By Monika Prell
One of the highlights of Spanish cycling is without a doubt the so called 'Basque week'. Three races (Gran Premio Miguel Indurain, Vuelta al País Vasco and Klasika Primavera) within one week - pure joy for every Basque cycling supporter.
On Saturday, April 5, this series will be opened by the Gran Premio Miguel Indurain in Estella (Navarra). In the HC-rated event, 198.6 kilometres from Estella to the little church of Basílica del Puy will wait for the riders. After having passed twice the little town of Estella, the peloton will have to ascend three mountains, twice the Guirguillano (1st category) and once the Alto de Lezaun (2nd category). The climb to the Basílica del Puy will also be valued as mountain of the third category.
Last year's winner, the Italian Rinaldo Nocentini (AG2R La Mondiale) will participate and surely try to repeat his triumph in the ascent to the Basílica del Puy, but the team Caisse d'Epargne is also aiming for a win in its home race. This would be their first victory after Francisco Mancebo took the honours in 1998.
"I was really satisfied after the Critérium International last week-end," said Valverde on Thursday. "Considering the fact that the GP Indurain is organised in Navarra, that race is very important for my team and I hope I will be able to finish with the first riders. I still have a few weeks left before my condition is at 100 percent, which should be just before the Tour de France, but I am already feeling very well and I hope I will be with the best already this Saturday in Estella, as well as in two weeks in the Amstel Gold Race, the Flèche Wallonne and Liège-Bastogne-Liège."
This year, nine Pro Tour teams (AG2R, Caisse d'Epargne, Cofidis, CSC, Euskaltel-Euskadi, Gerolsteiner, Liquigas, Milram and Saunier Duval), four Professional Continental teams (Andalucía Cajasur, Contentpolis Murcia, Extremadura and Karpin Galicia) and two Continental teams (Burgos Monumental and Orbea Oreka) will participate in the race. Favourites include Alejandro Valverde (Caisse d'Epargne), Carlos Sastre (CSC), Mikel Astarloza (Euskaltel Euskadi), Stefan Schumacher (Gerolsteiner), Igor Astarloa (Milram) and David de la Fuente (Saunier Duval). The weather should be good, about 15° Celsius and the meteorologists do not expect any rain - which should make for a big crowd to watch the spectacle.
Also read the full Pais Vasco preview.