Budapest > Visegrád 195.4km
Who’s going to be good enough to wear the pink jersey? We have a standard looking stage to get the race off and running, but it does have a sting in the tail. An old-fashioned battle between the sprinters and puncheurs is ahead of us.
Cloudy, but still warm, with temperatures reaching 23 degrees.
The forecast for the strength of the wind has changed in recent days, getting a little stronger. You can see from the wonderful graphic above the speed of the wind and the exposed nature of the road. This is a 50km stretch of road that finishes with just under 70km to go. The wind isn’t overly strong, but the chance of echelons increases the nerves in the bunch. Will we see some teams trying to form echelons? I bloody hope so.
The final 30km contains a lot of straight roads without turns, it’s a bit of a weird one. The road itself is a standard two-lane effort, it’s not that wide considering it’s the first stage of the Giro. Just inside the final 6km we have a rare corner, the fight for control will be crazy, a good spot here ensures you start the climb at the front.
The U-turn marks the start of the climb, the turn means riders will start the climb from a slow pace, but that won’t last long! From this point there is 4km to go, so a good position for the turn isn’t essential, there will be time to move up the bunch.
The first kilometre of the climb is pretty hard, we’re talking about 5.3%. The next kilometre is only 3.5%, it’s significantly easier and even includes a flat section. The next kilometre gets harder, this time it averages 5.5% and the final kilometre of the stage is 5.2%. This final kilometre does contain a few 7% sections, not what the big sprinters want to hear.
First, let me take a moment to criticise the organisers, as they’ve decided that the 3km rule will not be enforced in this stage. It’s the opening stage of a grand tour, the first one of the season, this will only add to the nerves and increase the chances of crashes. It also means that a one second gap on the line will create time gaps. Enough moaning, on with the preview.
Two things can happen in this stage, we either get a reduced sprint, or a rider clips off inside the final 2km. If this stage wasn’t in a grand tour, we’d see it ridden in a totally different way. As it’s the opening stage of the Giro, we’ll see the GC teams looking to set a fast pace on the climb. They’re not looking to win the stage, but a fast pace is good news for the GC riders, it helps to line the bunch out and prevent crashes.
When the attacks come in the final 2km, it won’t be up to the GC teams to chase them down, that’s the job of those who want the stage. Lotto Soudal don’t look the strongest to me, so all eyes will be on Alpecin-Fenix. I think they have plenty for this stage, the likes of Bayer, De Bondt, Riesebeek and Oldani should be able to marshal the front of the peloton and close any moves, but will van der Poel wait for the sprint or attack in the final kilometre? A lot will depend on what’s happening with Caleb Ewan.
One final thing, it’s too hard for Démare.
Mathieu van der Poel – starts as the overwhelming favourite, and I think we all know why. The finish is very good for him, and he has the team to make the climb hard. They don’t have to go crazy, just take some of the speed out of Ewan and co. In the final kilometre, van der Poel will have to decide if he attacks or waits for the sprint, I think he’ll attack.
Caleb Ewan – some will tell you he has no chance, but that’s not true. The climb is hard, but not crazy hard. Ewan is a very good climber when he sets his mind to it. No one really knows what his focus has been on in his recent training period, but with the chance of taking the pink jersey, I expect he’s spent time working on his climbing. He’ll hope for a steady pace on the climb, but his team aren’t strong enough to save him from a poor position in the final kilometre.
Biniam Girmay – given the way his season has gone; you’ve got to expect him to be challenging for an historic pink jersey. He can climb and sprint, perfect for this stage. Positioning used to be an issue for him, but this is an area he’s developed over the last year.
Diego Ulissi – given his record at the Giro, he’s bound to be challenging for the win. He would prefer something a little steeper, but he’s still quick enough to finish on the podium if the sprinters run out of gas.
João Almeida – the fastest of the GC riders, but it’s unlikely we’ll see him winning. If the climb is done at a ferocious pace, he’ll have a little chance of finishing on the podium and taking a handful of seconds on his rivals.
Attila Valter – late attack option 1.
Mauro Schmid – late attack option 2.
Loïc Vliegen – late attack option 3.
Alessandro Covi – late attack option 4.
Van der Poel to win solo. When he attacks with 1km to go, only a handful of the GC riders can respond. As you only start with so many bullets, none of them will want to waste any in the opening stage.