Vuelta a España champion Alejandro Valverde is set for a very different kind of racing challenge when he lines up against a dog team at the Valencia criterium on Sunday. The Caisse d’Epargne team leader will face title-winning "musher" Ismael Piñol Venteo and six of his fastest dogs over a 350-metre course on Valencia’s Paseo de la Alameda.
The duel is typical of the unusual challenges that criterium organiser Javier Castellar arranges for his event. Last year he pitted Olympic champion Samuel Sánchez against GP Formula 2 driver Vitaly Petrov, plus Alberto Contador against a paramotor champion. In previous years, Castellar has had Oscar Freire race against a top-class trotting horse and jockey, and Oscar Pereiro has tested his speed against a camel.
Musher Piñol Venteo has been runner-up in the World and European dog sled championships and is a three-times Spanish champion. On this occasion, with snow not likely to fall on the Valencia course before Sunday, the usually ski-shod sled that the dogs would haul in winter months will be fitted with wheels.
Piñol Venteo told El Mundo he is "very excited and expectant" prior to Sunday’s race and added that he had no idea "how the dogs will react". The musher explained: "We’ve been preparing for this race for a month, training for several hours every day." Valverde should be equally well prepared having spent three weeks building up to this test by winning the Vuelta 10 days ago.
The musher said he is confident of his dogs' chances of victory, and was spot on in declaring that "without doubt, the duel is certain to deliver lots of intrigue and spectacle".
Organiser Castellar commented: "This year the criterium is celebrating its 20th anniversary and this race is one of the most impressive we’ve had because of its peculiarity and originality."
As well as taking over a 26-legged (including the musher!) and four-wheeled challenger, Valverde will also be taking on some more familiar rivals on two wheels. Italians Stefano Garzelli (Acqua & Sapone) and Ivan Basso (Liquigas) will be among those joining a strong contingent of Spanish riders in the main event of the day.
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Peter Cossins has written about professional cycling since 1993 and is a contributing editor to Procycling. He is the author of The Monuments: The Grit and the Glory of Cycling's Greatest One-Day Races (Bloomsbury, March 2014) and has translated Christophe Bassons' autobiography, A Clean Break (Bloomsbury, July 2014).
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