By Antonio J. Salmerón
As the season kicks into full swing, the Vuelta Ciclista a la Región de Murcia is the next stop for those with Giro ambitions and local riders seeking glory on home turf. The likes of Stefano Garzelli, Bert Grabsch and Denis Menchov will battle Manuel Vázquez, Aitor Perez and Francisco Perez in Murcia as the region's tour gets underway today.
Outlining their objectives for the race at a pre-event press conference, it became obvious that the local riders are relishing the challenge of competing against some of the ProTour's biggest stars, who'll be preparing for the Giro d'Italia with tough racing in the south-eastern reaches of Spain.
Hailing from the Murcia region, Caisse d'Epargne's Francisco Pérez outlined the two key stages of the 29th Vuelta a Murcia – the 16km time trial through the streets of San Pedro del Pintar and the finish in Alhama, which comes after the run over the Collado Bermejo.
"It's a course I know very well, and perhaps a specialist who can ride a very good time trial will take it [the overall], because it's quite a distance, especially at the beginning of the season," said Pérez. "Those who perform well in the time trial may be able to defend on the climb of Collado Bermejo quite well, because it's a long descent to Alhama."
Although surprised that while he found himself in very good shape in Mallorca, he knows there will be a tough fight for the overall. "Let's go step by step and see how the race develops before I can start thinking about goals. I am [feeling] OK, but perhaps not enough to try for the general. There'll be a war going on for it, without doubt."
Quality field up for the win
One of those who may be amongst the leaders overall is Columbia-Highroad's Bert Grabsch. The current time trial world champion is replacing André Greipel in the team's lineup as the German continues to recover from a crash he suffered in the Tour Down Under in January.
"I'm in good shape after competing in Australia and the Algarve," said Grabsch. In the absence of Olympic TT champion Fabian Cancellara (Saxo Bank) who pulled out of the Tour of California due to illness, the German is convinced of being able to achieve a solid result. "It is a good test for me, especially for upcoming events."
Another local rider who proved at last year's Vuelta a España that he's up for the big occasion, Ezequiel Mosquera, suggested that he wouldn't change his style of approaching a race and become mired in the battle for the overall, "because all the races I take part in I'm in the spotlight."
Denis Menchov, twice winner of the Vuelta a España, will also be in the spotlight. He recently helped Joost Posthuma win the Vuelta a Andalucía, but said he wasn't sure of how he would perform in Murcia. "I haven't had time to assess and competition, but it is true that I have good feelings... the Giro is still a long way off," he explained.
Stefano Garzelli is also competing in Murcia with one eye on Giro d'Italia, and is grateful to be doing so as his Acqua e Sapone squad was initially left off the invitation list for the year's first Grand Tour. "This race is a very complete and I am very well; I will see how I ride the time trial, although it's the first test [against the clock] this season, and I hope to be in front in the mountains," said the Italian veteran.
Contentpolis AMPO team captain Aitor Pérez said that, "I hope that I find the time trial more bearable, given that it's flat on the profile. I usually perform well in this type of race, but I'll also be very attentive to how the race develops in the last seven miles of climbing at the end of Collado Bermejo, which is just over seven per cent, and the long descent to Alhama, where there will be maximum risk."