Portugal has been hiding some pretty good climbing talent: We learned a lot about Amaro Manuel Antunes (VDS price: 1pt. I'll add the prices for all the featured riders in this article, because it's nearly submission time and it's what we're all thinking about) this week. Well, some of us probably learned it when he put up a decent fight against Nairo Quintana in Valencia, but in backing up that performance by winning on the Alto do Malhão he may be looking to step up from his Portuguese Continental outfit sponsored by a football team. From the second he attacked on Malhão, it was clear that the attack was both venomous and going to succeed. He pulled out a huge gap over a diminished, but very real Sky train and held his advantage to win by twelve seconds. While I can't deny that it is February, this race is his Tour de France and the peloton at Algarve was less than stellar, I will point out that since 2010, the list of winners on Malhao reads like this: Alberto Contador three times, Richie Porte twice, Sergio Henao once, and Steve Cummings once. Cummings is the only one of those who isn't a great climber, and there's no one who's not a top cyclist. While he's not coming out of nowhere — he finished fourth on the same stage last year — he may now be able to improve his career.
Dan Martin (16pts) hasn't disappeared: While a slowing Moscon took him out of contention on Malhao, and a poor-even-for-him time-trial took him out of the GC race, Martin turned up on Alto da Foia to take his first win in almost a year. One thing I noticed from his race in Algarve was how narrow his margin of victory was. He's finished a bike length behind Michael Matthews in a bunch sprint, after all. This can possibly be explained by Martin training more and more for long, stage race climbs. He used to be a rider for uphill sprints, and while he may have lost some or even most of that — I don't think he'll finish in the top three of Flèche this year — he can now cope better on the longer ascents, as he's admitted himself. This may be a continuation of this transition. I also noticed a dedicated Quickstep team behind him. While Zdenek Stybar and Julien Vermote can’t help much on the climbs, he was well protected. On stage two especially Quickstep worked very hard on the early climbs. Team help is always something Martin lacked, so it's nice to see him with some.
Valverde's not slowing down yet: After a seventy kilometre solo raid in the Vuelta a Murcia, it always seemed likely that Valverde (34pts) would be up for the race which he has now won four times in the last five years, and he certainly delivered. He runs hot and cold in time-trials, but he was scalding on Friday's 12 kilometre effort, missing the stage win by one second, but nabbing the leader's jersey by the same margin. I also noticed how quickly he recovered after being dropped by Contador on stage two's summit finish. He looked totally dead in the water, weaved for a minute and lost huge amount of distance, but a minute later he was charging back up the climb and limited his losses to a recoverable seven seconds.
Contador's still around: We just don't know to what degree. His time-trial, while overshadowed by Valverde's, was still very acceptable. A dog running across the Cordoba road upset him, perhaps enough to lose him the vital one second necessary to secure victory, but third place, even in such a sparse field, is by no means a bad result. Nor was his second place on stage two's mountain-top finish — Pinot caught him eventually, but he was able to drop everyone on the slopes and keep it up until the false flat at the top scuppered his chances. After the race of course, he insisted that the race meant nothing to him and he was working towards Paris-Nice. While, of course, he is working towards Paris-Nice, I would speculate that after the number of attacks Contador (18pts) made, losing to Valverde may annoy him just the tiniest bit more than he's letting on. We know no more about him that we did before this week.
Ben Hermans is having a seriously good early season: The Tour of Oman was Hermans' biggest stage race win, and he did it in impressive fashion, having beaten Fabio Aru on Green Mountain. That, in addition to second place in Valencia, paints a promising picture for his season hopes.
Lachlan Morton (4pts) might actually do something: On Morton's first foray into the world Tour at the age of twenty-one, he disappointed completely, achieving high finishes only in American races, and in the second year of his Garmin contract, not even there. It's understandable — that's a lot of pressure for such a young rider. This time, however, he's started out his season well with a seventh place finish on Green Mountain taking him to eighth on GC. While he's not beating everyone just yet, it's a promising start for the twenty-five year old Australian.
Arthur Vichot (4pts) is shaking off the curse: After winning the GP de la Marseillaise, Vichot added again to his palmarés by winning the Tour de Haut-Var, two high finishes in group sprints ensuring a narrow victory over the seven riders who finished on the same time as him. It's almost enough to make you calculate how many points are available in all the small races in France that you've never heard of.
That's enough for now. To disclose a little more: I have more than one of these people on my team. I also haven't mentioned the one-pointer this week convinced me to take. Have fun picking!