By David Hunter
Lleida – Coll de la Rabassa 154.4km
A big finish in Andorra.
A day where nothing happens until the finish. Coll de la Rabassa is a climb well known to a few of the GC riders, especially the ones that stay in Andorra. We are now on the training roads of the Yates twins.
17km at 6.6% is a proper alpine(I know it’s not in the Alps!) climb, but the main difficulty comes in the opening 10km, the final 7km is relatively easy.
This is the easiest mountain stage to control, but that doesn’t guarantee the break comes back. For the early move to fail, we still need teams to chase it down. With the GC being tight and bonus seconds important I would imagine we’ll see Movistar, Quickstep and Astana working together to set up a grandstand finish.
The battle will begin 10km before the climb, as the opening kilometre is incredibly steep. Both squads will be keen on hitting the climb at a crazy pace and then trying to blow the peloton apart. They know that Mitchelton-Scott look strong and they have two excellent domestiques in Haig and Adam Yates. If they want to put pressure on Simon Yates, they need to drop one of these riders early on the climb.
I think we’ll see Quintana attack early, as he is the only rider that will see the Aussies chase. He might not have a chance of winning, but he’s still good enough to burn domestiques. Only when Simon Yates is isolated do I see the attacks coming from the other GC riders, but when will this happen on the climb?
As I have mentioned, the end of the climb is relatively easy, but coming so deep into a grand tour, no climb is actually easy. Fatigue will mean we see bigger gaps than usual.
Astana also have the riders to make life uncomfortable. With Bilbao and Hirt looking in good form, they can make the opening kilometres very difficult for everyone else, but Astana don’t have a domestique that Yates needs to chase, that is the difference between them and Movistar. Will Lopez attack from far out? You just never know.
Sunny with light winds.
Simon Yates – his performance throughout this race has been faultless. After coming close to winning the Giro, it seems that Yates has managed to recover from that blow and bounce back to a very high standard. As I have mentioned, we are now on roads that Yates trains on, this will give him a nice advantage over some of his rivals. His team continues to look strong, especially as Adam is now hitting top form. As this stage only has one mountain, I would expect Jack Haig and Adam Yates to be lasting until near the end of the climb, meaning that Simon won’t have to do any chasing himself. I don’t expect any attacks, Yates will be advised to save as much as he can for Saturday.
Alejandro Valverde – can he win the red jersey? It’s been nine long years since he did so and most thought the days of him winning grand tours were behind him. Sitting just 25 seconds behind Yates, there is a big chance of Valverde taking his second red jersey. This climb looks a good one for Bala, he will hope we get a small sprint at the summit. If that is the case, he will likely take the stage and ten bonus seconds. If his finishing kick is strong enough, he could even put a little time into Yates and start to put him under severe pressure. I’m excited!
Miguel Ángel López – the man who has to go long. We know that López doesn’t have the sprint to match his rivals, if he wants the stage it will need to be a long range attack. He sits 1:36 behind Yates and would love to be within a minute of him heading into Saturday’s stage. As he sits a little off the others, he could benefit from a little freedom as they decide who will chase his attack. The two experienced riders will try and pressure Mas into chasing, but he needs to remain strong.
Enric Mas – has to be the “surprise” of the race. We all knew what a talent he was, but his performance over 19 stages has been exceptional. A rider who seems to prefer the steep slopes, I’m not convinced this is a great climb for him. He should be advised to simply follow the wheels of Yates and Valverde and not get bullied into chasing López, something he did on Sunday and paid because of it.
Steven Kruijswijk – after dropping time on Wednesday, this is a much better climb for him. The Dutchman prefers longer efforts, particularly when the gradient remains below 10%. He lacks the kick of his rivals, but Kruijswijk is more than happy to ride the climbs at his own pace. After such a good performance over the last three weeks, he will dearly hope to get a well deserved stage win.
Nairo Quintana – poor old Nairo, will we ever see his old self again? Destined to be used as a sacrificial lamb, winning this stage isn’t really on the table.
I think that Mitchelton-Scott look strong enough to hold this one together and the main favourites will arrive together. In that scenario, Alejandro Valverde will win the sprint and set up an enormous day on Saturday.
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