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Starting at 15.15 CET you can follow the tricky second stage of the Volta a Catalunya on CyclingQuotes.com/live

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VOLTA A CATALUNYA

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24.03.2015 @ 15:10 Posted by Emil Axelgaard

The GC favourites may have thrown the Volta a Catalunya away already on the first day as the big teams and the sprint teams were involved in a battle of nerves that allowed Maciej Paterski to take a surprise win. Tomorrow’s second stage may again be too tough for the sprinters and again tactics can come into play in what will be another unpredictable stage in the hilly Catalonian terrain.

 

The course

The early part of the Volta a Catalunya is traditionally dominated by the same kind of rolling stages where a late climb is followed by a descent to the finish. In 2015, it will be more of the same as stage 2 should be a similar affair to the opening stage. However, a new finish in Olot should make for some unpredictable racing as the nature of the late climbs may be unknown to most of the fast finishers.

 

The 191.8km stage brings the riders from Mataro on the Mediterranean coast to a finish in Olot. After a lap of a flat 10km circuit around the starting city, the riders leave the coast to start their journey towards the finish and they will travel in a northwesterly direction for most of the day. The roads are mainly flat, with the category 3 (2.8km 5.3%, max. 7%) at the 26.5km mark being the main challenge. As they get closer to Olot, they will start to climb very gradually until the reach the finishing city after 117km of racing.

 

The final part of the stage is made up of a 74.2km circuit on the western outskirts of the city. After a small climb, the first part is mainly descending and flat and the highlights are the two intermediate sprints that come with 54.4km and 27.7km to go respectively. However, the stage has a nasty sting in its tail as the finale is a lot hillier. First the riders do a small climb before they reach the category 3 Alt de Montagut (2.1km, 4.5%, max. 7%) which summits 14.7km from the finish. After a short descent, the roads are gradually rising and the roadbook indicates that there will be a 3.8km section with an average gradient of 5.2%.

 

The summit comes with 6.2km to go and then there’s a short descent before the riders hit a long, mainly flat section. The final 500m are slightly descending at an average of 2%. The finale is pretty uncomplicated with just two small turns between the 3km and 2km to go marks. The final left-hand turn comes with 1300m to go and from there it is a long, straight road to the finish.

 

Olot has not hosted a stage finish in recent years.

 

 

The weather

The riders were lucky to avoid the forecasted rain in today’s stage but they may not have the same kind of luck tomorrow. Light rain is expected to be falling almost all day, with only the final part of the stage having a chance of being dry. Furthermore, it will be very cold as the maximum temperature at the finish in Olot will be just 6 degrees.

 

There will only be a light wind from a northeasterly direction which means that the riders will first have a headwind before they turn into a crosswind. On the finishing circuit, they will first have a cross-headwind before they turn into a crosswind. Finally, there will be a tailwind from the bottom of the final categorized climb and all the way to the finish in Olot.

 

The favourites

Modern-day racing is usually firmly controlled. If it’s a day for the sprinters, the teams of the fast men make sure that it comes down to a bunch sprint and if it’s a stage for climbers, the major GC teams come to the fore. In general, escapees have very little room for success in the stage races on the WorldTour.

 

However, the Volta a Catalunya is a different affair. The hilly terrain is often too hard for the sprinters while most of the stages are too easy for the GC riders. As the sprint teams don’t have too much confidence in their fast guys’ abilities to handle the climbs, it is often left to the GC teams to bring back the early break.

 

That has allowed strong breaks to create a number of surprises in this race. In 2012, Michael Albasini laid the foundations for his overall win when he escaped on stage 1 and as the chase failed to get organized, he won the stage. Today we saw a repeat of that scenario when Maciej Paterski, Pierre Rolland and Bart De Clercq gained 2.40 on the favourites and with a course that is not too difficult, it may be difficult to take back that amount of time from strong climbers Rolland and De Clercq. This means that the GC riders can no longer allow themselves to wait until the bottom of the final climb in the queen stage and we should be in for a more aggressive race.

 

Tomorrow we could experience a similar scenario. Spanish roadbooks are famously known for being misleading and it is very strange that the riders have made the small rise to Montagut a categorized climb while the much harder climb to Olot is uncategorized. There is a chance that it is not as hard as the roadbook indicates but if we can trust the organizers, this stage is definitely not one for the pure sprinters. Many teams may not know how hard the final climbs are and so the sprint teams are unlikely to do any work to bring back the early break. This means that it will again be a bit unclear who is going to take the responsibility for the chase.

 

This means that a break could potentially stay away again and so we should have another very fast start to the stage. We will probably have lots of attacks in the first part of the race and it could easily take more than an hour for the early break to get clear.

 

When the elastic snaps, another battle of nerves will take place and it will be interesting to see which teams will come to the fore. Compared to today, however, there is one major difference. The race now has an overall leader and CCC will do their maximum to keep the jersey on Paterski’s shoulders. Hence, they will not allow a strong break to get too much of an advantage. Furthermore, Europcar and Lotto Soudal will fancy their chances in the GC battle and they may also lend a hand. Finally, the big teams are likely to have learnt the lesson from today’s stage and this means that a break is less likely to make it to the finish.

 

If the break is caught, it is one of those stages that have no obvious favourite. Reportedly, there is a pretty steep section with around 10km to go and this may inspire some of the GC riders to test their legs. However, the terrain is probably not hard enough to make a difference and with a long flat finale, a regrouping is likely to take place. If the finale turns out to be very hard, however, there may not be many domestiques left to lead the chase and this could open the door from a late attack from one of the non-favourites on the flat road back to Olot.

 

However, Sky have a really strong team for this race and they will probably ride fast in the finale to keep Chris Froome and Richie Porte out of trouble. This means that the most likely scenario is that a group will sprint for the win but it remains to be seen how many riders will make it to the finish with the best.

 

Among the fast finishers, the best climber is probably Jose Joaquin Rojas. Last year the Spaniard nearly finished on the podium in Paris-Nice and back then he handled climbs that were much harder than those he will find in the finale tomorrow. There is very little chance that the Spanish sprinter will get dropped in the finale and then he will get the chance to sprint for the win.

 

For some reason, Rojas has had a tendency to lose most sprints, even when he was up against riders who were much slower than him. This year, however, he has been sprinting excellently well. He took a surprise win against some of the best sprinters in Qatar and he rode very strongly in most of the Paris-Nice stages.

 

Rojas clearly has the speed to win at the moment but he has often been set back by poor positioning as he has been on his own in the finales. Tomorrow a small group should arrive at the finish and this should make it easier for him to get into position. With his good climbing legs and great form, he is our favourite to win the stage.

 

Tomorrow’s stage will be a big test for Bryan Coquard. The Frenchman seems to have improved his climbing level a lot and this kind of stage may no longer be too tough for him. If Sky go full gas on the climbs, it may be too tough for him but he will have time to get back in the final flat section.

 

On paper, only a select few riders have the speed to match the Europcar sprinter and they won’t be in contention at the end of this hard stage. If Coquard survives the hard pace, he will probably be the fastest. However, he still needs to position himself which has often been a difficult point for him. If he manages to do so reasonably well, he will be very hard to beat.

 

Tosh van der Sande is still in search of his first professional victory and he is getting closer. Today the young Belgian won the bunch sprint for fourth and tomorrow’s stage should suit him perfectly. Among the fast finishers, he is one of the best climbers and Lotto Soudal sprinter Boris Vallee won’t make it to the finish with the best in this stage. This means that he will again be allowed to play his own card in the sprint.

 

There are definitely faster riders than van der Sande in this race but most of them are likely to have been left behind. Today he proved that he has the speed to mix it up with the best in this race and so it may finally be time for him to open his account.

 

Julian Alaphilippe is destined for a great future. The Frenchman is very strong in this kind of terrain and he has a very fast finish at the end of a tough race. Last year he did well in the sprints in this race but he suffered a bit on the climbs. In the autumn classics, however, he proved that he has improved his climbing massively and this year he will only get stronger. Furthermore, he can rely on a very strong Etix-QuickStep team and he may actually be one of the select few who could have a real lead-out if he makes it into a group that sprints for the win.

 

Kevin Reza left Europcar to get more chances to sprint for himself in hilly races and he has repeatedly named this race as one of his big goals. The FDJ rider is very strong in this kind of terrain and he has a fast sprint at the end of a hard race. He showed good form in the recent Classique Loire Atlantique and he made it into the main group in today’s race. There is a risk that this stage is a bit too hard for him but if he makes it to the finish with the best, he should be one of the fastest.

 

Carlos Barbero is one of the most exciting Spanish talents and he has finally got a professional contract with the Caja Rural team. He got his season off to a bad start as he crashed out of the Etoile de Besseges and had a long break from competition. Hence, he is not in his best condition yet but he was still strong enough to be with the best in today’s stage. This hilly finale suits him really well and if he is back at a decent level, it should not be too tough for him. He has a very fast sprint and should be a contender if it comes down to a final dash to the line.

 

Alejandro Valverde is targeting the overall win in this race and so he will be looking for bonus seconds whenever he has the chance. He is unlikely to mix it up in the big sprints but if a smaller group arrives at the finish, he may give it a go. The Spaniard has proved that he can be up there even in some pretty big sprints and he has the speed to win this kind of stage. If the GC riders decide to test each other, he will also be the man to beat as he won’t get dropped on this kind of climbs and is the fastest sprinter among the main riders.

 

Finally, we will select a few jokers. Three years ago Julien Simon won two stages in this race which suits him really well. After a disappointing year, he had a great 2014 season and now he will be keen to make further progress. Due to illness, he had a bad start to the year but now seems to have ridden himself into form. He is a fast sprinter from a smaller group and even though there are faster riders than him in this race, he could emerge as the strongest if the race turns out to be selective.

 

Jonathan Hivert looked strong at the start of the year but since then he has had a harder time. However, this stage suits him really well as he is both a strong climber and a fast sprinter. Today he decided not to do the sprint and there is a big chance that he will again stay out of the action tomorrow. In a smaller group, however, he may give it a go and then he could be one of the fastest.

 

For a long-distance breakaway or a later attack in the flat section, you should look out for Thomas De Gendt. The Belgian was brutally strong in Paris-Nice where he got close to a stage win and he will be keen to go on the attack in this race too. He lost time in today’s stage and so the GC teams won’t be too concerned by him. He has proved that he is very hard to catch in this kind of terrain and tomorrow could allow him to repeat the stage win he took in this race two years ago.

 

CyclingQuotes’ stage winner pick: Jose Joaquin Rojas

Other winner candidates: Bryan Coquard, Tosh van der Sande

Outsiders: Julian Alaphilippe, Kevin Reza, Carlos Barbero, Alejandro Valverde

Jokers: Julien Simon, Jonathan Hivert, Thomas De Gendt, Enrico Gasparotto

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