Now is your chance to make your voice heard in our second annual VeloVoices Awards. We’re asking you to select your personal favourites of 2013 across a variety of serious and not-so-serious categories. We’ll publish the final results in the run-up to Christmas.
On Friday we ran our poll for the Breakthrough Rider of the Year. Today it’s the turn of our nominations for the Flop of the Year, which was won last year by Andy and Frank Schleck. Continue reading →
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.
2012 winner Richie Porte (image courtesy of Sky)
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.
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 queen stage (three) once again finishes atop Alto do Malhao
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.
Martin will aim to record a second Algarve victory (image courtesy of OPQS)
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.
I am Jack, and I am a founding member of VeloVoices. I will watch pretty much any racing I can find, though I have a particular love for the spring Classics and a penchant for all things cycling in South America. When not watching cycling, I can usually be found writing about Italian football, much to the disdain of Kitty. Here are my wishes for 2013.
1. An exciting Tour de France
Every cycling fan knows there’s something special about the Tour de France, a buzz that no other race – however good the parcours – has. When it’s a complete snoozefest, it’s a bit of a letdown. So I hope for a supremely aggressive, exciting Tour, hotly contested until the final day in the mountains.
2. Philippe Gilbert: rainbow rocket
Wish 2: Let the rest of the peloton chase the rainbow (image courtesy of Davide Calabresi)
PhilGil was dealt a rough hand in 2012, managing to salvage it at the last with his rainbow jersey success. Hopefully he will reverse the rainbow curse and be back to his attacking best for the Ardennes Classics. It’s just not the same seeing him huffing and puffing his way up climbs.
3. The carrots keep on attacking
Euskaltel-Euskadi may have lost their all-Basque (or at least nearly all-Basque) recruitment policy over the silly season, but hopefully they won’t lose their Basque heart, as it’s when they’re suicidally attacking up a mountain that the carrots are at their entertaining best.
4. Jonathan Tiernan-Locke delivers
Jonathan Tiernan-Locke is very much a British rider I could take a liking to. I love a good puncheur, and with JTL’s unusual career path it is excellent to see him given a chance by Sky. I hope he takes it.
5. Rui Costa’s upward curve continues
Wish 5: Rui Costa goes from strength to strength (image courtesy of Danielle Haex)
Prior to 2012, Rui Costa was best known for being on the receiving end of a wheel lobbed his way by Carlos Barredo in some sort of Iberian feud. Last season, he changed that, with the biggest win of his career in the overall classification at the Tour de Suisse. He is a funny rider, good on both mountainous climbs and hilly classics. At 26, it seems the time is right for a big season.
6. Colombian climbers excel
With the help of Rigoberto Uran and Nairo Quintana amongst others, Colombian cycling is currently enjoying a resurgence. With their incredible climbing stock and through the great work of the Colombia-Coldeportes team – who are hoping for a Tour de France wildcard – it would be fantastic to see that continue.
7. Rolls Roy-ce returns
Wish 7: Jeremy Roy attacks everything going in this year’s Tour and finally wins a stage! (image courtesy of Wikipedia)
The Tour de France wasn’t the same last year without the attacking exploits of Jeremy Roy, who was so aggressive the year before. Unfortunately for all his efforts he never managed to win a stage, and I hope that changes this year.
8. Pat McQuaid leaves cycling forever
9. A great year for VeloVoices
With a sixth member on board, VeloVoices will hopefully be more entertaining than ever in 2013!
10. No more scandals
Wouldn’t it be nice for the focus to be purely on a great season of racing, for once?