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

Keep an eye on youngster Chaves (image courtesy of Columbia-Coldeportes)

Vuelta a Burgos review

The Vuelta a Burgos concluded with overall victory for Daniel Moreno (Katusha) and his team’s successful defence of the title won last year by Joaquim Rodriguez. Moreno won the opening two stages, both times beating Sergio Henao (Sky) on an uphill finish. Thereafter he finished in close contention on every stage. He also took the points jersey.

The team’s management confirmed that, despite a two-month lay off, Moreno was the man in form and he would be the leader of the squad going into this race. However, as he’ll be resuming his role as Rodriguez’s wing-man in the up and coming Vuelta a Espana, this was an opportunity to reward him for his past and future efforts to the team.

The real interest centered not around who won but how the Vuelta contenders performed two weeks before the race is due to start. I think it’s fair to say that the two Spanish WorldTour squads – Movistar and Euskaltel – will have been pleased with the form of their riders. Likewise, Katusha’s Spanish Armada and Rabobank.

Keep an eye on youngster Chaves (image courtesy of Columbia-Coldeportes)

Keep an eye on youngster Chaves (image courtesy of Colombia-Coldeportes)

Also of interest was the performance of the many young Colombians in the race, some of whom like runner-up Henao (Sky) will be riding the Vuelta, such as teammate, compatriot and Olympic silver medal winner Rigoberto Uran – albeit in support of Chris Froome. Henao’s fightback onto the podium on the final day was hugely impressive despite the strong support of his team after he’d fallen down the rankings the previous day having fallen foul of the echelons. Should Froome falter this duo are a more than adequate plan B.

Third-placed overall and last year’s Tour de l’Avenir winner, neo-pro Johan Esteban Chaves (Colombia-Coldeportes)  – another, like Peter Sagan and Thibaut Pinot, born in 1990 – excelled in the steep mountains and won the difficult queen stage . He will have aroused much interest among the WorldTour teams. We’ve already seen Acqua & Sapone’s Carlos Betancur making the move next year across to AG2R La Mondiale. He might be the first but he surely won’t be the last.

Given the vertiginous parcours of this year’s Vuelta, I’m rather sorry Colombia-Coldeportes didn’t get a wild card as they would surely have animated the mountain stages rather better than, say, Argos-Shimano. Nonetheless I’m thinking the young Colombians warrant more of an in-depth examination and we’ll be putting that on the VeloVoices ‘to do’ list. [Time to apply for some overtime … – Ed.]

VeloVoices was keeping an eye on the 23-year old Venezuelan Jonathan Monsalve (Androni Giocattoli-Venezuela), who rode in support of fourth-placed overall Franco Pellizotti to finish in the top 100. Movistar were top team and their man Sergio Pardilla bagged the KoM jersey, while Caja Rural’s Aitor Galdez won the sprints jersey. Sadly, no word on who was the best rider from Burgos!

Dani Moreno overall winner Vuelta a Burgos 2012 (image courtesy of official race site)

Dani Moreno, overall winner Vuelta a Burgos 2012 (image courtesy of official race site)

Stage 1: Miranda de Ebro to Complejo Karstico Ojo Guarene, 135km

Dani Moreno (Katusha) just beat Sergio Henao (Sky) in a photo finish atop the Cat 3 Ojo Guarena climb to take the leader’s jersey in the race where he was runner-up last year.

Henao’s team mate Ian ‘Hard as Nails’ Stannard (Sky) was the last men left from a sizeable breakaway of 16 riders when he was taken back by Rabobank and Orica-GreenEDGE – trying to set up their sprinters – 5km from the line. Orica-GreenEDGE led into the final kilometre but Moreno came to the fore after work done by his teammates, including last year’s winner Joaquim Rodriguez, and launched his bid for glory with 300m to go. Matti Breschel (Rabobank) was third, followed by sprinters Allan Davis (Orica-GreenEDGE) and French national champion Nacer Bouhanni (FDJ-BigMat).

Stage 2: Circuit of Burgos, 159km

Stage 2 winner Moreno against backdrop of Burgos (image courtesy of official race site)

Stage 2 winner Moreno against backdrop of Burgos (image courtesy of official race site)

Another day, another stage for Moreno as he once more outsprinted Henao for victory on another Cat 3 climb, El Castillo, to keep a firm grip on the leader’s jersey. This time the 30-year old Spaniard finished two seconds ahead of the Colombian while Simon Clarke (Orica-GreenEDGE) finished third, a further five seconds back.

Again, there was an early escape but they were never given too much leeway by Katusha and they were reeled back in with around 14km remaining. Sky went to the front of the peloton on the approach to the final climb, setting up Ben Swift who launched an early attack only to be brought back by Moreno’s teammate Rodriguez, who provided the perfect launch pad to the victor 500 metres out. Giovanni Visconti (Movistar) brought home the leading group, nine seconds down on Moreno as the peloton had fractured on that last of three climbs of El Castillo.

Stage 3: Santo Domingo de Silos to Lerma, 159km

Breschel held off Bouhanni and Swift in the uphill sprint finale for his maiden victory for Rabobank, and his first for two years. The day’s break formed early in the stage and gained an advantage of around five minutes but Katusha worked steadily and pulled them back with 20km left. Jose Toribio (Andalucia), who was part of the day’s breakaway trio, was rewarded for his efforts as he took the King of the Mountains jersey. Moreno finished in the bunch to retain his two-second advantage over Henao with stage winner Breschel in third, nine seconds back.

Stage 4: Dona Santos to Ciudad Romana de Clunia, 170km

Paul Maertens makes it Rabobank 2 - 2 Katusha (image courtesy of official race site)

Paul Martens makes it Rabobank 2 – 2 Katusha (image courtesy of official race site)

Stage four and the score was Katusha 2-2 Rabobank, with the latter winning another tough uphill stage this time with Paul Martens, who escaped from out of the leading group to finish ahead of race leader Moreno, who had won this stage in last year’s Vuelta. Clarke outsprinted Bouhanni for third place. Again, it was Martens’ first victory for almost two years.

The day’s early escape, which included the stage winner, was taken back with 28km remaining but then strong crosswinds caused havoc in the peloton leaving a leading group with 20 riders, including Moreno, Martens and Breschel. Juan Antonio Flecha (Sky) launched an attack, Martens bridged and then attacked again to take victory.

One notable absentee from the leading group was Henao, the rider lying second overall at the start of the day. Despite sterling work from his Sky team and Euskaltel, he was unable to close the gap to the leading group and dropped to tenth overall, 32 seconds off the pace. Breschel moved up to second at 13 seconds with former Giro winner Stefano Garzelli (Acqua & Sapone) third at 14 seconds.

Stage 5: Comarca Pinares to Laguna de Neila, 179.5km

Johan Esteban Chaves (Colombia-Coldeportes) took the final and queen stage on the summit of Lagunas de Neila, while Moreno battled to hold onto his cyclamen leader’s jersey by sprinting for the line to concede just 22 seconds and retain the overall, ten seconds ahead of runner-up Henao, with stage winner Chaves taking the final place on the podium. The young Colombian outsprinted compatriot Henao after they’d both been set up by Henao’s teammate Rigoberto Uran – a third Colombian – with a just a few kilometres of the final climb remaining. Euskaltel-Euskadi’s Igor Anton finished third, 11 seconds behind the winning pair.

Afterwards, Moreno confirmed that it had been a difficult day in the saddle:

This last stage wasn’t easy because it was very hard with steep climbing. In the end I suffered a little bit: when Henao attacked it was hard to follow him, but I had a good gap in general classification so I tried to managed it. Especially in the last part of the uphill I gave my best in order to gain some precious seconds while, during the stage, my teammates worked very hard to keep the breakaway under control. I want to thank my team, especially Purito [Joaquim Rodriguez]: he helped me a lot during this competition, now I’m ready to give my support to him during the Vuelta a Espana. I feel in a good shape, and he is too. I’m sure we will take some good results.

General classification:

1. Daniel Moreno (Katusha) 18:14:12

2. Sergio Henao (Sky) +0:10

3. Johan Esteban Chaves (Colombia-Coldportes) +0:16

4. Franco Pellizotti (Androni  Giocattoli-Venezuela) +0:50

5. Javier Moreno (Movistar) +0:58

6.  Robert Gesink (Rabobank) +1:03

7. Giovanni Visconti (Movistar) +1:09

8. Eros Capecchi (Liquigas-Cannondale) +1:28

9. Igor Anton (Euskaltel-Euskadi) +1:29

10. Tom Dumoulin (Argos-Shimano) +1:43

Links: PreviewOfficial website