Volta a Catalunya might be the most interesting one week stage race this year. This is partly thanks to the elite startlist, that is headlined by the main Giro d’Italia contenders Remco Evenepoel and Primoz Roglic but also includes Landa, Almeida, Bardet, Uijtdebroeks and the returning Egan Bernal among others. This headline talent, combined with a route that includes three hard summit finishes, makes this race a perfect indicator of climbing level, especially for the Giro d’Italia contenders.
Next to these three GC stages, there are three stages for sprinters that can survive a hill or break riders and the traditional circuit around Barcelona, that could potentially lead to a few small gaps. Below we will analyse the climbing stages and what we expect from each climb.
Vallter 2000, Stage 2
ᵉW/KG Prediction: 6,10ᵉw/kg ~ 31’58min – 22,79km/h – 1663 VAM
There will not be a time trial in the route so the climb to Vallter 2000 (12,14km at 7.3%) will be the first opportunity for riders to try and gain a significant advantage in the General Classification. This means we can expect to see several attacks during the climb. Vallter 2000 is a climb that’s been used frequently in the Volta a Catalunya, most recently in 2021 when Adam Yates triumphed and broke the climbing record. The record of 32’08min (6,05ᵉw/kg by Yates) is certainly within reach for the contenders this year, if the tactical games do not get out of hand and there is not a strong headwind.
The stage features another Cat 1 climb, the Coll de Coubet (10,3km at 5,4%), but is overall quite easy before the final climb. Nonetheless, there can be serious gaps on Vallter 2000, thanks to the high altitude.
Some contenders will certainly already fall out of the GC completely, but the majority of them should still be within reach after Vallter 2000, as the climb and stage are not overly difficult. The only chance to gain serious time might be playing the team game, as the draft effect is still quite high on the rather fast speeds that will be achieved on this climb. This means Remco Evenepoel will have a serious disadvantage against teams such as Bahrain (Landa, Haig, Mäder) or Bora (Hindley, Uijtdebroeks) that have multiple cards to play.
If QuickStep cannot keep the tempo high enough, Remco’s best play will be to attack himself and anticipate other attacks, such as the move of Yates in 2021. This will reduce the amount of second options in the group and might even lead to him winning solo. Evenepoel definitely is strong enough to defend or attack on this stage, which he proved with an immense display on Jebel Hafeet and by breaking multiple high level Strava KOM’s during his recent altitude camp on Teide. Nonetheless, the stacked teams opposing him will be a real challenge on this climb. Yates crashed hard on stage 1, falling out of GC but finishing the stage, otherwise he would have been another big contender for the stage.
La Molina, Stage 3
ᵉW/KG Prediction: 6,15ᵉw/kg ~ 19’58min – 25,55km/h – 1647 VAM
La Molina might be the easiest finishing climb of the race, but is preceeded by a really challenging stage with 3995 meters of altitude gain in total. Even with this hard stage design, serious gaps are very unlikely on this 8,5km climb with an average gradient of 6,45%, then followed by 4km of rolling terrain to the finish.
Even a weaker team should be able to control this climb and the group surviving until the finish might be quite large. The best chance for GC movement will once again be a move of a secondary contender that has lost some time on Vallter 2000 already, similar to Ben O’Connor’s attack that led to the stage win last year or Rubio’s move on Jebel Jais for Movistar in the UAE Tour in February.
Other than that, GC movement is only possible with a very hard tempo that would improve upon the best time on La Molina in our database: 19’51min at 6,53ᵉw/kg. This is quite unlikely however, as the route offers multiple better opportunities to decide the General Classification such as Vallter 2000 and Lo Port.
Lo Port – Mont Caro, Stage 5
ᵉW/KG Prediction: 7,00ᵉw/kg ~ 23’01min – 21,64km/h – 1934 VAM
The climb of Lo Port – Mont Caro is undoubtedly the hardest of the race, featuring 8,3km at 8,94%. It is almost a perfect ~24min ᵉw/kg test with ideal conditions. The stage features no real difficulties before the final climb, meaning fatigue should be low. The climb itself is at low altitude and quite steep, so the tempo will likely be very high from the start, especially as the time gaps should still be quite small. Given that the race is in early Spring in rural Catalunya, the temperature is typically around a perfect 15 degrees. These conditions led to several riders pushing career best numbers in 2017, when the climb was last used.
Alejandro Valverde set the climbing record back then, with 6,60ᵉw/kg for 24’06min. Breaking this record seems very likely for Remco Evenepoel, who has already shown immense capabilities on such a watt test. He pushed 6,78ᵉw/kg for 26’02min on Jebel Hafeet, where he was still 3kg over race weight according to himself and had not been on an altitude camp yet.
As the much cooler conditions here should be even more ideal than on Hafeet and Evenepoel will be in even better shape, we could see a historic performance in this race. Adam Yates also showed immense capabilities in the UAE Tour, but his exploits on Jebel Hafeet have never really translated to European races and with his unfortunate crash on Stage 1 he is unlikely to be bucking that trend.
Due to the lower speed on these high gradients, double leader strategies will not be as advantageous as on the other climbs in this race. This stage should be decided on pure strength and it will be interesting to see which team lights up the climb first. That will of course depend on the GC situation, but all teams seem to have a lot of fire power here, so it should not have a big impact on the tempo.
Roglic could very well be in the leaders jersey before this stage, as the first two summit finishes are not super difficult and he has the ability to gain bonus seconds especially on the punchy stages, such as Stage 1 which he won. Even if that is the case, I do not see him defending the jersey here. Roglic might have dominated Tirreno Adriatico, but the hard summit finish was shortened and then ridden very slowly due to the head wind. It seems very unlikely to me that he can follow Evenepoel, who will likely ride several kilometers on the front at a very hard tempo, similar to his tactics on Gaustatoppen (Tour of Norway), Pico Jano (Vuelta a España), Jebel Hafeet (UAE Tour) and other climbs.
Remco Evenepoel will be at a disadvantage compared to teams with several leaders, especially on the first two summit finishes. However he still brings strong climbing support and remains my favourite to win the General Classification of the Volta a Catalunya, as he is simply by far the strongest rider in this race. The climbs, especially Lo Port, suit him perfectly. His team support will also be superior compared to the sprint / rouleur squad that accompanied him at UAE Tour, having the newly signed Jan Hirt and Ilan Van Wilder as his last mountain domestiques.
Almeida and Landa are my predictions to complete the podium, as they were in very good shape, even on stages that did not traditionally suit them, recently at Tirreno-Adriatico. I am still very sceptical of Roglic’s current level on the longer climbs and believe he will get dropped badly at least once in this race.
Make sure to check in here during the race for watts estimations and articles on the various climbing performances, which could be quite astronomical.
Gabriel Stróżyk (@NaichacaCycling)