Who Can Win In The Absence of Slovenians? | Volta a Catalunya Mountain Stages

Mirador do Ezaro – Spain – cycling – Michael Woods (Canada / Team Israel Start-Up Nation) pictured during Gran Camino (2.1) – stage 2 from Bertamirans to Mirador do Ezaro (182 km) – Photo: Luis Angel Gomez/Cor Vos © 2022

Volta a Catalunya is perhaps the best chance of the year for climbers who cannot time-trial well and are not born in Slovenia to take a WorldTour GC victory. For riders like Michael Woods or Nairo Quintana, it is a golden opportunity to win GC by purely out-climbing everyone else and securing much needed UCI points for their teams.

Stages 3 and 4 will be the only mountain stages in Volta a Catalunya. The climbers list is pretty stacked with Nairo Quintana (Arkea-Samsic), Simon Yates (Bike Exchange-Jayco), Richard Carapaz, Richie Porte, Pavel Sivakov and Carlos Rodriguez (INEOS), Joao Almeida, Juan Ayuso, George Bennett and Marc Soler (UAE-Emirates), Alejandro Valverde, Carlos Verona and Ivan Sosa (Movistar), Giulio Ciccone and Mathias Skjelmose Jensen (Trek-Segafredo), Esteban Chaves (EF Education-Easy Post), Michael Woods (Israel Premier-Tech), Sergio Higuita and Jai Hindley (Bora-Hansgrohe), Santiago Buitrago and Wout Poels (Bahrain-Victorious), Guillaume Martin (Cofidis), Tom Dumoulin and Steven Kruijswijk (Jumbo-Visma) and many more descent climbers.

Stage 3

Volta a Catlunya Stage 3 2022 profile by La Flamme Rouge

At the end of stage 3 riders will climb up the Masella climb (8.3 km, 6.4%), after which there will be a 3 kilometer downhill and flat section, and the stage will end on La Molina (1.5 km, 6.1%).

This same finish was used in previous editions of Volta a Catalunya. In both in 2018 and 2019, the peloton exploded early in the first half of Masella. That should happen also this year as Simon Yates, Michael Woods, Nairo Quintana and INEOS Grenadiers with Richie Porte, Pavel Sivakov, Carlos Rodriguez and Richard Carapaz will not want to bring to the finish Alejandro Valverde (won stages that finished in La Molina in 2017 and 2018).

In 2019 Miguel Angel Lopez dropped everyone early on this same finish. In the first 14 minutes of the Masella climb Alejandro Valverde did 390 watts (6,29 w/kg) and he was distanced by a handful of riders.

Alejandro Valverde (Spain / Team Movistar) – Tao Geoghegan Hart (GBR / Team INEOS Grenadiers) pictured during Criterium du Dauphine Libere cycling race, stage 6 from Loriol-sur-Drome to Le Sappey-en-Chartreuse (167.2KM) on June 03, 2021 – photo Dario Belingheri/LB/RB/Cor Vos © 2021

Lopez had already gained on him by that time 23 seconds. Valverde completed the final 12.65 kilometres, which included both Masella and La Molina, in 26:21, averaging 360 watts (5,8 w/kg) with normalized power 379 watts (6,11 w/kg). He lost to Lopez by 46 seconds and finished only 13th. It is important to mention it was the second and the last mountain stage in the race, but in 2022 it will be the first, so there is a chance that riders might not race as aggressively as there is another mountain top finish, but fireworks should be expected early on Masella.

Lopez is not racing in Catalunya this year, but probably Simon Yates might be the best candidate to do what Lopez did in 2019. He already dropped Roglič and Quintana in Paris-Nice stage 8 on Col d’Eze after a very hard day.

Simon Yates drops Roglič, Quintana and Van Aert in Paris-Nice Stage 8 2022

Masella is a 19-20 minute climb. The stage is not too difficult and if Simon Yates goes full-gas then he should do 6,5-6,6 w/kg, which would be enough to drop probably 2022 Valverde. After Masella there are still 5-6 minutes left to race.

Lanterne Rouge x Cycling Graphs – best of Simon Yates

The fastest finishing kicks from climbers here are Alejandro Valverde, Mike Woods and Sergio Higuita, but it should not be a bunch sprint as there are INEOS Grenadiers with Richie Porte, Carlos Rodriguez, Richard Carapaz and Pavel Sivakov. They must use their numbers and try early attacks on Masella. Movistar have Carlos Verona (finished 6th in the UAE Tour) and Ivan Sosa (helped Valverde already in Gran Camiño) to try and keep the race together for La Ultimate Bala. Even if their legs are good, it will be impossible to control chaos if Woods, Quintana and Yates launch powerful attacks.

Stage 4

Volta a Catlunya Stage 4 2022 profile by La Flamme Rouge

The second and the last mountain stage of the Volta a Catalunya will finish on the Boí Taüll climb (14.1 km, 5.8%). Boí Taüll has not been used in the race since 2001. The toughest part is in the first five kilometres with a shallow section in the middle, which means, going full-gas early does not seem rational, especially if an INEOS rider will be wearing the leader’s jersey. The action should be in the last four kilometres, which are above 1700 metres sea level.

Carlos Verona on 12th March did a recon on Boí Taüll. He rode up the climb (15.8 km, 5.7%) in 44:34, producing steadily 362 watts (5,25 w/kg). It is a 40+ minute climb and should suit someone like Quintana, who will definitely try something in the last kilometres if his legs are good.

Montagne de Lure – France – cycling – Nairo Quintana (Colombia / Team Arkea Samsic) pictured during 7th Tour de la Provence (2.Pro) – stage 3 from Manosque to Montagne de Lure (166.1Km) – Photo: William Cannarella/Cor Vos © 2022

Both Michael Woods and Ben O’Connor performed well last year on Thyon 2000, which is an over 1-hour long climb. Woods won the freezing stage on Thyon and O’Connor finished 2nd, overtaking fallen Geraint Thomas in Tour de Romandie stage 4 finale. O’Connor also outlasted the Colombians Higuita and Quintana on a long, cold day in the Alps to take his Tour de France stage win in Tignes. The temperature on both mountain stages will be low, with possible rain, which suits both Woods and O’Connor as well as Hugh Carthy who has not shown much in the last year, except for a good performance on the cold and wet Cortina d’Ampezzo stage in the Giro d’Italia 2021.

Michael Woods (Canada / Team Israel Start-Up Nation) and crash of Geraint Thomas (GBR / Team INEOS Grenadiers) pictured during 75th Tour de Romandie (2.UWT) stage 4 – between Sion and Thyon 2000 161,3KM) – photo HZ/LB/RB/Cor Vos © 2021

For once, there is not one big favourite like Roglič or Pogačar and in both mountain stages many riders have a decent chance to win. This is the golden chance for Woods to win his first GC of his career as there are no time-trials. He recently lost the leader’s jersey both in Gran Camiño 2022 and Tour de Romandie 2021 final stages, which were both time-trials. His toughest competition will likely come from the INEOS Grenadiers, with Carapaz already looking sprightly in Stage 1, Porte solid in Tirreno Adriatico and Carlos Rodriguez able to domestique or attack.

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