Richie Porte boxed mighty clever, never burnt his matches and, without ever winning a stage, picked up decisive bonus seconds to seize the leader’s jersey on Friday and hang oto it until the finish. It was a fiercely contested race decided by a handful of seconds. Alejandro Valverde and Domenico Pozzovivo rounded out the podium.
Rider of the race
Surprisingly it’s not race winner Porte, who picked up that accolade in Paris-Nice and who’s been on fire since the start of this season. Nor is it triple stage winner Alejandro Valverde who must be ruing the time lost through his fall on stage three. No, I’m awarding it to fourth-placed, beleaguered Alberto Contador. He started the race a bit out of sorts with a cold and hasn’t been at his best but that hasn’t stopped him from battling through each day. All eyes have been on his team and its (lack of) results thanks to the ongoing power struggle – now concluded – between mercurial team owner Oleg Tinkov, who thinks you can buy victories, and Bjarne Riis, recognised by many as a strategic and tactical genius on the road. A stomach virus took out four of his teammates and, to add to his woes, he hit the deck heavily in a crash on stage six.
Valverde won the final stage and the bonus seconds catapulted him above Alberto, who slid off the podium and into fourth overall. According to Alberto, he was affected by his crash though he remains confident in his preparations ahead of the Giro d’Italia. But not as confident as race winner Porte, who now assumes the mantle of Giro favourite.
Four things we liked
1. Sprints. What sprints? In our review, we said in theory there were five sprint stages but the sprinters were largely anonymous throughout the race though typically fourth-placed JJ Rojas picked a runner’s up spot on stage two. Similarly, Bryan Coquard was runner-up on stage seven. Three of these (stages two, five and seven) were won by Alejandro Valverde, no slouch when it comes to a drag race to the line, though he soloed to them here.
2. Aggression. He who dares wins! There was lots of attacking riding with long breaks going from the gun, assaults from the breaks in the final 20km or so, riders bridging over to breaks – you get the picture. It was great to see this aggression rewarded. The three riders from Monday’s break – Maciej Paterski, Pierre Rolland and Bart de Clercq – all wore the leader’s Celtic-like jersey in succession until it was seized on Friday by Porte. Frequent escapee Tom Danielson landed the KoM jersey and Luis Mas, a noted breakaway specialist, won the sprint classification. Sergei Chernetski and Paterski recorded their first WorldTour victories, the diminutive Domenico Pozzovivo took stage three to record his first win in three years (his first for Ag2r), while Tejay van Garderen enjoyed his first victory of 2015 – all the more poignant after his fall over the crash barriers the day before.
3. The weather. It thankfully improved as the race progressed but on the latter stages there was no hiding from the wind which scattered the peloton and meant those with their eyes on the overall prize had to be ever-vigilant and ensure they were well-positioned. Those that weren’t saw their chances blown away in the crosswinds.
4. Seconds count. As usual, it was a close-run race. While the hotly anticipated Contador vs Froome vs Rodriguez threesome didn’t pan out, it was still fiercely competitive among the other leading contenders. After stage three, 30 of the top 33 riders were within 31 seconds of one another. What we didn’t like was the organiser’s inability to accurately forecast the time splits and the distance to the finish. The on-screen graphics were frequently incorrect and it was this confusion which aided the stage-hunting aspirations of Monday’s escapees. It’s critical in a race frequently decided by a handful of (bonus) seconds that the organisers get this aspect of the race sorted.
The race in numbers
4 – The winning margin in seconds in both this and last year’s race.
2:40 – The winning margin established on stage one by the three-man break who all successively wore the leader’s jersey.
2 – Previous race winners taking part: Dan Martin (2013) and Valverde (2009).
1. Richie Porte (Sky) 30:30:30
2. Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) +0:04
3. Domenico Pozzovivo (Ag2r La Mondiale) +0:05
4. Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo) +0:07
5. Rigoberto Uran (Etixx-Quick Step) +0:18
6. Fabio Aru (Astana) +0:27
7. Darwin Atapuma (BMC) +0:33
8. Rafael Valls (Lampre-Merida) +0:43
9. Dan Martin (Cannondale-Garmin) +1:35
10. Jarlinson Pantano (IAM) +2:16
Link: Official race website
Header image: Jon Herranz/Volta a Catalunya