By David Hunter
After having to be scheduled at the same time as the Tour, in 2016, it’s good to see the race return to a better slot. As usual, most of the riders here are looking to pick up form for the Vuelta, this is a perfect preparation race.
The race begins with a sprint stage and a finishing circuit, the organisers love a circuit!
Don’t be fooled by the profile, this is another sprint stage. There a couple of bumps along the way, but it will be another big sprint.
The GC battle begins. We have four categorised climbs and an uphill finish. The climbs aren’t overly difficult and all GC riders will get over them, it’s the finish that will do the damage. The last kilometre rises at an average of 12%, that’s my type of finish.
An easy profile, but the fourth stage is 238km long! I’m not sure why the organisers felt the need for this.
I like the look of this stage, just 130km long but lots of climbing. The final climb is only 1.2km long, but it does feature 500m at 12.8%. Cresting with 10km remaining, it begs for riders to attack.
With 3210m of climbing, this is a very demanding day in the saddle. This is a big day for the GC riders.
Another hellish day for the riders. The stage is just 132km long, but features 2810m of climbing, This is going to be a great day for spectators, especially with lots of double digit gradients.
Bob Jungels – after successfully defending his white jersey in the Giro, Jungels now has his sights set on the 2nd half of the season. His big focus is the Vuelta, but this will be an important test of his condition. The lack of a TT is bad news for him, but he is climbing better than ever before. He is quite good on the short climbs, something that will be good for him in this race. A relatively fast sprinter, he also has a chance of picking up vital bonus seconds.
Ben Hermans – BMC arrive with a hugely talented squad. It looks like the Belgian will be team leader, and he can count on the support of Dylan Teuns, Rohan Dennis and Teejay Van Garderen. Hermans started the season like a freight train, winning in Oman and finishing 2nd in Valenciana. He was looking good for a strong showing at the Giro, but he had to abandon the race after becoming ill. The lack of big mountains will suit him well, he is very impressive on shorter climbs. With such a strong team, BMC are sure to have a big say in the outcome of the race.
Diego Rosa – this is the type of race Rosa should do very well in. He isn’t ready to lead Sky in a grand tour, to get that job he needs to perform well in one week races. No TT is great news for him, but he hasn’t raced since the Italian Championships, making it hard to know what his form is like. The tough stages do look good for him.
Rafa Majka – a big crash on stage 9 of the Tour, sent Majka home. That left him with three weeks to recover and set his sights on his home race. The winner of the race in 2014, he’d love to shine in front of his home fans. The normal questions will surround his form, we won’t know how he has recovered until the first tough stage. If close to 100%, he will have a big say in this race.
Wilco Kelderman – Team Sunweb are on a high just now, they would love to keep the good run going. Kelderman hasn’t raced for over two months, since that horrible crash in the Giro. The next couple of races will allow him the chance to chase personal glory, something he is more than capable of doing. The lack of recent racing should make it difficult for him to win this race.
Domenico Pozzovivo – no big mountains makes it hard for the little Italian to win. He will love that there isn’t a TT, but he doesn’t really have the skill set required to win a race like this. Saying that, Pozzovivo seems to be in the form of his life, taking 6th in the Giro and 4th in the Tour de Suisse.
Rui Costa – exactly the type of race he should be winning. The Portuguese star has enjoyed a fine season, but he’ll still be disappointed to have missed out on a Giro stage win. A master in short stage races, he is someone we’ll see a lot of this week. A rider that can climb and sprint, he will look to take a stage win and collect vital bonus seconds. He starts the race as one of the big favourites.
Seb Reichenbach – comes here looking to get solid racing in his legs, mainly as preparation for the Vuelta. After riding a superb Giro, in support of Thibaut Pinot, the Swiss rider eventually gets to chase some personal glory. The lack of long climbs isn’t great for him, but I would still expect to see him challenge for the top 10 on GC.
Rafa Valls – Lotto’s GC man is coming up to an important point in his season, he is out of contract in 2018 and could do with a big performance. His move to Lotto has been a limited success, but this year has hinted at better things. His 7th place in the Tour Down Under was respectable, but it was his 10th place in the Dauphine that caught my eye. Valls will enjoy the lack of a TT and goes well on short climbs. A big performance here and he’ll have a few options for 2018.
Vincenzo Nibali – after a fantastic Giro, the Shark now begins preparations for the Vuelta. He comes here looking for a good result, but will be happy if he leaves the race with good sensations. The route isn’t ideal for him, especially considering his poor sprinting speed. I think he’ll find it hard to win the overall title, but could certainly take a stage win.
Jan Hirt – his 12th place in the Giro was a hugely significant result for the Czech rider. This caught the eye of a number of teams and he’ll be riding for Astana in 2018, although this has yet to be officially announced. Riding in his home race, he’ll have extra motivation compared to most of his rivals. He does prefer longer climbs, this route isn’t ideal for him. A top 10 finish would be a great result for him and his team.
Adam Yates – 9th in the Giro wasn’t exactly what he would have hoped for, especially after finishing 4th in last year’s Tour de France. He is a terrific racer, particularly in the one day environment, this race should suit him extremely well. He has the explosive kick required to challenge for a number of stage wins and he starts the race as one of the big favourites. I would be surprised if he didn’t finish the race on the podium.
I do like the look of Rui Costa for this race, but some teams have a strength that will be very hard for him to overcome. Given the strength of their team, I think BMC will emerge victorious and Ben Hermans will win the GC battle.
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