Volta a Valenciana is one of the most exciting 2.Pro races and it always gathers an impressive start list thanks to the Valenciana region being the pre-season hot spot of cycling training in Europe. This year’s race will feature a very strong Bahrain-Victorious team that has sent their A-List squad with Bilbao, Landa, Caruso, Wright, Mäder, Mohorič and Poels. Who will challenge them?
Provisional Start List
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The first stage features two reasonable climbs. The first ascent is Coll de Rates from the Tarbena side (8.9 km, 4.7%) which the peloton might complete at around 29-30 km/h. After Tarbena follows the Coll de Rates descent.
The last categorised climb will be Bernia, which in reality might be raced as two climbs with a flat section in the middle. There might be some attacks but as drafting matters on such shallow gradients stronger sprinters will very likely survive in the peloton and fight for victory. There are 35 kilometres left after the crest of Bernia and it will be a very hard task for attackers to beat the peloton on the opening stage however anything is possible as practically every rider in the peloton will know the last part of the stage extremely well in the run in to Altea.
Olav Kooij and Alexander Kristoff climb well for sprinters and might be the fastest guys in a thinned out bunch. Juan Sebastian Molano, Fred Wright, Alex Aranburu, Matej Mohorič, Ivan Garcia Cortina and Edward Theuns will also look forward to Stage 1 and, apart from Molano, might even attack at some point on the descent. If Madis Mihkels is in good shape and completely recovered from his injuries after a car driver hit him in Estonia a month ago he might also surprise for the victory. He proved in Gran Piemonte last year that he can get over reasonably hard climbs and has a good sprint. that race was won by Garcia Cortina and second was Mohorič, both of whom are here.
Stage 2, one of two stages with an uphill finish, will be challenging as it includes 3458 metres of elevation gain and multiple hard hills before the final climb. Before the final climb the peloton will ride up La Fustera (Trek-Segafredo did an uphill race here in their 2022 December training camp) and Alto de Puig Llorença, the climb which was featured in the Vuelta a España 2019 Stage 2, won by Nairo Quintana.
The stage will finish with Port de Bernia, which is 2.54 km long and 8.62% gradient in the final part. Although the final climb is not hard and the GC riders might hit over 23-24 km/h, the hard climbing metres beforehand and fatigue in the legs might make some gaps.
Bahrain-Victorious has a strong team with many options for both GC and the stage win, including Bilbao, Mohoric, Landa, Poels, Mäder and Caruso. It will be curious to see how they will play their cards as they can send multiple riders in early attacks to make other’s team chase. The defending champion Aleksandr Vlasov, INEOS trio Thymen Arensman, Tao Geoghegan Hart and Carlos Rodriguez, UAE’s Brandon McNulty, Rafal Majka, Marc Soler, Diego Ulissi, and Bauke Mollema, Giulio Ciccone, Thomas Gloag and Eddie Dunbar will be some other strong climbers in this race. The finish suits more punchy riders like Vlasov and Bilbao, the latter of whom was in great shape at the Tour Down Under.
Another hard stage with difficult climbs in the middle, including El Garbi, one the hardest ascents in the whole race.
El Garbi in reality is a 2.3km climb with an 11.1% gradient with some false flat kilometres afterwards. This is the stage where satellite riders might be very useful as keeping a gap after the steep gradients will be challenging for solo lightweight climbers.
Bahrain-Victorious, INEOS Grenadiers and UAE Team Emirates might be the teams to tactically use their numbers on this stage. If there is a group together at the false flat downhill finish, Pello Bilbao might be the favourite to take the win as he can sprint well for a climber and won the Tour Down Under Corkscrew stage finish against Simon Yates, while Jay Vine was pulling for GC as well as a similar finish in Basque Country last year.
Stage 4 is another hard day in the saddle. 3627 metres of elevation gain but with a fairly easy finishing climb.
Santuario Cova Santa in the final three kilometres averages 7% gradient, where drafting still matters a lot particularly on a short climb. Bahrain-Victorious again could use their numbers on this stage, such as sending riders in the breakaway or attacking early on the 7% section to make other leaders close the gap.
Stage 5 will feature the hardest climb in the race. La Frontera (5.2km, 9.0%), which crests 45 kilometres from the finish in Valencia. The familiar name in this preview, Bahrain-Victorious, have two good options for this stage in Fred Wright and Matej Mohorič who can both outclimb almost any other fast finisher on this start list. It is very likely that the team will torch it up the climb and then continue hard on the front until Valencia. Another option is that the La Frontera climb is so selective that GC riders might ride away like the Baza stage in Andalusia last year, where Bahrain began to attack a thinned out group with multiple GC leaders, leading to Wout Poels winning GC.
Bahrain-Victorious with their super six of Bilbao, Landa, Caruso, Mäder, Mohorič and Poels can sweep this race. The most sure bet of the lot is Bilbao, who is in good shape after finishing third in the Tour Down Under, has a good sprint and is a consistent racer throughout the year. Mohorič is the worst climber of the six mentioned riders, however there is no extended mountain top finish and he is capable of coming back quickly on descents such as after La Frontera. He also sits high in the team hierarchy and was in good shape for this race last year. For the others, it will be their first UCI race of the season so it is difficult to know their form.
Juan Ayuso might have been the favourite to win his home race however he unfortunately will not start due to tendinitis. UAE-Team Emirates has still sent a strong team with McNulty, Majka, Soler, Novak and Ulissi so they are capable of winning both stages and contesting for GC.
Thymen Arensman will make his debut for INEOS. He is great on shallow climbs 6-7% gradients suit him well. He is paired with Carlos Rodriguez, who finished 3rd in this race last year and has improved since then.
Young Jumbo-Visma talents Thomas Gloag and Michel Hessmann will also be definitely worth watching out for to see how they perform against top WorldTour competition. Jumbo-Visma does not have as much GC depth on their whole roster as Bahrain-Victorious, UAE Team Emirates or INEOS Grenadiers, so their young riders here have a great chance to prove their strength and merit for selection in the big WorldTour races.
Aleksandr Vlasov is the defending champion and started the 2022 season very well with consistent results. The route suits the Russian as it does not include long 30+ minute climbs and has some steep punchy sections and finishes which he thrives on – 3rd in La Fleche Wallonne was no fluke.
I have no idea who will win. There is no huge star like Pogačar, Evenepoel or Vingegaard and as it is an early season race anything can happen. Not everyone is in their best shape and a surprise winner is more than possible at this time of year as the one-day races in Mallorca proved. If I have to pick one rider then it is Pello Bilbao. He checks two boxes, being from Bahrain-Victorious who sent an insanely stacked squad and proven to be in good shape already.