By Antonio J. Salmerón
Australian Cadel Evans (Silence-Lotto), Russian Denis Menchov (Rabobank), Italians Alessandro Petacchi (Milram) and Dario Cioni (Silence-Lotto) and Spaniard Jose Antonio Flecha (Rabobank) make up the roster of favourites for the 54th Vuelta a Andalucia-Ruta del Sol, which starts Monday February 17 in Benahavis and finishes the following Saturday in Cordoba.
While Evans and Menchov look like obvious rivals, their longer-term plans for the season might mean they will be taking it a little easier at this time of year. That leaves things open for Cioni, who last year battled Spaniard Oscar Freire in Andaliucia, and Petacchi, who will be looking to add more stage wins to his collection of 129 victories.
Teams that have confirmed their participation are: Silence-Lotto (Belgium), Milram (Italy), Rabobank (Netherlands), Skil Shimano (Netherlands), Cycle Collstrop (Sweden), Quick Step (Belgium), Katyusha (Russia) and Spanish squads Euskaltel Euskadi, Galician Karpin, Grupo Deportivo Murcia, Saunier Duval Scott, Caisse d'Epargne, Cajasur Andalusia and Extremadura.
Organized by Deportinter, this edition has a budget similar to last year, about 1,200,000 euros, and has as main sponsors to the Ministry of Tourism, Commerce and Sports of the Government of Andalusia (which has contributed about 350,000 euros of the budget), Cruzcampo, and Eurocar Ibercaja.