Now for something a little different! The organisers have made significant changes to the race, out goes a big mountain stage and in comes lots of punchy days. I can’t remember the last time I saw a big race look like this; I’m hoping it encourages attacking racing. Some teams arrive with hugely talented squads, they’ll be carefully analysing the route to see where they can take advantage of their numbers, I can’t see the peloton simply rolling each stage and setting up a “sprint” finish.
The opening stage begins with a climb of 10.3km at 6.4%. Having a climb like this so early in the race usually makes it irrelevant, but it all depends on how the teams want to race. It certainly makes it a good-looking stage for the break, they’ll sense a good opportunity to establish a big gap over the peloton. The day ends with a kicker of 1.3km at 7.3%, which is very good for several riders in the race.
Up and down, all day long. We don’t have any significant climbs, but there is still over 3000m of climbing. The stage ends with 2.86km at 5.9%, but the final 500m averages 11.8% and the last 100m is on cobbles. It is a typical finish in Andalucía.
This stage would normally end in a sprint, but we don’t have many fast men in the race, which could hand a chance to the breakaway.
The day begins with the hardest climb in the whole race, 6.3km at 9%. Just like in the opening stage, we’ll have to see how the bunch decide to approach the stage, I think it will be full gas racing from the start. The rest of the stage is relatively easy, so if a group is dropped on the climb, they have time to get back in.
Another lumpy start, the breakaway riders will love the look of this one. The stage ends with 6.4km at 5.5%, but the final kilometre averages 8.6%. Just like stages 1 and 2, you need to punch win here.
Alexey Lutsenko – started of his season by smashing the field on Monday, it really was an incredible performance. The uphill finishes in this race are normally okay for him, but there are other riders who it suits more. This means Astana will have to think carefully about how they approach the race. Can they create a situation where the race explodes before the finale of each stage? If so, Lutsenko has the legs to win the race.
Benoit Cosnefroy – another rider who’ll love the look of this race. Cosnefroy has a brilliant uphill kick, he must start as one of the big favourites. AG2R don’t always have the strongest of teams, but Cosnefroy can rely on the help of Ben O’Connor, someone who’ll survive to the end of each stage.
Simon Yates – usually goes well in punchy finishes, but in recent years he’s preferred longer climbs. He should still be challenging for a high spot on GC, but I’m not sure he’ll be winning this race.
Mikel Landa – usually goes well in this race. Not too long ago, Landa was one of the best on steep gradients, but he’s not showed that in recent years. Bahrain arrives with a strong team, Landa and Poels will be their protected riders. Both go well on steep climbs and will expect to be challenging for the win.
Carlos Rodriguez – the Spaniard started his season in sparkling form, finishing 3rd in Valenciana, it looks like he’ll be their best men in this race too. We all saw him ride well in the Tour de l’Avenir, it will be interesting to see how he goes in the punchy finishes. He showed in Valenciana he can cope with steep gradients, but he’s unproven in a punchy finish. The team have a good back up option in Narváez.
Mauro Vansevenant – this should be a good route for him, but he did break his hand in early December, which had an impact on his winter training schedule. He’ll likely be competitive, but not at the level required to win this race.
Gonzalo Serrano – this is a very good race for him. The Spaniard has a fine uphill sprint, his concern will be if some of the other GC teams make the racing very intense. This is a race he enjoys, he won stages in each of the last two editions. Movistar also have Sosa, but this route doesn’t suit him in the slightest.
Michael Woods – he was in, then he was out, then he was in again. Being sick isn’t ideal preparation for a race, I doubt he’ll be challenging, it’ll be about getting kilometres in the legs.
Form is King, I’ll take a win for Alexey Lutsenko.