By David Hunter
Norwood – Uraidla 128.2km
Time to start the GC battle.
The stage is short and packs a punch. Nothing much will happen until the approach to Norton Summit road. This climb is famous in the area, with many cyclists coming to do tests on the hill. It’s not anything that would normally worry a pro, just 5.6km at 5%, but it will test this group of riders, coming early in the season.
This is a 12 minute effort, something that riders would normally be happy to do. The big problem is what happens once the climb has been crested, as the road continues to rise. The main issue is around 1km at 8%, this will be the end point for most of the peloton. Once over this, the riders have to tackle an undulating road to the finish. This is a difficult end to the stage.
View From The Bunch
As the finish is relatively new to me, I thought it would be best to get the view of an expert. Here’s what Chris Hamilton of Team Sunweb had to say after doing a recon ride.
“There is a fairly technical run in to the base of the climb, through a residential area so a lot of corners and round abouts. The steepest part is at the bottom, so if it’s hard from there I can’t see there being more than 30 guys at the top, but if not it’s fairly gradual the whole way to the top and possible to sit in and suffer. Then we turn of the Norton Summit road and it gets steep for almost 1km, I reckon. If someone, or a small group, goes at the top of that pinch it’s likely they will stay away, the road is really undulating for the final few km to the finish and the last 1.8 k mostly downhill. I can’t see there being a lot of guys with teammates left to ride something back.”
As Chris said, once you get over the steep start, Norton Summit isn’t really that hard. Due to the easy nature of the stage, a full bunch will arrive together at the base of the climb. Expect to see a very fast pace on the climb and a much reduced group at the top, but the point to attack is on the next rise.
With few teammates to help chase, this is the point to unleash a big move. If one of the main riders puts in an attack, it will force the others to cover and immediately the front group will be down to an elite selection. The downhill run for home will make it tough for a rider to solo away, making a small sprint the most likely outcome of the race.
Bora, BMC and Katusha are the teams with pressure on their shoulders. BMC should have Gerrans and Dennis to help support Porte. Katusha will hope that Restrepo will be around to help Haas, with Kennaugh likely to be left to support McCarthy. As they look to cover each other, it could present a “smaller” rider with the chance to escape, but it is unlikely.
Due to the sprinting speed of McCarthy and Haas, it is unlikely BMC will want to bring them to the line. It will be interesting to see how they try to sabotage the hopes of the puncheurs.
Another roasting hot day for the bunch to negotiate. The wind is stronger than the earlier stages, riders will have to be careful throughout the whole stage. The impact of the heat cannot be underestimated, it will make the climb seem like Mount Ventoux! This will be a horrible fight for most of the European riders.
Peter Sagan – not for me. The world champion will be riding for McCarthy and I don’t see him chasing any personal glory.
Jay McCarthy – he’ll have been looking forward to this stage for a long time. He can handle the heat and the climb, making him one of the big favourites. He packs a very fast sprint and I don’t think any sprinters will be around to beat him. Bora brought a team to try and win sprints and the GC, that could leave a little short in this stage. McCarthy will hope that Sagan and Kennaugh can help support him until the closing kilometres. I expect he’ll be happy to back his sprinting speed against the other GC favourites, Bora should be riding for a small sprint.
Nathan Haas – he’s in the the same position as McCarthy. Katusha have a strong squad to help Haas in this stage, particularly Jhonatan Restrepo. The Colombian has already demonstrated his good legs and he is a good enough climber to be a serious option for the team. That means he can follow some of the moves, allowing Haas to follow wheels. If Restrepo can survive the climbs, it puts Haas in a wonderful position. It is hard to say if he’d beat McCarthy in a sprint, it all depends on their starting positions.
Rohan Dennis – looks like the best option for BMC. Porte is obviously a wonderful climber, but it will be very difficult to drop his rivals on this climb. As we know, Porte can’t sprint, so BMC need someone to try and take the bonus seconds away. Gerrans is another candidate, but remember Dennis has won from a sprint before, think back to the 2017 Tour of the Alps. I hope to see BMC ride an attacking race and try to pressurise Bora and Katusha.
Daryl Impey – after his performance in Stirling, it will be his turn to be the protected rider for Mitchelton-Scott. The climb should be well within his capabilities and his sprint won’t be easy to beat. He’ll be a little isolated, but will hope to see Cameron Meyer by his side at the end of the race. Despite all his wonderful performances in this race, Impey is yet to win a stage. I wonder if this could be his day?
Ben O’Connor – is one of the riders that could benefit from the big riders marking each other. He is Aussie and packs a punch on the climbs. Despite having Slagter in his team, I would expect to see O’Connor giving some freedom.
Chris Hamilton – Aussie and packs a punch! After a strong performance in the nationals, I’m really hoping to see the Hurricane go full gas. He is already starting to feel the benefit of riding the Vuelta and he should cope with the heat. The weather conditions should make it favourable for the Australian riders.
I can’t see anymore than 10 riders left as we descend to the finishing line. Having a teammate would be great, but I can’t help but thinking that a lot of marking will take place and someone will get off the front. A big win for Chris Hamilton!
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