Eddie Dunbar and Sam Bennett will both start Tuesday's opening stage of the Vuelta a Burgos in northern Spain as the professional cycling season re-emerges from its four-month lockdown.
The five-stage tour, which features two mountain-top finishes, the other three likely to favour the sprinters, should suit both Dunbar and Bennett in parts as both Irish riders look towards the bigger races in the weeks to come.
Dunbar, who last raced at the end of February in the UAE Tour before that race was cancelled outright with two stages remaining due to coronavirus, is one of the seven riders confirmed for Team Ineos, including the Spaniard Carlos Rodriguez.
For Bennett it’s also the chance to resume duties with his new team Deceuninck-Quick-Step. The Tipperary rider had already taken victories in 2020 at the first stage of the Santos Tour Down Under and the Race Torquay, his last race of the start of the calendar being Paris-Nice. “It feels great to know you are back to racing,” he said.
The Spanish race is also seen as the first major test of the new Covid-19 protocols around professional cycling, ahead of the first UCI World Tour event of the new 2020 schedule, Saturday’s Strade Bianche in Italy.
Although the Burgos region in the north is among one of the least affected areas of Spain, there is a sense of nervous anticipation among teams, who have already gone to considerable cost to ensure their safe ‘bubbles’ around riders and staff. It is however staged across the wide open area between Madrid and the Cantabrian mountains, and away from the current trouble spots in Spain, including Barcelona.
Unlike some other races, including the Tour of Poland, which banned fans and media for its UCI World Tour dates next week, Burgos is also allowing the public and media to show up.
Usually staged between the end of the Tour de France and ahead of the Vuelta a España, Burgos is also one of the few 2020 races to stick to its original date, the Tour now set to start on August 29th in Nice.
It’s also attracted a larger number of UCI teams than usual, 14 in all: the Colombian Iván Sosa also returns for Ineos, having won the last two editions of the race, with Saturday’s final stage, and the summit finish at Alto del Collado, likely decide to final general classification.
Britain's Mark Cavendish (Bahrain-Merida) is also down to start, as is world champion Mads Pedersen (Trek-Segafredo), Simon Yates (Mitchelton-Scott) and 2019 Giro d'Italia champion Richard Carapaz (Ineos).