By David Hunter
The organisers have decided to go “old school” and remove the big mountains from the race. The race is now back as a perfect route for the puncheurs, and we have the very best here.
The race kicks off with the usual 21.5km TTT. The gaps can be big, something that the TT riders will like. This is a chance to start the race by gaining some valuable seconds.
The organisers have decided to return to Pomarance, this is where Geraint Thomas won in 2017 and Zdenek Štybar in 2016. The stage ends with 8km at 3.3%, but the final 1.5km does kick up a little. It looks too hard for the sprinters, perfect for the puncheurs.
A typical Tirreno sprint stage. The distance of 226.9km is great for everyone with one eye on Milan-Sanremo.
This is when the GC battle really begins. The lumpy stage ends with a lap circuit featuring a crazy little climb. The whole day has over 3800m of climbing and the kicker at the end is around 2km at 10%, but that doesn’t really do it justice. It is a brutal little effort.
The second part of the GC battle and another lap circuit. This time we have two climbs in the circuit: 3.2km at 6.5% and 3.1km at 7.7%. Both are much harder than the overall gradients suggest, with lots of double digit sections.
We’ll have huge gaps on GC, so a breakaway will have a chance, but with few opportunities for the sprinters there should be plenty of teams wanting to chase.
The race ends with the usual ITT, which will be a very exciting stage with the GC yet to be decided.
Astana – the brilliant run that occurred at the beginning of the season has slowed a little in the last races, but they are still peppering the leader board. In Strade Bianche, Fuglsang rode brilliantly to finish 2nd and Lutsenko came home in 7th. The pattern of early wins is something they also achieved in 2018, but it is difficult for them to win stage races like this. Astana have never been the strongest TTT squad and they are bound to lose time to their rivals in the opening stage, which will make life very difficult for them. Both Fuglsang and Lutsenko will do well in the tough stages, but even if they make up time, they’ll struggle against the very best in the flat ITT. If either of them make the podium, it will be one hell of an achievement.
Julian Alaphilippe – took a great win in Strade Bianche, he made it look rather easy. The route of this race is just about perfect for him, he has a great chance of winning stages 2, 4 and 5. There is every chance the title will be decided by bonus seconds and the Frenchman knows he needs stages to help with his GC attempt. QuickStep have a solid looking TTT squad, but they’ll struggle to win the opening stage. Alaphilippe is no slouch against the clock either, he won the ITT in San Juan, but it’s likely he’ll drop some time in the final stage to the specialists. To win this race, Alaphilippe needs to win stages, something he is more than capable of doing.
Primož Roglič – the Slovenian started the season in fine form, taking the GC in the UAE Tour. 2018 was a brilliant year for him, it looks like 2019 could be even better. Jumbo-Visma will be confident of starting the race by winning the TTT, that will put Roglič in a strong overall position. With the 10km ITT coming at the end of the race, he’ll be confident of taking more time and possibly a stage win. Looking at the GC stages, Roglič is a brilliant rider and can cope well with steep slopes. Positioning used to be an issue for him, but as he gets more experienced, this is becoming less of a problem. If he can follow the attacks of Alaphilippe, he’ll win the title.
Tom Dumoulin – similar to Roglič, he’ll be hoping to gain time in both TTs. The Dutchman is often underrated when it comes to steep slopes, I never understand why. Dumoulin is a proper racer, he’ll look forward to the GC days and competing against the puncheurs. Remember, this is a rider who won the Binck Bank Tour in 2017, he likes the steep stuff. Team Sunweb don’t have their top TTT squad here, but they should be good enough to be challenging for the win. The time gaps in the opening stage will have a large say in the outcome of the race.
Thibaut Pinot – time for FDJ to unveil their new TTT squad. The additions of Küng and Scotson are huge for the French team, they will add a lot of power and should push them up the standings. Pinot has started the season in fine form, taking an impressive win in Haut Var, where he beat Romain Bardet in an uphill finish. The problem for Pinot will be the ITT, it’s been a while since he performed well in this discipline.
Tim Wellens – the problem will be the TTT, but the team know this, that’s why Campenaerts has been drafted in. Even with his considerable power, it is likely that Wellens will drop crucial time to his rivals. The GC stages are perfect for him, like many others, but the pan flat ITT isn’t great news. He’s spent time working on his TT bike, but he needs a few hills to get closer to the specialists.
Wout Poels – Team Sky arrive with a strong squad, one that’s bound to challenge in the TTT. Poels has started the season in consistent form, taking 3rd place in the Tour Down Under and Volta ao Algarve. Looking at the route, it’s not ideal for him, I think he’ll struggle to finish on the podium.
Adam Yates – expect him to chase stage wins, the ITT means he’ll struggle to win.
This is a rerun of the 2018 Itzulia, expect a fight between Alaphilippe and Roglič. Given we have 31km of TTs, I have to go with Primož Roglič.
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