By David Hunter
Tona – La Molina 188.4km
The Queen stage is here and I think Europcar are in for a hell of a lot of work! Tinkoff-Saxo really turned up today and put the whole field under pressure. A combination of poor climbing and bad crashes allowed them to distance most of the GC riders, but Uran, Pozzovivo, Porte, Aru, Dan Martin and Talanksy loom large.
The stage is very difficult, with 3 cat 1 climbs and an especial climb too. The climbs are:-
Alt de Bracons – 10.5km at 4.9%, with a max of 12%.
Alt de Coubet – 10km at 5.5%, with a max of 10%.
Alt de la Creueta – 21km at 4.5%, with a max of 9%.
La Molina – 5.6km at 5.8%.
Although most of the stage is similar to 2014, this year it’s harder. We have an extra cat 1 climb and the especial climb is much closer to the end of the stage. This is very important for the GC riders.
Tinkoff-Saxo were brilliant today. I mentioned how strong their squad is and they took full advantage. Expect a repeat performance tomorrow. On the huge climb, Alt de la Creueta, they will take to the front and empty the tank. The riders are climbing to almost 2000 metres, thankfully the weather forecast is good but it will be cold at the top.
Today showed that Froome isn’t fully recovered but I was really disappointed with their “star domestiques”. Very poor performances from Konig, Poels and Roche. They really need to do better. Richie Porte is a more than able deputy and he will give it his all. The form he’s in, Contador shouldn’t underestimate him.
Form should be taken from today, but also remember the crash caused a few to lose ground. Riders like Van Den Broeck, Kelderman and Valls shouldn’t be written off. However, the riders who finished in front today, will fancy their chances.
Valverde was clearly unlucky today. This stage is perfect for him as the final climb isn’t too hard and ends with an uphill sprint. The climb actually levels out, with around 2.5km to go and we got a flat approach to the final kilometre. This is perfect territory for Valverde.
Another rider it really suits is Dan Martin. He also possesses a strong uphill sprint and should be aiming for the win. A former winner of this race, he has a good chance to win it again.
Despite Tinkoff riding for Contador, he’ll find it hard to win the stage but not impossible. He’ll need a massive kick to distance the others but if anyone is capable of this, it’s certainly him.
I fear for Pierre Roland and co. He was distanced today, on the climb, and I think we’ll see him lose contact way before the end. This race is up for grabs and with a difficult stage to finish the race, it’s a long way from over. Contador needs some bonus seconds!
What about the chances of the break? The profile is certainly good and they have a fair chance. A lot will depend upon the tactics of Tinkoff, Sky and Movistar. If they distance Rolland, and I think they will, the bonus seconds are important to split everyone. The finish isn’t great for Contador, so he would actually prefer it if the break won. That being said, Alberto will fancy his chances too. The chances of a break are probably 35/65 in favour of the bunch. Movistar are most in need of bonus seconds, after losing ground today.
Contenders to get in the break are De Gendt, Mas Bonet, Molard, Cattaneo, Polanc, Meyer, Betancur(I know!), Cardoso and Szmyd. I particularly like the look of Szmyd, who worked hard for Paterski on stage 2. He was in great form in Andalucia and this stage is good for him.
I said before the race started, that Valverde would love this stage and I haven’t chanced my mind. A win for Alejandro Valverde.
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