The Cervelo TestTeam has confirmed that Carlos Sastre will ride the Vuelta a España, but the Spanish veteran faces major competition from several international rivals, after this year's race attracted its best ever field since moving from late April to September in 1995.
The Vuelta often suffers from being the third Grand Tour on the race calendar but this year's start list includes Frank Schleck (Saxo Bank), who will get support from his brother Andy, Denis Menchov (Rabobank), Vincenzo Nibali and Roman Kreuziger (Liquigas-Doimo) and other potential outsiders.
The flat stages, especially in the first 10 days as the race heads northeast from Seville, will also be highly contested as the best sprinters in the world use the Vuelta to prepare for the World Championships in Australia. Mark Cavendish leads the list of long sprinters in the race, as he makes his Vuelta debut.
Sastre's Third Grand Tour
The Cervelo TestTeam confirmed that Sastre would ride his third Grand Tour of the season when it named its long list on Friday. Eleven riders have been named, including several of Sastre's preferred Spanish domestiques, sprinters Thor Hushovd and Theo Bos, plus Ireland's Philip Deignan and Britain's Roger Hammond. The final starting nine will be named closer to the start of the race on August 28.
Sastre has a string of placings in the Vuelta but will be looking for victory this year after struggling in both the Giro d'Italia and Tour de France. However, the likes of Frank Schleck, Menchov and especially Nibali will be fresher and so perhaps hungrier for success.
Outsiders to watch include Nicolas Roche (Ag2r-La Mondiale), who was 15th overall in the Tour de France, Frenchman Christophe Le Mevel (Francaise des Jeux), Oscar Pereiro, who leads the Astana team in the absence of Alberto Contador, David Arroyo (Caisse d'Epargne), who finished a surprise but determined second in the Giro d'Italia. Tom Danielson get another chance to impress for Garmin-Transitions, Thomas Löfkvist leads Team Sky, while Andrey Kashechkin (Lampre-Farnese Vini) will ride his first Grand Tour since returning from his ban for blood doping.
Cavendish makes Vuelta debut
Mark Cavendish (HTC-Columbia) is riding the Vuelta for the first time in his career, in the hope of finding the form he had last spring when he won Milan-San Remo.
The HTC-Columbia team is backing him all the way and has built the Vuelta team around him. Mark Renshaw is not in the team but loyal lieutenant Bernard Eisel is, as are Matt Goss, Kiwi track pursuiter Hayden Roulston, the USA's Tejay Van Garderen, plus Martin and Peter Velits.
Those riders will give HTC-Columbia the speed and power to lead out but they will face serious competition from Lampre-Farnese Vini, who have Alessandro Petacchi, Danilo Hondo, Grega Bole and Mirco Lorenzetto. Petacchi will be quizzed by the Italian anti-doping investigators on August 24, just four days before the Vuelta starts in Seville, but he should be able to ride the Vuelta before any possible deferral for doping.
Tyler Farrar leads the Garmin-Transitions team and will have his usual lead out man Julian Dean to help him in the sprints, with further support from David Millar. Can Farrar get the better of Cavendish in a sprint? We will see for the first time in Marbella on Sunday August 29.
Thor Hushovd and Theo Bos will share the sprinting role at Cervelo Test Team, as will Allan Davis and Enrico Gasparotto and Daniele Bennati and Jacopo Guarnieri at Liquigas-Doimo. Bennati will be looking to riding to secure his future for 2011, while Guarnieri will be trying to confirm the speed he showed at the recent Tour of Poland.
Other sprinters likely to throw themselves into the fast finishes are Koldo Fernandez (Euskaltel-Euskadi), Oscar Freire (Rabobank), Ben Swift (Team Sky) plus JJ Haedo and Baden Cooke (Saxo Bank). Don't be surprised to see other riders such as Filippo Pozzato (Katusha) and Philippe Gilbert (Omega Pharma-Lotto).
The Vuelta sprint finishes will be about getting ready for the fight for the rainbow jersey, as much as for daily glory and stage victories.