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Big names at Spain’s Murcia tour

Some big-name riders are confirmed at the 28th Vuelta a Murcia, starting Tuesday and ending Saturday in southern Spain. The race will give them a chance to stretch their legs ahead of the season’s first major races. Some 12 teams, including the beleaguered Astana squad, will tackle a bumpy, five-day course that also includes a 23km climbing time trial that’s sure to decide the overall classification.

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By Andrew Hood

Contador will use Murcia as a tune-up.

Contador will use Murcia as a tune-up.

Photo: Casey B. Gibson

Some big-name riders are confirmed at the 28th Vuelta a Murcia, starting Tuesday and ending Saturday in southern Spain. The race will give them a chance to stretch their legs ahead of the season’s first major races.

Some 12 teams, including the beleaguered Astana squad, will tackle a bumpy, five-day course that also includes a 23km climbing time trial that’s sure to decide the overall classification.

Top stars confirmed to start are 2007 Tour de France champion Alberto Contador (Astana), 2006 Tour winner Oscar Pereiro (Caisse d’Epargne), 2007 Vuelta a España champ Denis Menchov (Rabobank) as well as defending champion Alejandro Valverde (Caisse d’Epargne).

Others expected to line up Tuesday in San Pedro del Pinatar include 2000 Giro d’Italia champ Stefano Garzelli (Acqua e Sapone), Carlos Sastre (CSC) and Ricardo Serrano (Tinkoff).

The all-star cast will find a tough and challenging route that offers something for everyone in the bunch.

“After checking out the course this year, I believe the race comes down to two important points: the climbing stage to Totana and the 23km time trial,” Sastre said. “For a five-day race, it’s more than enough to establish a legitimate winner. For the rest of the race, it’s better not to lose options if you’re thinking about the overall.”

The opening stage from San Pedro del Pinatar to Lorca features four climbs in hilly profile that could spring a breakaway, but the overall favorites will likely give the sprinter teams a hand in keeping together the action to protect their GC options.

The 152km second stage tackles the locally popular Collado Bermejo climb, a Cat. 1 steep that will whittle down the list of contenders. A punchy rising finish into Totana will keep interest until the final sprint.

Sprinters will have their chances in the third and final stages if they can get over some challenging Cat. 3 climbs early in the course.

The 23.1km climbing time trial up the Alto de Aledo should decide the final podium. The route is mostly flat for the first 12km before climbing 400 meters over the next 10km ahead of a flat run to the finish line.

The race is drawing six foreign teams and six domestic teams in what’s one of the most important early season races in Spain that’s seen such riders as Marco Pantani and Victor Hugo Peña among its list of winners.

Teams for 28th Vuelta a Murcia:
Team CSC (Den)
Rabobank (Ned)
Astana (Lux)
Acqua e Sapone (Ita)
Tinkoff Credit Systems (Ita)
Liberty Seguros (Por)
Caisse d’Epargne (Spa)
Euskaltel-Euskadi (Spa)
Karpin-Galicia (Spa)
Extremadura-Solidaria (Spa)
Andalucía-CajaSur (Spa)
Contentpolis (Spa)