If anybody was unwise enough to dismiss new pro Alvaro Hodeg’s win in Friday’s Handzame Classic as beginner’s luck, then the Quick-Step Floors sprinter's crushing sprint victory in Monday's opening stage of the Volta a Catalunya surely put an end to that particular train of thought.
Three days after winning in Belgium, once again Hodeg could be seen raising his arms in triumph again - this time in Catalunya. But whilst Handzame’s twisting series of curves at the finish had culminated with a narrowly taken win for the Colombian, in Calella Hodeg’s margin over Ireland’s Sam Bennett (Bora-Hansgrohe), his closest pursuer, was by more than a bike length, with Hodeg’s lead-out man Michael Morkov finishing fourth to boot.
The comparisons with another up-and-coming Colombian sprinter, also racing for Quick-Step Floors but currently out of action having fractured his hand, have not been slow in coming. But after Calella’s finish, Hodeg insisted teammate Fernando Gaviria, who crashed out of Tirreno-Adriatico last week, was playing in another sprint league altogether, and “that I simply want to learn from him as much as I can, and I will work for him as best as I can when the opportunity arises.”
“He’s one of the best sprinters in the world, one of the greatest,” Hodeg added.
Hodeg’s win in Calella, his first at WorldTour level and Quick-Step Floors' 16th of the season, nonetheless represents an important step up for the Colombian. It also looked impressively easy, with Movistar keeping an iron grip on the stage over the one classified climb of the day, then Quick-Step Floors taking over in the last two kilometres on the fast run in to Calella.
Hodeg and Morkov - who did a fine lead-out job, too - were already well clear of the rest of the field when he took off with around 200 metres to go, with Hodeg later saying, “The team gave me a really good opportunity here, they all worked very hard for me, bringing me in at such a high speed they practically left the win on the table for me to take.”
“I suffered a bit to get over that last climb” - a third category 18 kilometres from the finish - “but they brought me back into the finale no problem.” Although Calella has several slight rises in the finishing kilometre, though, and a steadily rising uphill finish, Hodeg said he "barely noticed them.”
Although Hodeg - like Gaviria - has a ride in Paris-Roubaix as a long-term goal, the 21-year-old said “for now I’m just going to enjoy having won here.”
Tuesday's hilly finale in Valls may prove too tough for another bunch sprint, but on Saturday’s flatter finish in Torrefarrera, another opportunity could well be there for the young Colombian. To judge by Monday’s performance, there can be no doubt he’ll do his utmost to take it.
Alasdair Fotheringham has been reporting on cycling since 1991. He has covered every Tour de France since 1992 as well as numerous other bike races of all shapes and sizes, ranging from the Olympic Games in 2008 to the now sadly defunct Subida a Urkiola hill climb in Spain. Apart from working for Cyclingnews.com, he is also the cycling correspondent for The Independent and The Independent on Sunday.
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