La Voulte-sur-Rhône > Beauchastel 191.5km
It’s not often you get a stage which has three outcomes, all of which seem quite probable when you consider them. Hats off to the race organisers, this is the perfect route for an opening stage of a race.
Hot and sunny, which means a real risk of thunderstorms. Predicting thunderstorms in this part of the world isn’t easy, most of the bunch will be hoping they dodge them.
This is the opening 48km of the race, perfect for those who want the break to win. We have 9km of flat, then the peloton start to climb. The cat 3 climb is 10.3km at 4.4%, which is tough enough for lots of riders to consider jumping in the morning move, and very hard for sprint teams to control. As you can see, once this climb has been crested, the road continues to go up and down, it doesn’t settle down until they cover the first 60km.
This is the climb, which is in the lap circuit, so the bunch do it twice. Last time up crests with 30km to go, which isn’t ideal for the pure sprinters. The classified part of the hill is 4.8km at 5%, then there is a short bit of flat before another 3km at 5%. Almost 8km at 5% is far too hard for most of the big sprinters, which they’ll all know as teams would have reconned the climb today.
Pretty unspectacular, but the final 5km is littered with central reservations, making it tough to move up the bunch. If it is a sprint, having a good early position is vital.
As mentioned, I see three possible outcomes for this stage:
- A strong break forms on the first climb and goes all the way.
- A weak break gets away and the sprint teams control to set up a bunch sprint.
- A weak break gets away and the sprint teams control, but the final climb is raced hard, and we get a reduced sprint.
I would say that scenario 2 is the least likely to happen, the final climb is too hard for the likes of Groenewegen and Bauhaus. I think the break will sense a great chance to take the win, who is going to chase the move down? If BikeExchange and Bahrain don’t work, will Ineos and Jumbo ride all day? When there are questions about who will work, it often leads to the break getting a big advantage, so if they are to chase it down it means they must hit the climb hard, significantly reducing the size of the bunch for the finale.
This opens up a fourth scenario, a late attack on the climb staying away until the end, but I don’t think this is very likely. If Ineos and Jumbo do commit to chasing, they’ll be all in for the stage win and that will make it hard for anyone looking to launch a late attack. These two teams will hope the break forms in the opening 9km, which will make it easy to control and set up a reduced sprint.
QuickStep – as they arrive without a sprinter or GC rider, they will look to attack in every stage. They have Cavagna, Steimle, Bagioli and Honoré as good options for a stage like this, and I love it when their only option is the break.
Benjamin Thomas – he’s in the form of his life, 2022 has been a wonderful year for him. He might try and go in the morning break, but he’s also the type of rider who can attack late in the stage and attempt to hold off the bunch.
Tiesj Benoot – if the attacks fly on the first climb, Jumbo-Visma will be keen on getting someone in the move. Tiesj was brilliant in the first half of the season, I think he’ll be sniffing around the front in the opening phase of the stage.
Simon Clarke – current form is good, and Israel need the points. Expect to see him try something in this stage, it’s one that suits him well.
Franck Bonnamour – a breakaway expert, especially in French races. Winning will be hard, but I hope to see him in the break.
Nils Politt – another with good form, he recently won Rund um Köln. The German is a very powerful rider, and he always seems to save his best form for this type of year. If he makes the break, he’ll be hard to beat.
Stan Dewulf – 3rd in the recent Boucles de l’Aulne, so his form is good. He made significant progress in 2021, and I think a big win is just around the corner for him.
Wout Van Aert – if it does all come back together, he’ll be the man to beat. Jumbo-Visma don’t have a long sprint train, but it wouldn’t surprise me to see some of their GC riders jump in the train to give Wout a hand. His last man will be Laporte, so he’ll start the sprint from a good position, the rest will be up to his legs. One thing to note, Van Aert hasn’t won a sprint yet in 2022.
Ethan Hayter – I’ve been watching him closely over the last few races, and I get the feeling something isn’t quite right. I’m not bothered about his riding at the back of the bunch, that’s fine, if he moves up at the right time. The thing I’ve noticed is his positioning in sprints, he seems to lack a little confidence in the final 2km of races, especially when the bunch is big. If we get a sprint in this stage, the bunch will be reduced, giving him a little more space in the finale. Another issue for him will be a lack of support in the sprints, a lot will fall on the shoulders of Ganna, as he doesn’t really have a final man.
You can see the way I’m edging; I think this is a stage for the morning break. I’m looking at QuickStep and thinking they’ll be the team to beat, so I’ll take a win for Mikkel Honoré.