From April 9 through April 14, some of the best climbers in the pro peloton will again take to the mountains in the Vuelta al País Vasco. With 35 categorised climbs along the 863km race route, the six-day race is a real climbers’ delight. And the race gets straight down to business with stage one is a selective 139 km trek around Urretxu with nine climbs to tackle, as well as a summit finish. On the second day, 191 kilometres and eight climbs will have to be mastered, and even the 14km final time trial will test the riders' climbing skills.
Dutch Rabobank team leader Erik Breukink will line up a powerful squad the ProTour race: Mauricio Ardila, Thomas Dekker, Theo Eltink, Koos Moerenhout, Denis Menchov, Grischa Niermann, Michael Rasmussen and Pieter Weening, with Bram de Groot and Thorwald Veneberg on the reserve list.
With Koos Moerenhout, Rabobank will bring a former stage winner and winner of the mountain classification to Basque Country. In 1999, Moerenhout won the fourth stage to Lekumberri and in 2007 once again the finish of the fourth stage. All in all, Rabobank recorded four stage victories in Vuelta al País Vasco. Besides Moerenhout and Boogerd in 1999, in 2002 and 2006 Beat Zberg and Oscar Freire have added stage victories to the roll of honour of the team.
Quick-Step, under the guidance of directeur sportif Serge Parsani, will take the following riders to the six-stages event: Serge Baguet, Carlos Barredo, Ad Engels, Bram Tankink, Jurgen Van De Walle, Geert Verheyen, Giovanni Visconti and Cedric Vasseur. Baguet, who was fighting some back problems recently, has been able to relieve the pain and will thus be at the start as planned.
Juan Manuel Garate, initially scheduled to take part, will not be able to participate because of a crash on the February 23 during the second stage of the Tour of the Algarve. The Giro d'Italia 2006 Green Jersey winner has had to slow down his race participation and preferred to carry on training rather than risking a setback by returning to racing too soon.
German team T-Mobile will be led by Patrik Sinkewitz and Michael Rogers. Sinkewitz placed fourth overall in the Basque country last year after an excellent final day time trial performance saw him charge up the leader board. "It’s a selective parcours that suits Patrik," said directeur sportif Valerio Piva, although he played down the 26 year-old’s chances in the face of the strong local competition. "The Spanish teams will be really up for this one. They're always hard to beat on their home turf."
Michael Rogers is the team’s other GC rider - the Australian arrives in northern Spain fresh off finishing fourth overall at the Coppi e Bartali stage race in Italy. "Michael performed extremely well last week in atrocious weather conditions, even digging in to lead out his teammates in the sprint stages," Piva added.
Supporting the two leaders in the Basque Country will be Michael Barry, Giuseppe Guerini, Serhiy Honchar, Adam Hansen, Axel Merckx and Jakob Piil.