By David Hunter
Baga – Port Aine 172.2km
Easily one of the hardest stages of the season.
Coming in March, this is a real test of climbing ability. The stage starts nice and easy, but the second half is brutal.
Port de Canto is 24.3km at 4.5%, with a maximum of 12%. After a 20km descent, the riders tackle Alt de Enviny. It is “only” a cat 1 climb, 8km at 6.8%, with a maximum of 12%. The final climb of the day, Port Aine, is 18.5km at 6.8%, with a maximum of 12%.
We’ve been here before, Dan Martin won after going in the morning break. It was a daring move from the Irishman and he was rewarded with the stage win and overall title. It wasn’t just brave, it was also clever. With two big climbs before it, the peloton can be significantly reduced, by the time we start the final climb. Back in 2013, only 5 men finished within a minute of Martin, it is that type of stage. The climb was meant to feature in 2012, but it was withdrawn due to terrible weather conditions. Hopefully we see it again this year.
The most difficult part of the climb is the very beginning. The first six kilometres contain consistently challenging gradients. The climb begins with 9% and the penultimate kilometre is also 9%. This is where you’ll find the steepest part of the whole climb, but not many riders will be around at this point.
These two climbs will be very important to the hopes of the breakaway and GC riders. Having three demanding climbs means the break has a good chance of building a lead, especially with lots of riders down on GC. Riders like Polanc, Plaza and Lopez have to be eyeing up this stage with interest. Saying that, some teams might put a rider high on GC in the break. This tactic is used to make the leader’s team work hard and use up riders. Any rider in the top 50 would be seen as a threat and will keep Etixx honest.
Some riders shone today, others really disappointed. Dan Martin was the best, on a finish that really suited him. As the bunch were all together with 1km, it turned into an uphill sprint. Quintana tried his best, but looked a little short of his best. Contador was quite defensive, but found himself up in 2nd place. He would have taken that result at the start of the day.
Romain Bardet continued his impressive run in 2016. A podium spot was a good result for him, especially considering the riders behind him. As important today was, it can all be blown tomorrow. This is the big stage and 20 seconds can be dropped in the blink of an eye.
Sky were very strong today, but Froome disappointed. Yes, the sprint to the line didn’t suit him as well as some, but he will not be pleased at losing 22 seconds. Just like last year in Andalucia, expect Froome to come out fighting. He is the only rider who finished 8th or worse that can win this stage.
After fading in Tirreno, Tejay Van Garderen, will be delighted. He looked very good today, considering the finish isn’t his style either. With Porte also looking good, BMC appear to be in the best position. It will be interesting to see how they respond to the attacks on a much longer climb.
Ride of the day was Hugh Carthy. That tea I got him must have worked! I am so happy for the young man. I know how hard he has been training for this, he started way back in November! He leads a dedicated life, certainly not the norm for one so young. He won’t get ahead of himself and knows that he has an incredible chance of finishing in the top10 of a world tour event. He started the climb a bit far back, so had to come past quite a few riders at the end. He told me he was pleased as he had more in the tank!
I think tomorrow is for the break. I don’t see a huge amount for anyone to gain by blowing the peloton apart early on. The difficulty of the stage means you need as many teammates as possible on the final climb. My breakaway rider of choice is Miguel Angel Lopez. Hopefully it will be the first world tour win for Superman.
The GC battle looks fascinating and I expect Contador to make me eat my words. Shame on me for writing him off!
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