By David Hunter
Torrent – Cullera 181km
Day two of stage racing in Spain and we head straight for a lovely little muro. The rest of the stage is all about preparing for the final 2km.
Roughly 2km at 9% is going to be a cracking finish for us to watch. The riders approach along the beachfront on a road that’s relatively wide, but they have to make a tight right turn to start the climb, this is going to make life very difficult for most as starting the climb with no speed makes it even harder.
The first kilometre of the climb is certainly the easiest, but as the riders emerge from the town and hit the flamme rouge the gradient starts to get nasty. The final kilometre of the climb is really difficult, rarely dropping under 9%. Things do get easier in the final 150m as the riders make another sharp turn before a flat finish.
Be very clear, this is far too hard for the sprinters. The puncheurs will be excited at the prospect of the quick men being out of the picture, but it’s actually on the limit for them too. This is a finish where the fast finishing climbers will hope to win, but the odd puncheur will no doubt be challenging.
Dry, sunny, no wind, not very warm.
Alejandro Valverde – has to start the stage as the favourite. The Spaniard eased himself back into racing in the recent Mallorca races, but didn’t manage to take a win. This is a stage he’ll be looking forward to, he’s made a career out of winning on this type of finish. Movistar have undergone a massive change in personal, Valverde will be slightly worried about their ability to position him in the closing kilometres. Once on the climb, he has the likes of Soler and Villella to help cover any moves and set up a sprint. The Italian would actually be a good option for this type of finish, but as he now finds himself at Movistar, he’ll have to be working for others. Movistar need to set a fast pace to damage the kick of riders like Van Avermaet.
Michal Kwiatkowski – the Ineos rider usually starts the season off in good form. He was nice and attentive in today’s finish, which makes me think he has his eye on the overall title. The former world champion is another who will like the look of this finish, as he climbs well and packs a fine sprint. We could have a situation like we did back in the second stage of the 2018 Vuelta where he and Valverde go head to head in the final 250m.
Greg Van Avermaet – probably has the best chance of all the puncheurs. GVA loves an uphill sprint, but 2km at 9% will push him to his limit. The Belgian started off his 2019 season with a win in this race, he would love to do the same in 2020. He will hope that he can hang tough and then use his superior sprinting power to surge past his rivals on the flat finish.
Dan Martin – I’m not quite sure what to make of him. He’s moved to Israel Start-Up Nation, which will make stages like this quite hard. Positioning going into the climb is important, I’m not sure they’ll be able to mix it with the best. If he does get a good position, expect to see him launching an attack from distance, he won’t be waiting for a sprint.
Dylan Teuns – one of the best on steep gradients, but the flatter finish isn’t great news for him. He should be targeting a place on the podium.
Luis León Sánchez – the Astana man could spring a surprise. The climb is short enough for him to stay in contention and Astana usually start the season well.
Philippe Gilbert – I think it’s just a bit too hard for Gilbert, at this time of the season.
The final kilometre plays into the hands of the climbers and makes this just a little too hard for the puncheurs. Expect to see a spritely 39-year-old surge past everyone and take the win. This is a day for Alejandro Valverde.
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