Hannah Barnes: Setmana Ciclista Valenciana will be won or lost on the Xorret de Cati

Hannah Barnes and Canyon-SRAM will line up at the Setmana Ciclista Valenciana on Thursday prepared to defend their title after valuable reconnaissance of the event's decisive mountaintop finish on the Xorret de Cati. The team previewed key stages of the four-day race at a recent training camp in the Gandia, Spain.

"We were able to see the final of stage 1 and stage 3 while we were on camp which was really valuable," Barnes said in a team press release. "The stage 3 finish is going to be where the race is won and lost because it's very steep and you could ruin your chances if you get too excited at the bottom.

"It was part of the men's Vuelta in 2017, so I've been able to watch that on YouTube just to get a small idea of how the final climb might be raced."

Barnes won stages 1 and 4, along with the overall title in the 2018 edition. She beat prominent climbers Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio, Alicia Gonzalez and Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig in the hilly event.

The Setmana Ciclista Valenciana is the first stage race for women in Europe, and many teams use it as an early-season marker heading into the bigger races in the spring. This year's race begins on February 21 and concludes on February 24, routed through the Castelló, Valéncia and Alicante regions of Spain.

The Xorret de Cati is a well-known ascent in the Valencia region and has been used in the Vuelta a España, with Julian Alaphilippe winning on it in 2017. It is just four kilometres but has pitches as steep as 20 per cent. The women will face this ascent at the end of stage 3, a 110km route that starts in La Nucia.

Canyon-SRAM will field a seven-rider team that also includes Tiffany Cromwell, Elena Cecchini, Hannah Ludwig, Christa Riffel, Alena Amialiusik and Omer Shapira.

"We have an experienced team with some young riders who are excited and willing to learn," said Barnes, who acknowledged that the team have several options for GC. “We will be aggressive and go into each stage with an open mind and a view that we can win.

"We've just finished our final pre-season team camp and I am happy with how I'm feeling. My motivation is high and I'm really looking forward to racing with such a positive and happy team."

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