By David Hunter
Calella – Calella 180km
The race begins with another stage in Calella, but this is harder than previous years.
The organisers have placed a new cat 1 climb, at the foot of the usual cat 1 climb. This makes it a very demanding hill to get over.
The opening 2km, makes it tough for the sprinters. The climb then returns to the usual road the riders face, with 8km at 5%. Bouhanni made it over that climb in 2016, but with 4.3km at 6.9% now before it, I doubt a sprinter will be able to cope.
Those that have watched this stage in previous years know this finish well. It is nice and easy, but does have a gentle kick in the closing 200m. Nacer Bouhanni took the win here in 2016, with Paterski winning from the break in 2015.
The road heading towards the finish isn’t technical. If my memory is correct, it’s a wide two lane road, making it easy for the teams as we try to organise a sprint.
Alejandro Valverde – winning stages sprinting from a small group is his speciality. He has a full team dedicated to helping him win stages and possibly challenging for GC. Expect to see Movistar take control of the peloton and help to drop the sprinters on the climbs. Once into Calella, Valverde will be helped by JJ Rojas, a fast sprinter in his own right.
Daryl Impey – the South African rarely gets the chance to ride for himself, he is usually used in the service of others. However, looking at their squad for this race, Impey should have freedom in this stage. He is a very good climber and will hope to get over the big climbs of the day. If he does, Impey has a terrific chance of winning the stage.
Eduard Prades – the Spanish rider would dearly love to hang on over the climbs. He is a relatively good climber, but it does seem a little long for him.
Julien Simon – the Cofidis rider is usually now seen working for Nacer Bouhanni. If the sprinter is dropped on the climbs, Simon will step up as their leader. The Frenchman does pack a fast sprint and has a good chance of challenging for the podium.
Sean De Bie – the Lotto rider is usually seen racing in Belgium, but he is developing into a lead out man. He has been spotted as Greipel’s final man in recent races and has an underrated sprint himself. The climb is quite long for him, it will be hard for him to make the finish.
Enrico Gasparotto – the Italian arrives looking to build his form for the Ardennes. After a quiet Paris-Nice, he should be ready to be more competitve here. He has a very fast finish and should be able to survive the climbs. Bahrain-Merida have had a good start to the season and the team will be full of confidence. Gasparotto is capable of a top 5 finish.
Nathan Haas – he’s already done well in his first home race of 2017, can he repeat that success in his second home race? Girona is a base for many of the pros, it’s always nice to race on roads that you know. Haas has a very fast sprint and starts the stage as one of the big favourites.
Jay McCarthy – the young Aussie has just spent a week training in Andorra, trying to get ready for this race. Like Haas, he packs a very fast sprint. We will have to see how his body reacts to the altitude training.
Lead out is key. Going into final kilometre, it is important to be in the front 5 wheels. As a lot of these riders have an equal sprint, starting too far back will stop riders from winning the stage. Looking at those mentioned, I think we’ll see Nathan Haas continue his strong start to 2017.
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