By David Hunter
Caravaca Año Jubilar – El pozo Alimentación 164.8km
The second week begins with a strange looking stage. Very flat apart from a big mountain relatively close to the finish.
Stages like this are a nightmare to preview, they can be very unpredictable. Nothing much is going to happen until we hit the big climb. Cresting with 20km remaining means that GC teams are unlikely to control the stage.
Team Sky will be in no hurry to chase down the morning break, they don’t want to give away bonus seconds on the finishing line. Froome is very strong, but it would be silly to let his rivals have a chance of taking a stage win.
The descent off the final climb is one that Nibali will certainly be interested in, with many hairpin bends. This is a stage Nibali is sure to have marked in the roadbook, it gives him a chance of taking time on his rivals. As we witnessed in the Tour, descents off climbs usually means the GC riders all mark each other and we get lots of attacks. Will we get something similar in Spain?
The cat 1 climb is fairly tough, 7.7km at 6.5%. With an easy beginning and end, the middle section rarely drops below 8%. Making the climb harder is what comes before. The riders tackle an unclassified climb of 2.1km at 4.8%, then it’s a cat 3 climb of 5.7km at 5.7%, then the cat 1 climb begins. In total, the peloton will cover around 20km at 5%, this is a long climb.
The move south was feared by a lot of riders, as we expected to hit high temperatures. This doesn’t look like happening as storms are forecasted. The stage should see rain and temperatures much to the liking of the northern europeans, there might even be long spells of rain.
With a tricky descent, this could be terrible news for some of the GC favourites. Being a fearless descender will certainly be a positive in this stage.
Outstanding! This has to be a day for a big breakaway. Looking at the profile, it doesn’t look great for the climbers to make the break, but they could still do it. If it’s a day where riders simply move away from the peloton, climbers will get in the move. If we have a huge fight to make the move, the climbers will find it difficult to make the cut. The rewards are huge though, if a pure climber makes the move, the climb is wonderful news for them.
The problem could be Trek. Contador seems to be hitting these climbs very hard, looking to put the GC riders into difficulty. If the group only have a lead of around 4 minutes, that got disappear on the climb, if Contador pushes the pace behind. Also looking to join in, will be Bahrain. Nibali doesn’t usually waste opportunities to test his rivals.
Julian Alaphilippe – nice to see him hitting some form. It’s been a hugely frustrating season for the Frenchman, but he looked amazing on Saturday. Now that he has found his climbing legs, he has to start this stage as the favourite. Not only can he climb, but he is a brilliant descender and packs a very fast sprint. Another good result will put him on the road to taking the green jersey.
Alessandro De Marchi – big TT engine, that makes him a good option to make the break. BMC have allowed De Marchi freedom in this race, he doesn’t have to worry about looking after any GC contenders. His big engine isn’t just good for the start of the stage, he can power away from his breakaway companions at any point.
Nelson Oliveira – he’s already enjoyed a day in the break, which moved him back up the GC. After a poor showing on Sunday, he is now back to 19th at 4:50. That should buy him freedom from Team Sky, but he won’t be overly popular with his breakaway companions. If he makes the break, they will not be allowed a huge lead.
Pawel Poljanski – all eyes now seem to be on Majka, after he recovered from his sickness problems, but his Polish teammate deserves a lot of praise. He managed two consecutive second places, something that will have pleased and frustrated him. Certainly, it is a sign that he has fine form and every stage represents an opportunity.
Thomas De Gendt – I think we’d all love to see him taking a stage. He doesn’t seem to have the same form as he had in the Tour, something that will make it difficult to win a stage. On the plus side, it’s going to rain. The Belgian loves hard conditions, it should slow some of his rivals down.
Rui Costa – now sitting 6:27 down, it should be time for Costa to start hitting some breaks. So far, he’s been riding with the GC group, but that dream is over. UAE have already tasted success and they seem keen to join most breaks as they look to chase stage wins and the team classification. The descent, and potential sprint, is good news for the former world champion.
LL Sanchez – looks strong at the minute. One concern is that he seems to be on Aru duties. We are used to strong riders having to sacrifice their personal ambitions to protect a team leader, but I hope to see Sanchez getting a little freedom. Like many riders mentioned, he can climb, descend and sprint. A magical combination in this stage.
Wilco Kelderman – fastest sprinter from the GC group.
David De La Cruz – I’ve been watching the Spaniard closely, and I like what I see. He is riding a strong race and was unlucky not to win in Andorra. Remember that he started the race by hitting a car, before the TT. If the front group arrives together, he is far enough down on Froome to get a little freedom and he sprints well.
Chasing the break will be down to Trek and Bahrain. Contador will attack on the climb, forcing a reply from Froome. It will be interesting to see who can respond, especially as the slopes are like a normal mountain! We should see riders like Nibali being able to follow. That should set up a crazy descent down to the finish, where some will risk everything and others won’t, but will it bring the break back?
I think tomorrow we’ll see two separate races, with break taking the win. Looking at the form of the riders, it has to be another day for Julian Alaphillipe.
Back in the GC group, I think Nibali will risk it all! Froome will not want to follow him as he has too much to lose. We shall see if anyone can follow the shark.
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