This week’s Volta a Catalunya marks the beginning of the definitive countdown to the Giro d’Italia as Remco Evenepoel (Soudal-QuickStep), Primoz Roglic (Jumbo-Visma) and Geraint Thomas (Ineos Grenadiers) start their remaining build-up for the primary Grand Tour of the 2023 season.
Evenepoel and Roglic are the 2 stand-out favourites for Might, and because the Volta a Catalunya shall be their solely alternative for a direct face-off earlier than heading to Italy, the week-long race shall be taken as the important thing reference level to their greater duel in just a little over 5 weeks.
Initially set to behave as Roglic’s debut for 2023 after his operations on his shoulder over the winter, the much-anticipated assembly of the 2 Giro contenders may have been one thing of a humid squib if Roglic had headed to Catalunya purely to rub the final of the winter rust off his wheels.
However having began racing earlier, in Tirreno-Adriatico, and having gained all three of the hardest levels there in addition to the general, Roglic is clearly in flying type. Even when the next hypothesis that sparked that he may change to the Tour de France as a substitute was rapidly stamped on by his workforce administration, that form of consequence bodes nicely for each Catalunya and the Giro d’Italia.
On the identical time, Remco Evenepoel’s better-than-expected efficiency within the UAE Tour, the place he marked a podium as his purpose after which ended up taking the general win, coupled along with his latest Strava-record-busting rides whereas at altitude within the Teide, additionally point out that the reigning World Champion can be on glorious climbing type.
As if that wasn’t motive sufficient to make the Volta one of many most excessive factors of stage racing this season exterior the Grand Excursions themselves, the presence of Geraint Thomas, a former podium finisher in Catalunya and one other main 2023 Giro contender, will significantly add to the curiosity. Then the sense that the Volta represents a dry run for Italy shall be even additional boosted by the presence of Joao Almeida (UAE Group Emirates). The previous Giro chief’s third place general within the Volta final yr, the place Almeida gained the hardest mountain stage and briefly held the highest spot general earlier than being caught napping by remaining winner Sergio Higuita (Bora-Hansgrohe) and Richard Carapaz, raises the possibilities of the Portuguese racer firing on not less than a number of cylinders in Catalunya this yr, too.
Nothing may replicate the Giro in full, in fact, and two of the obvious caveats on drawing too many conclusions from this week within the Pyrenees is that Catalunya is barely seven days lengthy, not 21, and its mountain climbs are by no means as onerous because the Dolomites or Alps.
However the important thing distinction between Catalunya and Italy would be the lack of time trialling, set to play an enormous half within the 2023 Giro. Certainly, Evenepoel’s full lack of racing towards the clock this season aside from the workforce time trial within the UAE Tour (which Soudal-QuickStep gained, it ought to be remembered) is doubtlessly a drawback for him come Might.
But Catalunya has loads of different alternatives for the Belgian star to put down some markers earlier than the Giro and its mountain-heavy format is undoubtedly crucial of them. Three summit finishes, two of them extraordinarily tough climbs to the Pyrenean ski station of Port Ainé on stage 2 and the a lot much less well-known Mirador del Portell/Lo Port in southern Catalunya on stage 5, shall be far higher checks than something Evenepoel has confronted since successful the Vuelta a España final yr. Furthemore, the climber-heavy Soudal-QuickStep squad the Belgian is bringing to Catalunya to assist Evenepoel is strongly indicative of how a lot of a costume rehearsal for Italy the Volta is taken into account to be each by him and by his workforce.
For Roglic, too, Catalunya marks one other very important staging put up en path to the summer time. It is also an opportunity to measure his power towards Evenepoel in a means that did not materialize absolutely final September within the Vuelta after his uneven begin and third week crash simply when he was hitting prime type, and which may even comprise a component of unfinished enterprise consequently.
Catalunya is simply too robust and too prestigious to be merely thought of the primary main take a look at run for the Giro d’Italia although, and it’s additionally received too deep a discipline of GC contenders for different occasions for that to be merely the case. Effectively-known as the one WorldTour stage race which commonly brings collectively prime names for all of the Grand Excursions, native followers shall be lamenting the absence of Juan Ayuso (UAE Group Emirates), whose plan to start his lengthy build-up for the Vuelta a España within the Volta has been scuppered by tendinitis. However the sizable Colombian neighborhood in Catalunya will be capable of rejoice the late affirmation that Egan Bernal (Ineos Grenadiers) shall be current in his return to racing after a tough begin to 2023.
What’s going to enhance the curiosity in Bernal’s presence is that he has a superb observe document in Catalunya – in 2018, the Volta was the place he had his breakthrough in WorldTour stage racing earlier than an premature crash on the final day, and he positioned third in 2019, the yr he gained the Tour. and the identical is equally true for a lot of different prime names aiming to shine within the 2023 Tour de France.
Adam Yates (UAE Group Emirates) is a former winner of Catalunya and has taken two mountain stage wins there, Richard Carapaz (EF Schooling-Easypost) blew the Volta aside in a two-up assault with Higuita final yr, and Mikel Landa (Bahrain Victorious) has lately been on superb type in Tirreno-Adriatico. And Andorra-resident Sepp Kuss (Jumbo-Visma) is one other Tour-bound more likely to be aiming to make a mark on ‘residence soil’ in Catalunya, whereas final yr’s Giro d’Italia winner Jai Hindley (Bora-Hansgrohe) is hardly a reputation that may be ignored, both.
The Giro stars won’t have it their very own means by an extended shot this week in Catalunya, then. And but extra fascinating narratives rising from the Volta will doubtless embody the continued stage racing progress of Luke Plapp (Ineos Grenadiers), second within the UAE Tour, what designs veteran Canadian climber Mike Woods (Israel-Premier Tech) has on roads the place he commonly trains in addition to races. Probably the most notable late none-starter from the Volta is breakaway specialist Thomas de Gendt (Lotto-Dstny), aiming so as to add one other stage win to his already notable Volta whole of 5 this March, however along with his plans scuppered by his harm in Paris-Good.