By David Hunter
Clermont Ferrand – Saint Christo En Jarez 218.5km
A nice looking stage.
It’s a long stage, the first for quite some time. We have a number of interesting looking climbs, but nothing that will trouble GC riders. The main climb is the one that takes the riders through the finishing line, but it keeps on going.
Mur de Saint-Christo is 900m at 8.9%, but it is narrow and very steep in the middle section. This climb crests with around 35km to go, which could well tempt a few in the bunch to try a long-range attack, especially as the next 17km is a fast descent on narrow, twisting roads. We then kick up for the long drag up to the finishing line, around 16km at 3%.
What a strange place to put a finish! The riders already pass through the finish line, but for some reason the organisers have placed the line have way up the climb. The final 400m rises at 8.2%, but just take a look at the last 200m of that.
A proper ramp for the riders to deal with at the end of a demanding stage. With a left-hand turn in the closing metres a good position, and line through the corner, is very important.
Not as hot as some of the recent races, but temperatures should still reach 27 degrees.
Not bad. The first stage of a race is normally a sprint finish, but when organisers deviate from the plan we often see breakaways take the day. The expert at this is Thomas De Gendt. Of his fifteen professional wins, three have come in the opening stage. He’s done this in Paris-Nice, Dauphiné and Catalunya, he is the master. The big question is who controls the race? The problem for De Gendt is that quite a few teams will fancy their chances of taking the win, I expect the big teams to chase down the move and set up a grandstand finish.
Julian Alaphilippe – so close to retaining his Sanremo title, but the signs were positive after a tough Strade Bianche. He will love the look of this finish; he does have a magnificent uphill sprint. QuickStep have a strong squad to support him this week and help get him into a good position for the final kilometre. Given the ramp in the closing metres, the Frenchman will start as the favourite.
Benoît Cosnefroy – after making a name for himself in lower French races, the AG2R rider is hoping to make the transition into a challenger in world tour races. His 12th place in last year’s Flèche was an indication of what was to come, and this year he looks even stronger. Taking your first world tour win is always a huge moment, will this stage be his?
Peter Sagan – the only “sprinter” who can dream of winning a stage like this, but does he have the form? The answer is clearly no, he was off the pace in Strade Bianche and couldn’t respond to the attacks in Milan-Sanremo, but he will be improving with every race. Sagan will cope with the climbs, and he’ll have a great position for the sprint, but we’ll have to see how he copes with the steep finish.
Sonny Colbrelli – in total, the final climb is 16km at 3%, which is a long drag for a rider like Colbrelli. Not only that, but he then has to deal with the ramp at the very end, with legs that will already be feeling tired. It looks a little too hard for the Italian.
Sergio Higuita – the little man with the big kick! This is his first race back, so I expect a little rust.
Alejandro Valverde – the great man is approaching a full year without winning a bike race, something that hasn’t happened for a very long time. If this was any normal year you’d have him as one of the big favourites for this stage, but I’m not so sure anymore.
Primož Roglič – given the way he’s sprinting just now, he cannot be overlooked, but I have a feeling his team will be riding for another.
Wout Van Aert – the man of the moment. Winning Strade Bianche and Milan-Sanremo was a huge moment in his road career, the coaches at Jumbo-Visma have done a magnificent job in honing his talent. The sky really is the limit for Van Aert, he can do most things in this sport. You might think the finish is a little steep for him, but given his current form he has to be one of the big favourites.
Tadej Pogačar – outsprinted Valverde back in Valenciana, which shows the type of finish he has. Maybe this one just isn’t long enough for him.
Søren Kragh Andersen – the Dane gives Sunweb a nice option for this finish. You might forget that he packs a proper punch, he shouldn’t be underestimated.
Thomas De Gendt – breakaway option 1, 2, 3 and 4!
I think the break won’t make it and we’ll get a sprint finish. The final climb might not be steep, but it is long, and could well take the power out of the faster finishers. I’ll go with Julian Alaphilippe to delight the home crowds, but beware a late attack.
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