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Remco Evenepoel is set to return to racing at the Volta a Catalunya next week as he and his Soudal-QuickStep teammates return from an altitude training camp at Mount Teide in Tenerife.
The world champion will be among the favourites for the title in Spain, his third stage race of the new season, which runs from March 20-26. He’ll head back from the Canary Islands with teammates Louis Vervaeke, Fausto Masnada, and Jan Hirt, three of his main lieutenants for May’s Giro d’Italia.
Belgian climber Ilan Van Wilder is also part of the squad, while Mattia Cattaneo and Pieter Serry are also racing in Catalunya. The six riders are expected to form the bulk of Evenepoel’s support squad for the May Grand Tour, his main goal of the season.
Evenepoel has been at altitude on Teide for almost two weeks, having flown out after winning the UAE Tour at the end of February.
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The 23-year-old has shown his form at camp, smashing two Strava records on different routes up the mountain. Speaking to Bici.Pro, his teammate Masnada said that everything is going to plan so far for the team.
“We are training well. Everyone has their own goals, so everyone follows their own programme, but we try to stay together as much as possible,” he said.
“Living together for so many days in a hotel at an altitude of 2,200 metres in the middle of nowhere isn’t easy. It’s not so easy to maintain relationships, but we are used to it by now.”
Evenepoel, Masnada, and the rest of Soudal-QuickStep will face off against some of his main Giro d’Italia rivals in Catalunya. Primož Roglič (Jumbo-Visma) is racing, as are João Almeida (UAE Team Emirates), and Geraint Thomas (Ineos Grenadiers).
Masnada said that he has been impressed with Roglič and Jumbo-Visma so far in 2023, not just in races – the Slovenian dominated his first race of the season at Tirreno-Adriatico – but also in training in Tenerife.
“Roglič is already going strong,” Masnada said. “When I saw him on Teide he was thinner than last year and I said to myself ‘damn, he’s already taut’. Yes, he’s always been hollow in the face, but he looked very thin in the rest of his body, too.
“At this stage, Jumbo-Visma and Tadej Pogačar proved in the races that they are on another planet. First, as a team – not only for Roglič at Tirreno-Adriatico, but also for the placings at Paris-Nice and in the Belgian Classics. Tadej also gave one more demonstration of his talent. They are monopolising races.”
Masnada said that they’ll get a close-up look at Roglič and his team for the first time at a tough course Catalunya, which features three hard mountain stages and which concludes six weeks ahead of the Giro d’Italia Grande Partenza in Abruzzo.
He contrasted his team with the Dutch squad, too, noting that they would race differently come the Giro.
“We are not like UAE Team Emirates or Jumbo-Visma, which are full of champions, a bit like Paris Saint-Germain which is made up of only strikers,” Masnada said. “We have Remco as our diamond, and we all try to do our best for him.
“We have a different race strategy – I imagine we’ll send away breakaway and race more defensively than Jumbo-Visma, who attack often and with more men.”