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2011 Vuelta a España preview: Antón a top favorite among those who want to see red in Madrid

The Vuelta gets rolling Saturday in Benidorm. Photo: Graham Watson | www.grahamwatson.com

BENIDORM, Spain (VN) — The season’s third grand tour clicks into gear Saturday with a team time trial in this seaside summer resort that’s already packed to the gills with tourists seeking sand, sun and sex. How many of those are here for the Vuelta a España is not exactly clear, but the Spanish tour will start with no shortage of contenders for overall victory when the race roars into Madrid on September 11 for the final sprint.

A climber’s course favors a Spanish mountain goat for victory, with Igor Antón and Joaquím Rodríguez topping the list of national favorites, but there’s no shortage of foreign riders who could easily steal away with the Vuelta’s red leader’s jersey. While the course, loaded with six mountaintop finishes, is ideal for climbers, a long, 47km individual time trial in Salamanca that favors the specialists in stage 10 could throw a wrench into their plans.

Many big names are giving the Vuelta a pass, with none of the top 10 from July’s Tour de France expected to start, but that doesn’t mean there won’t be quality riders bucking for victory on Spanish roads. In fact, several top contenders skipped the Tour to prepare exclusively for a strong Vuelta performance. Without a clear favorite for victory, the Vuelta could turn out to be quite the dog fight. A mid-race time trial means that the Vuelta will be fought out in the rough and unpredictable mountain roads of northern Spain, where the Anglirú and a new climb up Farrapona await in the final week.

Here’s a look at how the pre-race favorites stack up going into Saturday’s TTT:

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