Volta ao Algarve review

Sky dominated the 38th edition of the Volta ao Algarve, as three of their riders won stages and they held the yellow jersey for all but the opening day. Australian Richie Porte, formerly of Saxo Bank, won the queen stage on Friday to move into the overall lead and comfortably defended his position to register his first major stage race victory.

Stage 1: Golden Dunes (Almancil) to Albufeira, 151km

Meersman (seen here racing for FDJ) timed his sprint perfectly (image courtesy of Wikipedia)

A leisurely opening day – the average speed on the rolling parcours was a modest 37kph – ended in a bunch sprint in which Lotto-Belisol’s Gianni Meersman timed his jump to perfection to claim his first win for ten months.

Earlier a five-man break had launched their own bid for victory, with Saxo Bank’s Karsten Kroon the most notable name in a group which built a lead of nearly five minutes. (In the absence of the suspended Alberto Contador, who finished fourth overall here last year, I suspect the sight of a Saxo jersey in escape groups is likely to become more commonplace as riders are given greater liberty to pursue victories and WorldTour points). Five eventually became three as the pursuit picked up pace, and the peloton easily reeled the survivors back in 13km from the finish in Albufeira.

BMC upped the pace as the pack entered an undulating final 3km. After a speculative last-kilometre attack by Movistar’s Rui Costa was shut down, Meersman kept his cool in a free-for-all finish He positioned himself perfectly in third wheel and launched his sprint with about 200 metres to go. BMC’s Paris-Tours winner Greg Van Avermaet went with him, but could not close the gap enough to challenge his fellow Belgian before the line. Rabobank’s Matti Breschel was third.

Stage 2: Faro to Lagoa, 187.5km

Boasson Hagen was too strong for his rivals (image courtesy of Wikipedia)

Sky’s Edvald Boasson Hagen took victory and the leader’s yellow jersey on a rolling stage which culminated in a leg-sapping 3km uphill drag.

An initial three-man break including British rider Tomas Swift-Metcalfe (Carmim-Prio) had escaped six minutes up the road early in the race, but they were pulled back with around 30km left and a series of subsequent breaks were never allowed enough of an advantage to be a serious threat as the peloton entered the final 5km all together.

With 2km to go OPQS was able to establish their lead-out train at the front of the pack as they looked to set up Gerald Ciolek, with Rabobank tucked into their slipstream and Sky also moving Boasson Hagen up the line on the final twisting climb. The Norwegian kicked for home with the line in sight, and comfortably held off Vacansoleil’s Kris Boeckmans and Ciolek to move into the overall race lead.

Stage 3: Castro Marim to Malhao (Loule), 194.6km

Porte left the rest of the peloton chasing shadows (image courtesy of Sky)

A total team effort by Sky on the race’s queen stage was finished off by Australian Richie Porte, who put in a decisive attack with around 1.5km to go and inherited the leader’s jersey from Sky teammate Boasson Hagen.

An initial eight-man break gained 7½ minutes over the peloton before being reeled in near the summit of the third-category Cavalos climb with 55km remaining. A subsequent two-man escape of Blel Kadri (AG2R) and Carlos Barredo (Rabobank) was swept up at 15km by the peloton, which had been reduced to around 50 riders. This was led by a train of five Sky riders: Vuelta runner-up Chris Froome, Bradley Wiggins, Thomas Lovkvist, Porte and the yellow jersey of Edvald Boasson Hagen.

Froome set a hard tempo at the front before handing over to Boasson Hagen at the base of the concluding second-category Alto do Malhao. The race leader unselfishly rode full gas, lining out the bunch and soon shelling riders out of the back. Wiggins then took over at the start of the steep final 3km section. His metronomic pace was deceptively punishing as he detonated the bunch. RadioShack’s Andreas Kloden was one of several big names who could not stand the pace, looking as if he was pedalling squares as he rapidly dropped back.

By contrast, with the lead group reduced to a dozen inside the final 2km, Porte was merrily dancing in his pedals and attacked as soon as Wiggins peeled off. RadioShack’s Tiago Machado was the only rider to respond immediately, and as Movistar’s Rui Costa started to bridge the gap Porte kicked again and this time successfully snapped the elastic altogether. He powered on untroubled to the finish, crossing the line eight seconds ahead of Machado and Costa, with the Vacansoleil pair of Johnny Hoogerland and Wout Poels finishing 24 seconds back along with Lotto-Belisol’s Jurgen Van Den Broeck. Martin was ninth, 40 seconds down.

Victory meant Porte assumed a 12-second lead over second-placed Machado. Martin slipped to tenth at 50 seconds. After the stage the 27-year old Tasmanian, who led the 2010 Giro d’Italia for three days while with Saxo Bank, said:

They [the team] were incredible! You don’t really want to single out one person as they were all incredible. You see [Xabier] Zandio and Kosta [Siutsou] on the front the whole day. [Chris] Froomey, Thomas [Lovkvist] and Lars [Petter Nordhaug] did brilliant work, then Edvald and Brad on the climb. It just worked like clockwork. It’s a team victory but to then get the glory of riding across the line first is great.

Stage 4: Vilamoura to Tavira, 186.3km

Ciolek cruised to an easy win (image courtesy of OPQS)

It seems that no early-season race would be complete without an Omega Pharma-Quick Step victory somewhere along the line, and Gerald Ciolek and Matteo Trentin duly obliged with a one-two finish as they caught their rivals cold in what had been expected to be a frantic mass finish in Tavira.

Ten riders bolted away from the peloton early on, with five managing to stay away until the finish was virtually in sight. However, with Sky leading the chase and the OPQS lead-out train on hand to finish it off, the catch was finally completed with less than 2km remaining.

With Garmin-Barracuda setting up to launch Heinrich Haussler for the line, OPQS caught them and everyone else by surprise as Trentin cranked up his lead-out off the final bend with 450 metres remaining, catapulting Ciolek to win by several lengths. Such was their advantage that Trentin, slowing up with his arms aloft in celebration, still beat Haussler across the line for second.

Stage 5: Lagoa to Portimao, 25.8km individual time trial

Wiggins was delighted to have beaten world champion Martin (image courtesy of Wikipedia)

Richie Porte claimed overall victory by finishing third in the climactic time trial as teammate Bradley Wiggins edged out Tony Martin for the stage win.

Porte started the day with a lead of 12 seconds over the Portuguese pair of Rui Costa (Movistar) and Tiago Machado (RadioShack), with 2011 overall winner Tony Martin 50 seconds adrift. With the riders setting off in reverse order of GC position, RadioShack’s Jesse Sergent set the early benchmark time, covering the 25.8km course in 33:12. BMC’s Tejay Van Garderen (17th overnight) went a fraction of a second faster, but five riders later it was Wiggins who would set what would turn out to be the winning time of 32:48.

All eyes, however, were on Martin, who despite being only tenth was, as the reigning world time trial champion, the most likely threat to Porte’s position. However, he was a few hundredths slower than Wiggins. With both Costa and Machado around a minute off the pace, all Porte – a fine time-trialist in his own right – had to do was avoid any mishaps. This he duly did, coming home just 13 seconds behind Wiggins and Martin to claim third on the stage and overall victory over Martin by a comfortable 37 seconds. Wiggins’ winning time was enough to jump him up to third overall.

After the stage, Porte spoke about his victory and the performance of his Sky team:

I’m in a new team and to come here and win your first race, it doesn’t get much better than that. I have to give full credit to the guys here out on the road. I was just putting the icing on the cake and they made me look good to be honest.

Here at VeloVoices, we followed Rusvelo’s Arkimedes Arguelyes Rodriges throughout the race. He conceded time on practically every stage, including losing over 20 minutes on stage three, where he finished with the gruppetto. He was 120th in the individual time trial, 4:22 down on Wiggins, completing the race 132nd out of the 139 finishers, 27:10 down on Porte but hopefully the better for his experiences.

Closing thoughts

The race could not have gone any better for Sky, who finished with two of the three podium places, three stages and the points competition winner in Edvald Boasson Hagen. Overall victory validated Richie Porte‘s decision to leave Saxo Bank, while Bradley Wiggins was delighted with both his time trial win and his general form:

I didn’t have any expectations coming here, really. You never know where you’re at when you start the season, so it’s good to get the first one under the belt and get a comparison to other riders.

It’s not every day you can beat Tony so it’s nice to beat him once. It shows that everything you’ve been working on through the winter to improve or maybe to get the better of him in a time trial is working, so I just need to keep training hard, keep pushing on.

Martin himself will probably not be too worried, despite being unable to stay in touch with the leaders on Alto do Malhao. Both he and Wiggins will clash again at Paris-Nice in a fortnight’s time, where the German is the defending champion, but both will have their eye firmly on their primary objectives of the Tour de France and the Olympics in July and the beginning of August. As a team, OPQS looked as impressive as they have at every other race so far this season.

A number of other all-rounders will also be pleased with their performances. Lotto-Belisol’s Jurgen Van Den Broeck will be delighted with his performance in the time trial, a traditional weakness of his, which saw him finish just 29 seconds behind Wiggins en route to fourth overall. Tejay Van Garderen was fourth in the time trial and seventh overall, outshining Paris-Tours winner Greg Van Avermaet in one of the few chances he will have to feature in a talent-packed BMC squad. And Johnny Hoogerland will also take heart from a strong climb to fourth place on Alto do Malhao ahead of the spring Classics.

General classification

1. Richie Porte (Sky) 19:02:43

2. Tony Martin (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) +0:37

3. Bradley Wiggins (Sky) +0:44

4. Jurgen Van Den Broeck (Lotto-Belisol) +0:50

5. Rui Costa (Movistar) +0:58

6. Tiago Machado (RadioShack-Nissan) +1:02

7. Tejay Van Garderen (BMC) +1:13

8. Andrew Talansky (Garmin-Barracuda) +1:14

9. Johnny Hoogerland (Vacansoleil-DCM) +1:33

10. Gianni Meersman (Lotto-Belisol) +1:39

Links: Volta ao Algarve previewVolta ao Algarve official website

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