By David Hunter
Praia a Mare – Benevento 233km
A long stage, the second longest in the whole race.
It’s one of those stages that is harder than the profile suggests.
The only categorised climb is at the very start of the race, but the second half of the stage is full of little challenges. None of the peloton will be particularly worried, as the final climb crests with 50km remaining.
The final kilometre rises at 3.4%, this is a much harder sprint finish than the days in Holland.
It’s not just the final ramp, the whole circuit looks tough. There are plenty of corners inside the final 4km, the final turn with 1km remaining is horrible. The riders have to perform a u-turn, before they start the climb to the line. This means speeds will be down, ensuring the last kilometre will be very hard.
Marcel Kittel – the big man is looking for his 3rd stage win of the race. His sprint train has been outstanding so far, especially Jungels and Sabatini. I did previously say that Sabatini could be the weak link, but he’s certainly having a tremendous race. Kittel is looking like his old self and is now standing on 12 grand tour stage victories. He is confident, the team are confident, all is good!
Andre Greipel – it’s not going great for the Gorilla. His lead-out train has misfired during both sprints, leaving him way out of position. He did look powerful in stage 3, but needs to be on the wheel of Kittel. I still think he is one of the few sprinters here capable of coming past Marcel. The final corner is terrible news for Greipel, as he often losses position in these circumstances, that’s even with Henderson and Sieberg! He will like the ramp to the finish, it does give him a chance of making up some ground to the other sprinters, but he really needs to hold his position in the corner.
Caleb Ewan – this finish is perfect for the young Aussie. His stage win in the 2015 Vuelta was on a similar finish, he is very good sprinting uphill. That day his lead-out was perfect, but Orica have been disappointing in the sprints we’ve already seen. It looks like Ewan is only really getting the help of Sam Bewley and Luca Mezgec, that isn’t enough against the power of Etixx. However, if he finds the wheel of Kittel, he has a good chance of going past him as the road tilts up.
Sacha Modolo – out of all the Italian sprinters, he is the best sprinting up a hill. The final kilometre is wonderful news for Modolo, a rider who has won plenty of stages with a similar end. The last corner is also great news, as Modolo is a wonderful bike handler and fearless! I expect to see Ferrari and Modolo dive bomb the bend and move into prime position. Problem is, 1km to go is too early for Ferrari to hit the front, they’ll need to try and disrupt the Etixx train.
It’s still quite early in a grand tour for an early break to succeed. The route does offer some chances with the riders having to tackle the following climbs from the halfway point: 8km at 3%, 5.4km at 6% and 4km at 5%. This will encourage some to attack but the 40km of flat towards the finish is terrible news. For me, this doesn’t look like a breakaway day.
From 4km to go it’s vital. With three tight corners in the next kilometre, being in control of the bunch ensures you can dictate the speed into the corners. Once under the 3km to go sign, we have a long straight which will allow some teams to move up the bunch. The fight for the final corner will be crazy! In a perfect world, you hit the corner with four riders in front of you. As you leave the corner, number 4, takes over. For Etixx that will be Wisniowski. The uphill finish means that riders will not be able to take long turns and the timing of the jump is crucial. Instead of launching with 200/250m to go, sprinters will wait until 100/150m. Patience is key!
I have a feeling that the team that controls the final kilometres, will be one man short. The uphill finish really does need an experienced lead-out train and I think Etixx will get it wrong. Looking at the other sprinters, I do like the look of Sacha Modolo. He has proven before, he is great in this type of finish. Time for another Italian win.
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