By David Hunter
Julienas – Romans sur Isere 193.5km
The road south continues.
This looks like a transition stage, one where the break might just smell an opportunity.
The last categorised climb crests with 32km remaining. It’s quite a challenge, 2.8km at 6.5%, but not one that will put off many of the sprinters. The problem for the peloton is the constant undulating roads, the first section of flat is after 131km. This gives the break a chance, as does a couple of uncategorised “lumps” in the closing 20km. This will not be an easy day for the teams controlling the catch.
The last 5km is actually the easiest of the week. The series of roundabouts will not slow down the bunch, especially as only one side is open. This is a great finish for the sprinters. They will just hope we get another sprint. Kittel, Kristoff and Greipel are all without a win, expect their teams to work hard.
After the snow of today, the peloton will be delighted to hear that the weather will be better. Again, the wind will come from the north, meaning a tailwind for the stage. Happy news for most of the bunch!
Despite having two sprint finishes so far, the big three haven’t managed a win. None of them were around at the end of stage 1, but they were all in the mix in stage 2. Kittel lost his way a little, but claimed he wasn’t feel great. Greipel was guided into position by Tim Wellens, but had to fend for himself in the closing kilometres. Kristoff did look to be in a good position, but he lacked his usual power. This is the last chance for the sprinters, expect them to take it.
Cofidis have done a good job. They closed down Edward Theuns, in stage 1, and almost got it right the next day. Personally speaking, I think it was harsh to take the win away from Bouhanni. Elbows are part of cycling! The French outfit really look to have figured out their lead-out train and will relish another chance to take a win.
Orica always get it right! Impey has been moved to number 3, with Cort in as final man. They are masters in a difficult finish, this stage looks a bit easy for them. They really would like more pinch points, but Impey is just so strong just now, he will ensure that Matthews has a good position.
What about the big 3? It seems inconceivable that we will leave Paris-Nice without a win for Kittel, Greipel or Kristoff. The law of percentages tell us that they have to get it right here. Will Kittel have recovered from feeling ill? Can Kristoff rediscover his power sprint? Can Greipel get lucky and pick the right wheel to follow?
The Etixx sprint train hasn’t got working yet, something that will worry the bosses. At least Greipel isn’t here with his. The pressure will be on Etixx to control the closing kilometres. Their problem will be the form and skills of Cofidis and Orica. Matthews would dearly like to take some more bonus seconds, to help his bid for GC. The good news for Etixx is that the roads are quite wide, as we approach the finish. The critical point will be the final roundabout, as we then hit a narrower road and finishing straight. Be on the front at the roundabout and you have a great chance of success.
Just can’t see Etixx getting this one wrong. Kittel needs a win and he’ll get one, it’s about time his train reminded everyone just how good they are.
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