Volta ao Algarve review: Martin takes flight

Volta ao Algarve 2013 logoTony Martin (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) won the overall for the second time in three years after a gritty climb on Saturday’s queen stage left him within striking distance in the concluding individual time trial, the discipline in which he is the defending double world champion. Finishing a massive 1:07 ahead of teammate Michal Kwiatkowski, the pair gave OPQS a one-two lock-out in a general classification in which the top eight positions were occupied by the top eight finishers in the ITT.

Race summary

If the first two stages had, at first glance, looked perfectly set up for Mark Cavendish to add to a 2013 victory tally which already stands at five, that proved emphatically not to be the case as it was Blanco rather than OPQS who swept both days. The opening stage was a typical flat trundle but with a sting in the tail. A difficult roundabout and a long uphill drag to the finish shredded the sprint trains’ organisation, and in a chaotic finale Paul Martens snuck off the front to take victory ahead of RadioShack’s Tiago Machado and his own team’s main sprinter Theo Bos, with Cavendish sloping in sixth. A pro since 2005, it was only the German’s third win in his sixth season with the team formerly known as Rabobank.

The second stage offered possibilities for a determined breakaway, with cat 3 and cat 2 climbs early on and a lumpy finish, but the peloton was not to be denied. Again, the trains of Blanco and OPQS were prominent on the run-in, but with Cavendish suffering a problem with his chain, Bos put in a decisive burst that allowed him to celebrate well before the line despite a last-gasp lunge by RadioShack’s Giacomo Nizzolo. The ten-second win bonus leapfrogged the Dutch sprinter over teammate Martens to take the yellow jersey.

Bos’ leadership of the race was short-lived, however, as the competition for the GC kicked off over the last two stages. Sergio Henao proved strongest on the queen stage finishing at the summit of Alto do Malhao. It was the third consecutive year that a Sky rider has claimed victory on the race’s signature climb (after Steve Cummings in 2011 and overall winner Richie Porte last year).

Stage 3 profile, finishing atop Alto do Malhao

Stage 3 profile, finishing atop Alto do Malhao

With two ascents of the Malhao to be negotiated, a five-man break led over the top first time around but were swept up in good time for the decisive climb. Movistar’s Rui Costa made the first big move. He was quickly joined by Henao and RadioShack’s Tiago Machado briefly latched on before the Sky man decided to put the hammer down. Machado quickly disappeared, with Costa also falling inexorably backwards as neither could match the Colombian’s solo attack.

Henao powered on alone to take an impressive solo victory by three seconds over Costa, despite taking a wrong turn shortly before the finish which caused a brief moment of panic. Lieuwe Westra (Vacansoleil-DCM) was third. Significantly, however, Tony Martin finished only 18 seconds back to go into the final test against the clock just 28 seconds behind Henao.

That gap was never going to be enough on a 34.8km up-then-down course which suited the double world champion perfectly. However, Henao put up a brave fight to finish 14th, albeit 3:15 down, sending him tumbling to 12th overall. Martin blew away the field, averaging 46.2kph as he clocked 45:09. Kwiatkowski finished second both on the stage and overall, with RadioShack’s Jesse Sergent third just ahead of Westra, who claimed the final place on the GC podium. So dominant was Martin on the day that no one finished within a minute of him and only seven men were within two minutes.

Analysis & opinion

As ever this was a good race with plenty of excitement, although it was a shame the time trial thoroughly trumped the Malhao in terms of determining the GC. Henao deserved better than to slip out of the top ten after his thrilling solo effort.

A good climb and the customary great TT propelled Martin to a second Algarve win (image courtesy of OPQS)

A good climb and the customary great TT propelled Martin to a second Algarve win (image courtesy of OPQS)

OPQS, Blanco and RadioShack will have come out of this race pleased with their long weekend’s work. Although Mark Cavendish failed to win a stage, a one-two finish overall is always a good result. The absence of a rival such as 2012 winner Richie Porte who could offer a dual threat in both climbing and time trial mode always meant Tony Martin was the hot favourite, but if his form in the ITT was little surprise, the way he minimised his losses on the Malhao climb was a clear indication of strong early season form.

Blanco will be delighted to have won both sprints. Given the uncertainty over the team’s future and the need to attract sponsorship going forward, it has been no surprise that they have come out of the gates full tilt in the early part of the season. After Tom-Jelte Slagter’s overall victory at the Tour Down Under, wins for Paul Martens and Theo Bos here will have helped the team’s cause no end.

RadioShack placed men sixth (Tiago Machado), seventh (Jesse Sergent) and ninth (Andreas Kloden), a pleasing result as they seek to put a nightmare 2012 behind them. 24-year old New Zealander Sergent continues to progress and impress in his time trial speciality.

Sky will perhaps be slightly disappointed that their Colombian climbing twins Rigoberto Uran and Sergio Henao could finish no higher than 10th and 12th – with time trialling their obvious weak spot – but then this needs to be placed in the context of the team’s Grand Tour plans for the year. Last year both finished in the top ten at the Giro but with Bradley Wiggins earmarked as team leader for Italy and Chris Froome for France perhaps their big aim for the season is the Vuelta in September?

Finally, a nod of congratulation to Sky neo-pro Josh Edmondson. The 20-year old British climber was an impressive seventh on the Malhao, just seven seconds behind teammate Henao as he crossed the line alongside riders of the stature of Kloden and Denis Menchov. He finished 16th overall. One to watch in the future, for sure, maybe even on the roads of his native Yorkshire in the 2014 Tour de France?

General classification

1. Tony Martin (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) 15:36:26

2. Michal Kwiatkowski  (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) +0:58

3. Lieuwe Westra (Vacansoleil-DCM)  +0:59

4. Denis Menchov (Katusha) +1:21

5. Rui Costa (Movistar) +1:26

6. Tiago Machado (RadioShack-Leopard) +1:30

7. Jesse Sergent (RadioShack-Leopard) +1:40

8. Jonathan Castroviejo (Movistar) +1:45

9. Andreas Kloden (RadioShack-Leopard) +1:53

10. Rigoberto Uran (Sky) +2:31

Links: Preview, Official website

The Bernie Eisel Hubba Hubba Club says ‘Happy Birthday!’

HubbaHubbaLogoThe Official Bernie Eisel Hubba Hubba Club is now in session. Members present: Kitty Fondue, Janice Ascroft, Francesca Starbuck and Kimberly Menozzi. (A special thanks to Panache for the poptastic portraits and groovy logo!)

Everyone, round the table, when did you first notice Bernie?

Kitty: Funnily enough, it was when I did his birthday post from last year. All of a sudden I thought, “Hmmmm, now that man has some form.”

Janice: Bernie first came to my attention at last year’s Tour de France. Found myself looking for that number 104, never too far away from 103 (Cav). Who could miss him, being up front in that dominating train of Sky?

Francesca: Well, I’d noticed his good looks many years ago but I think the lusting began in earnest in 2011 when VeloNews started their ‘Breakfast with Bernie’ feature. In each video he comes across as a real personality, whether it was ‘Race Face’ Bernie or ‘Peloton Prankster’ Bernie. What’s not to love about a man who makes you laugh?!

Kitty: I’ve made a playlist on the VeloVoices YouTube channel with as many of those Breakfast with Bernie’ features I could find, by the way!

Kim: I’m trying to remember, but I really don’t recall there being an exact moment I noticed him (unlike with You-Know-Who). It was an over-an-extended-period-of-time sort of thing for me, as I noticed him always being around when the race coverage was showing Cavendish. After a while, it was just “Holy Moly – who the heck is he???”

What do you like best about Bernie’s riding?

Quiet unassuming Bernie ... how we love him! (Image courtesy of Danielle Haex)

Quiet, unassuming Bernie … how we love him! (image courtesy of Danielle Haex)

Janice: It always appears that Bernie has a complete mindset prior to the race about his objectives for a particular stage. When he comes to the front, his whole demeanour is one resembling that of a charging bull. His gorgeous face has that steely look of determination, concentration, and “I’m gonna go hell for leather and don’t give a rat’s about the rest of you”. It’s at this time that the whole team seems to gather momentum and the train continues to chuff away.

Francesca: When the break needs to be brought under control, who is on the front drilling away? Bernie. When Cavendish needed to make it through the mountains to make the time cut, who got him to the finish? Bernie. When a decision needs to be made on the road, who makes it? Bernie. It’s all about the team for Bernie. He rides for them.

Kitty: I like the fact that he seems in complete control when he’s in the peloton. He’s a road captain for a reason and that reason is because he gets the team organised and riding towards their goal.

Kim: I was strangely fond of how he had to look after Cavendish. LOL! Also, as Kitty noted, there’s an air of control and confidence which is always appealing in a rider.

What do you think of his split with long-time bro-friend Mark Cavendish? Were you surprised that he stayed with Sky while Mark rode away to OPQS?

Was this picture prophetic in seeing the split between Bernie and Cav? (Image courtesy of Danielle Haex)

Was this picture prophetic in seeing the split between Bernie and Cav? (image courtesy of Danielle Haex)

Kim: Pretty surprised, yeah. I’d come to think of them as a package deal, in a manner of speaking. Mostly, I was just happy Cav made the break. I’m not a particular fan of his, but I feel he got a raw deal at Sky. At least Bernie is now opened up to looking toward new goals. That pleases me.

Janice: Well, I would assume that the pair of them had many a long discussion about it since they spent at least 200 days together. Cav has said, “He is my best friend in the world, really”, even though Bernie kept Cav awake with his snoring. I think Bernie has done the right thing staying with Sky and will do well in the Classics. I am sure that Sky will be right behind him.

Kitty: I was actually very surprised but I think it might be the best thing for him. It would be great if Sky let him ride a few races for himself – especially the Classics or the mini-Classics,, but I wonder how much free rein he would get if Edvald Haagen-Dazs wanted to be lead rider.

Francesca: At first I was surprised but I think that was just because I expected them to move together. In truth, though, I knew it was the right decision for each of them. Bernie’s dedicated much of his career to looking after Mark and now we’ve got a chance to see what he can really do. Like Kitty says, it would be brilliant if Sky let him have a go in the Classics. After all, he didn’t do too badly in Qatar, did he?

Francesca, you had a little flirty photography session in last year’s Tour of Britain with the man himself! What was that like?

Francesca: AMAZING! My aim for the day was to stalk – I mean find – him and politely ask to have my photo taken with him. I waited by the Sky bus but there must have been over 100 people around it so I couldn’t get close. I headed on round to the start to get some pictures. I looked up and who appeared right in front of me but Mr Eisel himself! I got some amazing pictures and walked away like the cat that got the cream. Whenever I tell people about this story it always ends with “… and he was smiling RIGHT at me!” but I think it was me who had the bigger smile that day.

Bernie giving it the full-flirt for Francesca's camera at Tour of Britain!

Bernie giving it the full-flirt for Francesca’s camera at the Tour of Britain!

Janice, Kim, have either of you had a Bernie encounter in real life?

Kim: Tragically, no. No encounters with any riders, as yet. Maybe one day?

Janice: No.

Describe Bernie in five words.

Francesca: Handsome, heroic, happy, hard-working & umm ….*cough* HOT!

Kim: Stubble-faced, shaven-legged perfection. (Too much?)

(Janice has fainted with the prospect …)

Kitty: Bearded bit of biking brilliance.

Last but not least – who’s in Paris in July to (hopefully) see Bernie on the Champs?

Kitty: Hell yeah! Me and about 100 of my closest VeloVoices friends!

Francesca: Hopefully! I’m out in France to see stage ten and currently planning to see if I can make Paris as well. All being well I will be there with Team VeloVoices.

Janice: I’m in Australia so Paris isn’t an option for me. 😦

Kim: I wish! Alas, I’ll be in the US at that time, relegated to watching the race on TV. This is the curse of being an American living abroad – I have to go home from time to time and the summer is the best time to do that.