Hello there and a warm welcome to the Cyclingnews live race centre for the first day of what should be a cracking Volta ao Algarve. Evenepoel, Van der Poel, Thomas, Nibali, Viviani, Van Avermaet, Gilbert.... I could go on... it's a belter of a field.
Today's opening stage takes us from Portimão to Lagos (scene of what remains the biggest night out of my life) and is expected to culminate in a bunch sprint.
As we pick up the action, with 135km of the 195.6km left to race, we have a breakaway of three riders: Alvaro Trueba (Atum general/Tavira /Maria Nova Hotel), Diego López (Fundación-Orbea), and Pedro Paulinho (Efapel).
They have a lead of around 2:30 over the peloton as they hit the first of the day's two climbs, at Picota.
Before we go anywhere, this is a good time to have a read of our race preview.
130km to go
Lopez leads the break over the top of the category-3 climb and collects 4 mountains points for his efforts. Trueba is second, followed by Paulinho.
The peloton crest the climb 2:20 in arrears.
The riders are heading downhill and will soon be in Loulé for the first of three intermediate sprints.
Here are Vincenzo Nibali and Geraint Thomas at the start earlier. Both are making their season debuts and Nibali his debut for his new team, Trek-Segafredo. The Italian is heading for the Giro d'Italia in May while Thomas targets the Tour de France in the summer.
The break hit the second of the two climbs, at Santa Luzía, and their lead has fallen now to 1:35.
Thomas says he's not here to win the overall title, as he did in 2015 and 2016, but to ease his way into the season and get up to speed again. "I’m not at race weight yet but my power numbers are encouraging," the Welshman said ahead of the race.
More on Thomas' condition and hopes for the week here.
In other Ineos news, Dylan van Baarle has not started the race due to a stomach complaint. That's a blow for rider and team ahead of the 'Opening Weekend' in Belgium in 10 days' time. Ineos are therefore down to six riders here (Thomas, Dennis, Kwiatkowski, Wurf, Swift, Rowe).
There's a fair bit of sickness sweeping through the peloton at the minute. John Degenkolb (Lotto Soudal) and Davide Ballerini (Deceuninck-QuickStep) were meant to be riding here but had to pull out at short notice. They've been replaced by Jon Dibben and Iljo Keisse, respectively.
Trueba is first to the top of the climb. It's category-4, so three points to him. Lopez, who was first at the last one, is second and takes two points. That leaves them both on six.
The peloton trail by 1:45 now as they hit an undulating section of the parcours ahead of the flatter second half.
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Into the final 100km and the gap remains at 1:45. We've got a couple of intermediate sprints coming up but not much in terms of parcours that's going to split this race up. There is, however, a short kicker 2km from the line. It's only 3.5% and only 500m long, but we could see someone have a go. There aren't many pure sprinters here - Viviani and Jakobsen are the main ones - so their lead-outs are there to be tested.
91km to go
The peloton have picked up the pace and the gap drops below the one-minute mark.
Here's our breakaway trio: Diego López (Fundación-Orbea), Alvaro Trueba (Atum general/Tavira /Maria Nova Hotel), Pedro Paulinho (Efapel).
The peloton have eased up once again and the gap goes back out to two minutes.
"Winter is coming to an end, I've clocked up a lot of kilometres, other people have already started racing, so I'm really keen to get going too."
Vincenzo Nibali there, talking about his return to action here in Algarve. For more from the Italian on his winter preparation and feeling young at 35, here's the link you need.
The riders are rolling along just shy of the slowest predicted time schedule, at 37.9km/h so far.
80km to go
Paulinho once again wins the intermediate sprint and earns himself another three points. There's another one to go but the points jersey will go to the stage winner, with 25 points on offer for the first over the finish line.
The gap between breakaway trio and peloton is around 1:45 as we head down to the largely flat run towards Lagos.
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Deceuninck-QuickStep, Cofidis, and UAE are sharing the workload at the head of the peloton. Jakobsen, Viviani, and Kristoff are their respective sprinters.
Over the border in Spain, Jakob Fuglsang has won the opening stage of the Ruta del Sol after breaking free with Mikel Landa in the Grazalema mountains. You can find our report for that one here.
The three leaders step up their efforts but the peloton are ticking along now and the gap falls to 1:22.
50km to go
Into the final 50 and the breakaway trio (Alvaro Trueba, Diego López, Pedro Paulinho) have a lead of 1:15. We have our final intermediate sprint coming up with 30km to go, followed by an uncategorised climb and a run-in to the finish that's punctuated by that short rise with 2km to go.
Remco Evenepoel (Deceuninck-QuickStep) makes his way back to the peloton after a trip to the team car. The Belgian won the Vuelta a San Juan earlier this month and although this is a much stronger field, he'll be expected to compete for the overall title, especially considering the 20km time trial on the final day.
40km to go
The gap stabilises at one minute. The peloton still have plenty of time so it's still steady going at the moment.
Viviani, Jakobsen, and Kristoff have their men on the front, and they're the three big names for today's stage, but what about Mathieu van der Poel? He says he's here to prepare for the Opening Weekend and isn't bothered about stage wins, but he's got a finishing kick that will make those three more than a little nervous.
Speaking of Van der Poel, the Dutchman moves up towards the front of the bunch on the right-hand side. They're on a slight rise but we've still got 10km to go until that uncategorised climb I mentioned.
We grabbed a word with Viviani at the start this morning.
"We didn't have a very lucky start in Australia, but we're building up our lead out, our team, and like always when you join something new, you need some time to get in the perfect position."
32km to go
It's all over for the break. There's been an increase in the pace and the three riders are caught just shy of the intermediate sprint.
No bonus seconds at the intermediates here. QuickStep take the first three places as they drive the peloton on.
We have some narrow roads now as the race heads north before turning back down towards the coast. A number of big names are up near the front making sure they're not caught out.
25km to go and the riders begin to climb again. This one is uncategorised and it's easy going for now but it does have a nasty little sting towards the top.
Philippe Gilbert has been up at the front of the bunch for a number of kilometres now. Lotto Soudal don't have a sprinter after Degenkolb's withdrawal but in Tim Wellens they have someone who can have a crack at GC.
Speaking of Wellens, the gradient ramps up on this climb and the Belgian puts in an attack!
Plenty of riders fancy this, and the peloton quickly fragments.
Wellens is tracked by Joao Almeida (QuickStep) and a rider from FDJ. Michal Kwiatkowski (Ineos) sets off in pursuit.
It's Olivier Le Gac for FDJ. Kwiatkowski makes contact and more are coming back up.
Over the top we go and as we tip downhill Wellens' attack has created some small splits but nothing too significant.
Gilbert and Van der Poel have both struck out and moved to join that expanding lead group. The gaps are still slight, however.
The bunch stitches back together once again, although it's still strung out and there's a bit of a split at the back.
It bunches up once more as the pace eases, but the peloton has definitely been reduced by that flurry of action.
Vincenzo Nibali makes an appearance at the front. Thomas is up there, too. It's downhill again now and the big names are making sure they're in a strong position.
Stefan Kung (FDJ) puts in a decent acceleration and the race threatens to ignite once more. Schar for CCC puts in an acceleration of his own and draws some more riders out.
15km to go
It's largely downhill now towards the finale, but there's a late sting in the form of a 500-metre ramp with 2km to go. The last few kilometres lead us to believe we could see some action there.
Attack from Paddy Bevin (CCC), and Evenepoel follows!
More riders respond now and we have six at the front with a slight advantage.
The rest of the bunch begins to come back but CCC kick it off again
And again it calms down, but again CCC kick it back off. This time it's Trentin.
It's short-lived, and Sunweb come to the front now to take control.
CCC clearly wanted chaos and a hard race, but Sunweb have taken to the front en masse with six of their seven riders, and this now looks like a more controlled run-in. Sunweb have Nikias Arndt and Cees Bol for the finish.
10km to go
Into the final 10km we go and QuickStep make their presence felt again. Evenepoel got involved with one of those attacks but it looks like they're back thinking about Jakobsen.
Below the stage profile you can see a close-up of that late kicker I've mentioned. Nothing too severe but in the circumstances it could do some damage.
Alpecin-Fenix have formed a line down the middle of the bunch. Van der Poel is second wheel.
Luke Rowe moves up with Kwiatkowski on his wheel. Ineos are looking after their GC riders - they also have Thomas and Dennis - but don't forget about Ben Swift, who could figure today.
5km to go
Tim Declercq is on the front for QuickStep. Sunweb still have numbers on the right. Alpecin are holding position in the middle. The pace is really ramping up now.
Here's how the final 2km look
3km to go and the pace remains high. It's still flat but we're soon to hit that uphill drag.
Trek-Segafredo hit it now with Ryan Mullen. They have Edward Theuns here for the sprint.
Trek take on that uphill drag and keep the pace high.
Through a big roundabout and it's got messy but we're heading for a bunch sprint.
1km to go. Kwiatkowski hits the front!
Kwiatkowski is leading out Swift
Kwiatkowski moves over with 500 to go and Trek take it up
Swift goes first!
Viviani opens up...
But here comes Jakobsen.... and takes it!!
Fabio Jakobsen (Deceuninck-QuickStep) wins stage 1 of the Volta ao Algarve
What a sprint from the Dutch champion. Swift went too early, Viviani hit out and looked good but Jakobsen came past and around in convincing fashion.
Trentin, who had to stop sprinting for a split-second, took third, with Kristoff fourth.
Jakobsen won the opening stage into Lagos at last year's race, and he's repeated the trick. That's his second win of the season, after a win at the Vuelta a la Comunitat Valenciana, and he's well on track for his Giro d'Italia debut.
Let's hear from the winner
"I like the finish in Lagos - it's a straight line, and you have enough space. I'm just happy I could win here again.
"It was quite hard when Wellens attacked - there were a couple of steep climbs - but I managed to hang on and in the finale my teammates put me in a perfect position. The last straight is 700m long so you have space and you can go out and win the sprint."
Here's a link to our report page
That's it from us for today. We'll be back here tomorrow with live coverage of stage 2, which sees the GC battle ignite on the Alto da Fóia. In the meantime, keep an eye on Cyclingnews for all the news and reaction from the Algarve.
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