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49th Vuelta al País Vasco - ProT
Spain, April 6-11, 2009
By Gregor Brown
The Astana show looks to continue in the Vuelta al País Vasco this week, April 6 to 11. The team of Johan Bruyneel has won the Volta ao Algarve, Tour of California and Castilla y León to date this year, and with the 2008 defending champion Alberto Contador backed by strong teammates the Spanish stage race victory looks almost assured.
The Basque race takes in 829 kilometres and 34 classified climbs in six days. Its history – with winners like Luis Ocaña, Sean Kelly, Tony Rominger and Laurent Jalabert – and its ranking (ProTour) make it a hard fought affair.
Some of the Astana's best domestiques, something Contador missed in the Paris-Nice last month, will back attend. Haimar Zubeldia, Yaroslav Popovych, Sergio Paulinho, José Luis Rubiera, Chris Horner, Jesús Hernández and Alexsandr Dyachenko will support the 26-year-old triple Grand Tour winner in his quest for the double.
Coppi e Bartali winner Damiano Cunego (Lampre-NGC), Pairs-Nice winner Luis León Sánchez (Caisse d'Epargne) and Fränk and Andy Schleck (Saxo Bank) are top rivals for Contador and favourites for the Basque title.
Other riders to watch include Tour de France Champion Carlos Sastre (Cervélo TestTeam), Cadel Evans (Silence-Lotto), Olympic Champion Samuel Sánchez (Euskaltel-Euskadi), Ryder Hesjedal (Garmin-Slipstream), Vincenzo Nibali (Liquigas), 2007 race winner Juan José Cobo (Fuji-Servetto), Vladimir Efimkin (AG2R La Mondiale) and Vladimir Karpets (Katusha).
The race starts with a 142.5-kilometre run to Ataun. The day includes nine mountain classifications, Alto de Lazkaomendi coming seven kilometres from the finish. Stage two is more of the same: six mountain passes and the final coming 23 kilometres to go. Riders will recognise many of the climbs as they will have covered them in the GP Indurain three days prior.
Stage three – a homage to the defunct Euskal Bizikleta race – will shake up the classification. There are only five mountain passes, with four coming in the final 50 kilometres. The Alto de Ixua tops out three kilometres to the finish and will help lock in the overall leadership. s Stage four should be one for escapes and allow the classification men to recover for the final two stages on Friday and Saturday.
Friday's stage features the category three Alto de Beci three times. It will likely eliminate an overall contender, but not reshape the race. Sunday's final stage, a 24-kilometre time trial, will decide the winner and provide a testing ground for Grand Tour riders like Contador, Cunego and Evans.
(Contributions by Monika Prell)