As the Tour of the Algarve celebrates its Linen Anniversary (30th), the world of professional cycling is well-represented, with an all-star cast battling it out in what is arguably Portugal’s second biggest race of the year, behind the Tour of Portugal.
Like last year’s race, there are five stages – although one was changed to a 24km time trial at the last minute, when it was decided that the five-time Tour winner Lance Armstrong would be starting his preparation and his season here. Therefore, the Texan made it known that he was pleased the Portuguese organisers had added this test for him.
It’s unlikely that Armstrong will extend himself too much here: he may abandon, like in other early-season races. However, like the Tour of Murcia around this time last year, Armstrong may stick it out in a comfortable position then go for it in the time-trial. My Portuguese friend Daniel Monteiro has also suggested that Armstrong will work for homeboy Jose Azevedo here in Algarve, which is viable, as Bruyneel has noted below.
For many riders, in the smaller Div II and Div III Portuguese teams, this will be their only chance to race against Armstrong this season, let alone in their lifetime. I expect many will be wanting to beat him so they can recount the story in later life to children or grandchildren!
US Postal have brought some talented riders along with Armstrong and Azevedo. Johan Bruyneel remarked “The group for Algarve is comprised with some of the slower starters, guys whose objectives are a bit later in the season. Although Victor Hugo Pena [who came second in this race last year] and Floyd Landis might surprise with a good place in the general classification. Algarve is also Lance’s first race and I feel he’s ready to race. New team member Azevedo will also be motivated in his new team colours in his home country, so I certainly expect him to have a few good stages.” It’s also thought that Benjamin Noval and Jurgen van den Broeck will be riding here, alongside North Americans Zabriskie and Barry.
However, Postal aren’t the only foreign team here in Portugal. Cofidis have brought a line-up to match theirs, with Staf Scheirlinckx, Janek Tombak, Stuart O’Grady and Jimmy Engoulvent all in-form and gunning for stages. O’Grady will also see this race as good Classics preparation. Joseba Zubeldia, will lead the Orange Men, Euskaltel-Euskadi, after an excellent Etoile des Besseges, and they also bring new signing from Phonak, Iker Camano. In a last minute change after the Turkish Residency Tour was unceremoniously cancelled, Relax-Bodysol will be racing here, with a largely youthful Belgian team, headed by Sebastien Rosseler and Preben van Haecke.
RAGT-Semences’ best chances of victory is in an attack, which looks unlikely as the Portuguese peloton chases are usually organised superbly; they bring centenary Tour attacker Frederic Finot and French ITT Champion Eddy Seigneur. Rabobank and Vlaanderen have also brought their Espoir squads; Thomas Dekker and Jukka Vastaranta could surprise for the Dutch.
Milaneza-Maia are without last year’s winner Claus Michael Moller, who is yo-yoing back and forth between them and Alessio-Bianchi, but David Bernabeu and Victor Gamito are good climbers and able time-trialists, whilst Angel Edo – after being beaten in all stages by Candido Barbosa in last week’s GP CTT Correios – will be looking to get off the scoreboard with a sprint win.
LA Pecol will be gunning for their Portuguese ‘Valverde’, Candido Barbosa – he can sprint, climb and time-trial when he’s in-form. This is probably his favourite race of the year too, so you can bet he’d love to win a few stages or the overall. Since 1995, Barbosa has won 13 stages of this race, although in 1997 he won EVERY stage – six stages – and therefore, the overall. He also won overall in 2002, and he is Portugal’s best hope.
Wurth-Bom Petisco bring lighting sprinter Nuno Marta, alongside climber Nelson Victorino. Alberto Benito (Antarte-Rota do Moveis) and Martin Garrido (Barbot-Gaia) could do well on the flat-stage sprints, whilst Benito's teammate and new signing David Plaza is a solid climber and time-trialist, but the other Portuguese squads will be looking to gain publicity through attacks.
Records only go back as far as the 3rd Tour of Algarve, in 1977, which was won by Belmiro Silva – he also won in 1981 and 1984. In the latter event, there was the tragic death of the great Joaquim Agostinho. Agostinho, who won on Alpe d’Huez in 1979 and finished in the Tour de France top ten eight times, had vowed to keep racing till he was 50. At the age of 42, in 1984 in this race, a dog ran into the road and he died in the resulting crash. In 1991, then-second year pro Joaquim Andrade won the race as part of Sicasal… 13 years on, he’s still riding with Bom-Petisco. In the last ten years, Melchior Mauri, Alex Zulle and – last year – Claus Michael Moller have all won here.
Stage 1 – Albufeira-Albufeira, 149.4km
A stage for the hilly sprinters, although the only registered climb – a Cat 3 – is crested 89km from the finish. However, after a slight climb in the penultimate kilometre that could be a place for a do-or-die attack, the last 750km gradually go uphill; a finish that might favour Edo, Barbosa or even O’Grady.
Stage 2 – Castro Marim-Portimao, 182km
Although there are two Cat 3 climbs puncturing the flat parcours (the last of which is only 45km from the finish), there should be a bunch sprint unless a big group of big guns drives away and the peloton lets them go.
Stage 3 – Lagoa-Lagos, 180km
The Category 2 climb comes with over 120km to go, and the Cat 3 shouldn’t cause any problems, meaning a pancake flat finish for the fast men to battle it out on.
Stage 4 – Villa Real San Antonio-Tavira, 24km ITT
If Lance Armstrong is still in the race, he will be looking to test himself here, in a virtually flat race against the clock. Teammates Pena or Landis could beat him, if they’re in good form, as could Candido Barbosa or Victor Gamito. It’s hard to see who could do well here, though. However, the race will not be decided here.
Stage 5 – Parque das Cidades-Malhao, 178.5km
The overall winner will be up there with the best on the climb of Malhao. Before that, there is a Cat 2 and Cat 3 climb, both with over 95km to go. The finish climb of Malhao may be 2.5km, but it should bring out a dramatic overall winner. Will Lance have a go here, too?
Start List - Teams and Main Riders
US Postal Service (USA) - Armstrong, Azevedo, Pena, Landis
Cofidis Credit par le telephone (FRA) - O'Grady, Tombak, Scheirlinckx
Euskaltel-Euskadi (EUS/SPA) - Camano, J. Zubeldia
Rabobank/III (NED) - T. Dekker, Vastaranta
RAGT Semences (FRA) - Berthou, Finot, Seigneur
Vlaanderen 2016 (BEL) - S. De Wilde
Relax-Bodysol (SPA) - Rosseler, Vanlandschoot, Vanhecke
Milaneza-Maia (POR) - Bernabeu, Castanheira, Edo, Gamito
LA Pecol (POR) - Barbosa, P. Lopes, Y. Bru
Wurth-Bom Petisco (POR) - Victorino, Marta
Carvalhelhos-Boavista (POR) - Mosquera, Soeiro
Barbot-Gaia (POR) - Olmo, Garrido
ASC-Villa do Conde (POR) - Carneiro, O. Serrano
Antarte-Rota do Moveis (POR) - Benito, Plaza
Imoholding-Loulé (POR) - E. Sousa
Beppi-Ovarense (POR) - Roque (BR)