The peloton rolls into town for another exciting edition of Catalunya, a race that many can call their home event. Without a TT, the race is wide open and will interest many of the talented climbers here. The organisers have brought back a climb that’s not been in the race for a very long time, one that finishes close to 2000m above sea level. That and the usual mix of filthy weather makes this a tough race for all.
A typical Catalunya opening stage, one that will interest the sprinters and puncheurs. The final climb is 4.6km at 5.4%, which crests with 25km to go. We then have a fast descent before hitting a tricky finish. The final 10km is deceptively hard, especially as rain is forecast.
A sprint stage that crosses the border and finishes in France. We don’t have many pure sprinters in the race, this is a great chance for one of them to land a world tour win.
The return of La Molina, not a popular finish for most cycling fans. We’ve not been here since 2019, and the organisers have decided to make it just one time up the climb, which makes it an easier stage than before.
Boí Taüll hasn’t been in the race for donkey years, it’s a new climb for me. It doesn’t look that hard, around 14km at 5.5%, but the altitude will make it seem tougher than the numbers suggest. The last 10km of the climb is done at over 1500m, with the finish just under 2000m, this will make some riders suffer.
Should be another day for the pure sprinters.
The early cat 1 climb is perfect for the breakaway artists in the bunch, they’ll sense a real chance to upset the sprinters.
We end with the usual stage in Barcelona, one of my favourite days in the whole calendar. The stage was made harder in 2021, with the bunch having to climb all the way to the cable car station, I’m glad to say the organisers have stuck with this idea. As the two mountain stages aren’t overly difficult, we could have a big GC showdown to finish the race.
Ineos – after finishing 1-2-3 last year, they’re back with a very strong team. You could argue that five of their seven riders could challenge for the win, but we’ll have to wait and see the hierarchy within the team. They have Plapp, Carapaz, Porte, Rodríguez and Sivakov which clearly gives them options in the two mountain stages. Carapaz had to pull out of Tirreno due to illness, we’ll have to see if he’s recovered in time. Porte was strong in Tirreno, Rodríguez has started the season in fine form, as has Plapp. Sivakov hasn’t done much yet, maybe he’ll be one of the first who has to work on the front. The rest will have to see who gets the nod as team leader, but with such a strong team they’ll be expecting to defend their title.
Simon Yates – ended Paris-Nice in brilliant form, that was a hell of a performance in the final stage. Since then, he’s been a little sick, so we’ll have to wait and see if that has an impact on his current level. If he’s at 100%, he’ll be delighted with the route and the lack of Slovenians on the start list. One problem he’ll face is a lack of support in the mountains.
Michael Woods – after illness interrupted his start to the season, he returned with a bang by winning Gran Camiño. This is a very good route for the Canadian, he’ll sense a real chance of taking his first ever GC win. His team looks fairly strong, and he’ll have the extra motivation of riding on “home” roads.
Alejandro Valverde – another in great form, he shows no sign of slowing down. Stage 4 finishes at 2000m above sea level, this is usually a weakness for Valverde, we’ll have to see if he copes. Apart from that, this is a great route for him, and he’s got a real chance of taking another win.
Ben O’Connor – one of the many who had to quit Paris-Nice due to illness. He tells me he should be fine for this race, which is great news as he’s one of the riders who won’t mind some rain and cold.
Sergio Higuita – Bora have a strong team, with Higuita and Hindley as potential options. Given recent races, I would expect the Colombian to be their best card, especially as the two mountain stages could end in sprint finishes.
Nairo Quintana – did someone say a finish at 2000m!? He just came up short in Paris-Nice but gave it a good crack. Stage 4 will be the big moment for him, can he use his altitude expertise to put time into his rivals? If he wants to win the GC, he really needs to as stages 3 and 7 aren’t perfect for him.
Joao Almeida – suffered in Paris-Nice, we’ll have to see how he’s recovered. On paper, this is a very good route for him, as the big climbs aren’t too difficult. Like most who went deep in PN, we’ll have to see if he’s got anything left.
Juan Ayuso – the new sensation! I’m interested to see how he goes against the world class climbers in the race. I doubt he’ll be challenging for the win, but it will give us a good understanding of just how far away he is from the best.
Giulio Ciccone – I get the feeling he’s steadily building his form, 10th in Tirreno was an okay result. Given how hard a race that was I’m unsure how he’ll respond in this race. The good news for the team is that they also have Mattias Skjelmose Jensen as another option for the top 10.
Jack Haig – another who suffered in Paris-Nice, but 6th on GC was still a good result. How deep did he go? Has he recovered in time? We’ll have to wait and see.
Ineos are very strong, but I don’t think they have the winner in their team. I’m going to do something I rarely do; I’ll predict a win for Michael Woods. I think the route is great for him and his current form is very good.
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