By David Hunter
We are back in Portugal, for the 44th edition of this race. The organisers have decided to stick with a traditional route.
We begin with a sprint stage in Lagos. We don’t have the amount of top sprinters that we had last year, but there is still plenty of quality. Expect to see a battle between Groenewegen, Démare and Degenkolb.
The GC battles begins on the 2nd stage, with the climb to Fóia. The last 7.4km rises at an average of 6.1%. This is long enough to mean that only the climbers survive. Last year, we saw the peloton split to pieces on the lower slopes of the climb, could this happen again?
The 3rd stage is a battle against the clock, a very demanding 20.3km ITT.
The 4th stage is another battle for the sprinters.
The race ends with the usual climb to Malhão. This steep little climb is perfect for the punchy riders. Amaro Antunes took a landmark win here in 2017, adding his name to an impress group of riders who have tasted success on this hill.
Richie Porte – after another great performance in the Tour Down Under, Porte returns to a race he won back in 2012. That marked his first major result in professional cycling and he retuned to the race in 2015, finishing 4th, but he did go the wrong way in the TT! On both occasions he’s been here, he’s won the Malhão stage. That climb is very similar to Willunga Hill and we all know that Richie is the best in the world on these short, intense climbs. Given the form he showed in Australia, he starts the race as the man to beat.
Peter Kennaugh – this is the type of race he’ll be targeting for Bora. After leaving Sky, he wanted more team leader opportunities and this is one. He’ll enjoy both GC days and can hold his own in the TT. After riding in the service of Jay McCarthy, in Australia, he should be ready to hit a good period of form.
Bob Jungels – the QuickStep rider has just started his season, but I still think he’ll be a challenger in this race. He would hope to win the TT and put a fair amount of time into some of his rivals. As he continues to develop, so does his climbing ability. He should have no problems on these climbs.
Simon Špilak – after a terrible 2016, it was great to see him return to form in 2017. A terrific one day racer, Špilak is always a threat in these races, but only managed to finish 12th here last year. He is a rider that usually gradually builds form, so I’m expecting him to be challenging for the top 10, but not the podium.
Geraint Thomas – what a weird 2017 it was for the Welshman. His big target was the Giro, but a terrible crash denied him the chance of fighting for the pink jersey. However, he returned at the Tour de France and won the opening TT, meaning he was the yellow jersey, but disaster struck again and he crashed out on stage 9. It is safe to say, he has more than his fair share of crashes. This is a race he has fond memories of, he won here in 2015 and 2016. Sky start the race with a very strong team and he can count on Michal Kwiatkowski to help support him throughout every stage.
Bauke Mollema – 2017 was a good year for the Trek rider, winning a stage in the Tour de France and finishing 7th in the Giro. Free of any Contador responsibilities, he will have a full year of being team leader. He started last year by winning the Tour of San Juan and he’ll be keen for a fast start this year. I would expect him to be challenging for the podium.
Sam Oomen – still just 22 years old, this is a rider with huge potential. He’s been learning his trade for the last couple of years and I think he’s ready for a massive season. He’s a solid TT rider, but he will lose times to most of the big contenders for the overall. That means he’ll be aiming for the top 5.
Jaime Roson – the talented youngster should be the leader for Movistar. Like Oomen, he’ll lose time in the TT, but will still be challenging for a high spot on GC and a stage win. He rode well in support of Valverde in Valenciana, he looks to have had a good winter of solid training.
Dan Martin – like in previous years, he could well win a stage but his poor TT skills mean that he cannot win the GC.
I think it’s going to be a battle between Porte and Thomas. It will be interesting to see these two friends go head to head and I expect Richie Porte to come out on top, but not by much.
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