The Volta a Catalunya is one of the most exciting and mountainous races on the spring calendar. While the Paris-Nice gets all the ink, the Volta is a solid testing ground for the climbers and GC contenders with the Ardennes Classics in mind. It seems to draw bigger names and smaller climbers every season over the past decade.
This will the the 92nd edition of the Volta, and over the past couple of years has served as a solid indicator of form heading into the early season stage races, most notably the Giro. Last year, Alberto Contador scampered to victory in the high mountains, but the result was removed, giving Michele Scarponi the win. Alessandro Valverde is in a somewhat mirror situation; he’ll be back after serving a two-year doping ban at a race he won in 2009.
Miguel Indurain, Sean Kelly and Emilio Rodriguez have all won multiple times here, so Valverde will be looking to add the race to his palmares again and join some magnificent company. He’ll be facing an amazingly on-form Bradley Wiggins, fresh off his dramatic Paris-Nice win. SKY is sending him full support, which he will need to defend against Levi Leipheimer. The American was riding in a threatening third place before three crashes on one mountain took him off the podium at Paris-Nice.
Wiggins is the favorite, but there’s enough firepower to make anyone nervous. Astana are sending Janez Brajkovic as their GC man, who will look to rebound from a disappointing Paris-Nice. Andy Schleck will there as RadioShack-Nissan’s GC man, also smarting from a slow start and eventual withdrawal at Paris-Nice. Schleck is still building form for a run at the Ardennes races, especially Liege-Bastogne-Liege, where he and brother Frank were beaten by Philipe Gilbert. A dark horse for the race comes from Gilbert’s new team, BMC, in the form of American Teejay van Garderen. He was Best Young rider at Paris-Nice and never truly faltered, just lost time in little chunks over the course of the last hard days. A bit more racing miles in his legs may be enough to keep the American in the fold for all of the Volta’s seven stages.
Stage One kicks off with a three categorized climbs. The roads in Catalonia are never flat, and the race organizers make no effort to hide that the race is about climbing. All 18 ProTour teams will be at the race, and all have sent their super-climbers, with even the flat land domestiques exchanged for rider that have more ascension in their legs.