Alhama de Murcia > Cabo de Gata 191.2km
A simple stage awaits the peloton, it should be nice and easy for everyone, then a big sprint. Some brave souls will jump in the break, but they don’t stand a chance as the sprinters hunt out a stage win, despite most teams being depleted. There’s also a late bonus sprint that Mads Pedersen will be interested in.
We’re in the south and the temperatures are up, get your sun cream on. It’s a headwind for most of the day, terrible news for those wanting the break to win.
The final turn comes with 4km to go, then it’s straight to the finish, but the roads aren’t very wide.
It’s all about being at the front for the final corner, it’s an absolute must for sprinters and GC riders alike. As there isn’t space for everyone, expect a massive lead out into the turn as the crosswind for the whole finishing straight will make it very hard for anyone to move up the bunch. It might only be a wind of 16km/h, but with the bunch going full gas, a few gaps could open up. One thing to note, the wind in this part of the world can unexpectedly strengthen.
It’s obvious what teams will do once round the final corner, put it in the left side gutter. This means if anyone wants to move up, they’ve got to do it in the wind. Both sprint and GC teams will want to be at the front, but I think it’s the GC teams who’ll boss the final 5km. The pace will be very high for the final turn, it’s possible we see splits on the finishing straight, those who are too far back will find it almost impossible to challenge for the win.
Stage 2 – Trek-Segafredo did a great job controlling the final kilometre, but Danny van Poppel burst through and delivered Sam Bennett to the win.
Stage 3 – it was a little on the messy side, but UAE got Ackermann into a great position, but he launched with 300 to go, and into a headwind. Yet again, van Poppel delivered Bennett into a great position and he just had the power to hold off McLay.
Mads Pedersen – this is a great chance to get his first Vuelta win. Trek-Segafredo have been impressive throughout the race, this finish is one they’ll look forward to, but they are a bit light in terms of the sprint train. Alex Kirsch remains but as Daan Hoole has already left the race that is all they have in terms of important support in the final 2km. As the final corner is so important, I would get Kirsch to put Mads into a good position, even if it means he’s got to do the rest himself. Given the way he’s ridden throughout this race, he’ll start as the favourite.
Tim Merlier – at the start of the race I wouldn’t have expected Pedersen to be the favourite over Merlier in this type of stage. The good news for the Belgian champion is that he’s still got his sprint train available to him, but one of Meurisse, Taminiaux or Stannard will have to be used to chase down the morning break. With one of those out, they still have Gianni Vermeersch to lend a hand in the closing stages. They didn’t get it right in the opening sprint stages, but they were much better in stage 3, but a mechanical stopped Merlier from challenging.
Pascal Ackermann – UAE still have a full team, so they’ll have to do a little bit more in terms of chasing the break. Once we get into the closing stages, they should have Oliveira and Molano to help in the closing stages, which means Ackermann should be in a good position for the final turn. He’s got the speed to win the stage, but he needs to stop launching too early.
Dan McLay – this is a big chance for him to win his first grand tour stage. He’ll have Russo and Owsian to help in the closing stages, and he’s looked nice and fast in the two sprints we had in the Netherlands. McLay is yet to announce who he’ll be joining in 2023, a grand tour win will certainly help if he hasn’t secured a contract yet.
Danny van Poppel – now that Bennett is out of the race, van Poppel will get a chance to sprint. He’s been outstanding in this race, delivering two brilliant lead outs. He’s a very fast sprinter in his own right, he’ll be confident of challenging for the win, but it’s a shame he doesn’t have Danny van Poppel to lead him out!
Bryan Coquard – he’s been way off in the opening two sprints, but he cannot be written off due to his sprinting speed.
Kaden Groves – another sprinter who didn’t enjoy the Netherlands. Now that some teams have lost men, BikeExchange look like one of the stronger sprint teams, but I have my concerns about how Groves positions himself in the final 5km of races.