By David Hunter
It’s a challenging opening stage with 6 cat 2 climbs and 2 cat 3s. Here are the climbs in order:
The riders get the joy of climbing the Gaintza twice. It is a brut of a climb, 2.3km at an average of 13%. The section from 1-2km is at 16% and this is where we’ll see the action.
With so many mountain points on offer I would expect to see some familiar names in the break, as they look to take a lead in the classification. In 2013, Amets Txurruga of Caja Rural easily won this jersey and he will want to defend. If he’s not at 100%, Caja Rural also have Angel Madrazo, who is capable of winning this jersey, as he did in the Tour of Britain. Laurent Didier, Trek Factory Racing, finished 3rd in this category last year and is back again.
The final ascent of the Gaintza crests with just over 6km remaining of the race. Despite only being stage 1 I would expect to see some GC action on the climb. Contador knows that with only 1 mountaintop finish and a tough ITT, Van Garderen has a good chance of beating him. This climb and descent gives Alberto the chance of gaining some seconds, remember there are no bonus seconds in this race. He’ll have some competition though as Orica GreenEdge have made it clear that they want to win this stage, and when Simon Gerrans targets a stage, he usually wins. Gerrans didn’t finish Paris-Nice and hadn’t raced until he took part in La Rioja today. Orica have already been over the end of the stage, they have Michael Albasini and Michael Matthews as other options, if Gerrans isn’t on form.
Some of the riders are here to prepare for the Ardennes Classics and this climb is a chance to show what they’ve got. Both Carlos Betancur and Michal Kwiatkowski will feature in the Ardennes and I expect them to have a go here. Although Betancur hasn’t been feeling the best and Kwiatkowski hasn’t raced since Milan-SanRemo.
3 other riders of interest have to been Bauke Mollema, Tom Slagter and Alejandro Valverde. All will do well on the climb and are quick in a sprint. Valverde has already claimed 6 wins this season and Slagter won 2 stages in Paris-Nice and finished 2nd in GP Miguel Indurain on Saturday, when Valverde won.
Let us not forget Philippe Gilbert, especially when you look at the finish.
The last 500 metres rise at 8%. Gilbert would have been a massive favourite for this type of race a couple of years ago, but he hasn’t had the best of times but you must remember he won a stage in La Vuelta in 2013, with a short, steep finish.
The opening stage of any race is hard to predict, but this one is very difficult. Orica will try and keep the race together and let Gerrans/Albasini/Matthews sprint for the win. If it does end in a small sprint then it should be between Gerrans, Betancur, Gilbert, Kwiatkowski, Slagter and Mollema. The finish is not the normal domain of Alberto Contador, so he’ll want to attack on the climb and solo home.
The field is full of riders that could win the stage: Bardet, LL Sanchez, Samuel Sanchez, Rui Costa,…
I just don’t see this type of finish suiting these riders.
Contador will want to take advantage of every opportunity and try and take time on Van Garderen. These finishes don’t suit the big American and I would expect Contador to light it up on the steep part of the climb. If he does who can follow?
The answer is not many! Valverde is back on top form and he might form an alliance with Contador, but we’ll have to wait and see.
The men on form and without any recent illness are Contador, Valverde, Slagter, Mollema and Kwiatkowski. If we get an uphill sprint it should be between Slagter and Kwiatkowski, but beware Contador!
Prediction …. Kwiatkowski to remind us all what a threat he will be in the Ardennes.
Follow us in facebook https://www.facebook.com/CiclismoInternacionalLatinoamerica?fref=ts …