By David Hunter
Alp – Valls 195.4km
For the third consecutive year, the race finishes in Valls. The stage is mostly downhill and very, very fast. To make it interesting, we have a cat 2 climb, cresting 10.1km from the finish. This climb is 4,1km at 4.8%. The majority of it is on a long, straight road before it starts to have a couple of wide switchbacks. at the summit. It’s not easy but it’s a big chainring climb, so GC riders shouldn’t be getting dropped.
It’s a climb that’s very hard to escape on, as you are in sight of the peloton for most of the climb. The descent is very quick, on a three lane road.
Once in Valls, it gets technical. A few roundabouts, narrow roads and corners. It’s a finish that suits a strong team, as they can position their rider at the front. Luca Mezgec won in 2014 and Simon Gerrans in 2013. It’s a very dangerous finish for the GC riders. In both previous finishes there has been time gaps. You have to be in the top 20 riders!
Dan Martin knows this finish very well. He was 13th in both 2013 and 2014. His team might just sniff the chance of some bonus seconds, you just never know.
Alberto Contador has previous here too, finishing a very impressive 6th in 2014. Tinkoff-Saxo are great at the end of stages like this. They will take to the front, set a fierce pace and let Contador battle it out for a place on the podium.
This makes it hard for the sprinters. With the GC teams bossing the closing stages, it’s difficult for them to get in position and they’ll lack helpers. That’s the reason we could get a surprise win.
What about Lotto Soudal? Bart De Clercq was brilliant today and now has the race lead. Crashes have robbed them of De Gendt and Vervaeke, so they only have 5 workers. They need to keep VDB for the climb, so help is required! Tinkoff, Sky, Garmin-Cannondale will have to help out, if they want to have some fun later in the race. If the others leave it to Lotto, the break has a good chance of taking the stage.
Luca Mezgec is feeling better, with every stage, but I’m not confident he’ll be strong enough for this stage. To win this you need to be 100%.
I think teams will help Lotto and they break will be restricted. The climb isn’t hard enough for a big selection to be made and is often very windy, deterring attacks. I see this finishing as a reduced bunch sprint, just like in 2013 and 2014. The finish is difficult with many corners and an uphill sprint. This is not an easy stage to win. Riders like Alaphilippe, Tiralongo, Gasparotto, Ewan, Coquard, Barbero, Silvestre, Simon, Rojas and Hivert will all fancy their chances.
A strong lead out is vital, so teams like Etixx and Astana are at an advantage.
Lotto will get the help required and we’ll get a small sprint. I think, Julian Alaphilippe, will go one better than last year and take out the win. Expect some time gaps, with Dan Martin making a couple of seconds.
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