Team Sky’s Tour de France champion Wiggins will be joined by previous Catalunya winners Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha), Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) and Michele Scarponi (Lampre-Merida) in what promises to be a fiercely competitive field.
Canada’s Ryder Hesjedal (Garmin-Sharp), who pipped Rodriguez to the Giro d’Italia maglia rosa last year, makes his first major appearance of the season in the undulating seven-day stage race in Spain, which finishes on Sunday 24th March with an eight-lap criterium-style stage in Barcelona.
Hesjedal will be joined American team-mates Christian Valde Velde, David Zabriskie and Tom Danielson, the trio making their first appearance for Garmin-Sharp since the completion of six-month suspensions from the fall-out of the US Anti-Doping Agency’s case against Lance Armstrong.
With Hesjedal shaping his season around the defence of his Giro crown, the Canadian’s performance against Wiggins in Catalunya will be very much under the microscope.
Wiggins first appearance of the 2013 season came in last month’s Tour of Oman, where the 32-year-old rode in support of team-mate Chris Froome, the eventual winner. Wiggins, whose main focus of the current season is May’s Giro, rode a quiet race finishing more than 20 minutes down on Froome in 74th place.
But the Tour of Catalunya should see the Briton take a more prominent role as Wiggins aims to give his new season a kick-start following his Olympic and Tour heroics of 2012.
A strong Sky team also includes all-rounders Rigoberto Uran, David Lopez and Dario Caltaldo, as well as domestiques Peter Kennaugh, Christian Knees, Danny Pate and Josh Edmondson.
Having appeared very much off the pace in Arabian peninsula, Wiggins will have his work cut out in Catalunya against the in-form Rodriguez, who won stages in both Oman and last week’s Tirreno-Adriatico.
A podium in both the Giro and Vuelta a Espana last year, Rodriguez has started the season in promising form following the off-season concerns with Katusha’s WorldTour licence. The Spaniard was fourth on GC in Oman and fifth in last week’s Tirreno-Adriatico and looks to be the man to watch in Catalunya.
Valverde enters the race on the back of his overall win in the Vuelta a Andalucia. The veteran is part of a strong Movistar team that will also harbour hopes of a high GC finish for Colombian Nairo Quintana, who was best climber of the 2011 edition of the race.
Defending champion Michael Albasini, a stage winner in Tirreno-Adriatico, is not part of the GreenEdge squad for Catalunya. The Australian team will push Simon Gerrans for GC – although it remains to be seen how Gerrans will feel following Sunday’s weather-affected Milan-San Remo.
Other names to watch include Lotto-Belisol’s Jurgen van den Broeck, third in last year’s race, Igor Anton (Euskaltel), Nicholas Roche (Saxo Bank-Tinkoff), Damiano Cunego (Lampre) and Rabobank pair Robert Gesink and Steven Kruijswijk.
Unlike many week-long stage races, the Volta a Catalunya – which is the longest running stage race in Spain (the first edition was held in 1911) – features no time trials while none of the seven stages is a typical flat ride suited to sprinters.
Stage three concludes with a summit finish at Vallter 2000 after a 12km climb while the 218km stage four – the race’s queen stage – should see a thrilling battle on the Port Ainé climb, the last of five categorised climbs.
The final day of the race will feature eight ascents of the famous Alto de Montjuic overlooking central Barcelona.
Eurosport will be showing six-and-a-half hours of live racing throughout the week with the conclusion of six of the seven stages brought to you live by Sean Kelly and David Harmon.
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