The 2024 road racing season steps up in pace this weekend when the first of cycling’s so-called ‘Big Six’ of superstar riders, Remco Evenepoel (Soudal-QuickStep) heads for his first startline of the year at the Figuera Champions Classic in northern Portugal on February 10.
Evenepoel’s keenly awaited 2024 debut will see the former world champion take part in a notably challenging one-day race for so early in the season, 222km in length and with nearly 3,000 metres of vertical climbing.
Barely 24 hours later after Evenepoel’s hilly debut in Portugal, compatriot Wout van Aert (Visma-Lease A Bike), begins his road season at the relatively flat Clásica Almería in southern Spain, immediately following that up with a trek on the steep, narrow gravel roads of the Clásica Jaén, just a few hours drive away, the day after on February 12.
Van Aert then heads to the Volta ao Algarve where he and Evenepoel will be the first two of the ‘big six’ to face off in a road race in 2024. An event won overall by Evenepoel both in 2020 and 2022 but Van Aert has never tackled before, other top names for southern Portugal’s top early season race include defending champion Dani Martínez (Bora-Hansgrohe), double Algarve champion Geraint Thomas (Ineos Grenadiers) and Thomas’ ultra-versatile teammate Tom Pidcock.
Less than a week after the Algarve peloton reaches its final summit finish on the Alto do Malhao on February 18, on the far side of the Iberian peninsula in northwesterly Spain, Jonas Vingegaard (Visma-Lease A Bike) will return to defend his 2023 triumph at O Gran Camiño.
Vingegaard’s full house of success in the Galician event in 2023, when he won all three stages – the fourth was cancelled because of bad weather – en route to the overall title, could well be difficult to repeat.
But Galicia will nonetheless offer a first chance to see the Danish star in action in 2024 against the likes of former Tour de France and Giro d’Italia winner Egan Bernal (Ineos Grenadiers), Olympic champion and Grand Tour specialist Richard Carapaz (EF Education-EasyPost) and veteran Colombian climbing ace Nairo Quintana (Movistar).
Van Aert will be the only ‘Big Six’ name to take part in either Omloop Het Nieuwsblad (February 24) or Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne (February 25), where Belgium’s road racing calendar gets underway. But the dust will barely have settled on Opening Weekend before Tadej Pogačar (UAE Team Emirates) heads to his first event of the season at Strade Bianche on March 2.
Pogačar’s comparatively late start comes a day before that of his compatriot Primož Roglič (Bora-Hansgrohe), who returns to the fray with a second participation in Paris-Nice (March 3-10) in three years.
While Pogačar and Roglic’s first road events of 2024 are, curiously enough, in races they both won in 2022, recently recrowned world cyclocross champion Mathieu van der Poel (Alpecin-Deceuninck) is the only one of the ‘Big Six’ yet to reveal his definitive early season program.
Latest rumours, however, point to Van der Poel hitting the road in Milan-San Remo, which he won last year ahead of Filippo Ganna (Ineos Grenadiers) and Van Aert.