Basso and Schlecks light up Catalunya cycle Tour

MADRID: Two-time Tour de France champion Alberto Contador will be among the big names missing when the Tour of Catalunya provides an early season tester to the stage race specialists this week.

Bradley Wiggins, a fourth-place finisher on the 2009 Tour de France, is another absentee in the race which starts Monday with the opening time trial over 3.6km.

Despite the absence of the Spaniard, who has opted for the two-day Criterium International next weekend, and the Briton the race boasts a quality-packed field including last year's Tour de France runner-up Andy Schleck of Luxembourg,

Schleck and the rest of the peloton will be keen to assess their climbing and time-trialling form racing in Catalunya across a mix of hilly and undulating terrain.

Schleck, of Saxo Bank, should have the support of his brother Franck.

Former Giro d'Italia winner Ivan Basso will feature for the Liquigas team while Spaniard Carlos Sastre, the 2008 Tour de France winner who races for Cervelo, returns after a lengthy absence.

Contador, who recently claimed his second victory in France's second-hardest stage race, the Paris-Nice, was scheduled to race in Catalunya but decided to change his plans last week.

His decision was seen by some as a direct attempt to provoke American rival Lance Armstrong, who is scheduled to race the Criterium International, which will be held in Corsica for the first time.