Well, well Wellens!
The current race leader clearly has benefited from those extra hours on the TT bike this winter as he blasted his way around the course: taking the win and extending his race lead. Fuglsang was a bit of a surprise as the first Astana rider home with pre-stage favourite Izagirre only managing third place at the end of the day.
The GC battle is well open heading in to tomorrow’s Queen stage so let’s have a look at what is in store for the riders…
Taking a leaf out of the Grand Tours books, the organisers have decided on a short but sharp stage tomorrow with the riders only facing 119 km from Armilla to Granada.
With over 2500m of altitude gain packed into such a short stage, there are sure to be some GC time gaps come the end of the stage. It will certainly be an intense day in the saddle for everyone. However, with that being said, I can’t see any teams try to take it up on the first of the two difficult climbs, instead, they will probably wait until the final ascent of the day.
The closing 40 kms sees the road start to rise up with the gradual second category climb of Alto de Guejar (6.2 km at 5.2%). Not a tricky climb, expect it to be raced at quite a tough pace with a few teams looking to thin things out before they reach the much tougher climb of Alto de Hazallanas.
A brute, the gradients speak for themselves really! The opening 5 kms average roughly 11%, before it “flattens off” down to a measly 6.5% for the remaining part of the climb. It was used as the finish climb of stage 10 at the 2013 so try to watch that on Youtube if you can!
With over 20 km from the summit to the finish, you might think that it would be weird to see teams attack on Hazallanas but given that the majority of it is downhill – then we might just see that.
The downhill itself will be fast, but as you can see on the image above, it is pretty technical in some sections too. Either way, it will be difficult for a chase to form here. Once off the descent there are roughly 5 kms of flat left before the finish line on the outskirts of Granada.
How will the stage pan out?
We could see quite a fierce fight to get into the breakaway but with the stage being so short, it will be easier for the GC teams to control any early attacks. As I said, I don’t think we’ll see any major action until the penultimate climb of the day where Mitchelton and Astana will come to the front of the bunch and start to turn the screw. Both of those have squads capable of tearing things apart on Hazallanas and leaving only a select group of riders out the front of the race.
From that point, it is a case of does anyone attack and try to go solo over the top of the climb, or will it be a smaller group that gets away and fights it out to the finish?
The stage reminds me a lot of the opening day of racing we had at this race back in 2017. With the peloton whittled down on the last climb of the day, a select group of riders neared the summit together, with Valverde and Contador attacking and managing to get a gap. The former actually went on to drop Contador in the first few hundred metres of the descent and he kept plying on. Things would eventually regroup though, with 6 at the head of the race coming into the closing kilometres. There were a few attacks but things were closed down and we got a very reduced sprint from GC favourites coming to the line.
I think something like that will happen tomorrow, but it possibly might be even more selective due to the tougher final climb and it being the final day where we can see a GC shake-up.
The key to the stage is when and where Astana are going to attack.
With Fuglsang (+7), Izagirre (+14) and Bilbao (+28) all within half a minute of current leader Wellens, they have the options to make the race difficult for the Lotto rider. I expect the Belgian to be isolated on the final climb and despite how well he is clearly going at the moment, it is difficult to see him following the very best climbers on an ascent like this given its gradients. However, he does seem to be the form rider so who knows.
After LLS drilling it at the front, I think we might see one of the trio put in a relatively early dig on Alto de Hazallanas, forcing Wellens and the other rider in the top 10 to chase. This is where it then becomes an important time of the stage for Mitchelton because they clearly have the climbing talent to keep things in check if need be, in an attempt to give Haig a shot at the GC win. However, having messed up the opening day and with Adam Yates the other Mitchelton rider in contention, but over a minute down, all anyone else has to do is to follow Haig. If Yates was somewhat closer and on a similar time to Bilbao, that could be a really dangerous duo to attack and force others to think. Consequently, I think Mitchelton will have to decide in the morning if they try to go just solely for the stage win and race aggressively, or try to ride for a top 3 on GC with Haig – because I just can’t see the Aussie winning.
I would be very surprised if an Astana rider doesn’t win the stage tomorrow because they should have 3 of the last 7 riders on the climb. As I’ve said above, it is all about timing the attack and hoping the right rider gets away.
If someone from Astana does get away over the top, then the other two will just sit on the chasing group behind and counter attack if things get brought back as I don’t expect them all to sit there and just ride tempo to the line in a group of 8 or something. Unless of course Wellens has been well dropped, then they would do that to secure the GC win.
As he is the smallest threat for the overall, it is arguably easiest for Bilbao to escape as he won’t be instantly marked like Fuglsang or Izagirre. It is a day of many variables though because as I’ve said just above, if Wellens is dropped by quite a distance, the trio of Astana riders could just ride tempo to ensure a Fuglsang overall victory.
However, I’ll go for Pello to go in his “Bilbao Baggins” style adventure and take the stage win!
Thanks as always for reading, who do you think will win tomorrow? Anyway,
Those were My Two Spokes Worth.