By David Hunter
Madinat Zayed – Madinat Zayed 189.5km
Time for the sprinters to shine.
Like all sprint stages in this part of the world, there is very little to talk about, until we hit the final 5km, unless we get some wind.
This finish is one most of the sprinters know well. The first race is for a turn at 5km to go. At this point, the roads are still wide and teams can move up the bunch, if poorly positioned.
For the next few kilometres, the road is wide and this allows sprint trains to form. Teams that hit the front too early run the risk of getting swamped, this is about patience and experience.
Next obstacle is a roundabout with 2.3km to go. This sees the bunch move from wide road into a narrow line. After this, you don’t want to be far down the bunch, it will waste energy to move up. That means we should see a big fight for control of the bunch after the 3km sign. The longer sprint trains should be in control.
The final turn comes with 1.1km left. It is relatively gentle, but it does narrow the head of the bunch. This is where the shorter trains will try and muscle in. Despite not being technical, this is a very difficult sprint to get right.
Sunny, with a little wind coming from the north. That will please the sprinters.
Andre Greipel – after a successful start in Australia, the German will be looking to continue his good start to 2018. Unfortunately for him, his sprint train is lacking some firepower. There is no Debusschere or De Buyst, instead he will have Hansen and Sieberg. These riders know Greipel better than he does, but they do lack speed compared to some of their rivals. Given the weakened train, it’s going to be tough for Greipel to win the stage.
Caleb Ewan – the Tour Down Under wasn’t perfect, but he did win a great stage in Stirling. Recently, Ewan won in Almeria, after a brilliant lead out from his team. He performed well here in 2017 and I think we’ll see a repeat this year. He’ll have a sprint train of Bauer, Kluge and Mezgec, that is very impressive indeed. It seems that Matteo Trentin is the only man missing. This is a great chance for Ewan to take some wins against the best sprinters in the world.
Alexander Kristoff – after a slow start to the year, he won in Matrah Corniche. Kristoff is getting used to riding with a short train, but this will take some time. When Bystrom and Ferrari get it right, he’ll be put into good positions, but does he have the speed to finish it off?
Elia Viviani – a stage win in Australia, followed by two stages and the overall in Dubai, it’s safe to say that Viviani is flying! He’s delighted to be riding with a brilliant sprint train, we are no longer seeing Viviani having to position himself in the closing kilometres. Despite having GC ambitions, they still arrive with a long sprint train. Looking to support Viviani will be Hodeg, Mørkøv and Sabatini. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Julian Alaphilippe lending his considerable power in the final 5km, he is a selfless worker. Given his train and confidence, Viviani starts this stage as the man to beat.
Mark Cavendish – the winner of this stage in 2017, Cavendish had a good start to he year in Dubai, but didn’t do much in Oman. Going into this race, his train is again missing the power of Eisel and Van Rensburg. This is going to make it hard for Cavendish to win this stage.
Marcel Kittel – left Dubai with his head in his hands. Kittel is a fragile rider, one that does not respond well to disappoint. Katusha will have thought long and hard about their approach and they have decided to arrive with a short train. I think they’ll try and use Alex Dowsett to hit the front in the closing kilometres, but that only leaves Haller and Zabel to help Kittel. Kittel preferred a short train at QuickStep, but I just don’t see it working with the riders at Katusha. He starts this stage with a lot of pressure.
Danny Van Poppel – he’s started the season well, taking a solid win in Valenciana. He was 2nd to Ewan in Almeria, a result he should be satisfied with. Jumbo have ditched the long train, this tactic has worked wonders with both their top sprinters. Coming into this stage, they will look towards Robert Wagner and Gijs Van Hoecke, two very powerful men. It will be hard for Van Poppel to win, but he should be aiming for the podium.
Phil Bauhaus – his season started with a whimper in Australia. Coming into this race, Sunweb also have to take care of Dumoulin, leaving less men for the German sprinter. He’ll still have Teunissen and Arndt, but they will struggle to make an impression against some of their rivals.
This finish is all about sprint trains. Looking at the teams, I think that QuickStep and Mitchelton-Scott are the best here. Given his recent success, I see nothing stopping Elia Viviani from taking another win.
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