The Volta a Catalunya route this year includes three mountain stages with a stacked start list full of strong GC riders. It will be a treat for w/kg aficionados and an important test before the Giro d’Italia with multiple of the big contenders for that race starting here, including Remco Evenepoel, Primož Roglič and Geraint Thomas.
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This is not a stage race suited for sprinters and the opening day’s “sprint stage” will have more than 2,000 metres of elevation gain. The uphill finish might not be hard enough for Primož Roglič but many hills in the last part will make the job for fast finishers like Kaden Groves, Bryan Coquard, Corbin Strong, Hugo Hofstetter, Milan Menten and Ethan Hayter harder. In 2022 Michael Matthews won on this finish which suits versatile sprinters. This is the same stage where Sonny Colbrelli was second but collapsed immediately after the stage as he suffered cardiac arrest and it was his last race before retirement.
The first mountain top finish will be up Vallter (15.1 km, 6.7%) which tops at 2147 metres above sea level. The stage before it is relatively easy and there should be good high-altitude performances with fresh legs if the pace is high from the base.
The steepest part is in the middle with 8-10% gradient sections. The climbing record is owned by Adam Yates who in the 2021 Volta a Catalunya attacked early and did the Vallter 2000 steep section (12.14km; 7.30%) in 32:08 min, pushing 6.05 ᵉw/kg. Remco Evenepoel, Primož Roglič, Richard Carapaz, Egan Bernal, Sepp Kuss, Adam Yates and other big contenders will definitely test their legs but even if they go full gas and the climbing time is fast, the time gaps should not be too big. Maybe an exception would be if Evenepoel does something special and drops everyone early but it will not be easy to distance Roglič who won three stages in Tirreno-Adriatico and might be in better shape in Catalunya.
The second mountain stage but this one has multiple climbs before an easier finish. Almost 4,000 metres of climbing elevation and the fatigue from the previous day should make gaps bigger on La Molina (8.4 km, 6.5%) than we usually see.
In 2022 Ben O’Connor attacked early and won the stage as the teams in the peloton did not try their best to catch the Australian. It was the first mountain stage and behind Ben O’Connor a large group finished with 26 riders. The fatigue in the legs and 7% gradients at the start might be enough for bigger gaps if the pace is high and the earlier climbs have been ridden at a reasonable tempo. If Evenepoel gets a gap early he might take a lot of time as shallower gradients favour the aerodynamic World Champion, with Kuss and Kruijswijk likely responsible for bringing back any attacks for Roglič.
The real day for sprinters. Kaden Groves won a Catalunya stage in 2022 and will be one of the favourites. Milan Menten is in terrific shape and might get his first WorldTour win here against a shallower sprint field compared to what he has already beaten this season.
This is the perfect stage for an extremely high w/kg performance. Remco Evenepoel is in this race after altitude camp and, depending on the GC situation, one of the big teams should pace hard at the bottom of the climb. The relatively easy day before and the flat route before the low altitude Tortosa climb (8.6 km, 8.8%) are tailor-made for big watts. If Remco Evenepoel goes full gas like on Jebel Hafeet we might see an extraordinary performance.
Alejandro Valverde in 2017 did the climb in 24:06 min with 6,60ᵉw/kg. One of the best pure w/kg performances in the Sky era prior to COVID-19. The 8-10% regular gradients are perfect for high watts and steep enough to distance rivals. It is also the last mountain top finish where the GC contenders can make big gaps, so there is no need to save their legs.
Stage 6 looks like a breakaway stage with a hilly route and two harder climbs at the end. It might be too hard for the few sprinter teams to control it for 180 kilometres and there is a 1.9km at 8.8% hill in the final 17 kilometres that will also be a concern for Alpecin (Groves) and Cofidis (Coquard).
The classic Barcelona stage will end this marvellous race. In recent years both the breakaway and the GC group/peloton has been able to win, such as De Gendt solo in 2021 after dropping Mohoric and Bagioli sprinting in the large GC group last year. The GC situation should not change much on Barcelona hills but if the gaps are close the big favourites might want to try something or at least take advantage of bonus seconds.
Primož Roglič in the betting markets is the favourite to win the race. The Slovene dominated Tirreno-Adriatico where there was no Pogačar, Vingegaard or Evenepoel. Sepp Kuss performed well in the UAE Tour and this time there is no time trial in Catalunya which is practically a home race for the American. He lives in Andorra and knows many of the climbs really well – often training north of Barcelona.
Remco Evenepoel continues his preparation for the Giro d’Italia and will arrive from a high-altitude camp in the Canary Islands. Evenepoel did some impressive efforts on Teide and should be in good shape. This will be a battle before the Giro against Roglič, Joao Almeida, Geraint Thomas, Jack Haig, Giulio Ciccone and other GC contenders who also plan to start the Italian Grand Tour. There are no ITT kilometres but Evenepoel is strong enough to make gaps in mountains by setting a hard pace by himself. Soudal Quick-Step has sent Hirt, Van Wilder, Masnada, Vervaeke, Cattaneo and Serry which is their Giro provisional squad except Ballerini as there is only 7 riders allowed to participate per team in a one-week WT stage race.
INEOS has sent Geraint Thomas, Egan Bernal and Luke Plapp. For all three INEOS GC riders this will be the first European race of the season. Bernal did very well in Vuelta a San Juan on Alto Colorado and continues to improve after his horrible crash a year ago, although he had to abandon the race after hurting his knee in a crash earlier in the Argentinian stage race. Thomas has had health problems this year and did not start in Tirreno-Adriatico.
UAE-Emirates will not have Jay Vine and Juan Ayuso whom both were supposed to race here. Vine is recovering from the knee injury which caused him to abandon the UAE-Tour while Ayuso still has not started in 2023 as he is reportedly suffering from tendonitis. The Spanish super talent might return at Tour de Suisse in June. Almeida will share leadership with Adam Yates, the latter of whom has already competed in two WorldTour stage races this season. UAE-Emirates might use Yates as an attacking rider on climbs while Almeida would sit in the draft behind Evenepoel, Roglič and other GC riders as he prefers constant pace. When Yates attacked early en route to his win on Vallter 2000 in Catalunya 2021, it was in fact Almeida doing much of the chasing behind with Yates’s teammates on INEOS, Richie Porte and Geraint Thomas, on the Portuguese rider’s wheel.
The start list is otherwise packed with GC talent. Ben O’Connor, Richard Carapaz, Mikel Landa, Louis Meintjes, Romain Bardet, Gino Mader, Giulio Ciccone, Michael Woods, Lenny Martinez, Esteban Chaves Tobias Halland Johannesen, Jack Haig and Cian Uijtdebroeks will be other riders to watch for overall.
Remco Evenepoel. He will want to win this race and test his legs against Roglič before the Giro d’Italia. Evenepoel did a high-altitude camp and if everything went well he should be flying even if this is just a preparation race.