Whilst many cycling fans will be focussed on the Flemish Classics and the upcoming Paris-Roubaix, don’t forget the stage racing in Spain. The Tour of Catalonia is done and today sees the Queen Stage of the Tour of the Basque Country, finishing at the San Antonio sanctuary above the small town of Eibar, the place where BH bikes first began, turning its metal working skills from gun barrel manufacture into bicycle frame tubes. Last year’s finish saw Contador leave Evans and Samuel Sanchez behind and today we should see Samuel Sanchez in the mix, this time under pressure from the likes of Valverde, Gesink and local promise Beñat Intxausti.
Catalonia and the Basque country are Spain’s two most prosperous regions, the Basque country has lots of heavy industry near the coast but some fantastic roads inland. The locals are also big cycling fans. The Pais Vasco lies on the edge of the Pyrenees and the region includes many steep climbs.
It’s a worthy race to win in its own right and the tough course means no one wins by accident, even stage wins are hard to come by. But whoever wins today’s stage can also claim to be a serious contender for the upcoming Ardennes races, notably Liège-Bastogne-Liège. L-B-L might be a one day classic in Belgium but it features the vertical gain of a mountain stage of the Tour.
The Valverde Case
But one thing with the build up is worrying me: Alejandro Valverde. The UCI brought a hearing against Valverde and Spanish Federation to the Court for arbitration in sport but the result is yet to be declared. So whilst the judges deliberate, Valverde is free to race.
Fair enough you might say, he’s innocent until a court finds him guilty. But sport is more than a legal arena, Valverde’s employment rights might be valid but many fans will find his ongoing presence in the bunch distasteful. I wrote a piece last month on how Valverde’s credibility is fading fast. Whilst I can just about stomach his presence in Spain, I’m getting concerned he’s using these races to prepare for the Ardennes classics in case the CAS doesn’t rule soon.
It’s not just me who is concerned, even riders are getting frustrated, for example HTC-Columbia’s Marco Pinotti wrote that “the “no credibility award” is going to be won hands down” on his Twitter account soon after Valverde was awarded the win in Stage 2, although Pinotti subsequently retracted the message.