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Chris Horner earns No. 1 start bib at Tour of Basque Country

Defending champion Chris Horner (RadioShack) will line up with the No. 1 start bib for the upcoming Vuelta al País Vasco (April 4-9) in what should see a record number of North Americans start the six-day race.

Horner wants another txapela for his collection.

Horner made his season debut earlier this month with a solid fourth-place outing at the Volta a Catalunya and promises to be ready to defend his title at the Euskal Herriko Itzulia, as the race is called in the regional Basque language.

Officials released the preliminary start list that would be the envy of any race organizer.

Topping the list is Horner, who earned the most important European victory of his career last year with a combination of wily tactics and excellent form.

Horner will be supported by an excellent squad that includes 2000 winner Andreas Klöden, hot off winning the time trial at the Critérium International, local rider Haimar Zubeldia and Levi Leipheimer, who is expected to start after pulling out of the final day at the Volta a Catalunya when he was sitting second overall.

Other top names lining up are the Schleck brothers, with Fränk Schleck riding good form after winning the overall at Critérium International last weekend. Jens Voigt and Fabian Wegmann also bring firepower for Leopard-Trek.

Ivan Basso (Liquigas-Cannondale), Damiano Cunego (Lampre), Joaquim Rodríguez (Katusha), Oscar Freire and Robert Gesink (Rabobank), Jurgen Van den Broeck (Omega Pharma-Lotto) and Samuel Sánchez (Euskaltel-Euskadi) are some of the other GC-caliber riders set for what’s arguably the most difficult and challenging stage race in Spain. Alexander Vinokourov (Astana) and Denis Menchov and Carlos Sastre (Geox-TMC) are also penciled in to start.

Tony Martin, already a winner at Algarve and Paris-Nice, leads a very deep HTC-Highroad squad that also includes Peter Velits.

One name missing is two-time winner Alberto Contador (Saxo Bank-Sungard). The Basque tour was not on Contador’s schedule; instead, he chose to race (and won) the Catalunya tour last week. He will line up next at the Vuelta a Castilla y León, opening the door for Richie Porte to lead the team’s GC hopes.

Though the list could change before next Monday’s start, it looks like a record number of North American riders will participate in the race.

Garmin-Cervélo also brings a loaded squad, with Christian Vande Velde, Ryder Hesjedal and Dan Martin leading the way. Other North Americans include Matt Busche (RadioShack); Caleb Fairly, Tejay Van Garderen and Craig Lewis (all HTC-Highroad); Tom Danielson, Tom Peterson and Peter Stetina (Garmin-Cervélo); Timmy Duggan (Liquigas-Cannondale); and Chad Beyer, Chris Butler and Jeff Louder (all BMC). Garmin’s Andrew Talansky, though not on the preliminary start list, is also expected to start.

The 51st edition of the Basque tour will present a stiff challenge for Horner and the rest of the elite field, with no less than 31 rated climbs.

Preliminary start list for 51st Vuelta al País Vasco (April 4-9)

Director: EKIMOV
1. HORNER, Chris
2. KLÖDEN , Andreas
4. ZUBELDIA, Haimar
5. PAULINHO, Sergio
6. IRIZAR, Markel
7. BUSCHE, Matthew
8. ROVNY, Ivan

Team HTC-Highroad
Director: PIVA
11. MARTIN , Tony
12. PINOTTI, Marco
13. ALBASINI, Michael
14. FAIRLY, Caleb
15. HOWARD, Leigh
16. LEWIS, Craig
18. VELITS, Peter

21. FREIRE, Oscar
22. GESINK, Robert
23. SANCHEZ, Luis León
24. GARATE, Juan Manuel
25. NIERMANN, Grisch
26. BARREDO, Carlos
27. MARTENS, Paul
28. TANKINK, Bram

BMC Racing Team
31. KOHLER, Martin
33. FRANK, Mathias
35. BEYER, Chad
36. BUTLER, Chris
37. LOUDER, Jeff
38. MOINARD, Amaël

SKY Procycling
Director: YATES
41. ROGERS, Michael
42. URAN, Rigoberto
43. ZANDIO, Xabier
44. LOFKVIST, Thomas
45. CUMMINGS, Stephen
46. GERRANS, Simon
47. NORDHAUG, Lars Petter
48. KNEES, Christian

Lampre – ISD
Director: PIOVANI
51. CUNEGO, Damiano
52. PEREZ, Aitor
53. GAVAZZI, Francesco
54. BALLONI, Alfredo
55. BONO, Matteo
56. NIEMIEC, Przemyslaw
57. MAGAZZINI, Enrico
58. LOOSLI, David

Director: MARIUZZO
61. BASSO, Ivan
62. BELLOTTI , Francesco
63. CARUSO, Damiano
64. DUGGAN , Timothy
65. FINETTO, Mauro
66. NERZ, Dominik
67. PONZI, Simone
68. WURF, Cameron

Omega Pharma-Lotto
Director: DAMIANI
71. VAN DEN BROECK, Jurgen
72. PUJOL, Oscar
73. AERTS, Mario
74. DE GREEF, Francis
75. DOCKX, Gert
76. LLOYD, Matthew
77. VANENDERT, Jelle
78. VEIKKANEN, Jussi

Team Garmin – Cervelo
81. VANDEVELDE, Christian
82. HESJEDAL, Ryder
83. LE MEVEL, Christophe
85. KREDER, Michel
86. MARTIN, Daniel
88. STETINA, Peter

Team Leopard-Trek
91. SCHLECK, Andy
92. SCHLECK, Frank
93. VOIGT, Jens
94. FUGLSANG, Jakob
95. DENIFL, Stefan
96. MONFORT, Maxime
97. LUND, Anders
98. WEGMANN, Fabian

AG2R La Mondiale
Director: KASPUTIS
101. NOCENTINI, Rinaldo
102. PERAUD, Jean-Christophe
103. CHEREL, Mikael
104. DUPONT, Huber
105. GADRET, John
106. GASTAUER, Ben
107. LELAY, David
108. PERGET, Mathieu

Director: GALDEANO
111. SANCHEZ, Samuel
112. SICARD, Romain
113. TXURRUKA, Amets
114. MARTINEZ, Egoi
115. VERDUGO, Gorka
116. ISASI, Iñaki
117. VELASCO, Iban
118.OROZ, Juan José

Katusha Team
Director: COZZI
121. RODRIGUEZ, Joaquin
122. DI LUCA, Danilo
123. KARPETS, Vladimir
124. KOLOBNEV, Alexander
125. CARUSO, Giampaolo
126. MORENO, Daniel
127. LOSADA, Alberto
128. VORGANOV, Eduard

Movistar Team
Director: ARRIETA
131. ARROYO, David
132. BRUSEGHIN, Marzio
133. LOPEZ, David
134. INTXAUSTI, Beñat
135. SOLER, Mauricio
137. SAMOILAU, Branislau
138. KIRYIENKA, Vasil

Vacansoleil-DMC Team
Director: DE CNODDER
141. CARRARA, Matteo
142.HOOGERLAND, Johnny
143. MARCATO, Marco
144. GOLAS, Michal
145. LAGUTIN, Sergey
146. RUYGH, Rob
147. PIDGORNY, Ruslan
148. ANZA, Santo

Pro Team Astana
Director: SHEFER
151. VINOKOUROV, Alexandre
152. GASPAROTTO, Enrico
153. JUFRE POU, Josep
154. DI GREGORIO, Rémy
155. KESSIAKOFF, Fredrik
156. KIREYEV, Roman
157. IGLINSKIY, Maxim
158. RENEV, Sergey

Saxo Bank Sungard
Director: MAUDUIT
161. PORTE, Richie
162. SORENSEN, Nicki
163. SORENSEN, Chris
164. STEENSEN, André
165. VANDBORG, Brian
166. HERNANDEZ, Jesus
167. MAJKA, Rafal
168. DIDIER, Laurent

Quick Step
Director: BRAMATI
171. PINEAU, Jérôme
172. ENGELS, Addy
173. CATALDO, Dario
174. MALACARNE, Davide
175. REDA, Francesco
176. DEVENYNS, Dries
178. VERMOTE, Julien

Geox TMC
Director: MATXIN
181. SASTRE, Carlos
182. MENCHOV, Dennis
183. DURAN, Arkaitz
184. DE LA FUENTE, David
185. VALLS, Rafael
186. COBO, Juan José
187. BLANCO, David
188. RATTO, Daniele

Caja Rural
Director: ARTETXE
191. CUESTA, Iñigo
192. GALDOS, Aitor
193. SANCHEZ, Jull
194. HERRADA, José
195. MORENO, Javier
196. G.GARCIA, Egoitz
197. FERNANDEZ, Higinio
198. BRAVO, Gari