The European professional cycling season’s traditional pipe-opener in the Algarve came under starter’s orders in Faro yesterday (Thursday).
The first stage of four featured a 198.8km loop around Tavira and Castro Marim before it descended towards Albufeira via the Algarve’s hilly hinterland in the afternoon. Today (Friday) the peloton will set out from Lagoa and climb towards Marmelete and then Foia prior to enjoying a relatively easy home run back to its starting point. On Saturday Portimão sees the field head out in the direction of Alto do Malhão via Alferce and Paderne, while Sunday’s concluding time trial will cover the almost flat 35km between Castro Marim and Tavira, making up the total of 621,6km of this year’s slightly shorter renewal.
Several last minute defections towards the Middle East has left the 39th edition of the Tour of the Algarve without such absolute superstars as Bradley Wiggins and Alberto Contador but new race director Cândido Barbosa has still managed to assemble a strong field from at home and abroad.
On current form the absolute favourite to take top honours in the Algarve must be Britain’s Mark Cavendish. The Omega Pharma-Quick Step star’s recent victory in Qatar included an unprecedented four consecutive stage wins, which propelled him into first place at the finishing line. Cavendish should be strongly challenged by team mate and 2011 victor Tony Martin from Germany who is also a dual time trial world champion and London Olympics silver medallist.
On the ‘home’ front 2011 Tour of Portugal winner and new Euskatel-Euskadi Basque team signing Ricardo Mestre (ex-Tavira) will hope to makebest use of his detailed local knowledge while Sergio Paulinho (Saxo Tinkoff), World Tour No10 Rui Costa (Movistar) and Tiago Machado (Radioshack-Leopard) all have strong claims. Lastly keep an eye out for last Sunday’s Chilean Loulé winner Carlos Oyarzun (Louletano-Dunas Douradas) who outsprinted the opposition on his debut appearance for his new Algarvean team.