Early season racing steps up a level with five-day Mallorca Challenge
After the Clàssica Comunitat Valenciana kicked off the European road race season on Sunday, with Italy’s Giovanni Lonardi (Eolo-Kometa) winning the sprint, the intensity and quality of the peloton and the parcours click up a gear from Wednesday, with the five-day Challenge Mallorca.
The Challenge Mallorca is not a stage race; it is a series of different one-day races on varying types of terrain on the Spanish Balearic Island, and allows the teams to change their rosters race by race.
The racing begins with the Trofeo Calvià, a constant rolling 156.7km race in the hills in the northwest of the island near Soller. The finish is on the seafront of the Palmanova holiday resort with a fast, final three kilometres.
Thursday’s Trofeo Port d’Alcudia in the north of the island and Sunday’s Trofeo Playa de Palma around the capital are more suited to the sprinters, but the first includes the Coll Sa Batalla 20km from the finish and the second the Coll de Sa Creu before the three flat finishing circuits. The sprinters will have to earn any early-season glory.
Friday’s Trofeo Serra de Tramuntana and Saturday’s Trofeo Pollença-Port d’Andratx head into the barren mountains of the Serra de Tramuntana range that runs along the north backbone of Mallorca. The Trofeo Serra de Tramuntana includes the Coll de Puig Major (14.4km at 6 per cent) before a long, fast descent to the finish. The Trofeo Pollença-Port d’Andratx is also a hard day out and ends with a kick-up to the centre of Andratx.
The Trofeo Calvià climbs a total of 2895 metres, making for a hard first day out. The final climb comes 12km from the finish, favouring the chasers. Last year, when the Challenge Mallorca was held in May due to the COVID-19 pandemic, South Africa’s Ryan Gibbons (UAE Team Emirates) beat breakaway companion Anthony Delaplace (Arkéa-Samsic to win, with the chasers at 40 seconds. Gibbons will defend his win on Wednesday as part of a strong UAE Team Emirates lineup.
Indeed, following the cancellation of the Tour Down Under, the Vuelta a San Juan and a fear of travelling long distances for training camp, a number of major teams have opted to return to a more traditional season start in Mallorca.
Ten WorldTour teams pack the start lists, with Movistar selecting Alejandro Valverde, Enric Mas and the USA’s Matteo Jorgenson for their long list of riders across the five races.
Michael Matthews leads BikeExchange-Jayco, along with Tsgabu Grmay and Alex Edmondson. Giacomo Nizzolo will debut in his new Israel-Premier Tech alongside Canada’s James Piccoli, while Matteo Moschetti and new signing Simon Pellaud have been confirmed for the Trofeo Calvià. Fast-finishing Moschetti won two races of the 2020 Challenge Mallorca. The USA’s Brandon McNulty is part of the UAE Emirates roster and could impress in the hiller races, while new signing Pascal Ackermann will ride the three flatter races in the hope of using his finishing speed.
Alexander Kristoff makes his debut with Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert Matériaux and will target the sprint-friendly races, alongside riding talent Biniam Ghirmay, who finished second in the Under-23 World Championships road race in Belgium, winning the sprint behind Filippo Baroncini.
Eighteen-year-old Belgian talent Cian Uijtdebroeks makes his full professional debut with Bora-Hansgrohe, alongside Jai Hindley and Nils Politt. Bora-Hansgrohe will be without Max Schachmann and Giovanni Aleotti after the pair tested positive for COVID-19.
Philippe Gilbert is absent due to illness but Tim Wellens leads Lotto Soudal as they begin their pursuit of ranking points to retain their place in the World Tour in 2023. Versatile and aggressive Wellens has won four races in the Challenge Mallorca series over the years.
Six Continental teams will be in action as part of a total of 25 teams. Eolo-Kometa are on a high after Lonardi’s win on Sunday and he has travelled to Mallorca as part of a long list. Other teams took the ferry to Mallorca from Valencia after recently wrapping up pre-season training camp on the mainland.
The next week at the Challenge Mallorca and the next six weeks will lay the foundation for the rest of the season, indicating the narratives and themes to follow.
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