By David Hunter
The organisers have stuck with a traditional route; one that features no mountaintop finishes, but plenty for the climbers to get their teeth stuck into.
The race begins with an easy looking stage, but on closer inspection, it’s not that easy after all. The cat 2 climb, which the riders cover twice, is 2.15km at 9.2%, which will see many attacks. The final ascent crests with under 14km remaining, meaning dropped riders will struggle to rejoin the peloton. A reduced sprint is the most likely option.
The first of the cat 1 climbs in the race. This monster is 15.3km at 7.4%, but cresting with over 40km to go will reduce the significance of the effort. The descent should allow some riders to get back into the front group, but it is very technical. The stage ends with 4.2km at 5.7%, which features some challenging sections, I expect to see some gaps.
Only 106km long, but features over 3000m of climbing. Don’t be fooled by the lack of categorised climbs, this is a tough day in the saddle. The cat 2 climb is irregular and horrible, before another uphill grind towards the finishing line. Despite being uncategorised we’re looking at 5.5km at 7.5%, before a flat final 4km. This stage is much harder than it looks.
A stage dominated by two climbs: 6km at 10.3% and 10.1km at 7.4%. The cat 2 climb crests with 20km remaining, but the climbing isn’t done, as a beauty of an uncategorised climb awaits the riders with just 5km to go. This little bump is 1km at 11% and the winning move will go here.
The final stage contains 3884m of climbing, making it the hardest stage in the race. The cat 1 climb is 12.2km at 8.5%, and it features some ridiculously difficult sections. Expect to see a small group go clear and fight out for stage and GC glory.
Team Sky – Froome’s here, but mainly to continue his Tour de France preparations, which means one of his lieutenants should get an opportunity to shine. That could be De La Cruz, Elissonde, Geoghegan Hart or Sivakov, the road will decide. De La Cruz has been a massive disappointment since joining the squad, he could do with a result. Elissonde is always strong, but rarely wins. I think after some brilliant performances in 2018, this is a chance for Geoghegan Hart to show what he can do as team leader.
Vincenzo Nibali – just back from a hugely demanding period at altitude, even he won’t know how his legs will perform. This is an important race for the Italian, his final one before the Giro, but he’s not really here to win. Bahrain will expect a good performance, but it’s all about the Giro for the shark.
Rafal Majka – 7th in Catalunya was a good result for Majka and this is a big chance for him to take a rare GC win. I find the Pole a frustrating rider to watch, it seems a very long time since his winking performances in the Tour de France. He has all the talent in the world, but doesn’t have the results to match. He could really do with a big result.
Pello Bilbao – the Basque rider arrives as the Astana team leader; I’m looking forward to this. With many of their top stars over in the Ardennes, this is slightly weaker squad compared to usual, but they still have lots of climbing talent. With riders like Hirt, Zeits and Cataldo, they will still be one of the dominant teams in the race. Bilbao is ideal for this race, particularly as his sprint finish should see him collect bonus seconds. This is a chance for him to take his first ever GC win.
Aleksandr Vlasov – the young Russian is slowly developing a reputation for himself, thanks to big results in Andalucía, Coppi e Bartali and Giro di Sicilia. For hardcore cycling fans, these results are no surprise, Vlasov won the baby Giro in 2018 and also finished 4th in Tour de l’Avenir. This race is an opportunity for him to test his legs against some of the best in the world and he’ll hope for another top 5 result.
Mattia Cattaneo – it’s unclear who’ll lead Androni in this race, it could be Cattaneo, Muñoz or Masnada. Cattaneo was unlucky in Sicilia, crashing hard and dropping out of the GC picture. The Italian is a very good bike rider, one who deserves to be riding at a higher level. This race is a big opportunity for Androni to battle against the top teams in the world, they do love to surprise the big boys. Hopefully they can get a stage win and a top 10 result on GC.
Sky v Astana, but with Majka hanging around the edges! Given the way they’ve dominated this season, I think we’ll see another Astana win, this time with Pello Bilbao.
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