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Evenepoel, Nibali, Valverde headline stacked Volta a la Comunitat Valenciana field

The five-day Spanish race will see the riders go off-road with a race-defining summit finish on the Alto Antenas del Maigmó Tibi.

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Bike races are like buses, you wait for one and two come along.

The 2022 season is picking up speed and races are coming thick and fast at the peloton. The wait for road racing is well and truly over.

After the men’s European calendar kicked off with the Mallorca Challenge, the second Spanish race of the year gets underway this week with the Volta a la Comunitat Valenciana. It also ends with what will be the first women’s race of the year, the Vuelta CV Feminas.

The race has had a patchy history due to lack of funding, but it is one of the longest-standing events on the Spanish racing calendar after it held its first edition in 1929.

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Since its revival in 2016, following a seven-year hiatus, the race has gone from strength to strength. It has become a firm early-season fixture for many in the men’s peloton, with its mountainous and rolling terrain a good tester of form.

The women’s race is far younger, and this year’s edition will be just the fourth, but it already has a strong list of winners including former world champion Marta Bastianelli. With another four-day race in the region later in February focused on the stage races, this is a chance for the sprinters to get one on the board early doors.

Going off-road

With just five stages to decide the winner, there’s no beating around the bush with the parcours. The riders will be sent straight into the medium mountains on stage 1 with four classified climbs plotted along the 166km route from Les Alqueries to Torralba del Pinar.

The biggest ascent of the day is El Remolcador, a second category rise that tops out just below the 1,000-meter mark. The final climb of the day, the second category Torralba del Pinar, peaks just three kilometers from the finish and should make for some early splits in the overall classification.

A rolling stage follows the next day with five categorized climbs — three cat 3 and two cat 2 — with a flat finish. Sprinters should prevail here as the GC riders try to stay out of trouble.

Also read: Alejandro Valverde debuts final season with a flurry

Stage 3 has been dubbed the ‘queen stage’ of this year’s race with six classified climbs, totaling 3,500m of climbing, and an off-road gravel section. The 155km stage is likely to have a defining impact on the battle for the overall classification.

Starting in Alicante, the race will head along the coast towards Benidorm before turning inland towards the mountains. It’s an area that many riders will know very well given its proximity to the favored pre-season training camp hotspot of Calpe.

The mountainous terrain will soften the riders, but pièce de resistance will be the summit finish on the first category Alto Antenas del Maigmó Tibi. The climb is not too long at just under six kilometers but it averages 10 percent and takes the riders off-road for two of the final three kilometers.

“For several years we have been searching for a unique mountain finish location, including unpaved dirt road, and we have finally found one that meets the VCV requirements. The finish of stage 3 will be spectacular” race technical director Paco Benítez said.

“The great novelty will be the section of an unpaved dirt road just two kilometers from the finish line, with a gradient of 10 percent on average. We expect an epic ending to be remembered for a long time.”

Any weather or crash issues aside, this is the last big opportunity to make a difference in the overall classification with just one third category climb remaining across the final two stages.

The women’s race will take place over the same 92k course as the final stage of the men’s event on the outskirts of Valencia, where a sprinter is likely to prevail again.

Remco Evenepoel vs Vincenzo Nibali vs Alejandro Valverde

A total of 15 WorldTour teams will be on the start line in Les Alqueries on Wednesday, and some have brought their big hitters for the occasion.

Home hero Alejandro Valverde is fresh off a win in the Trofeo Andratx at the Mallorca Challenge last week. The Movistar rider is going all-in for what is set to be his final season as a professional — well, that’s what he says anyway.

With opportunities to add to his win tally dwindling as the weeks go on, Valverde will be gunning for everything he can get. However, he’ll have some stiff competition to beat if he wants to win here for a fourth time, including his teammate Enric Mas.

Remco Evenepoel is set to get his 2022 campaign underway at the race and will lead the GC charge for Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl. It is the first time that the young Belgian has competed at the race, and he will be a red-hot favorite for the title.

The team also has Fabio Jakobsen in its seven-rider line-up, who will be looking to boss the sprints and get some early wins in the bank.

Vincenzo Nibali is making his first appearance in Astana colors at the race since returning to the team over the winter. The Italian has some big plans for 2022 and he’ll want to have a good start to kick things off well.

Defending champion Stefan Küng is not racing but Groupama-FDJ has rising star Attila Valter in its line-up. Marc Soler will be leading the way for UAE Team Emirates, while Teo Geoghegan Hart is Ineos’ GC man.

Other GC contenders are Sam Oomen (Jumbo-Visma), Pello Bilbao (Bahrain-Victorious), Lucas Hamilton (BikeExchange-Jayco), Jakob Fuglsang (Israel-Premier Tech), Wilco Kelderman (Bora-Hansgrohe), Giulio Ciccone (Trek-Segafredo), Ilnur Zakarin (Gazprom-Rusvelo), and Mikel Nieve (Caja-Rural).

In the sprints, watch out for Jakobsen, Elia Viviani (Ineos Grenadiers), Ryan Gibbons (UAE), David Dekker (Jumbo-Visma), Giacomo Nizzolo (Israel-Premier Tech), Alexander Kristoff (Intermarché-Wanty), and Nikias Arndt (Team DSM).

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