A well-rounded squad, which includes 2013 winner Dan Martin, will head to the Spanish World Tour event.
The fourth oldest stage race in the calendar, Volta a Catalunya will celebrate this year its 96th edition, which is scheduled to take place between 21-27 March. Sticking to the format of the past years, Volta a Catalunya will be once again a race mainly for the climbers, who'll have to overcome 20 categorized ascents, and possibly bad weather, on their road to glory. With no time trial or bonus seconds on the route, the race will be decided strictly on the road, where the contenders will have plenty of opportunities to go to the attack and put pressure on their rivals.
The week-long race will start in the seaside town of Calella and will conclude in Barcelona, with the traditional stage over the Montjuic climb. Between these two, the peloton will visit Olot, La Molina, Port Ainé, Vals and Vilanova i la Geltru, with the fight set to reach its climax on stages 3 and 4, which will both end on an uphill. Of the two, the Port Ainé stage will be the toughest, having two special category climbs along the way, including the one at the finish, which averages 6.3% over 18.9 kilometers, taking the riders to an altitude of 1975 meters.
Winner of the Volta a Catalunya in 2013, when he became only the second Irish rider in history to triumph in the general classification, Daniel Martin will spearhead a strong Etixx – Quick-Step team that also includes Julian Alaphilippe, Maxime Bouet, David De La Cruz, Laurens De Plus (the 20-year-old who'll make his debut in a World Tour race), Gianni Meersman, Petr Vakoč and Carlos Verona.
Etixx – Quick-Step will be led from the car at the Spanish event by sport directors Jan Schaffrath and Brian Holm, and the latter talked about the parcours: "It's pretty much the same Catalunya. I like this race, always did, because it's very well-organized and with varied terrain: some sprint finishes, big breakaways and the typical mountain stages, which means everyone will have a chance."
The team's sport director also shared his thoughts on the eight riders who'll make-up the squad for the fifth World Tour race of the season: "We have a strong team, with Daniel Martin, who's already won the overall, and will ride again for the GC. We'll see how far he can go. The same can be said also about Carlos, I'm very curious to find out what he can do. Petr is in great form since February, and will target some stages, just as Gianni, who comes here after finishing third in Handzame, where he showed that his form is improving. It will be an important race, but from a different point of view, also for Julian Alaphilippe and Laurens De Plus. As we know, Julian's winter training has been hampered by illness, so now he will build up and add kilometers under the belt. As for Laurens, Catalunya will be part of his learning process, and I'm sure he will fare well, especially as he has a good teacher in Daniel Martin."
Photo credit: ©Tim De Waele