A short preview with thanks to Portuguese blogger Rui Quinta who has helped decrypt each stage. It’s a compact race with something for the sprinters, climbers and a technical time trial, a good guide of early season form for climbers and classics contenders alike.
With many big names in Oman, there are still plenty of riders to watch here with Rui Costa, Chris Horner, Michał Kwiatkowski, Alberto Contador and Mark Cavendish.
Stage 1 (Wednesday): it looks like it’s for sprinters, but it’s not. The stage starts in Faro, the main city of the Algarve. At 1.1km before the finish there’s a roundabout riders have to get around to left and last year it caused some troubles. Then has a 500m hill between 6/7%, 100m flat and 500m downhill until finish line. In 2010 Vaugrenard attacked on the climb, Gilbert did the same in 2011, Meersman makes the difference descending in 2012 and in 2013 Paul Martens and Tiago Machado takes advantage with the trouble on the roundabout. It’s a hard finish for sprinters and their lead-out men to control.
Stage 2 (Thursday): The last 60km are Ardennes-style, about ups and downs. There’s a climb with 4km at 7.5% and then 6 km descending to the finish line. I think guys like Rui Costa or Tiago Machado will attack because they want win so much.
Stage 3 (Friday): a time trial that’s technical. Both the start and finish have several tight corners making it suitable for riders like Michał Kwiatkowski or Rui Costa, those that can brake-accelerate-repeat. It’s flat and the last km is cobbled.
Stage 4 (Saturday): Queen stage with the usual summit to Alto do Malhão. This year it will be harder. After a start out of Algarve for the first time in many years riders have to face Malhão with 40 km to go for the first time, then it’s up and down till the finish. There’s a 1km rise of 13% with 11 km to go and again Malhão (2,6 km at 10%) is climbed to the finish line. Note the y-axis of the profile is generous, the Fóia is the highest point in the region at 903 metres.
Stage 5 (Sunday): It’s unusual, but Volta ao Algarve will end this year with a circuit. Stage starts in Tavira, city that hosts the oldest team in the world, this year called Banco BIC-Carmim but previously Palmeiras Resort-Tavira. They are on road from 1979 and won Tour of Portugal 2008, 09 and 10 with David Blanco and 2011 with Ricardo Mestre. The race ends with five laps to Vilamoura circuit. Vilamoura is one of the luxurious zones in Algarve with a big Marina and big hotels like Hilton.
It’s a great opportunity for sprinters.
The Contenders: Here are Quinta’s ratings:
***** Rui Costa and Michał Kwiatkowski
**** Tony Martin and Alberto Contador
*** Tiago Machado, Simon Spilak and Wilco Kelderman
** Chris Horner, Jonathan Castroviejo
INRNG: I’d add some more names to watch. Cofidis’s Rein Taaramäe and Jérôme Coppel could both be thereabouts too. Movistar could crowd the time trial with both Alex Dowsett and Adriano Malori but neither are climbers. Belkin’s Sep Vanmarcke is back in action, watch his form for a pointer to the classics. Also Tinkoff-Saxo’s Polish climber Rafał Majka is aiming for the Giro this year and should crack the top-10 if he’s in form. With the sprinters Mark Cavendish is back and his his full train, he’ll face in-form Sacha Modolo (Lampre-Merida), Bryan Coquard (Europcar) and Arnaud Démare (FDJ).
TV: good news and bad news again. It was going to be shown on TV and was in early versions of Eurosport’s listings but now it seems to have dropped off. The weekend’s stages could be live but don’t hold your breath.
Algarve: what links Oman and the Algarve? Language. The Algarve area of Portugal comes from Al Gharb in Arabic meaning “The West”. The Algarve though is the southern coast of Portugal. Portugal has rich cycling history which perhaps isn’t reflected in the peloton today with Rui Costa as the only household name.
Carro Vassoura: A big thanks to Rui Quinta and the Carro Vassoura blog (“Broom Wagon” in Portuguese) for the stage guides and the top picks for the race. www.carrovassoura.blogspot.pt