By David Hunter
Bilbao – Los Machucos 166.4km
We head back to the big mountains.
Lots and lots of climbing. With seven categorised climbs, this is a big day in the battle for the polka dot jersey, which means we should see a big fight to join the morning break. There might be many climbs for the riders to negotiate, but the final hill will loom large.
We were here in 2017, when Stefan Denifl “won” the stage. That day, Contador put big time into the other GC riders, with Chris Froome one of the riders who toiled on the steep slopes. The climb is 6.6km at 9.7%, but the road continues on for nearly two kilometres until we get to the finish. There is no other way to put this, it’s brutal. To finish at the front you must have exceptional legs.
Could be a little rain around in the morning, with only a light breeze. This wind will be a tailwind for much of the final climb.
Such a tough day in the saddle can be good news for the break, but it can also be bad. Some of the GC teams will want a fast pace to try and wear down the Jumbo-Visma domestiques, which would be bad news for the break.
Alternatively, the peloton might decide to take it easy for the vast majority of the stage, saving as much energy as possible for the final climb. Once there, the gradient is so steep there isn’t much of an advantage to gain from drafting. Of course, having a few teammates to help chase down moves is beneficial, but it’s certainly not a day for a long mountain train. The finish is quite similar to Mas de la Costa, but it’s a little longer and not quite as steep. That day we witnessed the big four in the race distance the rest, something similar is very likely to happen again. I just wonder if we’ll have bigger gaps between them in this stage.
On the final climb, one thing is for sure, it will be Miguel Ángel López who throws the first punch. Roglič will hope that Valverde will react and protect his second place, but that isn’t going to happen. Movistar know how to play the game, they’ll force the red jersey into chasing the Colombian, in the hope that he burns some of his matches. Valverde will save his big attack until later in the climb, but we’ll have to see if he can shake off the Slovenian.
Alejandro Valverde – the winner on Mas de la Costa will start as the favourite. The world champion is wonderful on steep slopes, his final kick is second to none. I feel that this finish will be different to Mas de la Costa, I don’t expect to see the top 4 come over the line together. Valverde will sense an opportunity to put pressure on Roglič, as we still have a long way to go in the battle for red. Will Bala have the cojones to win on Machucos?
Primož Roglič – the Slovenian still looks in total control of this race, but he still needs to be very wary of his rivals. With Valverde sitting at 1:52 and López at 2:11, he knows that he cannot give these riders an inch, as that can quickly turn into 1 minute. Jumbo-Visma has a strong team and they’ll expect Sep Kuss and George Bennett to last deep into the final climb. That will allow Roglič to stay protected and only have to chase in the final kilometres. He doesn’t need to attack, he just needs to follow, but he won’t say no to a win if the opportunity presents itself.
Miguel Ángel López – despite his strength, he’s not won a stage yet. We still have some big stages to come and he’ll take heart from his performance on stage 5, when he was able to distance Roglič and Valverde. He knows that Valverde and Roglič can hurt him with their kick, to stop this, he needs to attack from distance. We’re not quite in Hail Mary territory, but he needs to make some time up in this stage, if he wants to win the red jersey.
Nairo Quintana – he’ll probably have to ride for Valverde, but will he take his radio out? The Colombian is 3 minutes behind Roglič, a gap that looks too large to make up. Movistar will not want to be in a position where Quintana has to lead the front group for Valverde, that could see the Colombian attacking from distance and trying to put pressure on Roglič.
Tao Geoghegan Hart – breakaway hopeful number 1.
Wout Poels – breakaway hopeful number 2.
Dani Martínez – breakaway hopeful number 3.
Óscar Rodríguez – breakaway hopeful number 4.
Dear, Astana and Movistar, please make this a GC day. When the dust settles we’re going to have one hell of a fight on the final climb. López will attack, but Roglič has to cover and chase him down. This should leave the door open for Alejandro Valverde to take his second win.
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