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Volta ao Algarve: Eight riders to watch

VeloNews analyzes the biggest names heading to the Volta ao Algarve, including Evenepeol, Pidcock and McNulty

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The 48th edition of the much-anticipated Volta ao Algarve kicks off on Wednesday with a stellar field expected to line up for the five-day event. Former winners Remco Evenepoel and Geraint Thomas will be on the start line, along with a host of top-name sprinters.

The route comprises of two major uphill finishes, two days for the sprinters and a 32km time trial, with the final stage set to decide the overall with two ascents of the Alto do Malhao.

Also read: Preview – Volta ao Algarve

VeloNews has picked eight of the biggest names in the race to watch out for over the coming days. During the race, don’t forget to check back for news, interviews, race tech, and much more.

Name: Remco Evenepoel
Age: 22
Team: Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl
Reason to watch: The 2020 race winner heads to Portugal on the back of a mixed outing in Valenciana earlier in the month. The youngster won the opening stage in Spain and looked on course to win the overall before the gravel sectors on stage 3 undid his overall ambitions. The Belgian still managed to finish second on GC but his gravel “Achilles Heel” won’t be so vulnerable in Algarve. The route couldn’t be better suited to the versatile all-rounder with two short summit finishes, a lengthy time trial, and a robust squad around him. Finish ahead of Evenepoel and you’ve won the race. He’s the rider to beat.

Name: Tobias Foss
Age: 24
Team: Jumbo Visma
Reason to watch: The former Tour de l’Avenir winner had a breakthrough year in 2021. He took on the mantle of leadership at the Giro d’Italia after George Bennett succumbed to illness and the Norwegian gamely hung on for 9th overall in Milan. Those achievements were somewhat overshadowed by both time and Jonas Vingegaard at the Tour de France in July but Foss heads into this season with his stock still high. He wasn’t able to replicate his Giro form in the second half of 2021 but he open his account in Portugal and that long 32km time trial could be the basis for a strong overall challenge. He’ll return to the Giro once more in May – this time with Tom Dumoulin at his side – but an early season success would go a long way to cementing a path towards Italy.

Name: Tom Pidcock
Age: 22
Team: Ineos Grenadiers
Reason to watch: Dave Brailsford’s British team arrives at the Volta ao Algarve with an incredibly deep line-up. Last year’s runner-up Ethan Hayter is present, along with two-time former race winners Geraint Thomas and Michal Kwiatkowski. However, it’s Pidcock who gets the nod from VeloNews. The recently crowned cyclo-cross world champion hasn’t raced on the road yet this season, and the pressure will be off as he finds his form ahead of a hectic spring campaign. That said, the 22-year-old will still challenge himself throughout the race and if Hayter is still feeling his way back to full strength after an illness hit January, then expect Pidcock to step up.

Name: Brandon McNulty
Age: 23
Team: UAE Team Emirates
Reason to watch: In the off-season, McNulty made it clear that the early season week-long races were among his main objectives for the season. That mission starts with the Volta ao Algarve and a genuine chance of leadership for the ever-improving American rider. The time trial and the climbs suit his skill set, while his form has kicked on another gear over the off-season. The 23-year-old already has a win under his belt and he’s come close to doubling that tally ever since the year began. He doesn’t have the uphill sprint of some of his rivals but in terms of sheer consistency, McNulty should be in the hunt for at least a top-five overall.

Name: Tim Merlier
Age: 29
Team: Alpecin Fenix
Reason to watch: The 29-year-old had a huge breakthrough season in 2021 with a string of victories, including a maiden grand tour stage at the Giro d’Italia. This time around everyone will be watching Merlier like a hawk and the underdog tag will no longer wash when he takes on his WorldTour rivals. We’ve not seen the Belgian in action yet in 2022 but with two sprint stages up for grabs, the Alpecin Fenix train will be entirely devoted to their fast-finishing sprinter. It’s also contract year, so expect rival teams to be scouting for his signature if he can back up his 2021 success.

Name: Sergio Higuita
Age: 24
Team: Bora-Hansgrohe
Reason to watch: The Colombian won his first and only race so far in 2022 with a fine victory in his national championships earlier this month and he’ll be looking to bring that perfect run of form to Europe. EF-Education was disappointed to lose the 24-year-old last year but their loss is Bora’s and Ralf Denk’s gain, and Higuita could continue to develop his already impressive skills over the next three years. The course in Algarve suggests that Higuita will target stage wins, with his time trialing likely to end his GC bid, but might just mean that he has greater freedom on the final summit finish when all the stronger time trialists are watching each other. Expect fireworks.

Name: Fabio Jakobsen
Age: 25
Team: Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl
Reason to watch: After returning to the peloton just under a year ago following his life-threatening crash, Jakobsen made up for lost time with a string of victories in the second half of 2021. Among his tally were three stages and the points jersey at the Vuelta a Espanña and he’s hit the ground running this year too, courtesy of two fine stage wins in Valenciana. All the talk – externally at least – is over which sprinter Patrick Lefevere will pick for the Tour, with Jakobsen vying with last year’s comeback story, Mark Cavendish, for that much-vaunted sprinter’s spot. Right now it’s hard to see who has the edge but remaining injury-free and consistent will be crucial. There’s a lot of road between here and the Grand Départ but a win or two in Algarve will only improve Jakobsen’s hopes of making a Tour debut.

Name: Mads Pedersen
Age: 26
Team: Trek Segafredo
Reason to watch: The Dane had a mixed 2021 owing to injury and health problems but he’s made up for the lost time already with a stage win and the point jersey in Besseges and second place in the Grand Prix Cyclist de Marseille La Marseillaise. The spring classics will ultimately define whether the 26-year-old has had a successful season but before he arrives at the cobbles there’s the small matter of Algarve, UAE Tour, and Paris-Nice to take care of. That trio of races provides Pedersen with the opportunity to boost both his win rate and his form, and ultimately take some of the pressure off before his biggest objectives. A couple more wins and he’ll already be looking at one of his best starts to a season.

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