By David Hunter
Sargentes De La Lora – Picón Blanco 150km
The first of the big mountain finishes.
Picón Blanco is a horrible climb!
It’s long, brutally steep and irregular. This is a proper mountain finish and previous winners here are Sosa, López and Landa. This is a climb for the mountain goats, and we have quite a few at this race. In terms of tactics, a few teams have multiple options to play, but playing clever tactics isn’t easy on a climb like this. The rider with the strongest legs will take the day.
It will start sunny, but there is a chance of rain near the end of the stage. Also at that point the wind is to pick up and it should be a strong tailwind on the climb.
Ineos – with both Sosa and Carapaz they are at a massive advantage compared to their rivals. Both are outstanding climbers and should be in the front group in the closing kilometres, this is when they could make their numerical advantage count. With no domestiques left to chase, if one of them gets a gap I don’t know who would chase it down. From the Giro we know that Carapaz doesn’t mind attacking from distance, but what is his current shape like? You would imagine that those coming from South America will benefit from such a long time at altitude, but there is no guarantee they immediately start to fly. Sosa is the two-time defending champion, he’s a proper mountain goat. This climb is perfect for him, he’s won here before and knows it well. These two men will be very hard to beat.
Movistar – Valverde looked good on Tuesday, but we’ll have to see about this climb. In years gone by he would have been one of the big favourites as he’s very good when the stage is easy and contains one big climb. The problem is that he didn’t start 2020 in good form, which makes me doubt him a little. Working in his favour is the fact that this race is in Spain, he always goes well on home soil. Movistar also have Enric Mas as another option. Can he return to 2018 levels?
Jumbo – another team with two options: Kuss and Bennett. Neither are top favourites for this stage, but both could spring a surprise. The climb suits Kuss more, he mentioned in my overall preview that he likes irregular efforts. Winning the stage will be very difficult, but both should be aiming for the top 5.
Remco Evenepoel – well then, what about his cheeky attack on Tuesday? I love seeing the top men ride with freedom, it’s great to see. It was a big call by his DS to tell him to stop riding, but at that point there was a headwind and the bunch was chasing. It does show that Evenepoel is flying and has amazing legs. In his short time in the professional ranks we haven’t seen him challenging in this type of stage, but this will change soon. The Belgian is an incredible cyclist and I fully expect him to be battling for the win in this stage.
Mikel Landa – many people’s favourite for this stage. This is a perfect climb for the Basque climber, he excels on steep gradients. He moved to Bahrain to become an undisputed team leader, for far too long he had to work for others. This is a great chance for him to take an early win for his new team and remind everyone of his climbing ability. Like all the other riders, we don’t have a form book to check, we have to presume that his current level is high.
David Gaudu – the little French climber is a big star in the making. We’ve seen in races like the UAE Tour he doesn’t mind attacking early and forcing the hand of his rivals, which is something I like. Still just 23, he is in the process of learning his craft, but this is a stage that suits him well and you can be sure he’ll be hoping to finish on the podium.
Esteban Chaves – it’s hard to predict when Chavito is in form, but signs on Tuesday were good. We’re talking about a rider who many talked up as a big grand tour contender, myself included. Since 2016 he’s had quite a fall from grace, but has still managed to win stages in the big races, but without challenging for overall titles. This period has included a few injuries, but also tough personal moments for the hugely popular climber. I think we’d all love to see him back to his very best, if he is, then this is a climb for him.
I’m torn as I think Ivan Sosa should be my pick but a certain Belgian is making me doubt my initial selection. Okay, I’ll listen to my heart and go with Remco Evenepoel.
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