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Starting at 15.15 CET you can follow the second stage of the Spanish WorldTour race on CyclingQuotes.com/live

Photo: Team Giant-Shimano

VOLTA A CATALUNYA

RACE PROFILE
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NEWS
25.03.2014 @ 15:10 Posted by Emil Axelgaard

Luka Mezgec proved us right by showing that he is the fastest rider in this year's Volta a Catalunya when he overcame the lack of lead-out support to take a comfortable sprint win on the opening stage. The Slovenian may get a chance to make it two in a row when the peloton travels to the cycling hotbed of Girona on the second day of the race as nothing suggests that the fast finishers will be denied the chance to show off their skills.

 

The course

For the third year in a row, the city of Girona which is the base for a host of professional riders, will play a prominent role for the second stage. While it served as both start and finishing city two years ago, it was the point of departure in 2013. This year the riders will take off from Mataro and finish their day's work 168km later in the cycling hotbed a few kilometres from the Mediterranean coast.

 

Compared to the 2012 finish in Girona, however, this stage is a much easier affair that again seems to be one for the few attending sprinters. The start, however, is a tough one. From the coastal city of Mataro, the riders head straight into the hills when they go up the category 3 Alt de Can Bordoi (2.8km, 5.3%, max. 7%) whose top comes at the 12.5km mark. The descent leads back to the valley road and the city of Hostalric which the riders will also have passed on the opening day.

 

From there the riders follow the valley road until they go up the category 2 Alt de Santa Pelaia (5.9km, 4.0%, max. 6%). At the top, 84.3km remain and they start off by a fast descent back to the valley and a long flat stretch, with the first intermediate sprint coming 50.3km from the finish.

 

The riders will now go up a long gradual uphill drag, passing last year's finishing city of Banyoles, turn around, and pass straight through that city for the final intermediate sprint 21.7km from the finish. They will now head down the same road they have gone up back to the main valley road where they will head towards Girona.

 

The final part of the stage is mostly slightly descending but with 8.7km to go, the riders go up a 2.6km hill with an average gradient of 2.7%. The final 6.1km consist of a descent followed by 2.6 flat kilometres at the end that start when the riders turn right in a roundabout. From there, the road is winding and punctuated by three roundabouts. Just after the 2km to go sign, the riders will turn left in a roundabout before turning right in another one just before the flamme rouge. The final challenge is a third roundabout which leads onto the 400m completely flat finishing straight.

 

This stage is much easier than the one that finished in Girona two year ago. On that occasion Michael Albasini took his second stage win in a row by winning a 31-rider sprint after having survived a tough climb near the end.

 

The weather

Unfortunately, the forecasted bad weather is set to make its presence felt starting from tomorrow's stage. Rain will fall overnight but by the time the riders have woken up, it should again be dry, albeit cloudy. A real downpour is forecasted for tomorrow evening but the riders may be lucky to do the entire stage in dry conditions even though there is a risk of a shower, especially near the end of the stage.

 

It won't be especially cold though as the temperatures are expected to reach a maximum of 16 degrees.  There will be a moderate wind from a southeasterly direction, meaning that there will be a crosswind for the first part if the stage. After the descent of the Alt de Santa Pellaia, the riders will turn into a tailwind before turning into a headwind for the final 30km of the stage. For the final three kilometres, there will be a cross-headwind for most of the time.

 

The favourites

As it is always the case for stages in the Volta a Catalunya, tomorrow's route is by no means plat and contains some solid climbs. They all come in the first part of the stage, however, and even though the final part is not flat either and contains some a few smaller hills, it is hard to imagine that the sprinters will miss this opportunity. As they proved today, the fast finishers in this race all have a solid pair of climbing legs and tomorrow's stage has an easier finish than today's.

 

Of course most riders know this and they will be keen to save energy for the stages later in the race where escapes will have a much better chance of succeeding. Hence, we should be in for a rather straightforward sprint stage, with an early break that is being controlled by the sprint teams.

 

The start may be a tough one though as the riders head straight up a category 3 climb and this may make things a bit harder to control in the beginning. However, there will be plenty of time to restore order after the climb and it shouldn't pose too much of a challenge. Don't be surprised to see Amets Txurruka (Caja Rural) as part of the day's early break as he will be keen to continue the collection of KOM points and has a great chance of escaping when the road points upwards right from the beginning.

 

Today Giant-Shimano got confirmation that they have the fastest rider in the race and so they will be keen to try to make it two in a row and defend their leader's jersey for another day. Hence, the Dutch team will carry the bulk of the responsibility and may get some assistance from Orica-GreenEDGE. The Australian team was not far from taking a stage win today and know that they have a chance of making things right tomorrow.

 

With all set for a sprint finish, we can expect the main characters to be the same as in today's stage. And for the second day in a row, we will make Mezgec our favourite. Yesterday we already claimed that the Slovenian is the fastest rider in this field and he proved us right by his stunning showing.

 

After his win in the Handzame Classic, Theo Bos had said that Mezgec was simply the fastest and this suggests just how well the Giant-Shimano rider is going at the moment. To beat Bos in a direct battle is no mean feat and none of his rivals in this field are at the Dutchman's level.

 

However, the stage also underlined what we claimed yesterday: that Mezgec has a big disadvantage when it comes to lead-out support. Usually, Giant-Shimano master the discipline of delivering their sprinter but their Catalunya is entirely made up of riders without too much experience in this very special discipline. In today's stage Mezgec was positioned too far back when the sprint started and even had to hit the wind several times to move back up. To still be able to finish it off shows his impressive strength but with a headwind in tomorrow's sprint, it may be costly if he has to do too much positioning on his own.

 

This may open the door for Howard who is clearly his biggest rival in this race. As we had already claimed yesterday, Orica-GreenEDGE have the strongest lead-out train in this race and it was no surprise to see Sam Bewley and Brett Lancaster deliver their sprinter perfectly on the front. Howard did a good sprint but was simply up against a faster rider.

 

Today's sprint was a bit uphill and this is a clear disadvantage for Howard who has never done anything to hide that he prefers flat sprints. With a headwind in tomorrow's stage, he may benefit further from his strong team support and this could turn the table. We are pretty convinced that Lancaster will again deliver Howard on the front and if Mezgec is positioned too far back or has used too much energy to get into position, the Australian may come away with the goods.

 

Today Roberto Ferrari could only manage 8th but tomorrow's stage should suit the fast Italian much better. The uphill finish was certainly no advantage for the former Giro stage winner and the hard climbing in the finale didn't make things easier either. On paper, however, Ferrari is one of the fastest riders in this race and even though he no longer has the speed of his heydays, he is still a capable sprinter.

 

Ferrari's main disadvantage is that he is the lone sprinter on a team of climbers. Hence, he will have to do all the work himself and this is not easy in those hectic finishes. However, Ferrari is known for his great ability to position himself and we wouldn't be surprised if he finds himself on Howard's wheel when the Australian is delivered on the front. If that happens, the Lampre sprinter has the speed to win.

 

Today Cannondale proved that they have a great lead-out when they were only passed by Orica-GreenEDGE near the very end of the stage. Their fast guy Daniele Ratto is no pure sprinter and he was much better suited to today's uphill finish than tomorrow's flat affair. With solid team support from Michel Koch and Jean-Marc Marino, however, he is one of the sprinters who can expect most assistance from his team. The Italian is no obvious winner candidate but if things go right for his team, he will have a chance.

 

Giacomo Nizzolo is one of the select few who have the speed to battle with the likes of Mezgec and Howard but the Italian is just coming back from a broken collarbone. This race is only his second after his comeback and his team was keen to stress that they didn't expect him to be up there in today's sprint. Nonetheless, they didn't rule it out either and he didn't finish too far back in the peloton. There is no doubt that his team hope to see him get up there later in the week and tomorrow's easier stage may be his first chance. With Danilo Hondo at his side, he has the support from one of the best lead-out riders in the business and if he manages to get himself into position, he has the speed to win.

 

In today's stage Julian Alaphilippe got his first chance to do a sprint at WorldTour level and he did impressively well by taking 3rd. The uphill finishing straight suited him down to the ground and tomorrow's flat affair may be a bit tougher for him. Nonetheless, he showed that he has the speed to mix it up with the best and he showed that he handles the positioning aspect really well. In a headwind sprint, that is an important skill and it is certainly not impossible for him to come away with the win.

 

Finally, we will select our joker. Davide Vigano was signed as a lead-out man for Francesco Lasca but as the latter is just coming back from injury, Vigano has had to take on the role as lead sprinter. This has given him the chance to be one of the protected riders in a WorldTour race and he will be keen to show his skills. Vigano did well earlier this month when he finished on the podium in the Clasica de Almeria and even though the sprinting field wasn't too deep in that race, it proves that he has the speed. It will be hard for him to go up against the faster riders like Mezgec and Howard but don't be surprised to see him on the podium.

 

CyclingQuotes' stage winner pick: Luka Mezgec

Other winner candidates: Leigh Howard, Roberto Ferrari

Outsiders: Daniele Ratto, Giacomo Nizzolo, Julian Alaphilippe

Joker: Davide Vigano

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