Three-times Tour de France winner Alberto Contador (Saxo Bank) heads a strong field in this year’s Tour of Murcia, which starts today (Friday, March 4).
The race has been cut to three days for economic reasons, switching to a Criterium International-type format with a flattish opening stage, a highly mountainous second stage and a short, flat final time trial to finish off on Sunday.
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It will be Contador’s first race in Spain since he was cleared by his Federation of doping charges, although he is still waiting for news from the UCI or WADA on a possible appeal. Two weeks have passed since he was cleared, and so far there has been no word from either.
Meanwhile the Spaniard has said his idea at Murcia is to compare his current form with those of riders who have got more racing in their legs. In his first race, the Tour of the Algarve, he finished fourth.
Other top favourites in Murcia include three-times Grand Tour winner Denis Menchov (Geox-TMC), 2008 Tour de France winner Carlos Sastre (Geox-TMC) and Christian Vande Velde (Garmin-Cervélo).
Team Sky’s Bradley Wiggins, who finished third last year, is not taking part, but the British squad are sending a well-balanced line-up. Three British riders, Russell Downing, Alex Dowsett and Chris Froome are taking part.
Team Endura Sport are also racing for a second year running, with Dave Clarke and Callum Wilkinson on the start sheet. Expert climber Charly Wegelius, riding with his United Healthcare team, will also be hoping to shine in the mountainous Collado Bermejo stage on Saturday.
Tour of Murcia 2011: Stages
Stage one, Friday March 4 – San Pedro del Pinatar to Alhama de Murcia, 178.7 km
Stage two, Saturday March 5 – Estrella de Levante (Murcia) to Centro de Interpretacion de Sierra Espuna, 183.2 km
Stage three, Sunday March 6 – Murcia to Murcia, 12.4 km ITT
Tour of Murcia 2011: Teams
Arbo Gebruder Weiss-Obendorfer
Spanish national team
Russian national team
Tour of Murcia 2011: British riders
Charly Wegelius (United Healthcare)
Russell Downing (Team Sky)
Alex Dowsett (Team Sky)
Chris Froome (Team Sky)
Callum Wilkinson (Endura)
David Clarke (Endura)
Tour of Murcia: Last year’s top ten (2010)
1. Frantisek Rabon (Cze) HTC-Columbia in 16-01-24
2. Denis Menchov (Rus) Rabobank at 38secs
3. Bradley Wiggins (GB) Team Sky at 53secs
4. Andreas Kloden (Ger) RadioShack at 57secs
5. Josep Jufre (Spa) Astana at 1-21
6. Stef Clement (Ned) Rabobank at 1-23
7. Lance Armstrong (USA) RadioShack at 1-23
8. Pieter Weening (Ned) Rabobank at 1-41
9. Luke Roberts (Aus) Team Milram at 1-42
10. Tomasz Marczynski (Pol) CCC Polsat Polkowice at 1-59
40. Ian Wilkinson (GB) Endura at 11-16
52. Evan Oliphant (GB) Endura at 17-11
53. Rob Partridge (GB) Endura at 17-16
55. Chris Froome (GB) Team Sky at 21-53
69. Russell Downing (GB) Team Sky at 33-47
76. James Moss (GB) Endura at 37-16
94. Ross Creber (GB) Endura at 55-21
Tour of Murcia: Recent winners
2010: Frantisek Rabon (Rabobank)
2009: Denis Menchov (Rabobank)
2008: Alejandro Valverde (Caisse d’Epargne)
2007: Alejandro Valverde (Caisse d’Epargne)
2006: Santos Gonzalez (Comunidad Valenciana)
2005: Koldo Gil (Liberty Seguros)
2004: Alejandro Valverde (Kelme)
2003: Javier Pascual Llorente (Kelme)
2002: Victor Hugo Pena (US Postal)
2001: Aitor Gonzalez (Kelme-Costa Blanca)
2000: David Canada (Banesto)