The peloton heads for southern Portugal in search of temperate weather and racing mileage, and the 39th edition of the Volta ao Algarve is ready to oblige. Starting tomorrow (Thursday), this four-day race has a little bit of something for everyone, with stages that will appeal to sprinters and puncheurs, climbers and time-trialists. Good things come in small packages – this is as comprehensive a mini-Grand Tour as you will find.
What kind of race is it?
The Algarve parcours has evolved from a race which sprinter Alessandro Petacchi was able to win in 2007 to one which provides a well-balanced mix of sprint, hilly and steep mountain stages, with a concluding time trial to leave the general classification in doubt right to the end. Consequently it’s an attractive tune-up race – testing but not too exhausting – for many riders who will be focussing on the Grand Tours later in the year, or as a stepping stone in preparation for Paris-Nice or Tirreno-Adriatico.
Alberto Contador has won this race twice, while the last two years have demonstrated that there’s more than one route to victory: Tony Martin climbed decently and time-trialled brilliantly to win in 2011, while Richie Porte climbed brilliantly and time-trialled well to win take the overall last year.
The most recent winners of the race are:
2008: Stijn Devolder (Quick Step)
2009: Alberto Contador (Astana)
2010: Alberto Contador (Astana)
2011: Tony Martin (HTC-Highroad)
2012: Richie Porte (Sky)
What happened last year?
Last year’s race marked the opening chapter of Sky’s season-long domination of stage races. Three of their riders won stages, with Richie Porte dethroning defending champion Tony Martin and Bradley Wiggins third.
Lotto Belisol’s Gianni Meersman claimed the opening bunch sprint, but after that it was all about the boys in black and blue. A rolling second stage with a hilly finish was won by Edvald Boasson Hagen before the entire team starred on the queen stage to the summit of Alto do Malhao. A five-man diesel express of Chris Froome, Wiggins, Thomas Lovkvist, Porte and Boasson Hagen first chased down the breakaway and then detonated the peloton on the final 10% climb, allowing Porte to finish the job himself with some style and assume the overall lead.
OPQS ambushed the other sprinters’ teams on stage four as a devastating early lead-out by Matteo Trentin catapulted Gerald Ciolek to an easy win. In the final day’s 25.8km individual time trial Wiggins edged out Martin by a fraction of a second, with Porte an impressive third just 13 seconds down to win by 0:37 overall. The Tasmanian would go on to return the favour by being one of Wiggins’ main men in the mountains as the Briton claimed a historic yellow jersey at the Tour de France.
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
Our 2012 race review can be found here.
This year’s race
The 2013 edition has been shortened to four stages, leaving a small but perfectly formed parcours which ticks every box you would want a stage race to feature. The opening stage is long – a whisker under 200km – and set up for a bunch sprint, but with some coastal sections early on which will keep the peloton on its toes to avoid a potential split. The following day contains a couple of early climbs and a lumpy second half which will give an adventurous breakaway a decent chance.
Barring a major misjudgment, however, it is the final two days which will determine the GC. Stage three sawtooths up and down for almost its entire distance and includes two trips up the Malhao, with the concluding section at the finish averaging 10% over its final 2.5km.
The last stage is an up-and-down 34.2km individual time trial which will no doubt shuffle the top of the order and potentially provide a last-minute change in the race leadership. It gives the time-trialists every incentive to cling on and save every second possible on the Malhao.
Who to watch
Eight ProTeams are sending squads to Portugal, in a field which includes two world champions and a double Vuelta winner.
Richie Porte will not defend his title – he’s at the Tour of Oman – but Sky’s team is packed with GC contenders. Britain’s Jonathan Tiernan-Locke is joined by the Colombian climbing duo of Rigoberto Uran and Sergio Henao – seventh and ninth at last year’s Giro – and American neo-pro Ian Boswell, who Sheree recently interviewed.
2011 winner and double time trial world champion Tony Martin is back, however, and if he can limit his losses on the climbs he will fancy his chances of a second overall victory in the concluding time trial. OPQS can also count on King of the Sandcastles and former rainbow jersey Mark Cavendish, fresh from his four straight wins in Qatar, and Classics specialist Sylvain Chavanel, who will probably fancy a tilt at stage two.
Elsewhere, possible GC contenders include two-time Vuelta champion Denis Menchov (Katusha), 2012 Giro podium finisher Thomas De Gendt (Vacansoleil) and Tour de Suisse winner Rui Costa (Movistar). Watch out also for RadioShack’s Andreas Kloden and Tiago Machado (ninth at the recent Tour Down Under) and Caja Rural’s former Carrot Amets Txurruka (for no other reason than the fact we love him). However, it’s entirely possible that a second-tier name hitting peak form now will upset the more established names who have their eyes on bigger prizes further down the line.
February 14th: Stage 1 – Faro to Albufeira, 198.8km
February 15th: Stage 2 – Lagoa to Lagoa, 195km
February 16th: Stage 3 – Portimao to Alto do Malhao, 193km
February 17th: Stage 4 – Castro Marim to Tavira, 34.8km individual time trial
The Volta ao Algarve starts on Thursday 14th February and concludes on Sunday 17th. Daily highlights will be shown in the UK by Eurosport. For live coverage and other viewing options check cyclingfans.com.
Link: Official website