After missing a preview for today’s stage I’ll be back with daily blogs for the rest of the week, apologies!
Almost disappointingly we didn’t see anyone try a bold attack on the climb or the run in but they had no real chance to with Movistar setting a fierce tempo into the closing 2kms. From there Quick Step took over, absolutely drilling it at the front of the peloton to set up their man for the day and boy did Hodeg deliver. Once he was released by his lead-out man then no-one could live with him as he galloped home by about 4 bike lengths.
Not a bad few days for the Colombian as he quickly followed up his first pro win with the World-Tour level win today! Interestingly, he says his surname as “Hodge”; I wonder if it is too late to try to get him to ride for Scotland…
Behind, Bora rounded out the podium with Bennett coming second and McCarthy trailing in just behind. The former still looks to be finding some form as his first part of the season has been plagued with illness but his team-mate will certainly be happy with where he is and will fancy his chances tomorrow.
Let’s have a look at what is in store for them.
A rolling day with a reasonable amount of altitude gain, it is a stage that will be decided by the final climb.
The climb is long enough that it should be too tough for the proper sprinters, although we don’t really have many of them here. It will be interesting to see if any GC team decides to light it up and given what we saw today, I imagine Movistar will be keen to set a tempo on the slopes.
It’s a good climb to set a tempo on too as the gradients are very regular. With the gradients not being overly steep and the climb not being really long, then some of the punchier guys might fancy their chances at holding on. It all just depends on the approach of the GC teams.
However, anyone wanting to be in with a chance of winning the stage will need to be in the bunch once it crests with 10km to go as it is mainly downhill from there.
The descent will be fast but the riders should have plenty of room as to manoeuvre as it is on a main road. It is possible to pedal on the descent so I’m intrigued to see what gear ratios riders select for tomorrow.
There are a few roundabouts in the closing kilometres which could make things a bit dangerous if we get a bunch finish.
How will the stage pan out?
The climb of Lilla was last used back in 2016 on Stage 5 when we had the exact same closing 20kms as we do tomorrow. On that day there were already plenty of time gaps due to it being the 5th stage so everyone wanted to go into the break. In fact, it took until only 50km to go for it to form. Poels attacked from the move on the climb and managed to hold on, winning ahead of 4 of his break companions who fought it out for the minor podium places with the peloton coming in behind them.
The break does have a chance, as always, but I can’t see that happening. Movistar made their intentions pretty clear today with their show at the front of the peloton and I would expect them to set a fierce pace on the climb to try to distance that fast men. Consequently, the question is then how many riders will be left at the front? In 2016 it was a peloton of roughly 60 that were left. If the Spaniards go crazy tomorrow then I could see maybe a group of 30-40 riders together over the top. If they go really crazy then it might only be 20.
Co-operation in the lead group will then be a factor as to who continues to drive the pace on the descent or if a splinter group might squirrel off the front. The smaller the group of riders, the more likely people will successfully get away.
We saw what happened recently in Paris Nice when Sanchez, Hivert and Di Gregorio were able to get away after a fairly innocuous looking climb.
The Movistar man has to start as the big favourite for tomorrow’s stage. In fine form, as always, he’ll be drooling at the prospect of a reduced bunch sprint and some possible bonus seconds on the line. He got involved today and the majority of the guys who finished ahead of him won’t make it tomorrow. Movistar have a strong team to control proceedings but they might be leant on heavily by others.
Valverde’s big rival for the stage, he was an impressive 3rd today. Arguably as fast if not faster than El Bala on a finish like this he’ll have his whole team to support him. This is his first stage-race back in Europe after a good showing during the opening season events Down Under.
Won a stage at this race last year, he’ll enjoy the thought of a reduced bunch gallop as he should be one of the faster guys left. He was on his own in the final today as the first port of call for him this race is to look after his GC leaders. If that’s the same tomorrow then he might struggle to find the right wheel but with a bit of luck he could take the win. If his form is similar to that when he was in Australia then others will be worried about him!
Those three are the favourites for the stage in my opinion and I would be surprised if one of them didn’t win. However, others might still get involved.
I’m a big fan of the former Junior/U-23 World Champion and it is good to see him get more responsibility and leadership roles at Bahrain this season, although he is more than happy to do his job for the team, i.e. helping Nibali at Sanremo. In today’s sprint he tried to lead-out Bonifazio but the Italian was somewhat blocked in, while Mohoric held on for 9th. Tomorrow should all be about Matej though as I can’t see Bonifazio making it over with the lead group. We might see a show from him on the descent or he might try his hand at a sprint but Bahrain will be near the front as Visconti also could deliver a strong result too.
Another rider I’m a fan of (there seems to be a recurring theme here), the Astana rider packs a good sprint from a small group. He was flying towards the end of last season and started the year off in good form with a strong result in Valenciana. He pulled out of Abu Dhabi though and this is his first race back since then so his form is a bit unknown. If they don’t go for him, Chernetckii could be Astana’s guy.
The former French Champion has been lightly raced this season so far with today’s stage only the 3rd race day he has completed therefore it is hard to tell if he will be competitive or not. On paper though, tomorrow’s stage looks ideally suited to his characteristics. He’s a classy rider and can’t be discounted full but I just think that there will be others who will be faster than him left at the end. Also, he only ever wins in France. Watch him change that tomorrow…
Jay McCarthy wins.
Valverde has met his match in reduced bunch sprint finishes! Movistar will need to set a crazy tempo on the climb to distance him and turn it into a fully fledged GC day if that happens.
2pts WIN on McCarthy @ 7/1. (would take down to 5/1).
Thanks as always for reading! Who do you think will win tomorrow? Anyway,
Those were My Two Spokes Worth.