The Volta a Catalunya dates back to 1911, making it over 20 years older than the Vuelta Espana. It’s therefore no surprise the race has been part of the top tier calendar since the inaugural ‘Pro Tour’ in 2005 and has an honours list stacked with big names. Despite its rich history, Catalunya has never gone stale. Whilst the likes of Paris-Nice have maintained a balanced week of racing, the Catalunya organizers design routes full of rolling hills and sharp climbs. Here are my quick picks for this year’s race.
I was surprised to see Froome open as a heavy favourite for Catalunya having never really excelled in this race. There’s always one race per season where Froome merely clocks up the miles and that could be Catalunya this year. The bookmakers soon adjusted to make 2009 champion Alejandro Valverde the favourite but I think he’ll be out-climbed on this hard route.
The Winner – Alberto Contador 13/2
Since being knocked off his perch as the best active Grand Tour rider, Contador has entered a slightly deranged state of trying to win every race he enters. It’s brilliant to see him attack the likes of Quintana and Froome and constantly delivers the sort of racing we all crave. It’s for these reasons I’m expecting him to approach Catalunya with the same vigour he displayed in Paris-Nice. If he’s not too tired he could climb his way to glory. Trek must team time-trial better than they did in Tirreno.
The Contender(s) – Mikel Landa 12/1 & Geraint Thomas 15/2
Being co-leaders for the Giro d’Italia means I’m allowed to group Landa and Thomas together in this preview. It makes sense for Catalunya to be a Giro d’Italia stepping stone and I expect the pair to go better than Froome. Putting it another way, it will be criminal if they aren’t allowed to ride for themselves. Thomas has shown his climbing legs recently and it’s about time Landa rediscovers some of his old magic. Sky should make up for a wheel-splittingly bad TTT in Italy and have brought the resources for a deadly mountain train. I’ll give the edge to Landa this week.
The Outsider – Dan Martin 22/1
Has there ever been an Irishman who looks more at home in Spanish borders than Dan Martin? He always seems to go well in Catalunya (or Valencia, Salamanca etc…) and I was surprised to see him at 22/1. He’s finished in the top five on multiple occasions at this race and won the La Molina stage last season. Quick-Step are capable of producing a respectable TTT and Martin proved at the Tour de France he can stick with the very best climbers.
Look Out For – BMC, Bouhanni and Bilbao
The BMC Team Time Trial domination should continue this week. I can only see the increased course distance playing into the hands of their powerhouse squad and they should have the lead after Tuesday’s stage. After that it’s down to their climbers; Tejay Van Garderen would welcome a return to form, but Ben Hermans was fantastic in Oman and Rohan Dennis is transitioning into a stage racer.
Nacer Bouhanni travels to Catalunya off the back of a solid Milan – San Remo. He won twice here last year but is tasked with even more climbing this time around. It’s a brave inclusion but I think he’s more likely to endure the bumps than Lotto’s Andre Greipel.
A wild mention goes to Astana’s Pello Bilbao. Even with Jakob Fuglsang, Astana look a little short on GC heavy-hitters but could enjoy a week of stage hunting. I love the way Bilbao rode for Caja Rural and he should take well to a few of Catalunya’s finishes.
Stage Previews in Seven Words
Stage 1 – Big respect to any sprinter that survives.
Stage 2 – A ridiculously long Team Time Trial. Unfair?
Stage 3 – A double ascent of Molina to finish.
Stage 4 – Downhill finish could see a breakaway winner.
Stage 5 – Brutal summit finish into Tortosa. Time gaps.
Stage 6 – Another day of hard climbing. Downhill finish
Stage 7 – Loop of Barcelona. One for the puncheurs.