By David Hunter
Valls – Lo Port 182km
This stage ends with a monster of a climb.
An easy day, with a brutal finish. Despite a tough final stage, on Sunday, this is where the GC will be settled.
After an easy opening 5km, this climb really begins. Of the next eight kilometres, we only have one under 8%, that is really tough. Just take a look at all the sections over 10%, this climb will blow the peloton to pieces. The climb starts near sea level and ends over 1000 high, this is going to be fun!
With Van Garderen sitting in the overall lead, it’s up to Sky and Movistar to try and drop him. BMC have been left weakened, as Rohan Dennis quit due to sickness. Tejay looks vulnerable on this climb, especially as Contador might join the party. The American’s best hope is that the other big riders cover each other, and he gets to follow wheels up the majority of the climb.
It should stay dry, but this will be a cold day for the riders. At least there won’t be much wind.
Geraint Thomas – he looked to be climbing incredibly well on La Molina. He was able to sit on the front and constantly seemed to be staring into the eyes of Contador. It’s clear that Thomas has maintained his form from Tirreno and he really looks the real deal. In my eyes, he has confirmed himself as Sky’s leader for the Giro, Landa will now have to be a domestique. This climb is well suited to him, but he does have to make 44 seconds to Van Garderen and he’ll also be concerned about Valverde and Contador. His team look very strong too, something that will give him a lot of confidence.
Chris Froome – covered the move from Valverde today, it was good to see him being aggressive. He wasn’t at his best on La Molina and I expect to see him riding in support of Thomas, this race always seems to be a little early for him. As he is still a threat on GC, any move he makes will have to be covered by the others, putting Sky in a wonderful position. Would anyone in their right mind let Froome have freedom?
Alberto Contador – I still have a little feeling that he is tired after a very tough Paris-Nice. Given the hugely demanding nature of that week, it would be amazing if Contador had the same freshness as the others here. Saying that, this stage is easy until the climb. That is perfect for Alberto, meaning he just needs one big effort on the hill. He is still a threat on GC, so no freedom will be given. He will put Pantano to work on the hill, looking to drop the others, then hit everyone with a big attack. I think that attack will be unsuccessful, but good on him for trying!
Alejandro Valverde – on paper, this climb is a little too hard for him. Saying that, it is Spain, where Valverde always seems capable of pulling out big performances. I remember him easing away from the others on Penas Blancas, back in 2016. He sits 1 second behind Thomas and 45 behind Van Garderen, I really hope that encourages him to ride an attacking race. Of course, he’ll be worried about Sky having two riders, but attacking might be the best way of dealing with them.
Adam Yates – his performance on La Molina suggested that he was over the illness that forced him to pull out of Tirreno. In that race, he was 3rd on the Terminillo stage, a good indication that he’ll go well here. If he can survive with the best until the final kilometre, he should benefit from the big guys looking at each other.
Romain Bardet – I think we’ll see him near to his best. After a relatively poor start to the year, he should be ready to show everyone what he’s got. Getting kicked out of Paris-Nice shouldn’t have had a huge impact on him, especially after a solid block of racing in Oman and Abu Dhabi. He has a serious chance of taking this stage.
Tejay Van Garderen – poor old Tejay is going to have a long afternoon. Movistar are seriously annoyed about the TTT and want to make him suffer. He will be under attack from all angles and that 44 second lead will disappear very fast. He needs to be at this very best to end the stage in yellow.
George Bennett – it’s great to see the Kiwi up fighting against the very best. I get the feeling his 2016 Vuelta performance might have been a turning point in his career. He should be able to stay with the big guns until the closing kilometres and will hope to finish in the top 8 riders.
Dan Martin – this climb looks too hard for him. He has improved on these longer efforts, but I still don’t think he’s at the same level as some of his main rivals.
Darwin Atapuma – looked nice and frisky on La Molina! After 4th place in the Colombian nationals, the Puma seems to be carrying good form. With Meintjes not quite ready yet, he is the best hope for UAE. A stage win will be hard against this level of rivals, but I hope to see him fighting for a top 5 finish.
Froome – not quite on form.
Valverde – climb a little long for him.
Contador – a bit tired after Paris-Nice.
Geraint Thomas – winner.
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