By David Hunter
Villanueva Mesía – Granada 126.5km
Another day for the GC riders to fight out.
This is a part of the world most of the peloton know well, thanks to altitude training camps near Granada. The beginning of the stage is actually quite easy, with only two cat 3 climbs in the opening section, before we get to the biggest moment in the whole race.
Alto del Purche or Monchil as it’s known is a brutal climb, one that is well known to fans of this race. Back in 2017 it was included in almost the same position, with the descent back into Granada to follow, and it blew the bunch to pieces. 8.2km at 7.5% is a proper mountain, easily the hardest climb in this race. The fun begins immediately, as the early slopes rarely drop below 10%. It then settles down for a couple of kilometres before ramping up as the riders get closer to the top. We then have the relief of a short downhill section, before a ramp of 11% up to the crest.
The riders crest with climb with 19km remaining, a fast descent follows. We do have some twists and turns, but the road surface is very good which helps those who don’t descend as well as the others. Once off the descent, the riders just have 8km until they hit the finishing line.
Astana v Bahrain. Stage 1 was a perfect example of what happens when we have two dominant teams. After a couple of initial moves, Landa made the big effort, Fuglsang realised the danger and skipped across to join him. This left Jack Haig in a difficult position, he sensed the danger and tried to get across the gap, but couldn’t make contact. The problem was that only Zeits was there as a domestique to try and chase down the two strongest men in the race.
It is quite possible we see something similar happen in this stage, but maybe even a little worse. This climb is much harder than Wednesday’s, which means there could be a lack of domestiques to chase in the final 4km of the mountain. We then have 19km of descent to the line, not fun if you’re stuck in a chase group where everyone is sitting on your wheel!
Today’s stage showed that the other teams aren’t happy to simply sit back and let Astana win. It was good to see Zeits in the break, but unfortunately he crashed. Bahrain are still the team with the cards to play, as they have three riders high on GC. The problem is that Fuglsang looks incredibly strong, I’m not sure they can beat him even if they ride a perfect tactical race.
I think we’ll see Bahrain hit the climb hard, to try and drop the Astana domestiques as quickly as they can. It will then be over to Landa, Teuns and Bilbao to see if they can attack and escape from Izagirre and Fuglsang. The Dane will hope that Izagirre sticks with him all the way to the top, he will be vital on the descent if Bahrain have multiple riders in the front group.
The exact same conditions we’ve had all week, with sunshine and hardly any wind.
They’ll need a big gap at the foot of the big climb if they’re going to make it. As Bahrain, Mitchelton-Scott and Movistar will want a stage win, it is likely we’ll see members of these squads work on the front of the bunch, keeping the gap down. It doesn’t look like a great day for the break.
Astana – they are sitting with Fuglsang in yellow and Izagirre in 5th at 34 seconds. They are in a very strong position, especially as Fuglsang is looking better than everyone else. I don’t think they’ll try and be clever and put Izagirre up the road forcing others to chase. Expect to see their two stars stay together, until Fuglsang attacks! If Bahrain outnumber them, they’ll respond by attacking. This is a climb that suits the Dane much more than riders like Bilbao and Teuns. If we get a reduced sprint, it will be interesting to see who sprints for Astana.
Bahrain – three strong riders, but can they beat Astana? The climb is more suited to Landa, but stage 1 showed that Fuglsang is clearly stronger than him. To win this stage I think they need to have all three of their riders in the front group as they head into Granada, especially as Bilbao packs the best sprint of the GC riders.
Jack Haig – very unlucky today, as he followed Teuns the wrong way. The Aussie knows this climb well and he will make the front group. He’ll be outnumbered on the descent back into town, but he’ll hope that Astana are in the mood to hold the front group together. Haig does have a fairly good kick in the sprint, but he needs to hope that Bilbao isn’t present.
Marc Soler – doesn’t look in top form. As I mentioned in my overall preview, he needs to start taking these opportunities, as I sense that patience is running pretty thin.
Given the way he’s been riding, I think we’ll see Jakob Fuglsang go solo over the top of the climb and take a comprehensive win.
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