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Preview: Vuelta Ciclista a La Region De Murcia

Spain_mediumWhat is it? The next Iberian regional stage race, the fourth already so far this season. The redheaded stepchild of the big early season stage races, Paris-Nice and Tirreno-Adriatico. One of the prettiest races of the year. The absolute cluster%#^@^ of all the races for this year (we hope).

When is it? Tomorrow, Wednesday, though Sunday.

Huh? Is there video at least? Hopefully there will be video.  As I just said, this is a pretty race. Remember the dry, dry mountains of the Vuelta a Espana last September? We revisit them here and in March they are lush and green with snow beside the roads of the mountain passes. Makes you almost wish that the Big V would become a spring race. Anyway, we'll throw up a live race thread everyday and no doubt umwolverine will track down the video links. 

So I hear there are issues with this race... Yes there are and since many of you have hear of them I won't go into details. Basically there are two issues: The first is a boycott by all Spanish pro teams over safety issues and appearance payments. This is the big screw up as always this has been mainly a Spanish race what with the other big stage races taking most of the foreign riders. The other screw up is more symbolic: the banning of Italian teams because of Alejandro Valverde's race ban in Italy. Never mind that Valverde's team is already boycotting the race. As  said though this Italian ban is more symbolic as Italian teams don't normally do Murcia. This is affecting probably just Acqua & Sapone and Stefano Garzelli and the banning has merely shifted their focus to T-A. Liquigas, Lampre, etc. don;t normally do this race. Truly race director Michael Scott Paco Guzman is a piece of work.  I could go into the issues of this race further but do you really care? Didn't think so.

Stages? You mentioned stages? Yes I did! This race is you basic early season stage race. Functional with two flattish stages for sprinters (stages one and four), two mountain stages though no mountain top finishes (stages two and three) which will serve to isolate the GC riders, and one 22 km flat time trial (stage four) where the overall will be decided. 

So who will win? Depends on the form the GC guys are in. 

Well, who is here? With the lack of Spanish and Italian teams, this race is taking on a very Anglo-American vibe. The biggest team, publicity-wise and possibly quality-wise is Radio shack and Lance.  They have a good team here: Lance, Klodi, Rubiera, Zubeldia (look ma! Spanish racers!), Impey, McCartney, and Rast.

Pop Quiz! In some circles this Radio shack team has been called their A team. No, I don't know which one is Mr. T. Compare this team with the Radio shack Paris-Nice squad: Leipheimer, Horner, Brajkovic, Popovich, Lequatre, Vaitkus, Steegmans, and Rosseler. Put your answers below in the comments. Your answers will be graded on creativity and like all grades this one will Follow You For The Rest Of Your Life. (An aside: it's surprising that Tiago Machado is not in the starting lineup for either race.)

Other teams? Are there other teams? Yes there are!  And they are interesting:

- You got Sky lead by Bradley Wiggins, who if he is on any kind of form could well win this race. Wiggo has some riders with him who he will need big-time later in the year so this will be a nice preview of the Sky stage racing team: Augustyn, Froome, Possoni, Downing, Portal, and Nordhaug.

- Then there's Rabobank led by defending champion Denis Menchov. Rabo is bringing practically the same team as last year including Graeme Brown who won both of the sprinter stages last year, Peter Weening who placed 3rd overall last year, Stef Clement, and Mauricio Ardilla. Nice solid team.

From here on it gets sketchy as to which riders are participating. The race website doesn't even have a list of teams much less riders and so I have to go hunting on the web for names. So the following has a lot of speculation:

- Garmin looks to be led by Dave Zabriskie and possibly Christian Vandevelde though CVV is also listed for Paris-Nice  which is where I expect he'll be. Don't know what other Garmen will be here. Not Farrar or TD or Kessiakoff or Hesjedal or Tuft or almost every vet on the team that you can think of. Still this course sets up nicely for Z and he could steal a podium place.

- Cervelo looks like it's bringing Philippe Deignan. 

- Astana is showing up with Paolo Tiralongo leading the squad with Joseph Jufre and a few Kazaks.

- HTC-Columbia is here supposedly but I with who I have no idea. Frantisek Rabon and Bert Grabsch went 1-2 in last years TT so maybe they'll liven things up. Probably they will bring a sprinter. No not Cav: he'll be in Italy the next week. Last year it was Henderson so this year it will be someone new.

- Vacansoleil will be here but with whom I again am not sure. Most of the big boys are at Paris-Nice. Bobbie Traksel? Wouldn't that be cruel and inhumane? 

That's eight teams. Just three more are here: Team NetAPP, the Spanish U-23's, and the German national squad. So really this is a tight little peloton and that could in itself create some interesting dynamics. Let's hope it's competitive.

My picks for the podium? Klodi, Wiggo, and Zabriskie in that order.