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89th Volta a Catalunya - UPT

Spain, May 18-24, 2009

ProTour continues in mountainous Catalunya

By Laura Weislo

Gustavo Cesar Veloso won in 2008, but will not defend his title
Photo ©: Unipublic
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The UCI's ProTour continues in the 89th running of the Volta a Catalunya on Monday. The race sees a bit of a change from the past years, offering up more selective stage finishes for the climbers while keeping a few days in reserve for the sprinters. With two stages featuring category one climbs within 20km of the finish and the queen stage featuring a massive mountain top finish, the time gaps should be more than the handful of seconds which Gustavo Cesar Veloso (Karpin Galicia) used to win last year.

It all kicks off with the brief but intense prologue in Lloret de Mar, which was won by Thor Hushovd last year. The Norwegian will be back to look for another chance to don the leader's white jersey.

Whomever should take the lead on the first stage will most likely give it up the following day, which this year features the Cat. 1 Alt de Sant Pere de Rodes with less than 20km to go followed by a breakneck descent to Roses. It's definitely the domain of daredevil descender and Olympic champion Samuel Sanchez (Eustakltel-Euskadi).

The climbs inch closer to the finish line on stage three, with the double decker Alt de Jou and Collada Sobirana topping off about 7km from the line. A quick descent and then a short, uphill finish in La Pobla de Lillet will certainly favour the likes of Alejandro Valverde (should be be allowed to race) or perhaps Quick Step's Spanish mountain man, Carlos Barredo.

The fourth stage is the queen: 175.5km passing into the mountains of Andorra for a spectacular hilltop finish at Vallnord-Sector Pal. The climb is some 17.5km in length, but the early part of the ascent is on moderate grades of about 5%. The business end comes with 6.5km to go where the road turns sharply toward the heavens and punishes the riders with greater than 10% slopes. From there to the finish it doesn't get much easier, and we'll surely see a pure climber put in some time on this stage.

Thor Hushovd won two stages in 2008
Photo ©: Tim Van Wichelen
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If a breakaway doesn't stay clear, we could see someone like Juan Jose Cobo (Fuji-Servetto), Jesus Hernandez (Astana) or perhaps even Saxo Bank's young mountain bike convert, Jakob Fuglsang ride away to victory.

The sprinters will take over on stage five, as the stage loses more elevation than it gains, ending with a gentle 40km descent to Torredembarra. Hushovd might get a challenge from Gerald Ciolek (Milram) on this stage.

Stage six could be another one for the sprinters if they can control the escapes. That job will be made more difficult by the placement of a Cat. 2 climb at kilometre 32. However, the final ascent is some 45km from the line and preceded by a very long descent, which will aide the teams of the fast men. It will be a day for breakaway artists like Stéphane Augé (Cofidis) or Amets Txurruka (Euskaltel-Euskadi) to start tuning up their escape legs for the Tour de France.

The race then wraps up with a short 110.8km circuit finishing in Montemeló, the last 60km of which is practically all downhill. The brevity and profile will make things difficult for any breakaway to succeed.