Volta ao Algarve preview

Hoping for warmer weather, the riders head for southern Portugal and the 38th edition of the Volta ao Algarve. It starts today (Wednesday 15th February) and takes place over five days, finishing on Sunday. The race organisers claim it’s a varied but balanced route providing something for everyone.

What kind of race is it?

There are 17 teams taking part:

ProTeams (10): AG2R La Mondiale , BMC, Garmin-Barracuda, Lotto-Belisol, Omega Pharma-Quick Step, Rabobank, RadioShack-Nissan, Saxo Bank, Sky and Vacansoleil-DCM.

Pro Continental teams (3): Rusvelo, Topsport Vlaanderen-Mercator and United Healthcare.

Continental teams (4): EFAPEL Glassdrive, LA Antarte-Route-Mobile, Wave-Boavista and Carmin-Prio.

Among the participants are a number of recent GC winners, including defending champion Tony Martin (OPQS) and 2008 winner Stijn Devolder (Vacansoleil) but there are a number of other riders, including former stage winners, who’ll be looking to cross the finish line first to record their team’s and/or their first win of the season.

The five-day stage race began in 1974, and since 2005 it’s been a UCI 2.1 category race on the European circuit. The race is often won either on the final day’s time-trial or the third day’s queen stage which finishes atop a category two climb. Not unnaturally, the Portuguese have stood astride the podium more frequently than any other nation. 

The most recent winners of the race are:

  • 2007: Alessandro Petacchi (Milram)
  • 2008: Stijn Devolder (Quick Step)
  • 2009: Alberto Contador (Astana)
  • 2010: Alberto Contador (Astana)
  • 2011: Tony Martin (HTC-Highroad)

What happened last year?

In last year’s race all eyes were on defending champion and race favourite Alberto Contador (Saxo Bank-Sungard), as it was his first race back after being suspended for six months and then exonerated by the Spanish Federation.

Defending champion (image courtesy of Wikipedia)

Eventual 2011 WorldTour champion Philippe Gilbert (Omega Pharma-Lotto) won the opening stage with a perfectly timed attack in the final kilometre to record his and his team’s first win of the season.

One of Germany’s new sprint stars, John Degenkolb (HTC-Highroad) outsprinted Tyler Farrar (Garmin-Cervelo) and Michael Matthews (Rabobank) to win stage two’s uphill finish at Lagos. It was the neo-pro’s first professional victory, less than two weeks after his debut race.

On day three’s queen stage, Steve Cummings (Sky) beat a fivesome over a 2.7km climb to the top of the category two Alto do Malhao to assume GC leadership from Phil Gil. The British rider outsprinted Tejay Van Garderen (HTC-Highroad) and defending champion Contador. Also in the leading group were Rein Taaramae (Cofidis) and Tony Martin who finished fourth and fifth respectively.

Andre Greipel (Omega Pharma-Lotto) won stage four’s sprint finish into Tavira, leaving the GC nicely poised. In the final day’s individual time-trial, Martin showed he meant business. He won the stage and the race, completing the 17.2km between Lagoa and Portimao in an impressive 20:53.

Farrar won the points jersey, the King of the Mountains was Ricardo Mestre (Tavira), the Metas Volante [sprint competition – Ed] was won by Cesare Fonte (Efapel) and HTC-Highroad won the team competition.

General classification

1. Tony Martin (HTC-Highroad) 18:48:45

2. Tejay Van Garderen (HTC-Highroad) +0:32

3. Lieuwe Westra (Vacansoleil-DCM) +0:39

4. Alberto Contador (Saxo Bank-Sungard) +0:41

5. Andreas Kloden (RadioShack) +0:46

6. Tiago Machado (RadioShack) + 0:47

7. Steve Cummings (Sky) +0:53

8. Rein Taaramae (Cofidis) +0:59

9. Luis Leon Sanchez (Rabobank) +1:04

10. Thomas De Gendt (Vacansoleil-DCM) +1:05

This year’s race

Like most of the early season races, none of the stages are overly long or taxing. Volta ao Algarve features a number of category three climbs over the first four stages before the final day’s – often decisive – time trial. Like last year, stage three’s queen stage features a category two finish at Alto do Malhao.

Will the queen stage be decisive?

However, with the race using a number of coastal roads, any wind could prove decisive on the sprinter-friendly stages. The five stages total 745km.

Who to watch

Despite the absence of Alberto Contador, the race has attracted a stellar field of names. Some coming in search of the title, others looking for stage wins and points for their teams. Fortunately, there’s a little something for most types of riders throughout the race.

The likes of  Koldo Fernandez (Garmin-Barracuda), Greg Van Avermaet (BMC) and Edvald Boassen Hagen (Sky) will be relishing the chance to fight it out in the sprint finishes. Meanwhile Classics contenders such as Nick Nuyens (Saxo Bank), Heinrich Haussler (Garmin-Barracuda), Matti Breschel (Rabobank) and Stijn Devolder (Vacansoleil) will be using the race to tune their form.

We'll be following the progress of Arkimedes Arguelyes Rodriges (image courtesy of Cycling Archives)

Defending champion Tony MartinAndreas Kloden (RadioShack), Lieuwe Westra (Vacansoleil) and Jonathan Castroviejo (Movistar) will have their eyes on the final time trial. Others such as Amael Moinard, Tejay Van Garderen, Steve Cummings (all BMC), Chris Froome, Bradley Wiggins (both Sky), or local boys Rui Costa (Movistar) and Tiago Machado (RadioShack) might well be eyeing the queen stage.

Oh, and expect Tour de France hero Johnny Hoogerland (Vacansoleil) to get into a breakaway or two.

From the comfort of the VeloVoices sofa we’re going to be tracking the progress of rider number 133, Arkimedes Arguelyes Rodriges, a Russian rider [really? with a name like that? – Ed] who rode last year as a neo-pro for Katusha and who this year has dropped back down to their Continental Pro feeder team, RusVelo, who fortunately don’t put their riders names on their jerseys! He had some very useful results in 2009 racing in Spain but since then has recorded just the one win in 2010, in stage one of the GP Portugal.

Race details

February 15th: Stage 1 – Golden Dunes (Almancil) to Albufeira, 151km

February 16th: Stage 2 – Faro to Lagoa, 187.5km

February 17th: Stage 3 – Castro Marim to Malhao (Loule), 194.6km

February 18th: Stage 4 – Vilamoura to Tavira, 186.3km

February 19th: Stage 5 – Lagoa to Portimao, 25.8km individual time trial

For more details on the race and a full list of participating teams and riders visit the official website.

The Volta ao Algarve starts on Wednesday 15th February and ends on Sunday 19th. Daily live coverage and highlights will be shown in the UK by British Eurosport.

Links: Volta ao Algarve official website

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