Rodrigues takes de Volta in dramatic Porto TT finale

We could change our motto from #alwaysracing to #alwayswinning if the last 10 days were anything to go by. At the 2019 Volta a Portugal, João Rodrigues and his team W52 FC Porto took final GC victory, third place (in fact four riders placed in the top five) five stage wins, the green jersey and the team classification. 
Despite the appearance that Portugal’s top team dominated the race, in reality the race was on a knife edge right up until the start of the final TT in Porto — when the two top GC contenders Joni Brandao and João Rodrigues were separated by less than one second. The 81st edition of the race presented one of the hardest routes in history, with five mountain top finishes. Experts predicted the race to be all but sewn up before the final day. Few thought Brandão and Rodrigues would have to fight it out all the way to the line — whomever was fastest in the TT would win the race. 
According to Gustavo Veloso, who finished 3rd overall and wore the yellow jersey during the race, the secret for their successful season was their significant improvement in the time trialing discipline. Winning almost all of the TTs they’ve entered this season, the team clearly outshone their competitors. He pinpointed one key advantage they had in 2019. “If the team is pretty much the same, we can only point to what is different. We’ve been great during the season, excelling in the TTs and the key difference is the bike and the wheels,” the Galician referring to the SwiftCarbon Neurogen and BlackJack wheels. 

Even at 39, Veloso is still considered a TT specialist and his two previous Volta wins were proof of that. This year, it was Rodrigues who was the star of the team. After a top 10 spot in the Volta ao Algarve and winning the Volta ao Alentejo, everyone knew that he would be a contender at the Volta. With the absence of Raul Alarcon, Veloso was the default leader. The team aimed to control the race in the favor of him — a high and steady rhythm on the big climbs, rather than hard attacks, suit his physiology. 

On the highest climb of the race, the “Torre”, Rodrigues won the mountain top finish, outsprinting Veloso and Brandão. During the climb, it was clear Brandão was suffering considerably, but team W52 FC Porto took a cautious approach — not attacking to avoid pace changes that could shed Veloso. All the while, Rodrigues sat in the wheels. This might well have been a decision they’d come to regret — a missed opportunity to eliminate the threat of Brandão. 

After the rest day was a transition stage, predicted to be an uneventful day for the team. But bike racing rarely goes to plan — in the last turn before the finish, three W52 FC Porto riders crashed on the wet and slippery road: Daniel Mestre (wearer of the green points jersey), Veloso and Rodrigues all went down hard. This gave Brandão a confidence boost and he took back some precious seconds in the Serra do Larouco finale. The team’s fortunes looked to be turning — Brandão had the yellow jersey and the favourite to hold it till Porto. 

W52 FC Porto were running out of days, with the extra pressure to gain back some seconds in the upcoming mountain stage or they’d have to leave it till the final TT. In the last mountain stage, the team switched tactics to a more aggressive approach, attacking early in the stage. At one point, António Carvalho was the virtual leader on the road. He would ultimately win the stage, but all eyes were on Rodrigues, to see if he’d take back some time on Brandão, and if Veloso would lose more time. In the end, he gained one second, drawing level with him on GC, just before the last TT. 

Now, Rodrigues was racing in his team’s home town. FC Porto fans are one of the most ‘supportive’ Tiffosis around. It was 19,5km of flags, cheering and hoarding bashing — pure emotion, for the public and the riders. The closest fought and most spectacular Volta in years was about to reach fever pitch, in the center of Porto. People lined the course on the cobbled streets to witness the breathtaking action and cycling history being made — two top Portuguese riders of their generation, head to head. 

With Rodrigues posting the better times at the intermediate checks, it was clear he was on a better day than Brandão. In contrast to Veloso’s perfectly smooth, round pedal stroke, he hammered the pedals, fueled by an unrelenting desire to win. They say “Ride like you stole it”. Well Rodrigues certainly snatched that yellow jersey right off the shoulders of Brandão, winning the stage, and in turn, the 2019 Volta a Portugal.

Key stats:

5 stages wins, overall GC, points jersey, team classification

Total wins:

2x Neurogen

2x stage wins on the UltraVox

1x stage wins on the HyperVox

To find out more about the bikes of team W52 FC Porto, follow the links highlighted in blue.