Crosswinds and crashes influenced the outcome of Volta ao Algarve stage 1 as well as some riders’ prospects for GC. Quick-Step AlphaVinyl again proved why they are the best sprint team in the world, lighting up the final 3 kilometres with their strong train, including GC favourite Remco Evenepoel. Dutch sprinter Fabio Jakobsen duly delivered his third and the team’s sixth victory of the young 2022 season in this rolling stage.
With Intermarché, Quick-step and Alpecin-Fenix all bringing their top sprinters, Kristoff, Jakobsen and Merlier, along with strong rouleurs, this stage was likely to end in a sprint despite the climbs along the way.
There were multiple big crashes in stage 1. The first was with 38 kilometres to go, which happened at the back of the peloton and did not affect the majority of World Tour teams at the front. Unfortunately for W52/FC Porto and José Neves fans, the Portuguese champion, who did 6,88 w/kg for 19:42 in 2021 in a hill climb ITT (earning him a spot in the LR top 10 nuclear performances of 2021 video), was caught up in the crash with his teammates.
Due to the crosswind, there was a blistering pace at the front of the race at the same time as this crash, with speeds sometimes reaching over 60 km/h. French puncheur Warren Barguil surged at the front of the peloton for no particular reason, to the chagrin of Quick-Step and Intermarché who were doing the lion’s share of the pacing.
The biggest moment of the race happened with 12 km to go, when Alpecin-Fenix drilled it at the front, trying to thin out the group for their sprinter Tim Merlier. Behind them there was a crash in the peloton right after a narrow bridge. This showed exactly why front position is extremely important at these moments and how positioning in dangerous stages as a GC rider is equally as important as great climbing or time trial ability. The wind continued to blow and even sprinters took their turns in the peloton that was thinned down to ~35 riders after to the crash.
Quick-Step waited until late in their typical fashion, using Asgreen as fourth last man before Evenepoel (Asgreen was third last man, going from 1600m to go in the Tour de France). With the powerful Dane accompanied by Declercq, Lampaert, Van Lerberghe, Evenepoel and Vervaeke they were able to rip the race to pieces for Jakobsen. Evenepoel previously in February showed in Valenciana that he is very powerful on flat sections in the lead-out. He repeated his heroic efforts at the end of Algarve stage 1, once again putting Lampaert into difficulty on his wheel whilst Alpecin-Fenix lost contact with the entire Quick-step train.
The pace was so high that there was opened a small gap between the four Quick-Step riders and the peloton that was in shambles. At this moment there was a possiblity for the Quick-Step riders to let go of the wheel of Evenepoel but it seemed that the plan was 100% to ride for Jakobsen in a sprint.
The action did not end there as the young Dutchman from Trek-Segafredo, Daan Hoole, tried to attack before a roundabout. Lampaert of Quick-Step quickly hopped on his wheel and drafted Hoole into the last kilometre, extending their gap over Alpecin-Fenix and Intermarché behind them, with only Jordi Meeus from Bora-Hansgrohe able to make it onto Jakobsen’s wheel.
Before the finish, Quick-Step and Jakobsen were in perfect position while the other sprinters were back in the peloton that was a few meters behind them. In the final straight on TV it was possible to see that Evenepoel was as riding as hard as possible at the front of the second group, seemingly bringing Merlier back to Jakobsen’s group.
However with Jakobsen being dropped off with 200 metres remaining with only Meeus on his wheel, the conclusion was a formality – Jakobsen winning easily by a few bike lengths.
Bora-Hansgrohe sprinter Jordi Meeus finished 2nd but was relegated to 22nd position after the commissaires decided he had closed Kristoff towards the barriers, even though Meeus was following the draft of Jakobsen. Evenepoel finished 7th with the same time as Jakobsen and was the highest from climbers. In the first group with Evenepoel finished the majority of other GC contenders like Mcnulty, Foss, Martinez, Pidcock, Hayter, Higuita, Ion Izagirre and Gaudu. Geraint Thomas and Jay Vine lost 7 seconds.
Stage 2 will finish with Alto da Fóia (7.7 km, 6.1%) offering a chance for climbers such as Gaudu, Higuita and Evenepoel to win the stage. Evenepoel won on this climb in the 2020 edition of Algarve, where a statute of his finishing pose was later erected. The climb is not steep and it will be interesting to see what the Belgian and other GC riders will do on it, with only small gaps possible and a 32km ITT to come.
LR and Benji are recapping every stage of Algarve and Andalucia this week. Listen in to today’s episode where they discuss the Meeus relegation in detail, as well as who they expect to come out on top tomorrow.