Volta ao Algarve Overall Preview
Here it is! I've been very active in the cycling world and the subscription but this post marks the official end of my off-season :D
The race I've chosen to start off is a special one for me, as a Portuguese the Volta ao Algarve represents a different kind of excitement, it is one of the few races from here that gets international attention, and over the years the race has grown bigger and bigger, atracting lots of the main names in the peloton for the nice warm February weather in the Mediteranean. With names as Floyd Landis, Contador, Tony Martin, Richie Porte, Michal Kwiatkowski, Geraint Thomas, Primoz Roglic and more recently the Slovenian phenomenom Tadej Pogacar in the winner list, it doesn't fall short on history, and this year the list promises to gain another big name.
The race starts off with a flat stage, almost a perfect loop along the most known areas of the Algarve and will give the sprinters a chance to fight for the stage win and take the first leadership of the race.
Stage 2 provides the most important climbing test of the week, as the Alto da Fóia makes it's return for the 5th edition on a row. The stage mostly goes through some flat roads, not much going on as they start in Sagres, and they will head inland where they will find the final combination of climbs.
With the Pomba summiting with just 13 Kilometers to go, right before the 7.4Km final ascent to Fóia it should make for a hard challenge where the climbers will have their main chance to do damage.
The third stage will be the second and last opportunity for the sprinters to show their true colours. As the distance grows with over 200 Kilometers on the menu, the stage will have a rolling start which could facilitate a strong breakaway to be formed. A lot of the route will be next to the border with Spain, before moving inland and finally towards the sea again for a technical finish in Tavira.
And stage 4 is the very familiar face of the race, with the Alto do Malhão loop marking the finish of a hilly stage, that sometimes proves decisive but interestingly sometimes makes little difference. It's a day that depends completely on how it's raced, the start isn't favourable for a strong breakaway but that has happened in the past.
The stage goes through a rolling section before hitting the Malhão for the first time with 23.5Km to go, it then follows a mostly flat and somewhat descending terrain with the exception of a short steep pitch with 10Km to go.
Finally in the final day the riders will have with is likely the decisive day with a 20 Kilometer-long time-trial, this year making a loop along Lagoa. It is far from flat, there are two little climbs where the intermediate sprints are positioned, but overall there's a constant slight up-and-down throughout the lenght of the stage. It may be a dramatic finish to the race, with the biggest of gaps likely to be made here.
Great weather indeed! It's not by chance it's becoming an even more popular destination, even for training camps, the temperatures will come close to 20 degrees and sunny throughout the whole week.
With the season start for some riders, an early form peak or slow build up means the ambitions will vary widely throughout what are considered the main contenders. This makes the Algarve a very open race, with the climbing stages being explosive and with sketchy descents there's always spaces for surprises, and the time-trial will be crucial, as I usually say, the time-trial makes the differences, the climbs will set those who CAN fight for the win, and this route fits in that image.
It is indeed a luxury startlist, there are several divisions we can make in such a wide variety of contenders, the main ones to point out though should be those who can time-trial, that has often been the key point of the race. And looking at the startlist there's a name that stands out, cycling's golden boy (well, one of them) Remco Evenepoel will be at the start line and after a convincing debut win in a stage-race in San Juan, he comes in as a hot contender seeing how important the time-trialing will be, he comes supported mainly by a team focused on the sprints and the upcoming classics, but he's got Portuguese talent João Almeida as good support for the climbing.
Team INEOS have only gotten their first win this weekend in Provence but they come with a heavy and very strong team with lots of options, and time-trialing is absolutely their strong point. Past winners Geraint Thomas and Michal Kwiatkowski have a race that's suited to perfection, their form may not be so pronounced so it's unknown what their role will be, but on the other side there's Rohan Dennis and Dylan van Baarle who were very active (and very strong) in Australia and both also have a huge engine for that final stage, the British team can play a joker role in the race as they can both cover moves but also create chaos within the right circumstances. Within this league I will consider two names that are very explosive, both are considered puncheurs but they have also a big talent when it comes to both time-trialing and the climbing they'll face this week, Max Schachmann who should at this point be recovered from his injury in TDF last year, he's had a mega strong season last year and with those legs he's a major threat for the win here alongside teammate Felix Grossschartner who should be of great support, and the other is Tim Wellens who's delayed his season start to February for the first time since 2014 and should be interesting to see in what form he comes in, as he has a great record of starting off with a bang in Mallorca.
You've got some GT riders starting off their 2020 here, on Astana's side there's Miguel Angel Lopez, he shouldn't be a top contender as the route isn't hard enough for him, perhaps recent Murcia stage winner Luis Leon Sanchez is a better option, and in Trek-Segafredo we see the duo of Vincenzo Nibali and Bauke Mollema. With the latter being a punchy climber with some good time-trialing and the Italian eyeing one-day races more this year, we could see a sharp and dangerous duo who won't be afraid to lighten up the hilly stages. We have also some riders who've been in a great stint of form, Simon Geschke of CCC finished on the podium in Down Under and is looking for a successful European season, Dan Martin will loose time in the time-trial but is a crystal clear candidate for stage wins, and the same could be said of national star Rui Costa who's recently gotten a great win in Saudi Arabia and looks in flying form for what could become an important goal in his season. Also to regard, Vuelta a Murcia winner Xandro Meurisse who comes in very motivated and off the back of a great revelating season.
Lastly as a home race the national teams will always be on the lookout, Aviludo's Vicente Garcia de Mateos has already been out for results in Murcia, Henrique Casimiro and João Benta could be wildcards for the hills, and W52 have an interesting combo with home riders Amaro Antunes and João Rodrigues as leaders and with very justifiable ambitions, with Edgar Pinto also as an interesting backup.
The sprinter line-up is also one of the subjects that every year is a big subject, and even though this year there are only two opportunities there is a big number of riders eyeing them. Off the back of a strong win in Valencia Fabio Jakobsen comes as perhaps the man to beat in these, with a strong finish and a remarkable leadout he is set to be a constant presence in front. In normal circumstances his former teammate Elia Viviani would be the man to mark, but he hasn't struck gold yet this season and hasn't seemed to have the power, but either ways he has his Italian leadout with him and Simone Consonni has proven to be a worthy second option in case plans don't go out well.
The rest, well you may know an upcoming Dutch talent, Mathieu van der Poel? His presence here is special, and looking at Alpecin-Fenix's squad it's for much more than just the weather, although he can play a factor in Malhão he should be a more important presence in the sprints actually, and with Sacha Modolo and Kristian Sbaragli alongside it's not crazy to think he can actually take a win. Alexander Kristoff and Edward Theuns are my names that could complete the podium in those stages, and besides them we have Sunweb lead by young talent Cees Bol, he has a young leadout too, he may not have the experience the others do but he does have the power to take a possible win if he's able to fit the pieces of the puzzle, CCC have the Trentin/GVA combo, may be more for the hilly stages and surprises, Davide Cimolai for Israel, Matteo Malucelli and Jon Aberasturi for Caja Rural, Danny van Poppel for Circus and Bora have some interesting riders, between Martin Laas and Jempy Drucker we should see some Top10 action.
Of course, there's also another stage to be contested, and despite some of the GC riders being tremendous time-trialists there are some more names to be considered, they may target breaks, or be focusing on domestique duties, or simply saving their legs for that final day. Stefan Kung specially should be the main name to mark, whilst Yves Lampaert and Mikkel Bjerg who should mostly be in leadout of their leaders, Ryan Mullen and Jonathan Castroviejo should do the same for their climbers, and Nils Pollit is a big wildcard as he can time-trial but also be a joker in almost every stage, as a powehouse with a very strong sprint.
⭐ Costa, Geschke, Nibali, LL.Sanchez, Grossschartner
My take on this race is that an uprising Evenepoel will give continuation to what he started in San Juan. His TT prowess is really big, and as we've seen he is capable of dealing with all kinds of climbs. He doesn't have the best of support, that can be an issue, but I think allies will come aplenty as he won't be an attacked rider (with the TT in the final stage he surely won't wear yellow).
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