Watch out world, this Saturday the Tour of Spain starts in Granada and Alberto Contador and his Astana team are out to win their second major Tour in four months.
Should they succeed, the young Spaniard will be the first man to win the Giro, Tour and Vuelta during his career since Frenchman Bernard Hinault. It?s a noble aspiration – but unless Carlos Sastre (CSC-Saxo Bank) is really hungry for more after taking this year’s Tour, it could be an extremely dull one to watch.
Already the winner of the Tour of Italy, Contador?s battles with Riccardo Ricco in the Giro this May was a thrilling showdown at the time. However, Ricco?s positive for EPO in the Tour has wrecked the retrospective view of the Giro’s overall battle.
For the Vuelta, the good news is that after three months of barely racing, and having to watch another Spaniard win the Tour, Contador must be hungry for action.
With a bit of luck, someone else will come out of the woodwork to challenge Astana, as one-sided total domination in sport may be impressive for a while, but it can quickly become very tedious.
Last year?s Vuelta was a case in point. Russian Denis Menchov (Rabobank) panned the opposition after taking an early lead in the time trial at Zaragoza. The remainder of the race, barring a final weekend skirmish for the right to stand next to the Russian between Cadel Evans (Silence-Lotto), Carlos Sastre (CSC-Saxo Bank) and Samuel Sanchez (Euskaltel-Euskadi), was like watching paint dry.
This year, there?s no Sanchez, no Menchov and no Evans in the Vuetla. Instead the strongest riders on paper are all wearing Astana kit – Contador, Levi Leipheimer and Andreas Klöden. If a challenge does materialise, it should come from either Sastre or Alejandro Valverde (Caisse d’Epargne).
Hopefully the sprints will give the Vuelta some much-needed colour. Even without British sprinter Mark Cavendish (Columbia), Oscar Freire (Rabobank), Tom Boonen (Quick Step) and Daniele Bennati (Liquigas) should put on an exciting show.
VUELTA A ESPANA 2008: STAGES
Stage/Date/Start & finish/Distance
Stage 1 30 Aug, Sat Granada – Granada (Parque Tec. Ciencias de la Salud) (TTT) 7.7km
Stage 2 31 Aug, Sun Granada – Jaén 167.3km
Stage 3 01 Sept, Mon Jaén – Córdoba 168.6km
Stage 4 02 Sept, Tue Córdoba – Puertollano 170.3km
Stage 5 03 Sept, Wed Ciudad Real – Ciudad Real (ITT) 42.5km
Stage 6 04 Sept, Thu Ciudad Real – Toledo 150.1km
05 Sept, Fri Rest Day
Stage 7 06 Sept, Sat Barbastro – Andorra (Naturlandia – La Rabassa) 223.2km
Stage 8 07 Sept, Sun Andorra (Escaldes – Engordany) – Salardú / Naut Aran / Pla de Beret 151.0km
Stage 9 08 Sept, Mon Vielha / Mijaran – Sabiñánigo 200.8km
Stage 10 09 Sept, Tue Sabiñánigo – Zaragoza 151.3km
Stage 11 10 Sept, Wed Calahorra – Burgos 178.0km
Stage 12 11 Sept, Thu Burgos – Suances 186.4km
12 Sept, Fri Rest Day
Stage 13 13 Sept, Sun San Vicente de la B. – Alto de L?Angliru 209.5km
Stage 14 14 Sept, Sun Oviedo – E. E. Fuentes de Invierno 158.4km
Stage 15 15 Sept, Mon Cudillero – Ponferrada 202.0km
Stage 16 16 Sept, Tue Ponferrada – Zamora 186.3km
Stage 17 17 Sept, Wed Zamora – Valladolid 148.2km
Stage 18 18 Sept, Thu Valladolid – Las Rozas 167.4km
Stage 19 19 Sept, Fri Las Rozas – Segovia 145.5km
Stage 20 20 Sept, Sat La Granja de S. I. – Alto de Navacerrada (ITT) 17.1km
Stage 21 21 Sept, Sun S. Sebastián de los Reyes – Madrid 102.2km
Total distance: 3,133.8km