Ten days out from the start of the Vuelta a España, the final grand tour of 2011, race director Javier Guillén says it is "impossible to predict" who will prevail once the race reaches its conclusion in Madrid on September 11.
This year's Vuelta starts one week earlier than previous editions, with the race now coinciding with local school holidays, something Guillén explains will "to give the youth the opportunity to contribute to the success of the Vuelta," while also allowing more spectators to line the roadsides or tune in on television.
Given the change to the calendar, the Vuelta is now even better preparation for the World Championships taking place in Denmark two weeks after the Vuelta ends.
"I won't deny that the Vuelta is also a preparation race for the World's and I won't complain about it," said Guillén. "It's a chance for us to have great riders participating. I'm sure that everyone lining up in Benidorm [where the Vuelta departs on August 20] will be highly motivated. I also know that it's impossible to predict the winner."
While the two most recent winner of Grand Tours, Cadel Evans (BMC) and Alberto Contador (Saxo Bank SunGard) won't be in attendance, 2010 Vuelta winner Vincenzo Nibali (Liquigas-Cannondale), as well as Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) and Igor Anton (Euskaltel) who also have had the red jersey last year, will all be competiting as they did in 2010.
Riders who were forced to withdraw from last month's Tour de France after crashes will have another shot at a grand tour victory. These include include Bradley Wiggins (Team Sky), Jurgen Van den Broeck (Omega Pharma-Lotto), Andreas Klöden and Janez Brajkovic (RadioShack). While talented young riders Peter Sagan (Liquigas-Cannondale), Taylor Phinney (RadioShack) and Marcel Kittel (Skil-Shimano) will make their grand tour debut in Spain.
Vuelta organisers scored a major coup by securing Benidorm as the start city for the 2011 edition. The race will also head to the Basque country for the first time since 1978.
"The Basque country is the hot bed of Spanish cycling, like Brittany is for French cycling," Guillén explained. "I'm proud of taking the Vuelta back to the Basque country. It's historical."
The Vuelta will visit the Basque region over two stages in its final week – Stage 19 from Noja to Bilbao and then the following day with a 187 km stage to the regions capital, Vitoria.