Andy favoured in Spain with Con­ta­dor miss­ing

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - SPORT - DANIEL SILVA

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

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