By David Hunter
Aurillac – Jussac 142km
The race begins with a tricky looking stage.
Stage races usually begin with a day for the sprinters, but every so often the organisers like to throw a curve ball. Unusually, the opening stage starts with a cat 1 climb, I can’t remember the last time that happened. The morning break will establish itself before the climb, as the sprint teams will be keen on a small break getting down the road, which will allow the peloton to take the climb at an easy pace.
Once over the climb, the race should fall in a familiar pattern, with the break gradually trying to reel them in. The problem for those who want a sprint is Côte de Roquenatou, which has to be covered twice in the final 50km, which the final crest coming with just 18km to go.
3.7km at 6.9% is a test for the sprinters, as the final time up is sure to be raced at full speed. Attackers will sense an opportunity, 18km to the finish is achievable for a small group of riders. The sprint teams will have a tough time controlling the final climb, they’ll hope the GC teams take over and set a fast pace that deters attacks, but they also have to hope that their sprinter can hold on. This is a finish which will interest a variety of riders.
Relatively straight forward, but the right turn inside the final kilometre is tight and positioning is very important. The final metres actually rise a little, but nothing that will worry any of the quick men.
It should be dry, and conditions look good for the riders.
Sam Bennett – the Irish sprinter has enjoyed a brilliant 2019. He started the year having to deal with the news that Bora weren’t taking him to the Giro or Tour, despite him taking three wins in the 2018 Giro. Instead of going in a sulk, he knuckled down and has enjoyed his best ever season, taking wins in San Juan, UAE Tour, Paris-Nice and Turkey. As he isn’t going to the Tour, this race is huge for him, this is where he’ll be hoping to peak. He’s climbing better than ever and won’t be scared by the final climb, in fact, he’ll see it as an opportunity to drop some of his rivals.
Sonny Colbrelli – just one win this season and that was way back in Oman, the Italian has not enjoyed 2019. He’ll look at the profile of this stage and expect himself to be challenging for the win, so do I. Think back to stage 1 of Romandie, it was Colbrelli who was still hanging with the climbers after the final categorised climb, only to be dropped on one of the many rises closer to the line. Despite not winning, he’ll take confidence from that, especially as the final climb of this stage is similar to the one he survived in Romandie.
Magnus Cort – the sprinter who no longer sprints! I’m looking back at the whole of 2019 and I don’t think he’s actually sprinted yet, which is almost unthinkable. The team obviously see his career moving in a different direction.
Edward Theuns – just returned from an altitude camp that involved a lot of climbing. You guys all know I’m a huge fan of Eddie, but I won’t let that cloud my judgement. This is a stage where he should be able to survive the climbs and battle it out for the win. It’s been a while since we’ve seen him up there in the sprints, but I believe he can do it.
QuickStep – the all-conquering Belgians arrive with Hodeg as their sprinter, but he doesn’t climb well and is unlikely to make the finish. That will free up Alaphilippe and Gilbert to attack in the closing stages. You can guarantee the Frenchman will make his move on the climb; he needs to make the race tough for the sprinters. That will allow Gilbert to follow wheels and see if he can take advantage in the run for home. Despite not having a real sprint option for this stage, QuickStep will still have a large say in the outcome of the day.
Alessandro De Marchi – breakaway hopeful number 1.
Nils Politt – breakaway hopeful number 2.
I think all teams will be happy to see a break roll off the front at the start, meaning they can all take it easy on the cat 1 climb. Once we get into the finale, the pace on the final climb will be very fast, too fast for some of the quick men. Expect to see QuickStep being very active, but the GC teams will be watchful and probably close down all the moves, setting up a small sprint. Looking at the profile, I think we’ll see Sonny Colbrelli reminding everyone of what a fine rider he is.
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