By David Hunter
Dubai – Palm Jumeirah 188km
For the third consecutive year we get the stage that finishes out in the sea! Expect to see many spectacular shots from the helicopter.
We have two former winners here, Elia Viviani and Marcel Kittel. Interestingly, Cavendish has tried twice and failed both times. The last 3km are not the easiest and require careful planning and a little luck.
The frantic finale starts with 5km left of the stage. The riders head down past the huge hotel, on a two lane highway. With the sea on their right, and the wind blowing, they hug the left-hand side of the road. The wind makes it very difficult for any team to stay on the right for too long, so overtaking is a challenge.
Inside 3km, we swing 180 degrees at a small roundabout and head for the finish. With the sea now on the left, the riders all drive for the right-hand side. This protects their sprinter from the wind, leaving them fresh for the sprint. With 1km remaining we drive down a slip round and head towards the finish. The last 300m is on pave, but a smooth version.
Due to the wind, positioning is very important. For the last 3km it is extremely important to be at the front of the race, ideally being hidden from the wind. Cavendish, Kittel and Viviani all know this finish well. Cavendish was unlucky in 2014, choosing the wrong side of the road. In 2015, he seemed surprised by Guardini’s jump, before eventually losing out to Viviani. Will it be third time lucky for Cav?
Despite getting a sprint in the previous two editions, it’s not guaranteed today. The wind will be blowing strong, around 20mph. The start of the stage sees the riders head out into the desert, before turning and heading home. When they turn right, to head back to Dubai, they hit the crosswinds. The section is long enough to spread panic amongst the bunch, but it does require a team to put the pressure on to make the elastic burst.
For riders like Cancellara and Gilbert, this is their chance to stake a claim for overall victory. They cannot afford to leave it until stage 3, expect them to try here. Marcel Kittel is not known for his echelon riding, but he’s now with Etixx. They will look to protect him, as best they can. In contrast, Cavendish and Renshaw, are amongst the best. Add in Bernie Eisel and you have a fierce team for windy conditions. All the peloton will be aware of the danger, expect a full-on sprint for the right turn. If it really does blow, you’ll need to be in the first ten riders at the turn. If you are further back, good luck in the echelons!
Stage 1 showed us that Kittel is back. It was a tremendous lead-out by Eitxx ,with Trentin and Sabatini in amazing form. I did doubt Sabatini, but he was great as the last man. Trek also looked good, committing 5 men for Nizzolo. Dimension Data were the big disappointment. With only Eisel and Renshaw, Cavendish was always up against it. The Etixx train was just too long, and they had to try and place Cav on Kittel’s wheel, with 1km to go. Cavendish lost the wheel to Andrea Palini and it was all over. He actually did a good job of finishing second and keeping his GC hopes alive. The late roundabout and fierce sprint caused a gap in the bunch and a lot of riders lost 5 seconds or more. This makes it look even more like a Kittel/Cavendish battle for stages and GC.
Stage 2 offers Cavendish the chance of redemption. Dimension Data need to come up with a better plan than simply putting him on Kittel’s wheel. Hitting the front, inside the final 500m is going to be hard, but they must try it. Given the length of Trek’s lead-out, they should try and jump on the end of it. This is common place in sprinting, using another team when you are short of bodies. Once inside the final kilometre, you then jump yourself and hit the front. Trentin was very strong, riding at number 3. It will take some effort to get past him.
With gusts up to 35km/h, this stage is not going to be easy. The advice for Dimension Data, will be to make the race hard and try to create some echelons, as we head back to Dubai. As I have already mentioned, Cavendish, Renshaw and Eisel are brilliant in these conditions. I’ll go against the grain and predict a Cavendish victory.
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