Key Absences Mark Mountain-Heavy Vuelta a Espana 2010

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08/27/2010| 0 comments
by AP, with additional commentary by Roadcycling.com
Photo copyright Fotoreporter Sirotti.
Photo copyright Fotoreporter Sirotti.

Key Absences Mark Mountain-Heavy Vuelta a Espana 2010

The Spanish Vuelta begins Saturday with a handful of riders seeking to make the most of the absence of key rivals in a race that will heavily favor mountain specialists.

The Spanish Vuelta begins Saturday with a handful of riders seeking to make the most of the absence of key rivals in a race that will heavily favor mountain specialists.

The 65th edition of the Vuelta opens with a night team time trial through the winding streets of Seville and ends 21 stages and 2,081 miles later in Madrid on Sept. 19.

Time trials take a back seat to climbing stages, however, and the 2010 race includes six mountaintop finishes, one more than in 2009. A stage ending at Pal ski station brings the Pyrenees back onto the route after being left out in 2009.

Tour de France winner and Madrid native Alberto Contador is the most glaring absentee, while last year's winner, Alejandro Valverde, will not race due to a two-year doping suspension.

And with Samuel Sanchez - last year's runner-up - also missing, the stage is set for a group of young talents and veteran racers to compete in the last major road race of the year.

Andy Schlek looks likely to make an impact after matching Contador for almost the entire Tour de France, eventually finishing just 39 seconds behind the three-time champion. Schlek will ride in support of brother Frank, who has recovered from a broken collarbone in the Tour.

Andy put an upbeat message on his Twitter page, saying he feels in good shape and that his brother "is ready 4 Vuelta no doubt about that."

With only 37 miles of time trials, the route suits the climbing brothers from Luxembourg. Whether Andy has the legs to take on another major stage race so soon after the Tour is a doubt, however.

Denis Menchov, a Vuelta veteran with titles in 2005 and '07, will be a favorite for a third after his third-place finish in Paris.

Carlos Sastre, the 2008 Tour champion, has twice finished runner-up and victory this year would be a remarkable achievement for a 35-year-old rider who is taking part in all three major races this year. Sastre finished eighth in the Giro d'Italia and 20th in this year's Tour.

"I'm not going to set myself any targets, I'm just going to fight," the Ceverlo rider told Spain's AS newspaper. "I'm going into (the race) with my feet on the ground and with respect for the three weeks ahead of me."

Sastre sees Menchov as the pre-race favorite.

"He's won the race twice before and that's why I see him as the top contender," Sastre said. "You could say he's an 'intimate enemy' of mine - we've always had a good relationship on and off the bike."

Just days before the Vuelta was scheduled to begin, the Seville police force warned authorities that safety requirements need to be tightened up if the time trial through the city is to go ahead as planned.

The nocturnal time trial is one of several novelties the organizers have introduced to the race, including changing the color of the leader's jersey from gold to red.

Stay tuned to Roadcycling.com for extensive 2010 Vuelta a Espana coverage including news,

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