As in past years, the stars are in alignment and ready to shine for the 51st running of the Vuelta Ciclista al País Vasco, or the Tour of the Basque Country in northeast Spain. All of the riders of the entered teams have been announced for the 6-day romp in the steep Pyrénées Mountains including Team RadioShack’s squad, and our own Chris Horner (USA) will be wearing bib number Uno. Chris won this prestigious race last year and is again one of the favorites. He’s the only American to have ever won this race, which is traditionally known for attracting the best stage racers and climbers in the world.
Team RadioShack has an all-star list of talent for the race:
Bib# / Name / Country
1 HORNER, Chris USA
2 KLÖDEN, Andreas GER
3 LEIPHEIMER, Levi USA
4 ZUBELDIA, Haimar ESP
5 PAULINHO, Sergio POR
6 IRIZAR, Markel ESP
7 BUSCHE, Matthew USA
8 ROVNY, Ivan RUS
Team Dir Viatcheslav EKIMOV RUS
Because the Basque Region of Spain is situated within the western Pyrénées, it’s a fool’s errand to categorize the stages as anything but mountainous. By my count, there are sixteen category 3s, ten category 2s and five category 1s coming up in the first 5 days and a pretty nice darn bump in the middle of the time trial on the final 6th day. The Pyrenees aren’t renowned for their overall height, but what sets them apart is how steep they are. The cyclists will be going up or down the entire time at some real lung-burning, hair-raising angles. Here’s the stages:
Date / Stage / Start / Finish / Distance* / Mountainous?
4 Apr 1 Zumarraga Zumarraga 151 km Yes
5 Apr 2 Zumarraga Lekunberri 167 km Of course
6 Apr 3 Villatuerta Zuia-Murgia 177 km What do you think?
7 Apr 4 Amurrio Eibar (Arrate) 177 km Duh
8 Apr 5 Eibar Zalla 179 km Can you spell Pyrénées?
9 Apr TT Zalla Zalla 24 km Not really, a 300m bump
• Distance is approximate as the official race website and the UCI’s disagree.
The list of big name professionals is almost endless for this one. If you’re not a one-day classics rider shaking your teeth loose on the cobbles at the Tour of Flanders in Belgium Sunday, April 3rd, you’re likely in Spain getting ready to climb. The official website for the event lists the favorites in this order; Samuel Sánchez, Horner, Klöden, Damiano Cunego, Joaquim Rodriguez, Frank Schleck, and Robert Gesink – not sure how Levi didn’t make that list. But they forgot a few other big names as well, for instance: Michael Rogers, Pinotti, Peraud, Menchov, Sastre, Basso, Andy Schleck, Porte, Pineau, Carrara, Hesjedal, Freire, Martin, DiLuca, and Vandevelde. Those names and more will be elbow-to-elbow trying to tame the Pyrénées so they can proudly claim that floppy ‘Txapela’ that Chris Horner wore on the final day’s podium last year. It all starts Monday at 1:30pm Central European Time in Zumarraga, Spain. You’re going to want to follow this one.
By George Hurst, staff writer