ALBUFEIRA, Portugal (VN) — Omega Pharma-Quick Step worked to reel in the day’s main breakaway in the opening stage at the Volta ao Algarve (Tour of the Algarve), but it was Paul Martens (Blanco) who snagged the win.
A late crash disrupted the approach and then a handful of riders pulled clear on a rising flat under the red kite in the resort town of Albufeira.
Martens slipped through to snag victory in his 2013 season debut. Mark Cavendish (Omega Pharma) crossed the line sixth in the chaotic finale of the 198.8km Algarve opener.
Marten’s early move caught the sprinters off-guard as he also claimed the overall leader’s jersey going into Friday’s second stage. Portuguese rider Tiago Machado (RadioShack-Leopard) punched across the line second with Theo Bos (Blanco) third.
The stage was animated from the gun along the rolling profile from Faro to Albufeiro, looping through the hills of Portugal’s Algarve coast. Five riders pulled clear in the first half hour of racing, including Chris Jones (UnitedHealthcare). The gap settled in at just under three minutes before Omega Pharma set tempo at the front of the bunch.
A steep hump under the red kite saw Martens, Machado, and others surge clear. It’s the same hill where Philippe Gilbert bounded to victory ahead of the pack in the 2011 tour.
Cavendish, who debuted his season with a win at the Tour de San Luís in January followed by four stages and the overall at the Tour of Qatar, is hoping to win one of the four stages here. Speaking before the stage, Cavendish said the team is riding to win both stages and the GC this week.
“My goal is to win a stage in every race I go to this year,” Cavendish said. “This is my first time racing here. We’ll see what happens. We also have guys here who want to do well in the GC. If there’s a chance, we’ll try to win, of course.”
Marten’s bolt foiled their plans, but Cavendish will have another shot in Friday’s 195km stage, which starts and finishes on the coast in Lagoa. The undulating course features a second-category climb at 80km, but there is plenty of bitumen to give the pack a chance to reel in any dangerous breakaways.
Omega Pharma will be riding to set up Cavendish for the sprint and to keep world time trial champion Tony Martin in close range on GC. Martin will try to stay close in Saturday’s hilltop finale to make a final punch for overall victory in Sunday’s 34km time trial.