By David Hunter
Bilbao – Bilbao 162.7km
The race begins with a typical day in the Basque country. The weather is good, which will please many of the riders, but not Simon Spilak!
Both cat 2 climbs are very difficult . I sometimes wonder how they categorise their climbs here, as the cat 2 climbs are often harder than some of the cat 1 climbs! The middle climb is far enough away from the end of the stage, to enable a slow pace and most of the peloton should be around at the foot of Alto del Vivero. They certainly won’t be around at the top!
The nature of the opening stage, increases the chances of a successful breakaway. All the teams know that it won’t be a big sprint and that the closing kilometres will be hard to control. This discourages them from working on the peloton and the breakaway can build a large advantage. It’s a good break to get into, so look towards Amets Txurruka or another of his Caja Rural teammates. Please note the opening climb is a cat 3 but the KOM point is only half way up the climb, it’s really a cat 2 climb in disguise! Very cheeky from the organisers.
I expect Movistar to not shirk any duties. They will settle the peloton down and work to keep the breakaway at a reachable distance. They are here to win and don’t want to hand out any gifts. With a settled peloton, the key point is the final climb. They turn off the main road and head up a very steep, narrow lane. Quintana has been here to recon the climb and that’s important. I expect the Colombian to be in attacking mode and put in a massive effort. For those just returning from altitude training, this could really hurt. A climber like Quintana could put 30 seconds into the others, on this climb.
Due to the nature of the climb, the “peloton” is likely to be very small and lacking in cooperation, so a gap on the climb will be hard to bring back. Etixx will be the team who would like to hold the race together, as Michal Kwiatkowski would be the favourite to win a small sprint. It is very doubtful that we’ll get multiple riders from the same team, so controlling the chase is going to be very hard. Other climbers with a fast sprint are Mollema, Sanchez, Dumoulin, Gallopin, Rui Costa, Ulissi, Slagter and Bilbao.
As you can see we have a steep descent, before 1.5km of flat. If we have a group of around 15 riders, a potential sprint between the World Champion, Slagter and Ulissi would be very interesting and quite equal. But will we get one?
A 4km climb at 8.6% is going to blow the peloton apart. This is a climb where plenty will hope they take it easy, but in reality, it will be very fast. They turn off the main road, onto very narrow farm roads. The start of the climb is brutal. GC riders will attack straight away. With 10.5% for the first kilometre, it will be very hard for any sprinter to hold on. That includes riders like Matthews, Albasini and Swift. This is a day for GC riders.
The big question is whether Kwiatkowski will be able to hold onto Quintana? I seriously doubt it. Nairo has recently been on this climb and he will put in a huge attack. As we’ve seen in the last couple of years, when Nairo attacks, no one follows! He has a simply amazing turn of speed and I expect him to remind everyone that he is one of the best riders in the world.
The other GC riders will need to work together to limit the damage. Other climbers who could stay close are Mollema, Rodriguez and Pinot. A fit Joaquim Rodriguez would be favourite for this stage. He can cope well with the climb and has a fast sprint, but we haven’t seen that Purito in 2015. Please can he come back!
Movistar set a fierce pace all day long. They hit the climb at top speed and the initial 10.5% with cause the peloton to split into a thousand pieces. Quintana goes and no one follows. This stage screams Quintana. Yes, we have a descent, that favours Kwiatkowski, but the climb is very hard. For me, it has to be Quintana.
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