Unfortunately I’ve been away for a family birthday this weekend so haven’t managed to write a full GC preview out. Nonetheless, here are a few short words on the matter.
The TTT will have a massive impact on the overall and will shape how the rest of the week is raced; there will be large time gaps. BMC will be hoping to put TVG and Dennis in a good position for the week ahead, but I don’t think they’ll have it all their own way.
Valverde returns from illness and he’ll be hoping to continue his fine form, he loves racing in his home country!
Contador will be looking to overcome ParisNice heartbreak but I think he might be a bit too tired because of that race. Then again, he could easily surprise!
And what about Froome and Team Sky? They should put in a decent TT and with their exceptional crack squad of climbers i’ll be very surprised if they don’t have someone on the podium at the end of the race. Froome hasn’t performed at this race in the past, but Thomas (who’s also here) looked good on his return from South Africa so you never know…
However, I actually think Sky have a better GC option here in the form of Mikel Landa. The Spaniard has had a relatively quiet start to the season but he should find the steep gradients of the mountains here to his liking. After Thomas’ good Tirreno, he needs to remind the Sky bosses he is capable of leading the team at the Giro.
Right, now that’s out of the way, let’s have a look at what’s in store for the riders on the first day.
Not exactly an easy stage to start off with but it sets the tone for the week ahead!
We’ve had a similar stage to start the race off with for the past few editions, but each time the route has been ever so slightly tweaked. This year, there is more emphasis on climbing in the first half of the stage which has resulted in a total of 5 categorised climbs on the day!
The day could be shaped on the 4.3km long, 6.9% average, Alt El Muntanya. As after we crest the peak of that climb, we begin the Coliformic almost straight away. If a team wants to, they could really turn the screw here and make the day a very hard one.
Over the summit, we’ll have 55km left which will mostly be descending. However, this will be broken up by the short but testing Alt de Collsacreu (2.5km at 5.2%). Will we see some attackers try to get away from the peloton here?
The road does rise to the line but nothing too severe and it shouldn’t have an impact on the result at the end of the day.
How will the stage pan out?
Over the past few years we’ve had breaks make it, late attackers, small sprints and relatively large sprints at the finish so who knows.
But with the parcours being harder this year and there being only two top-tier sprinters here (Bouhanni and Greipel) I think it will be unlikely that we’ll see a full bunch gallop. So that’s one of the 4 options gone anyway!
As for the others, a break winning looks least likely although not improbable, so I’ll strike that off the list as well. That leaves us with either a late attack sticking or some kind of small bunch sprint.
We saw several attacks in the closing kilometres of last year’s stage, but they were fruitless in the end and we had a big bunch sprint. However, with a peloton that’s bound to be more tired after the tougher route on offer this year, the chance of a late attack sticking does increase. Your guess is as good as mine as to who might try and make a move but I’ll through a few names into the hat.
He’s tried similar attacks in other races, with varying success but his wins in Cadel’s Race (2016) and a Dauphiné stage in 2015 come to mind. On both of those days, there was a lull in the action at the front of the peloton and Kennaugh sensed the opportunity to attack. Something like that may well happen tomorrow!
Are you bored of me mentioning him at least 5 times already this season and it’s only March?! FDJ are without a GC rider for this race so I’m sure the team will be told to be as attacking as possible. The Swede should manage the climbs unless if one of the GC contenders calls for arms. He can use his TT prowess to make it to the line!
With Greipel and Bouhanni very unlikely to make the finish and some other fast men to boot, it’s probably unfair to call those left sprinters. They’re more puncheurs!
It’s hard to tell who will be left at the end though. Will someone like Sbaragli or Impey make the finish? Or will it be guys more along the lines of Alaphilippe and Valverde contesting the finish?
I think it could be the latter.
Alaphilippe obviously has a great chance after his 3rd place in MSR yesterday. He’s finished well here in the past (3rd in 2014) but will he be tired from Saturday’s big hit-out?
Valverde will have a great chance in a sprint like this. The Spaniard is one of the best all-rounders in the world and has arguably the best final kick after a tough day of climbing. Has he recovered from his illness that saw him pull out of Paris Nice?
Away from those two there are another few I’d like to mention.
The French champion has had a wonderful start to the year, finishing in the top 10 of every race/stage that he has finished! Having not raced for almost a month it will be interesting to see where his form is, but he certainly isn’t one to be discounted. My only concern with him is that none of his 12 professional victories have came outside of France.
Alberto Contador’s pilot fish in Paris Nice, the Colombian seems to be in exceptional form at the moment and will manage the climbs with ease. He packs a fairly good kick after a tough day and with Trek not bringing Felline with them, I imagine he’ll be their man.
The Aussie was one of the riders of the early season, picking up two top 10 GC placings in stage races. He’s taken it a bit easier since, only racing one day (Strade) since the 19th of February. It will be interesting to see if he’s been able to maintain form since then. If Sbaragli hasn’t made it over the climbs, Haas will be the go-to sprinter for Dimension Data and a top 5 result is within his grasp.
I think we’ll get quite an attritional day and maybe only a 50-60 rider peloton coming to the line together. I’ll go for a rider who’s in great form but hasn’t had the chance to go for his own result yet, Jarlinson Pantano to take the win!
Watch out for a late attack from Big T though!