By David Hunter
Neuchâtel – La Chaux de Fonds 169km
The first road stage.
A stage that looks a little on the lumpy side, well, it is Romandie! When the sprinters sign up for this race, they know what they’re getting; not many opportunities. This is a day where they’ll hope the pace is slow, but with over 3400m of climbing, they’ll have to be going very well to make the finish.
Col de la Tourne is 4.9km at 6.7%, with a maximum of 11.8%. This is the main problem for the quick men, as teams who won’t to slim the bunch down, can do a lot of damage on a climb like this.
This little unclassified bump is 1.6km at 7.8%, with a maximum of 12.3%, cresting with 12km remaining. If the quick men manage to reach this point, they’ll have to be on top form to stay in the front group. The opening half of the climb has lots of ramps over 10%, not what they want to hear.
This is also a point where we’ll see some attacks from the opportunists of the peloton. With just 12km remaining, there is a real chance of a small group getting together and creating some panic in the bunch. There is no guarantee this comes back for a sprint, especially as there is another bump of 1.9km at 4.3%, which crests with just 5km to go.
Complicated due to the GC picture. With only one proper GC day, teams will be reluctant to let the morning break take much time. Think back to Catalunya, where the bunch lost a lot of time to Thomas De Gendt, save in the knowledge they had multiple days to catch back up. This race doesn’t offer the same opportunities, that means no big names in the morning break, that will be the plan at least.
The problem the peloton will have is the opening climb, which the organisers have split into two. If you combine them it is 12.6k at 5.8%, which is where the climbers will hope the morning move goes. Weirdly, the pace of the bunch will actually have a large impact on the end of the stage. If the fight for the break continues on this climb, the sprinters will feel the effort later in the stage.
Sunny with a light breeze coming from the east; which means a tailwind on the main climb.
Sam Bennett – this stage is hard for a sprinter, but Bennett has been magnificent this season. His climbing legs have helped him take stages he would normally have been dropped on and he will sense an opportunity to take another world tour victory. Bora arrive with a strong team, they will have numbers towards the end of the stage, which will be vital in terms of holding the race together. Reduced bunch sprints can get a little chaotic towards the end, having men to chase attacks is very important. Make no mistake, if Bennett wins this stage, it sends out a huge message to his rivals. His win on stage 4 of Paris-Nice was a lumpy day, but it only had 2290m of climbing. This stage is harder, on paper, than the stage Magnus Cort won in the same race.
Sonny Colbrelli – will be hoping that Bennett gets dropped! Colbrelli is the fastest non-sprinter in the race, but I am concerned about the weakness of his team. Unlike Bennett, I don’t see the Italian having many teammates to chase down late moves. If Bennett is dropped, he’ll have to hope other teams can secure a sprint, where he would likely be the winner. Although, Colbrelli form isn’t particularly good.
Michael Albasini – now in the veteran stage, but will still hope to roll back the years. Albasini has been a great cyclist over the last number of years, but I think he has started to slow down a little. To win this stage, Mitchelton-Scott need to ensure that Bennett and Colbrelli are both dropped, before hoping Albasini can re-find some of his old speed. Can the old man take another win on home soil?
Paddy Bevin – exactly the type of lumpy day he should be hoping to win. His steady progression has been impressive to watch, winning this stage would be a big statement. A win would also see him move into the race lead, another big moment in his career.
Dylan Van Baarle – late attack option.
Silvan Dillier – late attack option.
Carlos Betancur – late attack option.
Thomas De Gendt – well, he is Thomas De Gendt.
Rui Costa – late attack option, but complicated due to his threat to the other GC riders.
These tough looking days in Romandie usually turn out to be harder than they look, but who wants to ride? Bora and Bahrain will be happy with a slow pace, which team wants to make life hard for the sprinters?
The final classified climb is really hard, this is when most of the quick men will leave the scene, but the unclassified climb with 12km remaining is begging to be attacked. All it will take is one team to take things up and it could be the end of the road for the quick men. If this happens, the run for home will be crazy, with lots of attacks.
When the dust settles, I think one of the late attacks will be successful and Dylan Van Baarlewill take an unlikely win.
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