Andy favoured in Spain with Contador missing
THE 2009 Tour of Spain gets under way in the Netherlands today with the absence of its title holder and this year’s Tour de France winner, Alberto Contador, leaving no clear favourite to win the race.
With US rider Levi Leipheimer, who finished second last year, and Spain’s Carlos Sastre, the 2008 Tour de France winner who finished third, also staying away from the 64th edition of the race, the outcome is wide open.
“We would have loved it if Contador took part, but he will not. We will miss him, but once the racing starts the fans will forget his absence because those taking part will hook the public,” race director Javier Guillen told sports daily AS.
Tour de France runner-up Andy Schleck of Luxembourg (pictured) and Australia’s Cadel Evans, a podium finisher in Paris in 2007 and 2008, are among the riders from abroad seen as having the best chances to win when it ends in Madrid on September 20.
Also taking part are Belgian sprint star Tom Boonen and Spanish riders Alejandro Valverde, who is looking to win his first major tour after twice finishing on the podium in the Tour of Spain, and Samuel Sanchez, a gold medal winner at the Beijing Olympics.
The race, the third Grand Tour of the year after the Tour de France and the Giro d’Italia, will be p a r t i c u l a rl y mountainous this year, especially in the second week which features three straight mountain stages in Andalusia.
It will begin in the Dutch city of Assen and the next two stages will also take place in the Netherlands, known for its flat roads, with the third stage including a brief entry into Germany to boost the race’s international visibility.
The fourth stage will begin in the Netherlands before concluding in the Belgian city of Liege.
After a rest day, the race will pick up in the north-eastern Spanish city of Tarragona.
It is only the second time the Tour has started outside of Spain since it started in Portugal in 1997.
The first major test will come on stage 12 on September 11 which features two category one climbs before finishing on Alto de Velefique at over 1 800 metres.
It will be followed by a 2,380metre climb of the Sierra Nevada during stage 13 and a 1 840-metre climb to Alto Sierra de la Pandera during stage 14.
“It’s a Tour for climbers,” Valverde said in December when the route of the 2009 Tour was unveiled.
He is still serving a two-year ban for doping in Italy which prevented him from taking part in the Tour de France this year as it briefly passed through the country.
His absence from cycling’s premier race may now work to his advantage in the Tour of Spain as he may have that extra bit of stamina to outlast his rivals who had competed in France.
Tour of Spain organisers said they will spend 250 000 euros (R2.8 million) on drug testing during the event.
“We are working to recuperate cycling’s credibility. We are going to be inflexible (with doping) here,” said Guillen.
In total 21 teams from 10 countries boasting riders of 27 different nationalities will be represented in the Tour of Spain which will cover 3 292.3 kilometres. – Sapa-AFP