Volta a Portugal 2022 (August 4-15)

It can not be that this beautiful race does not have a thread!

Jokes about 'the dot' aside, it's long been a tradition on the boards to have a guilt-free digestif after the strains and stresses of July, and the Volta a Portugal's parallel universe has long been treated for that purpose. A world where the 90s never ended, it has wild west tactics, team managers slating their own riders live on the coverage, super-peakers, and speeds that used to suggest power outputs rivalling anything on the World Tour, but coming from riders you'd not heard of, or vaguely recalled from a Spanish Pro Continental team several years earlier. It's an 11 day race which includes one rest day, and so is Europe's - and the pro level's - longest UCI-sanctioned race outside of the Grand Tours (at least now that Qinghai Lake is being contested over by domestic teams only and has dropped to .2 status), and as it frequently contains the same two MTFs it allows us to get a year on year comparison.

Its importance is somewhat exaggerated on the boards, although it is a big deal on its home roads; so, also, is its trait of attracting the older rider, with Portuguese cycling being like a sort of backwater of European cycling, picking up veterans and riders unwanted elsewhere; salaries have historically been pretty decent in Portugal which has attracted journeyman pros and veterans on the look out for a last payday of their career but no longer able to manage a World Tour calendar. The Puerto exile era is behind us, but many of the same traits remain as we recall vividly the likes of Rinaldo Nocentini and Sérgio Paulinho contending here well beyond their peak years, plus of course you have stalwarts of the Spanish domestic scene who were hanging on late in their career like Gustavo César Veloso. However, its presence as a kind of freak show dessert after the Tour's diet of controlled racing, PR face-saving and so on have made it a bit of a cult favourite, so it will be interesting to see how the Volta reacts when the Tour has actually kind of stolen its thunder, providing 90s wattages, heavyweights turning into climbers, and bonkers long-distance excitement in its own right.

Of course the race has attracted a lot of pre-race hype, it's just all been discussed in the Clinic, seeing as the house of cards that is W52-FC Porto has come crashing down. Between their riders they have won each of the last 10 Voltas, in fact the last winner not in the Quinta da Lixa team was all the way back to David Blanco in 2012. However, following a police raid earlier in the year where much paraphernalia was found, they have been suspended and the entire team, save for three riders (one of whom retired anyway), have been suspended, so they will not be present at a race where the final stage goes past their sister football team's home stadium. One of the two riders who escaped the hit is in fact defending champion Amaro Antunes, but he is unable to mount a defence of his title with the team barred. Subsequent raids shortly before the race have also eliminated a couple of other riders, including João Benta, a leader for the new Efapel team, not to be confused with the old Efapel team (that's now called Glassdrive).

This means that Alejandro Marque, 40 years young and back at Tavira where he spent his first breakout fourteen years ago, is the only former Volta winner on the startlist, and especially with the addition of a third MTF, it would appear that the likely favourite is Glassdrive's Frederico Figueiredo, on the podium in 2020 and narrowly off it in 2021... however he will face stiff competition from Wout van Aert Mauricio Moreira, the son of Uruguayan legend Federico Moreira, who had a decent run as a ProConti pro with Caja Rural, but has turned into a complete ATV since exile into Portugal, turning into a 76kg mountain goat, TT god and capable sprinter. The team also has veteran climber Javi Moreno, ex- of Caja Rural and Movistar. There are still some decent shots from elsewhere, Tiago Machado will lead RP-Boavista, Délio Fernández returns to Portugal with Tavira after escaping during the early days of Quinta da Lixa domination which he was part of, Joaquim Silva ex-of Caja Rural is at Efapel, André Cardoso is back at Feirense, and Alberto Gallego is back with Boavista, he was once top 10 in the Route du Sud after climbing with the likes of Quintana and Contador, but his cup of coffee at the top two tiers lasted just 2 days, after testing positive on January 2nd.

Weaker field of estrangeiros this year after last year saw the surprising inclusion of Movistar, who contributed a top 10 with Abner González, and Kern Pharma who did likewise with José Félix Parra to help lower the average age of the GC. The other three Spanish Pro-Conti teams are here, however, but most are sending riders here as a consolation prize after not making their Burgos/Vuelta proposed teams. Jhoján García and Yesid Pira, the two Colombians, will at least be interesting to watch from Caja Rural, still waiting for Pira to back up his Vuelta a Colombia showings from last year, and Juanjo Lobato will mix it up in the sprints for Euskaltel. Human Powered Health are the other ProTeam who have some decent riders here, Keegan Swirbul is a useful climber for example, while the 'odds and sods' small teams can often provide a surprise stage win or two, usually from the break during week two. Xavi Cañellas, who finally started to show signs of life a couple of weeks ago, might be the most obvious threat from these, but you never know who will jump out and make a big step forward - Mason Hollyman was the man for the task last year and just started a stagiare contract at Israel Startup Nation, for example.

Mayomaniac has done the heavy lifting:
Tomorrow the Volta a Portugal starts. With the recent clinic related problems the field will be thinner than usual. No W-52, no Joao Benta, no Daniel Freitas and no Luis Mendonça.
How will Glassdrive Q8 Anicolor (the former Efapel team) manage to loose this one? On paper they have by far the strongest team with Mauri Moreira, Figueiredo, Carvalho and Rafael Reis. Other contenders are the Delio Fernandez-Marque duo from Atum General, Enrique Casimiro, Andre Cardoso and De Mateos.
The route should suit Figueiredo. Besides the SdG and Torre MTFs we have a 3rd one on a steep climb, the Observatorio de Villa Nova climb.

Looking at how Figueiredo has nuke the steep 2nd part of the Barreiro climb on the SdG stage with 45kms to go over the last 2 years this one with it's steep gradients should be perfect for him.
The final ITT also features multiple short, punchy climbs, so it's not just one for the specialists.

Tomorrow we have a 5.4km prologue, hard to look past a Reis-Moreira 1-2.
 
Expecting Glassdrive to destroy the field. Perhaps a few less wins without Mendonça who had been flying throughout this year, but still, even an idiot like Ruben Pereira can't mess this up with the former sprinting lead out man Moreira, Fred Figueiredo and António Carvalho. He'll try tho and that should be entertaining nonetheless.

I'm really not expecting anyone to challenge them now that Porco is gone. Unless Ace has recruited Bruyneel meanwhile for some cutting edge tactics consulting for Tiago Antunes. Antunes just recently showed a previous undiscovered ability for prologues so he'll be in the mix today. Veterans like Marque and Délio will fight for podium but I doubt they'll be a threat for the win baring some spectacular failure from Glassdrive.

Regarding "foreign teams": Human Powered Health should be in contention for some stages specially with Kyle Murphy who won twice last year and should be well accustomed to Grandíssima speeds and tactics. The rest I expect to be cannon fodder as always-
 
Expecting Glassdrive to destroy the field. Perhaps a few less wins without Mendonça who had been flying throughout this year, but still, even an idiot like Ruben Pereira can't mess this up with the former sprinting lead out man Moreira, Fred Figueiredo and António Carvalho. He'll try tho and that should be entertaining nonetheless.

I'm really not expecting anyone to challenge them now that Porco is gone. Unless Ace has recruited Bruyneel meanwhile for some cutting edge tactics consulting for Tiago Antunes. Antunes just recently showed a previous undiscovered ability for prologues so he'll be in the mix today. Veterans like Marque and Délio will fight for podium but I doubt they'll be a threat for the win baring some spectacular failure from Glassdrive.

Regarding "foreign teams": Human Powered Health should be in contention for some stages specially with Kyle Murphy who won twice last year and should be well accustomed to Grandíssima speeds and tactics. The rest I expect to be cannon fodder as always-
I still have to have some hopes regarding the Caja Rural Colombians. Jhoján García was 4th in two stage races last year thanks to his climbing, one of which was the Tour of Turkey, a race almost as renowned for shady goings-on as the Volta, and was top 10 at Monte Naranco in the Vuelta a Asturias. He's had a rotten 2022 but it can't last, can it? Pira doesn't have too much longer before he gets written off as a one-hit wonder, but at the same time he was picked up mid-season after his Vuelta a Colombia outings and is still fairly new to cycling, so adapting to the European pro péloton probably takes a little while. In terms of raw climbing potential he might be the best in the entire field if last June is anything to go by, but he seems to be cut out of the mould of the early 80s Colombians rather than the more recent generations. Last year we had Abner González and José Félix Parra as two young guns fighting over the best young rider jersey deep into the race and climbing with, if not the very best, then the next best that the domestic péloton had to offer, and they might be the most likely.

Looking back at that Tour of Turkey, I note that Wildlife Generation are on the startlist here, and it just makes me wonder why on earth Alex Hoehn has not got a contract. He's currently slumming it in the Spanish amateur scene but he's a pretty good climber and still only 24. He's been 13th in the Tour of Turkey, 15th in the Tour de Langkawi, 16th and 17th in the Tour of Utah in consecutive years and on the podium of the Tour de Rwanda, but nobody signed him for 2022 which seems odd as he was Wildlife Generation's most visible rider in every race I saw them in, and he could climb pretty decently. You'd have thought that either a team like HPH would pick him up or, unless something was untoward that we don't know about, he might even have been a useful development project for a team like EF at the top level, to then be a mountain domestique. Failing that, I can't see why no CT team has bothered, even if it's just a Portuguese or low level Spanish one on a short term deal for the second half of this season to do races like this.
 
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I still have to have some hopes regarding the Caja Rural Colombians. Jhoján García was 4th in two stage races last year thanks to his climbing, one of which was the Tour of Turkey, a race almost as renowned for shady goings-on as the Volta, and was top 10 at Monte Naranco in the Vuelta a Asturias. He's had a rotten 2022 but it can't last, can it? Pira doesn't have too much longer before he gets written off as a one-hit wonder, but at the same time he was picked up mid-season after his Vuelta a Colombia outings and is still fairly new to cycling, so adapting to the European pro péloton probably takes a little while. In terms of raw climbing potential he might be the best in the entire field if last June is anything to go by, but he seems to be cut out of the mould of the early 80s Colombians rather than the more recent generations.
I've seen years and years of decent or even good prospects being obliterated at Grandíssima. Some not even prospects, decent pros who couldn't stand the "heat"...

Theoretically, on such a weak field, a guy like Garcia would be a sure bet to be in contention but in the twilight zone, a place in top5 isn't even guaranteed.
 
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I've seen years and years of decent or even good prospects being obliterated at Grandíssima. Some not even prospects, decent pros who couldn't stand the "heat"...

Theoretically, on such a weak field, a guy like Garcia would be a sure bet to be in contention but in the twilight zone, a place in top5 isn't even guaranteed.
Sure, but I'm just thinking comparable to where Abner and Parra were last year - but inching forward a spot or two with the absence of W52, which takes you from around 7th to 5th, but that for me is good enough as contending given the top spots are reserved for the August machines and always have been. Pardilla in 2010 is the last time an estrangeiro team made the podium on the final GC, and David Blanco in 2006 is the last time one won - and it's probably fair to say that if Operación Puerto hadn't happened, Comunidad Valenciana would have had a Vuelta wildcard and wouldn't have sent as strong a team or raced the Volta so hard.

If this race was the same field but it was GP Beiras, or Vuelta a Asturias, or something like that, then it would be a different story.
 
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Sure, but I'm just thinking comparable to where Abner and Parra were last year - but inching forward a spot or two with the absence of W52, which takes you from around 7th to 5th, but that for me is good enough as contending given the top spots are reserved for the August machines and always have been. Pardilla in 2010 is the last time an estrangeiro team made the podium on the final GC, and David Blanco in 2006 is the last time one won - and it's probably fair to say that if Operación Puerto hadn't happened, Comunidad Valenciana would have had a Vuelta wildcard and wouldn't have sent as strong a team or raced the Volta so hard.

If this race was the same field but it was GP Beiras, or Vuelta a Asturias, or something like that, then it would be a different story.
And Blanco was kinda Portuguese made too. He was himself an August machine with many absurd performances.

I do agree that a guy like Garcia can be equal or slightly better than Abner González was last year but that's about it. Don't think anyone will have the same ability as Pardilla in 2010 who was ridding really good throughout the year. Still finished almost 2m down to Blanco and behind... Bernabeu.

If this was Asturias we'd see Moreira crushing a Quintana regen which would be really funny.
 
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I know it received at lot of backlash at the time but I'd really wish to see this thread in The Clinic like it was a few editions ago.

I can't really say what I want about guys like José Mendes (37 years young) and Hugo Nunes doing such good prologues... Let's call it, "surprising".
 
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He was a geat rider in the junior ranks, that has to be said.
Great? Morgado is great, he was good but worse than Paulinho, for instance.

Anyway, never confirmed a fraction of that potential except in the Portuguese schedule.

PS - Meanwhile, legendary Moreira finished in second place, one second better than last year. Glassdrive probably with the expected 1-2 today.

PS2 - Henrique Casimiro, also a "young man" showing the amazing tactical and technical influence of his DS, José "Ace" Azevedo, and placing 4th.
 
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Tiago Antunes is a force to be reckoned with in the Prologues now. He found out he was really good at Troféu Joaquim Agostinho (won that one) and today he's just 3 seconds shy of Moreira's time. Last year, in the same stage, he lost 36 seconds to the Uruguayan. Massive improvement, Ace effect intensifies.
 
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