Vuelta a Murcia preview

The effects of the global economic crisis have impacted on Spain much more than most other countries and have forced the organisers of the Tour of Murcia – now more dependent on private funding – to progressively reduce the length of their race from five days in 2010, to three last year and now to two – a mountain-top finish and an individual time trial in the city of Murcia. The time trial is being financed by and named after Cash Europa. [If only – Ed.]

Taking part in this weekend’s 32nd edition of the Vuelta Ciclista a la Region de Murcia – Trofeo Alfonzo Guzman – to give the race its full title – will be 19 teams composed of seven riders apiece, four of whom have ProTeam status: Movistar, Euskaltel-Euskadi, Rabobank and Vacansoleil-DCM. The remaining teams include two national squads from Spain and Russia.

What kind of race is it?

The race, which is classified 2.1 on the UCI European Tour, used to take place over six stages but since 1993 it’s been progressively whittled down along with the prize money, a pot of €22, 971 of which €7,657 go to the overall winner.

The race has not been without controversy. In 2010 organisers took the unusual step of banning all Italian teams from taking part as a result of the Italian Cycling Federation (CONI) preventing local boy Alejandro Valverde from competing on Italian soil. There are no Italian teams in the mix this year, although Acqua & Sapone did take part last year.

Spaniards have topped this event more than any other nation. It was first run in 1981 as an amateur event and won by Pedro Delgado. It turned pro in 1985 and the following year was won by Miguel Indurain. 1999 saw Marco Pantani on the top step of the podium. A trophy is awarded in his memory to the rider who wins the first stage mountain-top finish. Valverde is the only triple winner (2004, 2007 and 2008) but he’s not taking part this year. Instead he’ll be participating in Paris-Nice.

The most recent winners of the race are:

2007: Alejandro Valverde (Caisse d’Epargne)

2008: Alejandro Valverde (Caisse d’Epargne)

2009: Denis Menchov (Rabobank)

2010: Frantisek Rabon (HTC-Columbia)

2011: Alberto Contador (Saxo Bank Sungard)

What happened last year?

Vuelta a Murcia 2011 podium (image courtesy of race website)

Last year’s event was won by Alberto Contador (Saxo Bank Sungard) who, having finished third in the 2008 race, recorded his first win since being contentiously cleared of a positive control in the previous year’s Tour de France by the Spanish Federation. He recorded an impressive 14:10 in the 12.4km time-trial to finish eight seconds ahead of Jerome Coppel (Saur-Sojasun) – who also finished second in the overall standings – and Denis Menchov (Geox-TMC) who was third, 12 seconds down.

Contador had seized the race lead on stage two from neo-pro Michael Matthews (Rabobank), who had taken victory on the opening sprint stage. He’d launched one of his trademark attacks at the base of the final climb, the Alto Collado Bermeyo, of the 183.2km route between Estrella de Levante and Sierra Espuna, and jumped again with 400 metres to go to cross the finish line five seconds ahead of Menchov and Coppel.

1. Alberto Contador (Saxo Bank Sungard) 9:27:18

2. Jerome Coppel (Saur-Sojasun) +0:11

3. Denis Menchov (Geox-TMC) +0:17

4. Wout Poels (Vacansoleil-DCM) +1:46

5. Fabio Duarte (Geox-TMC) +1:47

6. Alexandre Geniez (Skil-Shimano) +2:04

7. Fabrice Jeandesboz (Saur-Sojasun) +2:06

8. Francisco Perez (Movistar) +2:12

9. David Blanco (Geox-TMC) +2:21

10. Vasil Kiryienka (Movistar) +2:22.

Team Geox-TMC won the team prize, Laurent Mangel (Saur-Sojasun) was top dog in the mountains and Albert Timmer (Skil- Shimano) won the sprints jersey. Alberto also took the points jersey. However, following his recently announced ban, last year’s results will have to be rewritten.

This year’s race

This year’s race has been shorn of its first sprint stage, leaving the traditional mountain-top finish and the relatively flat but technical individual time-trial around Murcia.

Stage 1 from Balneario de Archena to Sierra Espuna is one for the climbers as it takes in four successive climbs, as follows:

  • 28.1km Alto de Pliego-Espuna (cat. 3)
  • 105.2km Alto de la Atalaya (cat. 2)
  • 174.4km Alto de Aledo (cat. 3)
  • 184.9km Alto Collado Bermejo and Cima Marco Pantani (cat. 1)

Stage 1 - Balneario de Archena to Siera de Espuna, 192.8km

The second stage, a 12.3km individual time trial, is a relatively flat but technical stage and appropriately takes in the Avenida Miguel Indurain.

Stage 2 - Cash Europe Murcia individual time trial, 12.3km

Who to watch

Given the parcours, we’re either looking for a climber who can put plenty of time into the opposition on the first day’s climb or a rider who can both climb and time-trial. Names of recent previous winners and contenders come to mind, but none of them are taking part this year.

Can Samu triumph? (image courtesy of Samu Sanchez's website)

Looking at the list of participants several names leap out. Endura Racing’s Jonathan Tiernan-Locke recently triumphed at the Tours de Haut Var and Mediterraneen– but can he time-trial? Answers on a postcard, please.

Movistar have Vuelta winner Juan Jose Cobo and easily the scariest man in the peloton, Vladimir Karpets. Vacansoleil have Johnny ‘winner: best stunt Oscar’ Hoogerland and Wout Poels. No prizes for guessing that the former will get in a breakaway.

But maybe this is going to be a battle of the teams in orange. In the blue corner we have Rabobank’s Robert Gesink, who let’s not forget, consolidated his lead in last year’s Tour of Oman by winning the time trial. In the red corner is Asturian Sammy Sanchez, from the one part of Spain not even the Moors bothered to conquer, riding for the Basques. So who’s it going to be? We’ll have to wait until Sunday afternoon to find out.

With so much racing going on this weekend, VeloVoices is going to be just keeping a beady eye on the main contenders.

Race details

Saturday March 3rd: Stage 1 – Balneario de Archena to Sierra Espuna, 198.2km

Sunday March 4th: Stage 2 – Cash Europa (Murcia) to Gran Vía-Caja Murcia, 12.3km individual time trial

The Vuelta a Murcia starts on Saturday 3rd March and concludes on Sunday 4th. Check for television/video coverage.

Link: Vuelta a Murcia official website

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