By David Hunter
Sant Feliu De Guíxols – Vallter 2000
GC party time.
After many years of waiting, we final get another visit to Valter 2000. Last year the stage was changed due to bad weather, but this year we go back to the top of the mountain for the first time since 2014. Back then, Tejay Van Garderen took a win that nobody saw coming… thanks to the mist! The year before, it was Nairo Quintana who was first across the line. This is a proper test of climbing ability.
The road into the bottom of Valter is not something to be underestimated. The riders have to deal with 4km at 9% and 11.6km at 5%, before they even get to the big climb. There is a lot of climbing in the final 60km and legs will be sore, even before the final climb.
Another sunny day, with the wind again coming from the north-east. It means a crosswind for the majority of the climb, with some headwind thrown in as well.
The Big Climb
12.1km at 7.7%, with a maximum of 16%. As you can see, kilometre 3 to 8 is the toughest, with lots of double-digit gradients. If you can survive until this point, you have a great chance of finishing in the front group. Another hugely important point is the kilometre stretch with seven hairpin bends, this finishes with under a kilometre to go. This is where you must attack if you don’t fancy your chances in a sprint. This is a great climb and I can’t wait to see it in all its glory.
Tactical Battle Royale
The problem for most teams is the strength of Movistar. The Spaniards have Verona, Amador, Soler, Carapaz, Quintana and Valverde. This is the type of team you take to a grand tour; the others have to be worried. It’s not like other squads aren’t strong, but they don’t have the depth Movistar bring to the party.
Team Sky would normally be looking to dominate, but their team doesn’t look strong enough. Froome crashed today and that just leaves Sosa to help Bernal late into the climb.
Mitchelton-Scott have Adam and Simon Yates, that means they really should have two riders in contention for the win. How they decide team leadership will be interesting, but having two options is certainly better than one.
Bora will also be expecting to have a say in controlling the final climb, as they have Schachmann, Formolo and Majka. Then we have EF Drapac, who have Woods, Van Garderen and Carthy.
The rest of the teams will be looking to get a little luck, as it’s impossible to cover the moves of the teams who have multiple representation, but how will the tactics unfold?
I think we’ll see Movistar attacking from quite far out, as they have plenty of riders to burn. Soler and Carapaz could be used to destroy the other domestiques, forcing the likes of Bernal to use his own energy. If those moves are covered, it will be the turn of Quintana to move, with Valverde looking to sit on the wheel of anyone who tries to bridge. It seems the obvious tactic, but a lot of that will depend on the attitude of the other teams. It promises to be a fascinating stage.
Nairo Quintana – after a strong showing in Paris-Nice, it’s good to see Quintana getting back to his best. The last couple of years a been a bit frustrating for him, struggling to reach his previous levels. A change of coach seems to have given him a new lease of life and he’ll be looking forward to returning to a climb he’s previously won on. His chances of winning will depend on the Movistar tactics, but he certainly starts as one of the favourites.
Alejandro Valverde – after collecting 10 bonus seconds in the opening two stages, the world champion already has a lead over his rivals. This clever race management is something that he’s brilliant at, but it does help to have a fast sprint. You would think that Valverde will sit and wait for a potential sprint, but we’ve seen him be very attacking in previous editions of this race. After a strong showing in Milan-Sanremo, Valverde seems to be nearing top form and would love to get the win and firmly take hold of the GC battle.
Egan Bernal – after winning Paris-Nice, you would be forgiven to think that the Colombian would be tired. Bernal is developing fast, he’s already one of the best climbers in the world and soon to be challenging for the Giro. Last season, he was out muscled by Movistar, on La Molina, having to chase down attacks from Soler and Quintana, before losing out to Valverde. Looking at the strength of Movistar, he must be worried about it happening again.
Simon Yates – won the big mountain stage in Andalucía, won the ITT in Paris Nice, and finished 4th in the Queen stage. Despite being fully focussed on the Giro, Yates is still collecting some impressive results. After blowing in the last couple of stages in 2018 Giro, Yates seems determined to not use up too much energy in his preparation races. Saying that, this is one of the most prestigious races in the calendar and I can’t see him simply wanting to ride as a domestique. He certainly has good legs and could challenge for the win.
Adam Yates – after just losing out in Tirreno, he’ll be keen on capitalising on his good form. I have no idea how Mitchelton-Scott will approach the race, but Yates should be backing himself to challenge for the stage. Having two strong riders will allow them to try and match the Movistar attacks, if they get the tactics right, there is every chance one of the brothers takes the win.
Miguel Ángel López – 2nd in the Paris-Nice Queen stage, just losing out to Dani Martinez. After winning his home race, the Tour of Colombia, López would have been happy with his first outing on European soil. Easily one of the best climbers in the world, I’m interested to see where his current form is, as he going to try and win the Giro. Astana have a good team, but not as strong as recent races. It won’t be easy for him to win the stage, but he’ll be looking for an impressive showing.
Steven Kruijswijk – targeting a good position on GC, the Dutch climber will be looking forward to this stage. His team have done a good job in keeping in safe in the opening stages and he’ll start this day full of confidence. Lacking a fast sprint, winning the stage will be tough, but he can certainly finish in the top 3.
Dan Martin – 4th is his best result in 2019, he’ll be hoping to better that in this stage. The Irishman should enjoy the steep slopes of the final climb, but his team are relatively weak. While most of the other contenders will have teammates to help in the closing stages, the Irishman will have to fend for himself. I think he’ll struggle to break into the top 3.
Thibaut Pinot – his team might not be overly strong, but in Seb Reichenbach, he has one of the best climbing domestiques. This pair are brilliant together and I fully expect to see both of them in the closing kilometres. Pinot’s fast kick means he’ll be hoping for a reduced sprint, but this is hard to predict. He should be aiming for the top 5.
Max Schachmann – started this race in fine form, but is this climb simply too hard for him? Given the level of his rivals, a top 10 is the best he can hope for.
Hugh Carthy – big Hugh loves this race, it always brings out the best in him. EF Drapac have a number of options for this stage, but Carthy should be given some freedom. 3rd place in Haut Var was a sign of what we can expect from him in 2019. Now 24, he’s about to reach a level we’ve not seen before. I sense a big result.
Movistar are too strong, even for Bernal and the Yates twins. Toss a coin as to who wins, I’ll go with Alejandro Valverde.
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