By David Hunter
Catalunya, one of the hardest one-week races in the whole season. This year the organisers have ramped things up a little, out goes La Molina and back comes Valter 2000 and Port Aine, two very difficult mountaintop finishes. It’s not a great week for sprinters! This is the first time since 2013 both of these big climbs have featured in the race, fitting for the 100th edition.
The race begins with the usual stage in Calella, one that offers the breakaway a wonderful chance of taking the stage and leader’s jersey. If not, we get a sprint with the fast puncheurs, and maybe a sprinter who has great climbing legs.
We have an 18.6km ITT which does have some hills in the opening 6km, but this is still one for the specialists. That’s not great news for climbers who don’t TT well, but that’s their problem anyway!
We head to the mountains and some serious altitude. Valter 2000 finishes at 2125m above sea level, and it’s a very difficult climb. Last time we were here it was 2019 and Adam Yates won from an elite group of five riders. One thing to note, keep an eye on the weather as it’s been snowing up here in the last week.
Back-to-back mountain stages, I love it! The stage is very difficult, with three challenging climbs. This time we finish at 1900m above sea level, which is still hard for many riders. This stage is another we’ve seen cancelled in the past; I hope the weather plays ball.
7km at 6.5% cresting with 25km remaining means this should be a breakaway day, but you just never know these days.
The organisers have decided to toss a bone for the sprinters, most will wish it was stage 1, not 6.
The usual finish in Barcelona with laps of the Montjuïc circuit, but all is not what it seems. We have a slight change in the circuit, which means a tougher climb for the riders to deal with. I like the look of the new bit.
For this I’m joined by Sepp Kuss of Team Jumbo-Visma.
Ineos – they bring a very strong team to the race, led by Adam Yates and Carapaz. Not only that but they also have Porte, Thomas, Dennis and Castroviejo as climbing domestiques. Without doubt they have the strongest team in the race, it’s going to be fun seeing them resume their fight with Jumbo-Visma. This is Carapaz’s first race of the year, but the big riders all seem to be starting hot, so I expect him to be good. He’ll love both mountain finishes, thanks to the altitude, he loves racing up in the clouds. Adam Yates was incredibly strong in the UAE Tour; he should still be riding well, and this will make Ineos very hard to beat.
Jumbo-Visma – they arrive with Kuss, Kruijswijk and Bennett which is very strong for a one-week race. Kuss has the worst TT of the three of them, I hope that doesn’t mean he has to ride in support of the other two. We’ve been waiting for the American to get leadership opportunities and this is a very good race for him, apart from the TT. I would imagine the team will look to give freedom to all three, which will force others into chasing. Kuss loves racing at altitude, he’ll have a big say in the two mountain stages, but Kruijswijk will smell a chance to take a rare win. He looked very good on his TT bike in Paris-Nice and he’ll enjoy the two mountain stages. He was 5th back in 2019, it’s a race that suits his characteristics.
Hugh Carthy – I’m looking forward to seeing how he rides in 2021. After a stunning Vuelta, I get the feeling we’re going to see Hugh reach new levels this year, I sense he’s on the verge of something special. He doesn’t have much racing in his legs, but he did just complete a solid training camp and I expect him to be in good form. This is a race he usually does well in, and he’ll enjoy the TT, a perfect chance to put some time into some of his rivals.
DQT – Almeida has done a lot of racing recently, he’s the only rider here who was in the UAE Tour, followed by Tirreno. Is this too much for him? I would think so. Instead I would hope that they turn to James Knox, as he deserves a chance to impress. He’s not going to win it, but he has a decent shot at the top 10.
Simon Yates – despite “only” finishing 2nd in the Tirreno Queen stage he must have taken a lot of confidence in getting that close to Pogačar. Things don’t always go according to plan for Yates, but on his day he is one of the best climbers in the world. The TT isn’t great news for him, it really is an area he should be spending a lot of time on. He’ll be looking forward to the two mountain stages, as long as he doesn’t have any ill effects from Sunday’s rainy day in Italy. With Lucas Hamilton to support, BikeExchange look strong.
Nairo Quintana – form is picking up, he looked solid on Prati di Tivo. Now with some racing in the legs he should be better in this race. The TT is obviously not great for him, but he’s another who performs well at altitude. On paper, he should be challenging for the top 5 on GC.
Enric Mas – Movistar bring their trident for the first time this season. 2020 didn’t go exactly to plan for them, but Mas still managed to finish 5th in both the Tour de France and Vuelta a España. He started off the season in Provence and was rank rotten, but that was what I expected anyway. He should now be much more competitive, and this race has to be high on the Movistar list of objectives. Soler and Valverde will provide solid support, it’s time for Mas to deliver.
Jai Hindley – mainly used Paris-Nice as an opportunity to get good racing in the legs and support Tiesj Benoot. In this race he’ll clearly be the main man for Team DSM, and he’ll have a good go at the GC. His performance in the Giro was sensational, but let’s be honest, it was a huge surprise. He should approach this year with a lot of confidence, but he’ll also be eager to post some good early results to show people it wasn’t a one off. I thought he looked good in Paris-Nice, I think he should be challenging in this race.
The first of many Ineos v Jumbo-Visma battles this year. The TT is quite long, but as we have two big mountaintop finishes, the GC should be decided on the climbs. Most of the main contenders are relatively similar on the TT bike, I don’t think we’ll see huge gaps after the second stage. In the mountains we’re going to get a big battle between Ineos and Jumbo-Visma and I think we’ll see Richard Carapaz take the win.
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