Defending champion Joaquim Rodriguez will miss this week’s Volta a Catalunya with a stomach virus.
The Katusha rider will be replaced by Alberto Losada in the race that sees the renewal of Chris Froome’s rivalry with Alberto Contador.
Froome was forced to pull out of Tirreno-Adriatico earlier in the month with a virus of his own as Contador raced to fifth place in the overall standings.
Contador’s fellow Spaniard Alejandro Valverde leads a strong Movistar lineup while 2013 champion Dan Martin will look for Cannondale-Garmin’s first success of the season.
Catalunya’s mountainous surroundings should provide the perfect battlegrounds for Froome, Contador and co in the tussle for the general classification.
Stage three will see many of the riding around their own back yards as the race hits Girona – a place many cyclists call home during the season.
The following day could see the title decided as the race heads to a summit finish in La Molina following a gruelling climb up Alt de la Creueta.
Stage seven sees the racing head to Barcelona, finishing with eight circuits of the category three climb of Alt de Montjuîc.
While Froome, Contador and Valverde will take most of the headlines going into the race, the Volta a Catalunya often throws up some surprise winners.
Rodriguez topped the list in both 2010 and 2014, but the race has also been won by Michael Albasini (2012) and Michele Scarponi (2011) in recent years.
Cannondale-Garmin have sent a strong team to support Martin, with former Giro d’Italia winner Ryder Hesjedal and reigning Criterium du Dauphiné champion Andrew Talansky in their ranks.
Astana’s Fabio Aru and Etixx-Quick-Step leader Rigoberto Uran will likely be in the mix, as will BMC’s Tejay van Garderen. Lampre-Merida, meanwhile, will be lead by the Tour of Oman champion Rafael Valls.
Luka Mezgec, of Giant-Alpecin, returns to Catalunya to lead the German team, having taken three stages of last year’s race before withdrawing on the final stage.
Stage 1: Calella – Calella (191.1km)
Stage 2: Mataro – Olot (195km)
Stage 3: Girona – Girona (159.6km)
Stage 4: Tona – La Molina (191km)
Stage 5: Alp – Valls (197km)
Stage 6: Cervera – Port Aventura (197.7km)
Stage 7: Barcelona – Barcelona (123.5km)
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Stuart Clarke is a News Associates trained journalist who has worked for the likes of the British Olympic Associate, British Rowing and the England and Wales Cricket Board, and of course Cycling Weekly. His work at Cycling Weekly has focused upon professional racing, following the World Tour races and its characters.
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