Mark Cavendish (HTC-Columbia) will make his race debut for 2010 in the Tour of Andalusia, which starts on Sunday with a hilly stage and uphill finish at La Guardia De Jaen.
Cavendish’s season start was delayed after dental problems, meaning he could not take part in the Tour of Qatar as had been initially planned.
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Whilst the overall classification in Andalusia could be largely decided by stage one’s five kilometre-long uphill finish, the sprinter’s best chance of a victory will come on stage two from Otura to Cordoba.
Stages three and five look on paper to be unlikely to finish in sprints, but being so early in the season, Andalusia has always been an unpredictable race and it’s not unusual for bunch sprints to materialise where least expected. The lack of two top Spanish teams, Euskaltel-Euskadi and Caisse d’Epargne because of disputes with the organisers could also change the way the race is run.
Another factor that makes Andalusia a tricky race to predict is that for all it is also known as the Ruta del Sol – the Road of the Sun in Spanish – the weather is frequently very poor in southern Spain in February and parts of Andalusia have only recently been subject to severe flooding because of the very heavy rainfall this year.
For Bradley Wiggins (Sky), the 10 kilometre flat time trial in Malaga on stage four will be an interesting challenge. Andalusia will also be Wiggins first chance to compare his early form against a key Tour contender, Andy Schleck (Saxo Bank).
The best-known rival for Cavendish in his season debut could well be triple World champion Oscar Freire (Rabobank). A former winner of Andalusia, Freire has already taken a stage of the Tour of Mallorca so is clearly in good shape.