Apologies once again for no stage 3 preview but I didn’t have the time to write one.
We got some echelon action with around 70km left in the stage but the section of road was too short for any meaningful gaps to be made. Things regrouped and with the break caught, we had a long final 50km as everyone looked at each other.
Once again, we had a fairly chaotic sprint as things ebbed and flowed in the bunch in the closing three kilometres. In the end though, it was Cavendish who took the spoils after a masterful display of positioning saw him move up at just the right time, before he delivered a powerful sprint to win fairly comfortably in the end.
Bouhanni finished a rather surprising second, with stage favourite Kittel third.
A time penalty for Groenewegen sees Viviani as the new GC leader but it is all to play for tomorrow with the famous Hatta Dam finish. Let’s have a look at what is in store for the riders.
Billed as the GC stage, will the sprinters be able to hold onto the puncheurs?
A stage that is once again back-ended with action, we could possibly see some fireworks earlier in the day though…
We saw one split in the peloton today due to the crosswinds as they headed North-East through the desert and we could well see the same tomorrow. The 30km section from before Al Madam to just after Al Malahia is mainly exposed desert road such as in the image below.
The forecast isn’t for crazily high wind speeds, but it is set to be similar to what we had today at roughly 20-25km/h. When the pace is on and with there no real protection at all (aside from some “mountains” on their left), it is easier than you would expect for some gaps to open. I’m not banking on echelons, but I have my hopes!
It will be interesting to see if any team does try to cause some issues, bring back the break and go for the bonus seconds at the intermediate sprint point with roughly 70km to go. Looking at you Quick Step.
The road gradually rises after that but it is nothing to worry the sprinters too much. If we haven’t had any splits in the wind, then this stage is all about the final 20kms.
Ignore the little double kicker up the Dam wall, I’m not too sure what happened there!
It’s the same approach that we’ve had in the past couple of years and it is possible for some riders to be disengaged on the two climbs we have on the run in.
The average for the first climb is 3.5% for 5kms which is enough to see an upping of the pace and a draining of the sprinters legs. If this was mid-season, then I’d say that all of the sprinters here would get over it but with it being so early in the year, I’m not sure they all will; especially with the final 700m at 9%.
Next is a quick descent and another kicker that should be dealt with easily due to the speed they carry. It is then over to the climb of the Dam Wall itself to decide the day.
Just over 30 seconds of pure hurt the Wall lends itself both to good climbers, puncheurs and we’ve even seen sprinters go well here, i.e. Degenkolb’s win in 2015 and Kittel finishing 4 seconds back in 2016.
Positioning going into the climb is key and you really want to be in the first 10 riders at the very least if you want to post a good time/result. So no doubt we’ll see a big battle for control in the closing kilometres before the right-hand turn.
The beauty of this stage is the wide variety of riders who could go well here. Just look at the top 10 the past two times the race finished here.
There seems to be no real formula as to who the winner might be. We don’t really have a Lobato style rider here who stands out as an ideal candidate.
Plus, when you throw the potential of crosswinds into the mix tomorrow, then it makes it even more difficult to predict. So I’m just going suggest a non-exhaustive list of riders who might have a chance.
If he’s in good shape at the moment (a big if as he’s not been tested so far) then the Dam finish is great for the BMC rider. Last season was a breakthrough year for him and he seems to finally be living up to the promise he showed back in 2015. Third place at Fleche highlights his ability to go well on the steep stuff but I’m unsure if he’s explosive enough for this type of effort, but who know. Arguably the stage favourite, he might struggle to get a big enough gap to win the GC.
Winner in 2015, this is the stage he and Trek have been eyeing up all week. Starting his season off in flying form winning two races in Mallorca, he’s struggled a bit this week against stronger competition. Nonetheless, with the sprint stages being shared about, he still has a chance of a good overall position if he wins tomorrow. Is he back to his 2015 level? I don’t know, but we’ll get a good indication tomorrow. He could quite easily be first or twentieth!
Yup, my man for GC gets a mention here. If Degenkolb can win, Nizzolo finish second and Kittel not too far back either, then I see no reason as to why Viviani can’t challenge here tomorrow. He’s arguably been one of the best riders in this early season and has good form at the moment. Given the climb is more of a 30-40 second power test then Viviani might be up there, especially if he repeats the numbers he did in the closing sprint in Cadel’s Race. Another thing that gives Viviani a good chance is his team. The result tomorrow is 30% positioning at the foot of the climb and Quick Step have been great at that so far. They just need to deliver the Italian at the bottom of the slope and let him go full gas.
Similar to Degenkolb in many ways, Colbrelli likes a sprint at the end of a tough day. The climbing during the stage tomorrow won’t be of any difficulty to him and he’ll fancy his chances on the rise to the finish. A winner of Brabantse Pijl and a contender in Amstel, it will be interesting to see how he goes on an 18% ramp, not an 8% one! He’s quite slight for a sprinter and that might be a big advantage tomorrow.
The “Wongshot™” of these five he impressed me with his sprint on today’s stage. Now, like Colbrelli and Viviani, Bouhanni is one of the lighter sprinters that we have in the peloton which should help with tomorrow’s “w/Kg – 30 second sprint test” that the riders will face. He’s performed well on hill-top finishes in the Vuelta in the past so he’s not one to discount. My only concern is that his team isn’t the best at positioning and he’s pretty awful in the crosswinds himself. This was clear today when he was gapped in the small split we had and that it is not ideal expending unnecessary energy in the tougher stage we have tomorrow.
No idea but I’m going to go with the man in form who’s already shown his strong 30 second sprint potential over the past month, and with a strong team that will position him well in any crosswinds and in the run to the bottom of the climb.
Vai vai Viviani!
Was tempted to leave it after my horror few days and considering Viviani is leading GC, but where is the fun in that?!
1pt EW Viviani @ 18/1 with Bet365. (would take down to 14/1)
Thanks for reading as always! I’m looking forward to tomorrow’s stage and I hope we see some crosswind action to make the earlier part of the stage exciting. Who do you think will win? Anyway,
Those were My Two Spokes Worth.