Any person on the lookout for the principle plot line of this week’s Volta ao Algarve want glance no additional than the pictures of Remco Evenepoel’s shocking solo triumph within the Figuera Champions Vintage on Saturday.
When Evenepoel surged previous teammate James Knox’s proper shoulder and took flight at the sharp uphill of Rua Parque Forestal, he used to be best noticed once more some 50 kilometres later past the end line.
It used to be affirmation of what we suspected: the Soudal-Fast Step chief would be the rider to overcome in southern Portugal.
Historical past is on Evenepoel’s facet, with two general Volta ao Algarve triumphs already to his call in his best two earlier participations, in 2020 and 2022. Whoever desires to win this yr’s race, must tackle and beat Evenepoel.
But the checklist of riders honouring the fiftieth version of the Volta ao Algarve are considerable and plenty of of them have proven spectacular early-season shape. The racing must be intense and intriguing, because the early season ramps from preparation races to big-name battles and hilly level races.
Wout van Aert (Visma-Rent A Motorbike) is one such big-name rider.
The Volta ao Algarve’s two dash phases, the 22km rolling time trial and two hill-top finishes in southern Portugal all be offering precisely the sorts of alternatives that is helping ultra-versatile Van Aert galvanize.
The comparative rarity of a Van Aert as opposed to Evenepoel fight best renders this yr’s race much more attention-grabbing: if their race schedules stay unchanged, Algarve is the one race in 2024 the place Van Aert and Evenepoel will take each be provide of their rival industry groups.
Different riders aiming to hone their Classics shape along Van Aert within the Algarve come with Tom Pidcock (Ineos Grenadiers) and Stefan Kung (Groupama-FDJ), each former level winners within the five-day race.
Küng is most likely to present Evenepoel a major run for his cash within the level 4 time trial, which the Swiss rider captured final yr, whilst Pidcock’s skill to polish on punchy uphill finishes and longer ascents might be in his favour at the hilly phases 2 and 5.
Evenepoel isn’t the one earlier Algarve winner to go back to Portugal this yr.
Protecting champion Dani Martínez (Bora-Hansgrohe) already proved he’s in fantastic early season shape with victory in his Nationwide Time Trial Championships a couple of weeks in the past and Geraint Thomas (Ineos Grenadiers), by no means at the backfoot relating to racing in opposition to the clock, has received Volta ao Algarve two times general in 2015 and 2016. Thomas arrives in Portugal after an early block of coaching at altitude, one thing even Evenepoel has no longer completed.
But extra time trialling royalty might be provide at Algarve, with Filippo Ganna (Ineos Grenadiers) again in motion after using the Excursion Down Beneath. Like Thomas and Martínez, the Italian is the use of Algarve to construct in opposition to the Giro d’Italia.
Thomas and Evenepoel are by means of no longer the one Grand Excursion winners provide. 2020 Giro d’Italia winner Tao Geoghegan Hart (Lidl-Trek) might be the use of Algarve as an early season check together with his new group as he returns to racing after his dangerous crash on the 2023 Giro d’Italia.
Vuelta a España winner Sepp Kuss will give Visma-Lend A Motorbike another choice along Van Aert. The American climber will in all probability play a reinforce position however is now one of the crucial big-names to keep in mind.
The Volta ao Algarve course and the way it would play out
The primary of 2 transparent alternatives for the sprinters within the Volta ao Algarve comes at the time-honoured opening level from Portimao de Lagos.
Arnaud Démare (Arkéa-Samsic) might be aiming to push his tally of 96 wins just a little nearer to the century mark, and fellow-sprinters of the calibre of Gerben Thijssen (Intermarché-Wanty), 2023 Champs Elysées champion Jordi Meeus (Bora-Hansgrohe) might be doing their utmost to prevent him.
Degree 2, however, heads inland to the Serra de Monchique and can most likely see a primary choice of GC favourites come to the fore at the 7.7km at 6.1% Alto de Foia summit end.
Foia used to be the place Tadej Pogačar introduced himself in 2019 and the place Evenepoel himself unleashed a thunderous past due acceleration 12 months later Whoever strikes into the lead in Foia, Algarve’s best possible climb, might be a major contender for general victory.
Degree 3 will possibly fall prey to the sprinters once more however then the race will take a twist. One of the crucial few components the Algarve organisers exchange steadily is the placement of the person time trial within the race. This yr it strikes again from being the grand finale slot to level 4, like in 2022 and so ahead of the overall hilltop end.
The final time trial to be held in Albufeira used to be in 2003, so this is a comparative unknown. That stated, the 22 km course, on a rolling, technical path favours lighter-built Grand Excursion riders quite than the natural time trial consultants. Evenepoel will be the purpose of reference as soon as once more.
A summit end for the nineteenth time, Algarve’s ultimate showdown at Malhao on Sunday is a a lot more acquainted characteristic and can crown this yr’s winner of the Volta ao Algarve.
The 165.8 km level additionally comprises the cat 3 ascents of Picota, Vermelhos and Alte which precede the climb to the end.
The two.6km at 9.5% Malhao is a brief however sharp haul to the road and previous winners there come with Pidcock, and Sergio Higuita (Bora-Hansgrohe). After a 5th and 3rd position at the similar summit in 2022 and 2020, Evenepoel will indubitably be aiming to win.
Evenepoel may just equivalent the report of 3 Volta ao Algarve victories held by means of mythical Portuguese rider Belmiro Silva however no matter occurs, the overall end result can have a far deeper resonance.
The week of racing might be a primary check and primary indication of Evenepoel and Soudal-Fast Step’s 2024 ambitions. He’s focused on the Excursion de France in 2024 and the Volta ao Algarve is step one in opposition to July, France and a shot on the podium in Paris.