Lienz > Lienz 114km
Now, this is what you call a stage. Just 114km in length, and apart from the opening 34km of flat, the rest of the day is going to be crazy. There might only be two categorised climbs, but some of the uncategorised climbs are incredibly difficult. Despite looking very strong, this won’t be an easy day for Bahrain to control.
There’s some rain around for most of the stage, but the bunch might get lucky and avoid it. If they do get wet, the difficulty of the stage will increase.
First up is the Bannberg climb, which is 5.4km at 10.1%. It might be the first climb of the day, but I would expect some to attack at this point.
After just 5km of descending, the bunch then bounce into this unclassified climb, which is 3.7km at 10.5%. After this climb has been crested, we have a section of undulating road that features steep kickers and fast descents.
This is the next unclassified climb, the opening 2.2km of the climb averages close to 10%. Once off the climb, we have a very fast descent, before 13km in the valley.
Then we are faced with this little beauty. The cat 2 climb is 2.6km at 12.5%, it is super steep. From the crest there is just 10km to go, half of which is downhill, and the final 600m averages 8%.
The GC situation is very close, Bilbao leads Bardet by just 2 seconds. There are a few riders sitting high on GC who will find this stage too hard, the next real threat is in the group 16 seconds down, that’s where Sivakov, Porte, Storer, Arensman and Rubio sit. The bad news for Ineos was Dunbar dropping time today, they are down to just two GC threats now.
Bahrain will be happy for the breakaway to take the bonus seconds out of the equation, it’s up to the others to stop this from happening. Bahrain will plan on trying to keep as many men as possible for the finale of this stage, that means the morning break will have a chance. The move should go in the opening 30km, the group will then have to see how much of a lead they can build up. Back in the peloton, we’ll have to wait and see when teams start to chase. The first two climbs are very difficult, if teams go full, there won’t be many domestiques left for the rest of the stage, it’s a tough one to get right.
DSM don’t have the strongest team in the race, they have three youngsters along with Bardet, Arensman, and Hamilton. They don’t have the team to make the race, they’ll need to let others do that. Worryingly, they don’t have the strength required to chase down the morning break, they’ll be hoping Ineos do the work for them. Bardet is very close on GC; it will be fascinating to see how they approach this stage.
With Bahrain happy to sit back and wait for the others to attack, the break does have a chance of taking the win, it depends on when the GC riders start to light things up. Later on in the day, the front group is likely to only contain a handful of riders, Bahrain will hope that both Landa and Bilbao survive. This is when Landa should be allowed to attack, forcing Bardet into chasing and burning energy. If the bonus seconds are still available, it’s vital that Bardet doesn’t arrive “fresh”, Bahrain will need to work him over.
Pello Bilbao – Bahrain have enjoyed a brilliant week, but in the last two stages we’ve seen Bilbao covering too many attacks on his own, when Landa has still been in the group. In this stage they’ll want to keep Pernsteiner, Buitrago and Landa in the front group for as long as possible. They won’t be hitting the front and trying to go for the stage win, this is all about defending the race lead, but if it does end in a GC sprint, we’ve seen that Bilbao has the speed required to take the win.
Miguel Ángel López – took advantage of his GC place today with a brilliantly timed attack. He’ll need to decide if he goes for the break or waits with the GC group, will he stick or twist? He’s clearly got excellent legs just now but getting the decision right won’t be easy. He’ll have to keep an eye on how the early part of the race develops and hope to make the right call.
Romain Bardet – just 2 seconds behind Bilbao, we’re in for a brilliant final stage. Bardet has impressed this week; his current form is excellent and he’ll like the look of this stage. He knows that Bahrain have a very strong team, so dropping Bilbao won’t be easy, but he’ll go down swinging. He’ll hope that Ineos will ride an attacking race, forcing Bahrain to burn through their domestqiues, then he’ll pounce. Win the stage and he takes the GC. If the duo finish equal on time, Bilbao has a better count back, I’m sure DSM will be aware of this.
Ineos – the steep slopes suit Sivakov the best, but will he regret his decision to go in the break on Tuesday? Porte has looked good throughout the race, but it’s hard to see him dropping the likes of Bilbao and Bardet on a steep ramp. Ineos will throw caution to the wind, they have a strong team at this race and haven’t got a win yet, expect to see them go for it from early on.
Niklas Eg – breakaway hopeful number 1.
Geoffrey Bouchard – breakaway hopeful number 2. Needs to take the first climb to win the KOM jersey.
Thibaut Pinot – breakaway hopeful number 3. I was devasted for him today, hopefully he responds in the right way.
James Piccoli – breakaway hopeful number 4. Climbed very well on Wednesday.
Torstein Traeen – breakaway hopeful number 5. Climbed even better on Wednesday, hopefully he’s recovered from his crash.
The GC position means that Miguel Ángel López will take another stage win and I think Pello Bilbao will hold onto the race lead.