Tuesday, 19 March 2013

Volta a Catalunya: Vallter 2000

After only two 'sprinters stages' (neither were flat and stage 1 in particular saw plenty of climbing) the Volta a Catalunya heads to the high mountains in stage 3 for a summit finish, and here it is - the Vallter 2000 Ski Resort...

It might seem early in the year for a race to be heading into the Pyrenees in such dramatic style but already this year we have seen some tough climbs in Tirreno-Adriatico, Paris-Nice and the Tour of Oman, what does make the Tour of Catalunya a little unique is that this is not a one off climb plonked towards the back-end of the race to help decide the order of General Classification, this is only day three of seven, and it's not even the queen stage (which I will look at tomorrow). There is tough climbing to be had on every stage from now until the finish and the summit of the Vallter is only the start.

The climb itself is tough, very tough. It's a 12km brute averaging a strenuous 7.8% which doesn't do the climb justice as there are whole sections at 9% and the gradient peaks at around 12%. Riders will climb to a dizzy early season height of 2144metres above see level. It's one for the real grimpeurs of which there are many in this race. If Paris-Nice lacked strong climbers and Tirreno-Adriatico hosted the best of the Grand Tour contenders, then it's Catalunya that really features the best of the climbing specialists. The list of names who will do battle over the coming 5 stages makes for a mouth watering prospect.
Camprodons stunning 12th century bridge
Surrounded by some stunning Catalan countryside the climb is bank to the Ter River and framed by the peaks of Bastiments, Gra de fajol and Pic de la dona. Roads pass through a vivid green landscape and stunning 12th century villages like Camprodon, currently seeing an economic boosts as skiers and tourists use it as a base for the Vallter resort in winter and for walking in the summer months. Stone houses with balconies, rickety alleyways, boutique shops spilling over with local delicacies, mountain cheeses and fresh produce plus flower filled plazas Romanesque churches await tourists whilst plenty of cafes offer warmth for skiers and good espresso for the cyclists.

It's difficult to guess in which direction the action will head tomorrow as the leading GC guys don't want to risk blowing up here before even reaching Thursdays queen stage, whilst those favourites who found themselves 30 seconds back thanks to Bradley Wiggins drive on the final decent of Mondays stage might wish to put the hurt on the others and try and gain the time back. It's highly likely that we will once again see the Sky train setting the pace up the climb in support of Bradley Wiggins who likes to grind his way to the top but there are riders here who's style of riding means they won't stand for it and will try to make a move alone - look out for Jose Rujano or Domenico Pozzovivo who might be more interested in the stage win than the General classification. The ever present French revolution riders might look to do the same, here in the form of Thibaut Pinot and Kenny Ellisonde whilst the stage looks made for a rider like Thomas de Gendt who might look to slip away in a yet another solo effort for stage glory.

Maybe the main event will be Thursdays queen stage but the Vallter does present options to many riders looking to get something from the week-long race whether it be a foothold in the general classification, the king of the mountains or a well earned stage win. The race is set up as such that the general classification could be shaken up on literally every day that remains. Live coverage has suffered so far due to difficulties with the host broadcaster, we can only hope that they get their act together in time for tomorrow as the racing steps up a notch... 

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