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Setmana Catalana Preview
 
By Magpie Latham
Date: 3/21/2005
Setmana Catalana Preview
 

Setmana Catalana is one of the Spanish five day races in Cataluña in the northeast region of Spain. The first stage starts and finishes in Lloret de Mar, a popular holiday resort for the Northern Europeans, and will have 3 climbs including a category one climb. The following day the race heads north along the Costa Brava to Empuriabrava. The third stage is the etapa reina and steadily climbs all the way to the finish at Coll de Pal near Bagá (not to be confused with the climb to Pal in Andorra, often used as a stage finish in the Vuelta and the Tour de France.)

On Thursday the race heads towards Barcelona and finishes at Palau de Plegamans, where the sponser Wurth has their factory. The final day is a short 16.6 kilometre time trail in the area close to Wurth’s factory, a typically Spanish way of thanking their sponsor, and making sure their name gets mentioned numerous times on television. If the mountain finish on Thursday has left the overall classification close, this will be a make or break day for the final result. Maybe we can learn who has and who hasn´t been training behind the motorbike!

This year there are 14 teams lining up for the start instead of the 16 that were planned to take part. Joaqium Sabaté, the president of EC Barcelona, the organiser of the race, has made clear his dissatisfaction with the situation and he blames it on the advent of the ProTour. The local town halls are sponsoring the stages and he hopes that future particiapation by the town halls will not be affected.

However, as the race is classified as a UCI continental race it means that some of the smaller teams will have the opportunity to take part. Spiuk will be there with their star rider Aitor Perez, who after a 3rd place at Mallorca and a 2nd place at Valencia, went on to finish 2nd in the GP Oeste in Portugal last weekend. It is rumoured that Eusebio Unzue of Illes Balears is keen to sign him but he is reluctant to pay the 600,000 euro penalty clause for Perez to break his contract with Spiuk.

Another new team in the professional ranks taking part is Kaiku; they recently won the team prize at Murcia, they were 3rd place in the team classification in Mallorca and had a stage win at Valencia. The teams of Comunidad Valenciana and Relax Fuenlabrada will be taking part, knowing that they have secured the two wild cards for the Vuelta de España, which may be a competitive ‘lift’ for them. Josep Jufre of Relax finished 3rd last year and 2nd the year before, so as a native Catalan he will be looking to do well again.

The riders who are concentrating on the Spring Classics generally do not take part in this race, but the riders preparing for the three big Tours use it as a test of form. Gilberto Simoni (Lampre) and Dario Frigo (Fassa Bortolo), who won the event two years ago, will be racing and Simoni comes to the race with an impressive win in Paris Nice under his belt. Beloki and Gonzalez de Galdeano are two riders who will not be competing due to viral infections, and Liberty Seguros will have Heras sharing the leadership with Koldo Gil who recently won in Murcia. With the team's co-sponsor as sponsor of the race, I expect they will be pressured to at least win a stage if not the overall.

Last year Saunier Duval won four of the five jerseys and will have Tafi in the team, so another opportunity for me to see one of my favourites before he retires in April. They will be under greater pressure to repeat their success this year as Miguel Angel Martin Perdiguero, who won the combined and the points jersey, has moved to Phonak, who are also competing in the race. As I write this the team directors are having a meeting with the technical jury and they will confirm which riders are in and who is out, so there may be some changes.

Although understandably the organisers are upset that some of the big names like Armstrong, who have ridden in the past, are not down to take part, it is probable that the teams of Spiuk and Kaiku will be very competitive and liven up proceedings. For these smaller teams there are no training races with a future goal in mind; taking part in a race of this calibre is the goal. The next five days will tell and I will report daily on the proceedings with news and interviews.

Magpie Latham reporting from Cataluña.

 
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