By David Hunter
Mataro – Olot 178.7km
Like stage 1, this is very similar to the stage from last year, but not exactly the same.
Last year, the peloton only had to deal with two cat 3 climbs, the organisers have decided to make it a more demanding day in the saddle.
Coming 70km from the finish is Alt de Els Angels, 10km at 3.8%, with a maximum of 9%. It’s a long climb, with a challenging first half. A flat section follows before the easier section. Once over that, one more challenge awaits.
The climb to Olot is not categorised, but it’s a grind. Due to poor weather, we hardly got any TV footage from this stage in 2015. It’s a real shame as the area around Olot is beautiful. Hopefully this year will be better. We did get to see Alejandro Valverde taking a sprint victory, from a bunch of 100 riders. It proved to be too hard for the sprinters, thanks to the pace set by Movistar. Expect this job to be done by Orica, they need to get rid of Bouhanni.
As you can see the closing 3km is tough. The scale does make it look harder than it really is, but it will be too hard for some of the quick men. The last 500m is downhill, allowing riders to pick up some pace before the finish.
The little loop before the flamme rouge is a bit tricky, but this is quite an easy finish. It does cry out for a team to take control and line out the bunch. This will keep the GC riders happy, as it will ensure a safe finish.
Just like on stage 1, the outcome of this stage depends on Cofidis and Bouhanni. They were very cute today, only appearing in the last couple of kilometres. Team Sky are always willing to control breaks, the French boys let them do what they’re good at. As Team Sky have Ben Swift, they will continue to ride hard to support Froome, doing this is also excellent for Swift. He was quick today, but really needs to lose Bouhanni.
Bouhanni was impressive today, fuelled by his bad luck in Milan-Sanremo. Looking back, if he didn’t have a mechanical he looked like winning the race. He came to Catalunya to put it behind him and he’s done that. There are two more opportunities to take stage wins, he’ll want them.
The tactics of Orica were interesting. As a reward for all his hard work, Daryl Impey, was given the chance to sprint. His 3rd place was about as good as he could do, against Bouhanni and Swift. If Orica want to win a stage, Simon Gerrans, has to be their man. With the Ardennes fast approaching, Gerro will expect to sprint in anger at some point. The uphill kick in the closing kilometres is perfect for Orica. Positioning is going to be important, if Bouhanni is too far back with 3km remaining, it will be difficult for him to make up the ground.
The amount of late attacks was worrying today. The climb to Olot, tops out with 2km remaining, this is a great day for late attackers. Cofidis didn’t seem keen to chase down any attacks, as Bouhanni took a dominant win, the other teams will not help them. That is great news for the attackers, this is a stage that represents a chance of striking it lucky.
For late attackers, look to teams that lack a sprinter, but contain strongmen. I’m thinking of Vakoc, Alaphilippe, Hermans, Howes, Warbasse and Prades.
Positioning on the final climb is crucial. Given their squad, Team Sky, will control the peloton in the closing kilometres. This will put Ben Swift into a great position. I’m banking on Bouhanni losing a bit of ground and I will pick Ben Swift as my winner. Never thought I’d say that again!
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