After two bunch sprint stages in the Volta a Catalunya, the race moves into much hillier, less predictable waters on day three, and breakaway specialists such as Britain’s Steve Cummings (Dimension Data) could come to the fore.
The reigning British national road race and time trial champion finished 175th, and last, on Monday’s opening stage, at 6:13 down. A further 7:42 was shipped on stage 2.
“He was tired after doing Milan-San Remo and then coming straight here,” Dimension Data director Bingen Fernandez told Cyclingnews after stage 2. However, the time lost has its advantages, given that whatever Cummings tries to do he is no longer likely to suffer from collateral damage in the on-going GC battle.
“The great thing about Steve is nobody knows when he could try to make it into a breakaway,” said Fernandez. “It just happens. I think that sometimes not even Steve knew it was going to happen. It’s all a bit unpredictable.”
The Volta a Catalunya enters equally uncharted terrain on stage 3 following the cancellation of the toughest climb to Vallter 2000 because of the risk of avalanches. Fortunately, the weather forecast is for it to stay dry, with only a minor risk of snow showers, although it will be very cold.
The GC battle will likely dominate on stage 4’s summit finish at La Molina, but there could well be further opportunities for breakaways in the final half of the race.
“I haven’t really raced, so I just need to get into it, find the race rhythm,” Cummings told Cyclingnews the morning before the Volta began. “I did Abu Dhabi, but I don’t like the style of that race, there’s never really any breaks, it’s either too easy or a bunch sprint.
“Here’s good, the level is really high. Ideally, I’d have done another race earlier and had more time to adjust, but it is what it is. I’ve done good training, but you need the race confirmation of your form because racing is always something else.”
Cummings is one well-known breakaway specialist, but another, Thomas De Gendt (Lotto-Soudal), is also taking part. De Gendt has had a fair degree of success in Catalunya: he won a stage to Port Ainé in the Volta 2016, as well as the king of the mountains classification, and also took the stage to Barcelona back in 2013.
The fact that the GC battle is very tight in Catalunya does not tend to have much effect on the chances of a breakaway, Cummings says. “After those tough mountain stages in the Pyrenees, the time gaps tend to be pretty big between the top contenders and the rest of us riders behind.
“So, if you get the right combination, it takes a long time for the breakaway to happen, but there are not so many sprinters here” - and one, Nacer Bouhanni (Cofidis), has already abandoned - “so there are chances.”
After the Volta a Catalunya, Cummings will head to the Vuelta al País Vasco, where he has won a stage in the past, and then onto Ardennes Classics of Flèche Wallonne and Liège-Bastogne-Liège.