With an air of predictability, Roglic romped his way home to a strong win, laughing at the thought of an increased headwind for the later starters. Bevin was in the hot seat for almost all of the afternoon and ended the day with a very credible second place with former World Champion Kiryienka in third. Home favourite Castroviejo was a somewhat disappointing 4th.
That result now puts the Slovenian in a commanding position for the GC title but he and his team will need to be on their toes over the last couple of stages. Let’s have a look at what is in store tomorrow.
A fairly easy day in the saddle for the riders aside from three categorised climbs.
The climbs aren’t as punchy as what we had in the opening two stages but they are much longer and still very tough. It’s almost cruel that the first ascent of the day (Elosua Gaina) is only a category-2, but this is the Basque Country after all!
At an average of 7.6% for just shy of 7kms, this is a hellish climb and we could see the race blown apart here if a couple of teams put the hammer down. With just under 60km to go and a long valley before the next climb, normally it would be too far out for anything to happen but given this is the penultimate stage, we might just see some action.
With around 34km of the day remaining the riders will face a swift double-header of climbs. First up is the Endoia Gaina which averages 6.5% for 5.5kms. However, that doesn’t tell the whole story as the first section of the climb is brutally steep.
3.3km at 9.7% is as tough as what we had in the opening stages but it does of course ease off in severity for another two kilometres before the road dips down and bounces back up for the last climb of the day: the Azurki Gaina.
I don’t think I have ever seen a race with so many climbs that average above 7% and it is no different for tomorrow’s last peak. The first 4 kilometres of the climb are the steepest, averaging 8.5% before it eases in the last two kilometres. Given what has just came before, it is possible for the race to be blown to bits on those opening slopes. With just over 10kms of descent, followed by a steady 8km drag to the line; will anyone risk it all?
Inside the top 10 on GC we have two Bora, two Bahrain and two Movistar riders. These teams need to use that position to their advantage and attack Roglic and his Jumbo Team. Speaking of which, he has a solid squad with him but no one really stands out as being able to go deep with him into a very aggressive and tough stage. A lot of pressure will be on the shoulders of young Neilson Powless.
The other teams need to isolate Roglic early, possibly on the first climb of the day and then bombard him with attacks later on, forcing him to follow and cover every move.
Luckily for the current race leader, he has a fairly handy margin on a lot of the riders and won’t be too worried immediately, all he has to focus on is not to lose time to Alaphilippe who is his closest rival at 34 seconds. Everyone else is more than a minute behind that.
Normally a stage like tomorrow would be ideal for a breakaway but given that every second counts in this race, I don’t think we’ll actually see the move survive until the end. It could take a very long time for it to form and we will likely have teams send someone in the break who is 3 minutes down on GC, which will really throw the cat among the pigeons.
There is a chance that Roglic manages to mark most of his main rivals, he is clearly the strongest rider in the race right now, heck, he might even attack himself. Nonetheless, it offers up the opportunity for someone slightly further down the pecking order to slip away on the run in and take stage victory. That is if the day has not been blown up earlier.
This list of possible contenders won’t be long as I could make a case for a lot of riders given the right situation. It is arguably clear that the best guys on the short, steep climbs are Gorka Izagirre, Alaphilippe, Landa and Roglic. So obviously, I’ve completely disregarded that and they don’t get a mention here…
The Spaniard started the season in exceptional form with strong showings in Marseillaise, Oman and Valenciana. However, he suffered from sickness in Paris Nice and that knocked him back a bit which meant he was missing some race pace on the opening day here. On the second stage though he was closer to the fore and things seem to be heading in the right direction for him again. He’s the type of rider who is far enough down on GC not to be marked if he attacks from the group on the run in to the line. Otherwise, he might wait and hope that his good sprint delivers.
This is the Izagirre brothers home stage: they grew up just some 30km from the finish town of Eibar so they should know the roads around here very well. Ion has been pretty disappointing in this race so far but he seems to be growing into it day by day. With the two of them in the top 10 we will no doubt see them attacking throughout the afternoon, keen to impress on their local stomping ground. Ion is the one who is most likely to be given some freedom and if he gets 20 seconds on the run in he could be very hard to bring back.
Couldn’t contest the finish on the opening day after being forced to unclip, he then gave it a nudge on the second stage but just couldn’t follow when the Izagirre’s came over the top. His result in the TT today highlights that his form is on the up. An attacking rider, he won’t be afraid to go long and given his generous negative buffer that he has, he might just slip away. With one eye on the Ardennes in a few weeks, a good result here will give him a lot of confidence going forward.
You already know where this is going… Ion Izagirre to win!
Roglic will maintain the jersey but things will be a lot more finely balanced going into Saturday’s final stage.
No odds out yet and I have work in the morning so this is just getting published. Will update later if I fancy anything.
Thanks as always for reading! Who do you think will win tomorrow? Will we see a break make it all the way to the line, or will the GC guys battle it out? Anyway,
Those were My Two Spokes Worth.