By David Hunter
Gstaad > Leukerbad 176km
Let the GC battle begin, well, sort of.
After a TT and three stages for van der Poel (he should have won today), it’s time for something a little different. We’re unlikely to see gaps between the main GC riders, but today will show how’s going to be challenging for the yellow jersey this weekend.
A sunny day, they do get them in Switzerland. The wind will be relatively light, but the final two climbs will both be a headwind.
The riders climb from the gun, the classified part of the hill is 6.7km at 5.1%. This is a great start for the breakaway, but not the next 120km.
The penultimate climb of the day is the hardest, by a considerable distance. Around 8km at 8% this is one that will seriously test the legs of the climbers, the opening 5km rarely drops below 10%. As the crest is 18km from the finish it’s unlikely we’ll see any attacks from the main GC riders, especially with a headwind, but keep an eye on those Ineos boys, they might just try something.
We end with 8km at 5.6%. This is the finish where Diego Ulissi won an uphill sprint back in 2018, with Mas in 2nd and Slagter in 3rd. This isn’t the exact same stage, this year we came towards the climb from a different side, but the outcome will likely be the same. In 2018 a headwind made it impossible for anyone to get away from the pack, will it be the same this year? The gradients are straightforward for the top climbers, we should see a relatively big group approach the finish together.
The break looks doomed to me, despite the climb at the start. I think we’ll see a couple of teams looking to control the start of the stage, the long section of flat leading to the finale is perfect for the peloton to pull back the attackers. The opening climb is a cat 1, but it’s not the hardest in the world.
A few of the GC teams will have their eyes on this stage, it’s very good for someone who climbs well and packs a fast sprint. The penultimate climb is tough, I wonder if anyone will be brave and go for a long one. Given the headwind on both climbs it’s very unlikely, everything is pointing to a repeat of 2018 and a sprint between the climbers.
Julian Alaphilippe – he must start as the overwhelming favourite to win the stage, it’s perfect for him. The pressure will be own Deceuninck – Quick Step to chase, but they have the men to do this. For the flat they have Declercq, Steimle and Hodeg, which leaves Devenyns, Vansevenant and Cattaneo for the climbs. This is a strong team; they should be able to hold the race together for a sprint finish. This is a big chance for the world champion to win the stage and move into the yellow jersey.
Max Schachmann – has the sprint to challenge for the podium. He’ll be happy the climbs come in the order that they do, if it ended with the tough one, he wouldn’t stand a chance. Will he take a risk and not wait for the sprint? Unlikely.
Tiesj Benoot – he has the punch required to challenge for the win but beating Alaphilippe won’t be easy. This is a good finish for Tiesj, but like most riders he’ll be wondering how to beat the world champion.
Michael Woods – yet another rider who’ll have eyes on the podium, he has looked strong this week.
Richard Carapaz – I’ve been very impressed by him this week; he’s looked nice and strong in all the stages. He is someone who could go long, we’ve seen it from him many times. That would force a reaction from the others, but he could be strong enough to hold them off, even into the headwind.
Marc Hirschi – he’s looking good, but still not at his very best. That will be a problem as some of his rivals are flying.
Wout Poels – at long last he seems to be hitting some form, just in time for the Tour de France. He does have a good turn of speed, but he won’t win the sprint. Will he go long?
Esteban Chaves – he’s quietly gone about his business this week, but the signs have been good. He’s another who loves to take a risk and attack, something he needs to do if he wants to win this stage.
Mathieu van der Poel – no.
Antwan Tolhoek – breakaway hopeful number 1.
David De La Cruz – breakaway hopeful number 2.
Mark Donovan – breakaway hopeful number 3.
Kobe Goossens – breakaway hopeful number 4.
This stage has the potential to go crazy at the start, but I still think Deceuninck – Quick Step will do what they do and set up the win for Julian Alaphilippe.
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