By David Hunter
Flims – Schwarzenbach 193.2km
This is the second longest stage of the race and the riders will be disappointed to hear, that it’s going to be another wet day. Heading out of Flims, they have a cat 2 climb of 8.9km at 6.7%. This is a hard climb, but coming so early in the stage, ensures that the peloton will make it over together.
Once in Schwarzenbach, the riders complete three laps of a local circuit. The lap contains a cat 3 climb, 1.8km at 5.7%. It has has two uncategorised climbs, 700m at 5.7% and 1.2km at 8.3%. This final climb, is going to be very important. The first 500m is at 12% and it crests with 6.3km remaining. It provides a perfect launchpad for riders to attack and deny the sprinters their first chance, to test their legs.
Having to complete the circuit three times, will tire the legs, especially if we get a lot of rain. The climb, reminds me of recent stages in Tour des Fjords, where Kristoff and Impey were successful. Despite the challenging climbs, this stage looks very good for Alexander Kristoff, Peter Sagan, John Degenkolb, Michael Matthews and Michael Albasini.
We already know that Kristoff, Sagan and Albasini are in form, but Degenkolb has been away training and we haven’t seen if he is on form, yet. Mark Cavendish will have an interest, in this stage, and don’t underestimate his climbing ability. Cav, can go well on short, steep climbs. When he won the British RR in 2013, he did so, on a very challenging circuit in Glasgow. The same route was used in the 2014 Commonwealth Games. If in the mood, Cav will want to stay with the others. It’s also a confidence thing for Cavendish, as he hates missing out when other sprinters hang tough.
The race is full of tough sprinters: Kristoff, Degenkolb, Albasini, Matthews, Bonifazio, Cimolai, Stuyven, Gilbert, Sagan, Rojas, Roelandts, Demare, Trentin and Bole. All of these riders can climb well and would expect to be fighting it out for the stage win. That would make a crazy final sprint.
Etixx have four potential options for the stage: Cavendish, Kwiatkowski, Trentin and Stybar. This situation will be assessed, on the road, depending on how the riders are feeling. They are spoilt for choice! Trentin is a good option, for these type of stages, but I think Cavendish will have a part to play in the finish.
A lone attacker, will fancy their chances of staying away, with only 6km to go, Going against them is the final kilometre, which kicks up to 3.3%. That’s a killer for a single rider, with the peloton breathing down your neck. With most teams focused on GC, the teams will need to work together, to set up a sprint.
Katusha look strong with Guarnieri, Haller, Kozontchuk, Kuznetsov and Lagutin. Haller won the Tour des Fjords and was looking in great condition. The strength of this lead-out, gives Kristoff an advantage over the rest.
Orica are very strong: Albasini, Matthews, Impey, Clarke, Meyer, Tuft, Hayman and Chaves. I was surprised to see Albasini attack from distance today. He clearly thought that he wouldn’t beat Sagan, so went for a long one. You have to admire his attacking spirit and it was a bold move. Some riders would rather risk a second place for a win. My type of rider! Matthews isn’t quite up to speed yet, so this stage provides them with a big decision. Given the long list of sprinters, I would send Albasini and Impey on the attack, leaving Matthews for the sprint. Impey was going very well in Tour des Fjords, but illness took him out of the Dauphine. He lasted a long way today, only losing contact on the final climb. He provides them with a solid alternative.
An uphill sprint, is great news for Sagan and Degenkolb. Although fast, both would struggle to win a flat sprint, against Kristoff and Cavendish. The are much more effective, sprinting uphill, making it a very close sprint. Positioning is going to be crucial and timing of the sprint. You need to launch, as late as possible, from 100m if possible. This is very late to go, but on this kind of finish, the later, the better. Some riders get to the front too early and let their excitement get the better of themselves. Patience and experience are important qualities to have, for this type of finish. With Giant having to ride for Dumoulin, John Degenkolb, won’t have many men working for him. He’ll need to surf the wheels and hope for a bit of luck.
Of the other riders, Arnaud Demare, is the fastest. He’s another that loves an uphill kick and hit some form in the Belgium Tour. He won two stages and also claimed a second place. He’s not had the best season, so these results were a massive boost for him. Remember that FDJ choose Demare over Bouhanni. The extra pressure maybe got to him, but I hope to see him back to form. When riding well, he’s a very impressive sprinter. He doesn’t have a great lead-out, but he actually won in Belgium, without much help.
Don’t underestimate, Niccolo Bonifazio. The young Italian finished 5th in Milan-Sanremo, but has been quiet of late. He can cope well with short climbs and will look with hope to this stage. If found wanting, Davide Cimolai, will be called upon. He won an uphill sprint in Paris-Nice, but has also been quiet of late. These riders provide two good options for Lampre.
BMC have their usual options of Gilbert and Van Avermaet. It would make sense for GVA, to attack on the final climb and save Gilbert for the sprint. The uphill nature of the finish, is good for him, but he would prefer it to be slightly steeper.
Some teams have no sprinters, so have to attack from distance. Potential attackers are:- Nordhaug, Elmiger, Jungels, Drucker, Vanmarcke, Moser and Bakelants.
I don’t see Katusha, Etixx, Tinkoff and Orica passing up this chance. They will control the lap circuit and have the strength in numbers, to ensure a sprint. Kristoff v Cavendish v Degenkolb v Sagan v Demare v Matthews. That’s one hell of sprint battle! The way this season has been going, this has Alexander Kristoff, written all over it. The Norwegain to send a message out, pre-TDF.
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