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Volta Algarve is traditionally the first port of call for many of the worlds leading stage race riders to show their form and test fitness levels after a solid winter of preparation. This year’s event will be no different with a start list full of stage race specialists preparing to line up on the start line.
2011 winner and future Tour de France hopeful Tony Martin has again nominated this race as his season opener along with Team Sky’s Bradley Wiggins, throw into the mix riders such as Kloden, Van Den Broeck, Roche, Froome and you start to get the feel of an exciting battle for overall honours. The Portuguese sun and roads can be a perfect way for the worlds top GC men to start their season comparing their fitness levels to the riders they will be fighting against in the bigger ‘Monuments’ later in the year.
Having rode this race on 3 successive occasions I had the pleasure to witness the variability of the roads and teams that this race can throw up on more than one occasion. This years event is again scattered with numerous cat 3 climbs which line every stage along with the mountain top finish on stage 3 to Alto do Malhão with a decisive final stage 25.8km time trial. So from this brief profile of the race you can see why the talents of Tony Martin are perfectly suited to such a race.
The variability’s in the early season opener will consist of twisting Algarve roads and highly motivated Portuguese teams that will make it an aggressive attacking race that can at times prove a headache for any teams wanting to control the race for the decisive moments or teams wanting to nurse their sprinters to the line after surviving the undulating terrain. In the past riders such as Bernhard Eisel (winner of 4 stages) has excelled in this sort of terrain and again you can see a rider with the ability to sustain prolonged periods above their threshold on the 2-3km climbs and remain in contact with the leading group will often be in the fight for the stage win in the final of the race.
This ability to continually produce vo2max sustained efforts during steep climbs that litter the route is again ideal territory for the ‘Classic’ hopefuls to test their form and enable them to aim for stage wins. Looking at Stijn Devolder’s stellar 2008 early season campaign it was planted in his Volta Algarve overall victory along with Heinrich Haussler two stage victory in 2009 before his exceptional Spring and you can start to see a pattern of predicting the riders who will battle for the ‘monuments’ come March-April.
During my time riding this race I noticed that many of my power files had a average normalized wattage of around 80-85% of threshold with efforts of 120% of threshold (Vo2max territory) for sustained periods of 5-10min during these undulating stages, on one occasion I spent 50min in a 4½ hr stage in or above my Vo2max zone, all just to stay in contact with the leading bunch!
Any riders with the ambition for the GC will have to show excellent recovery from such high intensity sustained efforts, this recovery will in turn enable them to produce solid performances on back to back days along with producing an excellent maximal threshold effort on the3rd stage mountain top finish and the 5th and last stage in the 25.8km T.T.
The Alto do Malhão will prove to be a pivotal point in the race and on this Cat 2 climb to the finish riders will require a excellent Power/Weight ratio, the final 2.5km of the stage raises 250m in altitude gain, this is around an average of 10% so a excellent Pwr/Kg will be key for a victory or a high placing on the stage and anyone with GC ambitions. Riders such as Alberto Contador and Tony Martin have made there mark on this stage in previous editions so watch out for similar performances from the 2012 overall winner.
Any GC contenders going into the Time Trial having poorly recovered from previous stages will struggle to maintain such a sustained effort and in turn watch their chances of a high GC place or victory disappear.
We will see a great fight from not only the stages with aggressive riding from the locals and guys with the Classic’s in mind, but also the GC riders wanting to show form and fight for overall victory in the mountain top finish on stage 3 along with the decisive and crucial final day time trial.
Let the games begin for the stage race specialists in this year’s Volta Algarve.