The professional peloton are spoiled for choice this week, with stage races taking place in Saudi Arabia, France and Spain. Valenciana is the usual mix of three sprint stages, a punchy finish and a leg breaking mountaintop finish. The route, weather and good roads makes it a popular choice among the pros, this is a race most would love to come to.
The punchy stage. We have over 3100m of climbing in the stage and a very interesting climb in the final 10km. This is too hard for the sprinters, it’s one for the puncheurs.
The first of the sprint days. We have several fast men here, but all eyes will be on Fabio Jakobsen. After a stunning return to racing in 2021, I can’t wait to see him in 2022.
The leg breaking climb stage! The organisers of this race love a double-digit gradient, it’s their trademark. This time we have 4.4km at 10.4%, with the final kilometre averaging close to 14%. Not only that but we also finish on gravel.
The second sprint stage, with potential for crosswinds in the final 50km.
We end with another sprint in Valencia.
Alejandro Valverde – it’s been a few years since he started a season in this type of form. Now 41 years old, and in his final season, his calendar is full of Spanish races. Make no mistake, Valverde wants to win as many races as he can, he wants to sign off in style. The steep gradients in stage 3 are perfect for him, when he’s at his best there aren’t many who can beat him. I’m really looking forward to him going up against Remco, it’s like the master versus the apprentice.
Remco Evenepoel – I’m amazed at how much shit he takes from the press and “fans”. As we all know, Remco is a sensational talent, he’s just turned 22 and already has 22 wins. Like Valverde, he is a master on steep gradients. This is his first race of the season, and as he has his sights set on races a little later in the year it’s not clear if he’ll be close to 100% yet. Saying that, Remco always seems to be in form!
Aleksandr Vlasov – left Astana in the winter, joining Bora – hansgrohe. This looks like a good move for both parties, Vlasov is a rider who has already achieved a lot and he can still improve. He made his debut for the team in Trofeo Pollença – Port d’Andratx, finishing a very credible third place. The Russian normally goes well on steep climbs, remember he won Emilia back in 2020. With a decent team here to support him, I think Vlasov is a rider who should be challenging for the win.
Giulio Ciccone – wants to peak for the Giro/Tour double, so he’s likely to be undercooked for this race. As most riders will be some way off their best, he could still finish high on GC. Ciccone is good on steep slopes; I hope to see him challenging with the best.
Pavel Sivakov – Ineos have several strong riders, but Sivakov would normally be their best option on a steep climb. The Russian did not have a great 2021, he failed to live up to the levels he hit in 2020. I sense this will be an important season for him, he needs some results if he’s going to develop into a team leader. Despite looking like the best option for Ineos I think he could struggle to finish on the podium.
Juan Ayuso – only 19, but capable of challenging for the title. He moved across to the elite level in the second half of 2021, this will do him in good stead for 2022. Pogačar has shown that it’s possible for youngsters to do well in their first season, I’m looking forward to seeing the young Spaniard go up against the very best.
Milan Vader – a new name for you to get to know. This is his first ever road race, but I still hope to see him challenging for a good spot on GC. Vader is a Dutch cross-country mountain biker, he has the bike skills required to adapt fast to live on the road. The steep climb should suit him well, although he would have preferred it to be a little shorter.
I see a straight shoot-out between Valverde and Evenepoel, one that could be very close. Valverde is clearly in great form, and I hear that Remco was going well at recent team camps. I’ll take a win for Remco Evenepoel.