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Wout Poels: From altitude camp to first win since 2019

Dutch climber snatches race lead after early season altitude camp with 'the whole peloton' on Spain's Teide volcano.

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BAZA, Spain (VN) — Wout Poels is flying high in his 2022 season debut after sleeping high at altitude on Tenerife’s Teide volcano.

The 34-year-old Dutch climber was parked on the flanks of Spain’s highest mountain along with five other Bahrain Victorious teammates in a pre-season training camp at altitude.

The stint already is paying off dividends. He parachuted into the Ruta del Sol this week, and kicked to his first victory since 2019 in quick succession.

“It was the first time I did altitude so early in the season before my first race,” Poels said after winning stage 4. “I quite like it. It worked pretty well.”

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In fact, the rider whom Poels beat in the two-rider breakaway in the decisive climbing stage at the five-day Ruta — Alexey Lutsenko — also recently came off an altitude camp.

Lutsenko won his first race in 2022 directly after a camp at Teide when he powered away from the field at the Clásica Jaén Paraíso Interior on Monday.

“Lutsenko was also there, it was busy up there. It was like the whole peloton there,” Poels said of his recent Teide camp. “My reason is because I want to do two altitude camps before the Giro and it fits in really well.”

Teide volcano was packed with ‘the whole peloton’

File photo of a Teide training camp with the Slipstream franchise. (Photo: Andrew Hood)

Poels joined Bahrain Victorious teammates Jack Haig, Damiano Caruso, Sonny Colbrelli, and Gino Mader at the block on Teide.

The towering volcano, which tops out at more than 12,000 feet, is one of the most popular altitude training camp destinations in the WorldTour.

The “parador” hotel perched on the volcano’s crater is typically booked up with dozens of top WorldTour pros.

The comments reveal how altitude camps are now a permanent fixture in WorldTour racing, and how the stints at altitude are coming earlier and earlier in the season.

A generation ago, a top GC rider might try to squeeze in one 10-day or two-week camp at altitude right before a grand tour.

Today, many of the top pros are transitioning directly from altitude camps and diving straight into competition, often with impressive results. And then going back to altitude.

Poels said he’s planning two more altitude camps before taking on the Giro d’Italia later this season.

Poels told the media he’s putting the Ardennes and a return to the Giro at the center of his plans. Mikel Landa will be one of the leaders, but Poels confirmed he will “see my own opportunities.”

Ruta del Sol: Poels snatches leader’s jersey and win

On Saturday, Poels and Lutsenko peeled away from the elite group of attackers who broke free on two first-category climbs early in the stage over the Sierra Nevada.

Bahrain Victorious also slotted Haig and Caruso into the move, while Astana saw defending champion Miguel Ángel López into the winning break.

Simon Yates (BikeExchange-Jayco) was among a handful of riders racing without teammates in the leading group. The British rider, who climbed into seventh overall at 21 seconds back, said there wasn’t a lot of cooperation from behind.

“I knew I was going to get out-numbered with Bahrain and Astana there. They had a lot of numbers, and there wasn’t a lot of cooperation there,” Yates said.

“I need to look at the GC and have a proper look tonight. And then we’ll go from there,” Yates said about taking on Woels and Bahrain in Sunday’s showdown. “You saw the numbers they had there in the front group. A lot of us were on our own there, so if they’re strong again tomorrow they’ll be hard to beat. We’ll always give it a crack.”

Poels and Lutsenko powered toward the line, but with the gap eventually dropping to just 18 seconds to the chasers, there was no time for bargaining.

“If I knew that tomorrow would be flat and I would win the GC, then maybe we do it,” said Poels, confirming there was no deal hatched on the stage.

“The thing is, I also don’t have so many victories the past few years, so every opportunity you get, you have to take.

“It was time again to win, and it’s a super-nice feeling,” he said. “I had a really nice winter, and I trained really hard. It’s nice that it straight away pays off.

“I was riding for GC also, and I know I have a strong sprint in the end, but the conditions were not ideal because we had a headwind, so it was a little bit of a gamble,” he said. “It was just enough, so I’m happy.”

The 68th Ruta will be decided in Sunday’s finale ending with a steep final climb.

Poels leads López by 10 seconds, and nearly another dozen riders are hovering within less than a half-minute.

Everything will be decided on the Cat. 2 climb to Chiclana de Segura. With no time bonuses on the line, it’s Poels’ race to lose.