By Shane Stokes
Spanish cycling continues its build up for this year's Vuelta a España with the start of the 2.HC ranked Vuelta a Burgos on Sunday. A total of 12 teams will line up for the five day race in the north of Spain, with Euskaltel Euskadi, Liberty Seguros-Würth, Illes Balears-Caisse d'Epargne, Saunier Duval-Prodir, Relax-Fuenlabrada, Comunidad Valenciana, Kaiku and Andalucia Paul Versan attracting most of the home support. Foreign teams travelling include Mr.Bookmaker-Sportstech, Barloworld Valsir, Acqua & Sapone-Adria Mobil and Tenax-Nobili Rubinetterie.
Despite the fact that the race must share the limelight with several other concurrently-running events such as the ProTour Eneco Tour of Benelux plus the 2.HC ranked Post Danmark Rundt and Volta a Portugal em Bicicleta, the Burgos Tour start list has some big names. Tour de France stage winner Alejandro Valverde (Illes Balears) is down to start, the race serving to test his recovery from the knee injury which prompted his retirement from the Tour. He was utterly dominant here 12 months ago, winning the overall plus three out of the four stages.
Former Vuelta winner Aitor Gonzalez (Euskaltel) will be aiming to replicate the sparkling form which won him a stage plus the overall classification of this year's Tour of Switzerland, while his team-mate Roberto Laiseka should also be prominent on the mountain stages. Jonathan González Rios (Illes Balears) was fifth last year and may get his chance if Valverde isn't back to top form, while David Etxebarria (Liberty Seguros) can usually be counted upon to stir things up a bit. Jeremy Hunt (MrBookmaker) has shown flashes of good form lately and should figure in any bunch sprints.
The race gets underway on Sunday with a lumpy 159.63 kilometre stage from Burgos to Medina de Pomar. Starting at 880 metres in altitude, the riders pass a Meta Volante (Hot Spot) at Poza de la Sal, 39.67 kilometres into the stage, then reach the day's highest point just over 26 kilometres later when they crest the 978 metre second-category Alto del Portillo de Busto. 12 kilometres of descending takes them to the second Meta Volante, then onwards towards the third category climbs of Alto de Cereceda (106.42 kilometres, 720 metres in height) and the Alto de Bocos (138.14 km, 763 m). Another Meta Volante comes shortly before this final climb, with the riders then building up for a probable bunch finish in Medina de Pomar.
Stage two begins in Lerma and tops out at the summit of the 1400 metre third category Alto del Manquillo after just over 65 kilometres of racing. Three Meta Volantes feature, at Covarruvias (18.85 km), Pradoluengo (71.12 km) and Belorado (113.79 km), with the riders then racing on towards the third cat summit finish at Alto de San Juan del Monte after 175 kilometres in the saddle.
Day three is just 9.55 kilometres in length but although it's the shortest of the race, the gaps created in this time trial from Milagros to Aranda de Duero will start to sift out the race contenders. The general classification is then likely to be upended the following day with the hardest finish of the race, the GPM Especial (special category) climb to Lagunas de Neila coming 156.76 kilometres after the start in Vilviestre del Pinar. The peloton will face four other climbs along the way, the cat. 3 ascents of Alto de Cargadero (19.6 km, 1327.48 m), Alto de Collado (55.83 km, 1268.19 m) and Alto Arroyo (89.38 km, 1137.19 m) plus the first category Alto El Collado (136.68 km, 1382.2 m) punctuating the stage profile. Meta Volantes at Hontoria del Pinar (40.51 km), at the 61.43 km point and at Salas de los Infantes (80.39 km) will further spice things up.
That leaves just one more day to settle things, and there is certainly plenty of opportunity for attackers on this lumpy 168 kilometre stage from Queso de Samasmón to Burgos. There is just one classified climb, the third cat Alto de los Buitres coming 15.2 kilometres from the line, but before then the course detail reveals a saw-toothed, undulating profile which will encourage aggression. Meta Volantes sprints come at Villadiego (10.25 km), Melgar de Fernamental (32.91 km) and Castrojeriz (56.5 km).