When Evenepoel surged past teammate James Knox’s right shoulder and took flight on the sharp uphill of Rua Parque Forestal, he was only seen again some 50 kilometres later beyond the finish line.
It was confirmation of what we suspected: the Soudal-Quick Step leader will be the rider to beat in southern Portugal.
History is on Evenepoel’s side, with two overall Volta ao Algarve triumphs already to his name in his only two previous participations, in 2020 and 2022. Whoever wants to win this year’s race, will have to take on and beat Evenepoel.
Yet the list of riders honouring the 50th edition of the Volta ao Algarve are plentiful and many of them have shown impressive early-season form. The racing should be intense and intriguing, as the early season ramps from preparation races to big-name battles and hilly stage races.
Wout van Aert (Visma-Lease A Bike) is one such big-name rider.
The Volta ao Algarve’s two sprint stages, the 22km rolling time trial and two hill-top finishes in southern Portugal all offer exactly the kinds of opportunities that helps ultra-versatile Van Aert impress.
The comparative rarity of a Van Aert versus Evenepoel battle only renders this year’s race even more interesting: if their race schedules remain unchanged, Algarve is the only race in 2024 where Van Aert and Evenepoel will take both be present in their rival trade teams.
Other riders aiming to hone their Classics form alongside Van Aert in the Algarve include Tom Pidcock (Ineos Grenadiers) and Stefan Kung (Groupama-FDJ), both former stage winners in the five-day race.
Küng is likely to give Evenepoel a serious run for his money in the stage 4 time trial, which the Swiss rider captured last year, while Pidcock’s ability to shine on punchy uphill finishes and longer ascents will be in his favour on the hilly stages 2 and 5.
Evenepoel is not the only previous Algarve winner to return to Portugal this year.
Defending champion Dani Martínez (Bora-Hansgrohe) already proved he is in fine early season form with victory in his National Time Trial Championships a few weeks ago and Geraint Thomas (Ineos Grenadiers), never on the backfoot when it comes to racing against the clock, has won Volta ao Algarve twice overall in 2015 and 2016. Thomas arrives in…