BMC won, but a “not-completely ruled out” Etixx pushed them very close!
It was a strong win from the Swiss outfit but not as convincing as I had expected and it leaves the GC battle well poised going into the final two stages, with several strong riders less than a minute behind. Here’s what the top 20 looks like.
It’s great from a viewing perspective as a lot of riders will still fancy their chances, but it makes it harder from a previewing slant because it becomes more unpredictable and open.
Speaking of which, let’s have a look at tomorrow’s stage!
This stage is certainly not as tough as in previous years, but the organisers yet again haven’t been kind and provided proper information for the stage. So like on the previous road stages, I’ve had to consult several sources to try to get my head around this stage!
Although that’s not entirely helpful as several sites somehow take the one GPX file and produce varying figures of elevation gain; 1431m (ridewithgps), 1969m (Strava), 1116m (google maps on Maplorer), 4121m (raw data from GPX on Maplorer), 1272m (cronoescalada) and 2027m (utrack.crempa).
The first profile you see above is from the Maplorer website, with the second being from @LasterketaBurua (Go check them out on Twitter!).
I’ve decided to put both profiles in as it provides a good comparison of how the scale can change how severe a climb looks. It’s also interesting to see that the profiles are pretty much identical in shape, yet the elevation gain is very different!
As you can see on the 2nd profile, we have a few short, sharp ascents around 50km from the finish. Potentially too far out from the finish to do any damage but you never know.
The Golden Kilometre (GK) starts 200m before the foot of the Hallembaye climb, which itself is 800m at 8.6%, with the end of the GK being at the summit. There is a 200m section of above 12%, which will sting the legs!
We then have a shallow descent/flat until the final climb of the day, the Muizenberg at 18km left. The climb itself isn’t very tough, only 650m at 6.6%, but if the racing has been on early on then it is a potential launchpad for a group of riders to escape.
The final 3km is fairly technical, with a few sharp turns and roundabouts to navigate.
The final 500m section of the stage rises at roughly 2.2%, with a max gradient of around 4.5%. Not exactly Amstel-esque!
How will the race pan out?
That very much depends on the attitude of the teams.
The stage isn’t overly tough and a few of the sprinters would hope to make it to the end of the day in the peloton. However, the 140-155km section is key. If some of the teams go crazy here, (looking at you Etixx!), then this could put an end to the sprinters hopes and make the final 40km incredibly exciting.
The only problem with this is that there are still 40km left.
There are the two hills that I’ve highlighted above, but the majority of it is flat-ish road. The Golden Kilometre will tempt the Ardennes riders into action. That may be on the toughest section mentioned above, or on the actual climb itself. But there is still plenty of road left for teams to re-organise and bring them back. Unless of course we get the right mix of riders and a highly motivated escape group!
I think the bonus seconds on offer later on in the stage will result in the day’s early breakaway not making it all the way.
So we’re left with two probable outcomes; a GC selection at around 50km to go that makes it to the line, or some kind of reduced bunch sprint. Both outcomes come with an attached “late-attack” option.
Either way, this man will be there.
Outcome 1 -> GC shake-up
In this situation we get a strong group of around 20-30 riders getting clear with about 40km to go. Due to the amount of teams and strong riders represented they manage to stay away as the chase behind is unorganised and lacking in firepower.
Once the gap has been established it will be incredibly tactical! A battle between BMC and Etixx as they both have 4 riders within 40 seconds of the race lead. Etixx actually have 5, but I’m discounting Kittel because I don’t think he would be able to follow over the quick succession of climbs.
Anytime an Etixx rider attacks, BMC will follow and vice versa. The danger for BMC is that looking forward to Sunday’s stage, they might not be overly confident with how Dennis will cope on the cobbles of the Muur, so they can’t rest on his 16 second advantage. Therefore, Van Avermaet is their trump card. He’s the rider that they would be most confident in following anyone (Sagan) up the Muur so they will need to keep him close in GC tomorrow.
Dennis may use his TTing abilities himself and go on the offensive himself!
This tactical battle between BMC/Etixx/Sagan could see other teams benefiting from it. A rider could launch a late attack in the final 10km and with no real organisation behind it could stick until the finish. Look to the likes of Izagirre, Dumoulin, Naesen, Navardauskas or Wellens.
Of course, we could see this group come to the line together, or even a fragment of it (10 riders or so) and get an uphill sprint.
No-one will want to tow Sagan to the line though!
Outcome 2 – Reduced Bunch Sprint
The damp squib option.
With the parcours not being overly difficult a few of the better climbing sprinters could make the split if the pace isn’t too high over that now famous 140-155km section.
In this situation, we would probably have a peloton of around 80 or 90 riders come to the line together.
There would more than likely be a split in that group when they pass the golden kilometre, but in this situation it would regroup afterwards, much like we saw in Stage 4.
Like Outcome 1, there is the possibility of a late attack sticking if they are the correct rider(s), strong enough, and there is no co-operation behind.
If we do get some kind of sprint I would expect Matthews, Kristoff, Degenkolb, Nizzolo, Boasson Hagen, Trentin and possibly Greipel to make it.
Of course, GVA and Sagan will be there too.
But no-one will want to tow Sagan to the line though!
Hmmmm. It’s a tough one.
Sagan is a favourite in every situation, so much so that he won’t win in my opinion. Unless he just decides to ride away from everyone!
I think Outcome 1 is more likely, but I favour some kind of late attack. Whether that be solo or a small group of 5-10 riders getting away. For it to succeed there will need to be at least 1 Etixx/BMC rider in it.
I’ve already mentioned a few riders I like for this situation above, but another few I’d like to throw into the ring are Stybar & Degenkolb.
Stybar because he looked incredibly strong in the Vuelta, has won this race before, not afraid of an uphill sprint and he is reasonably far down on GC at 40 seconds.
Degenkolb is more of a long-shot but if this was last year then he’d be up there with Sagan on the “don’t tow to the line” wagon. He seems to be re-finding his feet after the horrific accident earlier in the year, and I would love to see him go well here. He should be able to cope with the climbs, possibly with that GC selection Option and the uphill sprint is right up his street! Far enough down on GC to find himself in that late attack if he doesn’t fancy it against Sagan in the sprint.
But I’ll go for neither of them and say that Nelson Oliveira wins. Movistar are a team without a sprinter and will be going on the offensive. Oliveira isn’t a real danger on GC as he should struggle on Sunday, so could well be given some leeway!
I did have this down as a Naesen win but the odds are too short and I can’t suggest someone to win and not have backed them!
A day for small stakes and putting eggs in several baskets!
0.1pt EW on the following;
Ion Izagirre @ 250/1
Nelson Oliveira @ 300/1
Navardauskas @ 150/1
Devenyns @ 200/1
Kelderman @ 200/1
Thanks again for reading, hope you enjoyed this slightly longer preview. How do you think tomorrow’s stage will play out? As usual, any feedback is greatly appreciated! Anyway,
Those were My Two Spokes Worth.