By David Hunter
Valence – Saint Just Saint Rambert 179km
After the opening prologue, the real racing can now begin.
This is no easy opening stage. The riders will climb from the gun, with 8.5km at 4.5%. After the KOM point, the road continues to rise until the top of Col des Fans. A descent follows, but then the road kicks up again. This time we have 5.1km at 4.6%, which is immediately followed by 6km at 5%. So, it’s roughly 11km at 4.8%.
After this point, the race can settle down. Cote de Sainte-Agreve crests after 54km, which means we still have 125km remaining. We are a long way from home! The next 100km is punctuated by lots of little lumps, but nothing that will worry the bunch. We then enter the finishing town and complete two laps of the closing circuit, which features two little bumps, one of which is categorised. Cote du Barrage de Grangent is crested with just 4km remaining and provides a great opportunity for a late attack.
The closing kilometres are on a normal two lane road. The climb has a switchback which could be used to attack, but the descent off the climb doesn’t contain many corners, meaning the chasers will be able to see their prey. The final 500m rises gently to the finishing line.
There is a small chance of rain throughout the stage, but it looks likely that the riders will miss it and stay dry. The wind is light and not an issue.
The stage has 2836m of climbing, which would normally be a test for sprinters, but we don’t have many competing in the race. Falling into that category are Pascal Ackermann, Fabio Jakobsen, Phil Bauhaus and Bryan Coquard. That leaves us thin on the ground for teams ready to chase. Of those four, Bauhaus is the worst climber and I think he’ll be concerned about nearly 3000m of ascent.
Moving away from sprinters, we do have a number of quick men in the race. The likes of Daryl Impey, Jay McCarthy, Julian Alaphilippe, Heinrich Haussler, Jens Keukeleire, Julien Simon, Jhonatan Restrepo and Edvald Boasson Hagen will all smell a chance to take a world tour win.
The breakaway hunters will sense an opportunity. With lots of climbing in the opening 54km, the bunch will likely set a steady pace. This will allow the break to establish a good lead, but going against them is that Team Sky are in control of the yellow jersey. When they lead a race, they never want to simply gift leadership to another team. Team Sky have the power to keep the break on a short leash and not allow them to take the stage, but will their pace put some of the sprinters into difficulty?
If I was a breakaway rider, I would’t bother wasting energy in this stage, I just can’t see it sticking. Whilst a long range attack is unlikely to work, attacking on the final climb is a tactic that could have success.
Fabio Jakobsen – the young QuickStep rider has already taken three wins in his first season with the Wolfpack, that’s been quite a start. He knows this stage is a wonderful opportunity for him to take his first world tour win, but he needs to survive the climbs. At just 21 years of age, it could be a little too hard for him.
Bryan Coquard – the little Frenchman is slowly growing into this season. He is a rider who can handle the climbs and will fancy his chances of taking the win. Going against him is the strength of his team, they do look poor compared to the other squads in this race. No way Vital Concept can deliver the sprint, they’ll need help from others.
Phil Bauhaus – not known as a sprinter who can survive the climbs, I do have my concerns about him being around at the finish. If he is, he’s the fastest rider in the peloton and should easily take the win.
Jay McCarthy – he’s already taken a win from a reduced bunch in Itzulia, he even beat Michael Matthews on that occasion. Bora know that he will prefer a tough day in the saddle and that would help to slow down the sprinters, if any survive to the end. I’m a big fan of McCarthy and think that he has what it takes to be one of the very best in the sport.
Daryl Impey – looked strong in the prologue, a good indication of his current form. He’ll be a little disappointed to be more than 10 seconds behind yellow, making it almost impossible for him to move into that jersey. Mitchelton-Scott are enjoying a brilliant season and they have the riders capable of hurting the sprinters and setting up a reduced sprint. Impey would be one of the favourites, if the three sprinters have been dropped.
Jens Keukeleire – the form pick. Won the Belgium Tour last weekend and his 8th place in the prologue was an outstanding ride. I’ll put in into perspective for you, it’s the first time he’s finished in the top 20 in a world tour TT stage. The Belgian has a fast sprint from a reduced bunch, but he is also a rider who could attack near the end of the stage. As he is just 9 seconds behind the race lead, a stage win would probably see him move into the yellow jersey. There’s some extra motivation for him!
Michal Kwiatkowski – when he is in form, he can win any stage of any race. Today’s ride was stunning and he’ll look forward to making this stage tough for the sprinters. He is as fast as his rivals in a reduced sprint and it wouldn’t surprise me to see him taking another win.
Michael Valgren – the late attack option. After a stunning classics campaign, the big Dane arrives after a spell on Mount Teide. He has the speed required to launch a big attack on the final climb and hold off the chasing bunch, but it certainly won’t be easy.
I like Coquard for this stage, but his team worry me. The amount of climbing in the stage will probably make it a little too tough for Bauhaus and Jakobsen, but can Coquard take advantage? Instead, I’ll go with a safe pick. Sticking with form, I’ll say that Jens Keukeleire will take the win and the yellow jersey.
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