By David Hunter
Castelló – Vilareal 180.5km
The race begins with a sprint.
Nothing much for the bunch to worry about, a small break will escape in the opening kilometres and the big teams will ensure they are caught in the closing kilometres, setting up a big sprint.
Not particularly warm, but it is February after all. The riders will be happy to hear it will be sunny and without much wind.
The bunch approach the finishing town on a long straight road, but then have to take a big corner with 3km to go. As usual, we’ll see a drag race for control of the bunch at this point. Once inside the final 2km, the fun will begin. The flying peloton have to negotiate five roundabouts in the space of 1000m, the last of which opens up into the finishing straight which is 1km long. Roundabouts 1, 3 and 5 all require the bunch to slow significantly and this looks a rather technical finish.
Dylan Groenewegen – the Dutch sprinter enjoyed another brilliant season in 2019, he continues to improve and looks every inch one of the best sprinters in the world. Coming into this race, he arrives without any of his recognised lead out men, which certainly makes things interesting. The team made an interesting signing this winter, taking Christoph Pfingsten from Bora. The German is the type of rider who’s work often goes unnoticed, he did a lot of good work in the Sam Bennett sprint train, usually in position two or three. The coaches at Jumbo-Visma are very astute people, they know quality when they see it. I would expect to see Pfingsten being the final man in this train, which will also feature Eenkhoorn and Van Emden. The team have openly admitted they’re here to win stages with Groenewegen, not challenge for the overall.
Fabio Jakobsen – the other big Dutch sprinter. He arrives with the same problem as Groenewegen, a sprint train he isn’t overly used to working with. The Dutch champion will be guided into place by Lampaert and Ballerini, who has just arrived from Astana. They have all recently been on training camp in the Algarve and have obviously been working on their sprint train, but you never quite know how it will work until you get into a race situation. Jakobsen is a wonderful sprinter, but currently just a tiny bit under the likes of Groenewegen, Ewan and Bennett, but he is younger than these riders. 2020 could well be the year he moves to the very top of the sprinting table.
Alexander Kristoff – looks bereft of any type of lead out. The big Norwegian won’t mind fending for himself, but it seriously reduces his hopes of winning a stage. It will be interesting to see how he starts the year, as Gaviria and Philipsen look to be in good form.
Matteo Trentin – his first race as a CCC rider. The Italian enjoyed a strong 2019 and he’ll form a very strong partnership with Greg Van Avermaet in the upcoming classics. With all eyes on the Dutch sprinters, Trentin could surprise them and sneak a win.
Luca Mezgec – another sprinter who enjoyed a strong run of form in 2019. He won’t have much help in the final kilometres, but the former lead out man is good at positioning himself. He prefers a tough day in the saddle, but he did win a flat sprint in the Tour of Poland.
John Degenkolb – it will take a little while to get used to him in the Lotto-Soudal kit. His main focus will be the spring classics, but that won’t stop him testing his legs in some sprint stages. He’ll find it hard without much of a train, but he still has what it takes to challenge for the podium.
Amaury Capiot – it’s great to see the Belgian injury free and fighting fit. He ended 2019 in fine form, rarely finishing outside the top 20 in most races. He started this season with 4th place in the final Mallorca race, which was a good return considering he was without support in the closing kilometres. It would be great to see him mixing it with the big names.
Groenewegen v Jakobsen, but as both are trying out new lead outs, it’s very hard to tell who will win. I’ll go with my gut; I think the Jumbo-Visma train looks slightly stronger and Dylan Groenewegen will start the season with a bang.
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