By David Hunter
Riemst – Houffalize 203.7km
The longest stage of the race and I think the hardest, despite the Muur coming up on Sunday.
We have 14 categorised climbs, but these climbs are longer than those the riders faced during stage 5. Mont Rigi is the longest climb of the day, and the race, it is 7.6km at 3.9%. This doesn’t sound much, but the peloton will race up the slopes and put weaker riders into difficulty.
Straight after that comes the hardest climb of the day, Cote de la Ferme Libert, 1.2km at 12.2%. Despite coming 100km from the finish, I think this section of the race will have an impact. This is a chance for strong teams to drop domestiques and isolate team leaders of weaker squads. The opportunity will be taken by some.
After this comes Cote d’Aisomont, 4.2km at 5.5%. Again, this is long enough to cause some difficulty, especially as the next few climbs are easier. Mur de Saint-Roch signifies the beginning of the end game, it is 1.3km at 9.7%, making it a very demanding climb for all of the favourites. Soon after we have Rue Bois de Moines, 1.2km at 7.2%, with the golden kilometre coming just over the top.
The last opportunity for a rider to break the bunch is Le Vieux Chemin, 700m at 5.6%. It might not sound like much, but coming at the end of a hard stage, this will really hurt the legs. It crests with just over 11km to go, a late attacker will hope to have someone for company, as the closing 11km will be hell for a rider on their own.
Looks like some rain, there is also more wind than the other stages. This is coming from the south-west, making it a crosswind in some places and a cross/headwind as the riders turn for home. Teams will have to be on high alert for the whole stage.
Out of sight, out of mind. The closing 6km is great news for the attackers as the bunch will not be able to see them.
Lars Boom – what a lucky boy! Caught behind in the 2nd group, if it hadn’t been for Kung puncturing, his race would have been over, but that is cycling! He now sits in the race lead, something that he’ll find hard to defend in this stage. Jumbo only have six riders left in this race, giving Boom just five men to help defend against all the attacks. This is going to be very hard for the team and Boom.
Tim Wellens – looked incredibly strong today. After attacking with Valgren, he continued to attack after they were caught. Sagan sensed the danger and always gave chase. The rain didn’t materialise today, but it should for this stage. When the roads are wet, we see the best of the Belgian. I think he’ll have a big say in the outcome of this race.
Greg Van Avermaet – strangely, he didn’t make the initial move with the other GC favourites, only getting back on near the finish. The Olympic champion still had enough energy to sprint to 3rd place, I think he was poorly positioned when the others attacked. BMC can now throw all their resources behind him, that should give him an extra boost. He sits 25 seconds behind Sagan, that sounds like a huge gap.
Peter Sagan – looked in superb form today. He was able to easily close down all moves, all expect that of Lars Boom! He sits 2 seconds behind Boom, something that won’t be a concern for him. In fact, it’s better for Bora to not be defending his lead, going into this stage. Sagan is free to attack, something he wasn’t shy of today.
Oli Naesen – another that looked in good form today. He was not allowed any freedom by his rivals, something he needs to think about going into this stage. He has Gougeard and Bakelants to help him stretch out the bunch, but I think he needs to try an early attack, something he did well in the Classics. He has an ever improving sprint, something that could earn him vital bonus seconds.
Jasper Stuyven – put in an impressive attack today, but the others weren’t keen on letting him away. Stuyven seems to be in the middle of a rich vein of form and this race is a big target for him. Like his rivals, he will have a difficult time beating Sagan, his best bet would be to form an alliance with some of his rivals and put Sagan under pressure.
Sep Vanmarcke – just a little off with his timing today, his attack was the one before Boom’s. The Belgian looked in great form throughout the whole race and was supported well by his Cannondale teammates. An attacking rider, he’ll be looking to try and put pressure on some of his rivals. Like most of these GC riders, he packs a fast sprint.
Tom Dumoulin – his team were the ones that split the bunch, but he didn’t seem to have a huge amount of energy left in the finale of the stage. This stage should suit him a little better, given that the climbs are longer. He now sits 6 seconds behind Sagan, 8 behind Boom, he needs to do something to try and collect bonus seconds. I liked the aggression of his team today, I hope to see more of that in this stage.
Michael Valgren – I was really impressed by his attack today, it was a shame that he and Wellens were caught. After that, the big Dane was a spent force! He had no energy left, but did manage to finish with the front group. Like Dumoulin, I think this is a better stage for him, as long as he recovers well. A big fan of LBL, he’ll enjoy the punishment!
Philippe Gilbert – like Van Avermaet, he missed the crucial split. The two of them managed to bridge across, along with Jens Keukeleire. QuickStep have Gilbert and Vakoc as two clear options, something that does give them an advantage. I do get the impression that his form isn’t quite were he would like it to be.
I think this is going to be a crazy stage. Jumbo will come under huge pressure and they won’t be able to control the bunch. The fast pace set by teams like Bora and Lotto will spell the end for the break and the GC boys will fight out the stage win. Again, I see the riders attempting to mark each other and someone will slip away for the win. I think we’ll see Jasper Stuyventaking a big win.
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