All eyes may be on northern Europe ahead of the two biggest cobbled Classics of the year, but packed in between is the Tour of the Basque Country, also known as the Vuelta Ciclista al Pais Vasco, is also set to roll out next week.
Starting on Monday (April 7), several teams are sending strong line-ups to Ordizia for the 54th edition of the Itzulia, as the race for WorldTour points continues. The rouleurs may be busy in the one-day races of Belgium and northern France, but the men likely to contest the Grand Tours will be occupied in the Basque Country.
In-form Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo) currently leads the way in the individual rankings and he will be looking to score some more early-season triumphs over his biggest rivals ahead of the Tour de France.
Defending champion Nairo Quintana (Movistar) will not return, but the Spanish team will instead boast the firepower of Alejandro Valverde for the six-stage race.
Conveniently slotted between the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix, the race is far more than just a means for fans to whittle down the hours between the two Monuments however.
Quintana’s victory last year set up a season which culminated in second place – and the white and polka-dot jerseys – at the Tour de France. Previous winners include Grand Tour champions Contador, Denis Menchov, Danilo Di Luca, Juan Jose Cobo, and Chris Horner.
This year’s line-up is similarly strong, with an elite list of riders looking to follow in Quintana’s footsteps in 2014.
Read on for our in-depth preview of the route and riders, and share your own tips on who will be crowned champion this year in the RCUK Forum.