By David Hunter
Foligno – Fossombrone 220.1km
Let the GC battle commence.
A stage that looks typically Italian. Not only is it long, it also contains 3817m of climbing, which is quite an achievement considering the lack of any mountains. This is a day that includes constant climbing, before we get to the big finale. Once the riders hit the 200km mark, the lap circuit from hell begins!
1.7km at 11.2%, with a maximum gradient of 17% and they have to climb it twice! This little hill is incredibly difficult, featuring no less than 9 hairpin bends. It is a climb you must start near the front, that means the battle to control the peloton will be fierce and I just hope there are no crashes.
Once on to the climb, there isn’t much room to move up the bunch. With the gradient immediately hitting double digits, some riders will want to attack from the bottom, that’s why positioning is going to be so important. Once the climb has been crested for the final time, we only have 6km remaining, most of which is downhill.
Does anyone fancy attacking first time up the climb? With most of the big teams having domestiques left, this would be a bold move, one that is unlikely to succeed. Mitchelton-Scott will be keen on setting a fast pace on the first ascent, to deter any attacks and hurt the legs of the contenders. Once onto the final climb, it will be over to the team leaders, this climb is simply too difficult for any surprises.
The TTT has left us with many riders quite far down on GC, it will be interesting to see if anyone gets freedom.
Another nice day in Italy.
Julian Alaphilippe – has to start as the overwhelming favourite as he can cope with the climb and packs the fastest sprint of the climbers. QuickStep have the firepower to ensure he starts the climb in a good position, and he has the legs to do everything else. Only a tactical mistake can stop him taking the win, but that could happen. If a small group are at the front of the race in the final kilometres, he’ll be expected to do a lot of the work, that could lead to someone slipping off the front. It would be better for Alaphilippe to make the climb really hard and only have another one rider with him.
Primož Roglič – in the 2018 edition of Itzulia, we witnessed Roglič and Alaphilippe destroy everyone else on steep slopes, will this happen again? Primož looks in sensational form, I hope he hits the front at the bottom of the climb and goes full gas. This is a tactic he has used before; the Slovenian isn’t scared of doing the work himself. He knows that Alaphilippe has a faster sprint, but Roglič has his eyes firmly set on the GC win, he won’t mind if the Frenchman takes the stage.
Adam Yates – the race leader will be looking forward to this climb. He won a similar stage here in 2018, but he was allowed some freedom as he was already out of the GC race. There will be no gifts this season, if Yates is going to win, he’ll have to do it the hard way. Adam unfairly gets a hard time for being a “wheel sucker” a criticism that I think is unfair. When we hit slopes like this, he is one of the best in the world, but how does he beat Alaphilippe and Roglič? Both riders can climb as well as he can and are faster in a sprint, this is going to make life difficult for him.
Tiesj Benoot – 4th on Thursday, even though he had to use up vital energy moving up the bunch in the final kilometre. Tiesj is currently enjoying a fine period of form, but he’ll want something to show for it. As he is a proper classics man, he’ll no doubt start the climb in a good position, he doesn’t mind getting his elbows out! He was very unfortunate today, suffering a puncture with 5km remaining and losing 34 seconds. Weirdly, this could well work in his favour, as he now has a little freedom compared to his rivals.
Tim Wellens – it’s great for Lotto to have two options. Despite picking up some good recent results, I get the feeling Tim isn’t quite on top form. I’m not sure why I think this, I just have this nagging doubt at the back of my mind. It would be good to see him used to soften up the contenders, before Tiesj launches a big move.
Wout Poels – not known as a puncheur, but do not write off Wout Poels. The former winner of LBL can handle these types of climbs and Team Sky will ensure he has a good position at the foot of the final ascent. Given the riders he’s up against, it will be very hard to win the stage, but it wouldn’t surprise me to see Poels finish in the top 3.
Alexey Lutsenko – give it a good old crack on Thursday, but it wasn’t to be. I’m looking forward to seeing how he copes on this climb, as he has talked about trying to develop into an Ardennes contender. He is currently on good form and will certainly have a say in the outcome of this stage, but I don’t see him winning.
Greg Van Avermaet – I think the climb is too hard for him. If a group of 3 or 4 get away, he won’t be part of it. Greg will have to hope that it comes back together on the descent to town.
This promises to be a stunning finale. We have a number of riders at the very top of their game, I see a group of 4 or 5 riders escaping the peloton and fighting it out for the win. With all eyes on Alaphilippe, it will be Tiesj Benoot who takes the win.
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