Photo via Fotoreporter Sirotti
The 64th Vuelta a España began this morning on the Assen race track in Holland. The race is a celebration of the bike, perhaps only second to the Tour De France in terms of importance for professional bike racers. The cycling mad Spanish will have a treat this year, with one of its deepest and most competitive fields ever lining up to contest the three-week stage race. Here's a quick rundown of what to expect.The Favorites
Alejandro Valverde: The Spaniard has finished 2nd, 3rd, 4th and 5th in his national race, but the top spot remains elusive. In Grand Tours, Valverde usually suffers from one bad day, ruining his chance as the overall winner. He's become more of a one day racer, but he's hoping to extend his luck over three weeks.
Ivan Basso: Basso won the Tour of Italy before serving a two-year suspension for doping. Before his ban, he was one of the few riders who challenged Lance Armstrong. It remains to be seen if he can regain his top form.
Cadel Evans: A great Tour de France rider, Evans sufered badly in this year's Tour, finishing well down. The popular Australian will try again in Spain and the course's hills and time trials should suite him.
Andy Schleck: My pick for the overall. A big talent, who finished second in this year's Tour de France. Some say he is coming to Spain just for the training, but I don't buy it. The Luxemburger is ready to rumble.
Samuel Sanchez: The Olympic champ is a furious mountain descender who climbs like a billy goat. He's been quiet all year, waiting to shine in his country's national tour. The lack of racing miles in his legs might affect his form.
The course features five mountain top finishes, two 30km time trials, and goes up and down all of Spain. Wind and sun will play a factor, as the long transitional stages through the heart of Spain always take a toll on the riders.
The Vuelta comes at the end of a long cycling season, so only the strongest survive to challenge for the overall classification. You can read more about the course at CyclingNews.
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