By Antonio J. Salmerón
Manolo Sáiz's Würth team - formerly known as Liberty-Seguros - Würth -- will wear white team strip for the Euskal Bizikleta stage race, which starts today. Joseba Beloki will lead the troubled squad, which lost its main sponsor last week after Sáiz was arrested in the Spanish 'Operation Puerto' doping investigation.
The three other Spanish ProTour teams, Illes Balears-Caisse, Saunier Duval-Prodir and Euskaltel Euskadi will also start the Euskal Bizikleta, along with the full complement of Spanish Professional Continental teams: 3 Molinos Resort Murcia Turística, Relax-Gam, Orbea, Spiuk and Andalucia Paul Versan, plus the Nicolás Mateos continental team.
However, the Nicolás Mateos squad will be without its star rider, 2004 individual pursuit world champion Sergi Escobar. Escobar was hit by a motorbike while training on May 22 and is not sufficiently recovered to be able to race.
Other European teams lined up for Euskal Bizikleta include France's Agritubel, which will be led by Alberto Martínez; the Italian Acqua & Sapone and 3C Casalinghi Jet Androni Giocattoli teams; the Swiss LPR and the British-registered, Italian-managed Team Barloworld which will feature Peio Arreitunandia and Félix Cárdenas.
The first stage starts today in Eibar and finishes in Arrigorriaga, after 165.5 km, with three classified climbs at Urkiola, Areitio and Zaratamo. The second stage, between Arrigorriaga and Ispaster (174 km), includes seven cols: one category two, the Sollube; and six third-category climbs, the Garate, Humaran, Santo Domingo, Ere Natxitua and Ere. The third day finishes at the top of the second-category Gatzaga after 190.9 km, and takes in the climbs of Itziar, Meagas, Aizarnazabal, Mandubia, Gatzaga and Uncilla.
Stage four is split into two, with an 84.1 km morning stage between Gatzaga and Agurain, and a flat afternoon time trial in Agurain, of 21.2 km The final stage ends at the summit of the Sanctuary of Arrate.
Stage 1 - May 31: Eibar - Arrigorriaga 165.5 km
Stage 2 - June 1: Arrigorriaga - Ispaster, 174 km
Stage 3 - June 2: Ispaster - Gatzaga, 190.9 km
Stage 4a - June 3: Leintz Gatzaga - Agurain, 84.1 km
Stage 4b - June 3: Agurain - Agurain ITT, 21.2 km
Stage 5 - June 4: ETB (Iurreta) - Arrate (Eibar), 157.5 km