By David Hunter
Chazey Sur Ain – Lans En Vercors 181km
Time for the mountains.
Now that all the TT kilometres are out of the way, the climbers can have their fun. The start of this stage is nice and easy, but the Black Mountain awaits the peloton. Make no mistake, this is a brutal mountain.
As you can see the climb is 17.5km at 6.9%, but the opening 10km averages 7.8%. The opening 10km is incredibly difficult, with only one “easy” section. Once through that point the climb does become easier, before ramping up for the final 1.5km. The only disappointment is that the crest comes with 38km remaining in the stage. The descent has a few technical sections, which will encourage a team to try and line out the bunch, but I’ve seen harder.
The climb to the finishing line is 4.8km at 7.5%, but the second kilometre averages 10.4%. This should provide a fascinating finish to the day.
Team Sky hold all the cards. They have the top 4 on GC, but Castroviejo will fall away. No doubt we’ll see them set a fast pace on the Black Mountain, hoping to isolate all of the other team leaders. I would expect them to start the final climb with 4 riders, which will allow them to attack and force the others into chasing.
It is clear that Moscon, Kwiatkowski and Thomas are all in good TT form, but how is their climbing? I don’t think they are riders the other climbers will necessarily fear, but they will respect them. Without a rider like Froome, it will be fun to see how the others react.
To challenge Sky, GC riders will need some teammates to help at the foot of the final climb. QuickStep would hope to have Alaphilippe and Jungels, AG2R will have Latour and Bardet,
Movistar will have Soler and Roson, Mitchelton should have Yates and Verona/Power, but the rest of the favourites could be a little lonely. With Sky having such a strong team, it will certainly put the leaders off attacking until the final few kilometres.
Yet again the forecasters are saying we’ll get rain. This time they seem a little more confident. The wind is light and coming from the north-west.
Doesn’t look like a classic breakaway day. Sky will control, but if they step back, plenty of teams will want to contend for the stage win.
Geraint Thomas – I don’t think the finish really suits him. Sky are the dominant team in the race, but the only way Thomas wins is by attacking in the closing kilometres and allowing Kwiatkowski to cover the moves. That is the bonus of having multiple riders in contention on the final climb.
Michal Kwiatkowski – the punchy finish is much more to the suiting of the former world champion. It will be interesting to see how Sky play the race, but with such a commanding lead on GC, they can afford to set a fast pace and only allow attacks in the closing kilometres. Kwiatkowski has a very fast finish and he’ll be very hopeful of taking the win, but this is his first test since returning from altitude and it doesn’t always go according to plan.
Romain Bardet – time for him to shine! To be only behind Thomas by 1:20 after 40km of time trialling is a fairly good achievement for him, one that he would have been happy with before the race. As we head to the mountains, he’ll sense a chance of testing the legs of Thomas and Kwiatkowski, they are not Chris Froome! The final climb is good for him, but better for a few others. Don’t expect to see him attacking early, with Sky looking strong he’ll need to wait for the final climb.
Dan Martin – time to see what he’s got. After a hugely disappointing 2018, Dan Martin needs a big result. In fact, it’s not just the rider, the whole team could do with a big result. So far, they’ve only won three races and Alexander Kristoff has done all the damage. This is a poor return for the big investment coming from the UAE. The owners will be getting impatient. On the plus side, this finish is brilliant for the Irishman. Without a rider like Valverde, he’ll be very hard to beat if in the front group with 1km left.
Tiesj Benoot – cometh the hour, cometh the man. After a brilliant season, it’s time for Tiesj to get into mountain mode. Get over the Black Mountain and he has a great chance of fighting for the stage win. The final climb is ideal territory for the young Belgian and he could be set to take another landmark victory.
Adam Yates – if on top form, he would be one of the big favourites for this stage. He was strong in California, but after missing much of the season through injury, he could come up short against this quality of opposition.
Julian Alaphilippe – can he survive the Black Mountain? I would think so, as the pace won’t be ridiculously high. Once onto the final climb, he’ll start to sense an opportunity to take a win. Given his fast finish, his presence in the front group will make the other riders start to attack. Despite having the fastest finish, it won’t be an easy stage for him to win.
I can’t see the break surviving, this is one for the GC boys to fight for. Team Sky might have the strongest team, but I’m not sure this is the stage we’ll see them use their numerical advantage. In the last kilometres we’ll see a battle for the win and I expect Romain Bardet cross the line first.
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