By David Hunter
The racing heads back to Spain, after a few weeks away. It’s the 98th edition of this race, one that is very popular with the riders.
Despite the presence of a cat 2 climb cresting with less than 20km remaining, this should be a big sprint. The climb is only 2.5km at 5%, sprinters should easily make it over.
This time we have a cat 2 climb cresting with 10km remaining and this one is too hard for the sprinters. We could see some GC action on the climb, but it should end in a reduced sprint.
This is the big GC day. The last 55km resembles a horrible staircase! With three cat 1 climbs coming close together, this will be a very demanding finish. The best climbers will rise to the top and the GC will be shaped for the rest of the week.
The popular finish in La Molina. This means we’ll see a relatively large group of favourites sprinting for victory.
If the GC boys want this stage, it’s for them. If they don’t it’s one for the breakaway.
Another day that will interest the break, or maybe the sprinters who are climbing well.
The race ends with the usual stage in Barcelona, featuring multiple ascents of the Montjuic climb.
Movistar – Valverde, Quintana and Soler. This is ridiculous. Clearly the strongest team by a mile, they will be hugely disappointed if they don’t win. As Valverde is the big favourite for stages 4 and 7, team leadership will really be decided on stage 3, with the big mountaintop finish. Climbing to over 2100m, usually means it should be Quintana, but time will tell.
Mitchelton Scott – both Yates twins and Chaves, sounds like they want to go head to head with Movistar. Simon was very unlucky not to win Paris-Nice and Adam was unlucky not to win Tirreno Adriatico. Having both riders on top form means the can challenge the dominance of Movistar. Chaves is starting to look good again, after a tough 2017. Movistar will be a little worried about the power of this team.
Egan Bernal – the young Colombian has started the season in sensational form, winning Oro y Paz and finishing 6th in the TDU. Team Sky will already be delighted with his progress and this is his first chance to test himself in a “big” race. Despite having just turned 21, Bernal already has plenty of big race experience and Sky will be very hopeful of a big result. Expect to see him challenging for the top 5 overall.
Bob Jungels – illness ruined any chance he had in Tirreno. This route seems a little hard for him, but QuickStep also have Enric Mas.
Tejay Van Garderen – crashed out of Paris-Nice, in the opening stage, he just can buy any luck. Catalunya is a race he likes, he knows a lot of these climbs very well. If recovered from his crash, he could challenge for the top 5.
Dan Martin – loves race with mountains and no TTs! Another rider who was ill during Paris-Nice, hopefully he has recovered in time. All of the stages suit him well and if he has good legs, he should be challenging for the win.
Steven Kruijswijk – 7th in Andalucía was a decent start to his season. Kruijswijk is a rider that usually prefers to gradually build form towards a big target, but he seems to be further ahead compared to usual. A rider who is often dogged by bad luck, it would be good to see him challenging in this race. Like many teams, Jumbo arrive with multiple options. If Kruijswijk falters, they can turn to George Bennett.
Thibaut Pinot – the French star only has two days of racing in his legs. He decided to start his season later than usual, we’ll have to see what his legs are like in this race. Pinot is a fabulous rider, one that always likes to attack. After a brilliant 2017, I expect him to challenge in all his big races and this is one.
Louis Meintjes – another solid contender for the top 10.
Davide Formolo – he’s started the season in impressive form. Now riding for Bora, he was 6th in Abu Dhabi and 7th in Tirreno, that is a very impressive start to the year for the Italian. I get the feeling, he could be in for a big season.
We are in for a cold week, with some snow in the mountains. It looks like all the stages should go ahead as planned.
Due to the high mountains in stage 3, I’m going with Nairo Quintana. He can handle the cold weather and should easily win that stage. That should put him into a commanding lead and Valverde can them chase wins in the punchy stages.
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