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World champion Rui Costa (Lampre-Merida) during the team's camp on Mallorca
Costa, Cavendish and Contador all in Portugal
The 40th edition of the Volta ao Algarve begins this Wednesday, with Tony Martin returning to defend his title.
Last year, the race suffered from the current economic climate and organisers were forced to axe a stage, in order to keep the race running. For 2014, however, the fifth day has returned.
The number of stages isn’t the only changes to the parcours. The time trial remains, but it has been seriously shortened. At only 13.6km, it will make life a little tougher for Martin if he hopes to defend his title.
With the chance for the TT specialists to stick to their rivals all but gone, the summit finish on the Alto do Malhão is likely to be the key factor in the general classification. Sergio Henao won there last year, ahead of Rui Costa, however Sky will not be taking part in the race this year.
There are no flat days for the riders at the Volta ao Algarve, with at least on classified climb on each of the open road stages. There will be a couple of chances for the sprinters, on the first and final days. Both will be tricky, though, and they will have to keep their wits about them if they don’t want to get caught out.
Mark Cavendish will be the headline name of the sprinters. His Omega Pharma-QuickStep team have brought a strong group of riders, including Martin and last year’s second placed Michal Kwiatkowski. With so few of the top sprinters present, it could be a good opportunity to prefect the lead-out train that has been misfiring this season.
Alberto Contador finally gets his 2014 season under way in the Algarve. He delayed the beginning of his racing programme, in an attempt to peak for the Tour de France. There will be many expectant eyes on him, waiting to see if his decision was the right one.
With a number of strong riders turning up at the Portuguese race, Cyclingnews takes a look at the top 5 riders to watch.
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