Wout Poels' crushing victory in the Vuelta a la Comunitat Valenciana has catapulted him into the limelight of the early season of 2016, and could make him one of the top riders to beat in the five-day Vuelta a Andalucia Ruta Ciclista del Sol this week.
The 28-year-old Dutchman, who won overall in Valencia thanks to wins in the time trial and main mountain stages, tells Cyclingnews he will be aiming for a repeat performance in Andalucía, which also features a similar lengthy time trial (albeit with more climbing) on stage 4, and a 14-kilometre summit finish on Sunday at Alto de Peñas Blancas near Estepona.
“I feel good and Valencia was only a little while ago, so hopefully I’ll be able to do something similar here,” Poels said at the start of stage 2 on Thursday.
“The time trial is more technical here, but that’s better for me because I’m not like a power rider on the flat, so I think it’s a good TT for the general classification for me.
“Today [Thursday] has a difficult downhill section into Córdoba. It’s not a day you can win the race but it’s certainly one where you can lose. Stage 3 [on Friday] is also tough; there are lots of little climbs and that suits me, because it makes everybody more tired.”
Asked about the differences between the principal climb in Valencia, Xorret de Cati, where he won, and Sunday’s final mountain top finish at Alto de Peñas Blancas, Poels pointed out that, “Xorret de Cati was really steep and I hope it’s a hard finish, too, on Sunday - that’s better for me.”
A pro since 2009, Poels has had consistently strong early seasons for the last five years. He took third overall in the Tour of the Med and the Vuelta a Murcia [then a stage race] in 2011, eighth overall in Tirreno-Adriatico in 2012, 10th overall in Tirreno-Adriatico in 2013, ninth in Strade Bianche in 2014, and he won a stage in Tirreno-Adriatico last year in his first season with Team Sky.
“I trained very hard in the winter and it was also the plan to be very good, so it worked out well," said Poels when asked if he expected to be in such top shape at this stage. "I didn’t expect to win the time trial against the specialists in Valencia - I thought I’d be in the top 10 - but it was really nice to take this step and have the form.
“When you’ve got the form, it’s better to take what you can take."
Dario Cioni, Team Sky's directeur sportif in Andalucía this week, added: “Obviously Valencia was only a few days ago, so hopefully his level hasn’t changed too much. That said, it’s a different kind of course, a different race and the opposition is different too, so whilst it’d be nice to repeat the result, we’ll see.”
Asked about the differences in route between the two earliest Spanish stage races, Cioni said: “I’m not sure Andalucia is harder. The Xorret de Cati [the main climb in Valencia] was very selective, and the time trial is different; there’s maybe a bit less climbing here which is not so much in his favour. The flatter section in the second half of the time trial is very technical, on smaller roads, so bike handling skills will be key.”
As for the key stage, Cioni said: “It’ll probably be the time trial. Ok, there’s a summit finish on the last day, and it’s long, but the steepest sections are early on. I think it’ll make a selection, maybe a guy will get 10 seconds or 15 in the last five kilometres but in a 21-kilometre time trial like Saturday, you can make a bigger gap, get 30 or 40 seconds there.”
After Andalucía, Poels will head for Tirreno-Adriatico, but first he is keen to see whether he can take his second stage race win in three weeks in Spain.