By David Hunter
Paterna – Valencia 88.7km
This is a stage the organisers have tinkered with over the years. There used to be a cat 3 climb before heading into Valencia, which made life tough for the sprinters, but that has now been removed. High winds have also seen this stage shortened in the past, it looks like the organisers are now happy to simply have a criterium stage at the end of the week. Not sure I like it, but that’s the way it is.
Yet again it’s a little bit windy in Valencia, it always is when this race comes to town. At 9mph, it shouldn’t disrupt the race and it will be a sunny day, unlike 2018.
The organisers have also changed the finish compared to last year, thank God as the final corner was incredibly dangerous. They have decided to go back to the traditional finish, which has been used many times before. The lap circuit contains two long straights on either side of the park. Things start to get a little technical with 2km remaining as the riders tackle a left-hand corner. Leading into the final kilometre we have another couple of gentle turns, before a short finishing straight. This is a finale which is great for a big powerful lead out train.
Dylan Groenewegen – the Dutch sprinter owes his teammates a win. They worked brilliantly to bring him back to the bunch after getting dropped during stage 2, but used up too much energy and Groenewegen was unable to get into a good position. The closing kilometres of this stage is perfect for the Jumbo-Visma lead out train: Van Emden, Tony Martin, Teunissen and Roosen. These guys possess a huge amount of power and it’s hard to see another team being able to compete with them from the 3km sign. I think we’ll see everyone else simply holding back and looking to jump them in the last kilometre, this is something Timo Roosen will have to be very careful of. This is a finish that Dylan knows, he won the bunch sprint behind Stijn Vandenbergh in 2016. Groenewegen has enjoyed a good Winter and he’ll be hoping to leave the race with a confidence boosting win.
Nacer Bouhanni – love him or loathe him, it was great to see Bouhanni surfing the wheels on Thursday, as he looked back to near his best. His troubles with Cofidis have been well documented and there still seems to be little love between him and his bosses, this has resulted in Bouhanni being sent here without a huge amount of support. He knows this finish well, finishing 2nd here in 2017, he’d love to go one better.
Matteo Trentin – in his favour is Luca Mezgec, possibly the fastest lead out man at the race. Mitchelton-Scott will be able to stay near the front of the bunch in the closing stages, they’ll then look to take control inside the final kilometre. If Mezgec can deliver Trentin into a good position, we’ve already seen he has the legs to finish it off. If he ends this race with two stages, he’ll be a very happy boy.
Alexander Kristoff – doesn’t have a sprint train, is the sign of things to come for the Norwegian? Weird that his team seem to have lost faith in him when you consider he won on the Champs-Élysées. It looks like all resources have now been dedicated to Gaviria and Kristoff will have to fend for himself. He started the race with a cold, but should now be feeling better. A top 5 is the best he can do.
Magnus Cort – Astana arrived with a GC team, Cort has little help in the sprints. The Dane is very quick, and I think this finish does suit him well, he’s quite good when things get messy. He’s another who’ll be looking to reach the podium.
Sonny Colbrelli – the Italian is quick, but will struggle to beat the pure sprinters in a criterium stage. He was 4th on Thursday and would be very happy to end the race with a strong performance. It will be tough for him to win, but the top 3 is a realistic goal.
Ben Swift – we’d almost forgotten that Team Sky do good lead outs! They were the team who controlled the closing stages on Thursday, but Swift couldn’t quite finish it off. He was there again on Friday, but died during the uphill sprint. Swifty is certainly not a pure sprinter, but he is one who gets in good positions. I think we’ll see him near the front of the race, challenging for the win.
Christophe Noppe – possibly a new name for you. The Sport Vlaanderen quick man is one for the future. He was 4th in Trofeo Palma, a good indication of his current form. He isn’t an explosive sprinter, but can grind a huge gear. The Belgians won’t be able to compete in the closing stages, but keep your eye out for Noppe, he’s one who could have an impressive season.
I’ll eat my hat if Dylan Groenewegen doesn’t win this one. Best lead out train and he’s the fastest sprinter.
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