The European season continues and business picks up further with the Volta ao Algarve, a key warm-up race for upcoming WorldTour events.
Following fears the race would not be run at all in 2013, the 39th running arrives in a now reduced four-day format but still contains all the ingredients for a compelling contest.
Still remaining is the famous stage to Loule and the Alto do Malhao – a test won by Team Sky for the last two seasons – albeit with a new twist, before a final time trial decider.
With 2012 winner Richie Porte currently racing in Oman Team Sky have demonstrated their strength in depth by fielding an eight-man squad (see right) full of climbing talent.
Thursday 14 February – Stage one: Faro to Albufeira – 198.8km
The race kicks off in the city of Faro and climbs briefly en route to Santa Margarida as the race heads to towards the Spanish border. The riders cut back in search of climbs with a third category ascent at 102km providing the stiffest challenge. The sprinters will look to position themselves as the race heads back towards the coast and a largely downhill run into Albufeira for a sprint.
Highlights on Eurosport 2 at 2230-2300 and on Feb 15 between 0725-0755 (BE1) and 0930-1000.
Friday 15 February – Stage two: Lagoa to Lagoa – 195km
The start and finish destination remains the same as last year but with the added test of the second category climb at Fola (81.8km). Ahead of that a break will have gone clear on the run to the third category Marmelete (46.4km). As with Thursday’s opener the climbs arrive too early to put off the fast men who will be eyeing up a slightly tougher finish into Lagoa.
Highlights on Eurosport 2 at 2230-2300 and on Feb 16 between 0730-0800 (BE1) and 0930-1000.
Saturday 16 February – Stage three: Portimao to Alto do Malhao (Loule) – 193km
The queen stage is given a re-vamp which could more than make up for a day less of racing. This year sees the race head out of Portimao ahead of not one but two ascents of the Alto do Malhao. The first climb at 127.2km should provide a springboard for attacks, but will likely serve to weaken the legs ahead of the decisive final ascent. Time gaps at the finish could be larger after a tougher stage and they might need to be with a time trial to come.
Highlights on Eurosport 2 at 2230-2300 and on Feb 17 between 0730-0800 (BE1) and 0930-1000.
Sunday 17 February – Stage four: Castro Marim to Tavira (individual time trial) – 34.8km
At nine kilometres longer than the decider last year, the time trial will provide a good chance for the big names to benchmark against their rivals. With the race likely to have been whittled down to a select group of contenders the point-to-point TT should settle proceedings. The course climbs gradually from eight kilometres in for the same distance again. From there the riders will look to open it up on the fast run down into Tavira.
Highlights on Eurosport 2 at 2230-2300 and on Feb 18 between 0730-0800 (BE1) and 0930-1000.
Team Sky history
Team Sky dominated the race in 2012, winning three stages en-route to Richie Porte’s overall victory. A sprint win for Edvald Boasson Hagen and a time trial victory for Bradley Wiggins sewed the initial seeds for an impressive year of stage racing. Victory on the queen stage and the Alto do Malhao summit for Porte mirrored a victory 12 months earlier for Steve Cummings, the Brit unleashing a great performance to win the stage and set up a brief tenure in the yellow jersey.