By David Hunter
Riemst – Sittard 179.6km
It’s time for a mini-Amstel Gold! I know they call it that and they want us to believe it but I need you to stop thinking of Amstel Gold, this is not it. At 180km, it’s not a particularly long race. They do cover 23 climbs, which will be demanding, but it’s not too hard. The most challenging climb is the Eyserbosweg, 1km at 8.2%. It is climb number 10, so appears in the opening half of the race, rendering it pointless.
The lap circuit, which we cover 2 times, features 4 climbs:-
Windraak – 700m at 4.5%.
Kollenberg – 400m at 5%.
Sittarderweg 800m at 4%.
Stammen – 350m at 8%.
Not the most challenging of circuits and in 2014, it wasn’t hard enough to drop the big stars. Riders like Boy Van Poppel managed to finish with the peloton.
What this stage lacks in challenging climbs, it makes up for with tactics! With quite a few strong teams, we should get lots of attacks. Teams like Lotto, Etixx and BMC will look to make every attack, or shut down if they don’t like the look of the riders.
The final climb is the Windraak, cresting with 4.4km remaining. If the race is still together, expect to see some big moves here, but the gradient is only 4.5%, so it’s going to be hard to create any gaps.
The TT has left the race in an interesting position. Etixx had a disaster, thanks to Terpstra having to change bikes on two occasions. He would have been their main rider, but is too far down. Boonen also had a poor ride, with Lampaert and Alaphilippe doing okay. They are not in the position they would have expected and now look to chase stages, much like last year.
BMC look great! They have Van Avermaet, Quinziato and Gilbert sitting in the top 10 and they are in the best position. All 3 riders are very strong and they will look to patrol every attack. GVA is their main man, but tactics might allow one of the other two, to get away. Certainly, this race is theirs to lose.
Jumbo will be delighted to have won today and with Kelderman finishing 2nd. They sit 1st and 2nd, on GC, but leading the race will put the team under pressure. Kelderman is a good rider and could move into the race lead after this stage. Saturday will be his challenge.
Lars Boom will also be a happy rider. Sitting ahead of the BMC trio, he has a chance of eventually winning this race, having been close before. His big test will also be on Saturday, the same goes for most of the peloton.
Defending champion, Tim Wellens, put in a solid performance today. He now sits in 12th place but will find it impossible to get the same amount of freedom, that he was given in 2014. It’s going to be a hard title to defend.
With so many riders close on GC, bonus seconds are going to be important. Not only do we have the 10, 6 and 4 for the first 3 home but the golden kilometre will start to come into play. On this stage, it comes after 144km. That is just after climb 17, on the first lap of the circuit. If a rider can claim 9 seconds, that’s a huge advantage. This will spice things up a bit!
The early break doesn’t stand much of a chance. 3 sprint stages and a TT mean that the whole field remain close to the leader. Only 3 men are over 5 minutes down. The early break is bound to feature some of the local riders, but it’s more about the sprint jersey than the stage win.
Some sprinters will think they can make the finish. That might surprise you, as it’s billed as Amstel Gold, but if the race is not crazy, we could see a surprise. Riders like Danny Van Poppel, Jasper Stuyven, Jempy Drucker, Arnaud Demare, Heinrich Haussler, JJ Rojas and Zico Waeytens have a chance of taking the stage. But what type of race will we get?
That is down to Etixx, Lotto and BMC. Etixx can attack from distance, with Terpstra, but they can also wait for a sprint for Boonen or Alaphilippe. They are in the best position. If Boonen can win a flat sprint, he can certainly win a reduced sprint. They will be determined to win this stage and having multiple options is certainly a big plus for them.
BMC can hold it together too and go for the sprint with Drucker, but with bonus seconds important, GVA would like to sprint. Having so many men high on GC, it’s hard to imagine a scenario where they are not present. I think the’ll use Gilbert and Quinziato to control attacks and save GVA for the end. Although, a rider like GVA, is perfect for the golden kilometre. That’s why I like it being in the race, it changes how teams think about the stages.
Lotto have a few options. Tim Wellens will try and take back some time, but he will be marked. Benoot and Reolandts are their big cards to play. They are far enough down to get a little freedom and both men have a great sprint. I think they will look to attack, near the end of the race. Their success really depends on who joins them.
Etixx hold the key to the stage. Their best chance is to let Boonen go for the sprint, so they need to work to control the race. They have the team to do that, but in classic Etixx fashion, they’ll just shove a rider in the break and force another team to do the work. The stage isn’t that hard, there you go I’ve said it again! Riders like Rojas and Haussler should really make the end and then we’ll have enough teams to work for the sprint. I think we get a reduced sprint and Boonen wins.
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