Volta Catalunya: Mixed results on opening stages

    Cannondale-Drapac has had mixed fortunes on the opening four stages of Volta Catalunya. The team put Pierre Rolland into the stage one breakaway and two in the top ten, alongside the world’s best climbers, on the first summit finish on stage three. A crash on stage four hampered #GreenArgyle’s efforts on Thursday and leaves Mike Woods a bit battered. With three stages remaining, Cannondale-Drapac hopes the best is yet to come.

    “It is my goal and the goal of all the team to leave with a stage win,” said sport director Juanma Garate. “We are especially targeting stages six and seven.”

    Before we look ahead, a look back…

    STAGE ONE

    The opening stage of the Volta a Catalunya began and finished in Callella. The peloton tackled a hilly 178-kilometer day but not hilly enough to shed the sprinters. Stage one ended in a mass finish with Davide Cimolai (FDJ) narrowly outkicking Nacer Bouhanni (Cofidis) to the top step of the podium. Davide Villella was best-placed #GreenArgyle in 79th, finishing on bunch time alongside Davide Formolo, Alex Howes and Mike Woods.

    Cannondale-Drapac was among the early animators. Pierre Rollande slipped away in the opening kilometers to represent in the first breakaway. More than three hours of racing later, Brendan Canty, racing his first WorldTour event, bridged across to the leaders on the penultimate climb. The group was caught not long after Canty’s bridge, and the field readied for a bunch sprint.

    “The team has come here with the approach to try to create and take opportunities to race aggressively for stage results,” said Canty. “Sometimes you don’t know how things will pan out, and with a fast final 50 kilometers, we thought if there was a group large enough that still had a gap over the top of the penultimate climb, then it might have had a chance to stay away.

    “Overall, I’d say it was a reasonably good day personally,” Canty added. “The GC isn’t a goal at this stage, so losing time at the finish was never a concern. With a more relaxed finish and the TTT tomorrow, hopefully there will be more opportunities for more aggressive racing later in the week.”

    STAGE TWO

    The second stage of Catalunya was the unusually long 41 kilometer TTT in/around Banyoles. The effort – both technical and undulating – tested every team. Cannondale-Drapac finished in 18th place, 3:28 down on the best time set by BMC.

    “We don’t have a team specifically for the TTT here, but we all agreed to do our maximum,” said sport director Juanma Garate. “We did a serious approach to the TTT. Everyone had the good spirit. Everyone was really concentrated. They all gave their all.

    “With the exception of the corners, everything was ok,” Garate added. “We did the corners too easy, too slow. Pierre Rolland is still scared after his crash in the Tour de France. Today was really technical. When Pierre was at the front, pulling, everyone had to brake in the corners. We lost time there. I can’t say we did more wrong than that.”

    STAGE THREE

    The third stage of the Volta Catalunya took the peloton up La Molina – twice. The second ascent was the first summit finish of 97th edition of the Catalan tour. Cannondale-Drapac put two riders in the top ten with Mike Woods in ninth place and Davide Formolo in tenth. The pair finished eight seconds behind stage winner Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) alongside Chris Froome (Team Sky).

    “We know Davide is on excellent form despite his crash at Paris-Nice last week,” said Mike Woods. “We wanted to help him out. Hugh [Carthy] has been good here in the past, so we wanted to give him a shot. I’m a bit of an unknown because I’m still coming onto form. The team let me do my own thing, gave me an opportunity today.

    “Davide and I tried to play it cool and work our way up the final climb,” Woods added. “I think we learned a lot over the course of the climb. In the end, we didn’t fight hard enough to be in position to win. We were too far back. For me in particular, it was a big step in the right direction. I was well-positioned throughout the day. I’ve never been right at the pointy end of this level of race in Europe. I’m happy with my result, and I think I can improve.”

    STAGE FOUR

    The fourth stage of the Volta Catalunya was shortened due to snow. The race was moved forward by 57 kilometers and delayed by 90 minutes to avoid adverse weather conditions. The result was a short, fast and hectic stage with a complicated start.

    “The first kilometers were down, down, down in the valley, and everybody tried to be in the break,” said sport director Juanma Garate. “We knew it was almost impossible for the break to arrive but we put some energy on it. In the end it was not possible to be there.”

    Eventually a group of five forced clear. They were never afforded a long leash and returned to the bunch on the lower slopes of the final climb.

    “The final was exactly like I thought it would be,” said Garate. “There was wind a little bit on top of the climb, then a very fast downhill and one straight line to the end. The bunch broke in a few small pieces.

    “The problem was that six or seven kilometers before the climb we had a crash with Mike Woods,” Garate added. “Pierre Rolland and Hugh Carthy were also involved. Alex waited a little bit to try to help them back on the climb, but they never made it. We lost already four riders there.”

    Only Davide Formolo could match the pace of the selection that formed up the category two Turó del Puig. He slotted into 48th place in Igualada on the same time as stage winner Nacer Bouhanni (Cofidis).

    “Villella, Canty and Talansky couldn’t pass with the first part of the bunch, so we had only Formolo there,” Garate noted. “It was a little stressful for us to have a group of 60 and only one rider in it. It wasn’t ideal for sure.”