So today saw riders head to the north-east of Spain for the start of week-long stage race, the Volta a Catalunya. Seven mountain-heavy stages will see a battle between a star-studded field for the General Classification including the likes of Joaquim Rodriguez, Michele Scarponi and Alejandro Valverde - any of whom could easily reign victorious here, but all eyes will be on two riders using Catalunya to prepare for their attack on the Giro d'Italia, last years Giro winner Ryder Hesjedal and Tour de France winner Bradley Wiggins. So will this be a Giro prelude?...
|Will Hesjedal aim to win?|
Considering Hesjedal and Wiggins both won Grand Tours last year, they have been pretty anonymous so far in 2013. Hesjedal has been keeping a low profile and Bradley Wiggins has been camped out in Tenerife for much of the season following Sky's new 'race less, train more' strategy meaning that both will be coming into this race as unknown entities where form is concerned. Both parties are bringing extremely strong teams and although I suspect Hesjedal will be Garmins nominated team leader I'm not so certain about Bradley's position at Sky.
Rigoberto Uran is also on the startlist for Sky and I can see him being the nominated team-leader for Catalunya for numerous reasons. Firstly Uran always rides well here and it's a race he enjoys, secondly there is no Time Trial here either which doesn't suit Wiggins and is slightly unusual for a week-long stage race, but more on that later and finally if Uran is going well, expect to see him given leader status as a pre-thanks for the work he will undoubtedly be doing for Bradley Wiggins in the mountains at the Giro d'Italia.
|Stage 4 is just one of several difficult mountain stages|
Missing from the line-up is Astanas Vincenzo Nibali who abandoned Milan-San Remo at the weekend and after his win in Tirreno-Adriatico he is probably the Giro race-favourite as things stand, so a Giro Prelude this race probably isn't but it will give us an insight into where at least two of the top contenders are form-wise. As I mentioned earlier the route is mountainous to say the least and unusually there is no Time Trial but this could add an extra couple of dimensions to the race.
The first is that If Bradley Wiggins is going for the GC here he will have to ride hard in the mountains knowing there will be no TT to compensate, it will be a test of his climbing ability especially going up against riders who are perhaps more 'prominent' when the road head's skywards. The second dimension not having a TT gives to the race is that it opens up the general classification to those riders who are super-strong climbers, but due to their grimpeur nature or low weight are not best suited to time trialing and there are plenty of riders who fall into this bracket, most notably two of the race favourites Alejandro Valverde and especially Joaquim Rodriguez who's under nurtured TT ability was all to obvious to those riding Tirreno-Adriatic. (it cost him a podium place).
|Rodriguez will be looking|
for a home win.
Rodriguez especially brings a very strong Katusha team to this race - this is after all his homeland and therefor his home tour and in current form I wouldn't bet against him storming away with the overall victory. Riding for him will be heavyweights like Dennis Menchov, Simon Spilak and Daniel Moreno. He has certainly come well-equipped.
Watch out for some lesser known riders (in GC terms) taking advantage of the lack of Time Trial. Riders like Domenico Pozzovivo (AG2R), Thibaut Pinot (FDJ), Kenny Ellisonder (FDJ) Igor Anton (Euskaltel), Mikel Vieve (Euskaltel) and tiny Jose Rujano (Vacansoleil). All can put in great rides on the steep stuff, and where usually they would be aiming for a stage win, some may now be looking to the overall victory.
|Wiggins leading the break-away group.|
*UPDATE* Today's stage saw Bradley Wiggins force a break-away group on the final descent of the day containing the likes of Valverde, Rodriguez and Scarponi and they managed to stay away to the finish taking 28 seconds on the bunch - the big loser being Ryder Hesjedal who didn't make the group and finds himself now behind the main favourites already. Wiggins looked strong so maybe he will contend the GC, the 28 seconds he's gained today could make up for the lack of Time Trial, but it's early days. Riders like Pozzovivo, Pinot and Rujano all lost time today which will only serve to encourage more attacking riding in the mountains.