By David Hunter
La Fouillouse – Saint Étienne 18.4km ITT
The GC battle can begin.
This is a challenging route for an individual time trial. From the start, the riders climb for 8km at 3.5%. This will be a grind on the TT bike. A descent follows, before a climb that will certainly sting the legs.
Only around one kilometre in length, the road rises at an average of 6%. Pacing will be very important for the riders, especially as they finish with a horrible 1.5km of false flat. This is a tough TT.
A lot of cloud around, with a chance of some rain. The wind is consistent for all the riders, but rain could ruin the day for a few.
Wout Poels – 6th in the recent Andalucía ITT, dropping 11 seconds to De La Cruz. This stage will have been a huge focus for Team Sky, they know that a big performance will put their rivals under severe pressure. I think the route is good for the Dutchman and he is capable of some special performances on his TT bike. If he finds the form he had to win the 2016 Valenciana TT, the rest of the field will be in trouble.
David De La Cruz – took a stunning win in Andalucía, which probably makes him favourite for this stage. The Spaniard has always been good on his TT bike, but that result was a big surprise to me. Amazing what a little bit of faith can do for a rider, he didn’t always feel the love at QuickStep.
Gorka Izagirre – the Basque rider can be a little hit or miss on in this discipline. He was 4th in this TT last year, but it did feature the climb of Mount Brouilly. He has started the season in sensational form, but knows he needs to stay close to his main GC rivals to keep his hopes of the yellow jersey alive.
Ion Izagirre – a better TT rider than his brother, he will hope to be challenging for the win. Izagirre looked like becoming one of the best in the world, but failed to live up to that hype in 2017. I think the distance is good for him, he should be going for the win.
Julian Alaphilippe – 13th in the Abu Dhabi ITT, dropping 34 seconds to Rohan Dennis. He won the TT on Mount Brouilly in 2017, but that can’t really be compared to this route. He can deliver strong TT results, but he’ll be worried about some of his rivals. This is a big day for the QuickStep rider.
Yves Lampaert – the Belgian TT champion is enjoying a fine start to the year. He would probably like a longer course and less hills, but he should still be able to challenge for the top 5. He will have targeted this stage.
Tim Wellens – only lost 3 seconds to Wout Poels in the Andalucía TT, something that seriously impressed me. Wellens is enjoying a brilliant run of form and he’ll enjoy the challenging nature of the TT. Not a purist, he will use his power to limit his losses to his rivals. He’ll be delighted to finish within 10 seconds of Poels.
Tony Gallopin – started the year with a fantastic TT win in Bessèges, beating his nearest rival by 20 seconds. Clearly, this is a much stronger field but Gallopin will back himself to deliver a big result. He’s clearly enjoying his new TT bike and I think the podium is a realistic hope given the quality of his rivals. We are lacking all of the big TT riders in the world.
Marc Soler – if we use Andalucía as the form guide, he’s one of the men to beat. Soler finished 5th, beating Poels by 2 seconds. That was one of his best results in an ITT and something which clearly indicates how much time he’s devoted to this discipline. I’m interested to see how he goes over a longer route, but I have a feeling we’ll see his name in the top 10.
Something is telling me that Wout Poels is going to smash this TT. A big win for the Sky man.
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