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Alberto Contador (Tinkoff - Saxo) on the attack
Spaniard faces Valverde and van Garderen
Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo) is hoping to continue his successful spring stage race campaign at the Vuelta al Pais Vasco (Tour of the Basque Country) this week and land another psychological blow on his Tour de France rivals.
Chris Froome and Richie Porte (Team Sky) have opted to focus on their training and 2013 winner Nairo Quintana (Movistar) is in Colombia preparing for the Giro d'Italia but Contador will face competition from Alejandro Valverde (Movistar), Cadel Evans and Tejay van Garderen (BMC), Bauke Mollema and Robert Gesink (Belkin), Rui Costa (Lampre-Merida), Carlos Betancur (Ag2r-La Mondiale) and Michal Kwiatkowski (Omega Pharma-QuickStep).
The six-day race begins with a hilly stage around Ordizia, inland from San Sebastian and ends on Saturday with 26km time trial around Markina. Every stage includes several climbs, with stage four ending with the tough climb to Arrate in the heart of the Basque Country.
Contador won the Tour of Basque Country in 2008 and 2009. He has ridden three stage races this season, finishing second to Kwiatkowski at the Volta Algarve and second to Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) at the Volta a Catalunya. He won Tirreno-Adriatico, with back to back stage victories on the mountain stages indicating he was back to his best form. A good result would also boost Contador's lead in the individual standing of the UCI WorldTour rankings.
The Tour of Basque Country is his third goal of the early season before taking a break and preparing for the Tour de France. Contador has indicated he will not ride the Ardennes Classics.
"I really want to do well, even if Catalunya was difficult and I've had a slight cold since then,' he told L'Equipe.
"The Tour of the Basque Country is a great race with a high level of rivals. But I'm motivated and want to do my very best."
Contador will have the support of Tinkoff-Saxo teammates Roman Kreuziger, Bruno Pires, Jesper Hansen, Jesus Hernandez, Michael Mørkøv, Rory Sutherland and Sergio Paulinho.
Cyclingnews will have full coverage of all the action from the Vuelta Pais Vasco.