By David Hunter
Conde sur Vesgre – Vendome 198km
After the fun of the prologue, it’s down to the real business.
The peloton begin their journey to the south of France. This stage certainly is a novelty for fans, with gravel roads as we head to Vendome.
The riders complete a short lap circuit, which sees them climb, Tertre de la Motte, on two occasions. This is only 1km at 3.7%, but the gravel roads will make it a challenge. The last time up crests with just 4km remaining. One thing is for certain, Orica will want to hold onto the yellow jersey. The good news is the length of the sectors, Tourteline is 1.35km and Tertre de la Motte is just 750m. This is not Strade Bianche!
The win by Michael Matthews was huge, especially as it was his first race of 2016. None of the sprinters are close to him, so the only danger to him is the race splitting up. Orica have some strong riders here, but not as many as they would like. They have Bewley, Docker, Cort, Txurruka, Yates, Impey and Albasini. They lack their big TT engines, so Bewley will have to shoulder a lot of the work. Some of the other riders will have to sacrifice their own ambitions for the good of the team. These days it’s rare to see Matthews mix it in the bunch sprints, he prefers to save his energy for selective days. I’m not sure if having the yellow jersey on his back will change his approach, he certainly has the power required. Orica do have the option of letting Cort sprint.
The profile does suggest a bunch sprint, expect Etixx to help Orica control the race. They have the number one sprinter in the world, Marcel Kittel, so they will be expected to play a big part in controlling the stage. He’s already won 4 stages in 2016, expect more in this race.
Normally his biggest competition would be Andre Greipel. Unfortunately for him, and Lotto, he is still recovering form his crash in Algarve. Not only that, but his lead-out train are all out too. With only Hansen and Bak, this is not going to be a great race for Greipel. He is a sprinter who needs a pilot fish, and he doesn’t have one here.
Alexander Kristoff will fancy his chances of taking a stage win. The dirt roads and final climb should not be a problem for him. He arrives with some of his trusted train: Kochetkov, Bystrom, Morkov and Guarnieri. Warning, these are the boys who were out in Qatar! He already has 5 wins in 2016, and would love to add to his total in a race that contains the best sprinters in the world.
The weather looks like holding steady. The sun should be out, but it will be cold. The wind shouldn’t be too strong either, and it will act as a tailwind for a large section of the stage. If the forecast is true, it’s great news for the sprinters.
Nacer Bouhanni will hope to be in with a shout. His form is starting to grow, after winning in Andalucia and finishing 3rd in KBK. He will be supported by Simon, Laporte and Soupe. It will be interesting to see if Soupe is ready to move back into position 2. For me, he has to ride there if Bouhanni wants to challenge the big three sprinters.
Kittel’s train is slightly different from the start of the year, but looking very strong. He has riders like Terpstra, Boonen, Maes, Serry and Sabatini looking to deliver him a victory. This train looks better than Katusha, but not by much. The fight for control will be fascinating, I can’t wait!
The final climb is close to the end of the stage, but it shouldn’t put any of the riders into difficulty. If Kittel can win in Albufeira, this finish is fine for him.
We have seven tight corners, inside the final 3km. This is a technical finish and it cries out for a team with fast riders in positions 4 and 5. That is music to the ears of Etixx and Katusha. If Etixx really want to, they can get Terpstra to line it out. The Dutch champion looks in fine form and I expect him to play a part in the sprint train. They also have Tom Boonen. It’s hard to see Etixx not controlling the final 3km. The last corner is just 500m from the finishing line. Ideally, Boonen will hit the front, just after the roundabout, and stay there until the final corner. Once through, it will be over to Sabatini. I look forward to seeing him go up against Guarnieri, an all Italian battle.
Other sprinters looking to finish in the top 10 will be:-
Marko Kump, Ben Swift, Arnaud Demare, JJ Lobato, Wouter Wippert, Niccolo Bonifazio, Adrien Petit and Jonas Van Genechten.
Of these riders, I do like Wippert and Bonifazio. Wippert will have Van Baarle and Bevin to lead him out. Looking at the prologue, Bevin is in wonderful form. Wippert is a fast finisher, but can sometimes get a little lost. Bonifazio has Felline, Theuns and Van Poppel. Like Wippert, he is a fast sprinter, but I think he’s better at looking after himself. Bonifazio has the potential to become a top level sprinter.
Despite the gravel roads, we get a sprint. Etixx and Kittel are just too strong. The German to take the win.
Follow us on @CiclismoInter
Join us on facebook: Ciclismo Internacional
Copyright © 2016 Ciclismo Internacional. All Rights Reserved