By David Hunter
Orsonville – Vierzon 187.5km
After the difficult finish to stage 1, this is a day for all the sprinters.
As flat as a pancake, we don’t even have a token climb for the breakaway to fight over. Only the weather can stop this being a big sprint.
Dull and not very warm, but it should stay dry. The wind is coming from the south-east, making it a cross/headwind for the majority of the stage. I don’t think we’ll see any splits, but with some wide open roads, the bunch need to be on full alert for the whole stage.
We have many crucial moments in the final 5km. The sprint teams will want to be near the front for the two roundabouts, this is a very dangerous point in the race. We will see GC teams mix it with the sprint teams, something that usually leads to chaos. Once through the 4km banner, it becomes easier. We do have a big turn with 3km to go and two turns near the flamme rouge. All of this takes place on narrow roads, with little space to move up the bunch.
I think we’ll see the big sprint teams take control with 4km remaining. As most teams have GC riders, they lack a long train to dominate from far out. With 4km remaining, the battle will be on as you need to be well positioned for the final 1.5km.
Once round the last turn, the bunch go over a small bridge, before the road starts to rise towards the finishing line. It is only a short ramp, but we’re talking about 5%. Sprinters need to be patient and not start their sprint too early.
FDJ – there is no doubt in my mind, FDJ are the strongest. They arrive with a full squad to support Démare, most teams have a GC rider to look after, but not FDJ. In the closing kilometres they have Delage, Sinkeldam and Guarnieri to position their fast man. This is a brilliant looking team and I expect them to seize control of the bunch.
QuickStep – we’ve seen the Belgians dominate the opening races of the season, but they have a shorter train in this race. Viviani will be looking towards Lampaert, Mørkøv and Sabatini to guide him into the right position. I think we’ll see QuickStep trying to take control with 3km remaining, but not before.
Jumbo – the short train experts! Already this season we’ve seen Jansen and Roosen work wonders in the closing 2km. Getting it right every time is difficult, but these boys are experts. Watch out for them moving up in the closing stages, once at the front, it is difficult to get past them.
The rest of the teams have a chance of getting into a good position, but I can’t see past these three teams. They have the power required to dominate the closing stages.
Arnaud Démare – took a brilliant win today, he is a different rider in France. As I have already mentioned, his sprint train is the best in the race. They will take control and out him into a good position. The rise at the end of the stage is great news for him, he likes a little kicker. The yellow jersey starts the stage as the favourite.
Elia Viviani – the Italian is enjoying his best ever start to a season. He’s already won four stages and the overall in Dubai. Not only are his sprint train working well together, but he is looking very fast in the sprints. He knows that QuickStep will put him into a good position, he doesn’t have to worry about the closing kilometres anymore. Instead of having to jump from train to train, he just needs to follow Sabatini and then open up the throttle.
Dylan Groenewegen – same as Viviani, the Dutchman has already won four times this season. After a very strong performance in Kuurne, Groenewegen is looking like the real deal. His coaches have been hugely impressed by his progression over the winter, but they don’t want to put too much pressure on their young star. Just remember, he’s still just 24 years old. His sprint train is operating very well and he is full of confidence. I look forward to seeing what they do tomorrow. Remember, he’s already won an uphill sprint in Algarve this season.
Alexander Kristoff – still struggling to get it right with his sprint train. A couple of recent wins have been good for his confidence, but he’ll need a large slice of luck in this stage.
John Degenkolb – started the season well in Mallorca, but he’s struggled since. Due to GC aspirations, he doesn’t have much of a sprint train, but he does have Koen De Kort. If they manage to negotiate their way through the bunch, the rise up to the line is brilliant news for the German.
Magnus Cort – a lot was expected of him today, but it didn’t happen. With no sprint train, this stage is just about impossible for him to win.
Andre Greipel – after starting the season well in Australia, Greipel has suffered due to his sprint train being part of Lotto’s classics squad. His number one man is Jens Debusschere, but he is needed elsewhere at this time of year. Lotto didn’t replace him in Abu Dhabi, where Greipel didn’t enjoy himself, but they turn to Jasper De Buyst in this race. In front of them will be Lars Bak and Marcel Sieberg, but Greipel doesn’t have a great understanding with De Buyst. The uphill finish is great for Greipel, but I fear he’ll start the sprint too far back.
Phil Bauhaus – after taking a win in Abu Dhabi, the young German will be full of confidence. He is a rising star of the sprints, after taking his first world tour win in the 2017 Dauphiné. He doesn’t have a particularly long sprint train, but Teunissen and Theuns have a lot of power. Bauhaus will need to stay close to his teammates and hope they can force their way to the front for the final kilometre.
Nacer Bouhanni – he’ll be looking forward to get back working with Christophe Laporte. These two work well together and the squad have also added Bert Van Lerberghe, but it’s the first time they have all worked together this season. I would expect to see Van Lerberghe move to number 3, with Laporte as the last man. Cofidis usually get things right at home and I think they’ll be battling with the big guns to control the final stages. After a disappointing 2017, the pressure is on Bouhanni to deliver.
Sam Bennett – the Irishman will be up against it in this race, as he’s lacking Bora’s top sprint train. He’ll have Schwarzmann and Baška to help, but those boys aren’t as good as most at this race. I think he’ll struggle to make an impression in this sprint.
Dan McLay – still getting used to life at EF Drapac. If he can develop a relationship with Mitch Docker, we should see McLay challenging in the sprints. This is the first time the two have raced together, it might take time for them to click. Docker is a very experienced lead out man, McLay just needs to trust him.
I’ll took a gamble with this one. Lotto did well to position Tim Wellens today and they should have the experience required to remain near the front of the bunch in the closing kilometres. The uphill sprint also means that starting a few wheels back isn’t a big deal. This is one for Andre Greipel.
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