By David Hunter
Andorra – Cortals d’Encamp 138km
The most eagerly anticipated stage of 2015. Ever since the organisers announced the route, cycling fans have been looking forward to his stage. They have Joaquim Rodriguez to blame! This is the same route as his sportive. I pity the poor cyclists that signed up for that race.
Just 138km of racing but we have 5km of ascending. That is simply ridiculous! 1 cat 2 climb, 4 cat 1 climbs and 1 especial climb. This, my friend, is going to be some day. Or is it?
By packing so many climbs into the day, the organisers run the risk of stopping an attacking race. There is no point lifting the pace from the start, you need teammates for the rest of the day. This is not the Giro or Tour, most teams are a little weaker and contain younger riders. I don’t see any serious action until the Gallina. Here are the climbs:-
The climb is actually 6.2km at 8.3%, with a maximum of 18.2%. Despite the picture, the beginning of the climb is the hardest, with sections way over 10%. After a rest day, this is not the start the riders wanted.
The D’Ordino is 9.7km at 6.8% and isn’t too hard. It doesn’t have many sections over 10% and should be a straightforward climb for the bunch.
Next up is the Rabassa, 13.4km at 6.6%. This is a long climb. The first half is hard, with many sections around 8/9%.
This is where the race will really start. The Gallina is 12km at 8%, with a maximum of 21.7%. It’s the first especial climb of the race and this is the point where teams will try to blow the peloton apart.
After a little cat 2 lump, 4.4km at 7.8%, it’s time for the big finish.
Encamp is 8.5km at 8.4%, with a maximum of 21.6%. After such a demanding day, this is a really horrible finish. The start is really difficult, 4km at over 9%, before a slightly easier finish.
It makes 55km of climbing at 8%. What a day.
So what’s going to happen!
It’s a great day for the break. Not only do we have plenty of climbs, but the weather is going to be horrible and the descents technical. The forecast is for rain and a relatively cool temperature. After a beautiful start to the race, riders are at risk of picking up an illness, thanks to the sudden change in conditions.
Giant-Alpecin are the race leaders, but lack climbers. Only Lawson Craddock is capable of staying with Tom Dumoulin, so they’ll be hoping to see the break disappear. A break, with most teams represented, would be welcomed. However, some of the other teams might just sense an opportunity and place a GC threat amongst the breakers. That would be until they look at the GC! With Henao crashing and losing time, Sky lost their wildcard. After such hard week, only 22 riders are within 7 minutes of the leader. This presents us with a unique situation, only 22 riders are considered dangerous.
In terms of team representation, take a little look!
Sky – Roche, Froome, Nieve.
Europcar – Sicard, Jeandesboz.
Cofidis – Navarro, Rossetto.
Movistar – Valverde, Quintana.
Katusha – Rodriguez, Moreno.
All other teams only have 1 representative, in the top 22. I would not be surprised to see Europcar or Cofidis, try to get one of their riders in the break. They know the break has a great chance, and as their riders are not perceived as a big threat, they might just be allowed a big lead. That would see them move well up the GC and into a top 10 position. This is the worry for the break. They won’t want to see Navarro or Sicard make the morning move.
To make the initial break, you have to be a top climber. Omar Fraile, will certainly be trying. He is the current KOM holder and this day is vital. With so many points available, he needs to have good legs. Expect Caja Rural to send a few in the break to help. They don’t have a GC threat, Arroyo is 10:27 down. They will go for the break and hope to help Fraile and also try for the stage win. They have quality climbers in Bilbao, Txurruka and Goncalves. The big man from Portugal, seems capable of doing everything. He has amazing form and would be a huge threat, if in the break.
Other contenders for the break, will certainly seem familiar:- LL Sanchez, De Marchi, Atapuma, Bagot, Torres, Cattaneo, Durasek, Coppel, Van den Broeck, Berhane, Cummings, Van Zyl, Meyer, Talansky, Howes, Rolland, Cousin, Bennett, Schleck and Zoidl.
It’s going to be impossible, for a non-climber, to win this stage. Some teams will want to keep all their riders back, to help their GC star, but others are free to attack.
In terms of the GC battle, there are many questions. Froome bounced back on Sunday, Quintana hasn’t shone, Valverde crashed, Roche crashed, Chaves lost ground, Aru Rodriguez and Majka remain solid, Dumoulin continues to astonish and Pozzovivo looked a little off the pace.
Certainly, we have seen a few riders remain relatively consistent, without looking great. Quintana will have been waiting to peak for this week, but he has never tried to do the Tour/Vuelta double before. It’s a massive ask, for a young rider. There really is no guarantee, how his body will react with this stage and week. Rodriguez, Aru and Majka have been nice and steady. Rodriguez is a local and designed the stage, he must have a big chance of distancing the others. Although, a certain Chris Froome is looming large. Was Sunday a sign of strength? It sure was! That being said, we cannot be certain of his condition. So many questions, not enough answers!
The weather will also play it’s part. Descending in the wet is not everyone’s cup of tea. Valverde and Rodriguez will be confident, but Froome and Pozzovivo will be a little nervous. The Italian will not be looking forward to a wet descent, so close to his horror crash. Froome has improved a lot and should be okay, especially with Roche to help. The Irishman is a seriously good descender. Sky have the numbers advantage, with 3 riders in the top 11. They should be the most attacking team and look for Roche to attack. It will be up to Movistar to chase, with 2 riders in the top 7. The tactical battle should be fascinating.
Valverde has been making noises since his crash. He hurt his collarbone, and is a little worried about how his body will react. He would normally go well on a stage like this, considering the amount of descending. With 2 threatening riders, they will look to attack Dumoulin, Rodriguez and Chaves.
Today is the day, where Dumoulin will be under threat. He’s likely to be without teammates from the Gallina. That means we should get plenty of attacks, on the climbs and descents. His weakness will be exploited and I think he will lose the red jersey. Sky and Movistar will not miss the opportunity. If they smell blood. I fear for the big Dutchman.
The break will make it. Surely a day for Jose Goncalves. How will the GC battle pan out? I would expect to see Froome battle against Quintana, Rodriguez and Aru. Quintana usually goes well in poor conditions.
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