Volta a Catalunya 2019 – Stage 1 Preview

By David Hunter

Calella – Calella 162.9km

Not your average opening stage.

With three cat 1 climbs, this certainly isn’t an opening stage for the sprinters. This is the toughest opening stage the organisers have used in recent history. Is it too hard for all the quick men?

Climbs

 25.1km at 4.6% is a long one to get the race started with. After an easy opening, the majority of the climb is between 5% and 7%. The sprinters won’t like this.

 The organisers have split this into two cat 1 climbs, but if you combine the climbs you get 16km at 4.4%. This should make life far too difficult for a number of riders and expect to see a relatively large groupetto forming.

Tactics

Expect the breakaway to take a long time to form. The attackers will sense a real chance of staying away, meaning they can fight for the stage and leader’s jersey. The GC teams will be watchful to ensure that a GC threat doesn’t manage to sneak away, but you can’t guarantee this doesn’t happen.

The size of the break will likely determine the attitude of the chasing bunch. If the break is small the bunch can take it relatively easy, before launching the chase in the final 50km, but this won’t work if the break is big. Which teams want to try and control this stage? If the answer is just Movistar, the break will likely stay away.

Finale

The same finish that is regularly used. The descent into the final kilometre is fast, before a slight kick-up near the finish. The bunch is likely to be small, meaning positioning won’t be a big issue, but it also means a late attacker has a chance of success.

Weather

The race starts with beautiful sunshine.

Contenders

Alejandro Valverde – he’ll love this stage. Not only does it give him a great chance of taking a win, but it also means he could start his GC campaign by taking 10 seconds over his rivals. After an okay start to the season, he’ll be excited about being back in Catalunya, a race he knows very well. Movistar do have a team capable of controlling the stage, but it’s not something they always like to do. The presence of Michael Matthews will be a worry, we’ll see if Movistar set a fast pace on the climbs in the hope of slowing his sprint.

Jay McCarthy – the Aussie didn’t enjoy the Tour Down Under, a race he usually performs well in. 8th in the Cadel Evans race was a sign that he was improving, before he headed to the hills. Word has it, McCarthy has spent the last month at altitude, looking to get into great shape for an important period of his season. He certainly looked in good form, helping control the peloton in the recent Belgian races. He has a very fast finish and would expect to survive the climbs.

Paddy Bevin – so unlucky to crash in the TDU and not take the overall win. The Kiwi has started his season in brilliant form, just as well really, he is one of my riders to watch in 2019. He returned in the UAE Tour, but crashed again, and had to quit the race during stage 6. He will hope for a period of good luck an no crashes! In a flat sprint, he’ll back himself to beat Valverde and co.

Michael Matthews – after a hugely frustrating start to the season, it was good to see him finishing Milan-Sanremo. The 300km ride would have been great for his legs, as he’s missed a lot of recent racing. This is a stage that looks brilliant for him, but only if he recovers well from Saturday’s ride. With just one rest day in-between, there is no guarantee he recovers in time for this stage.

Daryl Impey – another who did MSR. The South African is a rider who usually performs well in this race, but like the others, he knows they’ll need to get rid of Matthews.

Ryan Gibbons – the South African seems to have reached a new level in 2019. After years of being a promising cyclist, he’s now turning that into something tangible. Once seen as a sprinter, he seems to be doing a good job of turning into a puncheur, but still retaining a fast finish. He shouldn’t have any problems making it over these climbs, which will make him one of the fastest riders left in the bunch. Can he take his first world tour win?

Alexis Gougeard – breakaway hopeful number 1.

Thomas De Gendt – breakaway hopeful number 2.

Prediction Time

I think we should see enough teams with an interest to pull the break back, setting up a reduced sprint finish, with Michael Matthews taking the win.

*Overall Preview

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David Hunter

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