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Volta a Catalunya Preview

After a mini-Tour de France and a mini-Giro in Paris-Nice and Tirreno-Adriatico, the Volta a Catalunya sees a week of stage racing but it’s not a mini-Vuelta. There’s only one summit finish and no time trialling at all.

The field is packed with stage race specialists with Alberto Contador and Chris Froome as the obvious stars yet the outcome is far from predictable. With a series of tricky stages, variable weather and the hard final stage in Barcelona the winner will need to play their tactical cards carefully. It’s live on TV all week.

The format has seven stages across the region with many familiar places, riders who have done the last few editions will find familiar roads:

      • Stage 1: 191km with some climbing midway but an expected sprint finish
      • Stage 2: the sharp climb to Castelfollitt de la Roca awaits before the race plunges to the finish in Olot
      • Stage 3: the ramp of Els Angels features before Girona
      • Stage 4: there’s one ski station summit finish to La Molina on Thursday, a relatively short and punchy finish that featured on Stage 3 last year and saw a large bunch creep to the finish until “wild Froome” attacked and we got a quartet of Chris Froome, Joaquim Rodriguez, Alberto Contador and Nairo Quintana
      • Stage 5: another day, another stage with a late hill thrown in to upset the sprinters
      • Stage 6: a flat day for the sprinters teams to wrestle with the breakaway artists
      • Stage 7: Sunday’s traditional Barcelona stage on the hilly Montjuic circuit, this can be the decider thanks to the awkward hill repeats and time bonuses.

There are time bonuses with 10-6-4 seconds at the finish line and 3-2-1 for each of the two daily intermediate sprints.

Alejandro Valverde

Alejandro Valverde is the prime pick. At ease on the Strade Bianche he made the front group in yesterday’s Milan-Sanremo and has now made it to Spain. He will be half-broken today but can spin the legs for a couple of days before the summit finish which suits him with its gentle gradient. He can also snipe time bonuses throughout the race. Movistar are always a strong collective unit.

Chris Froome

Chris Froome heads up a very strong Team Sky. They look to have brought their Tour de France squad and Froome will probably need this more than ever. To exaggerate Froome could win the Tour de France without a team, with some luck he’d be in the right place for the climbs and can beat many GC contenders in a time trial. But for this week he’ll need his team to help him get every time bonus going. If Froome’s not up for the sprint then Richie Porte is the perfect Plan B and there’s even an outside chance for Wout Poels over the sharp climbs.

Alberto Contador says he’s picked up a cold but wants to be competitive and like Froome has his grand tour A-team with him, albeit without Peter Sagan although this week would have really suited the Slovak. Majka is back on domestique duties, while Michael Rogers, Ivan Basso, Sergio Paulinho and Jesus Hernandez are on hand. Comparisons between Contador and Froome will happen but both are in different phases of their season, Froome recovering from a chest infection and Contador building to the Giro. Neither need to be on form although their rivalry is such that the Vuelta a Andalucia turned into a fierce duel.

Rigoberto Uran is Etixx-Quickstep’s leader but he’s not got the sharpest of sprints so once again he’s likely to place but winning outright is harder. Fabio Aru was discreet in Paris-Nice but strong, Diego Rosa and Dario Cataldo could be Astana’s best bet. With the UCI demanding the team’s licence is pulled it’ll be an interesting test of team cohesion.

Ag2r La Mondiale have a strong team with Romain Bardet setting high ambitions, he’s a better sprinter than might be suggested by his long limbs; Domenico Pozzovivo offers more options for the team unlike Carlos Betancur who remains overweight and undertrained and will use the race to ride himself into shape with the Giro less than 50 days away. Lampre-Merida bring a solid team with Rafael Valls who did a good Paris-Nice and is joined by Przemo Niemiec.

For others the story is about pressure to perform. Dan Martin leads a strong Cannondale-Garmin team still hunting for its first win of 2015 in fact it’s the only World Tour team not to win a single World Tour ranking point this year. The Irishman wasn’t scintillating in Tirreno-Adriatico but can sprint well from a small group, the same for Andrew Talansky who flunked Paris-Nice but has a punchy finish. To help their almost on home soil with several of the Girona-based pros benefiting from local knowledge. Wilco Kelderman flopped in Paris-Nice too and Lotto-Jumbo still wait for their first win too, it’ll be harder as they have only seven riders compared to the eight permitted. Tejay van Garderen needs a result after public criticism from his team managers resulting from his Paris-Nice performance. Finally Lotto-Belisol have expectations for Jurgen van den Broeck, the perpetual outsider who has what it takes to finish on a grand tour podium but who has only ever won one race during 12 years as a pro, this track record means the hunt for time bonuses won’t suit.

There are a lot of climbers but they’ll need to raid the race to win, it’s hard to see anyone given much room to La Molina. Still the likes of Esteban Chaves, Kenny Elissonde, Pierre Rolland and Mikel Landa can act as catalysts to liven up the race.

Alejandro Valverde
Alberto Contador, Chris Froome
Richie Porte
Martin, Bardet, Kelderman, TvG, Uran, Talansky, Valls

Sprinters: this is a hilly race and many sprinters have stayed away leaving opportunities for others. Luka Mezgec is back after winning three stages last year, Bryan Coquard will find the course ideal too while Ewan is in excellent shape after the Tour de Langkawi. IAM Cycling’s Matteo Pelucchi packs the power but the hills will be hard work. As ever J-J Rojas is a contender but a rare winner. FDJ bring Lorrenzo Manzin and Lampre-Merida have Roberto Ferrari, Lotto-Belisol could back Greg Henderson if not he’ll be leading out Boris Vallée. This week often smiles on punchier sprinters, watch riders like Carlos Barbero, Julien Simon, Jonathan Hivert and Julien Alaphilippe.

Neo-pro watch: fellow blog Café Roubaix has counted up 16 neo-pros make their World Tour debut this week. Caleb Ewan is an obvious contender for the sprint finishes, Orica-Greenedge have some of the best quality U25 riders going. Elsewhere watch for Miguel Angel Lopez, aka “Superman” who won the Tour de l’Avenir last year before signing for Astana, a bizarre choice given the lack of rider development and Spanish speakers, let’s hope he’s on a giant contract. BMC’s Manuel Senni will be on team duty but was an excellent U23 climber last year, the same for IAM’s Clément Chevrier although he’ll have more room to try something in the mountains. Louis Vervake won two mountainous stage races in the U23 ranks last year, now he’s with Lotto-Soudal.

Weather: a real mix with some grim conditions early in the week before the sunshine appears for the later stages.

TV: It’s live on TV with coverage on Eurosport. Each stage is forecast to finish around 5.00pm CET except Sunday’s final stage which has a 2.30pm arrival.

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Andrew E Monday, 23 March 2015, 12:38 pm

    Interesting that most bloggers are rating Valverde as the favourite but I can see why as this is a strange race with its mix of mountains, sprints and rolling stages. Might it be too much to hope that Garmindale can get their act together and Dan Martin start to show some credentials over more than a one day event? Like Tejay, I see him as another rider with stage race ambitions to prove. This is the kind of race he should be picking off if he is going to be more than a guy for Ardennes Classics and build a palmares with stage race wins. And, of course, he has won this before (2013).

    • The Inner Ring Monday, 23 March 2015, 12:49 pm

      Martin didn’t have a great Tirreno-Adriatico, roughly the same as last year where he didn’t go so well in Catalonia either. But the course suits him. Still, I suspect he’s aiming to peak for the Ardennes classics, he’s got to be a top pick for the Flèche Wallonne already.

    • Ablindeye Monday, 23 March 2015, 1:19 pm

      I expect we’ll see Dan Martin following the same process as the last couple of years that has seen him contend at Fleche and, more notably, L-B-L…but having thought that meant likely anonymity here I was reminded by the powers of Pro Cycling Stats that he actually won in 2013 before winning L-B-L, so who knows!

      • Ablindeye Monday, 23 March 2015, 1:20 pm

        Reading your own post properly would also have helped…

      • Asero Monday, 23 March 2015, 3:25 pm

        Dan Martin will need the help of his teammates if he plans to land in the top 10. But he is a good decender to keep him. But Froome and Berti will pedal wild causing selection in almost every stage

  • Anonymous Monday, 23 March 2015, 12:45 pm

    I was wondering where the Invisible Man (D Martin) would appear.

  • Anonymous Monday, 23 March 2015, 12:50 pm

    No mention of Barguil?

    • The Inner Ring Monday, 23 March 2015, 12:54 pm

      No, wanted to keep it brief. He didn’t have a great Paris-Nice with the crash and if the injuries were superficial he didn’t get the whole race in his legs. Plus he did fall towards the back of the bunch on the climb suggesting he’s not in top shape yet. Course suits him if he’s on form.

    • Asero Monday, 23 March 2015, 3:26 pm

      he is not even top 5 French climber or puncher

  • Ian Monday, 23 March 2015, 12:53 pm

    Agree with Valverde, this course looks perfect for him and my money’s on him. I think Richie Porte is far more suited to this course than Froome and should be supported by Sky if Froome isn’t looking likely to win it. Uran is capable of a top 3 finish too. Too many question marks about so many of the others..

    http://www.cyclingbetting.co.uk/volta-ciclista-a-catalunya-2015

  • DH Monday, 23 March 2015, 1:34 pm

    INRNG, have you ever done an analysis mapping your predictions to the eventual race winners? I guess you could work out some sort of points/weighting system for the cog-ratings : actual results. Would probably make interesting reading for long-time blog readers. Appreciate your predictions aren’t meant as gospel but could be a potentially fun exercise for yourself.

  • Ronan Monday, 23 March 2015, 2:00 pm

    I’ve been wondering for a while now what exactly Garmin’s plan is for 2015. Outside Dan Martin it’s hard to see anyone giving them a big win. Talansky will place well in stage races but stage wins aren’t his forte and overall is tough task, and he’d need some fortune, like at the Dauphiné to do this.

    Outside these two, they have nobody else to lead them. Even at MSR yesterday, they had Haas, Navaradauskas and Langeveld all active in the finale but it looks like a squad without a leader. Lack of a notable sprinter too means that they can’t hoover up some ‘easy’ uci points in the flat stages.

    • The Inner Ring Monday, 23 March 2015, 2:04 pm

      Budget’s a big issue, they’re trying to spend money on bringing on riders and having good support staff but all while having an annual spend towards the bottom end of the World Tour squads. Dan Martin’s contract is up this year too.

      • Andrew E Monday, 23 March 2015, 8:39 pm

        Martin’s contract being up at the end of this season should be alerting Team Sky. He would be a perfect fit for them and would give them an immediate Ardennes/Lombardia contender who can also play his part on their grand tour teams too.

    • Anonymous Monday, 23 March 2015, 3:32 pm

      I feel like they have lots of quantity in talent, but maybe not enough quality. Strong rouleurs (Navaraduaskas, Bauer, Ryder, Langeveld) , a few punchy guys (Slatger, Haas, Howes, Moser), and a few stage race Top 5 guys (Talansky, Martin). But not enough finishers maybe outside of TJS. But it’s the youngest team out there and because of the merger its a transition year so they’ve got some time to figure it out. I feel like with all the young guys it actually be the most talented Garmin squad ever, but just need time (Formolo, Domborski, Mohoric)

      • Hackintheback Monday, 23 March 2015, 5:53 pm

        I feel the same. Certainly a transition year for them, so a bit of a drop-off isn’t entirely unexpected. Still, they have to be concerned not only with a lack of results, but the fact that they’ve essentially been a non-factor in every race thus far. Certainly there’s young talent there, but one has to wonder if – given the lack of results and challenges they’ve had finding/keeping sponsors – they’ll be around long enough to see it blossom. They can only cling to the ghosts of Ryder’s Giro win for so long…

  • Asero Monday, 23 March 2015, 3:21 pm

    who do you think will surprise here? I really see the top 10 GCs will be separated by less than 15 seconds

  • Asero Monday, 23 March 2015, 3:31 pm

    Intersting how Aru will match up against Uran.

  • FestusAquila Monday, 23 March 2015, 5:51 pm

    Matches very closely. Just a consonant different !

  • The Inner Ring Monday, 23 March 2015, 6:25 pm

    With one stage the race is already turned upside down. Both Pierre Rolland and Bart de Clercq are capable of winning the race. Rolland wasn’t looking too strong in Tirreno-Adriatico but can fight / defend his lead. De Clercq is a curious rider, as neo-pro in the Giro he attacked on a summit finish, went solo and held off the entire race to win the stage, a huge performance as it was a climb where the bunch could ride fast, 6% slopes and a solo rider was at a real disadvantage but he did it. He’s done little else since.

    • CoDrvr Tuesday, 24 March 2015, 12:08 am

      I wouldn’t discard Maciek’s chances of defending the podium spot at least.

  • J Evans Monday, 23 March 2015, 7:06 pm

    We often hear lots of anti-radio sentiments: without radios, stages like this where riders are allowed a very big gap would be considerably more common. For me, that just makes it a bit of a lottery and that would be the big downside of getting rid of radios – you can have too much of a random factor.

    • beno Monday, 23 March 2015, 8:44 pm

      disagree – there’s still the moto with the chalkboard. Well done to the brave 3 today! You see a lottery because the expected names didn’t compete the finish, I see a refreshing result and what it must mean to the careers of de Clercq and Paterski.

      • Anonymous Monday, 23 March 2015, 9:03 pm

        +1 Chalkboard wins, besides it doesn’t need recharging.

    • Andrew E Monday, 23 March 2015, 8:50 pm

      I don’t understand this comment. And besides, today wasn’t caused by “no radio”. It was caused by being given false information. If there had been no radios at all the peloton would have ridden the stage differently. At least, one hopes so.

      • J Evans Tuesday, 24 March 2015, 9:34 am

        Yes, it was more of a general comment than specifically on today.
        I take the points above about the moto, but the moto doesn’t give specific information about who is where. I see the advantages of that, but I also see some disadvantages.
        As for that stage being an exciting race, I didn’t see a race – Larry, you were better off asleep.

    • Ferdi Tuesday, 24 March 2015, 8:02 am

      I cannot disagree more. Breakaway victories like yesterday are great, and this one is going to turn an otherwise not very promising Volta into a very good one.

      • J Evans Tuesday, 24 March 2015, 9:37 am

        Just to add, breakaway victories are great. But only if the pack actually chase: yesterday felt more like a procession.
        And I don’t see how this Volta was unpromising. It could now turn into a non-event if the ‘big’ riders decide it’s just not worth trying to cut Rolland’s gap.

        • Anonymous Tuesday, 24 March 2015, 10:16 am

          This Volta was unpromising in the sense that it was most likely to be about the last 500m atop La Molina, whereas now, whoever wants to win will have to use any minor climb to to try and create gaps (starting today), none of the three teams interested in controlling have the power to ensure it, and a massacre over the Creueta is brewing.

          • The Inner Ring Tuesday, 24 March 2015, 10:19 am

            The Creuta is a gentle climb. I don’t know how Paterski climbs but De Clercq and Rolland are both big gear climbers who will like big ring climbing as they can hold the wheels. It’s worth trying to crack them but how? Any team going wild early to eliminate the three risks losing their own men for the final part of the stage and gifting the result to a rival team. In some ways Tinkoff-Saxo might prefer to lose to Rolland rather than Sky.

  • Larry T. Monday, 23 March 2015, 10:06 pm

    I tuned this thing in….and after the replay of MSR I can say only one thing: ZZZZZZZZZZZZZzzzzzzzzzzz. Maybe there will be some RACING tomorrow? Otherwise it’s the NO-DOZ Classic.

    • plurien Monday, 23 March 2015, 11:47 pm

      With a reported average over 52km and a breakaway succeeding big style we’re wondering what you want to go watching cycle sport for.

      • Ferdi Tuesday, 24 March 2015, 8:05 am

        For some reason, Larry T. always finds a way to despise racing in France and Spain.

      • Larry T. Tuesday, 24 March 2015, 8:07 am

        I admit to dozing off a few times, but there seemed to be plenty of bicycle RIDING, but not much racing. Hard to believe I slept through all the exciting parts, but I won’t be watching any replays. Your mention of the high average speed reminded me of ol’ Mr. Mars’ excuse for not doing more to get rid of doping. Something about how the public wouldn’t accept a TdF run off at 25 kph. How fast they go doesn’t really interest me, I want to see attacks, counter-attacks, etc. When the broadcast yesterday finally began, the breakaway had a huge gap that gradually closed, but the commentators blabbed about anything and everything else since what was on the screen was dull, dull, dull. At no time (at least when I was awake) did it look like the huge gap could be closed before the finish. I’ll try watching again today in hope of more than a 52 km average speed, etc. 🙂

      • Eskerrik Asko Tuesday, 24 March 2015, 8:12 am

        ???

        185.2 km, 4.33.41, ~41 km/h?

      • J Evans Tuesday, 24 March 2015, 9:38 am

        52km/h = bad Catalan graphics. Not true in a million years.

  • Anonymous Tuesday, 24 March 2015, 8:52 am

    Enjoyed watching the break, how about a radical technological advancement and run a time gap on screen!!

  • Dr Manhattan Tuesday, 24 March 2015, 11:09 am

    What’s with the stage profile graphics? In Catalunya all climbs are grey?

    • Anonymous Tuesday, 24 March 2015, 12:26 pm

      It seems to be a matter of overall event style: not only are the profiles impressionistic, but the race graphics (52m/h average…) and the oficial race info (6 minute break…) as well.

    • Tovarishch Tuesday, 24 March 2015, 12:30 pm

      In tribute to Antoni Gaudí?

      • The Inner Ring Tuesday, 24 March 2015, 1:07 pm

        Or Salvador Dali, his clock paintings come to mind with the time gaps yesterday.

        • hoh Tuesday, 24 March 2015, 5:12 pm

          The Dali clock is a very appropriate metaphor.

          It doesn’t seem to be the first time race organisers muck up though. Two years ago, there was a six minute gap or something of the sort in a flat stage, also thanks to the organisers’ mis-information.

  • Anonymous Tuesday, 24 March 2015, 1:59 pm

    Lotto Belisol => Lotto Soudal?

    • Dr Manhattan Wednesday, 25 March 2015, 11:52 am

      MumboJumboLottoSoudal.Nl-Be.#Confuse-O-Rama!

  • Anonymous Wednesday, 25 March 2015, 12:20 am

    Everybody knew about the time gaps who was on twitter or watching tv. I can’t take this “we didn’t get the right information” very serious