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We provide you with previews of the stages in Oman, Andalusia and Algarve

Photo: Paumer Kare Dhelie Thorstad








17.02.2016 @ 22:37 Posted by Emil Axelgaard

This week is an extremely busy affair in professional cycling as no less than four stage races will take place in Oman, France, Spain and Portugal respectively. Instead of doing our usual extensive stage preview, we will provide a short preview of the stages each day.


Tour of Oman, stage 3:

The course:

The sprinters have usually had their say on three stages of the Omani race but this year their number of opportunities has been reduced to two. Furthermore, they will have no chance to get the leader’s jersey as they will have to wait until the third day before they get their chance. However, they will lick their lips in anticipation of stage 3 which is the easiest of the race.


The 176.5kmkm stage starts at Al Sawadi Beach and brings the riders to a finish at Naseem Park just a few kilometres further down the coast. It is very similar to previous sprint stages in the race as it consists of a long uphill drag into the desert and a downhill run back to the coast. After a short flat section along the coast, the riders turn inlands and climb along gradually ascending roads to the highest point of the stage which comes at the 88.5km at the feed zone. Seven kilometres earlier, the first intermediate sprint is located.


Having refueled, the riders will turn around and head along gradually descending roads back towards the coast. The highlight will be the final intermediate sprint which comes with 27.5km to go. The road flattens inside the final 10km when the riders have reached the coast. With 6km to go, they will take a U-turn as they travel along a big highway which they will leave at a winding left-hand turn with 2.5km to go. That leads them onto the 2km finishing straight which is on an 8m wide, completely flat road.


Naseem Park hosted the finish of the opening stage in 2014 when André Greipel rode himself into the leader’s jersey by taking the stage win ahead of Leigh Howard and Nicola Ruffoni.


The weather:

Thursday will be a special day in Oman as rain is forecasted in the afternoon. It will be a sunny start but in the early afternoon, there is a 50% chance of rain and it will be 75% by the time, the riders will reach the finish. The maximum temperature in Muscat will be 23 degrees. There will be a light wind from a northerly direction, meaning that the riders will mainly have a tailwind in the first part and a headwind in the second part. In the final 7km, it will be a crosswind.


The favourites:

After his dominant performance in Qatar, we all knew that Edvald Boasson Hagen was in great condition. However, today’s performance was an incredible demonstration of power and it seems that we are back to the good old days where the Norwegian is a contender in almost every kind of race, be it sprints, time trials or hilly stages.


However, Boasson Hagen is not going to win the race. He has done well on the Green Mountain in the past but he has no chance against the pure climbers on an ascent that’s among the hardest in professional cycling and even has been made longer this year. When it comes to the overall battle, today’s stage proved that Vincenzo Nibali is just as strong as we had expected and it looks like an in-form Domenico Pozzovivo will be the biggest rival on a steep climb that suits the Italian well.


For now, the GC riders will step into the background to get ready for their big battle on Friday and instead the sprinters will get a rare chance to shine. Tomorrow’s stage is the flattest of the race and there is little doubt that the sprint teams have their eyes on a bunch sprint. The final stage can be a bit tricky for the pure sprinters so this could be their only opportunity in the race.


The first part of the stage can be windy but tomorrow there won’t be much wind so there should be no danger. However, the riders will probably have wet roads. We don’t have much knowledge about local Omani conditions but as it is rarely raining, the roads could be very slippery. This can make the finale pretty treacherous but luckily it is not a technical finish. The finishing straight is more than 2km long and this makes it a real power sprint.


Katusha are the big favourites so they will work hard to get a bunch sprint. Bora-Argon 18 will probably lend a hand as will Dimension Data and maybe even LottoNL-Jumbo. There is little doubt that we will get a bunch kick in the Naseem Park.


Alexander Kristoff was sprinting outstandingly in Qatar where he proved that he is now able to beat Mark Cavendish in pure bunch sprints. His condition and speed are obviously great which he confirmed by being pretty close to the front group on stage 1. There is little doubt that he is the fastest rider in this field. Furthermore, only Viacheslav Kuznetsov is missing from the lead-out train that dominated the sprints in Qatar so he Katusha will probably dominate the finale again. The strongest lead-out and the fastest sprinter – that combination should make it an easy Kristoff win.


His biggest rival will probably be Sam Bennet. The Irishman proved in last year’s Arctic Race of Norway that he has the speed to beat Kristoff. He proved his great form in Qatar where he was strong in the crosswinds but he was not sprinting very well. Here there are less sprinters and this should make things easier for him. He has a strong lead-out with Shane Archbold, Rudiger Selig and Christoph Pfingsten and that should sllow him to start the sprint from a good position.


Speaking about pure speed, Andrea Guardini is definitely one of the very fastest. However, he came up short in Dubai and Qatar where he didn’t have much of a lead-out. Things are worse here as he is completely isolated and only has support from some Kazakh neo-pros. It won’t be easy to win but he is one of the few with the speed to do so.


Edvald Boasson Hagen will try to pick up more bonus seconds. He is not fast enough to beat Kristoff in a flat sprint but with Youcef Reguigui and Tyler Farrar for the lead-out, the in-form Norwegian could very well be in the top 3. Roy Jans was sprinting very well in Qatar and Wanty-Groupe Gobert did a great lead-out job. They still have Robin Stenuit, Marco Marcato and Kenny Dehaes here so Jans should again do well.


LottoNL-Jumbo did a great lead-out on the final stage in Qatar but Moreno Hofland had lost his train. They have an almost identical line-up here and they are the only ones that can maybe match Kristoff. Hofland usually needs a harder finish but he will benefit from his lead-out.


Marko Kump was sprinting very well in Australia and with mostly the same lead-out here, he should again deliver a good performance. Fortuneo-Vital Concept also have a great team and Yauheni Hutarovich loves a power sprint like this. Finally, Gerald Ciolek seems to be in very good condition but he is no longer fast enough to win a sprint like this.


For more sprinters, look to Jempy Drucker, Daniel Oss, Sebastien Turgot, Gianni Meersman, Zico Waeytens, Andre Looij, Amaury Capiot, Marco Canola, Grzegorz Stepniak and Bartlomiej Matysiak.


CyclingQuotes’ stage winner pick: Alexander Kristoff

Other winner candidates: Sam Bennet, Andrea Guardini

Outsiders: Edvald Boasson Hagen, Roy Jans, Moreno Hofland

Jokers: Marko Kump, Yauheni Hutarovich, Gerald Ciolek


Vuelta a Andalucia, stage 2:

The course:

The sprinters hopefully enjoyed their day in the spotlight as they will have to be extremely good climbers to be in contention at the end of what will be a tough stage 2. Actually, the stage is probably the flattest of the entire race but a tough climb in the finale of the race means that it will offer the riders the first big test of their climbing legs and the stage will provide the first selection in the race.


The stage brings the riders over 186.3km from Palomares del Rio to Cordoba. The starting city is a Seville suburb which means that it is located in a completely flat part of Spain. The first part of the stage consists of a long northeasterly run towards Cordoba and the riders will barely change direction during the stage. The highlight will be the intermediate sprint at the 79.4km mark.


The riders will follow the direct road to Cordoba almost all day but just before entering city, they will make a digression which will completely change the outcome of the race. With 29.5km to go, they will hit the bottom of the category 3 climb of Alto de la Trassierra (6.6km, 5.8%). The top is located just 22.9km from the finish and the final section can be split into three parts. First there are a few lumpy kilometres with some smaller climbs before the real descent starts with 15.6km to go. It ends with around 7km to go from where the roads are only slightly descending.


The final 3km are mostly flat and slightly descending. There are 90-degree turns with 2.7km and 1.6km to go before the riders get to the final challenge which is a left-hand turn in a roundabout with 600m to go. The finishing straight is a 6m wide road.


Cordoba last hosted a stage in 2011 when Oscar Freire won a bunch sprint. The Spaniard had a taste for the city as he was also the fastest in 2010. Gert Steegmans won the stage in 2009 while Denis Flahaut and Tom Boonen came out on top in sprints in 2008 and 2007 respectively. Petacchi took the wins in 2006 and 2005 and Freire was already on top in the city in 2003. In 2002 and 2001, Alexandr Shefer and Pedro Diaz Lobato were the latest non-sprinters to win here.


The weather:

Rain will be falling in the morning but the riders are likely to have dry conditions for the stage. It will be very cloudy though and the maximum temperature at the finish will only be 12 degrees. There will only be a very light wind from a northerly direction which means that the riders will mainly have a cross-headwind all day. There will be a headwind on the climb and a tailwind on the descent. In the final three kilometres it will be a mix of tail- and cross-headwind, with a cross-headwind on the finishing straight.


The favourites:

Stage 1 proved that you should never believe a Spanish roadbook! The final roundabout came much closer to the finish than the official material indicated and this caught almost all the sprinters by surprise. This made it possible for Daniele Bennati to use his experience and great bike-handling skills to take the win while the formidable Cofidis lead-out train failed completely.


That will probably make the sprinters a bit nervous. Tomorrow’s climb is officially 6.6km long with an average gradient of 5.8% but nobody knows what can happen in Spain. However, there is little doubt that some of them hope to hang onto the best and get another chance to sprint for the win in Cordoba.


This is the kind of stage that has no obvious favourite but as the GC is still close, the early break is unlikely to make it. Today Bennati said that Tinkoff would probably control things as it won’t be impossible for him to defend his jersey. Furthermore, teams like Trek and BOM must have their eyes on this so they should be ready to lend a hand. There won’t be much wind and as it will be a cross-headwind, there won’t be too much stress.


We expect things to be back together by the time they hit the late climb and there will be a big fight for position during the run-in. Philippe Gilbert definitely wants to win this one and BMC probably have the best team of climbers here. The headwind will favour the sprinters but we expect BMC to set a brutal pace on the climb. This will probably make it too hard for most of the fast guys who should usually be able to survive this kind of climb. Furthermore, it will make it hard for anyone to attack so we expect to get a reduced bunch sprint.


At his best, Nacer Bouhanni would have a chance to survive but he is not at 100% yet so we expect him to get dropped. The climb is probably a bit too hard for Juan Jose Lobato too. Usually, it would be a good one for Kristian Sbaragli but he is making his season debut here so it is probably a bit too early for him. The sprinters with the best chance are Ben Swift and Daniele Bennati. It will be touch and go for the latter but we expect the former to be there.


Again it’s a tricky finale with a roundabout 700m from the line but as the field will be smaller, the fight for position will be less intense. Still it’s very important to be close to the front in that final left-hand turn.


Today Fabio Felline worked for Kiel Reijnen in the sprint and both Trek riders are suited to this finish. However, the American was climbing poorly in Australia so we expect him to get dropped. This should open the door for the Italian who showed good form in Trofeo Laigueglia. He is fast in a sprint from a small group as he proved by beating Michael Matthews at last year’s Vuelta al Pais Vasco. He could easily be the fastest rider in the group as we expect most sprinters to get dropped and so he is out favorite.


As said, we expect Ben Swift to be there. On paper, he could be the fastest rider in the group but he has not been sprinting very well recently. Furthermore, Sky are mostly focused on GC so he won’t get much support. However, that won’t be crucial in a smaller field and this should make it easier for Swift to finally get a good position. If that happens, he will have a solid chance.


Philippe Gilbert showed great form in Murcia where he beat Valverde who is usually faster. He has fast riders like Damiano Caruso and Brent Bookwalter to do the lead-out and a great team to make it hard on the climb. He is great at positioning himself and so should be close to the best in the final turn. He needs a small group to win but he may get that by using his team.


LottoNL-Jumbo have confidence in Enrico Battaglin for this stage. The Italian is tailor-made for this kind of finish. In the 2013 Giro, he proved that he can be very fast from a small group but unfortunately he has not been sprinting very well in recent years. On the other hand, he has Paul Martens for the lead-out and if he can rediscover his fast legs, he could be the fastest in the group that sprints for the win.


Daniele Bennati showed great form in Dubai so it won’t be impossible for him to survive. He has managed harder climbs in the past and if he is there, he will be one of the fastest. If Juan Jose Lobato is dropped, Alejandro Valverde may also try his hand and he is definitely fast enough to win this kind of sprint. However, there are no bonus seconds and he won’t take any risks.


Sylvain Chavanel won a small group sprint at the Etoile de Besseges and he has won this kind of sprint in Paris-Nice too. If Bennati is dropped, Jay McCarthy may try his hand in the sprint and even though he is not fast enough to win, he should be able to do well.


Finally, we won’t completely rule out that Juan Jose Lobato can survive and if he does, he will probably be the fastest. Kristian Sbaragli also has a chance.


For other contenders, keep an eye on Tosh van der Sande, David Tanner, Carlos Barbero, Dimitri Claeys, Jerome Baugnies, Enrique Sanz and Filippo Pozzato.


CyclingQuotes’ stage winner pick: Fabio Felline

Other winner candidates: Ben Swift, Philippe Gilbert

Outsiders: Enrico Battaglin, Daniele Bennati, Alejandro Valverde

Jokers: Sylvain Chavanel, Jay McCarthy, Juan Jose Lobato, Kristian Sbaragli, Kiel Reijnen


Volta ao Algarve, stage 2:

The course:

For the last two years, the second stage has signaled the start of the GC battle as the riders have tackled a hilly course to the city of Monchique and the stage has managed to create time gaps that have been important for the battle for overall victory. This year the fight for the win will also commence on the second day but instead of having a stage suited to punchy classics riders, the organizers have designed a new mountaintop finish on the Alto da Foia on the outskirts of Monchique, the highest mountain in Algarve.


The stage is not only difficult, it is also very long as it brings the riders over 198.6km from Lagoa to the top of Alto da Foia. It is almost identical to last year’s stage but the main change is that the riders will go up the final climb at the end of the hilly circuit that has been used in past editions. All the climbing comes in the second part which will only make things tougher.


After the start, the riders will first do a flat circuit of around 20km on the eastern outskirts the starting city. From there they will follow the coast before they briefly head inland to contest the first intermediate sprint at the Algarve motorsport circuit after 59.6km of racing. The terrain is still mostly flat and then it’s back to the coast where the peloton will follow the flat coastal road all the way to the city of Aljezur, contesting the final two intermediate sprints at the 99.3km and 133.9km mark respectively.


The final sprint marks the start of the climbing hostilities as the riders will now turn inland, climbing a 4.1km category 3 climb with an average gradient of 6.9%. From there they head over rolling terrain with an uncategorized climb leading to the city of Monchique that they reach after 164.7km of racing.


Here they will tackle a tough circuit that includes two climbs. First it is the category 3 Alto do Picota (5.1km, 2.7% which summits with 28.6km to go. Next up is the category 2 Alto da Pomba (3.5km, 8.2%) before the riders follow slightly descending roads back to Monchique. Having passed through the city, they hit the bottom of the final category 1 climb which averages 6.6% over 7.4km. It’s hardest at the bottom and then has a relatively constant gradient of 6-7% for most of the time. The climb follows a winding road without any hairpin bends and the roads bends gradually to the right in the finale, leading to a very short finishing straight of less than 100m.


Alto da Foia last hosted a stage finish in 2002 when Alex Zülle rode to a solo win. Jose Azevedo won in both 2001 and 2000 while Andreas Klöden was the fastest on the climb in 1999.


The weather:

Thursday will be a mostly sunny day with a maximum temperature at the bottom of the final climb of 11 degrees. However, it will be relatively windy, with a strong wind blowing from a northerly direction. This means that the riders will have a crosswind or a headwind for most of the stage. On the final circuit, there will be a headwind on the first climb and a tailwind on the second climb. On the final climb, it will mainly be a crosswind but there will be one kilometre of headwind before the riders turn into a crosswind at the flamme rouge.


The favourites:

Marcel Kittel proved that he is still the fastest rider in the world by beating André Greipel and also lay claim on leadership of the German team at the World Championships. His win even came in a very tricky finale with a late climb which again proves that his form is extremely good at the start of the year. Furthermore, three of his lead-out men – Boonen, Lampaert and Sabatini – all crashed which just makes his performance even more impressive.


Luckily, the GC riders all stayed safe and they will be ready to battle it out in the first hard stage tomorrow. They face a long, hard day in the saddle and there will be numerous climbs. Furthermore, it will be a very windy day and this will just make things more stressful.


Etixx-QuickStep won’t do much to defend the jersey so it will be left to other teams to do the work. Tinkoff always take responsibility when Contador is in attendance and will do so again tomorrow. Astana, Sky and FDJ are also likely to lend a hand so the break won’t have much of a chance.


There will be plenty of crosswinds and this will make it very stressful and it won’t be impossible for a team to split the field. That’s what happened in Oman today and it could happen in Portugal too. Some of the GC contenders may have lost out even before we get to the climbs.


The final circuit is a tough one and especially the penultimate climb is steep. As opposed to this, the final ascent is relatively easy and Alberto Contador has made it clear that he doesn’t expect it to great any big differences. Hence, we can expect Tinkoff and Astana to use their strong teams to make things as hard as possible throughout the entire circuit.


In the end, it will come down to a battle between the climbers on the final climb. Astana and Tinkoff will probably set a fast pace before the final showdown. However, a 5-6% usually comes down to a sprint from a small group and this is a very likely scenario. There is no doubt that Contador will try to make a difference but it remains to be seen whether he is strong enough to do so.


Thibaut Pinot has proved that he is in excellent condition right from the start of the year. He was great in Marseille and Besseges and he will be ready to strike here. On a steeper climb, Contador would probably be stronger but we doubt that he will be able to get rid of the Frenchman here. Pinot is faster than Contador in a sprint and is usually also faster than Fabio Aru and Geraint Thomas whom we expect to be up there too. We expect Pinot to finally turn his many second places into a win.


Alberto Contador is clearly the strongest climber in this race and we expect him to come up with all guns blazing. However, this climb is a bit too easy for him and it won’t be easy for him to get rid of the likes of Pinot, Aru and Thomas. On the other hand, if anyone can do it, the Tinkoff captain is your man.


If it comes down to a sprint from a small group, all eyes will be on Rigoberto Uran. Among the best climbers, the Cannondale rider is the fastest. However, this is first race of the year and he may need more time to reach his best form. On the other hand, he is always strong at this time of the year.


Fabio Aru has rarely been good at this time of the year but he was better than expect in Valencia. He is likely to be stronger here and it won’t be easy to get rid of. He is usually faster than Contador in a sprint and can definitely match Pinot too. Ilnur Zakarin showed good form in Murcia and he is fast in a sprint.


In the past, Geraint Thomas was a relatively fast rider but he seems to have lost his speed. Instead, he has turned into a great climber and we expect him to be up there with the best. However, it will be hard for him to win.


In case of a sprint from a small group, it will be a good idea to keep an eye on Tony Gallopin, Jarlinson Pantano, Julian Arredondo and Luis Leon Sanchez. Furthermore, we can expect Astana to use their strong team to attack in turns and this could open the door for riders like Tanel Kangert and Diego Rosa who are both in good condition.


For another joker in an uphill sprint, keep an eye on Eduard Prades.


CyclingQuotes’ stage winner pick: Thibaut Pinot

Other winner candidates: Alberto Contador, Rigoberto Uran

Outsiders: Fabio Aru, Ilnur Zakarin, Geraint Thomas

Jokers: Tony Gallopin, Jarlinson Pantano, Julian Arredondo, Luis Leon Sanchez, Tanel Kangert, Diego Rosa



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