By David Hunter
Back to Spain we go, for the 99th edition of this beautiful race. We have a number of stages most know well, but the organisers have decided to change things up a little.
The race usually begins with a lap circuit around Calella, but the organisers have decided to change this back to the mountainous route. We’ve not seen this stage since the famous day the organisers messed up the time gaps and Maciej Paterski took the win from the break in 2015. As it’s too hard for the sprinters, we’ll see the GC teams get involved in peloton poker, who’ll blink first?
On paper this is one for the sprinters, but the finish gives the puncheurs a chance of taking the glory.
The GC battle begins with the toughest climb of the week, the ascent to Valter 2000. This stage was altered in 2018 due to bad weather, hopefully we get to see the full stage this year. The climb is 16.4km at 6.2% and finishes at 2133m above sea level. It’s a proper mountain top finish and will have a big say in the outcome of the race.
The classic, La Molina stage. After years of disappointing us, Movistar showed what can be done on this climb. Fingers crossed we get another attacking display.
The stage starts with a long climb, but then settles into one that the sprinters will hope they challenge for. The problem is that we’ll have huge gaps on GC, making the breakaway riders hard to beat.
Another day that is well suited to the break, mainly thanks to a largely uphill 80km to start with. Poor old sprinters, they might have travelled to this race for no reason.
Classic Barcelona stage with countless laps of the Montjuic climb. Always an interesting stage, but not hard enough to change the GC.
Alejandro Valverde – his start to the season would be viewed as a success if he wasn’t Alejandro Valverde. By his usual standards, the start to 2019 has been below what we would normally expect. Okay, he’s taken his first win in the rainbow jersey, but he’s looked almost human. Coming into this race, he’ll be looking forward to racing back in Spain, this is a race he’s won in 2017 and 2018. With no TT and plenty of opportunities to collect bonus seconds, it’s a race that’s perfect for him.
Romain Bardet – certainly wasn’t at his best during Paris-Nice, but will be better here with that race in his legs. The big mountain stages look good for Bardet as he continues to build his form for the Tour de France. He was 6th here in 2016 and 10th in 2017, so it’s a race he knows well and his fond memories of. Winning will be difficult, but he should be targeting a solid top 10 result.
Thibaut Pinot – he would have been happy with his 5th place in Tirreno, given that the route lacked mountains. This race is much more his style and he’ll be expecting to challenge for the win. Pinot has the speed to win a stage, which will pick up crucial bonus seconds. After an excellent end to 2018, he’d like to land a big win early in 2019.
Miguel Ángel López – the Colombian was unlucky not to win the mountain stage in Paris-Nice, but that was a sign of good legs. Astana have started the season in incredibly style and arrive at this race with plenty of help for their team leader, especially Pello Bilbao, who continues to develop at the top level. López will expect to be challenging for stage wins and the overall title.
Adam Yates – just 1 second away from winning Tirreno, but he’ll still be satisfied after such a strong week. This continues a welcome trend to his start to 2019: 8th in Valenciana, 5th in Andalucía and 2nd in Tirreno. Such a strong start to the season will certainly help with his confidence, after a frustrating second half of 2018. He was 4th here in 2017, but his memories of 2018 won’t be good after a crash ended his hopes of competing. Living in Andorra means that he’ll know these roads and he’ll be confident of challenging for the win. No TTs is good news for him.
Simon Yates – the new TT superstar of the peloton! He’s started the season be removing any expectations of him winning the races he’s competed in. Yates started Andalucia as a domestique, but ended it by taking a brilliant stage win. In Paris-Nice, he wasn’t overly concerned about losing time in the crosswinds, then he won the TT and was 3rd in the Queen stage. The legs are clearly strong, but it’s interesting that he’s not too bothered about challenging for the GC. With his focus fully on the Giro, it’ll be intriguing to see how he approaches this race. To challenge Movistar for the win, Mitchelton-Scott will need both of the Yates twins to be high on GC. Last year, he finished 4th on GC and took the final stage in Barcelona. He’ll be looking forward to coming back to Catalunya and racing against the best climbers in the world.
Steven Kruijswijk – square shoulder Steve is a firm favourite of mine. After a stellar 2018, he wants to be better in week long stage races. He started off the season with a very impressive 3rd place in Andalucía, he is a rider that usually takes some time to hit form, but not anymore. He lacks the punch that some of his rivals have, so winning a stage will be complicated, but he should be targeting the top 5.
Enric Mas – his 2nd place result in the Vuelta was one of the performances of 2018. He’s a rider that usually starts the season a little slow, but not this year. His 4th place in the Algarve might not sound like much, but it was a sign that he’s ready to push on after a brilliant 2018. Riding for QuickStep, you can be sure that he’ll be well protected throughout the week and he has a chance of taking a stage win and a solid position on GC.
Dan Martin – this is a race he likes. The Irishman won stages here in 2013 and 2016, he also took the GC in 2013. After targeting a big result in the UAE Tour, it didn’t quite happen for him. He’s had time to work out what went wrong, and I expect we’ll see a lot of him this week. Given his sprint finish, he’ll have a big say in the outcome of the GC stages, something which should see him challenge for the overall podium.
Egan Bernal – 2015 was the last time the Paris-Nice champion also won in Catalunya, Richie Porte was the rider and he was riding for Team Sky. See any similarities? His ride in PN was one of the most impressive performances I’ve seen in a long time, it was simply jaw dropping. Last year was a mixed race for the Colombian, he was very close to beating Valverde, but crashed heavily and missed a lot of racing due to his injuries. This year, he’ll have Chris Froome as a domestique and I fully expect him to be challenging for the title. Can he repeat the PN/Catalunya double that Richie Porte achieved?
Richie Porte – the Aussie was meant to ride Paris-Nice but had to cancel that plan as he was still getting over an illness. He would have missed a few days of training, but he should be close to full fitness by now. As I have already mentioned, he won this race back in 2015, but I don’t think it really suits him anymore.
Whoever wins stages 3 and 4 should take the overall title. If different riders take these stages, that will set up a fascinating battle in Barcelona. With his ability to win stages and collect bonus seconds, I’ve got to go with Alejandro Valverde. Given that Movistar are bringing Quintana and Carapaz to help, they should be too strong for the other teams.
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