By David Hunter
Apples – Saint Imier 166.1km
Stage 2 is certainly the hardest of the medium mountain stages. We have 3 cat 2 climbs and 1 cat 3 climb. They are:- 11.5km at 4.8%, 3.8km at 8.1%, 4km at 8.6% and 8km at 6.7%.
This is a very difficult day of climbing. At least we don’t have too much rain forecast! The wind is a cross/headwind which decreases the chances of a breakaway success and increases the chances of a bunch finish. However, the size of the bunch is up for debate. The first two climbs are too far out to cause any problems, but the penultimate climb will be covered quickly, softening the legs.
The final climb crests with 15km left and this spells disaster for non-climbers. Despite being cat 2, it’s long and demanding and will spell the end for the sprinters. In fact, it could also see the end of the rolleurs. With a reduced bunch, controlling the descent will be hard. Chris Froome is not known for his descending skills, so Team Sky will set a fierce pace on the climb and look to dictate tempo on the descent.
Michael Albasini is the big favourite for this stage but, will this climb will be difficult for him too? Other riders with a fast finish are: Julian Alaphilippe, Sergi Chernetckii, Arthur Vichot, Ilnur Zakarin, Simon Gerrans, Jan Bakelants, Rui Costa, Diego Ulissi and Nathan Haas. It’s doubtful that all these riders will make it to the finish. Simply put, there is a lack of fast finishers!
The current overall leader is Geraint Thomas. Team Sky will want him to keep the jersey but Orica are close. A podium finish would move Albasini or Gerrans into the overall lead. It presents Team Sky with an interesting situation, but due to the GC battle, they’ll keep the break under control. Their only chance of keeping the jersey is to drop Albasini and Gerrans on the final climb. It’s long enough and steep enough to be on the limit for most non-climbers.
Despite only being stage 2, expect some GC riders to try and attack. That’s why Team Sky will keep the mountain train going. They have to deter attacks, especially on the descent. The good news for Froome, is the rain should stay away. This makes the closing 15km much easier than it could have been.
The descent is made for a Nibali attack, but with a few teams wanting a sprint, we should get one. But how many riders will be present?
If we get a bunch of 80, it should be between Albasini, Alaphilippe and Ulissi. However, if we only have a bunch of 30, it would be between Rui Costa, Zakarin and Bardet.
Since coming back from his suspension, Diego Ulissi has slowly been building form. He was part of the LBL break, getting some extra kilometres in the legs. In previous years, he would have been favourite for this type of stage. He needs a performance to convince Lampre that he’s ready for the Giro.
Sky hold the race together and we get a sprint with around 50 riders. That means Albasini v Alaphilippe v Ulissi. It’s time for Diego Ulissi to return to the top table.
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