By David Hunter
Istres > Chalet Reynard 152km
The big day in the GC battle.
With the mountain looming, I think we’ll see an easy day for the bunch, as long as a rider high on GC doesn’t slip into the morning break. This stage is all about the final 9km.
It’s just bloody hard. Fancy tactics can help a bit, but the riders with the best legs will come out on top. There is no hiding place on a climb like this.
Sunny, but cold. Once on the climb the wind will be light, but it will be a tailwind.
As a number of teams have multiple options to play, the early slopes of the climb could become very tactical. Which team will try and control the pace on the early slopes? DQS don’t really have the riders to do this, which means they could try and send Vansevenant up the road removing the pressure from Alaphilippe. Astana are the team with the resources to chase things, as everyone of their riders can climb. Will they burn through their domestiques, or will they also look to attack and force other teams into chasing? There is no guarantee we get a typical mountain stage, that’s why this should be a great stage to watch.
DS Cycling Mole
Time for me to get my teeth stuck into Astana.
Men, sit. We ride hard today. I want mountain train. Smash mountain. Luts attack. Win. Big money bonus.
Alexey Lutsenko – the rider who always starts the season in fine form is the favourite for the stage. He was 2nd in this stage last year, only beaten by a thermonuclear Nairo Quintana. He is at his best on steep slopes, which is why this climb is a good one for him. With Astana having a strong team to support him, he’ll be confident of winning the stage and moving into the race lead.
Ivan Sosa – another rider who is strong on steep slopes, but I have my concerns. This stage is going to be very cold; will Sosa be able to cope with this? If he can handle the conditions then he’ll be one of the men to beat. Sosa is a pure climber, he’ll hope to use the steep sections to put everyone else into difficulty, just like he always seems to do in Burgos.
Bauke Mollema – I doubt his current level is high enough to win this stage, a solid top 10 performance is what I expect.
Julian Alaphilippe – crashed today, he’ll have to see how he feels in the morning. Chalet Reynard is a tough climb, but if Alaphilippe is on form it’s one he can cope with. His big crash at the Tour of Flanders meant he missed some winter training, so I was a little sceptical about his chances in this race, but he has looked strong and super motivated. I’m still not 100% convinced that he can win this stage, we’ll have to wait and see.
Mauri Vansevenant – my sources tell me he was flying at the recent team camp, hence why he was drafted into this race. He did some work today on the front of the bunch, but he still managed to finish 16th, which was quite impressive. With all eyes on Alaphilippe he has a big chance to surprise.
Wout Poels – another climber who loves steep slopes. Poels can go well at the start of the season, but Bahrain also have Jack Haig and Dylan Teuns in the team. This is a very strong trio, and they are the type of team who could take advantage of this by looking to attack early on the climb. The mountain will decide team leadership, but I expect a good ride from Poels.
Matteo Jorgenson – you might be surprised to see the young American in this list, but he is one of my riders to watch in 2021. He will be one of Movistar’s protected riders and his current shape is very good. This is the first time he’s been given this type of opportunity by Movistar and I expect him to take it. Also, he is a rider who goes well in cold conditions, something that shouldn’t be overlooked in this type of stage, hopefully he’s okay after crashing today.
Patrick Konrad – Bora have a few options, but I see Konrad as their best climber. The Austrian is a very consistent performer, but he does seem to lack that extra 5% to turn himself into a winner. If on a good day, I would expect to see him around the top 5.
Ben O’Connor – he told us in the overall preview that his current shape is good, so he’s a must for this list. The Aussie ended 2020 in incredible form; he was almost unstoppable in the final week of the Giro. It would be great to see him kick on from that performance and start 2021 with a big result. AG2R look strong, they will hope for a good result in this stage.
The machine that is Alexey Lutsenko to do what he normally does at this time of year.
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