By David Hunter
The stage is all about the final climb, no point wasting time talking about the rest of the day.
The organisers of this race love a steep climb and they’ve found another one. The climb is around 3.3km at 9%, which is tough enough to blow the bunch to pieces. The finishing line isn’t actually at the top of the climb, the riders still have a very fast 300m descent before they get there, but I think first over the climb will take the stage.
As you can see from the profile, the climb comes in three sections: 750m at 11%, 1.2km at 11.3% and 750m at 10%. It will be interesting to see how the teams approach the finale, especially as a few have multiple riders in contention. Saying that, I think we’ll see the strongest rider on the day taking the win, there’s no place to hide on a climb like this. It’s good to have teammates, but only if you have good legs.
Another pleasant day for the bunch, with sun and light wind.
Alejandro Valverde – the world champion has it all to do. He’s sitting 9 seconds behind Izagirre, 6 behind Teuns and 2 from Bilbao. Clearly there are two battles for him to fight: the stage and GC. On a climb like this I think he’ll be fairly confident of taking the time he needs for the yellow jersey, but the stage is going to be complicated. Astana have two men ahead of him on GC and Luis Leon looking incredibly strong too. Movistar didn’t seem to have too many helpers left in the finale of stage 3, this concerns me a little. No doubt Astana will try and put pressure on the great man, with teammates he won’t have to worry too much. If he is isolated, he’ll have some interesting decisions to make. Looking at the length and gradient of the climb, it is perfect for him, so he starts as the favourite.
Dan Martin – was the fastest up the climb in the opening TT, going 4 seconds faster than Valverde. The Irishman looks to be in good form and similar to Valverde, this is a brilliant climb for him. He sits 5 seconds behind the Spaniard, we could well see them form an alliance as they both chase similar goals. The problem for Martin is the downhill finish, it’s hard to see him beating Valverde in a sprint. If he’s going to win this, he needs to drop the others on the climb.
Adam Yates – I know that Jack Haig is the highest ranked Mitchelton-Scott rider, but this climb is much better suited to the Englishman. He disappointed in the TT, but remember he was the man who nearly took the Queen stage back in 2018. Yates is a phenomenal climber and loves these punchy efforts, but does he have the legs required to challenge for the win?
Dylan Teuns – after a brilliant TT, the Belgian sits in a very strong position. As we are so early in the season, I have my doubts that he’ll be strong enough to compete for the win, but I could well be proven wrong. Teuns is a fabulous climber and loves the steep slopes that we have on the final hill.
Astana – the team who hold all the cards. With LL Sanchez, Bilbao and Izagirre they will be hopeful of walking away with the stage and yellow jersey. Achieving this certainly won’t be easy against a rider like Valverde, but they have a good chance of doing so. The problem for them is that Sanchez looks the strongest, but he’s not a threat to Valverde on GC(29s behind), meaning Valverde doesn’t have to respond if he attacks. That should force them into sacrificing Pello Bilbao and letting him attack early on the climb, this will make the others cover him. Once it all comes back together, I think they’ll let Sanchez attack and see if he can get the stage. It will then be up to Izagirre to follow Valverde and hope to stay on his wheel.
Around 3km at 9% with many sections of double-digit gradients + a downhill finish = Valverde time.
A stage win and the yellow jersey for the world champion.
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