An exciting final 20 km that saw quite a few teams interested in pushing the pace on at the front of the peloton once the break was caught. There were attacks from the likes of Hermans, De Marchi and Oliveira but everything was brought back coming in to the last 2 km. With the pace being drilled at the front by Haig and Mohoric, there was no chance for a lull in the action and a counter-attack like I thought might happen and instead we got a sprint to the line from a bunch of 40 riders.
With it strung out through the tricky chicane at 200m to go, it was Luis Leon Sanchez who opened up the sprint first, but Greg van Avermaet came almost immediately off of his wheel and around the Astana man. Matteo Trentin tried to do the same to Van Avermaet but he just didn’t have the legs to match the Olympic champion, with CCC taking their first win of the season.
Yesterday’s stage winner did come home in second place with Sanchez rounding out the podium. There were no gaps between the first 29 riders so no cheap time gained/lost by the favourites for the race overall, so let’s have a look at what is in store for them tomorrow.
The stage that will decide the GC, the riders will face over 3200m of climbing throughout the day, with a very tricky summit finish.
Although there are plenty of climbs early on, there is nothing that will worry the GC contenders. Once again, this will be a stage that comes down to the closing ascent, there’s no chance of anything exciting happening before then.
Compared to this afternoon’s very consistent final climbs, the final ascent tomorrow is horribly inconsistent as you can see. It always seems to be up or down, with the gradients changing throughout. Consequently, it definitely suits a more punchy climber rather than one who prefers to sit in the saddle and ride tempo.
The ominous warning for the steep gradients that are to come!
Oddly enough, it took until I started going through the climb on street view until I properly recognised it from a poorly paved bit of road (sad, I know), but it is the same finish that was used on Stage 5 of the 2017 Vuelta.
That day was taken by the break, but in the fight between the GC riders a group of 4 managed to distance themselves from the other contenders. Time gaps weren’t massive but it is important to remember that was at the Vuelta where almost everyone as at 100% form and fitness, whereas, there certainly won’t be that same level tomorrow.
Whether that means we’ll see bigger time gaps or the opposite, I’m unsure and we’ll only find out during the race.
How will the race pan out?
It could very well be a day for the breakaway. We saw today that Dimension Data were happy to keep the race under check, but they didn’t extend themselves too much, hoping to get some help from the other teams. Tomorrow they will know that it is unlikely Boasson Hagen will be able to keep the jersey come the end of the stage, so they might be a little less keen to chase all day. Therefore, the onus will fall on the stronger GC teams who are confident of trying to set up their rider.
Astana no doubt will take up the mantle again and they’ve certainly been the most active team on the front of the peloton this race. Movistar will more than likely chip in too, but they have been quite coy with their willingness to work so far; they might try to bluff it. UAE and Bahrain are two teams that could work as they have contenders for the stage win but again, it just depends on their approach. If a group of 6 or so riders get away who are no threat for the GC, then there is a chance that they stay away all day because with the lack of bonus seconds, there is not as much impetus to bring them back.
However, I think we’ll see plenty teams co-operate to shut things down as the incentive of getting an early season win under the belt is enough of a carrot. Peloton takes the stage 80% of the time.
With no bonus seconds on the line, Valverde will need to distance Ion Izagirre by 9 seconds which will be no easy feat. Everyone will be looking at the world champion as this short climb is perfectly suited to his characteristics, but he’ll need to attack somewhat early as just winning the stage alone might not be enough to take the GC. A cool character, don’t expect Valverde to crack under pressure and if he is being forced to chase down attacks by his competitors then he’ll just sit up; he’s won plenty of races and will no doubt win plenty more, to not be overly bothered by missing out here. Starts as the big favourite on paper but it will be difficult for him to win because of that.
Like Valverde, Martin will be looking forward to this climb. He flew up the ascent in the TT and has been lively since then, today sticking to the world champion’s wheel like glue. A genuine contender and one that will worry Valverde, Martin packs the short climb speed and kick to seriously challenge for the stage win. A lot of his wins in the past have come on climbs similar to this and with the way UAE have started the year, they could well go on to make it a 4th victory already.
Rinse and repeat for the above two, Teuns will be licking his lips at this finish. Last season he built on his strong 2017 and we’re now seeing a rider who seems to be living up to that original hype when he broke onto the scene. A master on steep ascents, the constant changing nature of the climb will suit his punchy and attacking nature. Sitting only 3 seconds behind Izagirre on GC, he’ll be incredibly motivated to get a result.
The “virtual” race leader in essence, I was very impressed with his opening TT – clearly he is going well. Not traditionally known for his punchy ability on the short climbs like we have tomorrow, it will be interesting to see how he copes. The one advantage for him as that Astana have a very strong team with them and they should be able to control the race. I am intrigued to see what role Bilbao takes on; whether he attacks and forces others to follow, or if he just sets a tempo that means no one can attack. I think it will be hard for Izagirre to win the stage as there will be a lot of pressure on him as the GC leader in waiting, and everyone will look to him and his team do close anything down on the climb.
A real outsider, but I fully expect to see an attack from the young Colombian tomorrow. With his build of a traditional mountain goat, he should be able to float up the steeper parts of the climb and given that he is over a minute down on GC; he might just be able to slip away unmarked. I’ve not seen him race much before but his results in the Trofeo’s followed up by his 6th place have been enough to warrant my attention. He’s certainly one to watch.
No breakaway win and we get a GC battle on the final slope. I think this is the time for Dylan Teuns to take another step up in his career by taking the stage win against the strong opposition we have here, and with it the GC title.
1.5pt WIN Teuns @ 12/1
0.5pt WIN Higuita @ 33/1
Thanks as always for reading, who do you think will win tomorrow and why? Anyway,
Those were My Two Spokes Worth.