Mountain goats lining up for Volta a Catalunya glory

It's a tough, mountainous course for the 100th edition of the Volta a Catalunya and while there are a few riders making their 2021 debuts, many are in top form already and looking to take home WorldTour wins in Spain.

 

Fresh off blockbuster editions of Tirreno-Adriatico and Paris-Nice, the next on the cycling smorgasbord for the male WorldTour professionals is the Volta a Catalunya. 

It occupies an interesting middle position within the cycling calendar, not a traditional opener to European racing like the above-mentioned races, but not one where all riders are going to be in full swing. Unlike the friendlier parcours of Tirreno-Adriatico and Paris-Nice there's no nice stages for the cobbled classics riders or pure sprinters here. 

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A brief overall view is that there are two summit finishes, an 18.5 km time trial, and a very hilly circuit stage to finish. The other three stages are far from easy, all rate as tougher than the final stage of Paris-Nice, where Primoz Roglic saw his overall win slip away. 



Contenders for the general classfication

Top-tier favourites

To be on this list you have to be a really good climber, winner of Grand Tour-stage level, even though not everyone here has quite accomplished that yet. Possessing at least a decent time trial ability and currently displaying some good form. And finally a bit of an X-factor, you'll need to have something special when the attacks begin flying on those punchy circuits around Barcelona.

Joao Almeida (Deceuninck-QuickStep) ticks all the boxes and has shown plenty in recent races with his attacking style of taking races by the scruff of their throat, even against the best in the world. Not quite the climbing pedigree of others on this list, but such an exciting prospect and he'll likely be the fastest in the TT of the GC contenders.



Adam Yates (INEOS Grenadiers) has a good form line for the race, only beaten by Tadej Pogacar at the UAE Tour. Pogacar proved peerless at Tirreno Adriatico and Adam Yates gave him a good race so maybe he's the strongest of the crop at the moment. His time trial has gotten better in recent years, but he'll need to keep losses under a minute to other rivals.

Simon Yates (Team BikeExchange) will take on his brother for the first time in WorldTour competition. He was actually a late addition to the Catalunya squad after he felt that he hadn't got enough consistent racing under his belt before he attempts a tilt at the Giro d'Italia. Consistency has always been the issue for the more Simon of the Yates, he goes from worldbeater one day to average rider the next. At Tirreno, he nearly hunted down Pogacar to win a stage, but he conceded time on other days where few lost any.



Sepp Kuss (Jumbo-Visma) may be one of many leaders for the 'Jumbots', but absence Roglic he's the best climber. The time trial is an issue, but he's not often been in a situation where he's need to perform well against the clock. He's done some work on his position in the off-season, but that didn't pay off at the UAE Tour. 

Lucas Hamilton (Team BikeExchange) has shown very good recent form at Paris-Nice, and will be a lot better for that experience as he begins to make his way as a GC leader. His TT isn't a big weakness, but he'll have a little time to make up to the top guys.



Hugh Carthy (EF Education-Nippo) is the most lightly raced on the riders in this portion of the list, he only has two race days on record in hilly French one-day races. He's long been talked about as the next big GC threat from the UK and his third last year at the Vuelta has shown he's now one of those big riders who should be counted in contention more often than not.

Very good shots

Riders here have a knock on them for one reason or another, most have a perfectly good explanation, but that's why they're not higher up the list of candidates.

Richard Carapaz and Richie Porte (both INEOS Grenadiers) are coming into the race without much top form behind them. Porte crashed out painfully from Paris-Nice but was flying in training, while Carapaz simply hasn't raced and is normally a slow starter. Geraint Thomas is the final piece of the INEOS Grenadiers puzzle, his form was inconsistent at Tirreno-Adriatico, but he's pushing himself hard and trying to be a bit more aggressive to win.



Jai Hindley (Team DSM) did some very important work for teammate Tiesj Benoot at Paris-Nice and also slotted in with some nice performances in the mountains. He'll been the sole here and the only real knock on the West Australian is his time-trialling ability among a group that is pretty strong uniformly.

Brandon McNulty (UAE Team Emirates) is a a case in point, he'll challenge Almeida and Thomas as the top TT riders among the GC men. He was third at Paris-Nice before crashing out, scans cleared him of any serious injury and he'll line up here with the favourites.

Wilco Keldermann (BORA-hansgrohe) is such an all-round rider that it's hard to pick anything as much of a flaw. If there's anything, it's that he lacks that real top gear to go with the best climbers, that was exposed a bit last year at the Giro when Hindley, Geoghegan Hart and Dennis started to dominate.

Steven Kruijswijk (Jumbo-Visma) similar to Keldermann is that's there's very little that you can pick out that's a glaring hole in his ability set. If anything, there's a lack of recent form from the Dutchman, but COVID and crashes last year took the best months of his season away from him and he was good in support of Roglic at Paris-Nice.

The enigmatic Nairo Quintana (Arkea-Samsic) at his best would win this race, early 2020 Quintana would certainly be a favourite but his return post-COVID was less inspiring and a persistent knee injury hampered his Dauphine and Tour de France.

Enric Mas (Movistar) isn't a fashionable pick, but after fifth at both the Tour de France and the Vuelta a Espana you'd be silly to say he's not one of the best climbers around. He doesn't win much, but he's normally plugging away around the top 10. 



Outside chances

Chris Froome (Israel Start-Up Nation), Rohan Dennis (INEOS Grenadiers), Lennard Kamna (BORA-hansgrohe), Chris Harper (Jumbo-Visma), Marc Hirschi (UAE Team Emirates), Rigoberto Uran (EF Education-Nippo), Michael Woods (Israel Start-Up Nation), Clement Champoussin (AG2R-Citroen), Alejandro Valverde and Marc Soler (both Movistar) are some names if you want to look further afield.

Australians Dennis and Harper could both be GC leaders on other teams, but on INEOS Grenadiers and Jumbo-Visma respectively they'd be fourth or fifth options despite good showings recently.

Someone with a breakout chance for the race is 22-year-old Andreas Kron (Lotto Soudal). His results in the past point towards a burgeoning classics rider, but his body shape is more that of a mountain goat. He'll get a go as part of a talented, but leaderless Lotto Soudal squad, he'll hopefully get some chances throughout the week. 

Volta Catalunya on SBS VICELAND

March 23-29 

LIVE to Eastern States (delayed to other time zones on SBS HD), live streaming to all SBS On Demand  

Live on SBS VICELAND: Volta Catalunya Stage 1 

Tuesday March 23  

0120 - 0315  

Live on SBS VICELAND: Volta Catalunya Stage 2 

Wednesday March 24  

0115 - 0315 

Live on SBS VICELAND: Volta Catalunya Stage 3 

Thursday March 25  

0115 - 0315

Live on SBS VICELAND: Volta Catalunya Stage 4

Friday March 26

0115 - 0315 

Live on SBS VICELAND: Volta Catalunya Stage 5

Saturday March 27

0115 - 0315 

Live on SBS VICELAND: Volta Catalunya Stage 6

Sunday March 28

0115 - 0315 

Live on SBS VICELAND: Volta Catalunya Stage 7

Sunday March 29

2130 - 2330


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8 min read
Published 22 March 2021 at 3:56pm
By Jamie Finch-Penninger
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