By David Hunter
Bétera – Albuixech 155km
The first of the GC stages.
Just 155km, but we have five categorised climbs. This is a short stage but with plenty of punch. The early climbs will be used to soften the legs of the domestiques, before the big guns come out to play on El Garbi.
The climb is long, but it does have a relatively steady beginning, with the main problem coming at the halfway point. The riders then have to tackle a 3km section at 10%, then a kilometre of flat, before a final kilometre at 5.5%. The middle section of the climb will blow the peloton to pieces.
This climb was used in the 2017 Vuelta, where Alberto Contador destroyed the peloton. The climb might crest with 30km to go, but it will have a big say in the outcome of the stage. I think we’ll see a small group move off the front and they won’t be brought back, the gap at the top of the climb will be too much to claw back.
There is a chance of rain, but it’s more likely to stay as cloud. The wind is light and not a concern for the riders.
There are a few corners inside the final kilometre, but that won’t concern a small bunch.
Sky v Movistar
As this has small bunch sprint written all over it, it will be up to the big two teams to control. If one outnumbers the other, we will see lots of attacks on the descent into town. Team Sky arrive with a ridiculous team, with Poels, Moscon, De La Cruz, Kwiatkowski and Rosa. Now, it is very early in the season, which makes it unlikely that all of these riders will survive the climb, but at the very least there will be three left.
Movistar don’t have the depth of Team Sky, but they do have quality. Valverde will look towards Rojas and Roson, both of whom should be surviving the climb. If Valverde has teammates, they’ll be able to cover the attacks of Team Sky and help to secure a sprint. Without teammates, Valverde has little chance of winning the stage.
Alejandro Valverde – the master of a reduced sprint. As I mention above, the great man will need some teammates to help chase down the Sky attacks. He has started the season well, with an impressive performance in Mallorca. The Movistar tactics will be interesting, they may hit the climb hard to try and put some of the Sky riders into difficulty.
Wout Poels – has a deceptively fast sprint, but not quicker than Valverde. Given that he is the main challenger to him, I don’t expect Poels to get any freedom, making it hard for him to win the stage.
Gianni Moscon – the Italian could benefit from Team Sky having numbers in the front group. He started the season with a 2nd place in Mallorca and tried a cheeky attack at the end of today’s stage. After a brilliant 2017, it looks like he already has good legs in 2018. He also possesses a fast sprint, but I’m not sure if he’ll be allowed to sprint, as Poels will need the bonus seconds.
Jakob Fuglsang – the Dane has the sprint that could push him onto the podium. The other climbers will hope to benefit from Sky and Movistar playing games with each other. If it gets overly tactical, it is possible for another rider to win.
Primoz Roglic – very similar to Fuglsang. He looks to have good legs and will expect to survive the climb. As we head towards the finish, he has the engine to escape from the chasers. Another rider with a relatively fast sprint.
Jesús Herrada – you could argue that he has the fastest sprint here. Now riding with Cofidis, he started the season well in GP La Marseillaise, finishing 4th. Cofidis aren’t the strongest team, but if he has good legs, I would expect to see him survive the climb. If we get a sprint, he could cause a big upset.
Amaro Antunes – I really want to see him hit the climb hard! A lot of cycling fans will be in the same position as me, hoping to see Antunes start the season just like 2017. He won’t win the sprint, but finishing in the front group would be a successful day.
I think Movistar will have enough numbers to close down the attacks from Team Sky. I’ll take Alejandro Valverde to take the win.
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