By David Hunter
Arrigorriaga – Arrate 150km
Time for the GC battle to really begin.
This stage has everything required to deliver sensational racing and it will begin with the climb of Ixua, coming after 100km of racing. This climb has been used as the final hill for the last couple of years, but the organisers have decided to tinker with the route.
3.3km at 12%, but with a maximum of 32.5%. This is an incredibly steep climb, but by moving it 40km from the end of the stage, I wonder what racing we’ll actually see on it. Going solo from this point isn’t advisable, but if a small group manage to distance the peloton, they could stay away until the end. This provides teams with an interesting dilemma.
The stage ends with the classic climb, 6.8km at 6%, but this does include almost 2km of flat/descending towards the finishing line. The main section of the climb is 3.7km at 9.6%, which is certainly tough enough to see some gaps. History shows us that this climb doesn’t usually see large gaps between the GC riders, but this could change due to the steep climb earlier in the day. By this point, the riders will already be tired, and we could see larger gaps than normal.
A much nicer day for the peloton, with lots of sunshine. The wind isn’t very strong, but it is coming from the north, meaning a headwind on the big climbs.
Who has the numbers to attack the steep climb? In terms of strength in depth, Astana and Bora are the strongest squads at this race. Both have multiple riders still high on GC, they should be looking to dominate this stage. Astana will hit the climb hard, looking to test Bora, they need Schachmann to suffer, in order for Ion Izagirre to challenge. Astana have a squad made for this, but I think they’ll set a hard pace, instead of attacking.
This pace will seriously slim the group down and we certainly won’t have a full peloton at the foot of the final climb. This section of the race will be very tactical, as two battles come to the surface. We’ll have riders who have already dropped time looking to challenge for the stage, and a small group of riders battling for the GC. With a number of very strong riders quite far down on GC, it adds some unpredictability to the day, something which will enhance the racing.
Adam Yates – this is a great stage for Yates. After impressing in Tirreno and Catalunya, he would have been very disappointed to have punctured in stage 2. He is very strong on steep climbs and can also sprint a bit at the end of a tough day, perfect for this one. Mitchelton-Scott will be full focussed on trying to set him up and Yates will hope that the GC contenders won’t chase him.
Mikel Landa – the Basque rider would love to win on home soil. He knows both of the big climbs well and will hope his recent trip to Coppi e Bartali will have helped his condition after missing a number of weeks due to injury. The best climber in the bunch, he’ll expect to be challenging for the win.
Astana – they still have Ion Izagirre and Fuglsang as their GC options. Such a demanding stage is music to their ears, everybody knows they’ll blow the race apart on the steep climb. Once we hit the slopes of the final climb, we shall see how the play their multiple options. Expect to see an attack by Fuglsang, in the hope of making Bora work, then Izagirre will make his move. The problem he’ll have is that this climb suits some of his rivals more than him.
Dan Martin – has started the season well, but is still waiting for his first win. A talented climber, he’ll be looking forward to this stage, particularly as UAE have a very strong team. The Irishman would be confident of beating most of the GC riders in a sprint and will hope the race ends that way.
Dani Martinez – the Colombian was unfortunate to lose a little bit of time on Wednesday, but he’s still in with a shout of winning this race. He’s a very strong climber, but is he really strong enough to beat the riders in this race? I don’t think he’s there yet.
Bora – with Schachmann, Buchmann and Konrad they have plenty of options. Schachmann is clearly in fine form, but can he survive such a demanding day? If he can’t, Bora still have Buchmann and Konrad, two natural climbers. Both riders are very strong, but they would struggle to follow the moves of the pure climbers. Also, both pack a good sprint, meaning it is possible for them to collect bonus seconds.
Enric Mas – he would have had a big say in the outcome of this stage, but his heavy crash leaves a lot of questions. If he’s recovered well, I would still expect him to be challenging for the win.
Lying a little down on GC will make this a day when Adam Yates gets away and takes the stage win.
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