A very testing first day out for the peloton. According to the altimetry on LaFlammeRouge they will face 4000m of climbing.
Starting with a climb almost immediately might catch some of the peloton off guard and we might see those who fancy a go in the breakaway warming up on the rollers beforehand.
I wonder if some of the GC teams will keep things together until the 32km so that their leader can go for bonus seconds. If not, then nothing much will happen until the second half of the day. Where in the closing 90km of the stage the riders will have to tackle 5 categorised climbs.
The first of those is the toughest as the Puerto de Zaafarraya averages 6.1% for 11.8km. This is long enough for riders to be dropped if a team decides to push the pace on. From there the road rolls for the following 40km with very little respite. In fact, from the 127km gone mark the riders will either be climbing or descending for the next 30km. This will hurt a lot, especially this early into the season and if a team decides to take it up. We could well see the peloton decide en masse to take it easy but I’m not so sure if that will happen.
Once over the crest of the penultimate climb (the Alto del Lucero) there will still be 40kms left and only one more ascent. The majority of the 20kms between the two climbs is shallow descent so anyone who lost time on the Lucero will have to make an effort to come back.
The final climb is the easiest of the day at only 4.8% for 2.5km. Cresting with 20km to go, could it act as a launchpad for some late attacks?
The run-in itself is fairly straight forward with the last 2kms almost all being along a straight road. They do have to traverse a roundabout in the closing kilometre but the road does go almost straight ahead so it shouldn’t be too much of an issue.
Sprint or nah?
Tomorrow’s stage really could go two ways and there is certainly a more exciting option!
We could see some teams ramp up the pace from far out, especially on the long Cat-1 climb, or blitz the 30kms of constant up and down which follows not long after. Even though there is a long way from the penultimate climb to the finish there is a chance that the group could be thinned down. By how much depends on how aggressively we race but I would expect something like 60 riders left at the head of the race. If things get crazy, then we could see 20-30 riders out front with 40km to go.
A group like that is open to counter-attacks and I’m not sure if there would be the co-operation to stay away. A 60 rider peloton is much more likely to make it all the way.
Conversely though, we could see a much more sedate pace with the break slowly reeled back in and a big bunch finish in Granada.
It is also important to not rule out the breakaway on an opening stage like this. Who is going to want to do all of the chasing? Will it fall to the sprinters teams, or will a squad of a GC favourite step up and do the work?
My more favoured option is a reduced bunch sprint of around 50 riders so I’m going to throw a few names into the hat for that option. Although with the amount of climbing to be done, I do keep swinging towards this being a more selective day than it originally seems. If that does happen, then expect chaos in the final 40km as we’ll see countless attacks go; which certainly would be exciting!
With the Classics season approaching on the horizon, these are the types of races where the strong men of the bunch come to hone their form. Tomorrow’s stage is quite like a tough one-day race where the bunch will be worn down through attrition, not steep gradients. Naesen is the type of rider who could go well here if the pace is consistent but not crazy on the climbs. He’s a strong guy and certainly could push out some watts at the end of the race; his lead-out for Venturini in the closing stage in Valenciana is testament to that. Although he put out too much there!
I’m on a similar train of thought with Vanmarcke and making the assumption that Modolo might not make the finish. The Belgian rider had a disappointing classics campaign in due to injury but the second half of his season was much better. He picked up some very solid results in tough one-day races such as Bretagne and Quebec. In a reduced group he has a surprisingly good turn of speed and a win here would give him a lot of confidence as we head towards the Classics.
Astana have arguably the strongest team here so they will hope that most, if not all, of their riders make a front group if we have some splits on the climbs. Moser’s win in Laigueglia on Sunday was very impressive although he was against a weaker field. His attack on the climb saw him open up a gap in less than 50 metres and he managed to keep putting time into the rest of the riders over the closing 10km. He looks back to the lively rider we saw when he burst onto the scene in 2012. That year he won a 40 rider bunch sprint on the opening stage in the Tour of Poland, can he do the same here tomorrow?
The Wanty rider had a very solid end to 2017, finishing in the top 10 in 5 out of the 6 one-day races he competed in. That set of results included a very impressive sprint victory in the Coppa Sabatini where he beat the likes of Colbrelli and Viviani. He’s the type of rider who will struggle if the pace is high on the climbs tomorrow, but he should manage to sneak his way into a group of 60 or so if he has maintained that form.
Another Italian to make the list, it seems that Battaglin is always a shoe-in for a top 10 finish on stages like these. He can climb well; although he’s not hit the heady-heights of his performances in the 2016 Giro as of late, but he can also sprint to a good standard as well.
After only somewhat including him for my Laigueglia preview, I can’t not back my season-long fantasy rider here; Moreno Moser to win!
I still can’t get over the power of his attack on that day and I think he gives Astana their best option of stage success from a small sprint. Of course, if we see a really crazy day then he’ll hope to be there and he could make it to the line in a small group of attackers who’ve skipped clear of the bunch.
1pt EW Moser @ 66/1 with Bet365 (Would take 40s)
0.5pt EW Vanmarcke @ 100/1 with Bet365 (Would take 66s)
FOR GC – 2pts WIN Luis Leon Sanchez at 11/2 with Bet365.
Thanks as always for reading! Who do you think will win tomorrow and how will the stage play out? Anyway,
Those were My Two Spokes Worth.