Ruta del Sol and Volta ao Algarve preview

13 Feb 2017

Ruta del Sol and Volta ao Algarve preview

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After more than a week off we’re right back into the thick of the racing action this week with both the Ruta del Sol and Volta ao Algarve (February 15-19) starting on Wednesday.

We head to Portugal as two-time defending champions and return to southern Spain in search of our second title.

Our lineups

Sadly Geraint Thomas won’t be returning to Algarve in search of his hat-trick - the two-time defending champion is plotting a different course through the early season in 2017, so 2014 winner Michal Kwiatkowski will lead our charge in Portugal. 

He’ll be backed up by compatriots Michal Golas and Lukasz Wisniowski, with Ian Boswell, Tao Geoghegan Hart and Philip Deignan providing the climbing power. Gianni Moscon and Salvatore Puccio round out a strong, versatile squad.
Kwiato will lead our charge in the Algarve

Kwiato will lead our charge in the Algarve

Over in Spain, Diego Rosa is set to make his first appearance of the season as part of a star-studded lineup, containing Mikel Landa, Mikel Nieve and Wout Poels. Landa and Nieve are both making their 2017 bows, while Poels arrives from a strong ride at the Volta a la Comunitat Valenciana, where he finished fourth overall. The experienced trio of David Lopez, Christian Knees and Vasil Kiryienka complete the team.
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What kind of racing can we expect?

Tough. The Ruta del Sol starts with a back-to-back GC test designed to sort the wheat from the chaff. After a testing opening stage, which includes a first category climb up to Monachil, the second stage looks like it will be the toughest of the race, with a summit finish atop the first category 6km climb on the Peña del Aguila. 

In contrast to the tough start in Spain, the real fireworks won’t start until the final day in the Algarve, when the race will be decided. Just as in years gone by, the queen stage will take the peloton up the famed Alto do Malhao and a strong ride there by any of the overall contenders could see them steal the title.

The third stage of both races (Friday) will see the riders go up against the clock in an individual time trial (11.9km at Ruta, 20km in Algarve), while there is likely to be at least two chances for the sprinters in Spain and Portugal.
Riders to watch

There’s one clear favourite for the Ruta del Sol: Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) has won the last four editions he has raced and the reigning champion is showing no signs of slowing down as he nears his 37th birthday. Alberto Contador is set to make his Trek-Segafredo debut and he can never be discounted, while Cannondale-Drapac are taking both Rigoberto Uran and Pierre Rolland. Throw Thibaut Pinot (FDJ) and Tim Wellens (Lotto-Soudal) - fresh from his pair of wins at Challenge Mallorca - into the mix and we should see some aggressive racing in southern Spain.

Over in Portugal, the sprint battle is certain to be fierce: Mark Cavendish (Dimension Data), Nacer Bouhanni (Cofidis), Dylan Groenewegen (LottoNL-Jumbo), Fernando Gaviria (Quick-Step Floors), Andre Greipel (Lotto Soudal) and Arnaud Demare (FDJ) are all descending on Portugal’s south coast.
Contador finished third behind Geraint Thomas in Algarve last year

Contador finished third behind Geraint Thomas in Algarve last year

Our history

As well as Geraint Thomas’ two Algarve wins, Richie Porte won the race in 2012, taking the team’s tally of wins in Portugal to three. Indeed we dominated the 2012 edition of the race, winning four stages - Porte won two to set up his overall win, Edvald Boasson Hagen won a sprint stage on his way to sealing the points jersey and Sir Bradley Wiggins won the race’s time trial to claim third overall. A year later Sergio Henao moved into the race leader’s jersey after winning stage three but the Colombian fell out of overall contention on the final day’s lengthy time trial.

Chris Froome won the Ruta del Sol in 2015 on his way to winning his second Tour de France title, a year after Richie Porte had finished a close second behind Alejandro Valverde. Poels missed out on the podium last year, finishing seventh, although Ben Swift did pick up the points jersey.
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