A busy week of racing heads into its final weekend as the professional peloton is scattered between the Tour of Oman, the Ruta del Sol in Spain to the Volta ao Algarve in Portugal. Surprises have filled the week of racing so far, as numerous established stars have been upstaged by less-known riders. Such is often the case in the early season. But the stars of the peloton will have a chance to reestablish their standing in the final weekend of racing.
[Words: James Startt, European Associate to Peloton | Images: Yuzuru Sunada]
Tour of Oman
Norway’s Alexander Kristoff has proven to be the fastest in the bunch during the two sprint stages so far in Oman. And that is good news as the Katusha rider prepares for the spring classics campaign.
But pre-race favorites like Portugal’s Rui Costa, Belgium’s Greg Van Avermaet, Denmark’s Jakob Fuglsang, Italy’s Fabio Aru and Frenchman Romain Bardet have all been upstaged in the race’s two hill-top finishes so far this week.
Stage Four Highlights
Belgian Ben Hermans grabbed the early honors on stage two when he edged out Costa as well as Olympic champion Van Avermaet on the pointed uphill finish to Al Bustan to grab the red leader’s jersey. And the following day upset duties went to second-year professional Soren Kragh Andersen, a Danish rider with the Sunweb team, who outsprinted Costa as well as Hermans on the hilltop finish to Quriyat.
But while the top favorites have been overshadowed on the climbs in Oman so far, they are clearly biding their time for Saturday’s mountain-top finish on Green Mountain. It is here where riders like Vincenzo Nibali and Christopher Froome sealed their victories in previous years, and by all accounts it is here where the race will be decided.
Ruta del Sol (a.k.a Vuelta a Andalucía)
Spaniard Alejandro Valverde has built a veritable dynasty around winning the Ruta del Sol in the early season, and this year looks to be no different. Winner of four of the past five editions, the Movistar leader quickly grabbed the upper hand on rival Alberto Contador when he won the opening stage.
Frenchman Thibaut Pinot, third in the 2014 Tour de France, then turned the tables on Contador and Valverde with a late-race attack to win the uphill finish of stage two to Mancha Real.
And while Belgian national time trial champion Victor Campenaerts won Friday’s race against the clock, Valverde was only one second behind and easily held onto the race lead while Contador and Pinot look to fill out the overall podium this weekend.
While there are still two days of racing remaining, the stages are comparatively flat, and will offer little opportunity even for a rider like Contador to make up the slim one-second difference that seperates him from Valverde.
“It’s a pity that there are not two more mountain stages where Alejandro and I could continue the fight between us,” said Contador, who is making his first appearance with his Trek-Segafredo team. “For me, I think it’s complicated to take the overall because the two stages left are more designed for sprinters.”
Volta ao Algarve
While Quickstep riders dominated the opening stages, with Fernando Gaviria winning the opening stage and Dan Martin winning on Thursday’s mountain-top finish to Peña del Åguila, this year’s Volta ao Algarve may well have been decided on the stage-three time trial, an annual fixture here at this early-season Portugese race.
Primož Roglič, who finished a close second to Martin on stage two, then finished third on the Sagres time trial, just behind Spain’s Jonathan Castroviejo and Germany’s Tony Martin, to slip into the overall lead. And it is a lead he hopes to keep throughout the weekend.
A noted time trialist, Roglič insists he wants to be more. And it is in stage races like Algarve where he can do just that. “I’m a time trial specialist for now,”Roglič said after grabbing the lead on Friday. “But I want to discuss GC classification in one-week races.”
He’ll have that conversation this weekend, especially on Sunday’s hilly final stage to the Alto do Malhão. Although there are no high mountains to negotiate, the final stage is one of non-stop climbing, and the repetition of moderate climbs can often produce surprises in the early season as pro cyclists are still finding their race legs.