This week’s Volta a Catalunya marks the start of the definitive countdown to the Giro d’Italia as Remco Evenepoel (Soudal-QuickStep), Primoz Roglic (Jumbo-Visma) and Geraint Thomas (Ineos Grenadiers) begin their final build-up for the first Grand Tour of the 2023 season.
Evenepoel and Roglic are the two stand-out favourites for May, and as the Volta a Catalunya will be their only opportunity for a direct face-off before heading to Italy, the week-long race will be taken as the key reference point to their bigger duel in a little over five weeks.
Initially set to act as Roglic’s debut for 2023 after his operations on his shoulder over the winter, the much-anticipated meeting of the two Giro contenders could have been something of a damp squib if Roglic had headed to Catalunya purely to rub the last of the winter rust off his wheels.
But having started racing earlier, in Tirreno-Adriatico, and having won all three of the toughest stages there as well as the overall, Roglic is clearly in flying form. Even if the subsequent speculation that sparked that he could switch to the Tour de France instead was quickly stamped on by his team management, that kind of result bodes well for both Catalunya and the Giro d’Italia.
At the same time, Remco Evenepoel’s better-than-expected performance in the UAE Tour, where he marked a podium as his goal and then ended up taking the overall win, coupled with his recent Strava-record-busting rides while at altitude in the Teide, also indicate that the reigning World Champion is also on excellent climbing form.
As if that wasn’t reason enough to make the Volta one of the maximum high points of stage racing this season outside the Grand Tours themselves, the presence of Geraint Thomas, a former podium finisher in Catalunya and another major 2023 Giro contender, will considerably add to the interest. Then the sense that the Volta represents a dry run for Italy will be even further boosted by the presence of Joao Almeida (UAE Team Emirates). The former Giro leader’s third place overall in the Volta last year, where Almeida won the toughest mountain stage and briefly held the top spot overall before being caught napping by final winner Sergio Higuita (Bora-Hansgrohe) and Richard Carapaz, raises the chances of the Portuguese racer firing on at least several cylinders in Catalunya this year, too.
Nothing could replicate the Giro in full, of course, and two of the most obvious caveats on drawing too many conclusions from…
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