By David Hunter
Beniel – Murcia 208km
Welcome to the land of Valverde.
After a few days of rest, we are back in Spain for the 38th edition of this race.
This is a race that is dominated by the cat 1 climb of Collado Bermejo. As it is 7km at 7.2%, it represents a massive obstacle for the peloton. Cresting with over 50km to go, it would normally deter any solo attacks, but not Alejandro Valverde! The great man went solo on this climb in 2017 and the bunch didn’t see him again. One change in 2018 is the distance, as the race was only 182.7km long in 2017.
In normal conditions, the climb is too far out for a solo rider. The final climb is relatively easy, which favours those that would like a small sprint. If one team has more riders than anyone else, they have a huge advantage in the final 20km.
A strong headwind on the climb is great news for riders who want a reduced sprint. However, this will not be an easy race to control.
Dry, but not very warm. There will be a brisk wind coming from the north, making the big climb a headwind. Once crested, the run for home can be hit by crosswinds. This is not great news for attackers.
Alejandro Valverde – the local man has won this race on five occasions, he’ll be looking to make it six. Whether it’s attacking from distance, or winning the sprint from a reduced bunch, Valverde has all the angles covered. After winning in Valenciana, he starts the race as the overwhelming favourite. His team will need to be strong, but Movistar look in safe hands as they bring a number of their talented climbers. Expect to see plenty of their riders at the front of the race in the closing kilometres.
Luis Leon Sanchez – another local man, but he’s never won this race. He’s started the season in fine form with 8th place in the Tour Down Under and a very impressive 2nd place in Valenciana. Astana will be very pleased with this and he’ll start this race as their team captain. The problem he faces is how does he beat Valverde? He’s slower on the climbs and in the sprint, it looks like Sanchez will have to creative in his quest to win his home race. Astana also have a strong team, expect to see a lot of Jacob Fuglsang.
Michael Albasini – the Swiss rider will be delighted to hear about the headwind on the climb. He is a rider that can outsprint Valverde, but that means Movistar will be very keen to drop him on the cat 1 ascent. If Albasini can hang tough, he’d have a great chance of taking the win.
Roman Kreuziger – the longer Albasini stays in the bunch, the better it is for Kreuziger. The Czech star is a very good one day racer and a danger to Valverde. He showed some good form in Valenciana and will look to use his huge engine in this race. He lacks a sprint, meaning he must go long, but this is something he is used to.
Jesús Herrada – has started his Cofidis career in a strong fashion. He was 4th in GP La Marseillaise and 5th in Valenciana, no doubt he is enjoying his new found freedom. He has a fast sprint, meaning he’ll be happy with a small bunch at the end. He’ll struggle to win, but has a great chance of making the podium.
Philippe Gilbert – a former winner of this race, this is his opening race of the season. The cat 1 climb would normally be too hard for him, but the headwind gives him a chance. If Gilbert can manage to hide in the wheels, he might just be able to survive. If he does, the win should be his.
Expect a tough day in the saddle. Movistar will look to exploit their strength and I think we’ll see some echelons early in the day. When the dust settles, I think we’ll see another win for Alejandro Valverde.
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