In 2017, the seven-day stage race included – very unusually – a team time trial, as well as an exceptionally tough summit finish at Lo Port in southern Catalunya on stage 5.
But in 2018, the organisers have opted for a much more traditional format, with the Volta likely to be decided after the race’s second day in the Pyrenees on stage 4, which for the fifth year running favors climbers with a finish at La Molina ski resort.
The one novelty included in the 2018 route is a stage to the remote town of Vielha in Catalunya’s northwest, which last played host to a finish of the Volta back in 1993. That was an individual time trial won by Maurizio Fondriest.
The 2018 Volta a Catalunya starts with a lumpy circuit stage to the Mediterranean resort of Calella for the seventh straight year. A hilly transition stage then follows, taking the race from another coastal town, Mataró – which starts stage 2 for the fifth year in succession – across central Catalunya to another oft-used host city, Valls.
The mountain fireworks begin on stage 3, very probably the hardest day of the 2018 edition. Starting in Saint Cugat, close to Barcelona, the route climbs steadily to Vallter 2000, a 12-kilometre Pyrenean ascent close to the French border, averaging 7.4 percent. It was last used in 2014 with Tejay van Garderen taking the stage victory.
Stage 4 concludes with another Pyrenean stage to La Molina, for the fifth year running. Although technically a summit finish, a victory at La Molina, like Vallter 2000, tends to be decided in an uphill sprint with gaps measured in handfuls of seconds at most. Alejandro Valverde sealed the overall win in 2017 thanks in part to a victory on La Molina.
Whilst there is still room for surprises when the detailed route is released and bad weather is always a threat at this time of year in the Pyrenees, the last three stages of the 2018 route could, yet again, have little to no effect on the GC battle.
Stage 5 from Llivia to Vielha, although tackling some Pyrenean climbs, is described by the organisation’s press release as “semi-mountainous” and stage 6’s lengthy trek out of the mountains from Vielha to Torrefarrera could well end in a bunch sprint.
Stage 7’s traditional hilly circuit stage in Montjuic park in Barcelona tends to be decided in a breakaway of non-GC favourites or bunch sprint of 40 or so riders, rather than affecting the overall.
If past editions are anything to go by, the time gaps between the overall favourites in Volta a Catalunya 2018 could well be tiny, particularly as there is no individual or team time trial. But a good GC climber with a strong team could well take a stranglehold on the race after stage 4, making for a final three days where the GC all but set in stone.