By David Hunter
Camaiore – Pomarance 195.3km
Now that the TTT is out the way, time for the first road stage.
Pomarance has been used as a finish in 2016 and 2017, this is the exact same finish as two years ago. That day, Geraint Thomas, escaped with 4.2km remaining and didn’t look back. The group sprinting behind contained around 40 riders. That gives you an indication of the difficulty of the climb.
The final 8.1km rises at an average of 3.3% and goes up in steps, it’s really a climb of two halves. The opening 2.4km rises at 5.1%, but features some tough ramps. The final 1.5km is at 6%, which will make it tough for the sprinters. The main issue for them is the section that takes them under the flamme rouge, this 500m stretch averages over 9% and makes it almost impossible for the sprinters to hold on. Even if they do, their sprint will be lacking some serious gas.
Tactics on the climb are also important. As we get to around the 4km point, most teams will be out of domestiques, so who will do the chasing? The other factor is that many riders are already quite far down on GC, Mitchelton-Scott won’t need to chase everyone. A lot of pressure will fall on the shoulders of QuickStep, as Alaphilippe will fancy his chances of taking the win. As we saw in 2017, there is no guarantee we get a sprint.
A sunny day with a little wind coming from the west. Importantly, that makes it a tailwind for the final kilometre, something that a late attacker will want to hear.
Julian Alaphilippe – after winning Strade Bianche, all eyes will be on the Frenchman. QuickStep have a good team, but they have a few riders who won’t be much use on this climb. In the closing kilometres it’s likely that they’ll only have Lampaert and Štybar to help set up a reduced sprint, that doesn’t sound enough to me. Alaphilippe is very strong just now, I just wonder how they’ll go about making the stage end in a sprint, or will Alaphilippe try a bold attack?
Alexis Vuillermoz – the AG2R rider has started the season in sparkling form, including a win in the Drome Classic. His team aren’t particularly strong, which means it would be wise for him to remain in the bunch and let the other teams chase. If he starts the final 500m in a good position, he has a good chance of making the podium.
Omar Fraile – it’s quite hard to predict when Fraile actually goes full gas for a stage. Despite being able to mix it with the best, he still wastes a lot of energy by attacking too early. Astana have a very strong team, but Fraile should be their option for the sprint.
Greg Van Avermaet – the Belgian has started the season in good form, he’ll be hoping to take the win in this stage. He was 4th here in 2017, only beaten by Sagan in the sprint. Now riding for CCC, he’ll need to change tactics in stages like this. I do like his new team, but they aren’t well suited to the hills. Waiting in the pack should suit Greg, he does pack a fine sprint.
Lotto Soudal – two clear options: Benoot and Wellens. It’s highly unlikely that either rider can win a sprint, that means it’s full gas from the bottom. Both are in good form, we knew that before the race, but they proved it in the TTT, where they virtually did a 3-man TT for half the course. Whoever attacks second has the best chance of winning. I wonder if they’ll toss a coin on the team bus to decide the order!
Primož Roglič – strong as an ox. If the race ends in a sprint, he has an outside chance of sneaking into 3rd place and taking some bonus seconds.
Enrico Battaglin – all of the quicker finishers, he has the best chance of being around for the finish. The Italian is now riding for Katusha, a team that has really struggled recently. If Battaglin takes the win, it would be a huge boost for the team.
Jakob Fuglsang – the Dane has to attack early and try to stay away from the chasing bunch. Astana lost a lot of time today, that could give Fuglsang some freedom, or at least that’s what he’ll hope.
Simon Clarke – I’ve been very impressed by his start to 2019, he looks stronger than ever before. The Aussie has always had a lot of potential, it now seems that he’s made significant progress over the winter and he has a real chance in this stage. He packs a fast sprint, but will also be sniffing around the front in case a break gets away. Keep an eye out for the fast finishing Aussie.
Valerio Conti – always a threat in Italian races. He’ll attack on the final climb and hope to stay away.
The final climb is very hard to control and not easy to make a sprint. With a whole host of riders looking to attack from distance, I think we’ll see a small group escape and take the win. Judging by current form, I have to take Tiesj Benoot as the winner.
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