta, we’ve also got a couple of challenges and competitions running alongside the race, to help you get the most out of it.

1356_CT_Fox_Badge_V02-full-copyIn conjunction with Eurosport and Strava we’re challenging you to do the same amount of climbing in 15 days as the riders in the Vuelta do on the two biggest climbing stages combined: more than 7,000m. Click here to learn more and to sign up.

And as we did with the Tour de France, we’re also running a Vuelta a España tipping competition. Click here for more information and to join.

What are you most looking forward to in the 2013 Vuelta a España?

Click here for a stage-by-stage preview of the 2013 Vuelta a España. Click here to see the startlist.