German T-Mobile Team is sending a roster of climbing specialists to the 46th Vuelta a Pais Vasco, which takes place from April 3-8 and kicks off its total of 829 kilometres in Irun on Monday. While the squad will start the Spanish ProTour race without a designated captain, directeur sportif Frans van Looy will be looking to Matthias Kessler, Patrik Sinkewitz and Kim Kirchen for results. "We will be concentrating our efforts on the individual stages," the Belgian said. "We don't count among the favourites for the overall."
The eight-man roster also includes the two Italians Giuseppe Guerini and Eddy Mazzoleni, as well as the Spaniard Oscar Sevilla - three strong climbers which will be needed on the mountainous parcours. Rounding out the team are Thomas Ziegler and Bernhard Kohl, a pure climber who has been in consistently good shape in recent weeks. Kohl spent a few days in the climbers jersey in the Tour of California and is now keen to "show what I can do" in the Basque country. "My strengths are in the high mountains," Kohl said, looking forward to the rather hilly event.
The organisers of the season's fifth ProTour race have included 33 categorised climbs in its six-days parcours. The race gets straight down to business on the first day already, with a tough 130 km stage starting and finishing in Irun on the Atlantic coast. The riders can look forward to two first category climbs over the final 45 km.
"The profile is really hardcore," said van Looy, looking at the race map. Even the final time trial will test the riders' climbing skills, with climbs of up to 250 vertical metres on the 24 km route. For van Looy, one thing is certain: "Whoever stands on the top step of the podium at the end will have worked hard to get there."
The 2006 Vuelta a Pais Vasco stages are:
Stage 1 - Monday, April 3: Irun - Irun, 130 km
Stage 2 - Tuesday, April 4: Irun - Segura, 155 km
Stage 3 - Wednesday, April 5: Segura - Lerin, 170 km
Stage 4 - Thursday, April 6: Lerin - Vitoria, 172 km
Stage 5 - Friday April 7: Vitoria - Zalla, 178 km
Stage 6 - Saturday, April 8: Zalla - Zalla, 24 km (ITT)