By David Hunter
Bradford – Sheffield 194.5km
The race ends with a brutal stage.
With eight categorised climbs, this stage has a lot of elevation. However, some of the unclassified climbs are just as hard. The stage can be split into two, with the section of climbs between 65km and 99km, and then the circuit in Sheffield.
The finish in Sheffield is one of the hardest ends to a stage I can remember. We have four incredibly steep climbs, which no flat roads in-between. These four walls all come within 10km of each other, making the finish very selective. The winner of this race will have earned it.
It will again be a dry day, but we have strong crosswinds for the majority of the day. Once into Sheffield, the wind shouldn’t be a big problem, but it’s the early part of the stage that is vulnerable to echelons. I expect some teams to split it early.
A lot of attention will be on Team Sky. They don’t have one of the big favourites for the race and their best riders are a little heavy for the climbs. However, this is a race in the UK and Sky will try and animate it. The only way Sky can win, is by splitting this race in the crosswinds. Expect to see Rowe and Stannard splitting the field and seeing who can survive.
If they can significantly reduce the group, a Sky rider could still win this race. The other teams will be wary of this tactic and have to be attentive early in the race. Dimension Data seem to be the team with the most quality, they will be put under pressure, but should have enough to get a few riders in the front move.
Despite only having six riders, I still think BMC will have a big say in the race. What they lack in numbers, they make up for in quality. It will be interesting to see how they approach the stage, I think they’ll sit tight until the last 40km.
Serge Pauwels – normally better known as a mountain man, but being Belgian, he knows a lot about these shorter climbs too. Dimension Data have a very strong team and a number of different options. One of those options is local boy, Scott Thwaites, but I’m not sure if he has the form to win. Instead, expect to see them protecting Pauwels and seeing how far he can go in the race.
Omar Fraile – should be the second option for Dimension Data. The two time winner of the KOM jersey in the Vuelta is a big favourite with fans. He showed his good form in Liege and he also packs a fast uphill kick. I expect his team to allow him to ride the race he wants. We all know he’s at his best when attacking, hopefully we see him in full attack mode!
Brent Bookwalter – the American is enjoying a fine run of form. He is a good climber, but also has a fast sprint. That makes him a very dangerous rider in this race. BMC will be able to support him deep into the race, but I’m unsure he’ll cope with the relentless climbs at the end of the stage.
Tommy Voeckler – as he approaches the end of his career, can he win one last time? I think this stage is too hard for him.
Mark Christian – you might not have heard much about the Aqua Blue rider, but he is a serious contender for this stage. Riding for Team Wiggins he was 18th here in 2016 and 12th in the Tour of Britain. Now riding for the Irish team, he will race with no pressure on his shoulders. He will not be expected to contribute to any of the work, plus, he might be allowed a little freedom by the bigger names. Should finish in the top 10, maybe even better.
Maurits Lammertink – the Katusha man is a solid candidate for this race. 26th in Amstel, 25th in Flèche and 44th in Liege, it’s safe to say that the Dutchman enjoyed his week in the Ardennes. If he has maintained that form, he has a great chance in this stage.
Soren Kragh Andersen – we saw him attacking over the top of Robin Hood’s Bay, an interesting move that came to nothing. The Dane won’t have a huge amount of support, but Chris Hamilton did look good on Friday. Another one of these riders that can climb and sprint.
Mauro Finetto – my old Italian friend. I think the end of the stage is just too hard for him. I hope I’m wrong.
Pieter Weening – injury ruined his chances in the Ardennes, but he did ride Liege to try and get ready for this race. Roompot are a team that always seems to punch above their weight and Weening would normally be one of the favourites for this race. His lack of recent racing is a concern for me.
Richard Handley – climbed Robin Hood’s Bay very well and will hope to last with the big guns for as long as possible. Madison Genesis have a real chance of finishing in the overall top 10, that would be a huge result.
James Knox – the Team Wiggins man is riding for the GB squad in this race, fresh from a brilliant performance in Croatia. Knox finished 8th, just missing out on the white jersey. That was a huge result for the 21 year old and a sign of the potential he is. Back on home roads, he will be hoping for another top 10.
Team Sky – as I’ve mentioned, I think they go full gas tomorrow, almost from the gun. With Rowe and Stannard, they have two riders capable of blowing the race to pieces. Given the punishing nature of the final climbs, they should be working for Geoghegan Hart, but he did crash on Friday. After looking okay today, I think he’ll still be their main option, but he does need to be 100% to challenge.
Dimension Data look incredibly strong and I think they will control the race. My pick to win the stage and take the GC is Serge Pauwels.
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