10 riders to watch at the Volta ao Algarve

From the GC men who are building into their Grand Tour preparations, to the sprinters looking to make their mark early in the year, here are ten riders to watch in Portugal

Clock02:18, Tuesday 13th February 2024

© Velo Collection (TDW) / Getty Images

Dani Martínez and Remco Evenepoel have won the past two editions of the race. 2024 will see them square off again alongside a number of top GC riders vying for an early-season win

The Volta ao Algarve kicks off on 14th February with a stellar line-up of riders taking to the start line to tackle the five-day stage race. This year’s route follows a classic mould with two summit finishes, a couple of sprint days and one time trial.

While the race won’t define a rider’s season, it will provide a valuable opportunity to show off early-season form, strike an early blow over rivals and get some much-needed kilometres into legs.

From those on the hunt for a GC victory to sprint contenders, here are ten riders to watch at the race.

Remco Evenepoel (Soudal Quick-Step)

The outright favourite and the reason why the Belgian cycling media have flocked to the Volta ao Algarve for the next seven days is Remco Evenepoel. Twice an overall winner in the race, the Soudal Quick-Step leader has already picked up a win this season, with a 50-plus kilometre solo break in the Figueira Champions Classic. With that level of form and a parcours that’s perfectly suited to his abilities, it will take something incredibly special to stop the Belgian from taking a third title.

The last time he was at the race, in 2022, he put close to a minute into his nearest rival in the time trial, and although the TT course is slightly shorter this time around, the pattern has been set. It will be interesting to see how the dynamic plays out between the young Belgian and his new teammate Mikel Landa, and how the 24-year-old responds to repeated questions about his Tour de France rivals, and anything else the Belgian press can think of as they follow his every move. He is used to the limelight by now but the Tour is a different beast to the Giro or the Vuelta, and Evenepoel will quickly release that if he hasn’t already.

Geraint Thomas (Ineos Grenadiers)

Another two-time winner of the Volta ao Algarve, Geraint Thomas is using the race to open his season in 2024. Unlike Evenepoel, the former Tour de France winner isn’t expected to challenge for the GC, however, the race still provides the 37-year-old with an opportunity to lay down a marker ahead of his Giro d’Italia challenge.

Expect a solid showing in the time trial based on his natural ability against the clock but on the two uphill finishes, the Welshman might not have the zip in his legs to take it to the pure climbers. Last year Thomas - mainly due to health problems - started slowly in the week-long races, and while there haven’t been any reported setbacks over the winter, he’s not going to hit Algarve with his season on the line. Expect a relaxed approach from the Ineos leader and a possible super domestique role in the tougher stages.

Tom Pidcock (Ineos Grenadiers)

Although Tom Pidcock hasn’t raced on the road since last year’s Tour of Britain, the multi-disciplined Brit has been in action all throughout the winter with a combination of cyclo-cross and mountain biking on the menu. At the weekend he took a come-from-behind win in the opening round of the Shimano MTB Super Cup, and he should be a competitive force in the Volta ao Algarve, too. He won a stage last year and cracked the top-ten overall, and a similar performance isn’t an unrealistic ambition.

It will be intriguing to see where Pidcock measures up against Evenepoel in the individual time trial having lost the leader’s jersey in the race last year in the TT. With his season revolving around the Tour de France and the Olympics, Algarve is an important appointment for Pidcock as he looks to solidify his road ambitions and his place within Ineos’ Tour pecking order.

Dani Martínez (Bora-Hansgrohe)

The defending champion returns to the Volta ao Algarve to make his stage-racing debut in Bora-Hansgrohe colours. The former Ineos rider has tasted success already this year with a win at the Colombian TT championships but the Algarve offers up a completely different test for the 27-year-old. Two years ago he had the measure of Evenepoel in the uphill stages but like everyone else, conceded too much time against the clock. Martínez is a far better rider against the clock than many people give him credit for, so if he can keep to within 45 seconds of Evenepoel in the 22km TT, then the final stage could come down to the wire. A place on the podium is within reach and a top-five finish is the bare minimum.

Arnaud Démare (Arkéa-B&B Hotels)

The Volta ao Algarve is stacked with GC riders and climbers but there’s a genuine death of sprinters with most of Arnaud Démare’s fraternity heading to the UAE Tour this week. That leaves the fast-finishing Frenchman with two chances to open his win account for the season. The 32-year-old moved to Arkéa-B&B Hotels mid-way through last year and picked up a couple of wins in the second half of the season, but with a full winter of training and lead-out testing under his belt, he should be the most competitive sprinter in the field. If Wout van Aert puts his hand up for the sprints, things could get interesting, but Démare, who has four second places in Algarve sprints without taking a single win, should end that streak in 2024.

Ben Healy (EF Education-EasyPost)

Without a designated GC rider in the field, EF Education-EasyPost head into the race with several potential stage winners in the form of Rui Costa, Stefan Bissegger and Ben Healy. The Irishman looks tailor-made for an Algarve route, with punchy stages, combined with a TT and a couple of sprint encounters. Healy picked up a top-five in the TT at the recent Etoile de Bessèges-Tour du Gard but the test in Portugal will be a sterner affair - double the distance and with far superior opposition. Winning from the break in Algarve is unlikely to happen, such is the importance of the two uphill finishes concerning the GC, so EF will need to be canny and aggressive to challenge Soudal, Visma and the rest of the GC powerhouses.

Tao Geoghegan Hart (Lidl-Trek)

The Volta ao Algarve represents Tao Geoghegan Hart’s first competitive outing since his career-threatening crash at last year’s Giro d’Italia. Since then the British rider has made a full recovery, changed teams and been handed the responsibility of potentially leading his new Lidl-Trek squad at the Tour de France. There’s a lot of road between now and the Grand Départ, and even with the best will in the world, it’s impossible to accurately predict where Geoghegan Hart will find himself at his first race in almost a year. Patience will be key over the coming months and a steady upward trajectory might not materialise overnight, but Algarve nevertheless represents an important test on the rider’s path towards competitiveness. Results in Portugal should almost be absolved from the objective list, with consistency and feel the more important - if less tangible - aims.

Wout van Aert (Visma-Lease a Bike)

The Belgian is making his debut at the Volta ao Algarve and could be a dark horse for the top-five overall. Without a fully-fledged sprinter in the Visma-Lease a Bike ranks, Van Aert will have the pick of stages he wishes to target, while the 22km time trial will provide a chance for the all-rounder to test his mettle against a handful of Grand Tour leaders ahead of his Giro d’Italia escapade. It’s hard to envisage Van Aert coming away from the race without one win but at the very least he’ll be a constant presence on the front and one of the most exciting riders to watch.

Sepp Kuss (Visma-Lease a Bike)

Appearing in a stage race for the first time since his Vuelta a España triumph is Sepp Kuss. The American heads into Algarve with the clear intention of building his form and fitness ahead of more pressing objectives. While the sortie in Portugal matters little in the grand scheme of an entire campaign, it will be fascinating to observe Kuss’s approach, language and tone when it comes to leadership in both this race and the season ahead. He’s tied his best years to Visma after signing an extended contract over the winter but where do his stage racing ambitions start and end and what will be the pecking order in several of the pre-Tour de France stage races? Portugal provides the press with an almost daily dose of opportunities to find out.

Casper van Uden (dsm-firmenich PostNL)

Since moving into the WorldTour Casper van Uden has quietly established himself as one of the most promising sprinters in the men’s peloton. Last year was about gaining experience and while the wins didn’t flow in 2023 the Dutch rider has already picked up a victory this season with an unstoppable sprint on stage 1 of the AlUla Tour. Dsm-firmenich PostNL head into the race with one of the best-supported lead-outs in the race, meaning van Uden will have the chance to double his win tally for the season.

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