The three-time winner of the Vuelta al Pais Vasco – or ‘Tour of the Basque Country’ – returns to the race for its 56th edition. Alberto Contador, who won the race in 2014, 2009 and 2008 will lead a Tinkoff roster fresh from strong performances at the Volta Ciclista a Catalunya and Paris-Nice, where Alberto finished second in the GC in both.

wx2S0A7649This UCI World Tour race takes place over six days, with the opening 144km stage starting in Etxebarria in the centre of the Basque Country, ending with a time trial in Eibar, close to the race’s start town. The line-up pits Alberto against adversaries both from previous editions of the race, as well as earlier stage races from this season, on a parcours that could conservatively be called ‘undulating’. While the official route guide lists two mountain stages, the Basque Country is a mountainous area, and as such, only one stage does not include any categorised climbs – the final day’s time trial, and even this stage includes a 5km ascent. All of the other stages have at least one second category climb.

Having won the GC in the race on three occasions, Alberto is no stranger to the race and to the region, and has taken stage wins in each of the editions of the race in which he won the GC. In similar fashion to the recent Volta Ciclista a Catalunya, the Vuelta al Pais Vasco is a race for the climbers, and will be a strong indicator of form for the season’s Grand Tours.

Tinkoff’s leader heads to the race “eager and excited. The Vuelta al Pais Vasco is a race that I like a lot and in which I usually perform quite well,” he explains. “We have to see how the legs respond, because after Catalunya I focused myself on resting, as the effort is already becoming noticeable. This is the last race I do before the break that will precede my preparation for the Tour de France.

In what regards the race, Contador expects it to be “very tough, because all days are very, very demanding and we must be attentive.” He adds the factor of the weather, as the forecast calls for a rainy week. “In the Basque Country it always is an important factor,” he says, although he believes that in what concerns the way the race plays out, the rivals will be a key. “Above all we must take into account the rivals. It is a very close race and the level is very high, although the weather will play an important role, because they are stages that go up and down, and if the weather is bad, it will be even tougher.”