By David Hunter
Mijas – Alhaurin de la Torre 178.2km
Another sunny day in the South.
The race starts with a bang as the riders have to tackle their first cat 1 climb of the race. This is a mountain I’ve sat on the beach and stared at, wondering just how hard it would be to climb it!
Puerto del Madroño is 20.1km at 4.9%, which is a tough way to start the day with. After a long descent, the riders then tackle a cat 3 climb after 75km. This hill is 10km at 3.3%, but it does mean that the chase of the breakaway still can’t properly start.
Another descent follows, before a sharp uncategorised climb, this again means that the chase still can’t start. I don’t see the full chase begin until 120km, which gives the bunch 60km to catch the break.
Break or Sprint?
Breakaways don’t often succeed so early into a grand tour. The domestiques are all still nice and fresh, but this isn’t an ordinary stage. In order to keep the sprinters in the pack, the bunch will have to tackle the cat 1 climb at a fairly slow pace. This will give the break a chance of developing a big lead, but only if climbers make the move.
The opening of the stage will be crucial, as the big sprinter teams will try and ensure a weak break goes up the road. Their ideal would be for the break to form before the climb, but this probably won’t happen.
Lots of roundabouts! We have three between 2km and 1km, plus a final one with 500m left. If we get a sprint, lead out trains will be very important. It will be almost impossible to move up the bunch in the final 2km, teams who dominate the front of the bunch will win the sprint.
Hot! The wind is light but it will be a headwind as the riders head back down towards the coast. Not ideal news for the breakaway hunters.
Elia Viviani – the Italian will start every sprint as the big favourite. He arrives after a brilliant season and has the best sprint train too. That will make life nice and easy for the Italian champion and he’ll be confident of taking his first ever Vuelta win.
Peter Sagan – we saw today that Sagan won’t be competitive during the first week, maybe even longer.
Giacomo Nizzolo – it’s been another tough year for Nizzolo as he tries to return to top form. The good news for him is that recent signs have been positive and he seems to be gathering a head of steam. Despite this, he’ll struggle to win a stage in this race, mainly due to his sprint train. In the closing kilometres he’ll have Felline and Reijnen to help, but that is pathetic compared to some of his rivals. His only hope is to get on Viviani’s wheel and hope to pass him on the line.
Danny Van Poppel – despite Jumbo arriving with a GC focus, they do have riders to help in the sprints. Looking to put Van Poppel into position will be De Tier, Boom and Leezer. Given what the other teams bring, this is one of the better trains in the peloton. Van Poppel will be hoping to challenge Viviani for the win, he does have the speed to do so.
Nacer Bouhanni – his team have lost all confidence in him, that’s a horrible position for any cyclist to be in. With little help in the closing kilometres, Bouhanni is going to find the sprints rather frustrating. His only hope is to channel all his frustration into his sprint.
Jose Mendes – you can bet that Burgos will want to be part of the morning move and Mendes is a solid climber.
Alexis Gougeard – in the break today, it wouldn’t surprise me to see him trying again tomorrow. The French rider is a breakaway expert and seems to love spending the day ahead of the peloton.
Steve Cummings – here we go again! Will Cummings try to make the move? No idea.
Team Sky are in red and they hate “gifting” it to another team. They will control the break and once the main climbs are over, the sprint teams will help out. I think this will come back together and Elia Viviani will take the win.
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