Hello and welcome to stage 1 of the Volta a Catalunya. We're in Calella for the opening stage of this year's race.
- Volta a Catalunya race preview
- Volta a Catalunya start list
- Contador takes on Froome and Valverde at Volta a Catalunya
- Bardet returns to racing at Volta a Catalunya
- Dan Martin set to lead Quick-Step in Catalunya
We're in Calella for stage 1 of the race. It's an out and back loop and although a bunch sprint looks to be on the cards, the terrain before we return to Calella is anything but flat. There are six categorised climbs on the menu - two of them are first cats - and although most of them come in the middle of the stage we could see a few early GC casualties today. Last year Bouhanni won here in Calella and he's made the trip here again, after Milan-San Remo on Saturday.
Just to bring you up to speed, we already have break that's clear of the bunch. They're enjoying a lead of around 2:30. The men in the move are Magno Prado Nazaret, Murilo Affonso (Brasil), Antonio Nibali (Bahrain) and Pierre Rolland (Cannondale). This is the first time we've really seen anything from Rolland this season. He was lukewarm at best during Paris-Nice and is meant to targeting stage wins this season. Not many would have bet on him making the move today but here he is, on the front and taking a turn as the group of four head to the next climb. Around 50km of racing already covered.
We've a truly stacked line-up here in Catalunya though. The GC is almost a who's who of stage racing. We've Alberto Contador, Chris Froome, Romain Bardet, Mikel Landa, Alejandro Valverde, Ilnur Zakarin, Adam Yates, Bauke Mollema, Dan Martin, Rafal Majka... the list goes on.
Everyone will be watching Contador versus Froome here in their first clash of the season. Froome started his season in Australia and is making his Euro debut here, while Contador has picked up a number of podium spots - including a gripping second place at Paris-Nice earlier in the month. The defending champion, Nairo Quintana, is not here as he prepares for the Giro 'Italia but it's still a mouthwatering start list. You can find the complete start list, right HERE.
118km remaining from 178km
60km covered and the gap to the peloton is at 3 minutes on the mark. Advantage peloton for now but the interesting dynamic will be who chases this one down? The GC teams will not want to take up too much of the graft with a long TTT coming later in the race, while not all the sprinters' teams will want to use up men in the mountains. It's likely that we'll see a few teams share the work - Sky and Trek among them.
Another question is who are Team Sky racing for at this race? You'd think Froome would be the go-to rider for their GC hopes but it turns out that Thomas is their designated leader. What does that say about the Thomas-Landa pecking order with the Giro less than 50 days away?
At the start this morning in Celella Alasdair Fotheringham caught up with Team Sky's Nicolas Portal, who explained the situation:
“The team are doing very well, we had some excellent results recently, even if we couldn’t do what we wanted in Tirreno."
“G is clearly our number one here, it’s Froomey’s first race here in Europe and this isn’t a race which always suits him.”
“G lost a good opportunity to do something in Tirreno, even if it would have been very difficult to do something against Quintana, and here, let’s see what happens with the team time trial, and then G can see what he can do, with the support of Froome and Mikel Landa.”
We've just seen a surge from the bunch and at the 70km point the gap has almost been cut in half. It's at 1:40. With two second cat climbs just about in view are we about to see some of the climbers lay down an important test? Remember, Froome hasn't raced in almost two months so if teams like Trek can drop him now - regardless of whether Portal says that he's the leader - they'll take it.
So just over 100km of racing left in stage 1. The break have 1:40 after moving clear in the first 35km of today's action. A reminder of the men in the move: Rolland (Cannondale), Nibali A (Bahrain Merida), Affonso and Nazaret (Brazil).
Just looking at the Trek Segafredo line up, this is the first time that Mollema, Pantano and Contador have all lined up at the same race this year. Pantano proved his worth at Paris-Nice, blowing the race apart on the final stage before his leader took over. According to Contador, both he and Mollema will be protected riders, but we'll see who has the better climbing legs later in the race. On paper Mollema should be nearing his peak for the Giro but he will want to test himself once more against the bulk of his Giro rivals.
We've just caught a glimpse of Adam Yates in the bunch. He's making his comeback after quitting Tirreno due to illness. The British climber has already won this year, having taken the GP Industria & Artigianato one day race. His brother, Simon, won a stage in Paris-Nice to Falence and both men will race the Giro d'Italia - for the first time - in May.
And just to the left of Yates is BMC's Tejay van Garderen. The American finished 21st at Tirreno while his teammate, Rohan Dennis,took second overall behind Quintana. Considering van Garderen is the leader for the GC at the Giro, and Dennis is meant to have a 'free role' that makes this race very interesting. Van Garderen, you'd assume, desperately needs a result here in order to give himself a foothold in the season. He needs something to build on before Romandie and then the Giro. It almost doesn't matter if he finishes ahead of Dennis on GC here - any result will do...
We have an exclusive interview with Dennis coming up later today on the site. Stay tuned. #Dontcrack
Another American here, although one under far less pressure, is Andrew Talansky. The Cannondale rider's wife had their first child a few weeks ago so this is Talansky senior's first race of the year. The Cannondale Drapac rider's last outing was the Vuelta a Espana last year, and he finished 5th overall - a fine result after a difficult campaign. This season he is once again targeting the Tour de France and he's got a decent programme with Pais Vasco, and the Tour of California all coming up. It's not confirmed if he'll ride the Dauphine or the Tour de Suisse.
98km remaining from 178km
The gap between the bunch and the break has levelled out to an even two minutes as we approach 80km of racing covered in the opening stage. None of the big names GC men have been caught out on the opening climbs so far.
Dan Martin, a former winner of this race, has the entire QuickStep Floors squad here to protect him. Martin finished third at Paris-Nice, won a stage and finished 6th in Algarve, and took fifth in the Valencia last month. His path to the Tour de France has gone well and he's been consistent at nearly every turn. The Irishman will have to limit his losses against the likes of Sky and BMC when it comes to the TTT later in the week - that stage is going to be incredibly pivotal in the race for the overall.
Bardet and AG2R will really have to pull a ride out of the bag in tomorrow's TTT. It's 41.3km in length - one of the longest TTTs we've seen in recent years in a major stage race - and the Frenchman doesn't have the firepower around him like Thomas or BMC. This is Bardet's first race, of course, since his DQ at Paris-Nice for taking a tow from his team car. This race wasn't originally down on the Frenchman's plan but he dropped Romandie and come to Spain. He needs race days, it's that simple.
80km remaining from 178km
A shade under 80km to go and the break still hold a two minute lead over the peloton. Getting the sense that riders want to feel their way into this race, and that they're going to save as much as they can for tomorrow.
You can read our complete story on Team Sky's ambitions here in Catalunya, RIGHT HERE.
On paper, they've the strongest team here Landa, Froome, Rosa, Thomas, Kennaugh...
74km remaining from 178km
No real progress from the bunch as they continue to climb. They're holding the break at a consistently flat two minutes but we still have three climbs left in this stage.
The race has passed through the feedzone and to the bottom of the next ascent. Three climbs to go and two of them, including the next one, is a 1st cat climb.
The break are starting to lose their footing, with the gap down to 40 seconds. We're not even halfway up this climb and the landscape of the stage is already starting to shift.
Over the top of the climb and the break have stabilised the situation - holding the bunch at 40 seconds.
60km remaining from 178km
Less than 60km to go and most of it, to be fair is downhill. There's one last ascent to come and that's a third category climb with around 20km to go.
@Lotto_Soudal Mon, 20th Mar 2017 14:42:51
Correction, two climbs to go as the riders still have to crest the Coll Formic before the long descent towards the finish. The gap still hovers around 40 seconds.
The rest of the peloton are rolling towards the summit without too much concern. No attacks, just a mix of squads on the front setting the pace.
The climb itself is just over 7km in length with an average gradient of 4.3 per cent - that shouldn't be enough to trouble many of the sprinters if they continue to ride at this speed. Lotto Soudal are here and on the front with Andre Greipel, and the German will looking to continue his strong form. He skipped Milan-San Remo but has won a stage in all but one of the stage races he's competed in this year - including Paris-Nice.
@Cyclingnewsfeed Mon, 20th Mar 2017 14:50:38
Three riders have jumped clear of the field and they've joined the break. The seven-man group now contains A. Nibali, Canty, Domont , Bol, Affonso, Nazaret and Rolland.
So some real intent from Cannondale to fly the flag, with two men up the road and in the break. It's still hard to see this stage finishing in anything other than a sprint but the American team are riding aggressively.
50km remaining from 178km
Marco Minnaard (Wanty) is leading a one chase as he heads down the descent. There's no time gap but we've just under 50km to go.
The lead seven have 1:23 over the peloton. That's better than what they had at the top of the climb as we see Bol and Domont go clear of the rest of the break.
So the two leaders are working well and Cannondale, despite the numbers, seem to have missed out. Bol and Domont lead by around 37 seconds from the chase with the bunch over a minute down.
41km remaining from 178km
No real stress for the peloton as we continue the long descent back towards Celella. There is still that third cat climb with around 20km to go but with 41km to go, that's the only real obstacle that will stop today from ending in a bunch sprint.
We have bonus seconds to play for though. 10, 6 and 4 as time bonus at the line. And 3,2,1 for intermediate sprints - of which there are two.
36km remaining from 178km
We're ticking off the kilometres in quick succession and have just 36 to go as the sprinters' team move up. It was Nibali - not that one, the other one - who won the KOM points on the last climb.
The rest of the break appear to have been caught, so we just have our two leaders left. Bol and Domont had over a minute at the last time check but it's quickly coming down.
The gap is down to 44 seconds with Lotto Soudal setting the pace on the front of the peloton. Trek are moving up, so too are Cofidis, who are here for Bouhanni.
The two leaders are on a slight incline and both men move out of the saddle as they look to keep the momentum. They're up against it though, with the gap at 38 seconds with 32km to go.
Lotto are doing the majority of the work and they've been on the front for some time now. They are clearly confident in Greipel if this finishes in a bunch sprint. 30km to go.
26km remaining from 178km
We're now on the final climb with 26km to go. The two leaders are clinging onto their advantage as Lotto Soudal continue leading the field. The gap is around 15 seconds.
It's all over. The break has been caught with 25km to go. Lotto Soudal now have the task of controlling the bunch for the remainder of the stage as we see BMC and FDJ move up.
Lotto need to make sure that they don't run out of men as there's still a fair way to go. No other team, as yet, has given them assistance at the head of affairs.
Heading towards the top of this final climb as Trek protect Contador and Katusha perform a similar job with their man Zakarin. It's still Soudal on the front, though, with 21km to go.
FDJ, Bora and Movistar also start to have a presence but it's Thomas De Gendt who leads.
Contador is around 40 riders back, with a teammate looking after his needs. 19km to go.
Katusha are taking more control and line the peloton out as Soudal take a back seat for the first time in a long while. Team Sky, a number of their collective, hit the front as we go over the top of the climb. 18km to go.
@Cyclingnewsfeed Mon, 20th Mar 2017 15:35:09
14km remaining from 178km
It's Team Sky setting the pace on the slightly technical descent. They've posted four men on the front and don't have a sprinter here so it's all about keeping their GC assets out of trouble.
11km remaining from 178km
A show of strength from Team Sky here who continue to lead with their entire team on the front of the peloton with 10km to go.
6km remaining from 178km
Vichot leads FDJ up and they're here for Davide Cimolai, possibly. It's still Sky on the front but here come Lotto Soudal too. They've reorganised their train after a brief period of 'rest'. You get the sense that Cofidis are going to hit this one hard right at the end.
Attack from AG2R and it's Gautier with 5km to go. A moment of hesitation from the bunch and he's gone. He's a decent gap as he gets out of the saddle on a short rise.
The Frenchman has around 10 seconds as the road dips. The sprinters' teams are about to respond though with 4km to go. They'll catch him before we hit the 3km banner.
There's another attack and it looks like a Sky rider has gone. It's Kennaugh with 2km to go.
No response from Cofidis. They're leaving it late.
Lotto lead out Greipel as we go into the final 1000m. Vichot catches Kennaugh and we're all together. Bouhanni has some ground to make up.
And here comes Soupe with Bouhanni on his wheel. It looks like Greipel is boxed in.
And Bouhanni hits the front but has he gone too soon? He's well clear with just Cimolai on his wheel. He's about to pounce and Bouhanni is struggling. This is going to be close.
And Cimolai takes it ahead of Bouhanni. Great effort from the FDJ man who of course won a stage here last year while racing in Lampre Merida colours. This is his first win of the year, and a great time to find some form. Fantastic work from Vichot who caught Kennaugh and then it was Cimolai who drifted into Bouhanni's slipstream. He took the best line and the Cofidis rider started to pedal squares. Job done.
Cimolai was a key worker for Demare in Saturday's Milan-San Remo but two days later he has his own chance and takes it superbly. Once he moved onto Bouhanni's wheel he always seemed to have the measure of his Cofidis rival.
Here's your top ten for the stage:
1 Davide Cimolai (Ita) FDJ
2 Nacer Bouhanni (Fra) Cofidis, Solutions Credits
3 Kristian Sbaragli (Ita) Dimension Data
4 Dion Smith (NZl) Wanty - Groupe Gobert
5 André Greipel (Ger) Lotto Soudal
6 Jose Rojas (Spa) Movistar Team
7 Daryl Impey (RSA) Orica-Scott
8 Petr Vakoc (Cze) Quick-Step Floors
9 Phil Bauhaus (Ger) Team Sunweb
10 Enrico Gasparotto (Ita) Bahrain-Merida
And here are the top ten on GC:
General classification after stage 1
1 Davide Cimolai (Ita) FDJ 4:28:11
2 Nacer Bouhanni (Fra) Cofidis, Solutions Credits 0:00:04
3 Kristian Sbaragli (Ita) Dimension Data 0:00:06
4 Dion Smith (NZl) Wanty - Groupe Gobert 0:00:10
5 André Greipel (Ger) Lotto Soudal 0:00:10
6 Jose Rojas (Spa) Movistar Team 0:00:10
7 Daryl Impey (RSA) Orica-Scott 0:00:10
8 Petr Vakoc (Cze) Quick-Step Floors 0:00:10
9 Phil Bauhaus (Ger) Team Sunweb 0:00:10
10 Enrico Gasparotto (Ita) Bahrain-Merida 0:00:10
Thanks for joining us today. Here's our report, images and results from today's stage. We'll be back tomorrow with live coverage from the crucial stage 2 TTT.
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