Saturday, April 4, 2009

País Vasco: The Astana show continues

The Astana show looks to continue in the Vuelta al País Vasco this week, April 6 to 11. The team of Johan Bruyneel has won the Volta ao Algarve, Tour of California and Castilla y León to date this year, and with the 2008 defending champion Alberto Contador backed by strong teammates the Spanish stage race victory looks almost assured.

The Basque race takes in 829 kilometres and 34 classified climbs in six days. Its history – with winners like Luis Ocaña, Sean Kelly, Tony Rominger and Laurent Jalabert – and its ranking (ProTour) make it a hard fought affair.

Some of the Astana's best domestiques, something Contador missed in the Paris-Nice last month, will back attend. Haimar Zubeldia, Yaroslav Popovych, Sergio Paulinho, José Luis Rubiera, Chris Horner, Jesús Hernández and Alexsandr Dyachenko will support the 26-year-old triple Grand Tour winner in his quest for the double.

Coppi e Bartali winner Damiano Cunego (Lampre-NGC), Pairs-Nice winner Luis León Sánchez (Caisse d'Epargne) and Fränk and Andy Schleck (Saxo Bank) are top rivals for Contador and favourites for the Basque title.

Other riders to watch include Tour de France Champion Carlos Sastre (Cervélo TestTeam), Cadel Evans (Silence-Lotto), Olympic Champion Samuel Sánchez (Euskaltel-Euskadi), Ryder Hesjedal (Garmin-Slipstream), Vincenzo Nibali (Liquigas), 2007 race winner Juan José Cobo (Fuji-Servetto), Vladimir Efimkin (AG2R La Mondiale) and Vladimir Karpets (Katusha).

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