Perpignan > La Molina 160.8km
First of the GC days and we return to La Molina. History tells us this is a climb where making differences between the best riders is hard, especially with just one ascent. The organisers have tried to make the earlier part of the stage quite hard, but both cat 1 climbs have shallow gradients and won’t have an impact on the race. This stage is all about the final climb.
Sunny, but a little cold up at the top of the mountains. There’s a bit of crosswind at the start of the stage, but any splits will come back together.
The first part of the climb is 8.2km at 6.6%, the early slopes are the hardest. Crucially, most of the climb will be into a headwind, although it won’t be that strong. After the riders get to the top of this there is a descent of 1.5km, before the final rise of 1.2km.
The final 600m averages 6.3%, but we’re talking 10% for the initial kick-up. This is where those with a punch have to make the difference.
Who will control the stage? DSM have the jersey, but they won’t have it by the end of the stage. Some of the breakaway riders will sniff a chance, especially if the big teams back in the bunch look at each other. The favourites for the stage are Higuita, Valverde, Woods and Yates, which teams will chase the break? Movistar will probably be the most likely to chase with the race being on home soil, but they’ll want other teams to chip in.
Ineos would be an obvious choice, but the finish to this stage isn’t perfect for their leaders. Bora don’t really have the riders required to chase, but someone like Israel – Premier Tech could well help. If the break does get caught, the stage is likely to end in a “sprint”. La Molina is hardest at the bottom, but the headwind and number of relatively equal climbers means this one is destined to stay together. If someone is to win solo, they’ll need to be on an amazing day.
Michael Woods – he’s my favourite for the stage. He lost time today, but I wouldn’t worry about that. Given his form in Gran Camiño, he’s the man to beat on a climb like this. The steep ramp that leads up to the final curve is perfect for him, this is where he needs to get a little gap to those with a faster sprint. He doesn’t have a team who can control the final climb, he’ll have to rely on other teams to ensure we get a sprint finish, but that shouldn’t be an issue as Bora and Movistar will ride for this scenario.
Alejandro Valverde – he’s got a good record here, but does he still have the sprint required to win this stage? I don’t think he has.
Sergio Higuita – won at the top of Alto do Malhão, he’ll be confident of winning here. He was 5th in the opening stage, he’s clearly got good form just now. If he turns the final corner in the wheel of the first rider, he’ll take the win.
Simon Yates – lost some time today, he’ll be on the attack in this stage. Yates has a very good kick on a climb like this, I would expect him to attack early and see if he can blow the race apart. Tomorrow is going to be a cold one, expect to see him with loads of layers on. Sometimes I think he’s from Bermuda not Bury!
João Almeida – he’s got a very fast sprint, which makes him a danger in this type of stage. UAE have a strong team at this race, they’ll be happy on it coming back together and Almeida sprinting for the win.
Ben O’Connor – I love his attacking spirit; he won’t be waiting about for a sprint. He’s the type of rider who’ll attack early and hope that the chasers will look at each other.
Thomas De Gendt – breakaway hopeful number 1. Breakaway royalty.
Jan Hirt – breakaway hopeful number 2. Good early form.
Antwan Tolhoek – breakaway hopeful number 3. Baby face assassin.
Bruno Armirail – breakaway hopeful number 4. Strong as a bull.
I’m still keen on a certain Canadian, it’ll be a win for Michael Woods.