23-29 March 2015
Last year’s Volta a Catalunya had one of the strongest lineups of the season. This year’s edition doesn’t disappoint. In addition to the impressive field, we’ll also get the second big GC fight between Alberto Contador and Chris Froome anno 2015.
This year’s course is not as mountainous as the one in 2014. With only one uphill finish, the GC riders have to ride aggressively on the undulating stages if they want to gain time on their rivals. The opening stage has the same finish as last year. The first climbs are a bit harder, but the most likely scenario is another bunch sprint in Calella. The second stage is tricky. The last 25 km include a couple of short hills with gradients around 4-6 %. There is a part of 11 % with about 10 km to go, meaning the GC riders may want to test their legs despite the flat finish.
A big part of the peloton will be on familiar roads in Girona on stage 3. The category 1 climb, Alt del Àngels (6 km / avg. 5.5 %), has its top with just 13 km to go. Again, another opportunity to attack and gain time in the general classification before the mountain top finish on day 4. It’s more or less an exact copy of the stage from 2014 with the 5.5 km ascent to La Molina. Stage 5 and 6 are for the sprinters, while the final stage in Barcelona is the last chance for the GC riders to gain time. The eight laps on Montjuic include a couple of difficult uphill sections. Last year, the organizers had to cancel a part of the circuit due to the weather. Hopefully, it won’t be the case this time.
There are 10-6-4 bonus seconds to the first three riders on each stage, meaning we should see some aggressive riding since there is only one uphill finish. The intermediate sprints each offer 3-2-1 bonus seconds.
With both Alberto Contador and Chris Froome at the starting line in Calella, you would think they would be the two top favorites. However, due to the lack of mountains and the importance of the bonus seconds, my prime pick is Alejandro Valverde.
The Spaniard arrives late, after the finishing Milano - San Remo, but since the first stage isn’t very demanding, it’s shouldn’t hamper his chances of overall success. As always, Valverde is aiming big at the Ardennes Classics. Volta a Catalunya serves as excellent preparation. On home soil, the expectations to Movistar are, naturally, huge. Last year, they finished 5th overall with Nairo Quintana. I would be very surprised if Alejandro Valverde doesn’t make, at least, on to the podium. The climbs suit him perfectly and due to his fast finish, he’ll able to score a lot of bonus seconds. The uphill finish on La Molina is not very steep, meaning it will be very hard for Chris Froome and Alberto Contador to drop Valverde. Even if they do, I doubt it will be with more than a few seconds. Valverde is one of the favorites for stage 2, 3, 4 and 6. I think he’ll be able to score enough bonus seconds these days to win the race overall.
Team Sky brings a very strong team to support Chris Froome. Actually, it seems almost too strong, given the course isn’t very mountainous this year. Hopefully, it means Team Sky will ride aggressively and attack a lot more than we are used to see them do. Richie Porte, Wout Poels, Leo Konig and Nicolas Roche are all capable of winning stages in this terrain. With 10 bonus seconds to the winner, a stage win could almost put you on the overall podium if you avoid bad luck. After a tough Tirreno-Adriatico, in bad weather, Alberto Contador arrived to Volta a Catalunya with a cold. It will be interesting to see how strong he’ll be on La Molina, where he finished 2nd last year. However, the Spaniard is the uncrowned king of downplaying his chances before a race. Don’t be surprised if he’s attacking already on stage 2. In Ivan Basso, Rafal Majka, Michael Rogers, Robert Kiserlosvki and the Danish champion Michael Valgren, Contador has an extremely strong team to support him.
Due to the nature of this year’s course, with only one mountain top finish, we could easily end up with a couple of outsiders on the overall podium. Therefore, the list of outsiders is also very long. Riders who are strong uphill, not afraid of attacking and fast on the line, have a very good chance of a big result in Volta a Catalunya 2015. On paper, Samuel Sanchez would be a very strong candidate. He did well in Strade Bianche earlier this month, and has done great in this race in the past. However, BMC will probably be more focused on getting a good result with Tejay Van Garderen after his disappointing performances in Paris-Nice. The young American won a stage in last year’s edition of Volta a Catalunya where he finished 3rd overall. Personally, I don’t think this year’s course suits him very well though.
Cannondale-Garmin is pretty much on home soil in this region. They bring a very versatile team with numerous candidates for both stage wins and overall success. Dan Martin seems like their best card to play but with the likes of Ryder Hesjedal, Janier Acevedo and Andrew Talansky, we can expect a lot of attacking from the American team.
When in shape, Carlos Betancur, would be a very good pick for the overall win on this course. However, the Colombian didn’t look particularly fit in Tirreno-Adriatico. Instead, Ag2r will most likely aim for a great result with Domenico Pozzovivo and last year’s revelation Romain Bardet, who’s never afraid to take a chance and attack. The young Frenchman finished 4th last year. If he can pull off a successful late breakaway, he’ll might be able to make it onto the podium this year.
Pure climbers like Esteban Chaves, Fabio Aru, Mikel Landa, Pierre Rolland, Warren Barguil and Dani Navarro won’t have it easy on this course. If they want to make top3 overall in this race, they can’t wait for stage 4. They need to attack whenever the opportunity presents itself. The same goes for top GC riders like Rigoberto Uran and Wilco Kelderman.
On paper, stage 1, 5 and 6 look good for the fast riders. Luka Mezgec was the big star of the sprints last year, winning no less than three stages. Despite his crash in Tirreno-Adriatico, he will be one of the top favorites for the opening stage again this year. However, the competition will be much stronger this time. Bryan Coquard proved to be very fast in Paris-Nice. The undulating sprint stages in Volta a Catalunya suit the Frenchman perfectly. The same can be said for Julian Alaphilippe, who did very well in the sprints in this race last year.
Personally, I’m very much looking forward to seeing what young Caleb Ewan can do in this field. It’s his first World Tour race and he arrived with a big moral after winning two stages in Tour de Langkawi earlier this month. Without a super-sprinter in the Volta a Catalunya, Ewan has a unique chance of winning in his first test against the European elite.
For other fast riders with a solid chance of a good result, look to Jasper Stuyven, José Joaquin Rojas, Roberto Ferrari, Boris Vallée, Enrico Gasparotto and of course IAM Cycling’s Matteo Pelucchi who was so unlucky to get sick before Tirreno-Adriatico and then crash on stage 2. If the Italian is already back at 100 % again, he’ll be very difficult to beat in the sprints.
Below you’ll find all the stage profiles for the race.