Switzerland's cycling stars, Alex Zülle, Oscar Camenzind and Laurent Dufaux, have hit the pedals for the start of the Vuelta in Malaga. The 2,896-kilometre Tour of Spain is seen by many as a launch pad for the Olympic Games next month.
The Vuelta this year sees 20 teams of nine athletes each competing in a slightly modified version of the race. Each stage has been shortened to an average of 138 kilometres a day, and a second rest-day has been introduced.
Favourite to take the yellow jersey for a second year running is Germany's Jan Ullrich. But the Swiss, with Zülle racing for Banesto, Camenzind for Lampre and Dufaux for Saeco, should be among the main rivals for a spot close behind Ulrich.
Some cyclists will be holding back in order to be at their peak in Sydney, but the Swiss, like the Spaniards and the Italians, are expected to put in strong performances irrespective of the bigger challenge lying just around the corner.
Opening stage is a 13 kilometre time-trial in Malaga. For the first time since 1993, the Vuelta will also end with a time-trial over the 36 kilometres that make up the 21st and final stage.
The change may bring some last minute surprises when the final leg takes place on September 17 in Madrid.
swissinfo and agencies
In compliance with the JTI standards