Defending Volta a Catalunya champion Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) says he expects anything but a gentle start to the week-long race on Monday, adding that he could be in the hunt for the overall lead from stage one.
Monday’s stage one starts and finishes in Calella, as it has done every year since 2012. But if the gently rising finish straight sometimes has produced splits in the peloton in the past, this time round Valverde is expecting a much earlier shredding of the field.
Five classified climbs dot the route, and as a result, Valverde says he does not rule out going for the stage win himself.
“It’s a much more mountainous course for stage one than usual, even if the run-in is identical to other years,” Valverde told reporters at a press conference on the Sunday evening.
“They’ve put in three first category climbs before that finish, that changes everything. So we could see as few as 25 or 30 riders coming across the line together.”
When asked if perhaps going for victory on Monday if he was in a lead group meant he could be aiming to lead the Volta from beginning to end, Valverde grinned and asked rhetorically, “You like putting me under pressure, don’t you?
“No, seriously, there’s no pressure here, but I’m not ruling anything out. It’s a very different kind of start, and we could see the GC riders come to the fore, but the really important stages are the third and fourth in the Pyrenees.”
Widely considered the top favourite for the Volta, a race he has won three times already, Valverde said that his tactics would change depending on what happened on stage three, the race’s hardest summit finish at Vallter 2000. In any case, his analysis made it clear he would be trying to win the race again.
“If I’ve got the lead at Vallter 2000, I’m going to want to defend it at [the second summit finish of] La Molina. If I’m not in the lead, then stage four becomes critical because I’ll have to go on the attack.”
Valverde said that he had been pleasantly surprised by his condition at Saturday's Milan-San Remo, where he took a career best result of seventh. The result came after a break in racing, as well as some minor illness, since he last raced at the UAE Tour.
“I knew I was going well, but it’s been a while since I raced, San Remo is 300 kilometres long and the hardest part is at the end and I had no idea how it would work out,” Valverde said.
“So I was surprised, in a good way, that I could get in that last group over the Poggio with riders who had been in Tirreno-Adriatico and Paris-Nice.”
“It’s going to be complicated to take the overall win again here, it always is. But Saturday was a sign I’m in good shape.”