It's been a strange start to the season, with more of the same uncertainty that the cycling world carried through 2020 as a result of the pandemic.
Despite much of the men’s team arriving in Europe ready to race, Rally Cycling’s planned January training camp was delayed due to the lack of early races. But now, finally, just around the corner is the Clásica de Almería on Sunday, February 14, an early-season sprint test on the southern coast of Andalusia, Spain.
The 2021 edition starts from Puebla de Vícar and rides 183.3km to Roquetas de Mar, a little way along the coast from the city of Almería and its imposing Moorish fortress. The race has had the same flat run-in since 2016, but each year takes a slightly different tour of the nearby hills and historic towns. Fun fact: the desert-like climate and arid landscape make the area an ideal location for shooting Westerns, including the 1960s films For a Few Dollars More and The Good, The Bad and The Ugly. With any luck, the worst the team can expect weather-wise is a howling wind.
The Clásica de Almería typically ends in a bunch sprint and, with so few chances so far in 2021, the 34th edition has drawn an especially strong field, including 2015 champion Mark Cavendish (Deceuninck-QuickStep) and Pascal Ackermann (Bora-Hansgrohe) who has won the past two editions.
Rally Cycling lines up with a strong team to support new fast man Arvid de Kleijn, who is eagerly anticipating his debut for the team in a big European sprint battle.
“I can’t wait to race in the orange jersey. I’m looking forward to working together on a plan with the team and competing against those guys. My own plan is clear, I want to be up there at the end if there’s a sprint. I’m ready for it!”
Men’s team director Pat McCarty is ready to get back to racing with the guys at the Clásica de Almería.
“I think it’s quite a decent race for us. Arvid de Kleijn is riding well at the moment and definitely a very talented, capable sprinter, so we’re going there 100% to ride for him.”
Almería sees a bit of a departure from traditional planning at this time of year when the team thinks about the big picture more than each individual race. But now with a European sprint talent and fewer opportunities to get race miles in the legs, the plan has changed.
“It’s a strange thing having just one one-day race in February,” says McCarty, “So rather than the usual ‘just stick guys in races’, we’ve moved the roster around a little bit and tuned it up for Arvid. It’s not like we’re putting massive pressure on the guys or stressing too much about it, but if we can get a result there, we’re going to try. It’s still full pandemic mode around the world, but the guys are all in good shape and ready to get racing. I know I am.”
Next up for the men is their rescheduled training camp starting on February 17.
“We’re redoing things having moved it to the second half of February,” McCarty explains. “We’re still working on getting most of the riders over here so we’re not at 100% full flight mode in terms of team operations, but we’re prepared for Almeria and we’ll have a good go at it.”
Clásica de Almería roster: Arvid de Kleijn, Nathan Brown, Pier-André Coté, Colin Joyce, Emerson Oronte, Joey Rosskopf, Nickolas Zukowsky