The Tour of Spain, the third and youngest (first run 1935) of professional cycling's major tours, a three-week stage race now held in September; prior to 1996 it was held in April.
The course varies from year to year but is generally fairly hilly, including the Pyrenees and the mountains of Cantabria and the Basque Country; in recent years it has occasionally visited France, Andorra, and Portugal. The finish of the final stage is traditionally in Madrid - in recent years, outside (and in 2002 inside) the Bernabeu stadium. The course suffers a bit from the sheer emptiness of much of Spain - a country of towns rather than villages - with too many stages run on endless arrow-straight roads across parched near-desert, particularly in Andalucia and Castile. Since 2001 the organisers have chosen to shorten the distance of the daily stages to an average somewhere around the 140 km mark in an effort to produce more exciting racing, an experiment which is being watched with interest by other race organisers and the UCI who are in any case trying to shorten races to reduce what appears to be a perceived "need" for doping by some riders to cope with their workload.
Originally something of a sideshow (although since the 1960s most of the really big names have ridden it from time to time), the race has gained in status internationally since its date change; the April dates involved some major calendar clashes with the Spring Classics, while the new date also serves as preparation for the World Championships in early October. It is officially ranked equal with the Tour de France and the Giro d'Italia; for specialists in long stage races its new place on the calendar provides a chance to make up for a bad performance in the Tour.