The 2018 Volta ao Algarve starts Wednesday with another compelling route that will provide opportunities for sprinters, climbers and time trial specialists alike.
The five-day race, which clashes with both the Ruta del Sol and the Tour of Oman, has attracted a world-class field with Geraint Thomas (Team Sky), Tony Martin (Katusha-Alpecin), Philippe Gilbert (Quick-Step Floors), Richie Porte (BMC Racing) and Daniel Martin (UAE Team Emirates) on the start list. There are thirteen WorldTour teams in total, while Caja Rural and Cofidis are among the Pro Continental squads.
After an impressive start to his season at the Tour Down Under, Porte is set to make his European debut at the race. BMC Racing have stated that their leader for Algarve is American rider, Tejay van Garderen, and this will be a rare outing for both riders competing at the same race. The route has opportunities for both men, and while Porte’s main aim remains the Tour de France in July, his pedigree in week-long stage races means that he can never be discounted.
Team Sky arrive with a strong squad, and while Chris Froome has drawn most of the attention and media interest due to his controversial appearance at the Ruta del Sol, the likes of Thomas and Michal Kwiatkowski will be eager to race without such levels of scrutiny. Louis Meintjes, Bauke Mollema, and Bob Jungels (Quick-Step Floors) are also potential GC contenders.
As for the sprinters, Arnaud Démare (FDJ) heads into the race with an excellent leadout train, while Jurgen Roelandts (BMC Racing) arrives with fresh motivation and a win already under his belt. Edvald Boasson Hagen (Dimension Data), Dylan Groenewegen (LottoNl-Jumbo), John Degenkolb (Trek Segafredo) and Ben Swift (UAE Team Emirates) should all play a part too.
The 44th edition of the race mirrors much of the 2017 parcours with the opening stage designed for the sprinters, with a 192km trip from Albufeira to Lagos. Starting and finishing on the coast, the route heads inland, and although there are two small categorized climbs, they come in the opening half of the stage. The final 90km are on rolling roads, but with terrain that the sprinters’ teams should be able to contend with. The last three kilometres contain a kick with just over 2 km to go before a downhill run-in towards a pancake-flat last kilometre. Fernando Gaviria (Quick-Step Floors) won the corresponding stage in 2017, and although the Colombian is not racing this year, there will be plenty of sprinters looking to replicate his performance.
Stage 2 will provide the first and perhaps most serious test for the GC contenders in the race with the first summit finish at Foia. The stage begins from Sagres – once again on the coast – before heading inland for a series of four categorised climbs. None of them should affect the race a great deal but for many of the riders who are using the race as their first test of the season, a few tired bodies could be exposed. It’s also perfect terrain for an early break to form and with a sprinter likely to be the GC leader, it will fall on other teams to control a chase. The final climb will undoubtedly shape affairs. At almost 15 kilometres in length, and with pitches of just under 10 percent, it has the possibility of creating havoc in the peloton. The gradient starts at a rather more gentle 4.7 per cent, with the hardest sections in the middle, with around 7-8 kilometres remaining. The final 3,000m average out at 6 per cent but at this point the leaders could be down to a dozen riders, if not less. On the same climb last year Dan Martin - then of Quick-Step but now of UAE Team Emirates – climbed to victory, dropping Primoz Roglic and Michal Kwiatkowski (Team Sky).
Stage 3 will see the time trial specialists come to the fore with a 20.3-kilometre test starting and finishing in Lagoa. The parcours is rarely flat and will suit powerful riders who can turn heavy gears. Last year Jonathan Castroviejo surged to victory, and although the Spaniard is missing this year, there are plenty of riders capable of filling his shoes. Tony Martin and Kwiatkowski both finished within five seconds of the stage winner in 2017, while Porte, Jungels, Ryan Mullen, Victor Campenaerts (Lotto Soudal), and former race winner Thomas will all be in the hunt.
The following stage from Almodôvar to Tavira is another replication from last year’s race with the sprinters given their chance to shine. In 2017 it was Andre Greipel who came out on top in a close battle with John Degenkolb (Trek Segafredo). The latter returns this year, along with Dylan Groenewegen (LottoNL-Jumbo).
The final stage to Malhao is the second summit finish of the race and could decide the final overall standings. The riders will climb the Malhao twice and the approach to the final ascent is technical and far from flat but it’s the final 3km that should see the peloton burst into action. The road kicks up violently with pitches over 10 per cent and only begins to level off with a few hundred metres to go. If the first summit finish and the time trial have not created significant gaps, then this stage will surely be decisive.