By Monika Prell
The 51st Vuelta a Asturias starts today in northern Spain and will cover twelve mountains in its five stages (May 3 - 7). Today, the cyclists will face 150.6 kilometres from the capital of Asturias, Oviedo, to Llanes. The difficulties of the day are the Alto de la Tornería (2nd category) and the Alto Rales – Los Carriles. The wind could also play an important role; half of the stage will direct the peloton along the coast of the Costa Verde.
The second stage between Llanes and Avilés (168.0 km) is totally flat; only at the very beginning of the stage will the cyclists will have to cover the Alto de La Robellada (3rd category), and, so, this stage should end in a mass sprint.
The third stage will be decisive. From the Instalaciones Cafés Toscaf the peloton rides the 180.2 kilometres to the Alto de Acebo. Along the way the parcours will reveal three mountains; the Alto del Pozo de las Mujeres Muertas (1st category at 97.9 km), the Puerto del Connio (hors catégorie at 139.7 kms) and the mountain top finish on the Alto de Acebo (hors catégorie).
Stage 4 should offer some respite. The favourites should have an eye on eventual breakaway groups, as the course has got two difficulties, the Alto del Rodical (2nd category) and the Alto del Pito (3rd category). Also in this stage, from Cangas del Narcea to Gijón (158.4 km), the wind could be important, as half of the route will be along the coast.
The fifth stage on Monday, May 7, will be another back-breaker, with three mountains of the 2nd category (Alto de la Campa, Alto de La Faya de los lobos, Alto de Colladiella and Alto San Emiliano), from Gijón to Oviedo (149.8 km).
The Vuelta will consist of 16 teams, amongst them three ProTour teams (Euskaltel–Euskadi, Saunier Duval-Prodir and Unibet.com), and 123 riders. It does not only attract Spanish teams, but also foreign ones; besides Unibet.com, there will be Portuguese teams Benfica and Liberty Seguros, British team Barloworld, and the Italian teams Acqua & Sapone-Caffè Mokambo and Serramenti PVC Diquigiovanni-Selle Italia.
The favourites are Koldo Gil (Saunier Duval-Prodir), especially after his win of the Subida al Naranco on Tuesday, and last year's winner Oscar Sevilla (Relax-GAM), who will be supported by a strong team that includes Francisco Mancebo, Santiago Pérez and Ángel Vicioso. Other important riders are Eladio Jiménez and Ezequiel Mosquera (Karpin-Galicia), David Bernabeu (Fuerteventura-Canarias) and Pablo Urtasun (Liberty Seguros), as well as the Portuguese José Azevedo (Benfica) and the Colombian Félix Rafael Cárdenas (Barloworld).