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52nd Ruta del Sol / Tour of Andalusia Preview
 
By Fabio
Date: 2/12/2006
52nd Ruta del Sol / Tour of Andalusia Preview
 

After making their season debut this past weekend on the well-known Balearic island of Mallorca, the Spanish road cycling circus keeps living up to tradition as they move to continental Spain, and notably its southernmost part, for the 52nd "Vuelta a Andalucía-Ruta Ciclista del Sol", whose route was officially unveiled a few days ago in Sevilla, main city of the Andalusian region, and finishing point of the contest. The event is set to run from February 12-16, and grace the roads of six Andalusian provinces (Málaga, Granada, Jaén, Córdoba, Cádiz y Sevilla. Only Huelva and Almería are "benched" this year), covering a cumulative distance of 828.9 km.

Fourteen teams - half of them from Spain and as many from abroad, half of them proudly boasting their Pro Tour licenses and as many holding their "professional team" status only - of just seven riders each, totalling a start list of no more than 98 guys, - will be at start line at Malaga province seaside resort of Antequera come Sunday morning. The comparatively small rosters (a "novelty" already tested twelve months ago, with satisfactory results) are not the only peculiarities of the 2006 Ruta. Also the parcours is quite unusual, with no mountain top finishes and no "seaside" finishes. But plenty of mid-stage climbing - with thirteen Cat. 3 ascents and one second category difficulty on the menu, which, combined to no less than ten Metas Volantes and notably the "limited" team rosters, is likely to make for very hectic and hard-fought competition. So that we'd better not take plenty of sprint finishes for granted.

Even if plenty of sprint finishes is perhaps what we should hope for. At least with guys like Boonen, Petacchi, Freire and other gun sprinters in the pack: this race provides fans with the opportunity to see the first clash of the year between the top two fastmen around, and the two riders who stole most of the show - due to their performances on the bike - so far this season. The Belgian sensation - aka reigning world road race champion, and set to make the headlines also because of the new "golden" helmet he's going to show off for the first time at the Ruta startline - was by far the most impressive guy over the first couple weeks of racing, courtesy of his incredible winning streak in Qatar (no less than 6 victories: GP Doha as well as 4 stages and the overall at the local Tour), that took his career tally up to 46 wins. Serge Baguet, Wilfried Cretskens, Steven De Jongh, Kevin Hulsmans, Matteo Tosatto and "American" Guido Trenti will be assisting Boonen in his bid for further glory. Or maybe go for some personal achievements if possible.

But when it comes to his (presumed) chief rival, the "Sprinter Gentleman" looks up to the task: at least if we look at what we've seen in the only race he has taken part in so far this season: Alessandro Petacchi replied to Boonen's "Arabic" showdown the GP Costa Etruschi, as he finished off the great leadout job done by his teammates and gave his new squad Milram their first ever victory. All of the above no longer than eight days ago, so that, despite his "lighter" winter training - at last if compared to past years - AleJet seems to be in a good condition. But we'll be looking for more about it on the roads of southern Spain. Roads that saw the guy hit the podium as stage winner at both Córdoba and Chiclana de la Frontera in the 2005 Vuelta.

Both riders should watch out for Oscar Freire anyway. After a poor 2005, the three-time World champion is arguably looking for an early revenge - and a huge morale boost - on both Alessandro The Great and the guy who took the rainbow jersey off Oscar's own shoulders. And is there a better place for that than Freire's own country? The Spaniard is not the only alternative to the Petacchi-Boonen clash of giants though. Other top sprinters might have plenty of things to say. To start from Baden Cooke from OZ and Brazilian Luciano Pagliarini.

And to continue with Max Van Heeswijk, co-leader of Lance Armstrong's former team Discovery Channel (the U.S.-based team fields a "multinational" bunch of riders at their European debut, who come from six different countries, but none of them from the U.S.) - along with Andalusia's own Manolo "Triki" Beltrán. The gun sprinter from the Netherlands is not new to winning sprints on Ruta del Sol roads, and we wouldn't be surprised to see the guy make new additions to his Andalusian palmares, that features a 1998 stage success but notably the triumphs he got at Benalmádena and Beltrán's hometown Jaén two years ago. "Triki" didn't have stellar performances this past season, but the team still believes in his chances, and the man is eager to pay them back with a good result on home soil.

And why not a GC win? Regardless of the lack of mountain top finishes and the apparently easier parcours, Andalusia is not Qatar. Tom Boonen might win some stages, but we can hardly see him (or any other aforementioned sprinters) at the top of the overall come Thursday evening. So who can be the main GC contenders? Perhaps it could be Manolo Beltrán, as we wrote earlier, or maybe the same defending champion of the event, Francisco "Paco" Cabello, another Andalusian rider, who finally managed to clinch his first "home win" twelve months ago after an impressive string of placings in the past editions of the Ruta. The man from the Granada area will be leading the "home team" Andalucía-Paul Versan, co-sponsored by Andalusia's local government, and hoping that another excellent performance by local idol Cabello, at his 17th season in the pro ranks - may help the squad - that started as a "Continental" one but ascended to the "Professional Team" ranks - find a place in the 2006 Tour of Spain peloton.

We mentioned Freire's (and Beltrán's) thirst for revenge. But there's at least another Spanish guy looking for redemption: Oscar Sevilla, making his 2006 season debut at Antequera, and spearheading Germany's T-Mobile team. "Of course, I’m highly motivated on home roads", said the 29-year old climber with regards to the race. "I trained well and feel fine". Particulary at the stages in the low mountain range, Sevilla is looking to test his form. Besides him, seven Classic specialists are ready to fine-tune their form for the first season highlights in spring. T-Mobile sporting manager Valerio Piva also pins his hopes on Lorenzo Bernucci and Marcus Burghardt, who had their first competitive outings at the Tour of Mallorca, and showed appealing performances. "Our goal is to gradually gain momentum for the spring highlights", said the Italian with regards to the Belgian classics Omloop Het Volk and Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne races later in the month. Overall, similar to last year, Piva expects the Spanish riders to dominate the event.

Other home riders to watch out for could be Juan Miguel Mercado and Carlos "Fito" García Quesada. The former is the leader of the French team Agritubel, which he recently joined, and may want to make new additions to his tally after his 2005 (stage and overall) victories at the Tour of Austria. The latter, spearheading Belgium's Unibet.Com. (formerly Mr. Bookmaker) hopes to repeat the excellent performances he had in the past season. Also on Ruta soil, as the man from Granada was first stage winner and overall leader of the 2005 Tour of Andalusia. A top performance that adds to his overall triumphs at Vuelta Castilla-León and Clásica de Ordizia. And to his second place overall at 2004 Ruta del Sol. All of the above turning him into one of the main suspects to figure on the Sevilla podium four days from now.

Other teams gracing the roads of southern Spain will be Freire's Rabobank (with Graeme Brown providing a good sprinting alternative to the Spaniard, and also Horrillo and Dekker as possible protagonists) as well as Comunitat Valenciana (but without Tour of Mallorca GC winner David Bernabeu), the yellow guys of Saunier Duval, the combative Kaiku and Relax-Gan, the orange warriors of Euskaltel-Euskadi (led by Joseba Albizu, Iñaki Isiasi and Iker Flores) and the latest addition to the Spanish bunch, Tres Molinos Resort, that nonetheless field some excellent and accomplished riders such as Santos González, Jan Hruska, Toni Tauler and the tiny climber Jorge Ferrio Luque.

52nd Ruta del Sol / Vuelta a Andalucía: Stages.

Stage 1 (Sunday, February 12): Antequera (Málaga) to Otura (Granada) - 161.4 km. The toughest climb - of the whole race too - is the Cat. 2 Puerto de los Bermejales, but riders have to take on also the Third Category Altos of los Alazores, Navazo and Lucero. (Profile Here - PDF File)

Stage 2 (Monday, February 13): Guardia de Jaén to Jaén, 157.2 km. Rour difficulties on today's menu: Puerto de las Siete Pilillas, Alto de Bélmez, Alto de Guadahortuna and Alto de La Guardia (all of them belonging to Cat.3). (Profile Here - PDF File)

Stage 3 (Tuesday, February 14): Cabra (Córdoba) to Córdoba, 174.1 km. An easier ride with just one climb: the Third Category Alto de Villafranca. (Profile Here - PDF File)

Stage 4 (Wednesday, February 15): Ecija to Ronda, 163.6 km. With two Cat.3 thingies in between: Alto de los Barrancos Blancos and Alto del Saltillo. (Profile Here - PDF File)

Stage 5 (Thursday, February 16): Olvera (Cádiz) to Sevilla, 172.6 km. The final effort into Andalusia's capital city. A bunch sprint perhaps, but not before climbing the Cat. 3 Altos of Gudamanil and Carmona, both located in the Sevilla province. (Profile Here - PDF File)

52nd Ruta del Sol / Vuelta a Andalucía: Startlist.

ANDALUCIA-PAUL VERSAN (Spa)
1. CABELLO, Francisco (Spa)
2. GARCIA QUESADA, Adolfo "Fito" (Spa)
3. MARICHALAR, Pedro Luis (Spa)
4. PÉREZ ROMERO, Luis (Spa)
5. OLMO, Juan (Spa)
6. ORTEGA, Manuel (Spa)
7. VAZQUEZ, Manuel (Spa)

MILRAM (Ita)
11. PETACCHI, Alessandro (Ita)
12. VELO, Marco (Ita)
13. ONGARATO, Alberto (Ita)
14. DEN BAKKER, Maarten (Hol)
15. CADAMURO, Simone (Ita)
16. KNEES, Cristian (Ger)
17. SACCHI, Fabio (Ita)

QUICK STEP-INNERGETIC (Bel)
21. BOONEN, Tom (Bel)
22. TOSATTO, Matteo (Ita)
23. HULSMAN, Kevin (Bel)
24. TRENTI, Guido (USA)
25. BAGUET, Serge (Bel)
26. CRETSKENS, Wilfried (Bel)
27. DE JONGH, Steven (Bel)

RABOBANK (Hol)
31. FREIRE GÓMEZ, Óscar (Spa)
32. HORRILLO MUÑOZ, Pedro (Spa)
33. DEKKER, Erik (Hol)
34. HAYMAN, Mathew (Aus)
35. WAUTERS, Marc (Bel)
36. BROWN, Graeme (Aus)
37. BOVEN, Jan (Hol)

UNIBET.COM (Bel)
41. GARCIA QUESADA, Carlos (Spa)
42. PASAMONTES, Luis (Spa)
43. DOMINGUEZ, Juan Carlos (Spa)
44. COOKE, Baden (Aus)
45. WILSON, Mattew (NZl)
46. GARDEYN, Gorik (Bel)
47. VANDENBROUCKE, Franck (Bel)

T-MOBILE TEAM (Ger)
51. SEVILLA RIBERA, Oscar (Spa)
52. WESEMANN, Steffen (Ger)
53. KLIER, Andreas (Ger)
54. NARDELLO, Daniele (Ita)
55. IVANOV, Serguei (Rus)
56. BURGHARDT, Marcus (Ger)
57. BERNUCCI, Lorenzo (Ita)

AGRITUBEL (Fra)
61. MERCADO. Juan Miguel (Spa)
62. CALVENTE, Manuel (Spa)
63. CANOUET, Gilles (Fra)
64. OLIVIER, Lenaic (Fra)
65. AGNOLUTTO, Christophe (Fra)
66.
67. LAURENT, Christophe (Fra)

DISCOVERY CHANNEL PRO CYCLING TEAM (USA)
71. BELTRÁN MARTÍNEZ, Manuel (Spa)
72. VAN HEESWIJK, Max (Hol)
73. DEVOLDER, Stijn (Bel)
74. HAMMOND, Roger (GBR)
75. HOSTE, Leif (Bel)
76. MIKHAILOV, Guennadi (Rus)
77. JOACHIM, Benoit (Lux)

SAUNIER DUVAL (Spa)
81. FERNÁNDEZ DE LA PUEBLA, Alberto (Spa)
82. GÓMEZ GÓMEZ, Ángel (Spa)
83. BERTOGLIATI, Rubens (Swi)
84. FRITSCH, Nicolás (Fra)
85. PAGLIARINI MENDONCA, Luciano André (Bra)
86. RINERO, Christophe (Fra)
87. ZAUGG, Oliver (Swi)

COMUNITAT VALENCIANA (Spa)
91. OLMO MENACHO, Antonio (Spa)
92. LLORET ZARAGOZA, Manuel (Spa)
93. MARTINEZ, José Luis (Spa)
94. BONILLA, José Adrián (Cri)
95. CHUZHDA, Oleg (Ukr)
96. PEIRÓ MARQUENO, Vicente (Spa)
97. BALLESTER, Vicente (Spa)

KAIKU (Spa)
101. LOPEZ GIL, José Antonio (Spa)
102. SERRANO, Fernando (Spa)
103. BERASATEGUI, Antonio (Spa)
104. BRU, Jon (Spa)
105. OARBEASCOA, Ruben (Spa)
106. AZANZA, Jorge (Spa)

RELAX-GAM (Spa)
111. ALMAGRO VALERO, José Mario (Spa)
112. DE SÁRRAGA, Mario (Spa)
113. GARCÍA MARÍN, Jorge (Spa)
114. HERNÁNDEZ, Jesús (Spa)
115. PELANEK, Lubos (Cze)
116. GARCÍA CASARRUBIOS, Óscar (Spa)
117. TERCIADO SACEDO, Francisco José (Spa)

EUSKALTEL-EUSKADI (Spa)
121. ALBIZU, Joseba (Spa)
122. FLORES, Iker (Spa)
123. ISASI, Iñaki (Spa)
124. ALBIZURI, Beñat (Spa)
125. VERDUGO, Gorka (Spa)
126. FERNANDEZ DE LARREA, Koldo (Spa)
127. LUENGO, Antón (Spa)

3 MOLINOS RESORT (Spa)
131. GONZALEZ, Santos (Spa)
132. HRUSKA, Jan (Cze)
133. FERRIO, Jorge (Spa)
134. DEL NERO, Jesús (Spa)
135. TAULER, Antonio (Spa)
136. CERRATO, Isidro (Spa)
137. BUENDÍA, Jesús (Spa)

Ruta del Sol / Vuelta a Andalucía: Winners.

1925. Ricardo Montero (Spa)
1955. José Gomez del Moral (Spa)
1956. Miguel Bover (Spa)
1957. Hortensio Vidaurreta (Spa)
1958. Gabriel Company (Spa)
1959. Miguel Pacheco (Spa)
1960. Gabriel Mas (Spa)
1961. Angelino Soler (Spa)
1962. José Antonio Momene (Spa)
1963. Antonio Barrutia (Spa)
1964. Rudi Altig (Ger)
1965. José Segu (Spa)
1966. Jésus Aranzabal (Spa)
1967. Ramon Mendiburu (Spa)
1968. Antoine Houbrechts (Bel)
1969. Antonio Gomez del Moral (Spa)
1970. José Gomez Lucas (Spa)
1971. Jean Pierre Monsére (Bel)
1972. Jan Krekels (Hol)
1973. Roger Pintens (Bel)
1974. Freddy Maertens (Bel)
1975. Freddy Maertens (Bel)
1976. Gerrie Knetemann (Hol)
1977. Dietrich Thurau (Ger)
1979. Dietrich Thurau (Ger)
1980. Daniel Willems (Bel)
1981. Adri Schipper (Hol)
1982. Marc Sergeant (Bel)
1983. Eduardo Chozas (Spa)
1984. Julian Gorospe (Spa)
1985. Rolf Gölz (Ger)
1986. Steven Rooks (Hol)
1987. Rolf Gölz (Ger)
1988. Edwig Van Hooydonck (Bel)
1989. Fabio Bordonali (Ita)
1990. Eduardo Chozas (Spa)
1991. Roberto Lezaun (Spa)
1992. Miguel Angel Martinez (Spa)
1993. Julian Gorospe (Spa)
1994. Stefano Della Santa (Ita)
1995. Stefano Della Santa (Ita)
1996. Neil Stephens (Aus)
1997. Erik Zabel (Ger)
1998. Marcelino Garcia (Spa)
1999. Javier Pascual Rodriguez (Spa)
2000. Miguel Angel Peña (Spa)
2001. Erik Dekker (Hol)
2002. Antonio Colom (Spa)
2003. Javier Pascual Llorente (Spa)
2003. Juan Carlos Dominguez (Spa)
2005. Francisco Cabello (Spa)

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