By David Hunter
Andora. Escaldes-Engordany – Coll de la Gallina 97.3km
The last day for the GC riders.
Just 97km in length, but featuring 6 categorised climbs. Even though Yates took more time on his rivals, the red jersey is not safe until the end of this one.
The stage begins with climbing from the gun, 4.3km at 8.7%. To be honest, that’s a cruel way to start the day. We then head off to the cat 1 climbs.
All the climbs in this stage are incredibly diffcult. Coll de Beixalis is 7.1km at 8%, once off the descent we hit Coll de Ordino which is 9.8km at 7.1%. After 15km of descending, the riders climb Coll de Beixalis for a second time and then we have a cat 3 climb of 3.6km at 6.3%. All of this climbing and the riders have only covered 81km! We then have the final climb of the race, Coll de la Gallina.
The climb is actually 8km at 8%, but the organisers have decided to only classify the final 3.5km which averages 8.7%. Whoever wins this stage will have earned it.
What goes up must come down. Having good descending skills is an absolute must in this stage, we’ll see attacks on the downhills making it a day when the winning move can go at any time.
Should be another nice day for the bunch with little wind.
Now that Quintana is out of the picture, no team has a double option. This makes life very difficult for any team to put severe pressure on Yates. He will have the help of Haig and Adam Yates, making it difficult for anyone to get a big gap. Fingers crossed some teams throw caution to the wind and go full gas from that start, but will any rider risk their current GC position?
Not great. We will have crazy attacking from the gun, even from some of the GC riders. This means the breakaway will have no time to form, making the win very unlikely. If you are a good enough climber, it is possible to surprise with a late attack, once most of the domestiques have been worn out.
Simon Yates – what a brave move by him today. Buying himself extra time heading into this stage was a great move and he seems unstoppable. He is 1:38 ahead of Valverde and a further 20 seconds ahead of Kruijswijk, meaning he can ride a defensive race. With Haig and his brother looking in great form, he will go into this stage feeling very confident. Winning the stage won’t be a priority, but it could still happen.
Miguel Ángel López – disappointed today, he was looking for him to move with Yates. It’s clear that the Colombian didn’t have the legs, but that doesn’t mean he can’t compete for this stage. At this stage of a grand tour, it is very difficult to predict how your legs will be. What is certain is that Astana have a strong team to support their leader, with Hirt and Bilbao lasting deep into the mountain stages. After two stage wins in 2017, he’ll be desperately hoping to take the stage and move onto the podium.
Enric Mas – he arrived at this race hoping to win a stage and finish in the top 10. He is sitting 17 seconds from the podium, but hasn’t got his win yet. The Spaniard has shown to be excellent on steep slopes and this finish is perfect for him. He will be hoping to win the stage and move onto the overall podium.
Thibaut Pinot – two stage wins is beyond what I thought he would achieve in this race. On both occasions Pinot has been rewarded for brave riding, it’s what us fans love to see. The amount of descending in this stage is a concern, he still has frailties in this area.
Alejandro Valverde – today’s big loser. He goes into this stage looking behind him, rather than looking ahead. The gap to Yates seems too big and Kruijswijk is only 20 seconds behind him. I wonder if Movistar will try and ride an aggressive race, or simply hope to hold onto second place. Given everything he’s won in the sport, I think we’ll see Valverde go down swinging!
Michal Kwiatkowski – the most likely non-GC rider to win the stage. The Pole has enjoyed a good race, but still lacks a win. With one eye on the world championship, he can treat this like a one day race and seriously test himself. The amount of descending is great news for him, this is where he can really put others under pressure. After winning the Giro and Tour, Team Sky will hope to leave this race with something.
This stage is going to get very tactical. As Yates covers the moves of his nearest rivals I expect someone to nip away and take the stage. The steep slopes at the finish are perfect for Enric Mas, who’ll take the win. Behind him, Yates will win red and I think Mas will jump into second, with Kruijswijk holding onto third.
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