Local boy Joaquim Rodriguez won the overall at the Volta a Catalunya for the second time thanks to his victory on stage three’s summit finish, as the route and weather conditions played to his strengths.
Clash of the titans
With the galaxy of stars taking part and the finely judged parcours, everyone was salivating over the prospect of a magnificent clash of the cycling titans.
It was a finely judged victory by Rodriguez and his Katusha cohorts who played to their strengths to frustrate Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo) and third-placed Tejay van Garderen (BMC), who took his first WorldTour win on a fog-shrouded queen stage four.
Rodriguez was delighted with this victory, saying:
This was a real race, especially when you saw Alberto Contador trying all the way to the end to gain the four seconds he needed. You saw the real Contador who always fights for victory. This race was especially hard with all the wind and the rain, but that’s what makes bike racing exciting.
Those expected to provide the fireworks such as Chris Froome (Sky) and Nairo Quintana (Movistar) were in the mix but not yet at their competitive best while Ag2r’s Carlos Betancur was felled with a fever. Luckily for the team, two teammates picked up the baton and Ag2r was the only team with two riders in the top ten overall – Romain Bardet and piano-playing maestro Domenico Pozzovivo. Indeed, Ag2r now leads the WorldTour team rankings.
Young guns still having fun
Wins are like buses, as Giant-killer Luka Mezgec will agree. The recent Handzame Classic winner notched up three stage wins aping the sprint dominance of teammates John Degenkolb and Marcel Kittel who also like winning multiple stages in events. The 25-year-old Slovenian seized the bull – and the opportunity – by the horns. Expect to see more of him in forthcoming races.
21-year-old Julien Alphaville (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) impressed with three top-five placings on the sprint stages. So did Rudy Molard (Cofidis) – the 24-year-old Cote d’Azur resident finished runner-up on stage six.
They weren’t the only youngsters to shine. Cannondale’s 22-year-old German Michel Koch, was a serial escapee who swept up both points’ jerseys. Double Vuelta stage winner Warren Barguil registered his first WorldTour top ten overall finish, while fellow Frenchman and recent Drome Classic winner Bardet cemented fourth overall when he was runner-up to van Garderen on stage four.
The weather, injuries and illness swept through the peloton and accounted for riders such as Betancur, Richie Porte (Sky), 2013 Vuelta winner Chris Horner (Lampre-Merida), Simon Clarke (Orica-GreenEDGE) and Haimar Zubeldia (Trek). Indeed, Trek were down to four riders midway through the race but that didn’t stop the veteran Jens Voigt from getting in a break and finishing fourth. It’s no wonder that the winner and runner-up resembled, respectively, a Ninja Turtle and Michelin man to ward off the chills.
Hard day of cycling today. Cold and snow. In the pic it looks that I’m 10 years older than yesterday! Keep working! pic.twitter.com/tP8BYnSvMU
— Alberto Contador (@albertocontador) 27 Mars 2014
Race at a glance
3 – Number of stages won by Luka Mezgec.
2 – Number of overall GC victories in this race by Rodriguez.
42 – Age of the oldest rider in the race, CCC Polsat’s Davide Rebellin. The Italian veteran is five weeks older than Trek’s Jens Voigt, who was also present this week.
20 – Age of the youngest rider in the race, Lotto-Belisol’s Boris Vallee.
Stage 1: Winner – Luka Mezgec (Giant-Shimano). Leader – Mezgec.
Stage 2: Winner – Mezgec. Leader – Mezgec.
Stage 3: Winner – Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha). Leader – Rodriguez.
Stage 4: Winner – Tejay van Garderen (BMC). Leader – Rodriguez.
Stage 5: Winner – Mezgec. Leader – Rodriguez.
Stage 6: Winner – Stef Clement (Belkin). Leader – Rodriguez.
Stage 7: Winner – Lieuwe Westra (Astana). Overall winner – Rodriguez.
1. Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) 29:41:34
2. Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo) +0:04
3. Tejay van Garderen (BMC) +0:07
4. Romain Bardet (Ag2r La Mondiale) +0:10
5. Nairo Quintana (Movistar) same time
6. Chris Froome (Sky) +0:17
7. Andrew Talansky (Garmin-Sharp) +0:18
8. Domenico Pozzovivo (Ag2r La Mondiale) +0:26
9. Warren Barguil (Giant-Shimano) +0:42
10. Robert Kiserlovski (Trek) +0:48