By David Hunter
Cascina – Arezzo 203km
We return to Arezzo after a successful addition to the race in 2014. Last year, Peter Sagan took a well deserved win and he goes into this stage desperate to repeat it.
Sagan was 2nd today. It’s his third, 2nd place finish of 2015 and he still hasn’t taken a win. This stage is custom made for him and if he doesn’t win here, serious questions will be asked.
The finish is extremely technical.
The roads are tight and narrow and with so many turns inside the final 4km, positioning is everything. With 1.4km to go, we have a 90 degree, right hand turn. This is the critical point of the race, be too far back and the day is over. With 800m they turn right and enter the climb. The peloton go under a narrow archway and immediately are faced with 11%. Due to the width of the road, it’s single file from here. They climb is on pave but it’s fairly smooth and not an issue.
In 2014, Gilbert attacked first but Sagan waited until the final 200m before launching his sprint. He got his tactics spot on and, as usual, was positioned perfectly.
The finish means you must be good at holding position and having a good team to line the bunch out is also very important. If you are on a weaker team, like Sagan in 2014, you need to be a brilliant bike handler.
Not much can be taken from today’s messy sprint, but I did notice an excellent lead-out by Lotto. Ligthart did a brilliant job, delivering Debusschere at the right time. MTN also rode well, leading the bunch for a number of kilometres but they didn’t deliver the win. Etixx looked short of numbers, with only Stybar and Renshaw helping Cavendish.
This finish is not a normal sprint but leading the bunch with 1km to go is essential. That means MTN have a chance of success. They should be riding for EBH as the finish suits him well. It’s a good chance for him to take his first win for his new team.
As mentioned, Sagan is the well deserved favourite. Even if his team can’t position him, he can do the job himself. My only concern, is his lack of power in Strade Bianche. This doesn’t seem like the usual Peter Sagan. Looking at pictures of him, he appears much heavier than usual. Most of it does look like muscle but I can’t help but thinking he is not quite at the level of fitness required. However, you can never rule out Sagan, particularly in a stage like this.
The top two from Strade Bianche are stand out contenders here. Both Van Avermaet and Stybar will be excited about this stage. I don’t think it’s steep enough for Stybar but it looks very good for GVA. His team aren’t super fast though, so he might find it hard to get positioned well.
Pim Ligthart looked strong today, playing a huge part in the win. He finished 4th in the final stage of Ruta del Sol, which featured a short, steep climb. He’s already won 2 races this season and is clearly in good form. He has to be a dark horse for this stage.
Sep Vanmarcke is another I like for this finish. He packs a fierce sprint and as displayed already this year, has great legs. Being so close to his target races, he normally takes it fairly easy in Tirreno but if he gets interested, he could take the win.
Other riders who stand a chance are: Haas, Cort, Pozzato and Nocentini. Of these, Cort has the best chance to be in the right place, inside the final 2km. He loves a hard sprint and showed today that he has good legs.
I can’t see past Sagan. I would love to see Vanmarcke really going for it though!
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