Team Columbia-HTC believe powerful German sprinter Andre Greipel can help continue their impressive 2009 season once the Tour of Spain clicks into gear this Saturday.
Mark Cavendish's stunning haul of six stage wins from this year's Tour de France took his tally to 10 from the last two participations – and was the highlight of a hugely successful season for the American outfit so far.
With the Isle of Man rider not taking part in the 'Vuelta' – as the three-week race is known – all eyes will be on fellow sprinter Greipel to see whether he can continue their impressive winning streak this season.
But far from taking aim at the bunch sprints on the flatter finishes, Columbia want to challenge for the overall victory and in the race's time trials.
As well as Greipel, who has claimed 15 victories so far in 2009, Columbia will look to reigning world time trial champion Bert Grabsch and to Kim Kirchen for a top finish in the race for the leader's gold jersey.
"The aim is essentially to shine on every kind of terrain," said Columbia sports director Brian Holm. "Kim is very motivated to take a strong result in the overall classification. His start to the season was all but ruined by injuries so he's really aiming to have a good end to the year.
"Andre is always ambitious in the sprints, you just have to look at his results to see that. And Bert (Grabsch) already knows what it takes to win in the Vuelta. He won a time trial stage there back in 2007, and he's in good shape again."
Also riding for Columbia will be Michael Albasini and Australian Adam Hansen, who missed the Tour de France in July.
The 2009 Tour of Spain begins on Saturday in Assen, the Netherlands with a 4.5km time trial and finishes in Madrid on 20 September.
As well as featuring two other time trials which are longer, the race features five mountain-top finishes and they are likely to determine the overall victory.
Columbia-HTC roster for Tour of Spain:
Michael Albasini, Andre Greipel, Bert Grabsch, Adam Hansen, Greg Henderson, Kim Kirchen, Frantisek Rabon, Vicente Reynes and Marcel Sieberg.
Vinokourov racing Vuelta for Astana
Disgraced cyclist Alexandre Vinokourov of Kazakhstan has been named in Astana's squad for the Tour of Spain. Recent Tour de France winner and Astana team-mate Alberto Contador, winner of the 2008 Vuelta, is not defending his title this year.
Vinokourov, who recently returned from a two-year ban handed out for blood doping at the 2007 Tour de France, is likely to spearhead the Kazakh-backed team's bid for a top finish in the race's general classification. The 35-year-old won the race in 2006.
Vinokourov spearheads a team which also includes American Chris Horner, Kazakhs Assan Bazayev and Maxim Iglinskiy, Spaniards Jesus Hernandez, Daniel Navarro, Jose Luis Rubiera and Haimar Zubeldia, and Swiss Michael Schar.
A statement from Astana said Vinokourov would also race with the team through 2010. "From 24 August 2009, Kazakh professional rider Alexandre Vinokourov will be part of Astana Cycling Team, the team managed by Johan Bruyneel," said the statement. "On that day Bruyneel and Rinus Wagtmans, the authorised representative for the Kazakh authorities, reached an agreement about the arrival of the Asian time trial champion.
"Vinokourov's first race for the team will be the Tour of Spain which starts next Saturday in Assen. Vinokourov signed a contract with Team Astana till the end of 2010."
Contador won last month's Tour de France for a second time after a tough three-week contest which he later said had been made more tense by the inclusion of seven-time champion Lance Armstrong in the team.
Armstrong has since announced his departure from Astana and is set to return to cycling next year as team leader with the new RadioShack outfit. Contador has another year's contract with Astana but is being widely tipped to go elsewhere.
Team Astana roster for Tour of Spain:
Assan Bazayev, Maxim Iglinskiy, Jesús Hernández, Chris Horner, Daniel Navarro, José Luis Rubiera, Michael Schär, Alexandr Vinokourov and Haimar Zubeldia.
© 2009 AFP