By David Hunter
First thing to note is the length of the stage. At 223.5km, it is getting close to Classic length. It’s not quite there, but this is going to take it out of the riders, especially after two crazy days.
The cat 4 climb is used as the finish in GP Wallonie. It’s a hard climb, at the end of a race, but nothing that should trouble the peloton, it’s too early in the day. Similarly, the first pave sector, is far out and won’t be important. If you get dropped, there is plenty of time to rejoin the bunch.
This stage heats up as we hit 165km. The 10km before sector 6 will be frantic. The race to be first onto the cobbles, is something that takes riders a long time to get used to. Your adrenaline level rises and it’s chaos. Having a strong team is important, but they also need to be fast. You need the equivalent of a sprint train to bring the team captain to the front. Obvious teams are Etixx and Tinkoff. Both are full of fast riders, who know how to handle themselves. Contador is bound to get a great position.
Sectors 6 through to 1 follow in a space of 33km. If you get dropped, there isn’t much time to rejoin. The hardest section is number 2. The cobbles are rough and it was given a 4 star rating in Paris-Roubaix. We have 3 sectors that featured in the 2015 Hell of the North: Quievy, Python and Maugre. They were given 4, 2 and 3 stars, respectively. This stage is not near the difficulty level of Paris-Roubaix, but the final 70km, will be difficult to control.
Team Sky have the yellow jersey, but today is about keeping Froome safe. They want to ensure that he finishes close to his GC rivals, especially Contador. They won’t be too concerned about keeping the yellow jersey, just stay close to his rivals. Eyeing up the yellow jersey are Tony Martin(1 second), Tony Gallopin(26 seconds), Greg Van Avermaet(28 seconds), Peter Sagan(31 seconds) and Zdenek Stybar(1:01).
This isn’t a one day race, so some of these riders will not have the freedom to go for personal glory. Sagan is going to have to help Contador, who lost big time in 2014. GVA will have a similar role, in helping Van Garderen. You need teammates on cobbles, as you can puncture at anytime. A quick wheel is very important.
John Degenkolb was brilliant in Paris-Roubaix. He covered many attacks and also played a clever tactical game. Giant seemed set to take yellow today, but Dumoulin crashed out. This stage would make up on missing yellow. The uphill finish is also good news for the German.
The final 500m rises, at around 3%. Not a huge slope, but after a long day in the saddle, you need a power sprint. This finish isn’t just good for Degenkolb but also Kristoff and Sagan. Like big John, these boys are seriously good on cobbles. If we get an easy type of stage, a large sprint, is a possibility. In that scenario, it will be really close between these 3 sprinters. The slight uphill kick, isn’t ideal for Greipel and brings him closer to the other riders. He was brilliant in PR and would fully expect to make the end of this stage. Henderson was bashed up today, but he should be able to rely upon the services of Marcel Sieberg and Tony Gallopin. The Gorilla has a good chance of another stage win.
The weather is not like last year. It should be sunny but windy.
The wind should peak at around 15mph, from the West. That means will have crosswinds as the riders head towards Caudry, but it’s a headwind for the run to Cambrai. If a solo rider is clear, he’ll need to be very strong to hold off a pack of sprinters, as long as the teams cooperate. With evenly matched sprinters, we should see a high level of cooperation.
As well as the riders already mentioned, possible contenders are:-
Sep Vanmarcke – Brilliant, aggressive rider. Bad luck always seems to haunt him, in these big races. Although Gesink is in his team, he should be given freedom to ride for the stage. A dangerous man.
Zdenek Stybar – Another impressive, cobbles star. Will he have to hold back for Uran? Will he be required to help Tony Martin?
Edvald Boasson Hagen – He can go well on the cobbles. Not had to try too much, so far, and in great form. Certainly falls into the dark horse category.
Geraint Thomas – Never usually goes brilliantly in PR, but this isn’t PR. In great form and a threat for the stage win, as long as he’s not needed to help Froome.
We could get a surprise winner, if teams all start to look at each other. Riders like Elmiger,Senechal, Trentin and Langeveld should not be underestimated.
Of course, the cobbles could disappoint and we get a sprint finish, involving all the big stars(Cav can handle himself on cobbles). I don’t think this will happen. We will see some chaos and a reduction in the peloton.
With so many riders having to look after their GC stars, it really opens the door to a rider from a smaller team, just like last year. Boom profited in 2014 and I think Sep Vanmarcke will be the man to take the win, in 2015. He is a phenomenal rider, but cursed with bad luck. On many occasions, he has made a crucial attack but punctured. If luck goes against him, it would be wrong not to pick an Etixx rider. They have been unlucky so far, just missing out on stages 1 and 2 and the yellow jersey. Stybar looks their best bet, another who impressed in PR.
Follow us on @CiclismoInter
Join us on facebook: Ciclismo Internacional
Copyright © 2015 Ciclismo Internacional. All Rights Reserved