By David Hunter
Bologna – San Luca 209.3km
One of my favourite races.
This year we’ve been spoiled as we’ve already seen the climb of San Luca in the opening stage of the Giro, we normally have to wait until the Autumn to see it. The race is obviously dominated by five ascents of the beautiful climb, one that is brutally difficult on the legs, but very pleasing on the eye.
2.1km at 9.8%, but has long sections of very steep slopes. The first couple of laps will be taken at an okay pace, but the final few laps will be very fast and only the best will survive. Previous years have shown that it is possible for a rider to escape on the penultimate lap never to be seen again, this is due to a lack of domestiques left to chase moves down. It makes a lot of tactical sense to try and get a rider up the road in the closing stages, allowing his teammates to hide in the bunch and wait for the final kilometres.
The race had something of a lull back in 2013, 2014 and 2015. During those years it struggled to attract the best teams, but this hasn’t been an issue in recent years. Teams now have this race marked as crucial preparation for Il Lombardia, and this year’s start list is full of talent. Not only do we have the current winners of the three grand tours, but we also have teams rammed full of climbing talent, which should ensure we get a brilliant race. It’s about time Giro dell’Emilia has a start list which reflects the beauty of the race.
A brilliant day for a bike ride.
Egan Bernal – after winning the Tour de France we had to wait and see if he could remain motivated for the rest of the season. He chose not to race the world championships, a decision that looks very wise now, but it’s his form in the recent Italian races that has impressed me. Okay, he hasn’t taken a win, but he was on the attack and looking strong. It’s not easy for a rider to remain focused after winning the yellow jersey, but the Colombian seems to be fully motivated and looking towards Lombardia. This is a climb he knows well, and it suits his characteristics. If Ineos can deliver him into a good position, he’ll fancy his chances of taking the win.
Bahrain – they arrive with two options: Nibali and Teuns. The Italian was another who decided not to travel to Yorkshire, maybe he saw a weather forecast! This is a race Nibali has never won, something that you can’t say very often. I thought he looked good in the Canadian races, but certainly not on top form. Teuns was an impressive third place here in 2018, the steep ramps of the final climb are perfect for him. Remember the Belgian is one of the best in the world on steep ramps, just think back to his win in the Tour de France. His season has been hugely impressive with wins and spells in the yellow and red jersey, he would love to continue the winning streak in Italy. With two strong options, it allows Bahrain to play a tactical race and I hope to see them attack on the penultimate lap.
Movistar – the Spaniards arrive with Valverde, Carapaz, Landa and Betancur, the Colombian won here back in 2011, it’s such a shame his career hasn’t panned out the way we all expected. This is a ridiculously strong group of riders, but there are some question marks about current form, and I have no idea how the team will organise their troops, it certainly isn’t a happy camp just now. Of these four riders, it’s likely that only Valverde will still be a Movistar rider in 2020, does that mean he’ll be team leader? On paper, this is a brilliant race for the former world champion, but how will his form be after the Vuelta?
Jumbo – Roglič, Bennett and De Plus, they certainly have options. The worlds showed that Roglič didn’t manage to hold his form after the Vuelta, which wasn’t really a big surprise. The Slovenian has one massive goal left to achieve in 2019, which is to win Il Lombardia, everything else will be preparation for the final monument. This should open the door to some of his teammates to get an opportunity to shine, and I like the look of Laurens De Plus. The Belgian has enjoyed a brilliant season, but he did look off the pace in Canada. With these races in his legs I hope he’s back near his best as this finish is good for him.
Sergio Higuita – the little Colombian is looking to emulate Betancur and Quintana by winning this race early in his career. He was brilliant in the Vuelta and still looked to have good legs in Yorkshire. Unlike those targeting Lombardia, this race is his last big goal of the season, a year which has seen him make massive progress and EF will be very happy with his progression. They don’t have the same strength as the other squads, Higuita will just have to sit in and hope it all comes back together for the final climb. If it does, just watch him fly.
Esteban Chaves – won here in 2016, it is a race the Colombians like. He started the Vuelta off in good shape, but a crash hampered him during the final week. We all want Chaves to get back to his very best, and this season has been full of promise, particularly his brilliant stage win in the Giro. Looking at his rivals, I’d be surprised if he won the race.
Jakob Fuglsang – just how much will he have left in his legs? The Dane has enjoyed his best ever season in the professional peloton, but he still had to cope with the disappointment of crashing out of the Tour. He returned at the Vuelta, taking a stage win, and riding for López, before finishing 12th in the World Championships. If he has recovered well from that effort, he should be one of the men to beat in this race.
Dan Martin – in recent years his form at the end of the season hasn’t been very good, which surprises me as he won Lombardia in 2014. The next four years we’ve seen him struggling to compete in the Autumn, but last year there was a hint of him returning to his old ways. Like many riders, this is a climb that suits his characteristics, but it’s very hard to predict how good he’ll be.
David Gaudu – I cannot put into words how much I like the young Frenchman! His current form is unknown, but he needs to be in this section. Steep slopes are his cup of tea and when you are as good as he is, form can sometimes be irrelevant.
With a number of strong teams, there should be enough firepower to chase down the late attacks and set up a grandstand finish on the slopes of San Luca. I think the Colombians will continue their love affair with this race and Egan Bernal will win the battle of the grand tour winners!
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