By David Hunter
The opening two thirds of the season is officially over and now we start the final third. The riders are about to enter a crucial period, in terms of preparation for the Vuelta and the World Championships. First stop is Poland. Last year, Pieter Weening took a great win, thanks to a superb, final day TT performance. He returns to try and defend his jersey. Let’s take a look at the stages.
Stage 1 is a long affair, at 226km, but it’s an easy day in the saddle and should be a sprint.
The final 3 stages will settle the GC, so it is possible for riders to use the opening 4 stages to help them ride into form. This is particularly important for those riders returning from a break, or coming down from altitude training. The Queen stage(stage 5) is not the most difficult climb you’ll see and would probably only being a cat 2 climb, in a grand tour. This means the race is more suited to TT specialists, that can climb a bit. The presence of bonus seconds at the end and during the stages, will help those who have a fast finish. These bonus seconds could be crucial in deciding the overall result.
Looking at overall contenders, I’ll start with the TT specialists:-
Adrian Malori – Easily the best TT rider in the race, but not the best on the climbs. I think he’ll struggle on stages 5 and 6.
Bob Jungels – Can TT and climb, but recently had a training crash and removed a lot of skin. His performance in stages 1-4 will indicate his form. He has the ability to hang in on the climbs.
These two riders are the only TT specialists in the race, the rest of the riders are climbers who can do a good TT. There are many of these riders!
Riblon, Aru, Brajkovic, Gesink, Sanchez, Hesjedal, Chernetckii, Niemiec, Monfort, Amador, Intxausti, Ion Izagirre, De Gendt, Poels, Meyer, Cataldo, Ludvigsson and Majka.
This is a massive list of potential contenders, the opening stages will give a clearer picture of who’s in form. Movistar have the strongest team here and this will be very important on stages 5 and 6. They have Amador, Capecchi, Intxausti, Ion Izagirre, Gorka Izagirre, Lobato, Malori and Szmyd. They should control the difficult stages and with multiple cards to play, they are in the best position of all the teams.
Rafal Majka is clearly in amazing form, fresh from 2 stages and the polka dot jersey. He’s Polish and would love to win his home race but the TT is not great for him and the climbs not hard enough. He’ll struggle to put serious time into his opponents and there must be questions about how long his form will last.
Looking at my long list of contenders, there a few names that appeal to me.
Sergi Chernetckii is a strong climber and solid TT rider. He’ll be the leader of the Katusha squad and is capable of a very strong performance.
Dario Cataldo can give Team Sky something to be happy with, for a change! Another strong TT rider, who will cope with the hilly days.
Wout Poels has been excellent this season. He returned to racing in Wallonie, but looked a little off his best. With 5 stages under his belt, he should be hitting better form in this race. He can climb and is capable of a good TT performance.
Defending champion, Pieter Weening, will be hard to beat. He produced his best ever TT in 2013 and could win the race again, with a similar performance. If he falters, they will look to Cam Meyer, but he always seems to fall short in big races.
And what of Thomas De Gendt, he can be brilliant and rubbish in equal doses! No one can predict what he’ll deliver, not even him.
The TT will be all important, but you also need to hang tough on the climbs. I think it’s going to be super close! Wout Poels for me, but Cataldo will be close.
Follow us in facebook https://www.facebook.com/CiclismoInternacionalLatinoamerica?fref=ts … or Twitter @CiclismoInter