The race to Portimão

Alberto Contador is the unquestioned star of this year’s 35th Tour of the Algarve, which set off from Albufeira on Wednesday.

But the 26-year-old Spanish Astana team star, who is supported by colleagues Sergio Paulinho and Andreas Kloden over the five-stage cycle race, will not have had things all his way by the time the peloton hits the Portimão harbour front early Sunday afternoon.

Also likely to be in close contention over the 734.6 km marathon are any number of the other 15 foreign and six Portuguese teams on the road in the Algarve, headed by Italy’s Lampre featuring Damiano Cunego, the Belgian combination of Quick Step and Stijn Devolder as well as Russia’s brand new Katusha outfit with Australian powerhouse Robbie McEwan in the saddle.

While a big home challenge can also be expected from Liberty Seguros, who have reinforced their team to the tune of 1 million euros, a big danger to Contador’s chances is also represented by ambitious locals Palmeiras Resort/Tavira. Led by 2008 Tour of Portugal winner David Blanco, the eastern Algarve team not only boasts strength in depth but can also count on the services of ex-Benfica star Candido Barbosa this season.

Sunday’s pre-tour seasonal opener in Faro went to the Continental Rabobank Dutch duo of Theo Bos and Michael van Stayen- but all eyes over the coming days will be on the Portuguese debut performance of the best cyclist in the world at the moment, Alberto Contador.