By Andrew Hood
The 61st Vuelta a España kicks off Saturday with a different twist. Rather than a short opening prologue or a road stage, the season’s third grand tour debuts with a team time trial that’s only 7.2km long.
The pancake-flat course should create some interesting splits in what’s sure to be a wild first week of the Vuelta, with two summit finishes and a series of hard, flat stages across the stinking heat of Spain’s western plains before the second weekend closes.
Nine-man teams will start at 7 p.m. in four-minute intervals on a course that’s expected to take about eight minutes at speeds averaging about 55 kph. (VeloNews.com’s Live Coverage will begin about 10 minutes prior to the first team’s departure, at about 12:50 p.m. Eastern Time in the U.S. – Editor)
That’s followed up by the 176km first road stage Sunday from Málaga along Spain’s Costa del Sol to the historic city of Córdoba where temperatures can push above 100F before lunch. To avoid the oppressive heat, the stage will start at 10 a.m., early by Vuelta standards where most road stages start well after lunch.
The non-traditional start times and routes are also an effort to attract more television viewers to the race. The Vuelta has taken a hit recently with the success of Formula 1 driver Fernando Alonso and tennis star Rafael Nadal.
Spanish TV will also mount small, 100-gram cameras on the seat-post of key domestiques such as Alejandro Valverde’s teammate Xabier Zandio that will allow viewers an inside-the-pack view of the action with sight and sound.
Victor Cordero, race director of the Vuelta a España, is hoping the 61st edition of the Spanish tour will help cycling recover from a series of blows the sport’s endured the past year.
With a string of doping scandals that include last year’s Vuelta winner Roberto Heras getting busted from EPO, the ‘Operación Puerto’ doping investigation and the Floyd Landis scandal at the Tour de France, Cordero is hopeful the Vuelta will unfold without mishap.
“Before the Tour, it looked like cycling had hit rock bottom with Operación Puerto and it seemed the Tour had returned the enthusiasm, but a cheater was discovered, just one, but it was the winner of the race and we fell back into the hole,” Cordero said in an interview with the Spanish sports daily AS. “I hope that this Vuelta from kilometer one will count in the comeback of this sport.”
Cordero admitted that the race lost one of its main sponsors because of the recent rash of doping scandals, but said the sport’s depth and tradition will help carry the way for the future.
The Vuelta will line up with 21 teams – Cordero said he will accept the UCI’s decision to allow Phonak and Astana to race despite his personal reluctance – but without the ‘Puerto Nine’ who were forced out of the Tour de France or Landis.
“This sport produces its own personalities. We don’t have Basso, Ullrich, Landis … but we’ll forget about them soon enough and then another one will come along who will get the fans excited,” he said. “In Spain, we need a new personality and I am sure this Vuelta will deliver one.”
Saunier Duval goes with two
Saunier Duval-Prodir will line up with two riders to lead the team’s hope in the GC with David Millar playing the wild card. José Ángel Gómez Marchante and Koldo Gil – each who have enjoyed early season success – will lead the yellow jackets of the Spanish team. Millar, meanwhile, will have free reign to do his best in what will be his second grand tour start since coming back from a two-year suspension for doping.
“I want to win a stage – a time trial or a road stage, I don’t care,” Millar told VeloNews. “I felt good coming out of the Tour and I think the Vuelta will be even better for me. I am hoping for some success.”
David de la Fuente – winner of the most aggressive rider jersey at the Tour de France – will also join the always ambitious SD crew.
Saunier Duval-Prodir for VueltaJosé Ángel Gómez MarchanteKoldo GilDavid MillarLeonardo PiepoliFrancisco VentosoDavid CañadaJosé Angel Gómez LituJuan José CoboDavid de la Fuente
Lastras in for Caisse d’Epargne
Former Vuelta stage-winner Pablo Lastras was a last-minute replacement for Francisco Pérez for Caisse d’Epargne-Illes Balears.
The solid team will be headlined by Tour de France runner-up Oscar Periero and Alejandro Valverde. Pereiro admits he might not be in his top form following the post-Landis fallout as he’s poised to become named the outright Tour winner if Landis’ bid to clear his name fails.
“I don’t know how I will react because of all the distractions since the Tour,” Pereiro said. “If I work for Valverde or ride for my own chances will be dictated by the road. Either way, I will be content.”
The team will also be anchored by veterans Vicente García Acosta and Joaquín Rodríguez, both former stage winners, as well as Vladimir Karpets.
Caisse d’Epargne-Illes Balears for VueltaOscar PereiroAlejandro ValverdeDavid ArroyoVicente García AcostaJoan HorrachVladimir KarpetsPablo LastrasJoaquín RodríguezXabier Zandio
T-Mobile believes in Kohl
Austrian rider Bernhard Kohl will captain the T-Mobile team for the Tour of Spain, which begins in Malaga on Saturday, the German team said Wednesday.
Andreas Klöden, third in this year’s Tour de France, is the official T-Mobile captain – after Jan Ullrich was sacked following doping accusations prior to this year’s Tour – but he has opted to skip the Vuelta, so the 24-year-old Kohl will get a chance to shine.
“Bernhard showed what he was capable of with third place at the Dauphine Libéré,” said T-Mobile sporting leader Frans van Looy. “However the Vuleta is a different calibre race.”
Agence France Presse
Gerolsteiner with Rebellin, Fothen
A mix of young and old will mark Gerolsteiner during the Vuelta, with veteran Davide Rebellin hunting stages and Markus Fothen looking to place well in the GC.
Ten years separate the pair and both are on opposite ends of their respective careers, with Rebellin still fighting with the best in the Classics and Fothen earning his stripes in the grand tours.
Gerolsteiner for VueltaDavide RebellinMarcus FothenRobert ForsterHeinrich HausslerTorsten HiekmannSven MontgomeryMarcel StraussRene HaselbacherAndrea Moletta
Astaná good to go
The troubled Astaná team looks good to keep its start for this weekend’s kick of the Vuelta despite threats from other ProTour teams to force the team’s exclusion.
Alexandre Vinokourov will lead a mixed team that includes three other Kazakh compatriots and other riders not linked to the Puerto doping investigation.
Astaná for VueltaCarlos BarredoAssan BazayevAndrey KashechkinAaron KempsSergio PaulinhoJosé Antonio RedondoLuis León SánchezAlexandre VinokourovSergey Yakovlev