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Five reasons why you should watch the Volta ao Algarve

An incredibly strong peloton tackles five days of racing around Portugal's south coast

Joe Robinson
19 Feb 2020

The Volta ao Algarve kickstarts today and chances are that this will not be incredibly exciting news to you. You may consider this five-day journey through Portugal's tourist heartlands to be just another of those lowkey season-starting stage races that do not have much to shout about.

But, this year, it is very different for quite a few reasons. 

Sure, the racing will largely stick to snaking through the many Algarvian towns fraught with British and Dutch ex-pats filling up its holiday homes and all-inclusive hotels, but the peloton doing the racing is absolutely stacked with talent.

In fact, it's probably the strongest peloton we have seen this season so far. And with that in mind, we have put together five reasons why you should watch the Volta ao Algarve this week.

Mathieu van der Poel's 2020 road debut

He has only raced one season on the road properly and he is still only 25 years old, but I have already found myself running out of superlatives to describe Mathieu van der Poel

Earlier this month, he produced a performance at the cyclocross World Championships that while we all expected, still shocked us all. From lap two, he dropped the entire field, worked up a 80-second gap and then basically cruised to the title.

Now, this Dutch phenomenon returns to the road in Portugal, the bit between his teeth, determined to improve on a spring in which he took home victories at Amstel Gold and Dwars door Vlaanderen.

Logic dictates that the Alpecin-Fenix rider should not have a chance of overall success in the Algarve but logic does not really apply to this rider, he has a habit of defying it.

Keep your eyes peeled on Stage 4, 169.7km from Albefueira to Malhao. The day finishes on the 2.6km long Alto do Malhao which averages 9.4%, textbook territory for a Van der Poel masterclass.

Geraint Thomas starts his year

The 2018 Tour de France winner Geraint Thomas is opening his season in the Algarve and claims to be in better form than he was last year. In fact, he recently revealed that while not at race weight, he is lighter than this time in 2019 and that his numbers are higher too.

Last year was quite tough for Thomas. Sure, he finished second at the Tour but you feel he realised that eventual winner and teammate Egan Bernal set down his marker as the team's strongest Grand Tour rider going forward.

At 33 years old, time is running out for Thomas and you wonder if this could be one of his last seasons at the top.

Thomas loves to race in the Algarve having won the overall classification twice, in 2015 and 2016, while also coming second behind teammate Michal Kwiatkowski in his Tour-winning 2018 season. 

The usual mixture of rolling roads, a summit finish on the Monchique mountain and a hearty time-trial suit the Welshman. And maybe all the roadside home support helps too.

Team Ineos's strength in depth

However, for Team Ineos, it is likely that the focus will not be on Thomas this week for a change.

Kwiatkowski will be racing, another double champion having also won in 2014. The Pole had a below-average season in 2019 but is undeniably class and is probably hitting all the right notes ahead of the Spring Classics.

The ever-improving Dylan van Baarle will also be in attendance, and among the favourites too. He joined Team Ineos as a Classics man and was inevitably turned into a mammoth all-rounder for Grand Tours.

But the man with the number 1 on his back is Australian time-trial king Rohan Dennis. Designated race leader for the team, the 20.3km time-trial on the final day really puts the chips into his corner as long as he can roll with the punches on Stage 2's summit finish at Foia.

It will also be nice to see Dennis race an early time-trial against Stefan Kung, Under-23 World Champion Mikkel Bjerg and Remco Evenepoel.

All eyes on Remco Evenepoel 

Speaking of Remco, the 20-year-old Deceuninck-QuickStep rider comes into this week of racing as hot favourite fresh from winning the overall title as the Vuelta a San Juan.

These five days of racing seem tailor-made for Evenepoel. There's a long time-trial at the end, a summit finish of under 10km on Stage 2 and one punchy finish on Stage 4; all terrain that the Belgian has proved to flourish on during his short career.

Ultimately, we should just be really excited to see Evenepoel pit himself up against the like of Thomas, Dennis, Vincenzo Nibali, Dan Martin and others across a whole week of racing because these are genuinely some of the best pro riders of the last decade.

And if he comes out the other end of it all having done a number on them, it's only going to further the belief that not the future, but the now is Remco.

Best of the rest

Funny that the most decorated rider in the peloton is not even among the favourites. Four-time Grand Tour and three-time Monument champion Vincenzo Nibali is making his Trek-Segafredo debut in Portugal and only a fool would be naive enough to rule him out of contention.

Tim Wellens starts his season surrounded by a strong Lotto-Soudal team that includes Philippe Gilbert and Jonathan Dibben. He always goes well in the early months so we expect him to put pressure on the big favourites.

Astana have also started the season flying, as usual, and come to proceedings with Miguel Angel Lopez and Luis Leon Sanchez. While the final day time-trial probably rules them out of overall contention, they will be a duo to watch on the two summit finishes.

UAE Team Emirates's Rui Costa was hugely impressive at the Saudi Tour recently and will be motivated to go well in a home race. Also, keep an eye on Bora-Hansgrohe's Max Schachmann, a specialist in these one-week stage races.

There is also the interesting sub-plot of sprinter Elia Viviani searching for his first victory at Cofidis going up against former Deceuninck-QuickStep teammate and sprinting apprentice Fabio Jakobsen, a rider who opened his own account at the Volta a la Communitat Valenciana last week.

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