I was originally intending on writing a full GC preview for the race but that won’t be happening now so instead, here’s a short overview.
The GC battle will come down to 2, possibly 3 stages.
Stage 2 has the potential to cause some big splits in the peloton, given how tough the final 3kms of Garbi are. However, with 30km to go from the summit to the finish, will riders want to put in a big effort?
Stage 3 sees the return of the TTT, with a 23km route to Calpe. Fast and dangerous, teams will need to take some risks if they want to stay close to the favourite on the day. BMC and Sky look like the teams to beat.
All will be decided on stage 4 with the Queen stage of the race. The riders will face a total of 7 categorised climbs throughout the day but it is the finishing 4.6km of Canteras de Cocentina that averages 8.4% that will make the difference. Depending on how aggressively the day has been raced before that point, we could see some very big gaps here. Can a rider overcome the deficit from the TTT, or will a rider hold on to their advantage?
It looks set to be a battle between Sky and Valverde, as they will inevitably have to close down any gains BMC made in the TT. Having numbers should help Sky and I expect them to try something on Stage 2 once over the climb. It also will help them on stage 4 and they could possibly send some riders on long-range attacks.
But we’re in Spain, Valverde seems lively on his return to racing and he’s in my fantasy team, so I think we’ll see El Bala on the top step come the end of the race. Hopefully!
Anyway, let’s have a look at what is in store for the riders on the opening day.
Right, get the sniggers out of your system straight away, as the opening stage finishes in the town of Peñiscola.
Now that the immaturity is out-of-the-way, what can we expect on stage 1?
A fairly straightforward stage with one climb in the middle to reward a breakaway rider with the KOM jersey.
There isn’t really much to this stage but it will be interesting to see if the wind plays a part as the riders head through Vinaroz and along the coast towards the finish. At the moment it looks as if it will be a cross-head wind, but at only 15km/h or so, it isn’t strong enough to create echelons. Teams will be wary though if the forecast changes and it does kick up tomorrow.
As for the final 5km, they are pan-flat but do involve a few turns and roundabouts.
Incoming Preview by Pictures™…
The most important part of the run in will be the double-header of two 90-degree turns the riders will face in the final 2km.
Turn #1 at roughly 1.9km to go.
Turn #2 at roughly 1.6km to go.
Turn #3 at roughly 1.1km to go.
Turn #4 at roughly 1km to go.
What can we take from this then?
Well, the road after turn 1 is very narrow and the bunch will be strung out through that section. Turn 2 is slightly more forgiving and the road does open up after that for the following kilometre. This gives those behind a chance to move up if there is some hesitation at the front of the pack.
The second pair of turns are less sharp, but it is important to note that the road narrows a lot once through the final turn. It goes from 2 lanes wide, with plenty of space for parked cars on either side, to only two lanes wide and that’s it.
That continues for the following few hundred metres but the road does open up into the 2 lanes with space either side in the closing 500m.
Therefore positioning coming into the final 2km will be very important as I think it will be hard for teams to move up once through that point.
We don’t exactly have a plethora of sprinting talent here but that means that a couple of riders can get a confidence boosting win over this coming week.
Danny Van Poppel.
After his switch from Sky to Jumbo in the winter, the Dutch rider will be looking to impress for his new outfit. Arguably one of the fastest riders here, he’ll be able to rely on the engines of Van Emden and Van Hoecke to get him into a good position, but from there he will most likely have to follow the wheels of the better sprint trains. If he chooses correctly, then he has a good chance to take the win.
Mitchelton Scott could go with three options but I fancy them to go with the Slovenian over Albasini and Trentin; with that pair on lead-out duties. Kreuziger -> Bewley -> Albasini -> Trentin is arguably one of the best trains we have their and they pack a lot of power in the final two. That could be crucial in seeing Mezgec through the twisty and tight final few kilometres. Does he have the top end speed to deliver?
Whisper it quietly but EF Education might have the strongest sprint train here. Their whole squad will most likely get involved in the effort, apart from Rolland maybe, it will just be a case of if they go for Modolo or McLay. Both of them are fast enough in their own right, and it might just be decided on the day as to who is feeling best. I think it will be Modolo on the opening day though. The Italian had an up and down year in 2017, but he will hope his new move means he has more ups than downs this season. In theory, he should be in the best place going into the final few hundred metres, but does he have the top end speed to win?
Those are probably the fastest three guys here/have the best teams around them, but we certainly could see a surprise from some others.
Hugo Hofstetter – More of a lead-out rider, the Cofidis man will be given the go-ahead in the sprints here. Fairly fast, a second place behind Kristoff in Norway last year is testament to that, will he be able to up his game here though. We’ll see!
Clément Venturini – Nippy little AG2R rider that reminds me a lot of Sammy Dumoulin. He’ll have the trusty services of Oli Naesen to lead him out. Could surprise.
Baptiste Planckaert – An incredible 2016 saw him make the jump from CT up to WT and he did struggle a bit last season. However, he started to find his feet towards the end of the year. Would prefer a harder route though.
Adrien Petit – Another lead-out man who gets his chance to shine. With some racing already under his belt in the Bongo, he should theoretically come here in better shape than some of his rivals. He’s not a slouch and he’ll be aiming for a top 5. Would probably prefer a harder course as well though.
Enrique Sanz – A 4th place in Palma shows there is a reasonable bit of form there for the Euskadi rider. I’m not sure about his top speed on a finish like this however.
Albert Torres – I’m a fan of the track star who occasionally rides road races for the Inteja team. His winter of track riding served him will in the Trofeo’s with two top 10 places. He has a very fast finish and he’s one I’m keeping my eye on.
Marko Kump – The Slovenian has taken a step down to PCT in a hope for more leadership opportunities. He is a weird rider in the sense that sometimes he seems incredibly fast, while other times, he’s a bit “meh”. Given this field, if he is on a strong day then at least a podium is a good possibility.
I think that’s everyone covered, although to be fair, I could almost start naming the likes of Valverde and Van Avermaet to be in the mix at this point.
One thing to consider about tomorrow’s stage though is that given the lack of a clear sprint favourite, then we might see a bit of bluffing and refusing to chase the break. There is a much better chance than normal for an opening stage that the break stays away due to no one wanting to work behind. The race really needs a GC team like Sky or Movistar to help with the pace making, otherwise we could well see the break stick.
So it is not a bad day for the pro conti and conti teams to make the move!
We will end with a sprint and it will be Luka Mezgec who is victorious.
Mitchelton have a very strong final 4 that should be able to take control in the closing two kilometres when it matters most. They could conceivably go for Albasini or Trentin as well, but I think Mezgec will be their chosen rider. He worked exceptionally hard for the team last year but showed he had the speed to take his own chances when given them. As an integral part of Ewan’s train, he once again might be allowed to chase personal glory before working hard for others later on in the year!
I can’t remember if we had odds last year or not so I’m just publishing this preview now anyway. There are odds available with Kirolbet in Spain, but nowhere else unfortunately. Hopefully this might change, but I’m not entirely sure if I’ll back anything anyway. Keep an eye out on my twitter if there are odds published as I’ll post any fancies there.
Thanks for reading as always though! Who do you think will win tomorrow? Will there be enough urgency in the peloton to bring it all back for a sprint, or will we see a breakaway surprise everyone and hold out? Anyway,
Those were My Two Spokes Worth.