Preview: Volta a Catalunya

Time trialists eyeing overall

When the prologue kicks off the Volta a Catalunya in the sea resort of Lloret de Mar, one week of tough racing will be ahead of the racers – but the specialists against the clock will hope that it won't be so tough that they can't hang with the climbers. 

Despite being a decidedly mountainous parcours, there are no hilltop finishes and it is likely that a complete rider, who can do well in the 3.8-kilometre race of truth, will be competing for the overall title in one week's time.

Stages two and three, 167 and 197km long, respectively, will provide a chance for the climbers to make a difference. A category one, two and three climb on the first road stage and two category one, a category two and an hors category mountain on the second will surely provide a playground for the skinny men. Whether they can hold any advantages gained on the ascent through to the finish line will be the decisive factor.

There are some 60 kilometres of less challenging terrain from the top of the final climb until the finish on day one. Day two is kinder to the uphill specialists, with only a long descent standing in between the last KOM and a potential stage victory.

After those initial three days, the contenders for the overall should be clear, but with frequent small climbs littering the final days the door is open for breaks to stay away. It is less likely that the overall favourites will let each other out of sight, as long as they respond to any attacks on the hilly grounds in northeastern Spain.

Last year's winner Vladimir Karpets (Caisse d'Epargne) will not be back to defend his title. Number one will therefore be worn by Imanol Erviti Ollo, but look out for his team-mates José Iván Gutierrez and Luis Leon Sanchez Gil.

A big favourite of taking the prologue is of course CSC's Fabian Cancellara. The short course should suit the Swiss power rider very well. If he can limit his losses in the mountains, he may well be an overall contender. However, the Danish squad will likely be riding for Carlos Sastre, who is looking to continue his build up to a possible Tour de France victory.

The race marks the return of Australia's Michael Rogers (High Road), who is recovering from a case of mononucleosis. The US team has Thomas Lövkvist for the overall, and Bernhard Eisel and George Hincapie to contend for stage victories in Spain.

Euskaltel, from the neighbouring Euskadi region, will be looking to light some fireworks in the mountain stages, while Astana will be eager to continue its winning ways. Its man is Janez Brajkovic, who is returning after suffering from fatigue in the early season, as well as Chris Horner, who has good chances for a stage win.

American Tom Danielson is returning to the peloton after having back problems. He has been racing himself back into shape with his Slipstream team in the Four Days of Dunkirk, and is motivated to show his form on the familiar roads of his adopted home country.

The French teams AG2R La Mondiale (Vladimir Efimkin), Bouygues Telecom (Thomas Voeckler), Cofidis (Sylvain Chavanel), Crédit Agricole (Thor Hushovd) and Française des Jeux (Sandy Casar) are more likely to go for stage wins instead of the overall classification. But if Agritubel's Christophe Moreau is closing in on his peak form, he may well be one Frenchman to watch for the week to come.

Lampre will have Alessandro Ballan to go for a win, while Liquigas will look to Aleksandr Kuschynski for the overall. Gerolsteiner, Milram, Quick Step and Saunier Duval are sending teams that can create surprises on single stages.

Karpin Galicia will hope that Ezequiel Mosquera can improve on his ninth place of the Tour of the Basque country.

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