By Hernan Alvarez
The Volta a Catalunya is the oldest race on Spanish soil, having begun in 1911. Most of the top racers not in the Giro d'Italia will be starting the 87th edition of the Catalonian race next Monday including Alexandre Vinokourov (Astana), Alejandro Valverde (Caisse D'Epargne), and Oscar Pereiro (Caisse D'Epargne) and other Spanish riders like Ruben Plaza (Caisse D'Epargne), Isaac Vicioso (Relax Gam), Oscar Sevilla (Relax Gam), Francisco Mancebo (Relax Gam), Samuel Sanchez (Euskaltel-Euskadi), and Igor Astarloa (Milram). Those coming to Spain include Erik Zabel (Milram) and Daniele Bennati (Lampre).
Defending champion Spain's David Cañada (Saunier Duval) will have a hard job to win again in Catalonian territory. Pereiro and Valverde will be tough contenders.
200 riders divided in 25 teams will take the start in Salou. There are five non ProTour outfits among the participants including local squads Relax Gam, Andalucia Caja Sur, Karpin-Galicia, and Fuerteventura-Canarias along with the American Team Slipstream. The US team is based in Girona, which helped them get an invitation to compete.
The seven-day Volta will begin in Salou with a 15.7 kilometer team time trial. The key stage will probably be the 203.1km stage four that starts in Tarrega and ends in the Andorran Vallnord-Arinsal ski station. Stage four has three category 1 climbs: Coll de Port (1,630 meters above sea level), Coll de Jou (1,480), and Alt de la Comella (1,365). The last mountain is Vallnord-Arinsal, 1,950 meters high and with a 9% average gradient.
The 170 kilometer long stage two begins in Salou and ends in Perafort. The third day starts there and goes to Tarrega (182.1 kilometers). Later on, stage 5, a 17.7 kilometer one way individual time trial will end up in Vallnord-Arcalis. The next stage will travel between Llivia and Lloret de Mar (177.1 kilometers). That could be a good opportunity for the sprinters. The final, 119.3 kilometer seventh stage will run between Lloret de Mar and Catalonia's capital of Barcelona.