By David Hunter
Cassis > Manosque 174.5km
A fairly standard affair, but then I thought that about stage 1!
The second stage is one that looks like being a big sprint. It does contain 2338m of climbing, but without any significant climbs, which will make the sprinters pleased. Similar to stage 1 the riders climb from the gun, which gives the break a chance of being strong.
Despite being 5.2km at 5.8% this climb is unclassified, but it is tough. The breakaway is likely to form on the climb, meaning that it could be strong enough to make the sprint teams sweat.
The next significant climb is Col de la Mort d’Imbert, which is 4.2km at 4.8%, and crests with 34km remaining. I don’t see any moves here.
With 8km to go, the riders move onto this horrible road. The surface is poor and it’s not very wide. They stay on this until 4km to go, when things get nicer.
2.8km at 3.5% is tricky. You can see that the climb is split into three sections, we have two climbing sections with some flat in the middle. The maximum gradient is 6.1%, this isn’t a climb that will frighten any of the sprinters, but it will offer hope to the puncheurs.
With grey clouds overhead, this could be a wet day for the peloton, and it will feel cold too. Different sites say different things about the wind, I’m seeing around 20km/h at the start and reducing throughout the day. As the vast majority of the route is well protected by trees, the wind shouldn’t have any impact.
Normally this would be a controlled stage and a bunch sprint, but if today’s anything to go by, teams are approaching these races in a different way. The problem for any attackers is that DQS are in control of the race lead, I expect them to keep the break at a manageable gap and set up a grandstand finish. Once on the final climb, it’s about trying to hurt the legs of the sprinters, so that they don’t have anything left when the sprint starts.
DS Cycling Mole
For this stage I’ve been asked to take over at DQS.
Lads settle down. Today was brilliant, our first win of many this year. We now have the race lead, that means I want Casper the Friendly Ghost on the front from the start. Big man, control the break, make it full of shit riders from pish teams. The weather forecast doesn’t look too good, lucky we’ve got brilliant rain jackets to keep everyone nice and dry.
The stage is lumpy, but it will end in an uphill sprint. In the closing kilometres I want us to hold back, until the road goes up. Once the first rise has been dealt with I want an attack, but from which one of you? Begbie, you went long today, this stage go with 2km to go. The rest of you can do the normal, get on the front and block the other teams, we’ll see if our little world champion can get the win. Ballo, you hang back, you get to sprint if it comes back together. Right, everyone howl to the moon, now get out there and win another bike race.
Arnaud Démare – well then, he went too early today. Démare got an impressive gap when he kicked, but he was exposed in the wind and faded in the closing metres. This stage is another good one for him, but he did suffer today on the steep climb. FDJ are very strong, Démare will start the climb up to the finish in a good position, but will he have the speed to take the win?
Davide Ballerini – that was a great win for him today. He easily closed the gap to Démare and had enough power to pass him on the line. This is another stage that suits him, remember, he’s more of a classics guy than a bunch sprinter. DQS will have to think about their tactics, as they have a number of men who can win this type of stage, but expect Ballerini to be held back for the sprint.
Nacer Bouhanni – today continued his run of good performances, but the win still eludes him. Arkéa did a good job protecting him throughout the day and chasing down the breakaway. Bouhanni looked impressive on the climbs, he was one of the few sprinters who survived the steep climb, which will give him hope for this finish.
Clement Venturini – the little AG2R sprinter goes well in an uphill sprint. Last year he was 4th in the super steep finish in Andalucía, a good indicator for how he might go in this one. Venturini is a rider who regularly finishes in the top 10, but rarely gets on the podium. Can he take a rare win?
Alex Aranburu – fast, especially in an uphill finish. Aranburu was close to a win in 2020, but it didn’t quite happen for him. The problem he faces is that the sprinters are now much better in this type of finish. A rider like Aranburu needs a finish hard enough to drop the fast men, but not hard enough for the climbers to get involved. Case in point was stage 10 of the Vuelta. That day was too hard for the sprinters, but Roglič took the win with Aranburu back in 4th place. Can Astana make the final 3km hard enough to drain the kick of the fast men?
Felix Großschartner – this is a good finish for him, but not perfect. I think the Austrian would prefer the finish to be steeper than it is, but he still has a chance of a good result.
Philippe Gilbert – beware the late attack. Mr Gilbert has done finishes like this more times that you’ve had hot dinners. He’ll know that a late attack as a good chance of succeeding, and he’ll try to time it right.
UAE – they’ll have to decide between Kristoff and Trentin. Both men are good in an uphill sprint, but if the pace is high it will suit Trentin more. After making a mess of his sprint in Marseille, Trentin owes his team one.
Dylan Teuns – is the finish hard enough for a puncheur like him to win? No.
Julian Alaphilippe – started this race with questions about his current shape, safe to say he’s now answered them. This is a good finish for the world champion, although he would like it to be a little harder. It will be interesting to see if he attacks in the final 3km, as the team also have Ballerini who will like this finish.
Tim Wellens – this is a good finish for him. The Belgian has a fast sprint on him, particularly when the road goes uphill. With so many fast men at the race, I wonder if he’ll attack early and not wait for the sprint.
Alexis Vuillermoz – the Frenchman has previous for attacking late in a stage like this, my mind goes back to the opening stage of the 2018 edition of Paris-Nice. Vuillermoz attacked late that day, but was caught inside the final 300m. Can he do better this time round?
Biniam Ghirmay Hailu – I’ll mention him, as quite a few people seem to have the hots for this young man. He’s a very interesting prospect, and still just 20 years old. He does like an uphill finish, but his positioning leaves a lot to be desired for. No way he wins this stage.
The weather could have a big impact on the type of winner we get. It’s going to be cold, but if it also rains it will swing in favour of the puncheurs, as the stage will feel tougher than normal. If the rain stays away, it will be advantage sprinters. It looks like it will rain, so I’ll go for Tim Wellens.
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