Racing ahead: Stellar line-ups battle it out in Algarve and Andalucía

Thomas, Van der Poel, Nibali and Fuglsang among the big names starting their seasons at Volta ao Algarve and the Ruta del Sol this week

Pivotal 2020 begins for Geraint Thomas at the Volta ao Algarve

Geraint Thomas at the 2019 Tour de France stage three (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

This week sees the return of Geraint Thomas (Ineos), who is on the saddle again for a first competitive road race since bowing out at the World Championships in Yorkshire last September.

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2020 could be a pivotal year for the Welshman. He has again made it his season’s goal to win the Tour de France, a race he has made his own these past two years by finishing second in last year’s edition and, of course, winning the year before. But with Egan Bernal set to defend his title, and Chris Froome potentially making a return, will he still retain leadership status, or is a demotion to a super-domestique role imminent?

>>> Volta ao Algarve start list: Mathieu van der Poel, Rohan Dennis and Vincenzo Nibali set to ride

How he performs in the races leading up to July might shape where he stands in the team’s hierarchy, starting with this week’s Volta ao Algarve, which gets underway Wednesday 19. Thomas has fond memories of this race, having first begun his transition into a stage race specialist by winning the 2015 edition, and following that up with a defence of his title in 2016.

With a strong team to back him up, including world time trial champion Rohan Dennis and 2018 winner Michał Kwiatkowski, a third career victory could be on the cards.

Competition is likely to come from Miguel Ángel López (Astana) and Vincenzo Nibali (Trek-Segafredo), both of whom are all also making the first appearances of 2020 – and in Nibali’s case, a debut for his new team.

Mathieu van der Poel’s return to the road

Mathieu van der Poel (David Stockman, AFP via Getty Images)

The whole world of cycling is itching to see what Mathieu van der Poel (Alpecin-Fenix) is capable of achieving this spring.

Having only sporadically appeared on the road at the start of last season, for 2020 the Dutchman will be riding a full program, with debuts at the likes of Strade Bianche, Milan-San Remo, Paris-Roubaix and Flèche Wallonne to add to defences of his titles at Amstel Gold, Brabantse Pijl and Dwars door Vlaanderen.

First up will be the Volta ao Algarve, which, with its parcours of punchy stages, should provide Van der Poel with plenty of chances to attack. He’ll be joined by several other Classics riders who should turn out to be among his main rivals throughout the spring, including Greg Van Avermaet (CCC), fellow youthful prodigy Remco Evenepoel (Deceuninck-Quick-Step) and the new Lotto-Soudal trio of Philippe Gilbert, Tim Wellens and John Degenkolb.

>>> Volta ao Algarve 2020 TV guide

It’s a strong line-up, but, having already made headlines in cyclocross earlier this month by defending his world title, all eyes will be on Van der Poel.

New-look Movistar compete at Ruta del Sol

Alejandro Valverde at the 2020 Volta a la Comunitat Valenciana (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)

Following the departures of Nairo Quintana, Mikel Landa and Richard Carapaz, 2020 looks set to be a year of transition for Movistar, and the Ruta del Sol (starting Wednesday 19) till be the first chance this year for the squad’s younger talents to step up and fill he leadership voids left by those riders

This is a race that Movistar have dominated in recent years through Alejandro Valverde, who had triumphed in five of the last eight editions, making him the all-time record winner of the overall classification.

However, Valverde has this year opted to ride the UAE Tour instead, leaving two younger riders to lead the line; 26-year old Marc Soler, who has greatly impressed in support roles over the last few years, and 25-year old Enric Mas, of whom much is expected following his move from Deceuninck-Quick-Step.

They’re both in with a shout of winning, but to do so will have to overcome so other quality riders – most notably Mikel Landa (Bahrain-McLaren), who could be extra-motivated to prove a point to a team that rarely gave him a chance to ride as outright leader.

Jakob Fuglsang competes for the first time since Ferrari controversy

Jakob Fuglsang at the Vuelta a España 2019 (Photo by Justin Setterfield/Getty Images)

A career best season for Jakob Fuglsang (Astana) in 2019 – during which won Critérium du Dauphiné and starred at the Ardennes Classics, culminating in victory at Liège-Bastogne-Liège – first got going at the Ruta del Sol, which the Dane won as part of a dominant Astana line-up.

This week Fuglsang gets his 2020 season underway, beginning with a defence of his Ruta del Sol title.

It’s the first time he’ll be in action following the leaked report from the Cycling Anti-Doping Federation (CADF) that linked Fuglsang with Michele Ferrari, the disgraced doctor banned from the sport for doping cyclists.

Fuglsang has vehemently denied ever having met Ferrari, and the CADF have said that they won’t be taking any disciplinary proceedings.

He’ll now hope to shift attention back towards his exploits on the road at the Volta ao Algarve, but with cycling the way it is – not to mention the especially controversial history of Astana – such stories are always worrying.

A strong Boels-Dolmans team for Setmana Ciclista Valenciana

Anna van der Breggen is congratulated by team-mate Lizzie Deignan after winning 2017 Liège-Bastogne-Liège.

On the whole it’s a pretty quiet week in terms of women’s racing, but there will still be some action for fans to follow.

The innagriaul Dubai Women’s Tour gets underway on Monday, although doesn’t boast much of a start-list, which is made up of second-tier, non WorldTour teams.

Instead, the most interesting racing looks set to occur over in Spain at the Setmana Ciclista Valenciana. Following on from the Valencia-based men’s race held earlier this month (won by UAE Emirates’ Tadej Pogačar), the women will compete across four days of flat and mountainous stages.

The full startlist is yet to be announced, but Boels-Dolmans have confirmed their line-up and it looks very strong. Both Anna van der Bregen and Chantal Blaak will be there, hoping to follow in the footsteps of Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig, Britain’s Hannah Barnes and last year’s victor Clara Koppenburg by winning the overall classification.