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Spanish team starts Vuelta without reigning champ Valverde
Caisse d'Epargne manager Eusebio Unzue is confident his team can still produce a standout performance at this year's Vuelta a España, which begins in Seville on Saturday.
The Spanish team will be without reigning champion Alejandro Valverde, who was suspended for two years earlier this season after a prolonged investigation into his role within the Operacion Puerto affair.
Despite the absence of Valverde, Unzue claims the riders chosen in his Vuelta squad have proven they have what it takes to make a significant mark in the year's third grand tour, which is one of the team's major goals of the season.
"We may not have a clear leader unlike other occasions, but good riders with previous results, such as David Arroyo, who had a great Giro with second place overall, and this guarantees he could well be in the fight for victory in this tour," Unzue told Spanish news agency Europa Press.
"Marzio Bruseghin arrives in optimum condition and he has done well in races over three weeks, which is in addition to Luis León Sánchez, Rubén Plaza and Rigoberto Uran," he explained.
He added that while the mountain stages "aren't too hard", the Cotobello and the 'Bola del Mundo' (Ball of the World) finishes will be decisive.
"There will be days when you cannot afford a failure," he explained. "Besides, there are many stages with nervous finishes such as at Malaga, Jaen Valdepeñas, Alcoy and Vilanova i la Geltrú. They are days that promise to allow you to see how strong your rivals are."
He identified several rivals for his riders to watch carefully, and despite the absence of Alberto Contador and last year's runner up, Samuel Sanchez, he knows that the local men will be extremely motivated to perform well on home soil.
"To fight for the podium always provides a special motivation for Spanish riders as [Carlos] Sastre, [Ezequiel] Mosquera and [Igor] Anton. I think this tour is well suited to them.
"In addition, [Vincenzo] Nibali and Fränk Schleck can arrive at the race fresh after the schedule they've had so far," he said, adding that Andy Schleck and Denis Menchov will be an unknown quantity after their Tour de France endeavours [second and third respectively].