April 17, 2024

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Why has the Tour of the Algarve (and not the subsequent UAE Tour) suddenly become the Mecca of cycling?

Why has the Tour of the Algarve (and not the subsequent UAE Tour) suddenly become the Mecca of cycling?

No, we're not going to pretend that the Tour of the Algarve has suddenly become the spring race par excellence, but the five-day event in Portugal is welcoming a surprising number of top riders this year. Why does this stage race attract a stronger field of participants than the UAE Tour, which starts on Monday?

Remco Evenepoel, Wout van Aart, Sepp Koss, Tess Pinot, Tom Pidcock, Filippo Ganna, Geraint Thomas, Daniel Martinez, Stefan Kung, Stefan Bissiger, Ben Healy, Jasper Stuyven, Tao Geoghegan Hart and a few friends.

There are stage races that have to deal with a less diverse field of participants. Especially at this time of year, when part of the peloton is still in altitude training and another part is commuting in the UAE.

Competition with the Tour of Oman (which ends today) and the UAE Tour (which starts on Monday) is intense, but not every rider is a fan of racing in the desert.

“It's the race par excellence where people say you lose your fitness, because it's so easy to race,” Sepp Vanmarcke told De Rode Lantaarn a few weeks ago.

“I've never been there myself, but the riders say so anyway. If there's no wind, no one wants to escape. The roads are very wide and if there are no fans, everyone arrives refreshed to the finish.”

Last year, Thomas de Gendt confirmed this thesis. In the fifth stage, his snail's speed had reached his hips to the point that he finally chose to train intensely with attacks.

“I also rode the Tour of Oman and in terms of wattage, those races here are disappointing,” De Gendt said a year ago. “I'm losing fitness here, because it's so easy in the Peloton.”

statue

Given the nature of the course, the seven-day event on sand will attract many of the best runners next week, and UAE Team Emirates will of course feature a strong line-up in the home race.

But the total package for the Algarve certainly doesn't have to be a big deal. Pro race penalty vs. WorldTour race.

Remco Evenepoel will not defend his overall victory in last year's UAE Tour, because the Belgian champion will face several (Tour) rivals in Portugal for the first time.

“I want to gain endurance in the race here towards Paris-Nice. In the Emirates, you have to be almost at your highest at the start, because you have a kind of loss of form,” Evenepoel explained to Renate Schot yesterday.

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“The racing can be very calm there, whereas here you have to push and pull every day. The track is difficult, towards Paris-Nice it is better and I can also complete a good training period when I return to Spain.”

If you want to win here, you have to be a complete rider and be able to do a little bit of everything. There's a lot of quality here and it usually comes out better this round. That's what we're looking for now and that's why I'm really enjoying racing here.

Remco Evenepoel

Evenepoel has good memories of this stage race. He got the final win in 2020 and 2022.

“Personally, I think this is one of the highest quality rounds of the entire season, with two sprint stages, two climb finishes, and a time trial that changes the tracks.”

“If you want to win here, you have to be a complete rider and you have to be able to do a little bit of everything. There's a lot of quality here and you usually come out of this Tour better. That's what we do.” I'm looking for it now and that's why I'm racing here with love.”

At Alto da Foia, where we finish on Thursday, there is also a statue of the Belgian lap group. It's an exact copy of his gesture of joy in 2020.

“I was very surprised when I heard this news a few years ago. It's a climb I've only done once before. I don't ride it every day. Maybe I'll try to take a photo there this week. It's a nice gesture.”

Dog weather in Oman

But as an organizer, you don't just attract a lot of stars to your race with nice souvenirs, even if it's an anniversary edition (50).

The commute to Portugal is a little less complicated for riders than a trip to the Emirates, especially if you as a driver can connect internal training in the wider region (such as Van Aert in Mallorca) with the first competition days of the season.

You also don't have to worry about jet lag after the Tour Down Under or stage races in Argentina or Colombia.

The race will be run this week in generally mild and favorable weather conditions.

Nice racing weather, whereas in the desert you sometimes run the risk of frying and in 2024 you really have to take the dog weather into account.

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Just ask the peloton in Oman, where they have already had to make significant cuts on several stages due to unprecedented extreme weather.

Atypical rain showers: Riders were not spared at the Tour of Oman.

Promising classic species

In the Algarve they boast the overall winners of the Giro (Hart), Tour (Thomas) and Vuelta (Evenepoel and Kos) on the field from Wednesday to Sunday. “The strongest field ever? It could be good,” confirms the Belgian champion.

The Algarve Tour is not a goal in itself for any of these athletes, but it is a good test case to assess your level and that of your competitors after a long winter.

Moreover, Evenepoel can, for example, estimate how his legs feel on Sunday evening, two weeks before Paris-Nice, the first real date.

Competitor Hart will ride the first kilometers of the race there after suffering a heavy fall in last year's Giro. Nothing is necessary, everything is permitted, in other words.

The above-mentioned classification men are great eaters of coles in the morning, afternoon and evening, but of course they will not face those high mountains in the Algarve.

The Alto da Foya (Thursday, 888m) and Alto do Malhão (Sunday, 514m) will make up the classification, but they are not purely specialist actions. These climbs are similar to the work in the Ardennes.

They also invite classics like Van Aert, Ganna, Pidcock and Küng for good rating.

If Pidcock dreams of the Tour, he could actually plant a flag here. Van Aert says he has no ambitions, but he gets his money's worth every day.

“I will choose my days,” he said last week. “There are a number of nice stages and a time trial. I have no ambitions for the general classification, and I mainly hope to come home with good feet and nice trials.”

He will certainly keep his chances in the sprint races on Wednesday and Friday against Jordi Meus and Gerben Thijsen, among others.

This course is not an out-of-class climb for Wout van Aert: does he have his sights set on the classification?

Olympic Test Case

Ghana is living proof that even if you are a tough guy, you don't stand a chance in this tournament. Last year, the Italian finished second in the final standings, just two seconds behind teammate Martinez.

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Jana also owes this excellent performance to the traditional time trial in the Algarve, although last year he only finished third after Kong and Cavagna.

But rest assured that Saturday's chrono stage is like a lap of the race.

Aside from defending Olympic champion Primoz Roglic and European champion Joshua Tarling, almost all potential Parisian bids are in place. Evenepoel himself described it as “almost a dress rehearsal for the World Time Trial Championship”.

On the undulating track in Albufeira (22 kilometers) they will push each other to the limits and it can also be checked during the race how good the return is after the planning work in the wind tunnel in recent months.

The UAE Tour also includes a time trial, but it is much shorter (12km) and time trial bikes are often not loaded on board, as the lather is not really worth the money.

Extra: Aside from the Amstel Gold Race and the Belgian Championship, this is the only race in which Van Aart and Yevenpoel will meet before they both go medal hunting in Paris.

World time trial champion Remco Evenepoel during wind tunnel testing this winter.

No “ugly desert”

No, this Algarve tour won't make or break the spring of sights.

You should always be wary of premature conclusions, but they will be an important indicator. Just for the peace of mind of the rider himself, who will also encounter many more landmarks compared to previous years due to the fairly fixed route.

Evenepoel and his teammates will gain self-knowledge more easily on Portuguese soil than on the UAE tour.

To complete the circle, former racer Stijn Stills confirmed the clichés about the UAE Tour in D Tribune last year.

“No one wants to turn away, the road ahead is always straight as you ride your bike through the desert – often ugly desert. You just wait and see for the last five kilometres.”

“And of course everyone is still fresh and suddenly there's a huge pace developing. So the sprints are very chaotic. It's beautiful to watch, but as a rider it's crazy.”

“I once rode a ride where we rode 50 watts in the first half hour. I attacked with Jasper de Buist and Victor Campenaerts to get up to a certain power. Even though we knew we would be passed before the finish line.”

We would be very surprised if similar testimonies appeared in Portugal on Sunday evening.

Tour of the Algarve

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