By David Hunter
Marbella – Caminito Del Rey 163.5km
Time for the first road stage.
Typical Vuelta, the race starts with a climb! Straight from the gun the peloton are faced with 6.5km at 5.2%. This isn’t difficult, but it will help to form the early break. I would expect this break to stay away until the final 20km.
Those with a good memory will see the name of the climb and remember Chaves’ brilliant win back in 2015. It might be the same name, but this isn’t the same climb. That day was a brutally steep effort, today’s finish is much easier.
Officially the climb is 7.1km at 2.8%, but that includes a very shallow start. The final 4.5km is at 4%, but the final kilometre does average 6%. The gradients aren’t very difficult, but the road is. The climb is on a very narrow road, with lots of twists and turns. The GC teams will ensure a fierce battle to start the climb at the front, pushing the stage hunters down the pack.
From 3km to 2km, we have a series of fast corners. The riders might be going uphill, but they will be going very quickly and these corners will need care. Once in the final kilometre, the road is relatively straight, with just one corner with around 100m remaining. First in the corner should win the stage.
The final climb doesn’t sound that hard, but it’s still going to be a challenge for most of the sprinters. The main issue will be getting to the front of the bunch for the final 2km, something that will be very difficult with all the GC teams trying to dominate. Even if the sprinters do get to the front, the final kilometre will be tough for them. I don’t think it’s a day for the quick men.
Another day with lots of sun. The peloton start at the beach, but head inland, where it will get much warmer. Better pack the factor 50!
Peter Sagan – if this was the Tour de France, Sagan would be the massive favourite, but we’re in Spain! He finished the Tour with a bad injury and it’s taken a while to get better. He raced the Euro Road Race, but was a DNF due to illness. He then went to Hamburg to ride for Ackermann, but after he crashed Sagan sprinted to 10th. He has talked about looking to grow into the race and seems a little unsure about his current form. If I put all of that to the side, this is a perfect finish for him. He has the skills to remain at the front of the bunch and a brilliant uphill kick, but is his current form good enough?
Michal Kwiatkowski – given the question marks over Sagan, the Pole starts the stage as the favourite. He won an uphill sprint in the Tour of Poland, against the likes of Pascal Ackermann, just a couple of weeks ago. After a brilliant TT, he knows that winning the stage will move him into the red jersey, that will be a big focus for the team. Given the last kilometre, he’ll be confident of taking the win.
Dylan Teuns – he looked nice and strong in the Tour of Poland, going very close to a stage win. Teuns doesn’t have a particularly fast sprint, but he was 2nd behind Kwiatkowski in a sprint finish in Poland. The final kilometre at 6% makes it possible for him to compete with the faster men, but winning will be difficult.
Alejandro Valverde – you can never discount Bala for this type of finish. Movistar have a brilliant squad and always put their leader into a prime position. The problem for Valverde is that he would prefer the finish to be a little harder. Despite this, I still expect him to challenge for the podium.
Omar Fraile – won an uphill sprint against Sonny Colbrelli in the Tour de Romandie, back in April. Fraile is a rider who loves to attack, but this is a finish where he should wait for the sprint. He has a very fast kick and will certainly be challenging for the win.
Tiesj Benoot – I have high hopes for Benoot in this race. He had to deal with the disappointment of crashing out of the Tour de France, as well as the physical damage of his crash. That could almost be looked upon as a blessing in disguise as the Vuelta is race that suits him much better. Benoot has a very fast sprint finish, especially on a little hill. If Lotto can help position him for the final kilometre, he won’t be an easy man to beat.
Simon Yates – not the fastest in an uphill sprint, but he’s certainly not slow. He’s finished 6th in the uphill sprint in the Tour of Poland, despite starting the final kilometre in a poor position. He also has a habit of timing his attack to perfection, but he will surely be a marked man.
Matteo Trentin – probably has the best chance of all the sprinters. He is now the European champion, which will have helped his confidence after a tough year. Judging by his sprint in Poland, he’ll struggle to challenge the puncheurs.
After watching him in Poland, I can’t see past Michal Kwiatkowski. He’ll take the stage and the red jersey.
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