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Proycling's Analysis: The Dutch province of Drenthe has the honour of hosting the initial stages of La Vuelta a España this year, starting with this prologue on Assen’s motorcycling grand prix circuit. At first glance, the circuit looks flat but there are dips and rises across its length. It will still be fast but this is not a pancake-flat dragstrip-style course. Specialists should thrive, although it’s also short enough for an outsider to spring a surprise.
Culture Vulture: Assen is the capital of the Dutch cycling centre of Drenthe. Its main claim to fame is the GP circuit, known to fans as ‘The Cathedral’, which is where motorbike legend Valentino Rossi won his 100th grand prix in June.
Local hero: The Vuelta will be a key goal for Rabobank as well as for fellow Dutch outfit Vacansoleil. Among those scheduled to be part of the Rabobank team to make his major tour debut is highly rated climber Bauke Mollema, who hails from nearby Groningen. A Tour de l’Avenir winner in 2007, he’s continued to impress at the ProTour level and shone in the Tour of California at the start of this year. However, the 22-year-old has been hit by glandular fever this season, so whether he’ll actually make it to the start in Assen is still in doubt.
Vuelta Retro: This is only the second time the Vuelta has started outside Spain. In 1997, the tour started in the Portuguese capital of Lisbon.
Neil Stephens says: It's a really good stage for [Fabian] Cancellara [Saxo Bank]. It's non-technical, so the weather won't be much of a problem. I'm at the last stage of the Eneco Tour as I write this, and the weather is the critical aspect because it's a really tricky circuit and rain makes it difficult. On the race circuit in Assen I don't think it's going to be much of a problem. It's a big, open time trial circuit.
A dark horse could be someone like Svein Tuft, although it might be a bit short for him... I think Cancellara will be in a league of his own.