Spanish early season races: Challenge Mallorca review


The Spanish racing season has kicked off with the 22nd Iberostar Challenge Ciclista Mallorca – four single-day races – raced around the island of Mallorca, the home of many a pro cycling training camp during the winter months.

The event is a series of 1.1 HC one day races on the UCI Europe Tour. It cannot be classed as a multi-day stage race because race rules allow riders to sit out certain days if they don’t want to race. There has been no overall classification winner since 2010.

This relaxed attitude by the race organisers makes the race popular with team managers who can bring a large squad (sometimes as many as 20 riders) and interchange them over the four days. Apart from the overall classification there are the usual mountains, points and sprints competitions, plus one for the top Majorcan based rider.

Trofeo Palma (3rd February)

Kenny De Haes wins in Palma (image courtesy of Lotto Belisol)

Kenny Dehaes wins in Palma (image courtesy of Lotto Belisol)

Kenny Dehaes (Lotto Belisol) won the sprint for the line from Tyler Farrar (Garmin Sharp) and Ben Swift (Sky) after ten laps of an 11.6km circuit around the island’s capital. An early break with Perrig Quemeneur (Europcar) and Francisco Moreno (Caja Rural)  – who subsequently punctured and was dropped – built around a four-minute advantage before being hauled back by the sprinters’ teams inside the final 20 km.

This was Dehaes’ first victory for five years  – he last won stages in the Four Days of Dunkirk and Tour of Belgium in 2008 – and builds on the team’s early success with Andre Greipel at the Tour Down Under.

On the team’s website Dehaes said:

We knew this stage usually ends with a bunch sprint, so before the race we agreed that we would give me a chance, which turned out perfectly … I felt someone was coming from the left, so I decided to start sprinting, because in the past I sometimes let others close me in. And luckily I could hold on – the puzzle pieces fell perfectly into place.


1. Kenny Dehaes (Lotto Belisol) 2:39:07

2. Tyler Farrar (Garmin Sharp) same time

3. Ben Swift (Sky) s/t

4.  Alessandro Petacchi (Lampre-Merida) s/t

5. Fran Ventoso (Movistar) s/t

6. Jose Joasquin Rojas (Movistar) s/t

7. Adrien Petit (Cofidis) s/t

8. Viktor Manakov (RusVelo) s/t

9. Yoeri Havik (Rikke Shanks) s/t

10. Arthur Ershov (RusVelo) s/t

Trofeo Campos (formerly Migjorn) (4th February)

Leigh Howard just throws his handlebars across the line first (image courtesy of Orica-GreenEDGE)

Leigh Howard just throws his handlebars across the line first (image courtesy of Orica-GreenEDGE)

In-form Leigh Howard (Orica-GreenEDGE) made use of his track skills – and some pre-race planning – to negotiate the run-in to the finish beating Tyler Farrar and Jose Joaquin Rojas (Movistar) to the line, after an eight-rider break was reeled back in the final kilometres of the 167km stage from Santanyi to Ses Salinas.

This was Orica-GreenEDGE’s third win of the season after Simon Gerrans’ stage win on Willunga Hill in the Tour Down Under and Svein Tuft’s in the Tour de San Luis time-trial.

Afterwards, Howard said:

We knew it would be a crazy, hectic and potentially dangerous sprint. I’m glad we had the preview. It allowed us to formulate a plan that we stuck to almost to a T. I came out on top because everyone did their jobs. The team has given me a great opportunity here and put a lot of faith in me. It’s nice to repay them.


1. Leigh Howard (Orica-GreenEDGE) 3:56:24

2. Tyler Farrar (Garmin-Sharp) same time

3. Jose Joaquin Rojas (Movistar) s/t

4. Egoitz Garcia (Cofidis) s/t

5. Enrique Sanz (Movistar) s/t

6. Fran Ventoso (Movistar) s/t

7. Alessandro Petacchi (Lampre-Merida) s/t

8. Kenny Dehaes (Lotto Belisol) s/t

9. Yoeri Havik (Rijke Shanks) s/t

10. Ben Swift (Sky) s/t

Trofeo Serra de Tramuntana (5th February)

Alejandro Valverde wins on third day of racing (image courtesy of Movistar)

Alejandro Valverde wins on the third day of racing (image courtesy of Movistar)

Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) put his abilities as a sprinter to good effect to beat Sergio Henao (Sky) and Robert Gesink (Blanco) on the 152km stage across the northern coast from Deia to the Monasterio de Lluc.

The stage profile suited the climbers, with the first-category Coll de Puig Major coming just 19km from the finish. Valverde was assisted by last year’s Tour de Suisse winner, Rui Costa, who finished fourth.

Sprinter Ben Swift (Sky) led home the rest. The team and Valverde, for whom this was his 70th victory, are looking good for next week’s Volta ao Algarve. After the race, Valverde said:

I knew I was strong, but I didn’t quite know how my reactions were going to be as I’m taking things more cautiously this season … I want to thank  all my teammates, the people who are always supporting me and Movistar, for their continued help so this project carries on.


1. Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) 4:04:57

2. Sergio Henao (Sky) same time

3. Robert Gesink (Blanco) s/t

4. Rui Costa (Movistar) s/t

5. Ben Swift (Sky) +00:51

6. Przemyslaw Niemiec (Lampre-Merida)  s/t

7. Bart de Clerq (Lotto Belisol) s/t

8. Tony Martin (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) +1:13

9. Pieter Weening (Orica-GreenEDGE) +1:15

10. Ian Bibby (Madison Genesis) s/t

Trofeo Alcudia (6th February)

He wins again! (image courtesy of Orica-GreenEDGE)

He wins again! (image courtesy of Orica-GreenEDGE)

Leigh Howard (Orica-GreenEDGE) won the fourth and final stage on the lumpy 169.8km stage from Can Picafort to Playa de Muro.

A large break which included riders of the calibre of Robert Gesink (Blanco), Michael Matthews (Orica-GreenEDGE), Xavier Zandio (Sky), Angel Madrazo (Movistar) and Mikel Astarloza (Euskaltel-Euskadi) dominated the day’s proceedings but everyone was back in the bunch with just 5km remaining, setting up the sprint finish which was bossed by the Orica boys.

Howard was delighted with his second win for the team:

A massive thanks to all the boys for supporting me the entire race. Without them it’s not possible and thanks to Stevo [Neil Stephens] for having faith in me again.


1. Leigh Howard (Orica-GreenEDGE) 4:15:29

2. Maarten Wynants (Blanco) same time

3. Davide Cimolai (Lampre-Merida) s/t

4. Egoitz Garcia (Cofidis) s/t

5. Jose Joaquin Rojas (Movistar) s/t

6. Angelo Tulikl (Europcar) s/t

7. Gianni Meersman (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) s/t

8. Robbie Hunter (Garmin Sharp) s/t

9.  Segio Henao (Sky) s/t

10. Rigoberto Uran (Sky) s/t


A number of the teams will leave Mallorca with smiles on their faces while a few are bound to have been disappointed. For many teams, just starting racing and getting in the mix would have been sufficient reward, but everyone likes to get an early win in the bag as it takes the pressure off the whole team and, as we know, wins are like buses – one is often closely followed by another.

The Australians generally start the season well, having spent the winter months Down Under and getting up to speed both for their national championships and their national Tour. Leigh Howard (Orica-GreenEDGE) picked up a couple of top five placings in the sprints at the Tour de San Luis, obviously came to Mallorca feeling confident and he repaid the faith placed him by the team. In addition the team picked up two King of the Mountains jerseys: one with Wesley Sulzberger on day three and one on the final day with sprinter Michael Matthews.

Movistar will have been delighted to get onto the scoresheet with Alejandro Valverde‘s win on the only real mountainous stage, ably assisted by Rui Costa. In addition, riders such as Jose Joaquin Rojas and Fran Ventoso were challenging in the sprints and others such as Angel Madrazo played their part in breakaways.

Sky are another team that will look back on their time in Mallorca with smiles thanks to the endeavours of their Colombian duo Sergio Henao and Rigoberto Uran and sprinter Ben Swift. In addition, Sir Bradley Wiggins was looking lively on a couple of the stages but it’s far too early for him to shine.

Link: Official race website