Three years into its revival, the Volta a la Comunitat Valenciana has nestled itself nicely into Spain’s early-season race programme. After many riders eased back into racing at Challenge Mallorca last week, the five-day jaunt around the Valencia region will prove a much sterner test.
The Volta a la Comunitat Valenciana has been around longer than Spain’s Grand Tour, the Vuelta a España, but repeated halts to the race means it has racked up four fewer editions. The sixth and most recent hiatus proved to be its longest so far, with the race disappearing for seven seasons.
Since its return in 2016, the organisers have been playing with the format and this year they have come up with a palindromic route. A team time trial on stage 3 is the centrepiece of the five days, with two mountain stages either side of it and sprint stages bookending the whole event.
Stage 1 into Peñiscola has just one second category climb to trouble the fast men and is highly likely to end in a bunch gallop. Five climbs sit between the riders and the finish of stage 2, two of which have been given category one status. There is a long run from the top of the final ascent El Garbi to the finish, setting up a potentially action-packed finale into Albuixech. There is little altitude to contend with in stage 3’s team time trial as it brings the peloton to its winter training ground of Calpe. It is expected to be a fast and furious day and will set up the following day’s mountain foray.
There is little doubt that stage 4 to Cocentaina is the queen stage with seven categorised climbs, culminating in the first category summit finish in the Parc Natural de la Serra de Mariola. The race will conclude with its now traditional short run into Valencia. Organisers will be hoping that it isn’t as short as it was last year, when high winds caused them to cut a huge portion of the day’s racing.
With defending champion Nairo Quintana in Colombia for the inaugural Colombia Oro y Paz race, Alejandro Valverde takes up the reins for Movistar this week. Valverde won the race twice before its most recent hiatus, but has not been back since. He’s looking to continue his solid return to racing after that nasty crash at the Tour de France last July.
The 2016 champion Wout Poels (Team Sky) will be there, however, and he too has a point to prove. After finishing fourth in the defence of his title, Poels was hampered by knee problems throughout much of last year. He ended the season well and Valencia is a chance to start on the right foot. With a potential suspension for his teammate Chris Froome after high levels of salbutamol were found in a urine test last season, a strong result in Valencia won’t do him any harm. Michal Kwiatkowski is an alternative option for Team Sky.
Mitchelton-Scott pair Adam and Simon Yates are a serious challenge, as is Astana’s Jakob Fuglsang. Merhawi Kudus (Dimension Data), Alexis Vuillermoz (AG2R La Mondiale), Pierre Rolland (EF Education First-Drapac) and Primoz Roglic (LottoNL-Jumbo) will all be ones to watch in the general classification.
The sprint field is hardly bustling with sprinters but Matteo Trentin (Mitchelton-Scott), Dan McLay (EF Eduction First-Drapac) and Danny van Poppel (LottoNL-Jumbo) are all there. BMC Racing’s Greg van Avermaet will also fancy his chances in a field such as this, while his team will be aiming to come out victorious in the race against the clock.