By David Hunter
Orihuela – Torrevieja 177km
Seconds out, round 2.
After a day for the climbers, the sprinters roll back into town for another battle royale. We do have a challenging climb in the middle of the stage, but it’s far too far out for anyone to try anything and upset the fast men. This is another nailed on sprint.
No wind, no sun, no rain.
This is easier than the opening stage, but it still has a few challenges along the way. The riders approach the finishing town on a standard two-lane road, which is fairly common for this part of the world.
Just like in the opening stage, this issue will be the roundabouts that litter the run for home. From 4km to go until 2km to go, there are 6 of these pesky things, and most of them have speed bumps at the entrance and exit too. The worst section is approaching the 2km banner, as there is a sizeable double roundabout to deal with, which will require the riders to use their brakes.
Once inside the final 2km, things start to get much easier. A couple of sweeping bends lead the peloton into the 1km long finishing straight, which is on a wide road. The fight for control of the bunch will start to kick off from 5km out, being at the head of the bunch for the roundabouts is highly recommended. The opening stage showed that QuickStep have the best lead out, but will they dominate this finish?
Fabio Jakobsen – everything was going according to plan on Wednesday, right up until the final 50m. After his team dominated the whole day, he was given a strong lead out by Lampaert and Ballerini. Lampy took charge at the flamme rouge, doing a long turn as Ballerini only took over with 400 to go. The Italian had no problem holding the speed, but ran out of legs with 200 to go, which would normally have been fine. The problem was the light headwind caused Jakobsen to die in the closing metres, something he’ll be disappointed about. If QuickStep can deliver him into the same position, he’ll be a very hard man to beat.
Dylan Groenewegen – with 200m to go, Groenewegen was still down in around 12th position, but he launched an enormous sprint and somehow managed to steal the win. This victory shouldn’t paper over the cracks though, his lead out train was hugely disappointing. The team will have analysed what went wrong and will look to put it right in this stage. They don’t have the power to match QuickStep in the closing kilometres, we might see them looking to put Groenewegen on the wheel of Jakobsen and letting him do the rest. The opening win will have given their Dutch sprinter a nice little confidence boost, and he starts as the favourite.
Alexander Kristoff – despite not having anyone to help, the Norwegian positioned himself very well and would have been happy to finish on the podium. If the rest of the sprinters are being realistic, they know that they’re fighting for 3rd position.
Ben Swift – Ineos did a good job on Wednesday, but Swift lacks the speed required in this company. He is a fine cyclist, but he needs a perfect lead out to challenge for the win. Just like Kristoff, he’ll be jumping around the top 5.
Luca Mezgec – the Slovenian does have the speed required to challenge for the win, but he has very little help in the closing stages. When sprinting against two of the very best in the world you need to arrive fresh with 200 to go. As he has to position himself, it is very likely Mezgec will need to waste vital energy in the final 3km, making it almost impossible to win.
Who’ll win the Dutch battle in this stage? Based on their superior lead out, I’ll go with QuickStep and Fabio Jakobsen.
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