Vuelta al Pais Vasco 2019 – Stage 1 Preview

By David Hunter

Zumarraga – Zumarraga 12.1km ITT

We start with a time trial.

Not your average race against the clock, this one has a horrible climb for the riders to tackle. The first 4km rises at around 1%, before a short descent into the climb. The hill is 2.5km at 9%, which is a proper test on a TT bike. It gives the climbers a brilliant chance of competing against the power men and is quickly followed by a technical descent to the finishing line. This is a tricky start to the race.

If you cast your mind back to 2015, this was the final climb in stage 3. That day, Rodriguez, Quintana and Henao escaped the peloton, with the Spaniard winning the sprint. The climb exploded the race, it is very difficult.

 This is the hardest section of the climb, 800m at 16.1%, which is impossible on a TT bike. There has been talk of riders potentially doing a bike swap at the bottom of the climb, whereas others are looking at riding an adapted road bike. This decision could be very important and the difference between winning and losing.

Weather

The current forecast suggest that the early starters will get the best of the weather, as it is due to rain around 1600CET. Those that start on wet roads will have no chance of winning.

Contenders

Rohan Dennis – the TT world champion lines up with his full focus on this stage. He finished 8th in the Tirreno TT, a very disappointing result. It looks like he’s having some difficulty transitioning from his BMC to the Merida bike, and no wonder. His old BMC machine was a flier, the Merida just isn’t as fast. This stage isn’t ideal for him, he’s bound to lose some time on the climb, making it hard for him to take his first win in the rainbow strips.

Ion Izagirre – after finishing 2nd in the Valenciana TT, he followed that up with 3rd place in Andalucía. The Basque rider is strong against the clock and has to start as one of the big favourites. He climbs well and also is a fine descender, both of these skills will help him challenge for the win.

Jakob Fuglsang – surprised many with his 2nd place in the Andalucía TT, that set him up nicely to take the overall win. The Dane is currently riding at a level he’s never reached before, something his rivals will be very worried about. If he wants to challenge for the overall, he needs to start with a good TT performance. Winning won’t be easy, but it wouldn’t be a surprise.

Julian Alaphilippe – after a stunning start to the year, the Frenchman lines up with another chance of taking a win. Already with 7 wins, his current level is ridiculously high. He won the TT in San Juan and will like the look of this route. When the gradients kick up to double digits, there aren’t many who can beat him. The descent to the finish is also well suited to him. Has to start as one of the favourites.

Jonathan Castroviejo – another Basque rider who’ll be super motivated to do well. The route isn’t perfect for him, but he should be challenging for the top 10.

Michal Kwiatkowski – disappointed in the Paris-Nice TT, this is a chance to make up for that. Like many of the contenders, he can climb and descend well, both are crucial for this stage. It’s been a while since he won a TT, something I’m sure he would like to correct.

Paddy Bevin – the Kiwi champion will be looking forward to this one. He’s a rider who continues to make steady improvement and this should be a big year for him. He spends a lot of time working on his TT bike and this is a great chance to take his first win in Europe.

Dani Martinez – after a huge win in Paris-Nice, he’ll be coming here full of confidence. The Colombian TT champion, he was 5th in the Paris-Nice TT, a result he would have been very pleased with. The route is good for him and the Cannondale bike has already delivered some impressive results this season. Could be a dark horse for the win.

Dan Martin – will lose too much time in the opening section, even though he’ll take some back on the time. Could still squeeze into the top 10.

Adam Yates – his GC bid cannot start with him losing time to the Astana boys. His goal will be to only drop a handful of seconds before the climb, something he should be able to regain once the hill starts. His 5th place in the Andalucía TT should give him confidence, it is an area he’s improved over the last couple of years.

Max Schachmann – the German has started the season in brilliant form, something that will please his new employers. He’s always been a strong rider against the clock, with the big climb to deal with, he’ll be confident of challenging for the win.

Prediction Time

Due to the rain forecast for the late starters, I’ll go with someone starting early in the day. Looking at those that should get dry conditions, I’ll go with a surprise win for Enric Mas.

*Overall Preview

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David Hunter

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