MADRID (AFP) – The cycling season resumed following the coronavirus lockdown yesterday with a host of the sport’s big guns taking part in the opening stage of the Vuelta a Burgos.
The 2020 edition of the stage race in Spain featured a strong peloton, with riders preparing for a hectic run of prestigious events, with the three Grand Tours to be held in quick succession due to the COVID-19 outbreak.
The UCI World Tour resumes on Saturday with the Strade Bianche.
Professional cycling ground to a halt four months ago, with the last top-level race the Paris-Nice in March, which saw the final stage cancelled.
In February, the UAE Tour ended early due to an outbreak of COVID-19, with Colombian Fernando Gaviria one of the first athletes in the world to test positive for the virus.
UAE Team Emirates sprinter Gaviria, who did not confirm he had recovered until March 26 and did not travel back to Colombia until April, will be in action in Spain this week.
“It’s time to pick up where we left off,” he told his team’s website, saying he was happy just to feel normal on a bike again.
Gaviria’s teammate Fabio Aru said, “We are all eager to be able to pin a race number on our backs again and be back in the peloton.”
Ineos’ Giro d’Italia champion Richard Carapaz and Vuelta a Burgos double defending champion Ivan Sosa will face stiff competition in Spain this week.
Gaviria will be bidding for the sprints while veteran speed king Mark Cavendish is also back in the saddle after illness.
In the first of five stages around the northen Spanish region, local hero Alejandro Valverde will likely be in the mix up the final stretch of a short, sharp ascent to the Mirador Del Castillo, which overlooks the town.
The race culminates on Saturday, by which time early-season form man Nairo Quintana of Arkea will have been able to judge his fitness over two mountain stages.
Mads Pedersen will be easily picked out in his world champion rainbow jersey, while the appearance of 20-year-old Remco Evenepoel, a former Belgium youth football international, is hotly anticipated.
Mikel Landa, one of cycling’s nearly men, is targetting victory for his new Bahrain McLaren team, which is managed by Rod Ellingworth and where he is supported by Cavendish.
The 35-year-old British sprinter has 30 Tour de France stage wins to his name, but said he is going to Burgos for Landa.
“We are going there to support Mikel, he’s in incredible form,” Cavendish said.
But Sports Director Gorazd Stangelj said the Manxman would also get his moment in the sun.
“We have tailored our strategy to open up a GC opportunity for Mikel, and sprint wins for Mark,” he said.