Astana's Haimar Zubeldia expects the general classification of the Vuelta a España to be decided in the race's tough second week. In a report by Spanish newspaper Marca, the Basque rider also said the absence of Tour de France winner Alberto Contador will create a more open and exciting contest for the general classification.
"It will be critical to ride consistently in the mountains [of the second week]," Zubeldia told Marca. "With a number of successive high stages, a bad day can see you lose all options for the win."
Stage eight of the Vuelta will mark the first of six mountain stages in the brutal second week of this year's race. The stage's finish to Alto de Aitana will also provide the first indication of the true contenders for overall. The second week of the race ends with three successive mountain-top finishes, on stages 12, 13 and 14, respectively.
In contrast to Astana's dominant performance at the Tour de France, of which Zubeldia was a part, the Vuelta is expected to provide a far more modest return for the Kazakh team. Despite a return to the helm of the squad he helped launch, Astana's captain for the Vuelta, Alexandre Vinokourov, yesterday said he expected overall victory to be impossible after two years out of competition.
Zubeldia said that he while he expects Vinokourov's past experience to keep him in contention, without the presence of a dominant overall contender the race would be far more open to other teams. "With the results in his career that [Vinokourov] has, he becomes one of the riders who will fight for victory," he said. "The absence of Alberto [Contador] will be noticed, but I think there are more riders that will give excitement to this Vuelta."
Zubeldia also gave an indication of the riders he views as the favorites for the three-week race. He pointed to established favorites Alejandro Valverde (Caisse d'Epargne), Samuel Sanchez (Euskaltel), Ivan Basso (Liquigas), Robert Gesink (Rabobank) and Damiano Cunego (Lampre), but also included Xacobeo-Galicia captain, Ezequiel Mosquera, in his list of riders to watch.
Mosquera finished fourth overall at the 2008 Vuelta and, in the absence of Contador, Levi Leipheimer and Carlos Sastre, will return to this year's race as the highest placed finisher in the previous edition. He recently claimed victory on the final stage of the Vuelta a Burgos, on his way to a fourth place finish overall.
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