Pinot slowly but surely moving towards top form

With only one previous race this season, Thibaut Pinot (Groupama-FDJ) says form-wise this year’s Volta a Catalunya represents something of a voyage in the dark. But as he points out, he is not putting himself under any pressure for a top result – yet.

Pinot’s big goals this season will come, just like in 2017, in the Giro d’Italia and the Tour de France. But with the aim of being at peak form in the summer, and also avoiding the exhaustion and illness that put paid to his chances in the Tour de France last year, this time round the Frenchman is taking the first part of the season much more easily.

“I don’t have too many reference points yet,” Pinot told Cyclingnews at the start of the Volta a Catalunya on Monday. “I’m a way off my top form, because last year I was aiming for success in Tirreno-Adriatico, where I got third overall.”


That said, Pinot has already finished an encouraging fifth overall in his first race of the season, the Tour du Haut Var in February.

Catalunya, though, is a much tougher event altogether than the French two-day early season race, and, “This time I’m not going so hard in the first part of the year like in 2017, although I’m aiming to get stronger day by day.”

One key reference point for Pinot will come on Wednesday’s Valter 2000 climb, where back in 2013, he finished fifth behind Nairo Quintana (Movistar), as well as taking 15th in 2014 behind Tejay van Garderen (BMC Racing). “I remember it was very cold in 2013, there was a headwind on the climb and a lot of wind,” Pinot told Cyclingnews. “There’s 4,000 metres of [vertical] climbing on that stage, too, it’s a very hard final ascent: for me, it’s the first big test of the season.”

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Dan Martin: Volta a Catalunya GC will be a very tight battle

Experience, consistently good results and extensive first-hand knowledge of the field of battle are all on Dan Martin‘s side in the Volta a Catalunya. But recent events mean there will be an initial question mark on the Irishman’s condition for the race.

Sickness recently saw Martin abandon Paris-Nice, where he’d finished on the podium in 2017, just as the race entered its crucial final weekend. On the plus side, Martin has recovered quickly enough to be at the Volta a Catalunya start. On the downside, it’s not yet totally clear how far along the recovery trail the UAE Team Emirates racer has now travelled.

“I’m feeling good,” Martin told Cyclingnews before the start of stage 1, “although obviously some of this year hasn’t really gone to plan so far.


“I had really good condition in Paris-Nice, I did all the hard part and unfortunately just as my part of the race was starting I got sick,” he said. “That was far from ideal and that’s left a question mark over my condition for this week. So we’ll see how I’ve recovered and hopefully do well. Historically, I’ve got quite a decent track record at this race. I just hope we can get to the parts which suit me.”

Indeed, the Volta a Catalunya is arguably one of the races on the calendar that Martin knows the best, and it’s unquestionably one in which he has done consistently well. He won the race in 2013, took two stages and finished second in 2009 – to Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) as it happens – and in 2011, fourth in 2012, third in 2016 and sixth in 2017. He first rode it way back in 2008, his first full professional year, taking 24th.

Potential after effects of his illness notwithstanding, Martin’s principal concern is that in the Pyrenees, “The weather’s not looking too great. Ok, it’s sunny here, but yesterday [Sunday] morning it was minus 10 degrees in [nearby] Andorra. There’s been a few years when the race has been changed by the weather, and here [in Catalona], it’s been one of the coldest winters in years.”

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Bouhanni quits Volta a Catalunya

The Cofidis team have confirmed that Nacer Bouhanni did not start stage 2 of the Volta Ciclista a Catalunya due to an on-going bout of bronchitis.

The French sprinter was forced to quit Paris-Nice due to illness and was then not selected for Milan-San Remo. He hoped to get his spring back on track at the Volta a Catalunya but finished seventh in the stage 1 sprint.

Cofidis have confirmed that Bouhanni will now take a period of “complete rest to get back to 100% before he resumes training for his next races.” It is unclear when Bouhanni will return to racing.


Bouhanni is the Cofidis team leader but the French team has made a number of changes for 2018 in order to revive their flagging fortunes. They fired team manager Yves Sanquer during the winter and replaced him with former rider Cedric Vasseur. He has made some significant changes to the set-up around Bouhanni, particularly with the appointment of Roberto Damiani and reducing his lead-out train.

So far Bouhanni has accepted the changes and team orders, despite arguing that he was fit enough to ride Milan-San Remo. However he failed to win a sprint so far this season, with second behind Mark Cavendish on stage 3 at the Dubai Tour his best result.

Damiani told Cyclingnews that Bouhanni simply wasn’t fit and healthy enough to ride Milan-San Remo, pointing out that the success of the team always comes before individual ambitions.

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