Next week at the Volta a la Comunitat Valencia, seven Mitchelton-SCOTT riders will kick start their 2019 seasons, with Briton Adam Yates ready to test his legs on the climbs, European champion Matteo Trentin eyeing sprint stages and Giro d’Italia stage winner Esteban Chaves making a much anticipated return to racing.
Chaves will get the chance to pin a number on his jersey once again after an eight month hiatus due to being diagnosed with Epstein-barr virus along with sinus and allergy reactions mid-way through the 2018 season.
With plenty of kilometres in the legs after a tough Spanish training camp, the balanced seven-rider squad are ready to get back into the peloton and hope to carry on the team’s successful momentum from Australia.
Chris Juul-Jensen – (DEN, 29)
Luka Mezgec – (SLO, 30)
Esteban Chaves – (COL, 29)
Jack Haig – (AUS, 25)
Mikel Nieve – (SPA 34)
Matteo Trentin – (ITA 29)
Adam Yates – (GB, 26)
With a lung-busting welcome back to racing, the tour kicks off proceedings with a 10km team time trial on day one, followed by a moderately hilly but potential sprint stage for day two.
The climbers will have a chance to stretch their legs in the mountains on stages three and four, which will be a good welcome back test for the likes of Mikel Nieve, Jack Haig, Yates and Chaves. Stage three looks to be the most decisive for the general classification with a steep finishing climb, before racing concludes with a short 88km pan-flat final stage for the sprinters in Valencia.
As always at the start of the season in Europe, the racing and competition can be quite unpredictable. One man to watch will be world champion Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) who won the event last year and will be looking for a strong showing in the rainbow bands whilst racing in his home country. Luis Leon Sanchez (Astana) was a consistently high finisher on the hilly stages last year along with teammate Jakob Fugslang, and the pair will likely be marked riders in this year’s edition once again.
Last year Adam Yates just missed out on a podium finish with fourth place after a strong showing on stage four when he climbed to second place behind Valverde, who did enough to secure the overall victory. Luka Mezgec also came close to a stage victory in 2018 with a second place on the opening sprint stage.
In 2017 the team tasted success with former team rider Magnus Cort who claimed a stage win on stage three.
“I’m really happy, excited, nervous and anxious to start racing again. It is a long time for me without racing so everything is a big question mark, but with this team and my teammates it will be awesome like always. I’m sure we will share awesome experiences and like always we will do the maximum we can at the race.
“I feel good, I started to train normally again since the middle of September last year. I needed to have a lot of patience because my performance was at the minimum level I have ever had in my life. I really had to start again from zero but now it is awesome to be back on the bike.
“I am excited that I can pin a number on my back again really soon. It is hard to say if I will be back at the normal level, this is a big question mark but I am excited to see.
“I hope to get through the race well, recover good day-by-day and start to put some kilometres of racing back into my legs, but the most important thing is that I want to enjoy the race like I used to do.”
“My winter training has been really good with good weather in Monaco and over Christmas it was really good as I also did 10days of cross-country skiing and two cycle-cross races, so I feel ready to race now. It’s time to go, I feel bored to train.
“I am really happy to start to race again especially because this year I will start the season without an injury and I have again six months with the European champions jersey, so I want to honour it and win with the team of course.
“I think probably there could be sprints on two days in Valencia, the second day is pretty hard but still can be possible. I really want to be in the mix and breathe again the competition, I’m ready to start this season.”
Dave McPartland – Sport director
“We want to have a good crack at getting results, there’s guys really ready to race and get some early runs on the board, but we really want to make sure we just go through the process well, riding in the bunch, positioning and so on. For three months guys haven’t raced so they will need to blow out the cobwebs, not just physically but mentally and we want to do this right from the start.
“We have GC ambitions and will set up our climbers for the hardest stage. If Adam hasn’t lost any time before then, then he should be in contention for the GC, this will of course depend on how the first couple of stages go and we will see how the TT will effect things.
“For the potential sprint stages we have both Trentin and Mezgec who are both really ready to race now and it will be really good to have Chaves back and welcome him back to racing. From all reports he is coming at a level were he should be able to handle the race with no troubles so we are just looking forward to having him back racing with the team.”
2019 Vuelta a Valencia – Race Details:
Wednesday, 6th Feb: Stage 1, Orihuela – Orihuela, 10km TT
Thursday, 7th Feb: Stage 2, Alicante – Alicante, 166km
Friday, 8th Feb: Stage 3, Quart de Poblet – Chera, 194km
Saturday, 9th Feb: Stage 4, Vila-real – Alcalà-Alcossebre, 188km
Sunday, 10th Feb: Stage 5, Paterna – Valencia, 88.5km
Thomas will make his season debut when he comes barrelling down the start ramp of Wednesday’s opening time trial in the elegant spa town of Orihuela, and it will be his first race since the 2018 Tour of Britain, where he finished a low-key 34th overall.
Thomas’ form will be an unknown so far out from his big objectives of 2019, and following his capture of the Tour de France last year, this February there is inevitably something of a feel of uncharted waters for the Welshman.
But the Sky leader has a strong track record of success in early season races, too, winning the time trial and finishing second overall in Portugal’s Volta ao Algarve last year, and claiming the race overall in two previous Februarys.
Even so, it almost goes without saying that Valverde is the main pre-race favourite. Three times a winner of the Valenciana, in 2004, 2007 and again in 2018, Valverde has won the five-day race more times than anyone else. Given Valverde’s liking for hitting the ground running in the early season, he is all but certain to be the main reference point for the rest of the contenders.
Valverde’s lack of a win at Challenge Mallorca does nothing to diminish that status. Last season he picked up just one podium finish in Mallorca, then promptly trashed the opposition in the Valenciana with two stage wins and the overall victory.
While it is still only February, and a certain percentage of the field will be trekking around the Valencia region this week simply to get used to the feel of racing again, the event represents a valuable prize in itself. A list of past winners decorated with names as prestigious as Eddy Merckx, Bernard Hinault and Rik Van Looy should serve to whet the ambition of the leaders of the 24 teams taking part, 11 of which are WorldTour.
The Volta a la Comunitat Valenciana is one of Spain’s most venerable stage races, which began life as the Vuelta a Levante – the geographical term for the coastal regions of eastern Spain and the name under which it was run until 1977 – back in 1929. When Spain’s economic crisis bit deeply at the end of the last decade, Valencia’s dearth of sponsors caused its most recent of several cancellations. The Volta a la Comunitat Valenciana began its newest lease of life in 2016, having been off the calendar for eight years following its 2009 postponement.
The five-day route for 2019 has marked similarities to last year’s course, right down to an identical start and finish for the final stage, running from Paterna into Valencia.
But if that particular stage is 50 kilometres shorter than last year, and much easier, the key change overall is that the race’s team time trial has been dropped, with a short opening individual time trial added in to compensate.
Although only 10.2 kilometres long, stage 1 test against the clock in the spa town of Orihuela is a combination of technical sections in the old part of town and a final, intense 500-metre ascent, averaging nine percent, finishing just outside a local seminary.
Two stages through extremely hilly terrain then take the Valenciana northwards. The first, on Thursday, is a circuit through the lower mountains behind Alicante that will likely end in a small bunch sprint or breakaway, then stage 3 on Friday is a far more dangerous trek of nearly 200km across the sierras in the west of the Valencia region, culminating in two long, punchy third category ascents to the tiny town of Chera.
Saturday’s stage 4, in northern Valencia, will likely decide the race. The 188 kilometres of rolling terrain, including a second category and then a first category ascent – the only one of the whole race – look set to shred the peloton to perhaps 50 riders at most. But the key feature of the stage is the final 3.2km, brutally steep, climb to the Santa Llusia hermitage near the town of Alcossebre.
This climb last appeared in a race in the Vuelta a España in 2017, where the stage was won from a break by Alexey Lutsenko (Astana Pro Team), with its 18 percent slopes also featuring a ferocious little skirmish between some of the Vuelta’s top favourites. These included Esteban Chaves (Mitchelton-Scott), who lines out in this year’s Volta a la Comunitat Valenciana for what will be his first appearance in a race since his rollercoaster Giro d’Italia of 2018.
Apart from Chaves, Valverde and Thomas, there is a long list of star names on the Valenciana roster this year. Greg Van Avermaet (CCC Pro Team), Stijn Vanderbergh (AG2R La Mondiale), Niki Terpstra (Direct Energie), Edvald Boasson Hagen (Dimension Data) Dylan Teuns and Matej Mohoric (Bahrain-Merida), Matteo Trentin (MItchelton-Scott), Alexander Kristoff (UAE Team Emirates), Dan Martin (UAE Team Emirates) and Adam Yates (Mitchelton-Scott) all feature, along with Luis León Sanchez and the Izagirre brothers, Ion and Gorka in a very strong Astana Pro Team line-up. There is also a healthy list of sprinters, including Magnus Cort (Astana Pro Team) Nacer Bouhanni (Cofidis) and Dylan Groenewegen (Team Jumbo-Visma).
On Wednesday afternoon, however, most eyes will be on Tony Martin (Team Jumbo-Visma), who together with Thomas and his Sky teammate David de la Cruz is likely to be the favourite for the short time trial in Orihuela. While Martin has past form for strong starts in Valencia – he won a stage here in 2017 – Valverde cannot be ruled out either, given his strong showings on similar courses at recent editions of the Volta a Andalucia.