By David Hunter
Ibi. Ciudad Del Juguete – Alicante 188km
The first of the real sprint stages.
With only two cat 3 climbs, sprint stages in the Vuelta don’t get any easier than this. The final climb is 6.7km at 4.1%, which shouldn’t cause problems for any of the sprinters. We then descend into Alicante for the first of the full bunch sprints.
Sun, with a strengthening wind coming off the sea. We also have some weather warnings in place for thunderstorms, but predicting a thunderstorm is harder than predicting the winner of a Vuelta stage! The riders do head south towards the finishing line, but echelons are unlikely as we don’t have a lot of exposed sections.
Very, very easy. As I have mentioned before, easy finishes are actually hard for sprint trains. Without any corners to naturally string out the bunch, we’ll see wave after wave of riders coming to the front in the closing kilometres. This type of finish favours an experienced sprint train, one that has the patience to hang back and wait for the final 2km.
Sam Bennett – due to his recent form, the Irishman starts as the big favourite. 2019 has been his best ever season in the professional ranks with 11 wins. Not only that but this is the first time he’s beaten the likes of Viviani and Groenewegen, it’s true to say that Bennett has now stepped up to the very top level of sprinting. He’s backed up here by a very strong sprint train: Mühlberger, Drucker and Archbold. He won 3 stages back in the 2018 Giro, will he open his Vuelta account in this stage?
Fabio Jakobsen – this is his first grand tour, it’s always a good idea to start with the Vuelta. The Dutch sprinter arrives with possibly the best sprint train: Gilbert, Štybar and Richeze. This sprint finish is all about experience, something which this train has in spades. He has 5 wins to his name in 2019, which isn’t as many as I think he would have liked by this point. He did cross the line first in Poland, but he pushed Marc Sarreau out of the way, and was relegated. Jakobsen is quick, but is he faster than Bennett?
Fernando Gaviria – it’s been a strange year for the Colombian. After moving in the winter, he started the season with a bang, taking wins in Argentina and the UAE Tour. Since then, he’s not looked at his best, despite getting a lucky win in the Giro when Viviani was relegated. Two 2nd places in the Tour of Poland was a sign that his form is moving in the right direction, but his sprint train of Troia, Marcato and Molano isn’t as strong as the other teams. We also need to remember that the whole team crashed on Saturday.
Max Walscheid – rode the 2018 Vuelta, but 11th was his best finish. The German is a talented sprinter, but one that rarely wins. This season he’s finished 2nd on four occasions, but he’s yet to win. I can’t see him starting now.
Phil Bauhaus – just one podium finish in the whole year, 2019 has been a disaster for the German. Just like Walscheid, I can’t see him turning things around in the Vuelta.
John Degenkolb – if they time it right, Trek have a sprint train that can put Degenkolb into a winning position. Both Kirsch and Theuns were hugely impressive in the Binck Bank Tour, and I expect them to continue that here. Degenkolb is no longer a rider who can win a flat sprint, but he’s still fast enough to make the podium.
Marc Sarreau – I’ve been hugely impressed by his development in the last couple of years. After being part of Demare’s sprint train, the FDJ bosses decided to see if he could step up and become a sprinter, an opportunity he’s seized with both hands. As in all races, when FDJ arrive with a sprinter, they also arrive with a long sprint train to support them. They should be good enough to be at the front of the race in the closing kilometres, and Sarreau will hope to beat his best finish of 5th from last year. One thing to note is that he’s never won a race outside of France.
Luca Mezgec – two stage wins in Poland was a brilliant way to remind everyone that he is a man to be reckoned with. He climbed well today, I was actually surprised to see him finish so high up. Moving into this flat sprint, he’ll need a lot of luck and amazing legs to challenge for the win.
All sprints should be a three-way battle, Bennett v Jakobsen v Gaviria. Given the nature of the finish and the men leading him out, I think we’ll see Sam Bennett open his account.
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