Three major races this week where all-rounders, sprinters and Tour de France hopefuls all come out to play. Here's a wrap up of the who, where, and what.
Monday 15 Feb 2016
In a nutshell: The middle east race that isn't flat.
Organisers have set a more demanding course for the 900km, six stage race which features an extended climb of Green Mountain on Stage 4.
The ascent of the "Queen Stage" of the race has increased in difficulty with 1.8km of road added, bringing the total distance to 7.5km, with an average gradient of 10.7 per cent.
Richie Porte will lead BMC fresh from a second GC place at the Tour Down Under.
"We've got a really solid team for the race so it will be nice to finally race together in the BMC Racing Team kit. It's also good opportunity to get a couple more race days in the legs before I start racing in Europe." Porte said
Earlier this year at his team's media day, Dan Martin outlined his early season's aims.
“I start off in Valencia and then I do Oman, and they’re new races for me. Oman is a race that I’ve always wanted to do and it suits me. I don’t really have any ambitions for it because I don’t know how the form will be but I’m just going to go to races and race as hard as I can. I want to get back to how I was as a junior and not have to worry about WorldTour points and just race hard and try to be as fit as I can," he said.
Martin won stage 2 of the Volta and finished 13th overall.
Last year's winner Rafael Valls (last year riding for Lampre-Merida) will not be at the race this year as he now rides for Lotto-Soudal.
Sunday 14 Feb 2016
In a nutshell: Five stage race with nearly always a deep GC field and testing route. Also a favourite of classics hopefuls.
The first and penultimate stages will hopefully see a showdown between Greipel v Kittel. The second and final stage mountain top finishes are for the likes of Contador and Aru. The second stage finishes on Alto de Foia and the final stage on the traditional Alto de Malhão ascent (2.5 km, 8.9 average gradient).
Just for measure, an 18km time trial is thrown in for Stage 3 which may see a shake up on GC.
Contador knows he will go up against some GC hopefuls who've already pinned a number on their back this season but is confident.
“I went through a good winter period because in Europe we had quite mild weather, something that helped me keep a continuity in my training,” he said.
"I also tried to organize my schedule and the non-sport commitments so that I can train. I was able to complete two very good training blocks with the team, one in December in Gran Canaria and another one in January, in Tenerife.
Etixx-Quickstep DS, Tom Steels this week discussed Kittel's and Martin's chances.
“Tony has stage 3 to show himself, but until then we’ll follow him on the first uphill finish. He can get involved in the fight for the GC, it’s not impossible, but it will be difficult, considering the competition, so we’re not putting any pressure on him," he said
“Marcel will be our rider for the flat stages, but Algarve won’t be about just one man, because we have a lot of options to go for a nice result with the guys who are preparing the Classics.”
In a nutshell: Five stage race with a testing route and two names AKA Ruta del Sol (race to the sun). Also a favourite of classics hopefuls.
The climbers and GC hopefuls will get their chances on the third and final stages. Stage 3 includes four major climbs, the final climb at 15km to go. Four climbs face the riders on the final and arguably queen stage with its difficult final up hill finish.
A time trial comes on Stage 4 and may shake up the GC before the final stage.
Valverde and Van Garderen come into the Ruta del Sol off strong rides at Murcia today, with Valverde finishing second and Garderen crossing the line in seventh place after attacking solo and also supporting team-mate Gilbert to the the win.