By David Hunter
Al Thakhira – Mesaieed 165.5km
Remember the road where we had a sandstorm, during stage 2? Well, we’re back on that road but heading in the opposite direction. We are due more wind, this time around 16mph coming from the South-East. That means we have a cross/headwind for all of the stage. This is going to slow the race down and make it a long, hard day in the saddle.
If teams want to have some fun, they can attack from kilometre 0. The opening of the stage is a crosswind, before becoming more of a headwind. The direction of the wind is to shift slightly, as the day goes on, becoming a tasty looking crosswind for the last part of the day. As I’ve said all week, it’s very difficult to predict the wind and what it will do, but if the other stages are anything to go by, we’ll see plenty of attacks.
Etixx – Quick Step have been the main protagonists this week. With Terpstra now sitting in the lead, there is no real need for them to blow the peloton to pieces. That doesn’t mean they won’t do it though. Alexander Kristoff is sitting in 6th, 36 seconds behind Terpstra. With 3 potential sprint stages coming up, Etixx will still be a little worried. Should they attack and try to remove him? Or take it easy and pray that Kittle wins the stage and the 10 bonus seconds. They’re a team that likes to control, I think we’ll see them attack again.
Team Sky are a massive threat. They have Stannard and Rowe sitting at 12 and 33 seconds behind. With 2 riders close on GC, Sky are in an attacking position. Tom Boonen will be needed in a domestique role, to police any attacks form these riders. With 3 stages remaining and splits possible, anyone in the top 10 is still capable of winning the GC. Miss one key break and your race is over.
Etixx will have to watch Bodnar and Sagan closely. The Tinoff pair are 11 and 48 seconds behind. It will be interesting to see what Etixx do if Sagan attacks. They can put Boonen on him, in the knowledge that Boonen would go into the overall lead.
At just 19 seconds behind, Greg Van Avermaet is very dangerous. Already in great form and capable of sprinting for bonuses, the Belgian rider is a massive threat. BMC also have another rider in the top 10 in Marcus Burghardt.
The other threat is Heinrich Haussler. He’s 44 seconds behind and looking strong. IAM have a team capable of pushing the others and Haussler will be looking to move up on GC.
The biggest disappointed of the race has been Marcel Kittel. He’s had 3 stages to now find his legs. Is he ready to work hard and remain in the peloton or does he not fancy the sand? Make it to the end and he’s the fastest sprinter.
There are a number of teams who haven’t won a stage yet and can’t win the GC. They might try and race for their sprinter, but the best move would be to go for the break. Trek, Astana, Topsport, Orica, Lampre and Bardiani should really try and get involved in the early break.
The unluckiest rider this week has been Jens Keukeleire. On both stages 1 and 2 he made the crucial selection but punctured. He’s a very dangerous rider and he’s soon to take some big wins. If he gets in the break, he’ll have a big chance. With Etixx in the lead, it’ll be up to the other teams to chase it down. Do they have the power?
The breakaway has a good chance of success today. With Etixx happy to take it a little bit easier, it falls on the other teams to chase and they might not have the numbers to do so. A break with the right mix of riders has a chance. If we get echelons, the break has no chance!
Jens Keukeleire is my man for the break. If we get a larger sprint, guys like Demare and Bouhanni will be keen to get involved for the first time this week. I think that the sprinters are roughly even, at this time of year, so a rider like Demare could well take the win.
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