Can Contador make it three?

Spaniard gunning to extend his race record

Astana’s Alberto Contador will aim for his third Vuelta a Castilla y León victory when the race gets underway on Wednesday, after narrowly missing victory at last year’s race. It will be another test of the Spaniard’s form as this year’s Grand Tours edge closer, but will also serve as indication of whether the Spanish rider is still struggling with the pollen issues that have hurt his performance in recent weeks.

Contador was dropped on the opening stage of Critérium International in Corsica last month. The defending champion blamed spring allergy issues on his losing 1:13 over the Col de l'Ospedale’s final three kilometres.

The Corsican hiccup aside, Contador has enjoyed a successful start to the year with Volta ao Algarve and Paris-Nice wins. While there’s still plenty of time before his main season goal, the Tour de France, Contador will be measuring himself against the other Grand Tour riders such as teammate Oscar Pereiro and Russia’s Dennis Menchov.

Menchov finished just off the podium in fifth at last year’s Castilla y León, but will be hoping to demonstrate he’s on track to battle Contador for this year’s Tour de France title. The Russian announced in January he would skip his Giro d’Italia title defence next month in order to focus on the July race.

One rider who could upset the Grand Tour contenders is Team RadioShack’s Tiago Machado. The Portuguese rider impressed team director Johan Bruyneel as he rode his way on to Critérium International’s podium and could be in the running for a stage win this week. However the 15.1 kilometre individual time trial on stage four will make it difficult for Machado to claim the overall from strong time triallists like Menchov and Contador.

The sprint finishes should be animated by Cervélo TestTeam’s Theo Bos, who is contesting the event off the back of his first Spring Classics campaign. Rabobank’s Graeme Brown will be hoping to beat Bos across the line, having contested few races since leaving Australia at the end of January.

With three of the nation’s ProTour teams taking part, riders from the smaller Spanish squads will be looking to make a name for themselves, as they always do at such races. Xacobeo Galicia in particular will be looking to put the off-season behind it, after the Professional Continental team struggled with licence and funding issues.

While a break could stay away on the event’s opening 157.7 kilometre stage, the second is likely to end in a bunch sprint. However, the third stage, 158.8 kilometres from León to Ponferrada, will be decisive, with riders climbing Alto de Fondebadon before descending to the base of the mountain-top finish on Alto del Morredero.

The general classification will further shake out with the stage four time trial, before the sprinters likely get another chance on the event's final stage.

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