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by Alex Howes
March 22, 2016
Photography by Sabine Jacob/Cor Vos
Have you seen the start list for Volta a Catalunya? Chris Froome, Nairo Quintana, Fabio Aru, Dan Martin, Tejay van Garderen, Richie Porte, Tom Dumoulin… The list is insane. Virtually every GC hitter is there. Yeah, even Alberto Contador.
However, if you live in North America or Australia, there is a decent chance you have never even heard of Volta Catalunya. Often overshadowed by Paris-Nice, and sandwiched between Milan-San Remo and the looming cobbled classics, Catalunya is easy to overlook. But hear me now, this race is the real deal.
With no time trials and a Spanish style worship of climb-heavy courses, this race offers a full week of long hard stages with little rest. (While the race may have a similar style as most Spanish races, if you talk to anyone in Catalunya you will quickly learn that Catalunya is not Spain. The fight for independence in Catalunya is a big deal)
Fancy yourself a numbers person? Consider this, last year I racked up a TSS of just under 2000 for one of the biggest weeks of the year. Paris-Nice didn’t even make it up to 1500. Not a numbers person? Think of it like this: Catalunya is roughly the equivalent of doing a nearly three-hour time trial each day, for seven days, at 100% full gas. It stings.
What can you expect to see? Well, to point out the obvious, expect to see an all-star climbers showdown on stages 3 and 4 — unless it snows. Snow is more than just a fairytale in the Pyrenees, and the abbreviated queen stage back in 2012 was without a doubt the coldest I have ever been on a bike.
With few sprinters, expect to see aggressive racing from anyone who doubts they have the mustard to wax the best in the big mountains — and that would mean roughly 175 riders. The final circuit race in Barcelona is one of the harder circuits on the World Tour.
As for myself, I have been training. (Duh, I am always training, but recently I have been training my ass off.)
Long days, stacks of intervals, early to bed, lots of salad, lots of morning pump-up speeches while looking into the mirror. It is always an interesting balance between trying to show up light enough to hang on and play a solid supporting role for Cannondale’s big GC boys — Uran, Woods, Formolo and Dombrowski are also going to be there — yet strong enough to have a go on some of the punchy finals.
Gone are the days of November, where switching from beer to bourbon improves the strength-to-weight ratio by 10% in a week. This time of year requires real monk-like discipline.
The end of March is when pros really find out if all the winter work and experiments have shaped into a money-making machine or a giant disappointment.
January is too early to tell, February is still just a test, early March is still practically February. But by the end of March, no more excuses. From here until mid-summer, each race will either build up the form or slowly and systematically demolish the organism.
In other words, by now, you either “it,” or you are staring down a long, dark corridor of pain.
Tune in to Catalunya as best you can. I don’t care if you just check the top 10 each day (it will be a top 10 worth seeing) or if you use your internet pirate skills to loot some live feed. It will be a week worth paying attention to if you wish to get the insider’s view into the rest of the stage-racing season.
Alex Howes is a senior member of the Cannondale Pro Cycling Team. Born and raised at the base of the Colorado Rockies, he has acquired a nearly insatiable thirst for adventure and all things wild. He’s completed every grand tour he’s started, including the Tour de France, twice. He took his first career win at the 2014 USA Pro Challenge, in Denver, Colorado, and finished as the top American at the world road championships in Richmond, Virginia, in 2015. He’s eyeing a spot on the 2016 U.S. Olympic road squad. Follow his adventures on Twitter, Instagram, and Pro Cycling Stats.