By David Hunter
San Luis – Villa Mercedes 181.9km
It’s the longest stage of the race and the standard finish in Villa Mercedes. A nailed on sprint, one for the fast men.
The final corner is with 1.3km remaining, then we have a huge finishing straight. Having a good lead-out is essential and in reality, only a handful of riders can win.
San Luis is known for it’s mountainous route, that means most sprinters stay at home. The ones that do make the journey know they must seize their opportunity.
The overwhelming favourite is Fernando Gaviria. He won two stages here in 2015, ensuring a big contract with Etixx. Now riding for the Belgians, he arrives with a squad totally focused on the sprints. He can count upon the help of Contreras, Wisniowski, Sabatini and Max Richeze. That is a formidable lead-out train, in a race like this. I would expect to see Stijn Vandenbergh on the front of the peloton for most of the day. The big man won’t need much help to bring back a small group riders from the local teams. It will act as great work for him as he gets ready for the Classics. Big Stijn has been known to ride huge distances behind a moto, this will just be like a training ride for him.
Etixx signed Richeze to work very closely with their young Colombian. The Argentine is riding in his home race and will be keen to perform well. He was instrumental in many wins for Sacha Modolo, over the last two years. He is one of the best number 2s in the business and a great signing for Etixx.
Sabatini and Wisniowski rode a lot together in 2015. Both men are quick and get on well together. Put them in front of Richeze and we have a lead-out that no other team can match, in San Luis. This sprint will be all about Etixx.
The “biggest” sprinter here is Elia Viviani. He rides for the Italian national team, a group of under 23s, Pozzato and himself. They do have Jakub Mareczko, a very talented young sprinter from Southeast. I expect Viviani to be sprinting, with the youngster in number 2. Pippo should be on number 3 duty. This is a fairly strong looking outfit and Viviani is usually in good form, at this time of the year. The Italian is one of the fastest sprinters in the world and will not want to lose to a young man like Gaviria.
A certain, Peter Sagan, might be miffed that I think Elia Viviani is a bigger sprinter than him! The World Champion certainly had a brilliant season in 2015, really stepping up his sprinting speed. He didn’t win many sprints, but he proved in the TDF to be able to compete against Greipel and Cavendish, although he failed to win a stage. Talk of the curse of the rainbow jersey is well known and Sagan will want to put any fears to bed, early in the season. He will be supported by Nikolay Trusov and Maciej Bodnar. After a Winter full of fun, we will have to see if Sagan will still be dreaming of Summer Nights, or will he move like Greased Lightning?
Fighting it out for a space on the podium will be:-
Mauro Richeze – San Luis Somos Todos
Francesco Chicchi – Androni
Marco Canola – UHC
Grega Bole – Nippo Vini Fantini
Roberto Ferrari/Davide Cimolai – Lampre
Yannick Martinez/Leo Duque – Delko Marseile
Boris Vallee – Fortuneo Vital Concept
Kyle Murphy – Team Jamis
Should be a straight fight between Gaviria, Viviani and Sagan. I will take the Colombian to start the year in fine form.
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