Al Sifah > Muscat Royal Opera 119.3km
This stage has been used many times in the past, it used to finish outside the Ministry of Tourism. The organisers have tinkered with the number of climbs the riders have to do, but recently have settled with three ascents in the closing stages. If you’ve never seen it before, the bunch go up a highway, back down the same bit of road, and then back up the same bit of road. It might not sound exciting, but we usually get good racing in this stage.
Another roasting hot day with temperatures getting close to 30 degrees. The wind will be close to 20km/h and it will be a headwind for the final climb and much of the run for home.
The first time up is 3.2km at 7.3%. This side is climbed twice, the final ascent crests with 16km to go.
This is the middle climb, it is 3.6km at 8.6% and is the harder side of the hill. It might only be done once, but this is where the damage can be done.
Since cutting it down to three climbs, this stage has always ended in a reduced sprint. That’s four different years and the same outcome each time. Usually, the bunch is around 40 riders, but one year it was down to just about 20. Boasson Hagen, Kristoff, Cort and Colbrelli are the last four winners, that tells you everything you need to know about the type of rider this stage suits.
The problem this year is that we don’t have many climbing sprinters at the race, they seem to have skipped this race and stayed in Europe. Also, most teams don’t have the full complement of riders, controlling this stage isn’t going to be easy. Uno-X are in control of the race, but they only have three riders left, one of them is the race leader. This is a nightmare situation, Charmig is going to come under pressure in this stage, especially as QuickStep, UAE and Wanty have two riders high on GC.
I would expect to see the big teams attack on the penultimate climb, this is when Charmig will have to make some big calls. It’s impossible for him to cover all the moves, he needs to play it clever and hope that other teams will work, and cover moves. Hopefully for him, one of the sprint teams will look to control the attacks and set up a sprint finish, the headwind on the final climb will help.
UAE – it’s going to be interesting to see how they approach this stage. They have Fernando Gaviria, Ryan Gibbons and Rui Costa as their options. Gaviria isn’t a bad climber, if he’s on a good day he could make it over the climbs. Then they have Gibbons, he’s got a very fast finish, and will certainly make it over the climbs. In the shadows is Rui Costa, if there’s a chance to put Charmig under pressure, he’ll take it. UAE look to be in a perfect position, they start as the big favourite to win the stage.
Kaden Groves – the Aussie copes well with climbs. After finishing 3rd and 2nd in the two sprints, he’ll see this as a huge chance to take a win. I’m not sure how many riders they’ll have left to chase, but they’ll need two men to pull back the attackers and set up a sprint.
Paul Penhoët – he impressed in the opening two sprint stages and only finished 34 seconds down today. If he can continue to climb well, this stage is a good opportunity for him.
Milan Menten – he’ll see this as a big chance. Menten has a fast sprint and copes well with a tough stage, he’ll be confident of challenging to win this one. His team don’t look the strongest, he’ll be hoping some of his teammates survive the climbs and manage to chase down the attackers.
Amaury Capiot – another good sprinter who’ll hope to make the finish. Confidence is high after taking his first pro win in GP Marseillaise, this could be a good day for him. He’ll be hoping that Cav and Gav don’t make the finish, so will all the other fast men.
Fausto Masnada – I don’t see Cavendish making the finish, that will free Masnada up to attack on the climbs. He finished 4th today, so his legs are clearly good. QuickStep have him and Schmid sitting high on GC, they’ll use this as an opportunity to put Uno-X under pressure.
This is going to be a chaotic stage, thanks to the fact that Uno-X will not be able to control it. I think it will be a selective day, but it will still end in a sprint. I’ll take a win for Kaden Groves.