The final preparation race for many ahead of the Giro, and the organisers stick with their obsession of not having a mountaintop finish. All I ask for is one, I wish the organisers would listen.
The big cat 2 climb is 10.5km at 7%, but it crests with around 50km to go, so I doubt we’ll see a big selection. This one should end in some sort of sprint.
The day begins with 20km at 5.9%, welcome to hell! The cat 1 climb is a tough one too, 16km at 6.5%, again cresting with 50km to go. It’s one of those stages where anything could happen.
The cat 1 climb is around 3.4km at 10%, that’s going to hurt. This time it crests with 24km to go, which features a steep descent before a lot of false flat.
This looks like a chance for the GC riders to have a little rest and let the breakaway take the spoils.
A whopper of a day, with 2400m of climbing in just 114km. The opening 34km are flat, then next 80km features steep climb after steep climb. It’s a brilliantly designed stage.
Bahrain – Bilbao and Landa lead a very strong team that also features Buitrago and Pernsteiner as climbing support. Bilbao comes here fresh from the Basque Country where he took a stage win and finished 5th on GC. Landa was 3rd last time out in Tirreno, but the lack of a mountaintop finish isn’t ideal for him. As Bilbao is probably the fastest sprinter of all the GC men at the race, he should start as the favourite to take the win.
Ineos – due to the nature of the route, you really need multiple options to play, and Ineos arrive with Porte, Sivakov and Dunbar. This is the final season for Richie Porte, and he intends on going out with a bang. He was very strong in Tirreno, but unfortunately had to pull out of Catalunya with sickness. That should be behind him now and he lines up as a strong option for the team. Sivakov hasn’t done much for a while, but this is a race that usually gets the best out of him. Dunbar is fresh from winning Coppi Bartali, his confidence should be up and its contract year for him. These three riders will give Ineos a good chance of taking the win.
DSM – just like in Tirreno, they have Bardet and Arensman as protected riders. Last year was a good one for Bardet, his move to DSM was exactly what he needed. If he’s close to his best, he’ll be fighting for the win in this race.
AG2R – Bouchard, Champoussin and Gall should get the French team lots of screen time this week. I don’t expect any of them to finish on the podium, but one of them should be good enough for the top 10.
EF Education-EasyPost – they arrive with Carthy and Chaves are their GC options. Neither have raced much yet this season, but as both are going to the Giro they should be near their best. Like many of the climbers, the lack of a mountaintop finish goes against them, but I hope to see both on the attack in the high mountains. I think the final stage is a good one for Hugh.
Miguel Ángel López – he started the season well, taking 3rd place in Andalucía. After that he headed to Tirreno and all was going according to plan until the Queen stage, where he surprisingly suffered on the steep climbs. As he’s one of the best climbers in the race, he should be challenging for the win. However, Astana don’t look particularly strong to me, which is a problem with all the flat finishes.
Thibaut Pinot – his form is improving, but he’s still not back to his best. This race could be exactly what he needs, in terms of getting him ready for some of the bigger races to come.
Torstein Traeen – 9th in Catalunya was a brilliant result for him, especially as he wasn’t the team leader. Now with his own chance to shine, I have high hopes for him this week. Top 10 is a definite, top 5 if everything clicks into place.
Due to team strength, I’m edging towards Bahrain or Ineos as the winning team. I’ll take a win for Pello Bilbao.