Wiggins must attack in the mountains at Catalunya

Back-to-back mountaintop finishes will crown the 2013 Volta a Catalunya winner and Bradley Wiggins has to take it to the pure climbers

Photo: Graham Watson

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GIRONA, Spain (VN) — Tour de France champion Bradley Wiggins (Sky) doesn’t have to reveal his intentions when the Volta a Catalunya hits the mountains on Wednesday. He already did so loud and clear in Monday’s first stage when he drove a wedge between Sky and the main peloton on a technical descent near the finish.

With climbing stages on tap for Wednesday and Thursday, Wiggins is out to win his first race of the 2013 season in unconventional fashion — sans time trial.

“There is no time trial, so Wiggo will have to attack,” Sky director Marcus Ljungqvist told VeloNews. “We expect big things. It’s no secret. We have a good, strong team. We will give it a go.”

Wednesday’s 180-kilometer third stage and Thursday’s 218km fourth stage end high in the Catalan Pyrénées, representing the hardest, longest, and most sustained climbs so far in the 2013 racing season.

Organizers have neutralized time bonuses on the mountaintop finishes, meaning riders will fight to try and carve out winning differences on the snow-lined climbs.

Wiggins and the rest of the GC contenders will face stiff challenges both days. Wednesday’s “especial” summit finale to Vallter hits 2,200 meters and Thursday’s finish atop Port Ainé is even steeper.

“These are real climbs. It’s not going to be easy,” Ljungqvist said. “Bradley’s been at Tenerife and I know he’s coming here with big motivation. It’s been awhile since he’s raced, but he’s getting there with the form as we get closer to the Giro.”

Wiggins’ near-perfect season last year was paved by success in the time trials. His overall victories at Paris-Nice, Tour de Romandie, Critérium du Dauphiné, and the Tour de France each came with domination against the clock.

The Volta is one of the few major stage races that does not feature a time trial, meaning that Wiggins and Sky must change their tactics. They know they cannot count on Wiggins taking a minute out of the likes of Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) or Joaquim Rodríguez (Katusha) in a TT. That means one thing: take it to them in the mountains.

“For sure (Wiggo) has to attack,” Ljungqvist said. “There are some other good guys there, so it won’t be easy. Everything should be decided in those two days, so we are ready to try.”

Sky has brought a strong, climbers’ squad to Catalunya, with riders such as David Lopez, Rigoberto Urán, and Dario Cataldo each using the Volta to prepare for Wiggins’ assault on the Giro.

On Monday, Wiggins and his cohorts Cataldo and Lopez blew the race apart in a brilliant piece of tactical racing on a technical descent, carving out a promising 28-second lead on the peloton.

Only 13 riders made it to the line in the front group, with Valverde, Rodríguez, Michele Scarponi (Lampre-Merida), Dan Martin (Garmin-Sharp), and Robert Gesink (Blanco) among the GC favorites keeping their chances alive by racing alertly when the attack came on the day’s final third-category climb.

Garmin sport director Bingen Fernández tipped his hat to Sky’s tactic on Monday.

“The truth is it was a good move by Sky,” Fernández told VeloNews. “Any day can cause you trouble, you have to take advantage. The strength of the riders today is such at an equal level that you have to look for the surprise. Otherwise it’s very hard to make any differences.”

Overnight leader and winner of the opening two stages, Gianni Meersman (Omega Pharma-Quick Step), is expected to fade in the alto montaña, so all eyes will be on Wiggins and Sky to dictate the tactics as the altitude increases.

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