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Preview: Vuelta Ciclista al Pais Vasco

Txirla_large_mediumHey Human Dudes and Dudettes! Welcome back to my home! I may live beneath the city of San Sebastian, but my innards go out to all of my homeland! Txirla here, the Basque Bivalve welcoming you to the preview of the Tour of the Basque Country! Ursula is a little tired today after that Flanders event so he asked me to catch you folks up on what's gonna happen this week. Let me first say that it's been a cold winter in the Bay of Biscay but it's warming up for a great week of cycling. The whole country is excited as we think our brown-eyed handsome man, Samuel Sanchez, will take home the honors this year. Let's get right into the preview!

At this point in the stage racing season, almost all of the riders are rounding into form. The week after the end of this race the Ardennes threesome starts. Pais Vasco is also the ultimate Spanish regional stage race although of course we are not exactly Spanish. Those things along with the fact that almost all sprinter-y types and Classics hammerheads are still in Belgium and Northern France, makes for a stage race packed with GC riders looking to make an impression.

Still not all GC types are here. Alberto Contador isn't here so the race does not have an obvious favorite. Neither is Cadel Evans, Denis Menchov, Lulu Sanchez, Levi Leipheimer, or Stefano Garzelli. Alejandro Valverde (big exhale with rolling of eyes) is present though and is one of the three most likely to win, with the others being Samuel Sanchez and Joaquin Rodriguez.  But before we talk about all the favorites, let's look at the stages on the flip.

Basque_mediumBecause it's still spring, the high mountains are out. Thus short steep climbs are in order. In fact every stage is full of short steep climbs, making it quite clear to sprinters the world over that they aren't particularly welcome. Except Oscarito and Trent Lowe-which means Oscarito, right? . In fact there's a good chance that he'll snag a couple stage wins because besides the closing time trial, only one stage ends in an uphill climb. It's kinda hard to see from the profiles which stages he most stands to win: stages 1,2,3, and 5 all look possible as the hills near the finish of each of those stages look doable for him.

The other stages, 4, and 6, will decide the GC. Thursday's stage 4 is the same as last year's decisive stage 3, the one where Chris Horner laid down a blistering attack on the final climb, launching his teammate Alberto Contador to the win and first place in the overall which he kept the end. Bert won by nine-seconds over Evans, Colom, and Samu with Cunego next at 28 seconds, and Gesink at 33. 

Saturday's stage 6 is the ending TT. Run over a different course in a different town (Orio) than the last couple of closing TT's, it is still a hilly 22 km TT course, probably the toughest TT course so far this year. Of the returning riders, Samu had the best time on the old TT course also so you can see why he's one of the favorites. That and the fact that he's a Euskie riding in their home race and the wild Basque fans will go, um, wild over their man.

Okay. So I talked about Samu enough. And Freire. The other favorites?

- Joaquin Purito Rodriguez, who just won the GP Big Mig race on Saturday that non of you watched. He also just won Catalunya so his form is better than ever.

- Alejandro Valverde, 2nd at Big Mig. Skipping right along...

- Damino Cunego. Yep, you ned to count him here. He was sixth last year, and is the second best returning rider.

- Bobo Gesink, just four-seconds behind Cunego a year ago.

- Michael Rogers, eighth a year ago and recent second place finisher at the Criterium International.

- Michel Kreder, the newest Ditch Climbing Sensation for Garmin who's having such a solid spring with a 3rd at Big Mig and 7th at Catalunya.

The above are the favorites but there's several other names worth mentioning. Both Schlecks will be here though they don't normally compete for the overall here. Andreas Kloden is here too and probably should be mentioned as a race favorite. Brad Wiggins, Jurgen Van Den Broeck, Leeeeenos, Zeke Mosquera, Daniel Navarro, and Manuel Vazquez will be present too.

See it's a good field and most of them are gonna be fairly close to top form as things are getting serious. For north americans the show will be on Universal without commentary. For everyone there will be other links to video. It's so great to see you all again!  I'll be here all week! Ask me questions and I'll do my best to answer them for you! Until tomorrow... Txirla_small_medium