Richie Porte claimed another victory for Team Sky on Sunday when winning the Volta a Catalunya with Spain’s Alejandro Valverde finishing four seconds behind in the overall classification after leading home a group of riders in the last of the seven stages around Barcelona. However, the event was particularly noted for the contrasting fortunes of Alberto Contador and Chris Froome who are expected to be prominent challengers in the forthcoming Tour de France.
Porte has already demonstrated his fitness this year by winning the Paris-Nice race during mid-March but his team- mate Froome has been hampered by a chest infection which enforced his withdrawal from the recent Tirreno-Adriatico. The event in Catalonia provided an opportunity for the Kenyan born cyclist to accumulate some much-needed racing miles into his legs ahead of more daunting tasks later this year. Yet Stage 4 of the race from Tona to summit finish at La Molina in the Pyrenees was to prove the pivotal day for the favourites.
American cyclist Tejay van Garderen ultimately registered victory at La Molina but it was a decisive break by Contador three kilometres from the finishing line which split the following peleton. It was a typical late attack by the Spanish rider but he was unable to withstand a late surge by Porte who claimed second position in both the stage and overall standings on the day.
For Froome, it was a day to forget as he finished nearly 28 minutes behind the stage winner as his lack of suitable preparation was evident on the mountainous course. Porte became the race leader at the end of another fairly difficult stage on the following day but Froome was already thinking of an extensive spell of training in the days ahead.
It is still early days in the cycling season and Chris Froome is expected to attempt a defence his Tour de Romandie title beginning in May but there will be some concern that both Contador and Valverde have already demonstrated superior fitness in this race with the Spanish riders expected to improve their condition still further in the next few weeks.
However, Froome has proved his ability in three week stage races in previous years and he may be more impressed by the showing of Porte in Catalonia, a fellow Team Sky rider who is expected to help him during the more difficult stages of the Tour de France. Whereas Porte is adept at producing decent performances in the shorter road stage races, he has displayed some vulnerability in the longer events especially on days when there are several successive mountainous routes.
The ultimate goal for Froome will be to regain the Tour de France crown in July and he will be gearing his fitness levels towards that aim but any further setbacks will certainly not be welcome.