By David Hunter
We return to Spain, only feels like we left it a few days ago. Catalunya remains one of the few week long stage races, not to have a TT. You can tell when you look at some of the past winners: Dan Martin, Joaquim Rodriguez, Alejandro Valverde and Michele Scarponi. This is a race for climbers.
We don’t have many stages for sprinters, so most don’t bother turning up for this race. Stages like this are perfect for fast finishing puncheurs.
The stage to Olot featured last year, it has a tough climb just before the finish. Alejandro Valverde won the sprint, after great work from JJ Rojas.
The first mountain stage is the very well known climb, La Molina. With 4 cat 1 climbs in 172km, this is a tough day out for the riders. Van Garderen won last year and Rodriguez in 2014.
The climb of Port Aine hasn’t featured in the race since 2013. Dan Martin took a huge win then, finishing 36 seconds ahead of Rodriguez and Quintana, en route to the overall victory.
Another familiar stage for the riders and fans. The final climb makes it a tough race to control, Valverde won here in 2015, Mezgec was the winner in 2014. Sprinters can win here, but need to be able to climb a bit.
The sprinters will be very glad to see this day. The only stage where a large sprint is on the cards.
We end with another favourite of the organisers, the lap circuit in Barcelona featuring Montjuic. It really is another great stage.
Being a Spanish race, you would think this would favour the home riders. The problem for the Spanish is the large amount of cyclists that stay in Girona. This is a “home” race for the vast majority of the peloton. The roads and climbs are very well known to them, most use them for training. The riders that stay in Girona actually have an advantage over the Spanish riders who come from other parts of the country.
Romain Bardet – had a good Paris-Nice but was frustrated at losing time on the Queen stage. That was due to poor positioning, not bad legs. His 2nd place in Oman was a wonderful start to the year and he looks strong just now. He needs to learn from his mistake in PN and not lose crucial position on the big climbs.
Miguel Angel Lopez – what a rider! Has taken a stage win in both races he’s competed in this year, San Luis and Langkawi. This kid really does have the lot. He’s on the hunt for his first world tour win, he could well get it here.
Fabio Aru – after a slow start to 2016, Aru should be looking to peak now. 2015 was a stellar year for him, 2nd in the Giro and 1st in the Vuelta. He has the quality and will love the lack of a TT.
Richie Porte – the defending champion is back and he’s found some form. His 3rd place in PN was an example of what he can do, if anyone needed reminded. Lines up alongside his big pal, Van Garderen, will shall see how they work together. Certainly, having two riders near the end of climbs is a positive, not a negative. Unfortunately, Porte has been ill since riding in France. He is hopeful of a full recovery, but that is doubtful.
Tejay Van Garderen – disappointed with the lack of mountains in Tirreno, the American continues his quest to win his first stage race in Europe. His 2nd place in Andalucia was a good start to the year, but this is a much bigger race. The addition of Porte should be a help.
Dan Martin – former winner of the race, based locally so knows all the climbs. Already has a win for his new team, like so many of the climbers, he will be delighted with no TT. Will be looking to test himself against the very best.
Nairo Quintana – had a quiet start to the year after deciding not to race in Tirreno. His spell in Colombia will see him in great condition and he’ll be happy to start his year long battle with Chris Froome. Really can’t wait to see them slog it out on the climbs.
Esteban Chaves – another rider that seems to have been easing themselves into 2016. The Colombian can certainly climb with the very best and after a successful 2015, everyone will be expecting some more from him. Can he handle the pressure?
Rigoberto Uran – new team, bad move. That’s all.
Joaquim Rodriguez – it’s been a low key start to the year for Purito. He will still be team leader but Zakarin is there in case he slips up. Another former winner, quite a few of these stages suit him very well. With the Ardennes fast approaching, he needs to bring something to the table. Expect him to be challenging at the right end of the race, but only if he has recovered from a recent illness.
Chris Froome – so far, he’s only raced the Sun Tour. A slight change in schedule for Froome, with less races, but whenever he turns up he’s out to win. No messing from him this year, he’s only riding huge races: Catalunya, Romandie, Dauphine, Tour. It’s a slimmed down schedule, I like the idea behind it.
Alberto Contador – looked good in Paris-Nice, but couldn’t distance Porte and the chasing peloton. Considering he didn’t take a stage, he’ll be a little disappointed with his performance. He resumes hostilities with Froome, something I love to see. Contador is imaginative when it comes to attacking Froome, the Brit can never relax!
As we witnessed in Paris-Nice, teammates are worth their weight in gold. If it wasn’t for Sergio Henao, there is no way Geraint Thomas would have won the race. Most of the big teams arrive with two star riders, capable of lasting deep into the climbs.
BMC – Porte & Van Garderen.
Movistar – Quintana & Anacona.
Katusha – Rodriguez & Zakarin.
Etixx – Martin & Brambilla.
Astana – Aru & Lopez.
AG2R – Bardet & Pozzovivo.
Jumbo – Kelderman & Gesink.
Sky and Tinkoff are the exceptions to the rule. I can’t help but think that Alberto Contador will look with envy at the other squads. He does have Trofimov, Poljanski and Kiserlovski, but that is not as strong as the other teams. I would love to know what Alberto thinks about the Sky team!
Froome, Thomas, Nieve, Swift, Poels, Roche, Kiryienka and Boswell.
The strength of Team Sky is ridiculous! They got the mountain train in full swing over in Paris-Nice, expect to see something similar here. You could argue that this squad contains 5 of their 2016 TDF team. No matter what happens in this race, Sky will be the dominant force. They have Thomas who won PN, Poels who won Valenciana and Froome who wins everything. It’s almost unfair on the other teams. Saying that, Astana aren’t too far behind them:-
Aru, Lopez, Malacarne, Tiralongo, Cataldo, Kangert, Rosa and Zeits.
This is the 2015 Giro team, minus LL Sanchez and Mikel Landa, but with Miguel Angel Lopez. They will relish the battle with Team Sky, not great news for all the other riders. Every stage is going to be hard.
It has to be all about Sky and Froome. I expect a big win from him, with Aru and Quintana joining him on the podium. Sorry to all fans of Alberto Contador.
Watch Out For
Andrey Zeits – the beast of Kazakhstan. This boy gets a kick from dropping riders. His work on front of the peloton is hugely impressive, he’s developing into one of the best domestiques in the business.
Johann Van Zyl – the breakaway expert. Expect to see plenty of him on TV.
Gianni Meersman – won back to back stages here in 2013, can’t help but feeling his career is at a crossroads just now. Out of contract at the end of the season, Meersman is riding for a new deal.
Hugh Carthy – powered by my tea, the big man cannot lose. It would be amazing to see him up there on the big stages.
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