Team Sky fields British trio Geraint Thomas, Ben Swift and Andy Fenn in the 2015 Volta ao Algarve, starting today (Wednesday February 18) in Portugal.

Sky is backing team leader Richie Porte, who won the race in 2012. Porte has already claimed the Australian time trial title and the key climbers’ stage of the Tour Down Under so looks in good shape to tackle the five-stage Volta ao Algarve, which includes a 19-kilometre time trial on Friday.

Swift will have his chance to contest bunch finishes on the flatter stages (one and five), although the parcours is decidedly hilly. On paper, German Andre Greipel (Lotto-Soudal) will be Swift’s biggest rival in the sprints with many of the other big-name fastmen currently occupied in the Tour of Oman or Ruta del Sol.

Last year’s edition was won overall by the man who went on to become world champion: Michal Kwiatkowski (Etixx-QuickStep). Kwiatkowski returns this year to defend his title with a strong line-up to back him that includes double Algarve winner Tony Martin, Zdenek Stybar and Giani Meersman.

Alberto Contador on his way to winning Stage 4 of the 2014 Volta ao Algarve. Michal Kwiatkowski eventually lost 10 seconds to Contador but retained the overall lead.

Alberto Contador on his way to winning stage four last year. Michal Kwiatkowski eventually lost 10 seconds to Contador but retained the overall lead, and went on to win. Contador is racing the Ruta del Sol this year and will miss Volta ao Algarve

Along with the individual test against the clock on stage three, the general classification will receive a big shake-up on Saturday, with a long 216-kilometre trawl from Tavira to Malhão that concludes with a mountain-top finish.

There are a further five WorldTour squads in the race in addition to Sky, Etixx-QuickStep and Lotto-Soudal: Cannondale-Garmin, LottoNL-Jumbo, Movistar, Katusha and Astana.

The UCI 2.1-ranked Volta ao Algarve runs from Tuesday February 18 to Sunday February 22.

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Volta ao Algarve 2015: Stages

Stage one, Wednesday February 18, Lagos to Albufeira, 167km
Stage two,  Thursday February 19, Lagoa to Monchique, 197km
Stage three, Friday February 20, Vila do Bispo to Cabo de São Vicente, 19km
Stage four, Saturday February 21, Tavira to Malhão, 216km
Stage five, Sunday February 22, Almodôvar to Vilamoura, 184km

Volta ao Algarve: Recent winners

2014: Michal Kwiatkowski
2013: Tony Martin
2012: Richie Porte
2011: Tony Martin
2010: Alberto Contador
2009: Alberto Contador
2008: Belgium Stijn Devolder
2007: Alessandro Petacchi
2006: João Cabreira