In addition to the 19 pro tour teams, the three wildcard entries; Caja Rural from Spain, Cofidis and Sojasun from France make up this year’s Volta a Catalunya.
Last year’s winner Michael Albasini will be absent but some big GC names including Bradley Wiggins, Joaquim Rodriguez, Alejandro Valverde, Robert Gesink, Ryder Hesjedal, Michele Scarponi, Chris Horner and Thomas de Gendt are attending this year. We have seen both Rodriguez and Horner were in very good shape during Tirreno-Adriatico, whereas Scarponi was still building up his form. Elsewhere in Paris-Nice we saw Gesink struggling and abandoning in stage 6, same also true for de Gent.
Last time we saw Wiggins was in Tour of Oman in early February, where he was barely keeping up with the peloton. He was in Tenerife training till then, so his recent form is a big unknown at the moment, which is also true for last year’s surprise Giro winner Ryder Hesjedal who will be riding for the first time in a stage race this year.
The startlist of the 93th edition:
“The race to the sun” will accomplish its goal on 9th March, Saturday, arriving Nice after this year’s second mountain stage. There was a mountain-top finish in the 5th stage and Team Sky’s Richie Porte attacked to victory and the yellow jersey.
The race starts from Manosque, on the slopes of a 3rd category climb, which is perfect conditions for a breakaway group to start early on. Every team with hopes in the GC will try to control the race and expect them to send at least a rider to the break, including SKY. Thomas Voeckler and Thomas De Gendt may also try to win a stage, if the break gets caught on the combined category 1-climbs expect a new breakaway to form on the ascent of Col du Ferrier.
The stage is quite similar to 2011’s Brignoles – Biot-Sophia Antipolis stage, which was won by Remy di Gregorio after a 20 kilometers solo break.
Besides the now “19” pro tour teams, 4 teams are invited with wildcards: Cofidis, IAM Cycling, Sojasun and Team Europcar.
Bradley Wiggins will not be racing to defend his title, and looks like SKY will be aiming for stage wins with the likes of Richie Porte and Jonathan Tiernan-Locke instead of a solid GC attempt. With the big names of the pelaton missing, by the looks of it it’ll be an open race for the yellow jersey.
Last year’s runner up Luewa Westra is back, but lacking last year’s form so far. Thomas De Gendt will also be riding for Vacansoleil though not sure he is in good shape, which can be said also for Blanco’s Robert Gesink. TJ van Garderen from BMC, Rui Costa of Movistar and FDJ’s Jean-Christophe Peraud should be taken very seriously for the overall classification. Watch for Nacer Bouhanni and Marcel Kittel for the sprints and with 2 stages particularly suitable for breakaway groups, we can expect a stage win from the likes of Simon Gerrans, Tom Boonen, Philippe Gilbert and even the grueling Thomas Voeckler if he has the legs for it.