By David Hunter
Camaiore – Pomarance 205km
After the fun of the TTT, it’s time for the real racing to start. There is no messing around in Italy, we start with a tough stage.
The riders will look towards the finishing climb and wonder what it’s going to be like. In fact, from the 140km mark, the road is constantly rising and falling. This is a demanding end to the first proper stage.
As you can see, the climb is steep, with 500m at 7.4% and 500m at 9.6%. That will really string out the bunch and the 18% section presents a great opportunity to attack. A short descent follows, before kicking up at 4% for 500m. Then it’s back descending before the final 8% ramp for 200m. This is the type of racing that I love!
The end of the stage is something of a circuit. They enter from the south, before joining the circuit with under 2km to go, but instead of turning left for the finish at 200m remaining, they turn right and head round town. Due to the nature of the final 3km, any group that breaks away on the final climb, has a serious chance of making it to the end.
We do have three of the best puncheurs in the world here: Sagan, Van Avermaet and Boasson Hagen. Even for great riders like them, this finish is on the limit. If the attacks go on the 18% section, they will want other riders to cover the moves. If it comes back together for a 250m sprint, up an 8% ramp, they will all fancy their chances of success. Can anyone stop them?
There are a few riders who will back themselves in this situation. Looking good are Sonny Colbrelli, Jose Goncalves, Pello Bilbao, Simon Clarke, Zdenek Stybar, Diego Ulissi, Tiesj Benoot, Michal Kwiatkowski, Alejandro Valverde and Fabian Cancellara. We really are spoilt here, the start list is very impressive.
The riders all mentioned can cope with the climb and have a fast uphill sprint. This stage really does appeal to so many riders. One problem is the width of the roads. On the climb, the bunch will barely be 5 riders wide. Positioning into the climb is going to be important.
BMC have the race leader, Daniel Oss, but they won’t be obsessed with keeping it. Oss can easily handle a stage like this and should finish in the bunch, bonus seconds will be a problem. The Etixx boys sit just 2 seconds behind him and they have Tony Martin, Fernando Gaviria, Bob Jungels, Zdenek Stybar and Matteo Trentin. Any one of these riders could potentially strike.
Gaviria really is a talent. He can handle the climbs, but this stage will really test him. It would be a surprise if he remained with the bunch, although, I wouldn’t write him off just yet. If not him, Trentin really should be looking towards this stage. He can handle the short climbs and packs a very fast sprint. He could challenge Sagan and co for the win.
The form of Cancellara makes him one of the favourites. His win in Strade was hugely impressive and he won’t be chased down by the GC favourites. As ever, he will be closely marked by the other riders but he might just back himself for the sprint. When a stage is over 200km, Cancellara can sprint with the best.
As soon as I looked at the stage, one rider popped into my head…Tiesj Benoot! This really is a great stage for him, just a shame that we have so many wonderful riders. He’s not quite managed to take his first pro win, but it’s only a matter of time. If he is to win this stage, he can’t wait for a sprint. Benoot needs to attack on the final climb and try to go solo, or take a small group with him. If that group contains some of the quick men, he’ll have to take his chance in the sprint.
If Kwiatkowski is fit, he is another with a huge chance. Given his performance in Strade and Sky’s poor TTT, I have my doubts about him.
I think a late attack will stick and a small group will sprint it out for the win. Given his recent form, Fabian Cancellara will again be my pick.
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