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"The worst thing that could happen was to follow Contador, blow up and then maybe lose the race overall. It was just about playing it safe and finishing the job off."

Photo: Sirotti

ALBERTO CONTADOR

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BORA-HANSGROHE

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CAJA RURAL - SEGUROS RGA

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DECEUNINCK - QUICK-STEP

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EF EDUCATION FIRST

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GERAINT THOMAS

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GROUPAMA-FDJ

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IAM CYCLING

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ILNUR ZAKARIN

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ION IZAGIRRE

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JARLINSON PANTANO

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KATUSHA ALPECIN

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LOTTO SOUDAL

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MARCEL KITTEL

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MOVISTAR TEAM

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PHIL BAUHAUS

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PRIMOZ ROGLIC

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RIGOBERTO URAN

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TEAM JUMBO-VISMA

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TEAM NOVO NORDISK

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TEAM SKY

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THIBAUT PINOT

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TIAGO MACHADO

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TONY GALLOPIN

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TONY MARTIN

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VOLTA AO ALGARVE

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21.02.2016 @ 23:25 Posted by Emil Axelgaard

Alberto Contador (Tinkoff) bounced back from his disappointing performance in the first mountain stage by claiming a dominant solo win at the top of the Alto do Malhao on the final stage of the Volta ao Algarve. The Spaniard put 20 seconds into Fabio Aru (Astana) and Thibaut Pinot (FDJ) while Geraint Thomas was 8 seconds further back in fifth. That was enough for him to win the race for the second time in a row with a 19-second advantage over Ion Izagirre (Movistar) and 26 seconds over Contador.

 

We have gathered several reactions.

 

Geraint Thomas: I knew that it would be a bad idea to try to follow Contador

Geraint Thomas clinched back-to-back overall victories at the Volta ao Algarve with fifth place on the queen stage.

 

The five-day event came down to the final climb and the famed ascent of the Alto do Malhao. As the attacks started firing, Thomas stayed firmly in the mix to mark his rivals and secure another yellow jersey.

 

Crossing the line 28 seconds behind stage winner Alberto Contador (Tinkoff), the Welshman enjoyed support from his team-mates throughout the day to seal a third Algarve title for Team Sky.

 

After pressure from Team Sky and Movistar up front, overnight leader Tony Martin (Etixx - Quick-Step) lost contact with the peloton first time over the Alto do Malhao and slipped out of the GC picture heading into the finale.

 

With his three-second deficit over-turned, Thomas rode intelligently as Contador led home Fabio Aru (Astana) and Thibaut Pinot (FDJ) by 20 seconds. Lars-Petter Nordhaug was the next Team Sky rider home, 20th over the line.

 

Thomas topped the Portuguese podium by 19 seconds over Jon Izagirre (Movistar) and a further seven over a resurgent Contador.

 

After the stage Thomas admitted he was riding with his head on the final climb as attacks fired off around him.

 

"Once Tony Martin got dropped first time up the climb the stage was all about defending that lead," he told TeamSky.com. "Izagirre was the biggest threat after that and I just didn't get carried away when Contador and Rigo (Uran) attacked. I just followed Izagirre all the way until well into the last kilometre. I had a little dig myself but I kind of knew I had it by then.

 

"The worst thing that could happen was to follow Contador, blow up and then maybe lose the race overall. It was just about playing it safe and finishing the job off.

 

"I knew the climb from last year and we do it twice in the race. So I knew the effort it involved and I just didn't want to get carried away and go into the red until necessary. It's been a big team effort and all week the boys have been great and supporting me all the way through.

 

“It was a hard day. With the strong wind it was even more complicated. When Contador attacked I tried to stay calm and not chase him. My main goal was to win the race. This winter I had the most prolonged time in my career off the bike, about five weeks, and I did not know if I was going to be fine. I was under a lot of pressure because last year I came to help Richie and this year had the lads working for me. It was good to win to thank them.”

 

Replicating his victory of 12 months ago, Thomas will hope to build on that momentum as he heads into a key portion of his season.

 

"It's always nice to be on the podium and get a win," he added. "I don't get to do it very often so I certainly enjoy that. It's definitely a good confidence booster now going into the last big block of training. I've got a big block of racing then with three big stage races and then three big one-days as well. Hopefully I can take something out of all that."

 

Resurgent Alberto Contador: I knew that my form was good

Alberto Contador put on a climbing exhibition in the second ascent to Alto do Malhao with a late attack. Thanks to the committed effort of the squad to keep the race under control and position Contador for the climb, Tinkoff's leader took the stage win while securing the third place overall.    

 

Despite a slow start to the Volta ao Algarve, Contador fired today his first warning shot of the season, on the fifth and final stage that took the peloton from Almodôvar to the famous climb of Alto do Malhão. After 169km and four climbs, it was on the second ascent of the 45km loop that Contador took matter into his own hands and staged his attack.

 

A group of nine escapees was formed in the early kilometers of the race and Tinkoff together with Movistar set a ferocious pace, working hard to haul back the breakaway. Paulinho, Trofimov and Kiserlovski then protected Contador until the final three kilometers in a compact group, when Contador staged a solo attack and powered ahead. Fabio Aru responded but Contador went on and crossed the finish line victorious, with 20-second lead over the Italian.

 

"There was a breakaway of nine riders early on," stated Sport Director Steven De Jongh "nothing really important for the GC. As a result, we decided to work together with Movistar and we each put one rider. First it was Jesús Hernández and then Michael Valgren, who did a lot of work, while the rest of the squad did their part. In the finale Sergio Paulinho, Yuri Trofimov and Roberts Kiserlovski took the reins to support Alberto and put him in a good position for the climb. Alberto showed his form and did one very good attack, which was enough to net him the stage win. He rode away and there was nobody that could follow him.”

 

"The mountain finish on the second stage was a little bit disappointing of course," continued de Jongh, "but it's also seven months since Alberto did his last race, which was the Tour de France. You can't expect him to be in excellent form from the start and today he showed he was really a lot better. I think this is surely promising for the upcoming races and I believe it is all good."

 

"I knew I was coming to Portugal in good form," commented Contador after today's stage win. "I hadn't raced since a number of months and on the second stage, I probably lacked a bit of energy in the final part, that's why I lost more time than I would have lost under normal conditions. For that reason, for me, today was an important day. I had the legs and I was feeling I could win. That's why the squad worked together with Movistar and we clinched the win. I'm very happy with this victory and I'd like to dedicate it to Oleg Tinkov and Tinkoff Bank for their backing and the trust they have shown through their sponsorship during the last four years. It's, obviously, easier to win when you have that kind of support. We will keep fighting, with our sights always set on the big goal of the year, the Tour de France.

 

“This is a race that brings me luck and despite knowing that this is my first competition of the year I knew that I was prepared. On the second day I missed my strenghts, perhaphs due to a lack of proper feeding, and I lost too much time. I am happy to have won and reached the podium. I thank my colleagues for this victory.

 

"I'd also like to thank the whole team for their hard work at the Volta ao Algarve, some days with no payout, but today we topped it off and grabbed the victory. I'm happy I stepped on the podium and as I said, the last time I raced was at the Tour de France last year, so it's always encouraging to debut with a victory. It boosts your confidence but at the same time we shouldn't rest on our laurels. We have to stay concentrated and deliver," continued Contador.

 

“My next goal is Paris-Nice, a race in which I last competed in 2010. I'll be back this year and I hope I'll be able to obtain a good result", concluded Contador.

 

Ion Izagirre after second place in Algarve: This is the kind of race that really suits me

Movistar Team shone on Sunday more than they could do at any point of the early season, jumping onto the podium in all three stage races they took part in during the weekend. At the Volta ao Algarve, Ion Izagirre confirmed a brilliant second place overall behind Geraint Thomas (SKY), after successfully getting over the demanding slopes of the Alto do Malhao, climbed twice during the 169km stage five from Almodovar.

 

Great teamwork from the squad directed by José Luis Jaimerena all stage wasn't fully finished off Izagirre’s legs (12th over the line), though the Spaniard profited from the small time loss to the Welshman and a bad day from Tony Martin (EQS), race leader coming into today's showdown, to share the final podium with Thomas and stage winner Alberto Contador (TNK).

 

"Looking at the field of competitors, this podium is really satisfactory," conceded Izagirre. "Thomas was clearly superior all race, while Alberto proved to be in very good condition over the climb today. Our team worked brilliantly during today's stage, but I might have lacked a bit of legs in Malhao. That's why we must feel extremely happy about today.

 

”Thursday in Fóia, Nelson [Oliveira] entered a late break and the race was more or less under control for us, but when he was chased down, we had to react, and I chose to attack with 1km to go. I probably went too far too early, also because there was some headwind which made the sprint harder. Still, I saw there I was doing well again after Valencia, and after the TT, when I got onto the podium, my will to do well and fight for the race was stronger.

 

"I was surprised to see Martin dropping back so early today; 'Castro' [Castroviejo] set a hard pace at the front through the first climb of Malhao and I saw him riding at the back, but I thought he was going on his own pace and not dropping back. Later on, Amador told me he was way behind, so we had to keep pushing to conserve that second place.

 

“As we already said during the last few months, these one-week races really suit me better than Grand Tours: with a time trial and climbs not so long, not specifically for climbers, I do well and am able to contest the GC victories. I'll try to do so again in Paris-Nice and País Vasco, two demanding, WorldTour races, where we will have to step up a bit more. I hope to continue with these results."

 

The day's bad news came after the stage. Jonathan Castroviejo sustained a crash when he was riding down from Malhao's finish to the team bus, parked at the foot of the climb. The Basque allrounder has already been moved to a hospital in Faro, where X-rays and an MRI will check the extent of the likely injuries in his neck and left arm. No details have been disclosed yet.

 

Fabio Aru after second place in Algarve: This was a good test

“It was a very hard day with the wind and a race route that was very complicated and with the uphill finish being very challenging,” explained Fabio Aru after the finish.

 

“For the entire stage the speed was high and the roads were very tortuous. It was a very good test at this point of the racing season.

 

“Contador attacked so strong and I have to congratulate with him for his performance. On my side I’m satisfied with my condition and this gives me further motivation to continue the preparation, starting from the next training camp in Tenerife, thinking to the next races.”

 

With Luis Leon Sanchez’ victory on Alto da Foia last Thursday and today’s second place for Fabio Aru it has been a positive Volta ao Algarve for the Astana Pro Team.

 

Thibaut Pinot: Today Contador was unbeatable

Thibaut Pinot finished third and was fouth overall.

”There was a lot of wind, it went up and down all the time, we were on small roads,” Pinot told L’Equipe. “In short, it was not the terrain that I prefer and the last climb did not really suit me. It was not long enough for me. The first ascent whittled down the bunch, and on the second Contador attacked after 500m. He was unbeatable today. 

 

”I'm happy with the team. Today they took me to the bottom of the last climb and there are not many teams that have this potential. We were there to get the automatisms and you can see that it work, this year. This is a good sign for the rest of the season. 

 

”I felt good, it's a bit the same kind of route at Tirreno-Adriatico so it was a good dress rehearsal. I'm happy with my week. It is very good, very positive.”

 

Impressive Primoz Roglic surprises himself with fifth place in Algarve

Primoz Roglic delivered a strong performance in the last stage of Portugal’s Volta ao Algarve to grab fifth place in the general classification. Team LottoNL-Jumbo’s Slovenian finished sixth in the mountain stage to Alto do Malhão behind Alberto Contador (Tinkoff). Geraint Thomas (Sky) took the overall victory.

 

The final stage of the Volta ao Algarve was a hilly one. Even before the fight on the final climb to Alto do Malhão began, the first differences were already made.

 

“It was a tough, nervous stage with a lot of climbing,” sports director Merijn Zeeman said. “Primoz delivered another very strong performance. It’s a big surprise that he’s able to grab the fifth place in the general classification with Aru, Contador and Thomas on the start line. He can be very proud of that.”

 

Movistar and Tinkoff set a very high pace before the riders reached the foot of the Alto do Malhão, when it became a battle of attrition. Roglic was able to follow the best riders.

 

 “I’m still struggling a little bit with positioning for climbs,” Roglic said. “My men protected me very well and I’m thankful. It became a mental fight in the end and I’m good at that. I just keep on telling myself that the finish line is close and that I must keep on giving everything I have. I’m very happy with the result I grabbed this week. This really motivates me.”

 

Because of the high pace, Robert Gesink didn’t get the chance to attack as he had planned and placed 14th.

 

“He gave the best he could,” Zeeman added. “Robert is at the beginning of his build-up to the Tour of Catalonia, but proved that he has quite a high level already. He only lost 40 seconds to Contador, so he can be satisfied with that.”

 

Zeeman is happy with the level Team LottoNL-Jumbo showed this week during the Volta ao Algarve.

 

“We want to develop our sprint lead out this season, most of all and we’re improving on that,” he added. “I enjoyed the team’s spirit as well. The boys really want to work for each other. We’re on the right track.”

 

Tony Gallopin surprises his team with top 10 result in Algarve

Tony Gallopin was sixth on GC at 50 seconds. Lotto Soudal didn’t manage to win a stage but finished on the podium twice. André Greipel and Jelle Wallays had to leave the race early after they were involved in a crash.

 

Sports director Herman Frison gives a little review.

 

“The goal was to win a stage of course. In stage one we were close but Kittel was simply the best. On day four we couldn’t sprint according to plan due to unexpected circumstances. Jens Debusschere sprinted to a nice third place though.

 

”Also Tony Gallopin obtained a few good results. He rode a very decent time trial and in the final stage he managed to follow the GC riders. His sixth place on GC proves that his form is good. The GC wasn’t a goal beforehand, but we’re very happy with the end result.

 

“The team obtained a few nice results in general. The riders for the opening weekend in Belgium are in really good shape, that’s the most important thing. Debusschere, Benoot and Roelandts have shown that they’re ready for the spring classics. They will be the main riders in these races. We return to Belgium with a good feeling, that’s for sure. Now, the riders need to stay healthy and prepare themselves for next Saturday. But they know what they’re doing so that shouldn’t be a problem.”

 

Ilnur Zakarin: I didn’t expect to be this good now

The final stage of the 42nd Volta ao Algarve em Bicicleta ended in Portugal on Sunday with a climbing battle taking place atop Alto do Malhão. Team Katusha’s Ilnur Zakarin was in the heat of the action, but slipped to 11th place in the final behind winner Alberto Contador (Tinkoff) with a time of 4:24.47. His efforts helped pave the way for top honors in the Team classification for Katusha.

 

“I can say I am pretty happy with my performance. Honestly, I did not think I could get a good result here. For me it was more about racing training but the race went well for me. We had Tiago Machado as team leader from the beginning of the race, but after the ITT, I also took a place in GC Top-10. So today, I just tried to do my best on the climb. The team supported me well and I think it went good for me. For February, I feel like I am on schedule. Now I will have a training camp and then my next race - Paris - Nice,” said Ilnur Zakarin.

 

“It was a fast race. Anton Vorobyev did a good job going in the break. At 40 km from the finish when they first passed the finish line, the break was caught. Sky imposed a very high pace; too fast for leader Tony Martin and he was dropped. In the end, we have to admit it was too fast for us also.  When Contador attacked in the final, we did not have the legs to follow,” said team director José Azevedo.

 

In the overall standings, team Katusha riders Zakarin and Tiago Machago were seventh at 1.03 and 11th at 1.32.

 

“I am disappointed, but that’s sports. In the end we go home as the winner of Team GC classification but we hoped for more. We tried to keep our two top ten positions, but Tiago Machado just did not have the good legs. Cycling can be hard but it’s truthful. In the end we have the Teams GC and a 7th spot in Overall for Ilnur Zakarin in his first 2016 stage race. Overall this is not bad,” concluded Azevedo.

 

Rein Taaramäe did not start due to Achilles tendon problems.

 

It’s only a few days off before Team Katusha riders will be racing again at the 1st Tour Cycliste International La Provence in France February 23 to 25.

 

Aggressive Rigoberto Uran bounces back after series of disappointments

After disappointing performances in the first two GC stages, Rigoberto Uran (Cannondale) bounced back by taking 7th in the queen stage.

 

"We decided to be around Rigoberto. That’s what we did until the end. The team did a really great job. Also the Classics riders were in the first group until the last climb. No one was dropped. We saw many important riders dropped before the final climb, and no one from us was dropped. It was nice,” sports director Juan Manuel Garate.

 

”In the finish, we played the card of Rigoberto. It was his first race with the team and the second uphill final. We wanted to do good to show he is a great leader.

 

”Uran attacked and he was in front with Contador – both Contador and Uran in front. They start to fight to each other. Contador dropped him, but it didn’t matter. It was the attitude of Uran and the attitude of the team that was important. It was super."

 

Jarlinson Pantano gains confidence from overall top 10 in Algarve

“I managed to build a lot of confidence during this stage race, which was not easy or simple. Above all I have to thank all of my teammates for all of the work that they did for me throughout the week.  They always proved to be exemplary teammates,” Jarlinson Pantano exclaimed.  He showed real qualities during the race, where he finished tenth on the final stage as well as eighth overall.  He will be looking now to compete at the GP Lugano and Tirrreno-Adriatico.

 

“We fulfilled our goals for the race with a place in the top-10 in the overall standings with Jarlinson Pantano,” Kjell Carlström, directeur sportif for IAM Cycling, along with Eddy Seigneur, said, in the process of praising the merits of his riders.  “We found a team that was working well as a whole, which is what we wanted to see. Every day, the guys went all-out for their leaders.  We weren’t missing too much to be able to come away with a stage win.  And I am convinced that the classic riders did a ton of good work that will most likely prove useful to them next week for the races in Belgium.”

 

In a stage that didn’t really suit his strengths, neo-pro Simon Pellaud from the French part of Switzerland managed to integrate himself into the day’s main breakaway before being absorbed by the pack after 124 kilometers spent on the front.

 

Pole from new pro continental team impresses in Algarve queen stage

Paweł Cieślik concluded racing for VERVA ActiveJet Pro Cycling Team in the Volta ao Algarve with 13th place atop Alto de Malhao. VERVA Activejet’s Jordi Simon finished the five-day race in 18th place.

 

The day started with nine-men breakaway hitting the road and setting the pace for early rivalry. Sports director Piotr Kosmala advised his riders not to get involved in offensive moves and focus on guiding Simon towards the demanding finale. VERVA Activejet’s Paweł Cieślik and Jordi Simon both rode in the first group and started the final ascent among the best riders in the bunch.

 

Cieślik worked for Simon and managed to finish 13th, only 40 seconds down on “El Pistolero”.

 

“Our task was to help  Jordi move up in the general classification and that’s what we focused on. I felt really well and did my part. I might have finished inside top10 but today it was all for Jordi,” Cieślik said.

 

Simon reached the finish line in 16th and placed 18th overall.

 

“The team did a great job, they kept protecting me for the whole stage. I lacked power to follow the top guys in the finale but I think I can be satisfied,” Spaniard concluded.

 

Local rider makes it a successful Volta ao Algarve for Caja Rural

Team Caja Rural - Seguros RGA had a strong finish to Volta ao Algarve as Ricardo Vilela made top15 overall after a strong performance on Alto do Malhão. Vilela crossed the finishing line on the steep climb just behind teammate Eduard Prades (19th overall), only one minute after the stage winner Alberto Contador (Tinkoff).

 

Antonio Molina finished soon after, helping the team to secure third place overall in the team classification, while Héctor Sáez brought home the second place in the youth classification.

 

 “Today, I felt very good on the bike,” Vilela said. “My goal was to make top15 on the stage and it all went well up until the final kilometer when the favorites started to attack. I couldn’t follow the wheels anymore so I focused on losing as little time as possible. I’m still very happy with my performance. This has been a very good week for Caja Rural - Seguros RGA. We have two riders in top20 overall and we did very well in the team classification, finishing ahead of many World Tour teams. This is a very good result for us”.

 

The Caja Rural - Seguros RGA riders have been very active this week in Algarve, taking part in multiple breakaways. On Sunday’s stage, Lluis Mas fought bravely up front in the break as the riders took on Alto do Malhão for the first time. Mas crossed the top in second place behind Alexandr Kolobnev (Gazprom) who won the mountain classification.

 

Looking back on this past week of racing, sports director Josemi Fernández was very pleased with the team’s performance:

 

“Overall, this has been a very good race for us. The team has performed very well and kept a high level during the entire race. We narrowly missed out on the team classification and the white jersey but we did our best. We just have to continue on this good path and the results will follow”.

 

Marcel Kittel: This race went better than I expected

Marcel Kittel came in the Volta ao Algarve after conquering two stages, the overall and the points standings at the Dubai Tour, and he continued to display that impressive form also in the five-day Portuguese race.

Kittel was on a rampage in both flat stages of the event, winning each time with a clear margin and confirming his supremacy in the sprints. The two wins he nabbed in Algarve (Albufeira and Tavira) meant Kittel topped the points classification in the race, this being the first time in six years that a German rider managed this feat.

 

"Volta ao Algarve was more than I have expected in first place. My goal was to win a stage, which I did, on Wednesday. That was really nice. In the end, to get another victory and the green jersey was really incredible. Besides these results, another important thing was to continue working with the team. We made new steps into the right direction, which is really great, and that's another achievement for our squad", said Marcel Kittel, whose next event of the season will be Paris-Nice (March 6-13).

 

Disappointed Tony Martin: The legs weren’t there

The last stage of the event was a fast one, with a high pace since the first crossing of the Alto de Malhão, and that's were the peloton split, among those to be distanced being also Tony Martin, the general classification leader, who had a hard-working Niki Terpstra with him for the rest of the stage.

 

Although he couldn't keep his yellow jersey, Tony Martin was upbeat at the finish: "The stage was hard and I tried to do my best to defend the lead, but I lost contact on the first ascent of Malhão and it was all over there. Overall, it was a great week for us, with two stage wins to Marcel's name and a couple of days in the leader's jersey. I want to thank the team for the support I received today. The guys believed in me and gave all, but unfortunately the legs weren't there today. Now I will take some time to recover, before heading to Belgium for the first Classics of the season. I can't wait to ride there!"

 

Team Novo Nordisk climbers gets confidence from Algarve queen stage

On the second time up the climb, an elite front group formed that featured Team Novo Nordisk’s Javier Megias. As this group hit the final sections of the climb, Alberto Contador (Tinkoff) attacked the group and held on to take the win solo.

 

“Not so bad, not so bad. I obviously would have liked to do better, but I’m happy with where my form is for the third week in February after only one race,” Megias said. “Hopefully it will just continue to improve from here.”
 

“We had a good race today with Javier in the front,” Dutch rider Martijn Verschoor said. “Unfortunately we lost Clancy, though he did good this week!  It was tough today because the 9-man breakaway was so big, and the peloton was forced to chase them the whole race, which made for a really fast and  hard stage- with 3000m climbing.”

 

Bora-Argon 18 classics riders build form in Algarve

Jan Bárta managed to jump into the right group today and had a long day in the breakaway. Best Bora-Argon 18 rider was again Paul Voss, crossing the line 1:28 behind the stage winner in 34th position.

 

“I think we had a good preparation for the next races in Belgium. Phil [Bauhaus] showed yesterday that he is always good for a podium if everything works out perfect. Paul had a difficult start after his little training crash last Friday, but I think he got some good race kilometres under his belt and has now a solid basis to build up his shape,” sports director Christian Pömer said.

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