València > La Nucía 191km
It’s the season opener in Europe and this race has been upped to 1.1 level, which has tempted some bigger teams into competing. Most of the pro teams are already in this part of the world on training camps, so it makes a lot of sense to get some competitive racing in the legs before the Mallorca Challenge. The route has also been reversed compared to last year, which means we’re unlikely to see a bunch sprint, it should be much more selective.
Sunny but chilly. The temperature won’t get above 10 degrees.
Alto de Bixauca certainly isn’t the hardest climb in the world, but the road does go up for a very long time. It can be classified in many ways, 25.7km at 2.6%, is just one measurement. If you focus on the hardest section, it is 6km at 4.2%, and an even deeper look gives around 1.5km at 9%. It’s this section near the crest which will likely signal the end of the road for many riders.
Not easy! The final 7km of the race contains lots of little drags, giving lots of options for riders to launch attacks. Last year it was a race for the sprinters, this year it suits the puncheurs much more.
The “biggest” teams here are Movistar, Jayco, AG2R, Cofidis, Lotto (I simply refuse to use the other bit of their name which is missing vowels), and TotalEnergies. The type of race we get will be dictated by them. Of these teams Lotto has four sprinters, Jayco and Arkéa have one. I don’t see the other squads looking for a sprint, so I think we’ll see a strong group form near the crest of the big climb, and they’ll fight out the win, but it could contain a few quick men.
At this point of the year, it’s very hard to say who’ll be the strongest team, but that is crucial in determining who’ll win the race. Looking at the start list I think that Cofidis could well be the team with the most riders in the front group, I would be shocked if Lastra, Fernández and Jesús Herrada don’t make the split. This will put them into a very strong position, but they might not get it all their own way as other squads could well have two men in the group. Whatever happens, the winner of this race will likely win the sprint from a reduced group, you need a kick to take the win.
Cofidis – Jesús Herrada should be the main option, but Lastra is a solid second option in his first race for the team. Herrada is the medium mountain king, but it all depends on his current form. If we get a sprint from a small group, he packs a very fast sprint. For me, Cofidis will have a big say in the outcome of this race.
AG2R – the French squad look very strong, they have Van Avermaet, Vendrame and Hänninen. Vendrame normally goes very well in races like this, he’ll hope for a reduced sprint. Van Avermaet has all the experience required to outsmart his rivals and I’m a big fan of Hänninen. If you cast your mind back to 2018, he was smashing under 23 races in France. After a series of injuries, I think he’s now ready to show everyone just how good he is. AG2R look nice and strong.
Luca Mezgec – it looks a bit on the hilly side for Mezgec, but that all depends on his current shape. As he gets older, Mezgec has improved his climbing ability and this type of race could well be within his grasp, but it all depends on the pace set on the climbs. The problem he’ll find is that no one will want to take him to the line.
Julien Simon – he might be 37, but he’s absolute quality. He’s the type of rider who can cope with the climbs in this race, and there’s not many who can beat him in a reduced sprint. French riders often start the season in good form, he’ll be aiming for the win.
Eduardo Sepúlveda – I was delighted to see my Argentinian friend continue his cycling adventure with Lotto, he’s far too good to not ride at this level. He lacks a sprint, so winning this race will be hard, but he should be at the front in the closing stages.
I think we’ll get a sprint from a reduced group and a win for Jesús Herrada.