No time for a GC overview as it’s Flanders today so this will be stage one solely!

The Route

We’re in the Basque region so there is no typical “easy” opening day here…

itzulia-basque-country-2018-stage-1
@LaFlammeRouge16

A lot of fairly rolling roads on a day that is dominated by 5 climbs, three of which are Cat-3 and with the other two being deemed Cat-2. It’s important to remember what part of Spain we are in so some of these Cat-2s could definitely be upped in classification!

The opening three climbs are too far out for anything major to happen on but the same can’t be said about the last two.

AiaPVS1

Cresting with 22kms to go, the Aia climb isn’t overly long and it isn’t overly difficult but it is very inconsistent. The gradient seems to constantly change and it will be very hard for riders to get into a rhythm. It depends on who takes the pace up here, but we should see a thinning of the bunch on the slopes. Once over the top, the riders will take on a shallow descent for almost 10km before a few kilometres of flat. However, the last climb of the day quickly follows and boy does it look interesting!

Elkano

My legs hurt just looking at that! You can see on the profile above the super steep gradients, but also just how “rampy” the climb is as well. I mean, the opening 750m average 13.6% but then it eases off for the next 500m before kicking up again. Another very important thing is how narrow the road is.

Screen Shot 2018-04-01 at 17.12.10

The riders will already be on a one-lane road but it looks as if it goes down to a 3/4er lane! I imagine we’ll only have motorbikes follow them all the way to the top as having team vehicles go up there would be carnage.

With only 7kms of mainly descent on narrow roads all the way to the finish line, if someone summits the climb with a 5 second gap they could make it to the line as it will be hard to organise any chase.

How will the stage pan out?

We could always see a breakaway survive. On a day like tomorrow when there is no real clear favourite a few of the teams might look at each other and not work, presenting those up ahead with a great chance. However, I think we’ll most likely see Movistar and QuickStep take responsibility and it will come down to a battle on the final climb.

Positioning will be vital as it is a waste of energy if you start it from too far back. Therefore, having a team-mate to drive the pace is important but not necessary, as long as you follow the right wheel.

I think the climb is too long and steep for the likes of Albasini to be able to hold on, even though he normally goes well on the Huy. A good comparison that can be made is the final climb the riders have faced in San Sebastian the past couple of years which has a very similar profile; 1.9km at 10.2% compared to tomorrow’s 2.3km at 10.4%.

Even though it is early in the race, if you’re poorly positioned and on a bad day then you can lose a lot of time. It’s a GC day through and through, even if it is a bid of a hidden one!

Contenders

Alaphilippe.

Starts as a favourite for the stage and rightly so, the short but sharp climb looks perfect for him. He was good in Paris Nice but not as strong as I thought he was going to be, although he was possibly too bullish with his tactics and wasted a lot of energy. Tomorrow is a much more simple day; smash it up the climb and descend like a madman. Two things the Quick Step rider can do very well! He’ll be the rider everyone has their eye on.

Landa.

Steep climbs are the Spaniard’s thing and a lot of his GC opposition will be scared as to what he might do tomorrow. There is a very feasible chance that he could put 10 seconds at least into everyone if he is in one of his “Landani” moods. However, the descent to the line isn’t great for him and I think he would need a good gap if he wants to hold on.

Matthews.

The elephant in the room for a stage like this as tomorrow’s effort will be right on his limit. If he’s in almost peak form the Watts he can put out are incredible and we saw at the Tour last year him dropping a lot of mountain goats on the climbs while in the breakaways. You can’t even argue a lack of racing as a reason for him being disregarded because the Aussie always seems to come into form through training rather than having to race. If things slow near the top and no one attacks, he has a great chance in a sprint.

MATTHEWS-Michael066pp

Mollema.

If you’re drawing a comparison to the climb in San Sebastian, then Mollema has to be considered a favourite. In that race he’s crested the climb with the front group in the past two years and on one occasion went on to win by powering away on the descent. He was disappointing in Paris Nice but he bounced back with a stage win and second overall in Coppi e Bartali. A rider who likes the steep stuff and this race, he’s one to watch with interest.

Bardet.

Great climber? Check. Great descender? Check. In theory Bardet should be fighting out for the victory tomorrow. Very strong at the start of the year, he was a bit “meh” in Tirreno before he got a taste of cobbled racing in Dwars. The race conditions in Belgium were pretty poor but if he got through that day without picking up any illness, I expect him to be to the fore tomorrow. One of the strongest riders on the final stage last year which had a climb of similar gradients, he won’t be far off.

Prediction

The race to explode on the final climb. Mollema will time his attack perfectly over the top and with no team-mates really left at the head of the race the other riders won’t be able to organise a chase in time, with the Dutchman holding on for the win.

Mollema_bettiniphoto_web

Betting

Pretty open day so there is some good value about. I considered originally going win only with Bardet but I’ve decided that is stupid…

1pt EW Bardet @ 20/1 with Bet365 (would take 15/1)

1pt EW Mollema @ 40/1 with Bet365 (would take 28/1)

Thanks as always for reading! Who do you think will win tomorrow? Could we see a surprise? Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

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