By David Hunter
Marin – Mirador de Ézaro 176.4km
The peloton head north up the Galician coast. It’s an easy day in the saddle, but with a brutal finish.
To say the finish is cat 3 is almost an insult! I remember this finish well, Purito won here in 2012. That day, only Contador could stay anywhere near him. The rest were easily distanced. It took Rodriguez over 4:35 to climb the final kilometre. That’s how tough it is! Watch out for the slopes of 23%.
The climb is 1.8km at 13.8%. It has a little flat section with 1km to go, before really kicking up in the final kilometre. Back in 2012, the stage was totally flat until the final climb. This time, the organisers have made the final 60km more demanding. We have a cat 3 climb, 8.3km at 5.3%, followed by a cat 2 climb, 9.3km at 5.4%.
The red jersey is on the shoulders of Michal Kwiatkowski. Serious contenders within touching distance are:- Alejandro Valverde, Chris Froome, Pete Kennaugh, Nairo Quintana, Dani Moreno, Philippe Gilbert, Esteban Chaves, Simon Yates, Sami Sanchez, Darwin Atapuma and Gianluca Brambilla.
This makes it an incredibly tactical finish. With so many riders close to red, including multiple riders from some teams, we could see teams attacking early on the climb. In the Vuelta, early stages like this see the main riders mark each other, allowing a “lesser” rider to escape and take the stage. There is every chance of that happening here.
Sky have Pete Kennaugh, Movistar have Dani Moreno, Orica have Simon Yates and BMC have Darwin Atapuma. These riders should be allowed some freedom from their teams to chase a stage win and the red jersey. Allowing them to attack will force other teams into working, particularly Tinkoff, after a poor TTT.
The severity of the climb will make it very hard for these riders. The penultimate climb, will take some speed out of their legs, leaving them short of energy on the final slope. Riders like Kwiatkowski, Stybar and Gilbert will find this hill a bit too tough. At just under 2km, it is short, but I think the final kilometre is more suited to an explosive climber. Of these three, Kwiatkowski, has the best chance of surviving. In 2012, Gilbert finished 57 seconds down, and that was the year he won everything.
Alejandro Valverde – now that Purito is gone, Valverde will be looking forward to these finishes. He lacked the kick of his countryman, but is also really strong when the gradient rises. He won Fleche Wallonne again this year, the Mur de Huy is fairly similar to this finish.
Esteban Chaves – won a similar stage in 2015. Back then he was the lesser rider that was granted some freedom. This year, he’ll find himself closely marked by the other GC favourites. It doesn’t mean he won’t win, it’s just going to be harder.
Dani Moreno – loves the steep stuff. Now with Movistar, he might not be allowed to attack, but this is a great chance for him to add to his previous three stage wins. Now 34 years old, he won’t have many more opportunities.
Simon Yates – the young Bury climber is in great form. After serving his doping ban, he won Ordizia, was 2nd in Getxo, 4th in Burgos and 7th in San Sebastian. With all eyes on Chaves, this could be his chance to take a big win. He has the necessary kick to get away from the chasing bunch.
Alberto Contador – 2nd back in 2012, but he was in fine form then. Yes, he did win Burgos, but he still looks a bit from his very best. After losing ground in the TTT, he does need to attack at every opportunity. If he sense that Froome is on a bad day, he will gun all guns blazing. Still going to be hard for him to win this stage.
Chris Froome – what Froome will turn up? He was 5th in 2012, a massive 23 seconds behind Purito. Most think he doesn’t like the really steep stuff, but I don’t buy this. He was 2nd on the Mur de Huy back in the 2015 Tour de France. Considering his recent exploits, it would be a surprise to see him winning this stage.
Miguel Angel Lopez – like Contador, he needs to make time up after the TTT. Another rider that copes well with steep inclines, the little Colombian is young enough to be allowed some freedom by the main riders. That would give him a great chance of taking an early win in this race.
Last year, there was a young kid from Bury who finished 8th on the Mur de Huy stage of the Tour de France. I think the winner of this stage will not be one of the main GC riders, so I’m going for Simon Yates.
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