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24th Vuelta a Castilla y León - 2.1
Spain, March 23-27, 2009
By Les Clarke
It's amazing the effect a year can have. Consider Team Astana's predicament leading into last season's Vuelta a Castilla y León; told it wouldn't be riding the 2008 edition of the Tour de France, the super squad made its way to the north west of Spain with a chip on its shoulder and a race to win.
Contador was successful in achieving that aim, but not before providing Spanish TV cameras with a spray about his team's exclusion from the Tour. It was entertaining stuff, and provided a spark in what was fairly standard racing fare from the Castillian region.
The race itself was still recovering from a period of instability, as finances were a consideration and the effect of numerous doping scandals in 2007 was being felt. The event's prospects were set for a boost, however.
Contador's subsequent performances in the Giro d'Italia and Vuelta a España put him at the top of the Grand Tour tree, and his return to Castilla y León was always going to be a drawcard. Add the return of Lance Armstrong, with Contador and the Astana team in tow, and the equation just got much longer.
For the days between March 23 and 27, most of the cycling world's attention will be bestowed in this north-western region of Spain.
Astana will be the focus of this attention, and it returns to the race in very different circumstances. Johan Bruyneel's squad possesses two potential winners for this event alone, with a view to using it as preparation for its assault on all of the season's Grand Tours. There's no exclusion from the Tour in '09, and Castilla y León takes on a whole new context for the team.
The race of the big hitters
It's not the only reason why this year's edition of the Vuelta a Castilla y León will undoubtedly be the biggest in its 24-year-history. Yes, Astana's back with a powerful posse that includes Contador, Armstrong, Levi Leipheimer and Jose Luis Rubiera, but there's also Carlos Sastre and the Cervélo squad, plus an Óscar Pereiro-Alejandro Valverde tag team for Caisse d'Epargne.
Valverde confirmed he'd use the event as preparation for targeted races season - the Ardennes Classics in late April and the Tour de France in July - and he's got a point to prove after recent talk surrounding the never-ending scandal that is Puerto.
Add the likes of Denis Menchov, who has shown excellent early-season form, Rock Racing's Oscar Sevilla and Tyler Hamilton plus a host of Spanish stars such as Ezequiel Mosquera and Íñigo Cuesta, and the stage is set for some exciting racing over the five stages.
The race's time trial, used last year as the opening stage, has been shifted to the second day and triples in length to become a 28.2km test against the clock. A mountaintop finish the following day - from Sahagún to the ski station at San Isiro - should provide a few fireworks as Contador, Leipheimer, Menchov and Sastre may be aiming to make their mark.
The cat one Alto de Peñón and Laguna de los Peces that dictate the proceeding stage from Santa María Del Páramo to Galende-Laguna De Los Peces will undoubtedly shake up the general classification and provide an indication of who has brought their A-game to Castilla and León.
There will be a major sideshow to the racing, however; the teamwork of Armstrong and Contador. The American has stated he'll be aiming to use the event as a litmus test of the duo's ability to work together during a stage race. He made it clear that Contador will be team captain, and he is happy to assume the role of domestique.
Comments such as, "Contador has a lot to learn" and that the Spaniard is nervous, made by Armstrong during the past week, should create even more interest in the dynamic between the seven-time Tour champ and the peloton's hottest Grand Tour property.
Astana Caisse d'Epargne 1 Alberto Contador (Spa) 11 José Vicente Garcia (Spa) 2 Lance Armstrong (USA) 12 Iván Gutiérrez (Spa) 3 Jesús Hernández (Spa) 13 Luis Pasamontes (Spa) 4 Levi Leipheimer (USA) 14 Marlon Pérez (Col) 5 Tomas Vaitkus (Ltu) 15 Francisco Pérez (Spa) 6 Benjamin Noval (Spa) 16 José Joaquín Rojas (Spa) 7 José Luis Rubiera (Spa) 17 Alberto Losada (Spa) 8 Haimar Zubeldia (Spa) 18 Alejandro Valverde (Spa) Euskaltel-Euskadi Fuji-Servetto 21 Aitor Hernández (Spa) 31 José Alberto Benítez (Spa) 22 Markel Irizar (Spa) 32 Juan José Cobo (Spa) 23 Pablo Urtasun (Spa) 33 Ivan Dominguez (Cub) 24 Amets Txurruka (Spa) 34 Arkaitz Durán (Spa) 25 Rubén Pérez (Spa) 35 Beñat Intxausti (Spa) 26 Jorge Azanza (Spa) 36 Javier Mejías (Spa) 27 Igor Antón (Spa) 37 Ricardo Serrano (Spa) 28 Mikel Nieve (Spa) Garmin-Slipstream Rabobank 41 Blake Caldwell (USA) 51 Denis Menchov (Rus) 42 Tom Danielson (USA) 52 Mauricio Ardila Cano (Col) 43 Hans Dekkers (Ned) 53 Laurens Ten Dam (Ned) 44 Huub Duyn (Ned) 54 Juan Manuel Gárate (Spa) 45 Lucas Euser (USA) 55 Koos Moerenhout (Ned) 46 Christian Vande Velde (USA) 56 Dmitry Kozontchouk (Rus) 47 Ricardo Van Der Velde (Ned) 57 Bauke Mollema (Ned) 48 David Zabriskie (USA) 58 Stef Clement (Ned) Bbox Bouygues Telecom Contentpolis-Ampo 61 Yukiya Arashiro (Jpn) 71 Javier Benitez (Spa) 62 Evgeny Sokolov (Rus) 72 Javier Etxarri Marin (Spa) 63 Giovanni Bernaudeau (Fra) 73 Dionisio Galparsoro (Spa) 64 William Bonnet (Fra) 74 Oscar García-Casarrubios (Spa) 65 Mathieu Claude (Fra) 75 José Herrada (Spa) 66 Damien Gaudin (Fra) 76 Gorka Izaguirre Insausti (Spa) 67 Guillaume Le Floch (Fra) 77 Adrián Palomares (Spa) 68 Perrig Quemeneur (Fra) 78 Julián Sánchez (Spa) Xacobeo Galicia ISD 81 Ezequiel Mosquera (Spa) 91 Igor Abakoumov (Bel) 82 David Garcia (Spa) 92 Sergiy Matveyev (Ukr) 83 Gustavo Dominguez (Spa) 93 Vitaly Kondrut (Ukr) 84 Juan Francisco Mourón Doldan (Spa) 94 Denys Kostyuk (Ukr) 85 Alejandro Paleo (Spa) 95 Davide Ricci Bitti (Ita) 86 Alberto Fernández Sainz (Spa) 96 Oleksandr Kvachuk (Ukr) 87 Eduard Vorganov (Rus) 97 Gianluca Mirenda (Ita) 88 Vladimir Isaichev (Rus) 98 Bartosz Huzarski (Pol) Cervélo TestTeam Burgos Monumental - Castilla y Leon 101 Iñigo Cuesta (Spa) 111 Diego Gallego Arnaiz (Spa) 102 Philip Deignan (Irl) 112 Ivan Melero Coco (Spa) 103 Ignas Konovalovas (Ltu) 113 Joaquin Sobrino Martinez (Spa) 104 Volodimir Gustov (Ukr) 114 Raul Santamarta Valbuena (Spa) 105 Joaquin Novoa Menedez (Spa) 115 Rafael Valls Ferri (Spa) 106 Serge Pauwels (Bel) 116 Byron Patricio Guama De La Cruz (Ecu) 107 Oscar Pujol (Spa) 117 David Francisco Delgado (Spa) 108 Carlos Sastre (Spa) 118 Enrique Mata Cabello (Spa) Orbea Barbot-Siper 121 Eritz Ruiz De Erentxun Antetara (Spa) 131 David Bernabeu (Spa) 122 Miguel Minguez Ayala (Spa) 132 Bruno Miguel Castanheira Gomes (Por) 123 Aitor Olano Orbegozo (Spa) 133 Bruno Pires (Por) 124 Eneko Echeverz Carte (Spa) 134 Carlos Manuel Pinho Oliveira (Por) 125 Mikel Ilundain Tirapu (Spa) 135 Helder Oliveira (Por) 126 Jonathan Castroviejo Nicolas (Spa) 136 Samuel Dias Coelho (Por) 127 Joseba Larralde Alzugarai (Spa) 137 Antonio Amorim (Por) 128 Daniel Sesma Sorbet (Spa) 138 Vidal Celis Zabala (Spa) Rock Racing Andalucía-Cajasur 141 Francisco Mancebo (Spa) 151 Manuel Calvente (Spa) 142 José Enrique Gutierrez (Spa) 152 José Antonio Carrasco (Spa) 143 Victor Hugo Peña (Col) 153 Francisco José Martínez (Spa) 144 Fred Rodriguez (USA) 154 José Antonio López (Spa) 145 Oscar Sevilla (Spa) 155 Javier Moreno (Spa) 146 David Vitoria (Swi) 156 Antonio Piedra (Spa) 147 Glen Chadwick (Aus) 157 José Antonio Redondo (Spa) 148 David Martín Velasco (Spa) 158 Xavier Tondo (Spa) Liberty Seguros 161 Carlos Nozal Vega (Spa) 162 Edgar Pinto (Por) 163 Isidro Nozal (Spa) 164 Hernani Broco (Por) 165 Manuel Antonio Leal Cardoso (Por) 166 Nuno Ribeiro (Por) 167 Antonio Jesus (Por) 168 Rubén Plaza (Spa)
2008 Alberto Contador (Spa) Astana 2007 Alberto Contador (Spa) Discovery Channel 2006 Alexander Vinokourov (Kaz) Liberty Seguros-Würth 2005 Carlos Garcia (Spa) Comunidad Valenciana 2004 Koldo Gil (Spa) Liberty Seguros 2003 Francisco Mancebo Pérez (Spa) iBanesto.com 2002 Juan Miguel Mercado Martín (Spa) iBanesto.com 2001 Marcos A. Serrano (Spa) O.N.C.E.- Eroski 2000 Francesco Mancebo (Spa) 1999 Leonardo Piepoli (Ita) 1998 Aitor Garmendia (Spa) 1997 Angel-Luis Casero (Spa) 1996 Andrea Peron (Ita) 1995 Santiago Blanco (Spa) 1994 Melchor Mauri (Spa) 1993 Miguel Indurain (Spa) 1991 José-Luis Rodriguez (Spa) 1989 Federico Echave (Spa) 1988 Raimund Dietzen (Ger) 1987 (2) Alfonso Gutierrez (Spa) 1986 Alfonso Gutiérrez (Spa) Past winners by Mario Stiehl, www.world-of-cycling.com