Races are coming thick and fast now that we February has rolled around and we’ve got four stage races to look forward to this week alone.
First up, starting on Tuesday, is the next instalment in the Middle Eastern race series – the Tour of Oman. Then, on Wednesday we have the double-header on the Iberian peninsular – the Ruta del Sol and Volta ao Algarve. Chuck in the Tour du Haut-Var on Saturday and Sunday and we’ve got a lot of pedalling to look forward to.
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There is a host of big names racing across the three events, so here is who is racing where over the next seven days.
Tour of Oman
The final race in the Middle Eastern spring series, the Tour of Oman, is missing a few of the big names that have started their season there in recent years.
There’s no Team Sky, for who Chris Froome won the race in 2013 and 14, there’s no Tejay van Garderen in the BMC squad, having finished second last year, and Movistar, for who Alejandro Valverde finished third in 2015, aren’t present.
It’ll be Porte’s first real opportunity to take the lead of the BMC team since he joined, having shared the duty with Rohan Dennis at the Tour Down Under.
The Australian has not raced in Oman since helping Froome to win in 2013, while Nibali race there last season, finishing 20th during his traditionally low-key start to the season.
The battle up the Green Mountain – now a longer climb than ever – will be interesting to watch, especially with Tom Dumoulin, Romain Bardet, Dan Martin and Rui Costa also on the start line.
For the sprint stages, Alexander Kristoff will be the man to beat once more. He won three stages in Qatar last week and in Oman he will be looking to add to his early-season tally.
Volta ao Algarve
Of all the races this week, the Volta ao Algarve has the most intriguing start list. In 2015, Geraint Thomas triumphed in the Portuguese race but he may find his chances of defending the title diminished with the competition he’s up against.
While Thomas is an excellent stage racer, he didn’t really have too much competition in the Algarve last year. Michal Kwiatkowski – the 2014 winner – was nearly 30 seconds behind, while Tiago Machado trailed in third place.
This year, Thomas will have Kwiatkowski on his team, but he’ll be up against the likes of Vuelta a España winner Fabio Aru (Astana), Giro d’Italia winner Alberto Contador (Tinkoff) – starting his season, Thibaut Pinot (FDJ), Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) and a number of other potential winners.
Ruta del Sol
The Ruta del Sol, or the Vuelta a Andalucia as it is also known, was the battle ground for the first big GC clash of 2015, when Froome and Contador faced off in southern Spain.
Froome came out on top but will not be back to defend his title this season and the race seems to be a lot worse off for it.
Contador also doesn’t return, leaving Valverde as the one of the few standout names on the start list.
Team Sky will field Volta a la Comunitat Valenciana winner Wout Poels, as well as Beñat Intxausti, while Tinkoff go with Rafal Majka and Roman Kreuziger.
Bauke Mollema (Trek-Segafredo), van Garderen (BMC) and Wilco Kelderman (LottoNL-Jumbo) will also line up, but won’t necessarily light up the race in the way Froome and Contador did last year.