By Andrew Hood
It’s Alejandro Valverde against a galaxy of stars at the five-day Vuelta a Murcia starting in Spain on Wednesday.
The Spanish sensation won his “hometown” race in 2004 and is fresh off overall victory at last week’s Tour of Valencia, but the lack of a summit finish and the inclusion of a tough individual time trial could spoil the chances for Balaverde.
“I am not in optimum conditions to win,” Valverde told the Spanish daily AS. “After looking at the route, everything points that the climbing time trial between Alhama and Aledo will be decisive and there will be other favorites. This will be my first time trial of the season and I don’t know how I will respond. The 2007 edition will be won by a time trial specialist.”
Andrey Kashechkin will make his season debut for Astana along with Paolo Savoldelli, racing for the second time this season. Third last year in the Vuelta a España, Kashechkin could be a candidate for victory if he’s motivated.
Other big names include Damiano Cunego (Lampre-Fondital), Denis Menchov (Rabobank) and Carlos Sastre, J.J. Haedo and Jens Voigt (CSC), Stefano Garzelli (Acqua & Sapone), Gilberto Simoni (Saunier Duval-Prodir) and José Rujano and Victor Hugo Peña (Unibet.com).
The race opens with the 166km first stage from San Pedro de Pinatar to Las Torres de Cotillas with two Category 3 climbs interspersed along the route that will likely deliver a sprint finish. The 177.2km second stage to Fortuna hits the Cat. 1 Alto de Collado Bermejo, Murcia’s traditional decisive summit finish, but since the climb comes at 65km, it likely won’t crown a winner, though it will certainly separate the wheat from the chafe. The lumpy 146km third stage loops back into San Pedro de Pinatar via two Cat. 3 climbs along the way that could give the sprinters another shot at victory.
The 23.3km individual time trial from Alhama de Murcia to Aledo in stage 4 will likely deliver the winner. The climbing race against the clock climbs 400 meters, with 300 meters of that vertical coming over five kilometers near the end while the final 1.3km is mostly flat. The 151km finale from Ceuti to Murcia climbs some 300 meters over an unrated climb early, but it will likely come down to a bunch sprint.
Valverde doesn’t want ‘Vuelta’ curse at Tour
Alejandro Valverde is 0-for-2 when it comes to finishing the Tour de France and this year he doesn’t want to jinx his performance in his third run at the grande boucle with any word of the Vuelta a España.
“Concerning the Vuelta, I won’t go,” he told the Spanish daily AS. “Because I’ve always said I would do the Vuelta if the Tour didn’t go well, and that’s only brought me bad luck.”
Last year, Valverde finished second overall in the Vuelta to winner Alexandre Vinokourov (Astana) after he crashed out in the first week of the Tour with a broken clavicle.
This year, he’s focusing on another strong performance in the spring classics and then focusing everything on arriving to Paris. In what position, he doesn’t really care so long as he makes it to the Champs Elysées.
“[The Tour] is the goal, but without becoming obsessed with it and the first thing I have to do is finish it. It’s not as if I don’t want to assume the responsibilities and pressure, because that doesn’t frighten me, but instead I prefer to be cautious,” he said. “I know the route for the 2007 Tour and it doesn’t look so bad. We’ll see.”
UCI to unveil new anti-doping plan
The UCI will unveil a new ProTour anti-doping program later this week in a Paris press conference scheduled for Friday ahead of the start of Paris-Nice.
In a press release issued Tuesday, the UCI calls the program, “100 percent Against Doping,” and said “numerous personalities from the cycling and sports world” will be in attendance to listen to UCI president Pat McQuaid make the presentation.
McQuaid will also address the media and “present his vision of the 2007 cycling season, following the meeting between the UCI, IPCT and the organizers of the major tours.”
Rebellin can’t dream of retirement
Italian veteran Davide Rebellin says he’ll keep racing at least through the 2008 season and hopes to earn a bid for the 2008 Summer Olympic Games in Beijing.
“I love cycling so much that I, despite being nearly 36, have decided to prolong my career until the end of 2008,” Rebellin told Tutto Bici.
“I’ve done a lot of work over the winter … and I will race Paris-Nice in preparation for Milan-San Remo.”