By David Hunter
This is a race that I do like. It comes nice and early in the season and has a little bit of everything, hopefully we get another exciting edition of the race.
We begin with a sprint stage in Peñiscola. The startlist isn’t blessed with the best sprinters in the world, that means we could see some new names appear on the podium. Given this, it will be interesting to see which team takes control of the peloton. It might just be a good day to be in the break.
In the second stage, we head for the hills. The most important point of the day is El Garbi, 9.3km at 5.4%. The climb is long and contains almost 3km at 10%, this is where the favourites will look to test their legs. The climb crests with 30km remaining, but don’t expect to see a large group rejoin the front, this should be a selective sprint. The climb was used in stage 6 of the 2017 Vuelta, it was the day that Marczynski won in Sagunt and Contador blow the peloton apart on El Garbi.
At 23km in length, this is 7km shorter than the organisers had originally planned. This means the gaps won’t be as big, which is great news for some of the GC riders. BMC will still be hoping to win and put their climbers into a strong position on GC.
The fourth stage is the day the GC will be settled. Again, we have a lot of climbing and this time we have a mountaintop finish. The climb of Canteras de Cocentaina is 4.6km at 8.4%, that’s hard enough to make big differences. This should provide a very exciting finish to the day.
The race ends with a sprint in Valencia. The climb crests with 36km remaining, allowing attackers a chance of upsetting the quick men.
Brent Bookwalter – no doubt, we’ll see BMC post a very fast time in the TTT. That will put Bookwalter into a very strong position, but he’ll need to be on form to hold on in the mountains. The American is a solid climber, but it would be a surprise to see him winning this race. If he falters, BMC also have the young climber, Kilian Frankiny.
Jakob Fuglsang – Astana will lose too much time in the TTT for Fuglsang to be a realistic contender for the win. He will look to perform well in the mountain stages, which would push him up into the top 10 on GC, maybe even top 5. The Dane enjoyed a successful 2017 and he’ll be keen to start the season with some good results.
Alejandro Valverde – after his terrible crash in the Tour de France, it was brilliant to see Bala return to action in Mallorca. He was very active during the 2nd race, but just didn’t have enough to take home the win. As we are in Spain, the pressure will be on Movistar to deliver. The TTT can cause some problems for them, but they usually deliver a solid performance on home soil. It will then be over to Valverde to see if he can do the business in the hills, where bonus seconds will be hugely important.
The Yates Twins – their team have been talking down the importance of this race, saying they are here to get some kilometres in the legs. As they are missing some of their big TT engines, I have to agree. Both will be looking towards the two GC days and hoping to pick up a good result.
Wout Poels – the Dutchman was 4th here last year, before going on to secure 3rd place in the Tour of Poland and 6th in the Vuelta. Injured stopped him from helping Froome in the Tour, something he might not have to do this year. Poels will be heading to the Giro, his exact role depends on what happens to Froome. This is a race where he performs well, he won in 2016 and was 4th in 2017, expect another good result.
David De La Cruz – it will be interesting to see how De La Cruz fits in at Team Sky. After a good 2017, Sky have made a wise signing. No doubt, we’ll see the Spaniard in the grand tour mountain train, but I hope to see him have freedom in other races. He and Poels should form a strong duo in this race, that will give them a big chance of winning stage 2.
Primoz Roglic – his Tour de France win was one of the moments of 2017. Not only that but he won in the Algarve, was 4th in Tirreno, 5th in Pais Vasco and 3rd in Romandie. It’s safe to say that 2017 was a fine year for the Slovenian. As he is still learning his trade, I expect him to continue to improve in 2018. That means the rest of the pro peloton should be worried, the sky’s the limit for the ex-ski jumper! Jumbo always like a TTT and they will expect a fast time, which should help Roglic to a strong overall performance.
Amaro Antunes – the Portuguese rider has, at last, been given his chance in the big leagues. Knocking on the door for a long time, CCC are the squad to take a calculated risk on him. Antunes won the Queen stage in the Algarve in 2017, a result that seriously impressed me. That wasn’t an isolated event, he was 3rd in the Queen stage in this race, also last year. A poor TTT will hurt his chances of challenging for the podium, but he’ll be determined to make the top 10. He’ll be riding with a point to prove, that always makes for exciting watching.
It all depends on the gaps in the TTT. The big GC riders belong to Sky and Movistar, both squads will be relatively happy chasing down the gap that BMC could create, as BMC lack a real candidate for the win. The gaps between Sky and Movistar will have a massive say in the outcome of this race and I think we’ll see Alejandro Valverde take another victory on home soil.
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