By David Hunter
Prades Conflent Canigo – Andorra La Vella 158.5km
It might only be the 2nd road stage, but we are already in the mountains. I love the Vuelta!
As you can see, this is a hugely demanding day. The peloton start climbing from the gun, good news for climbers wanting to join the morning break.
Col de la Perche is a proper climb, 19.5km at 4.8%. This ensures that the breakaway will be full of climbing talent. Once over the top, we have almost 70km of descending, before we begin the finale.
Coll de la Rabassa is 13.3km at 6.8%, another big cat 1 effort very early in the race. The opening half of the climb is a real challenge, with gradients nearly always around the 10% mark. The second half is much easier, with gradients around the 6% mark.
The final climb might only be cat 2, but Alto de la Comella is 4.3km at 7.9%. It crests with just 7km remaining, meaning that riders will certainly attack and see who has bad legs.
As you can see, the descent off the final climb is incredibly technical. That suits quite a few of the GC hopefuls, but not all of them. Despite it only being the 3rd stage, GC riders will be attacking each other, as you can take some valuable seconds on the way to the finishing line.
Nice and sunny, with little wind. Perfect conditions for the peloton.
Very good. This is a great day for a breakaway rider to not only win the stage, but take the red jersey. The start means that the little mountain goats will be licking their lips! It also guarantees a rider the KOM jersey, something they will hold onto for a few days. This is hugely important for a number of teams, guaranteeing maximum exposure for their sponsor.
Darwin Atapuma – crashed in the TTT, but didn’t look to be badly hurt. That ensured he finished 2:46 down on BMC. After losing more time today, he now sits 4:48 behind Lampaert. Last year, Atapuma took red going in a big breakaway, can lightning strike twice? Such a talented climber, I think we’ll see him in the move.
Thomas De Gendt – why not!? Already far down on GC, De Gendt really wants to taste stage glory in this race. If he can, he’ll become the 100th rider to win stages in all three of the grand tours.
Omar Fraile – the Spaniard is a wonderful breakaway rider. Despite his two KOM wins in the Vuelta, he’s yet to take a stage win. This season has seen him taking a big step forward, winning a stage in the Giro, can he take another big win in the Vuelta? Dimension Data are spoiled for choice, with a number of breakaway options. If Fraile doesn’t make the move, expect someone like Serge Pauwels to be there.
Axel Domont – the French rider is one of those loyal domestiques, who rarely gets a chance to chase personal glory. Although AG2R have GC hopes, I think we’ll see them also chasing stage glory. Domont is a solid climber and was 2nd on La Camperona in 2016.
Maxime Monfort – the team have said that the Belgian will not be targeting the GC, instead, he is looking at stage wins. It will be interesting to see him free from the pressures of GC riding, it should suit him.
Jan Polanc – took the opening mountain stage in the Giro, can he do it in the Vuelta? Polanc is a steady climber, but his Giro success means he won’t have as much freedom as before. Saying that, if he makes the break, his rivals will be concerned.
Dani Navarro – breakaway expert! The Cofidis rider simply loves getting in breaks. His best performances are usually saved for Spain and he would love to roll back the years and take a stage win. It seems his GC days are over, but he hasn’t taken a win for 3 years. Can he surprise?
LL Sanchez – another breakaway expert. The Spaniard was good in the Giro, but didn’t manage to take a win. Astana have a number of riders for the GC, but I expect Sanchez to have freedom to chase personal glory. He is good on the climbs, but can descend very fast too. He has a good chance of winning the stage from the break.
Vincenzo Nibali – he will love the look of the final descent. Nibali knows that he needs to take time on Froome, if he wants to challenge for the red jersey. With a long TT later on in the race, Nibali will want to try and showcase his brilliant descending skills. He looked good in Poland and I think he’s close to top form. To win the stage, he really needs to finish solo, but he did beat Landa in a two man sprint in the Giro.
Rui Costa – good climber and a fast finisher. I think he’ll stay with the GC group and see if he can survive the climbs. If he arrives with the front group, he has a very fast sprint. I do like the Portuguese rider, it would be nice to see him do well.
Chris Froome – seeing as he now descends very well, Froome has to be considered as one of the favourites for the stage. Will Sky work on front of the peloton? I think not. Froome will wait and see, but he won’t want to lose any ground to his GC rivals.
Rohan Dennis – weirdly, the Aussie is riding on home roads. Dennis is based in Andorra and you can bet that he knows these roads very well. He can climb very well, but also packs a fast sprint from a reduced group. Remember back to the Tour of the Alps, he sprinted to glory on the second stage.
This is a day for a big break. QuickStep will not be chasing any break, it is almost impossible for them to retain the red jersey. I think we’ll see some of the big teams try to make the break, allowing the rest of the squad to rest up for the finish. This is a day where the reward could be huge, for an aggressive move.
Get it right and you could take a stage win, but also move into the red jersey. Obviously, this is going to be a very hard break to make.
Due to the finish, I’m going to go with LL Sanchez.
Back in the peloton, there will be many attacks and some riders will lose big time, but don’t expect big gaps between the GC favourites.
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