MADRID (AFP) – A stellar cast headed by Sky’s Chris Froome and several other grand tour stars will battle it out at the seven-stage Volta a Catalunya (Tour of Catalonia) this week in an early season indicator as to who is favorite to ride to victory at the Tour de France in July.
Defending Tour de France champion Froome will be joined by fellow grand tour winners Alberto Contador (Tinkoff), Nairo Quintana (Movistar), and Fabio Aru (Astana).
Froome will be supported by Sky teammate Geraint Thomas fresh off a Paris-Nice victory. Defending champion Richie Porte and his BMC teammate Tejay van Garderen are also in the mix, as is two-time former winner Joaquím Rodríguez (Katusha).
“The level of the line-up can only be matched, probably, by the Tour de France,” Contador told Tinkoff’s website.
“There are so many rivals that there isn’t any in particular that can be singled out because virtually all teams will bring a favorite, who will be flanked by a very strong squad.”
Contador narrowly missed out on a Paris-Nice win last week, finishing as runner-up to Thomas by just four seconds. The cancellation of the third stage — due to snow — did not do him any favors.
He believes the after-effects of catching a cold could hamper his chances in Catalonia.
“I hope to have totally recovered at the start, even if it might cost me a bit more in the first days,” added Contador.
“However, I have a good foundation fitness and I trust my body will respond well.”
Froome races for first time in Europe this season after beginning his year with victory at the Herald Sun Tour in Australia last month.
Likewise, Quintana has had a quiet start to the year with third in the Tour of San Luis and fourth in Colombian championships.
Both are expected to renew their rivalry in Catalonia.
Italian Aru is also preparing for a tilt at the Tour de France later in the year as Astana’s team leader, with teammate Vincenzo Nibali targeting a home victory in the Giro d’Italia instead.
Stage 1, March 21: Calella – Calella (175.8 km)
Stage 2, March 22: Mataro – Olot (178.7 km)
Stage 3, March 23: Gerona – La Molina (172.1 km)
Stage 4, March 24: Baga – Port Aine (172.2 km)
Stage 5, March 25: Rialp – Valls (187.2 km)
Stage 6, March 26: Sant Joan Despi – Vilanova i la Geltru (197.2 km)
Stage 7, March 27: Barcelona – Barcelona (136.4 km)