With the absence of Alberto Contador and Alejandro Valverde, Chris Horner, Andreas Kloden and Samuel Sanchez are favorites for the race, that runs from April 2-7.
Rodriguez and Sanchez in the 2011 Basque race. Photo: EFE
The Tour of the Basque Country, Spain's second most important professional bike race, starts on Monday in Gueñes, with Olympic gold medalist and Euskaltel-Euskadi rider Samuel Sanchez, and former Basque tour winners Chris Horner and Andreas Kloden as the main attractions in this 52th edition.
Other top names lining up are Wiggins and Froome (SKY), Joaquim Rodriguez and Dani Moreno (Katusha), Cunego and Scarponi (Lampre), Nibali (Liquigas-Cannondale), Tony Martin (Omega Pharma-Quickstep), Van den Broeck (Lotto Belisol), Gesink (Rabobank), Dani Martin (Garmin Barracuda) and Paulinho and Navarro (Saxo Bank).
The registered will complete six stages, covering a total distance of 835.6 kilometres riding across Gipuzkoa, Navarre, Alava and Bizkaia.
The last stage in the Tour of the Basque Country is an individual time trial of 18.9 kilometres in Oñati, Gipuzkoa. It is very likely that the race will be decided in the 6th and final stage.
Before that time trial, riders will have to go through the 'first category climbs' of Sanctuary of Arrate and Ibardin, that will also prove decisive.
Saved by the bell
A last-minute deal with the Basque bank Sabadell Guipuzcoano saved the financially troubled event after organizers had set a deadline of March 5 for a budget shortfall of 150,000 euros ($198,500) to be met.
The agreement, that also saved the 31-year-old San Sebastian Classic, made the Basque bank the main sponsor of the cycling race for two years.
Organizers had blamed Spain's severe economic difficulties, leading to a drop in sponsorship, for the event's financial difficulties.
Five-times Tour champion Jacques Anquetil and 1973 Tour winner Luis Ocaña have clinched the Tour of the Basque Country. The race, held in Spain's cycling heartland, has enormous followings among local fans, boosted by Easter holiday makers.
Route of the 52th Tour of the Basque Country
1st stage: 2 April - Gueñes-Gueñes (153 Km.)
2nd stage: 3 April - Gueñes-Vitoria-Gasteiz (165,7 Km.)
3rd stage: 4 April – Vitoria-Gasteiz-Eibar-Arrate (164 Km.)
4th stage: 5 April - Eibar-Bera-Ibardin (151 Km.)
5th stage: 6 April - Bera-Oñati (183 Km.)
6th stage: 7 April Oñati-Oñati (Time trial 18,9 Km.)