By David Hunter
Ecija – Sierra De La Pandera 175km
It’s the weekend, time to hit the mountains.
We have 3405m of climbing, with the vast majority of the stage going uphill, even though we only have three categorised climbs.
The opening climb is 8.8km at 3.8%. This comes 76.7km into the stage, the break should really have formed by this point.
We have plenty of uncategorised climbs, before we reach the climb of Alto Valdepenas de Jaen. The cat 2 effort is 8.5km at 4.9%, nothing to worry about. Then it’s the mountaintop finish.
The climb to Sierra de La Pandera, is the first especial climb of the race, it is 12km at 8%. Most of the climb is at a cruel gradient, with only a few sections to catch your breath. In particular, the 9th and 10th kilometres are around the 12%. Having two consecutive kilometres like this will be important for all the riders, this is where big differences can be made. As we enter the final kilometre, the road dips down, before finishing with an 18% ramp. This is a proper especial climb.
Hot as hell! We really are in the South now, with temperatures perfect for sitting by the pool. Unlucky boys.
In particular, remember what I’ve been going on about for ages. The northern Europeans will struggle in these conditions.
With 23 KOM points on offer, this is an important day for the polka dot jersey. The opening of the stage isn’t wonderful for small climbers, but I have a feeling it will be a relatively easy day to make the break. I am expecting a large group to move off the front and gain a big advantage on the bunch. With many big stages ahead, teams will be looking to save energy.
If Sky aren’t chasing, who else will? Orica tried that tactic and it backfired, Trek seem like the only option. Contador is without a stage win and he’ll be determined to end his career with a victory. Will they sacrifice their riders in order to bring the break back?
The other thing that will be in the minds of the GC teams, is Sunday’s stage. It is an insane test of climbing ability and it will be important for domestiques to be as fresh as possible.
This stage is straightforward. Team Sky will set a fierce pace on the climb and eliminate domestiques and some GC riders. Even when the group is down to 10, they will still have 3 riders. When riders then try to attack, Froome will be able to use Nieve and Poels to close any gaps. It will be impossible to get away from Sky, until the very end of the stage. By that point, most riders will be exhausted and Froome usually rides away from them.
That’s what makes the performance of Miguel Angel Lopez even more amazing. He was able to escape the clutches of Froome, but I doubt he’ll be allowed the same level of freedom. Astana are now the only team with two riders in the top 10, but it’s difficult to see Aru or Lopez seriously challenging for the red jersey.
Tactically, Team Sky have this stage in their pocket, only an exceptional performance will beat them.
Rafa Majka – illness ruined the beginning of the race for him, but there have been positive signs since last weekend. He was very unlucky to not win stage 8, but he just couldn’t drop Alaphilippe. Bora don’t have to worry about the GC, they can focus all their energy into supporting Majka. He has some strong helpers, especially Pawel Poljanski, a rider in great form.
Romain Bardet – the Frenchman is now hunting stages. He was very impressive on Wednesday, but just couldn’t hold on for the win, We all know what an incredible talent he is, but he must be tired after the Tour. This is his first “double”, I wonder when his energy levels will dip.
Darwin Atapuma – time for the Puma to be on the attack. Like Bardet, he also shone on Wednesday. The Colombian is a fantastic climber and it looks like he also has his eyes for the KOM title. UAE have been impressive in this race, taking one win already. The Puma looks like their best option for this stage.
Marc Soler – the youngster has already experienced breakaways in this race, finishing 3rd and 6th, so far. He is a fantastic talent and Movistar will be very keen on making this breakaway. They now sit in 2nd place in the team classification, a title they are very keen on. Expect to see multiple riders from the team in the morning move. They have lots of climbing talent!
Maxime Monfort – another rider that has made a couple of breaks, but hasn’t got close to a win. The Belgian is a very experienced rider and he should improve as we get closer to the final week. Knowing how to manage your efforts, in the 3rd week of a grand tour, is a skill that will serve him well. Like a few teams, Lotto have multiple breakaway options.
Dani Navarro – the Spaniard has had a quiet race, I think he’s only made one break. That is most unlike him and I he’s probably been saving some energy for stages that suit him. A big mountaintop finish is good news for him, but it will be hard for him to suddenly find some form.
Chris Froome – if the break is caught, he has to win. It would be a huge surprise if he failed on this mountain, it looks great for him.
I think we’ll see the break take the day. I just don’t see any team riding and burning their riders, especially when Sky look so strong. It’s about time for a Rafa Majka victory.
Back in the GC group, we’ll start to see who are the real challengers for the podium. Rising to the top should be Contador, Chaves, Nibali and De La Cruz, but they won’t be strong enough to put time into Froome. Team Sky will be keen on Froome gaining some more time on, especially on Nibali. With a big stage on Sunday, he’ll want a lead of more than the 59 seconds, he currently holds.
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