By David Hunter
Bessèges > Bessèges 154.6km
A stage with a couple of possibilities, it all depends on how the teams want to approach it. The bunch climb from the gun, and it keeps on going, with four hills in the opening 50km.
First up is an unclassified climb that’s 7.6km at 4.3%, but the opening 4km averages over 6%, and the start of the climb is narrow with a horrible road surface. This is proper start to the stage, and we could see riders losing contact very early on.
Soon after we have the cat 1 Col de Portes, this one is 6.6km at 3.8%. It’s not too hard, but will definitely catch out those who haven’t been working hard over the winter.
The third climb is 2km at 7.1%, although it’s unclassified. It might be short, but this is the most challenging climb in terms of gradient.
Col des Brousses is the final cat 1 climb, but it’s only 4.9km at 3.6%. The organisers seem to have made a right mess of their classifications, with the unclassified climbs harder than the cat 1s! From the crest we have 100km left in the day.
This climb kicks off the finale, cresting with under 16km. It might only be 1.3km at 6.2%, but it is close enough to the finish to draw out some attacks, especially as the road looks rather heavy.
The final 5km is straightforward, but it does contain a little bump in the road with 3km to go, but it only lasts around 300m, so it shouldn’t be important.
At the flamme rouge the bunch head left at this junction, which is relatively narrow. The importance of this point depends on the size of the bunch.
Cloudy, with the sun coming out in the afternoon. Temperatures will be nice for this time of year and we still have little wind.
Who wants to race? The opening 50km is hard enough to test legs and see if the peloton can drop some of the sprinters, but that depends on the attitude of the bunch. Will we see some of the sprint teams come to the front in the neutral zone and make it clear they’ll chase the early moves down? Resulting in everyone giving up and waiting for the finale. That’s one scenario, I’ll call it the boring one.
The other scenario is that a number of the GC teams decide to light it up early on, and then continue to force the pace throughout the stage. If this happens, the bunch will be significantly reduced, but still not small, the stage isn’t that hard. As we have a number of cancelled races, riders know they don’t have many chances to properly stretch their legs before the classics, will they use this as a very hard training ride?
If the bunch is reduced, the final climb will be important, as a group could escape and fight for the win. If we have a full peloton, the climb isn’t really hard enough to cause damage. From the outside looking in, it’s hard to work out what will actually happen, but I do have a feeling that some teams will try.
One other thing to note is the placement of the bonus sprint, just 7km from home. This will come into play and adds some spice for those wanting to challenge on GC.
DS Cycling Mole
For tonight’s session I’ll be taking over as the Ineos DS.
Right folks grab your seats in the very spacious Death Star. G, you’re up first. I want you to smash the first climb, full gas, just like Alpe d’Huez. Once over the top I want the rest of you to take your chances. I’m expecting attack after attack until we break the elastic. In the front group I want either Kwiato or Pippo, if they aren’t there, we stop working. If they are there, we go full gas all the way. Hayto, if you find yourself in the front group, you get to sprint, otherwise we ride for Kwiato. Remember, this could be a big day in the GC battle, let’s see how many fat sprinters we can drop early on.
Egan, you’re on bottle duty wee man, mind and wear the extra-large jersey.
Mads Pedersen – he was in a good position today, but the crash ruined his chances. As he swerved across the road, he was very lucky to not end up in a huge crash. This stage is one that should interest him, but it all depends on his current shape. We’ve seen in previous years he can take some time to hit his peak, but this season could well be different. He’ll be frustrated after today; can he channel that into motivation?
Bryan Coquard – the way he climbed in Marseille; this stage won’t scare him. We’ll have to see how the day evolves, but he’ll be happy if the pace is high. The climbs are much easier than the Route des Crêtes, so he’ll be confident of hanging around in the front group. Hopefully he has a few teammates who can help ensure he gets the chance to sprint for the win.
Christophe Laporte – after his win in the opening stage, he’ll be hoping for more of the same. Laporte is good at getting over medium climbs, so he’ll be another sprinter confident about surviving if the pace is high. He’s maybe not the fastest in a bunch sprint, but if they front group is reduced, he’ll have a good chance of challenging for the win.
Nacer Bouhanni – he certainly climbed well in the opening stage, but this is a different proposition. In recent years he’s not been the best at surviving a stage like this, but it all depends on his shape. If he’s worked hard over the winter, he should be able to cope, but we’ll have to wait and see.
Greg Van Avermaet – he’ll try and use every day to test his legs ahead of the opening weekend. Greg might be 35, but there’s no sign he’s slowing down. If the front group is reduced in size, he’ll be there waiting to see if he can attack in the finale.
Tim Wellens – he’s in the same position as all the puncheurs. Can Lotto Soudal make the race hard enough to drop the sprinters? That would be very difficult, but they could drop some of them. That frees Wellens up for a late attack.
Michał Kwiatkowski – Ineos will be one of the main teams looking to make the race hard. The riders have spoken about wanting to ride in a different way, similar to how they approached the Giro. This is a perfect stage to test out their new philosophy. Kwiato will have one eye on bonus seconds, which will be very important in the GC battle.
Nils Politt – the German ticks a lot of boxes. He’ll have freedom to ride for himself, he climbs quite well, he can TT, and he has a good sprint. Plus, he’d love to impress his new bosses with an early win.
Fingers crossed we get enough teams wanting to go full gas for the opening 50km, because that is what it will take to split the race. I would say this could happen, but it’s not guaranteed. Whichever way the race goes, I’ll take Bryan Coquard as the winner.
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