By David Hunter
Mataro – La Molina 190km
After the pain of the TTT, it’s time for the mountains.
With three big cat 1 climbs in the last 70km of the stage, this is a very demanding stage for the peloton. The climb to La Molina is a familiar one, but this is not exactly the same climb as last year, the beginning is a little different.
Despite the demanding beginning to the climb, this isn’t a mountain the riders will fear. Due to the easy sections, it is hard to make a big selection, leaving the riders to sprint up the closing kilometre. This stage is great news for a climber with a fast finish.
After a long TTT we have some big time gaps. In theory, that should encourage attacking riding. There isn’t any flat kilometres between the climbs either, we will hopefully see some moves on the first two climbs. That would put Movistar under pressure, especially as Team Sky have a number of climbers who could threaten on GC. With Froome, Thomas, Landa, Nieve and Kennaugh I really hope we see an attacking display from Sky.
Then we have Contador, hopefully he is in his normal mood!
Should stay dry, but it will be cold up on the mountain. The wind is coming from the south-west, making it a crosswind on the final climb.
Dan Martin – won this stage last year and arrives full of confidence. He has the necessary kick required to beat most climbers at the end of the stage. He was very strong in Paris-Nice, eventually finishing 3rd overall. That followed good results in Valenciana and the Algarve. He will be fearful of Valverde, but could benefit from the Spaniard being heavily marked.
Geraint Thomas – the Welshman was stunning in Tirreno, almost staying with the mighty Quintana. This finish isn’t ideal for him, but Team Sky have a number of riders who can challenge. When a team arrives with three or four options for the stage, they can outnumber the other squads. We will have to wait and see how Sky use their superior numbers.
Alejandro Valverde – will be licking his lips at this one. Given the last kilometre, he starts the stage as the big favourite. He is in the race lead, and his team should be strong enough to drop him off in an ideal position. It’s going to be tough to beat him.
Adam Yates – if he has recovered from his illness, he would have a good chance of doing well in this stage. The climber does have an explosive kick, and despite his brilliant performance in the Tour, he is underestimated by his rivals.
Romain Bardet – had an enforced rest, thanks to holding onto a car in Paris-Nice. That will leave him a little behind the others, but he might just be well rested! He will like this finish and might be allowed a little freedom after losing time in the TTT.
Chris Froome – is he on top form? We’ll know the answer by the end of this stage. On paper, the finish isn’t perfect for him.
Alberto Contador – he was 2nd here in 2016, despite not loving the finish. Contador can sprint when he needs to, but we’ll have to see how much his effort in Paris-Nice has taken out of him. Having lost time on GC, he’ll be hoping to take back some on La Molina.
Based on current form, this should be a battle between Valverde and Thomas. I think that Geraint Thomas is really in a purple patch of form just now and I hope we’ll see him move away from the others in the last 2km. By that point, Sky might have blown the peloton apart! If the group reach the last kilometre together, no one can stop Valverde.
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