- Susan Westemeyer
Sixteen climbs in seven stages
The 100th Volta a Catalunya is one for the climbers, with sixteen climbs over seven stages and an Hors Categorie mountaintop finish in Andorra. The climbers will have the advantage in northeastern Spain, with such top names as Alberto Contador (Saxo Bank-SunGard), Danilo Di Luca (Katusha), Ivan Basso (Lıquigas) and Cadel Evans (BMC Racing Team) amongst those expected to be fighting it out for the win.
Neither of the last two years' winners will be riding. Joaquim Rodriguez of Katusha is unable to defend his 2010 title due to a cyst on his buttocks, and 2009 winner Alejandro Valverde is sitting out a doping suspension.
All eighteen ProTeams are here, and are joined by six Professional Continental teams: Andalucia Caja Granada, Caja Rural and Geox-TMC from Spain; Cofidis, Le Credit en Ligne, CCC Polsat Polkowice and Colombia Es Pasion – Cafe de Colombia.
The first stage from Lloret de Mar and back is 166.9km and features the category one-ranked Alt de Sant Hilari and the Alt de Sant Grau.
Stage two runs 169.3km from Santa Coloma de Farners has the category three Alt de la Ganga and the the category one Alt dels Angeles.
Things get serious on the third stage (183.9km) as the race dips into Andorra. The Queen stage starts off with the Alt de Coubet, followed by the Collada de Toses. The last 22km feaure the Alt de la Comella, closely followed by the Alt de la Massana and a mountaintop finish at the Hors Category Coll de Pal in Andorra (Vallnord) at 2030 metres.
Things calm down a bit in stage four, 195k from La Seu d'Urgell to El Vendrell, with only the Alt de Psassanat (cat.3) to conquer before an expected sprint finish.
Stage five is the longest, at 205.8km, from El Vendrell to Tarragona, with two category two climbs. The sixth stage from Tarragona to Mollet del Valles is 184.5km, with two category climbs, one on either side of the cat. one Al de Can Massana.
Things close out on March 28 with the 124.5km between Parets del Valles and Barcelona, and the very small category three climb near the end should not be enough to endanger the expected sprint finish.
Evans is coming off a strong win in Tirreno-Adriatico, but says he is not one of the top riders in Spain. “It will be more for the pure climbers.” Still, no one will discount the former world champion.
Contador won the Vuelta a Murcia earlier this month, and still has much to prove after his Clenbuterol doping case. The Spaniard will be using the race as training for the Giro d'Italia, but said he would also be testing himself on the difficult third stage.
Michele Scarponi (Lampre) put in a strong Milan-San Remo and Tirreno-Adriatico and will be looking for his third victory of the year.
Geox will send its double-barrelled leadership of Carlos Sastre and Denis Menchov. The team hasn't been invited to many top races so far this year, and the two stars may be a bit lacking in racing kilometres.
Di Luca (Katusha) and Basso (Liquigas-Cannondale) are two more riders looking to test themselves and check out their rivals on their way to bigger appointments in April and May.
The climbs may dominate this race, but the sprinters will have their chances, too. Alessandro Petacchi (Lampre) is by far the biggest name here, and if he is recovered from the bronchial asthma which has plagued him all year, he will be looking for his first season win.