Bradley Wiggins (Team Sky) begins his European season at the Volta a Catalunya today.
The Londoner tops the bill in a race that will form his final preparation for the Giro d’Italia, which begins in Naples on Saturday May 4, 2013.
Another rider with a similar agenda is Ryder Hesjedal (Garmin-Sharp), defending Giro d’Italia champion. This pre-Giro clash between two of the principal contenders for the 2013 maglia rosa could prove fascinating.
While the Wiggins-Hesjedal battle represents the greatest point of interest, the presence of other Grand Tour contenders in the shape of Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) and, perhaps to a lesser extent, Michele Scarponi (Lampre-Merida), Jurgen van den Broeck (Lotto-Belisol) and Robert Gesink (Blanco Pro Cycling), should make for an eventful race.
The 2013 race is the centenary edition of a race held in Spain’s north eastern region. The sixth stage will honour Catalan rider, Xavier Tondo, who was killed last year in a freak accident.The route
The Volta a Catalunya route is mainly mountainous, contains no time trials, and has just two stages that might be considered sprinter-friendly, but even these are more likely to appeal to puncheurs than to pure sprinters.
There will be no easy introduction for the riders to the 2013 Volta a Catalanya, and Wiggins, Hesjedal, ‘Purito’ and those hoping to contest the Grand Tours will face an immediate test of their climbing legs just 40km from the start of stage one. The Alt Collsacreu, a third category ramp, will be tackled twice on a 159.3km circular loop from Calella to Calella. The greater challenge, however, will be presented by the Alt del Montseny, a first category climb.
After a second stage better suited to sprinters than climbers, the GC contenders will return to centre stage on the third etape for a summit finish that caps a day that also holds in store two first category climbs. The Alt de San Hilari and the Tunel Collabos, serious challenges in their own right, will serve only as hors d’oeuvres to a final climb to the Vallter 2000 ski resort, an ascent with peak gradients of 12 per cent, encountered after 180.1km.
If stage three hasn’t sapped the energy from the legs of those hoping to contend for overall victory, the Queen stage a day later is likely to force the riders to dig deeper still. The day begins with a descent, but from that point onwards it is climbs that will characterise the stage. The day’s climbing begins on the Coll de Merolla, a third-category ramp encountered before 40km will have been completed, and which is followed in short order by the Alt del Pedraforca and Alt de la Josa del Cadi, a pair of hors categorie climbs likely to deplete the reserves of all but the strongest riders ahead of the two final climbs of the day: the Port de Cato, whose gradient peaks at 12 per cent, and the final 24km slog to Port Aine-Rialp.
While stage five will offer a day of recovery from the exertions of stages three and four, the sixth stage, a 178.7km run to the coast, might catch the imagination of the breakaway specialists. The riders will reach the summit of another first category climb, the Alt de Prades, after 112km, but the work of any group able to stay away over its peak will be far from finished. The Alt de Lilla, a category two climb, follows soon after, but this time any group able to remain ahead of the peloton will fancy its chances. A 14km descent to Valls follows, but the run for the line will not be plain sailing: a short, sharp approach is likely to divide the rouleurs from the pure sprinters.
If the Volta’s opening stage, with its three climbs, offers a chance for early gains, so stage seven, its concluding episode, a formality in many races, could have a significant bearing on the final general classification should matters not have been decided on the Queen stage. Once into Barcelona, the riders will tackle seven circuits of the Olympic Park, each one of which includes an ascent of the third category Alt de Montjuic. Any lingering doubts over the final GC finishing order might be resolved to the final run to the finish.The contenders
Bradley Wiggins (Team Sky) will command the greatest attention, both from the public and from his rivals. His underwhelming performance in Oman can be excused as the opening salvo in a long campaign, but he must regain the focus maintained throughout his greatest season if he is to challenge again for the biggest prizes in the sport. He will be ably supported. Rigoberto Uran and Dario Cataldo rode superbly for Froome in Tirreno-Adriatico and are likely to be Sir Wiggo’s key lieutenants in the Catalan mountains. Christian Knees and Danny Pate are more than capable of protecting him on the few flat stages. Pete Kennaugh and neo pro, Josh Edmondson, represent the remaining British interest on the squad.
Ryder Hesjedal (Garmin Sharp) is another to have spoken publicly of his ambition to win this year’s Giro. As the corsa rosa’s defending champion, he will have an added incentive to do so. It’s likely also that Hesjedal will lead Garmin-Sharp at the Tour, and so Catalunya will represent an excellent opportunity to assess his approach to the biggest races of 2013.
Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) is well-placed to win and will perhaps welcome the opportunity to level the score with Hesjedal, who denied him victory in last year’s Giro d’Italia. The absence of a time trial removes at a stroke ‘Purito’s’ greatest weakness, and Hesjedal’s greatest advantage over him. Mountainous stages and steep ramps on the few flat days will play to the strengths of the world number one , who rode an impressive Tirenno-Adriatico.
The absence of a time trial may also present Robert Gesink (Rabobank) with a golden opportunity to secure a major stage race victory on European soil. The lanky Dutchman, still only 26, should be ideally suited to the largely mountainous parcours. His overall victory in last year’s Tour of California proved his pedigree, and he was aggressive in the mountain stages of the Tour de France, before being undone by the time trials.
Michele Scarponi (Lampre-Merida) is a natural climber and has a wealth of experience on which to draw. He inherited victory here in 2011 following the disqualification of Alberto Contador (Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank), but has always gone well in hilly, early-season stage races (witness his victory in the 2009 Tirenno-Adriatico). ‘The Shark’ has suffered recently from his association with Lance Armstrong’s favourite medic, Michele Ferrari, but could produce a stage win and a top five finish if all goes well.
Live coverage of every stage as well as daily evening highlights is available across British Eurosport HD and British Eurosport 2 HD.
Monday 18 March
1430-1600 LIVE stage one on British Eurosport HD
1845-2015 Stage one highlights on British Eurosport HD
Tuesday 19 March
1430-1600 LIVE stage two on British Eurosport HD
2200-2300 Stage two highlights on British Eurosport 2 HD
Wednesday 20 March
1430-1600 LIVE stage three on British Eurosport 2 HD
2130-2300 Stage three highlights on British Eurosport 2 HD
Thursday 21 March
1430-1600 LIVE Stage four on British Eurosport HD
2200-2300 Stage four highlights on British Eurosport 2 HD
Friday 22 March
1430-1600 LIVE stage five on British Eurosport HD
2300-2400 Stage five highlights on British Eurosport 2 HD
Saturday 23 March
1430-1600 LIVE stage six on British Eurosport HD
2000-2100 Stage six highlights on British Eurosport HD
Sunday 24 March
1430-1600 LIVE stage seven on British Eurosport HD
2000-2100 Stage seven highlights on British Eurosport HD