By David Hunter
Nice – Nice 115.5km
The race ends with a stage that is fast becoming a favourite of mine.
At just 115.5km, it’s a very short stage, but the organisers manage to pack it full of climbs. It has everything you need for an exciting stage.
The climbs are within the range of a wide range of riders, not just the climbers. However, that does depend on the attitude of the peloton. If the climbers really want to light it up, they can make it very selective.
The final climb is the Col d’Eze and it crests with 15km to go. A fast descent awaits the riders as the head back into Nice for the finish. A solo rider can win, but so can a small group and we can even get a sprint from a group of around 30 riders. Anything can happen!
Today was the end of the road for the French pairing of Gallopin and Alaphilippe, the wait for a home winner goes on. We are now locked in a three way battle between Henao, Dan Martin and Contador. The Colombian holds a lead of 30 and 31 seconds respectively. The Spaniard couldn’t make up a gap of just 15 seconds to Geraint Thomas in 2016, 31 seconds is going to be very difficult.
The problem is the difficulty of the climbs. Henao will still have a number of teammates on the final climb and even if dropped, he should be able to come back on the descent. The challengers will have to ride an incredibly aggressive race to put Henao into difficulty. They will be encouraged by his end to today’s stage, there is a little vulnerability about Henao, more so than other “big” riders. Expect a crazy day!
They found the sun today and the race ends with more. It seems a long time since the rain and wind of the north!
Dan Martin – he impressed today, especially his late charge to catch Henao. The Irishman has not won a stage race since Catalunya in 2013, it’s been a long time! He enters this stage with a good chance, but needs to form an alliance with Contador. Martin has a good sprint finish, so he would love to come to the line with a small group and take the 10 seconds. That would still leave him needing another 20 seconds to overhaul Henao, it sounds too much.
Alberto Contador – it looked like he was just going to ride home with Henao, and then boom! It was great to see him keep the fight going, why didn’t I see it coming!? He was very close to taking this stage in 2016, but his sprint finish makes it very difficult. He will go all out for glory, hopefully he launches a big attack on Cote de Peille.
Sergio Henao – will be on defensive duties, no way he takes the stage win.
Diego Ulissi – has the fastest sprint of the main GC riders, although he sits a mile behind in the fight for yellow. He came to this race for a reason, that was to take a stage win. He could have stayed at home and competed in Tirreno, but I like that he is testing himself. His tactics will be simple, stay with the main group of riders and hope for a sprint. In Jan Polanc, he’ll have a rider to help control the closing kilometres.
Jakob Fuglsang – the Dane has been super strong over the last few days. He will be supported by Michael Valgren and Tanel Kangert, a strong pair. Taking a stage win would be a good reward for his riding in the mountains. He is deceptively fast in a sprint.
Richie Porte – he’ll be kicking himself that he lost all that time in the wind. The Aussie was brilliant today and this is another stage where he’ll attack. These climbs are all on his training rides, he knows every inch of them. Due to a poor sprint, he really needs to get free on the final climb. The need for bonus seconds means that the GC riders will chase him.
Oliver Naesen – my Belgian friend has been very impressive this week. He’s climbing as well as I’ve seen him and he wants to sign off with a good performance. If the front group is very small, the speed will be too much for him, he needs an easier climbing speed. If he arrives in a group of 20, he’s already shown his sprinting speed earlier in the race.
Michael Matthews – another local to the area. If the GC boys go crazy, he’ll struggle to stay with them.
Team Sky will do a good job of controlling and I think we’ll get a group of around 15 riders approaching the line together. That’s why I’m going with Diego Ulissi. It’s about time he took his first win in France!
Sergio Henao will finish in that main group and take the yellow jersey. Another PN title for Team Sky.
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