The WorldTour races are coming thick and fast with the 95th edition of the Volta a Catalunya starting tomorrow (Monday). Spain’s oldest stage race provides those with grand tour ambitions a testing parcours and an alternative to the one-day classics.
- The race is held over seven stages, starting for the fourth consecutive year in the coastal resort of Callella on Monday and finishing on Sunday with its traditional stage featuring eight circuits of Barcelona’s Montjuic climb.
- In theory, stages one to three, five and six provide opportunities for sprinters such as three-time stage winner Luka Mezgec, Bryan Coquard, Caleb Ewan and Gianni Meersman. But even these stages contain some tricky ascents and are not for the ‘pure’ sprinters.
- The race has no time trials and favours the 62kg-or-less mountain goats with a total of 24 climbs including the hors catégorie ascent of Creueta and three cat 1 climbs on Thursday’s queen stage to La Molina – the only summit finish this year, which last year proved decisive in determining the overall.
Three to watch
Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo): Runner-up last year, runner-up in this year’s Ruta del Sol (to Chris Froome) and a disappointing (for him) fifth overall in the recent Tirreno-Adriatico, Alberto will be looking to clinch victory ahead of arch-rival Froome and put a smile on team owner Oleg Tinkov’s face. A man looking for overall victory in May’s Giro d’Italia should be in better form than those tilting their hats towards the Tour de France. In any event, he’ll want to win at least the queen stage where we can look forward to fireworks among the leading contenders. Froome’s bringing the Sky A-team but has only just recovered from a lung infection. Should he falter, Paris-Nice winner Richie Porte can step into the void. Let’s not forget former winner Dan Martin or last year’s third-placed Tejay van Garderen, who’ll maybe be looking to profit from the Contador vs Froome battle. Sadly, defending champ Joaquim Rodriguez has dropped out through illness at the last moment and won’t be defending his crown on home soil.
Caleb Ewan (Orica-GreenEDGE): Another precocious Aussie talent who has been seemingly on fire this year. Used wisely and sparingly by his team, he’s just returned from the Tour de Langkawi with the points jersey and two stage wins. After racing at altitude, he should revel in the less typical sprint stages provided here. Of course, riders such as Mezgec will be looking to open their 2015 accounts and will provide stiff competition.
Alejandro Valverde (Movistar): With only a victory in the early Trofeo Serra de Tramuntana to his name this season, Valverde will be looking to press his credentials for grand tour leadership following team-mate Nairo Quintana’s victory in Tirreno-Adriatico. He last won here in 2009 and this year’s parcours, coupled with his ability to outsprint the other overall contenders, could see him pick up his second overall victory.
Whatever happens, it’s sure to be an absorbing race!
Link: Official race website
(Header: 2014 Volta a Catalunya podium, courtesy of official race website.)