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Tour de France star Vingegaard already the rider to beat in O Gran Camiño season debut

Geographically, you can’t get much further in western Europe from Nice’s Promenade des Anglais than the Roman Empire-era lighthouse in the northwesterly Spanish city of A Coruña. But for Jonas Vingegaard, the path towards a possible third Tour de France victory on the French Riviera next July will start there on Thursday for the O Gran Camiño, in the shadow of the 2,000-year-old guardian of the rugged Galician coastline.

Stage 1’s opening time trial of this year’s O Gran Camiño race will finish at the foot of the ‘Tower of Hercules’, as A Coruña’s lighthouse, the oldest still-functioning model in the world, is known. Vingegaard could hardly find himself thrown under a sharper spotlight, either, given the 12-kilometre individual race against the clock not only marks his debut in the 2024 season, but is also the first point when his currently unbeaten track record in O Gran Camiño could be challenged.

Victorious in all three stages – a fourth was suspended because of poor weather –  and, naturally, the overall in the 2023 Gran Camiño, all of which take place in the north-westerly region of Galicia, Vingegaard could not have set the bar higher than last year.

But his task of defending his resounding first victory of 2023 will be rendered even harder by a beefed-up opposition in 2024, featuring headline acts of the calibre of Egan Bernal and Carlos Rodríguez (Ineos Grenadiers), Richard Carapaz (EF Education-EasyPost) and David Gaudu (Groupama-FDJ). The shadow cast by the results from the Tower of Hercules time trial and the three very hilly stages through Galicia that follow, then, will likely be a very long one.

2024 Route

Following the opening 12-kilometre time trial, running almost entirely along A Coruña’s seafront, and with a small climb mid-way through to decide the first mountains classification leader, there is an abrupt switch of terrain to hillier inland roads on stage 2.

With over 3,000 metres of climbing, stage 2 takes O Gran Camiño deep inland to the province of Lugo. The double ascent of the category 2 Alto de San Pedro de Lincora, the second time around peaking out just a handful of kilometres away from the finish in Chantada, could make this another major GC day.

Stage 3, while also very hilly, has most of its climbing difficulties early on. Only the third category climb of Alto de Couso, around 15 kilometres to go, will likely prevent the fastmen from having their turn to shine in the finish at Castelo de Ribadavia.

Stage 4 is a very different story, with everything to play for, including the race overall, in the last 100 kilometres. Running entirely through the mountains of south-west Galicia, the category 2 of Alto de San Cosme acts as an appetizer for the double ascent of the cat 1 climb of Monte Aloia. Never dropping below 9.5% in the final three kilometres, four ramps of between 18% and 20% should provide a blast-off point for what is set to be one of the toughest early season events in Europe this spring.

Often used in the now-defunct Vuelta a Galicia, the predecessor of O Gran Camiño, Monte Aloia in the Tui National Park was once the scene of victories for riders of the calibre of 1990s Italian star Claudio Chiappucci, Swiss all-rounder Fabian Jeker and Spanish Tour de France stage winner Marcos Serrano. It is also much harder than the Camiño summit finishes of last year of Rubia and A Guarda, both only half as long and, unlike the Monte Aloia, only tackled once.

The other important changes in this year’s route are the position and length of Camiño’s individual time trial, moving from the last day to the first, and being cut from 18 kilometres in 2023 to 12 kilometres in 2024. This almost gives the time trial the feel of a long prologue more than a defining element in the course, which will now almost certainly be decided on the last ascent of the Monte Aloia.

However, the biggest question mark on how O Gran Camiño will play out this year is not to do with any switches in terrain or rivals, but the weather. The vicious snowstorms which battered the peloton on the opening stage to force its suspension, are not current forecast to return. But Galician weather is famously unpredictable and this February organisers are crossing their fingers that current predictions of showers and sunny intervals throughout this week in north-west Spain hold true through til the summit of Aloia on Sunday afternoon.

A deeper field

With no disrespect intended to the peloton of the 2023 O Gran Camiño, Vingegaard will face a much more powerful set of rivals than last February. Starting from the opening time trial, he will face current British National TT Champion and 2023 World TT bronze medallist Josh Tarling (Ineos Grenadiers). Given how he performed last year in the Tour’s Alpine time trial test, Vingegaard’s ability against the clock can hardly be called into question. But on a much more straightforward course like A Coruña, there is every chance that Tarling could give Vingegaard a run for his money.

Keep an eye open for Movistar’s Will Barta, too, who once came within a whisker of a time trial victory in Galicia back in the 2020 Vuelta and clearly in good form after his early season win at the Volta a la Comunitat Valenciana. 

While neither Tarling nor Barta are expected to figure  in the GC battle that follows, one notable absence from potential overall contendership is Nairo Quintana (Movistar), missing from the provisional start list because of COVID. 

On the plus side, Ineos Grenadiers have brought an impressively powerful lineup for Galicia – riders like Ethan Hayter, Carlos Rodriguez, Michal Kwiatkowski and Omar Fraile are all tried and tested at fighting for week-long stage races, while Egan Bernal showed steadily rising form on much longer climbs in the Tour Colombia.

Groupama-FDJ will likely be looking at Mount Aloia as their key test, where established leader David Gaudu, fourth in the 2022 Tour de France, and their new climbing talent Lenny Martinez could work together in a joint GC bid. 

As for EF Education-EasyPost, Carapaz’ victory on the Alto de Vino in the Tour Colombia sharply raises his status amongst the GC contenders, but as with Ineos, the American squad have multiple options on the table in the shape of Rigoberto Urán, Hugh Carthy and Neilson Powless, and placings in the opening TT may well be needed to help establish an internal GC hierarchy. Yet another interesting rider in the EF lineup is Briton Lukas Nerurkar, who also rode very well in last year’s O Gran Camiño when with Trinity Racing.

But the main focus, at least initially, will logically be on Vingegaard and Visma-Lease A Bike. The Dutch team’s inclusion of new signings like Belgian GC talent Cian Uijtdebroeks, currently bound for the Giro after a last-minute offseason transfer from Bora-Hansgrohe, and stage racing specialist Ben Tulett, along with other more established heavyweights like former Giro podium finisher Wilco Kelderman, means Vingegaard can count on some solid climbing support. But it is how the Dane performs himself that will come under the closest scrutiny this week in Galicia.

SOURCE: CyclingNews   (go to source)
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