Volta a Portugal Preview
As it isn't a part of my original schedule, adding to the very busy period of World Tour racing, I won't be writing daily previous on the race, but I will be sharing my thoughts and favourites on twitter everyday. The reason I will do so is because as some of you must know this is my home race, a race with plenty of history and reputation and not only will I be following it all on TV, I will also be on the road in the final time-trial, which will be raced in my home roads.
The opening prologue as it is tradition in the race. In the streets of Viseu there will be a steep and technical section, but no big gaps will be made here, so much as to say it is to define a leader.
Stage 1 is already quite a hard one, in the Aldeias do Xisto and the area severely struck by fires in 2017 we will see the first dificulties of the day, and then a gradual descent (if I can call it that) into the city of Leiria will be the first important day. Gaps between the favourites aren't expected but the leadership in the teams should be understood in such a hard day, and it can fall for any type of rider.
Stage 2 is a classical Portuguese profile, tough terrain all-day long and a finish that suits the puncheurs, type of rider that doesn't really exist here so it will be a duel pretty much between the climbers and the sprinters. In a small hilltop finish the lead is set to change and some small gaps can be set, and bonifications will have an important role.
Stage 3 the race starts to go inland, this is the first stage where the serious heat will be felt if all goes normal, it's another day that the Spanish call rompe-piernas and it's completely fitting. Another stage that suits a breakaway, climbers, sprinters, late attacks, it can fall for any side really in another slight uphill finish in Castelo Branco.
Stage 4 is the queen stage of the race. A smart move having it early on, the Serra da Estrela and the Volta are unseperable, there isn't a single year where the race doesn't go through continental Portugal's highest mountain. This year will be a different run-up than the usual, there won't be any loop around the mountain but a rugged run-up through the Lousã and Gardunha mountains until the riders go up to the Torre, the highest point in the continent at almost 2000 meters through it's hardest vertent via Covilhã, with 20.5Km at 6.4%, the riders will pass through Penhas da Saúde where last year's stage finished but will go all the way to the mountain's peak.
After the rest day comes another hilly stage, another familiar finish as it was where in 2017 the Serra da Estrela finished, it's another very hard day that could fall on any side, but another hilltop finish in quite a steep cobbled climb in it's last meters that will have the GC riders on their limit once again.
Stage 6, at first sight you wouldn't believe it but there's over 3600 meters of climbing in this stage, and there is no real climb actually. It is an absolute roller coaster stage through the Trás-os-Montes region where flat roads barely don't exist, the roughness will go all the way to the line in a complicated finish in Bragança.
Stage 7 is another summit finish, in the north of Portugal the Serra do Larouco is a recent adition to the race and it is used sometimes, a fairly rolling climb but it will have a harder aproach this year with the Torneiros climb relatively close to the finish. A stage where gaps can appear at the finish but the race needs to be attacked adding to it's natural dificulty.
Stage 9 sees the start by the see but heads inland, for another hilltop finish in Santa Quitéria in Felgueiras, a rare sight in the race but a finish that should be interesting with a 2Km climb at 8%, anteceding the final summit finish.
Which is maybe Portugal's most iconic climb the Senhora da Graça, there isn't a year that goes by without a finish in this climb, it usually sees differences specially as the run-up, like last year, is made through the Serra do Alvão with some rough climbs in there. This climb has an immense reputation in the outdoors, a climb where the power outputs are usually over the roof and it should be no exception this year, despite being in the backend of the race and of a hard stage.
And the final day is a time-trial, starting right in my home city! It isn't often that the race comes by Porto but this year there is a pretty big importance given to it, the final time-trial should settle the final gaps and see the winner come out in Porto's historic center. The time-trial is really hard I can tell you by experience, there is a number of short and steep ramps in the opening kilometers, as the riders go over the river they will have a very steep descent into the riverside, and then the final climb into the finish is also very hard with rough cobblestones and equally rough gradients from which only the toughest can succeed.
How's the weather?
It's August in Portugal. If you don't know this already, the temperatures can get HELLISH! If there's some luck, there may be some fresh days, those that are by the sea, bookending the race. But the bulk of it will be in the interior as usual and as always the riders have to be well adapted to the heat as that's what expected during the race.
W52 - FC Porto
The defending champions, every year since the team's creation in 2013 and this year they come out as the overwhelming favourites once again. Portugal's single Pro Continental team and they come with the goal of taking a 7th win.
Efapel / Ludofoods Louletano Aviludo / Sporting Clube de Portugal-Tavira
The national teams that come with serious overall goals, likely the ones looking to fight to get in the podium and may fight for stage wins in the breakaway days.
Radio Popular Boavista / Vito-Feirense-Pnb
Teams for the stage wins, with no real overall objectives (although they are bound to come) they should focus on the breakaways and the sprints where they are most likely to win a stage.
UD Oliveirense-InOutbuild / LA Aluminios / Miranda - Mortágua
The remaining national teams, these come with bery limited chances of taking a win and to fight for the overall is out of question. Secondary classifications and an elusive lucky win are the goal.
Israel Cycling Academy / Team Arkéa Samsic / Caja Rural - Seguros RGA / Euskadi Basque Country - Murias
The foreign Pro Continental teams, in these are interesting riders, some will come with serious goals and some may come to prove a point and prove they're worthy for the Vuelta. These teams should be interesting to follow, if they can keep up with the Portuguese I doubt but stage wins and surprises are expected.
Medellin / Amore & Vita - Prodir / Swiss Racing Academy
The strongest Continental teams including Medellin which is coming straight from a dominating performance in China. These teams have good chances of taking wins, the sprints from the Swiss teams and the other two to ride strong in the mountains.
ProTouch / Fundación Euskadi / BAO - Sicasal - Petro de Luanda
The rest of the teams, not much expected from them but they will be frequent presences in the breakaways and possibly jerseys in the first few days.
It's a special race here, with 11 days of racing with lots of climbing in the menu it's a race that can be decided in almost every day, nonetheless there are some obvious contenders.
W52 turned Pro Continental this year and with it they are taking maybe a stronger team than they have in the past, despite the reigning champion Alarcon missing due to injury, Joaquim Silva missing due to having raced in China last week and Rui Vinhas by option, they come with Edgar Pinto and António Carvalho as co-leaders, João Rodrigues likely will also be in the same level, also a candidate for the leadership of the team and Ricardo Mestre who's been racing strong this season. Daniel Mestre and Samuel Caldeira can get sprint wins and work in the mountains and Gustavo Veloso came to replace Alarcon, a controversial decision but he will be there to support.
The competition, Jóni Brandão is the main one, with the support of Henrique Casimiro he is having another very strong season so far and the last few years he's been the main opponent of the blue squad, this year his team is still far from the best but he's got solid support, Serra da Estrela is his territory and I think that he needs to be in yellow after that day to have any chance of winning, because W52 will be attacking from all sides.
His main allie but rival at same time is Vicente Garcia de Mateos, he's finished third in the last two editions and his strong spot is his sprint, he's a serious contender to the sprint finishes as most are uphill and he has an ease getting bonifications. These two were the ones that finished on the podium last year behind Alarcon.
Sporting-Tavira have Frederico Figueiredo, one of the country's best prospects for the future, he's been slowly evoluting every year and finished 5th last year. The team got two riders that came back to Portugal this year, José Mendes and Tiago Machado. The results were not there at all for neither of them except the day Mendes became national champion, the attention will definetely be on them over Figueiredo but if they want a chance to the podium they have to focus on their leader. Alejandro Marque will be a joker, strong rider in the time-trials but his climbing is descreasing every year.
As for the other Portuguese teams there's João Benta of Boavista, a solid rider for the Top10, he climbs well but never finds his way around the time-trials. Alongside Daniel Silva and David Rodrigues they form an interesting trio but neither of them seem strong enough to fight for more than a place in the Top10. Vito-Feirense have Jesus del Pino, Oliveirense have youngster Venceslau Fernandes, not proper GC contender but they could surprise, the other teams don't have a rider that could be seen as one.
From the outside teams, there's a history of them not being able to contest the race, either lesser form or just sheer impact of how different this race is from a normal one. Israel have Awet Gebremedhin is coming as the rider for the GC, Arkéa have an experienced Brice Feillu, Caja Rural have Domingos Gonçalves who was 9th last year and Sergio Pardilla who in 2013 got to lead the race, Amore & Vita have Danilo Celano and Pierpaolo Ficara who could be an interesting duo for the mountains, but perhaps the biggest competition will be from Medellin who have recently dominated the Tour of Qinghai Lake, Oscar Sevilla and Cristhian Montoya come as the leaders, the hard stint of racing they just came out of may bring fatigue but they came from extreme altitude where some advantages may be shown back racing at sea level.
As for the sprinters there's an interesting startlist, there's a bigger presence of these from the foreign teams that will be looking to make their mark in Portugal. No huge name but all teams have names pretty much, Arkéa come with Bram Welten, Maxime Daniel and Robert Wagner as a strong leadout for the easier sprints, August Jensen of Israel will like the finishes as they allow the explosive puncheurs to get themselves in the fight.
Caja Rural have the strong Matteo Malucelli and Nelson Soto duo, another serious contender for the faster finishes, Amore & Vita have Davide Appolonio who is coming back from a 4-year suspension when he was racing for AG2R, Euskadi have Mikel Aristi which finalizes a very strong list of riders coming into for the stage wins.
As for the Portuguese, Daniel Mestre and Samuel Caldeira for W52, Rafael Silva from Efapel, Luis Gomes of Boavista, Leangel Linarez of Miranda, but mainly there's the aforementioned Vicente de Mateos who is going to be up there in all of them, but mainly João Matias from Vito who is the nation's new pure sprinters, a track rider and he has the speed in the easy finishes, if he can resist the climbs is still a bit unknown.
⭐ Figueiredo, Marque, Sevilla, Benta, Mestre, Ficara, Feillu, Gebremedhin
I'm ranking Edgar Pinto as the top favourite to win this year's edition. He has had to deal with a lot of bad luck in the past with serious crashes, last year he was 4th but this year he's on the team that most confidence transmits, alongside great performances he's had this season including a 5th place in the Tour of Turkey.
Make sure to let me in on your opinion, and of course follow me on twitter for the latest updates!