By David Hunter
Nice – Valdeblore La Colmiane 175km
The big mountaintop finish.
Nothing much is going to happen until the final climb.
At 16.3km, this is a very long climb. As you can see it has a fairly consistent gradient, which is great news for those that like to settle into a rhythm.
Rain, with the possibility of some snow as they climb high into the mountains. This will make the stage very challenging.
Who is going to chase the break? Sky are down a man, Astana will be happy for the break to go, but maybe it will be Mitchelton-Scott who want the stage win. There could be some arguments in the bunch and most teams will be happy to get a rider in the move.
With Poels crashing out, the GC is now looking very interesting. Sanchez leads Alaphilippe by 22s, he has 26s over Soler, 34s to Gorka Izagirre, 35s to Wellens, 42s to Ion Izagirre, 45s to Yates, 46s to Henao and 48s to Chaves. All nine riders have a good chance of winning Paris-Nice. This will make the stage brilliant to watch.
LL Sanchez – I think he would have expected to lose his yellow jersey to Wout Poels, but now that he is out of the race, the Astana rider will be confident of holding on. Not usually associated with these long climbs, but the 2018 version of Sanchez seems to be vintage! Astana have a strong team and they’ll expect Omar Fraile and Jakob Fuglsang to help him deep into the stage.
Marc Soler – sitting in the white jersey and 3rd overall. Soler is a classic climber and a massive talent. Winner of the 2015 Tour de l’Avenir, this could be the biggest moment of his pro career. Given his climbing ability, he should be confident of putting Sanchez under pressure. Can he surprise and take the win?
Tim Wellens – another rider who isn’t always associated with this type of climb. Same as Sanchez, Wellens is currently enjoying a brilliant run of form. Looking at his rivals, he won’t be sacred of attacking and trying to upset the pure climbers. Sitting 35 seconds behind Sanchez, he is a huge threat to his yellow jersey.
Simon Yates – seemed to have amazing legs today. He attacked on a number of occasions, but was unlucky not to win the stage. Mitchelton-Scott are in a strong position, with both Yates and Chaves challenging for the yellow jersey. That should give them a tactical advantage over most teams and Yates should be able to take advantage.
An Izagirre brother – same as Mitchelton-Scott, the Bahrain boys are looking in top form. Normally Ion would be the strongest in a stage like this, but Gorka is enjoying a great season. If both riders can survive until the closing kilometres, they have a great chance of taking the stage win.
Julian Alaphilippe – too hard for him. He’ll be hoping to hang tough, so he can still take the yellow jersey on Sunday.
Dan Martin – suffered a mechanical today, just before the cat 1 climb. Instead of wasting lots of energy trying to limit his losses, he sat up and rolled home 9 minutes after the winner. That will allow him a significant amount of freedom in this stage. Martin isn’t the type of rider to join the break, we could see UAE trying to keep the break on a short leash. When a rider of his quality is far down on GC, they can be very hard to beat.
Ilnur Zakarin – also has freedom away from the GC battle. He’s in the exact same position as Dan Martin, making him a dangerous man for this stage.
I think we’ll have enough teams interested in the stage win for the break to fail. When the GC riders look at each other, it will be Ilnur Zakarin who takes advantage and wins the stage. In the battle for yellow, LL Sanchez will hang on.
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