By David Hunter
Aubagne – Fayence 193.5km
After some gruelling stages, we have reached the mountains. It’s time for the GC riders to shine.
The last time we were here, Carlos Betancur took a wonderful win. Will a similar rider take the win this year?
This is a very tough day in the saddle, starting with an immediate cat 1 climb. That will not go down well with the bunch, it does ensure that you need to be a good climber to get in the morning move.
The race will then settle down, until two more cat 1 climbs. Neither climb is especially difficult, it will be surprising to see any GC riders getting dropped. After a long descent, we begin the final climb to the finishing line. Although, if you look at the final cat 1 climb, we could just see a long range attack from Alberto Contador. There is less than 20km remaining once you crest it. QuickStep had better be on standby!
We end with a lovely wall finish, 1.3km at 9.8%. This is a fantastic end to a tough day in the saddle. It’s a proper little climb, it even has two hairpin bends! Think Mur de Huy and you won’t be far off this hill.
With so many riders far down on GC, the next three stages will attract a lot of riders. The break should be given some freedom and it will be up to Trek and the others to try and control them. BMC have an interesting decision to make, I think Porte will stay with the main GC riders and try to win the stage from there. At this stage, I think I’m favouring the peloton, not the break, but it all depends on the attitude of the riders.
Sun!!!!!! They have found it after all.
Julian Alaphilippe – clearly in amazing form. He leads the race and would like some bonus seconds to give him a bigger gap going into the mountains. Only Valverde has been faster than him up the Mur de Huy, and the Spaniard isn’t here! Alaphilippe starts the stage as the overwhelming favourite.
Dan Martin – QuickStep have two great options for this stage. The Irishman is also great on hills like this, it’s hard to imagine them not winning. Just like his teammate, he’s also finished behind Valverde on the Mur, it really is lucky for them that the great man is missing! Martin will be asked to police any moves, it really is a perfect position for the team to be in.
Enrico Gasparotto – the Italian enjoyed a wonderful 2016, a real return to form. Not only did he win Amstel Gold, but he was 2nd in Brabantse Pijl, 5th in Flèche and 12th in LBL, all while riding for Wanty. Now at Bahrain, he’ll again be looking to peak for the Ardennes, but should be ready to test his legs in this stage.
Diego Ulissi – the Italian has always promised much, especially in the Ardennes, without achieving a huge amount. The same cannot be said of his record in the Giro, with a hugely impressive 6 stage wins. The Italian needs to start winning outside of his home country and this is a big chance for him. He needs to decide if he goes in the break or waits in the bunch. A decision a lot of riders have to make.
Warren Barguil – as most know, I think that Barguil is a tad overrated. However, I think this could change in 2017. I have a little feeling that Barguil might just take a step up and join the elite group of riders. His attacking style is loved by many, but sometimes his attacks are a little foolish. Saying that, I do hope he attacks early on the final climb. He isn’t a threat on GC, they might just give him too much freedom.
Tony Gallopin – the classy Frenchman is looking great just now. His TT performance was an incredible statement from him. You might not associate a finish like this with him, but remember he finished 5th on the Mur when the Tour visited in 2015. Gallopin is a real threat to the QuickStep pair.
Simon Yates – I’m a big fan! Was actually 8th in the Tour stage I mentioned above, not bad considering he was 22. He is huge talent and this is going to be a big year for him. Yates has the kick required to challenge here, his presence will worry the other GC riders.
Sergio Henao – carrying some serious form just now. His TT was good and has put him into a good overall position. He’ll be faced with the problem of being marked by the QuickStep riders, no way will they want him to make any time on Alaphilippe. That will make it very difficult for him to take the stage.
Alberto Contador – not his type of finish, but could he go long? I really hope so!
Davide Formolo – like a few others I’ve mentioned, I have high hopes for Formolo this season. After finishing 9th in the Vuelta, I think we’ll see an even better rider in 2017. His TT was very good for him, and he now sets his sights on the top 10. He is a fantastic climber, especially on the steep stuff. His brilliant stage win in the 2015 Giro was on a very difficult hill.
Richie Porte – not really his type of finish, but given how he attacked the Paracombe climb, that might be a load of rubbish!
Dylan Teuns – good breakaway option for BMC. He is one of these ridiculously talented youngsters, but hasn’t quite stepped it up at this level yet. He was 13th in the 2015 edition of Flèche, a very good result. Riding for BMC, he has found his options limited, but he still has the quality required to win this stage. The 2016 Vuelta was his first grand tour, I’m waiting to see a positive impact in 2017.
Tom Slagter – the Cannondale rider would have a good chance if he makes the break. An Ardennes specialist, he started the season well in the Tour Down Under. Cannondale are yet to take a world tour win, the pressure is on!
Michael Matthews – just how good is Bling!? His TT performance was a thing of beauty and he does have a chance in this stage. The cat 1 climbs are relatively straight forward and if he stays in the bunch, he’ll have a great chance on the final climb. Seems crazy considering he can also win sprint stages!
Jakob Fuglsang – another for the breakaway lottery. The Dane has good form just now, but has been carrying some bad luck too. If he makes the break, and it stays away, he has a great chance of success.
The break is brought back, quite a few teams will fancy winning this stage. Despite the undoubted strength of Alaphilippe, I’ll think he’ll be surprised by a boy from Bury. It’s a win for Simon Yates.
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