Maraya > Skyviewsd of Harrat Uwairid 163.4km
It’s the big GC day in the Saudi Tour, and I love a wall climb! The climbers have survived the windy stages and can now test their legs and see who’s the strongest.
Sunny, 15 degrees, not windy.
2.7km at 11.6%, but the worst of it is 1.7km at 15.6%. Last year riders had to zigzag up the wall, it really is a brutal climb, and there’s a bonus sprint at the top. From the crest there’s 8km to go.
Without any wind to speak of, this should just be about the climb. In the bunch we have a handful of top-quality climbers, it will be interesting to see who’s the best when the slope hits 20%. Technically speaking, Guerreiro is the best climber in the bunch, he’s the one with the best recent results. He finished 7th in Flèche Wallonne, so he can handle double-digit gradients.
UAE are the team with numbers, but that doesn’t usually mean much on a climb like this, drafting isn’t really a thing at 15%. What does amaze me about climbs like this is sometimes a slightly larger rider can pull off a big surprise, it doesn’t always go to the tiny climbers, but they certainly have an advantage.
One thing to remember is the finishing line isn’t at the top of the climb, there’s still 8km to go. Van Gils crested alone last year and soloed to the finish, but if a small group crest together, it can get very tactical. If a team manages to get two riders in the group (UAE) they’ll win the stage. It’s up to the others to make sure that doesn’t happen.
Santiago Buitrago – he was dropped in the crosswinds last year, then flew up the climb at a hell of a speed. He’s spent the winter training back home in Colombia, that should put him ahead of his European rivals, but I can’t be sure of that.
Ruben Guerreiro – he’s been interested in fighting for bonus seconds in the opening stages, he’s got a 2 second advantage over the other GC riders in the fight for the overall win. Thinking back to last year, he produced a couple of stunning climbing displays, but they were on longer climbs. He did do well in Flèche, which does indicate he copes well with steep slopes, but nothing is certain at this time of year. I think he’ll just about start as the favourite, but there really isn’t much between him and Buitrago.
UAE – Gibbons suffered a mechanical at a terrible time today, and he’s now out of the GC picture. That leaves the team with Großschartner and Formolo as their GC riders, I expect Gibbons to now slot into a domestique role. Both are excellent climbers, but they are a little below Buitrago and Guerreiro in my mind. They’ll hope to both be at the front after the climb and use that to their advantage.
Mark Donovan – after leaving DSM, he’s now racing for Q36.5, and this is a big opportunity for him. At DSM, he rarely had leadership opportunities, but he’ll get plenty of them for his new team. He’s one of those riders who’s experienced a tough couple of years, never seemingly catching a break for a variety of reasons. I’m hoping he starts the season off with a good result.
Jacob Hindsgaul – I mentioned him in the overall preview and I’m happy that he’s not lost any time in the wind. The Dane is a very talented climber and should be finishing in the top 10, maybe even the top 5 on a good day.
Rúben Fernández – the experienced Spaniard is a solid climber, he’s another who should be challenging for the top 10.
Jesse Ewart – I’m hoping he makes the break, and it doesn’t contain a GC contender. Jesse is a guy who’s spent all his career at conti level, but he’s good enough to ride at a higher level. He now rides for the Terengganu team, and I’d love to see him go well in this stage.
What happens if Buitrago and Guerreiro crest the climb with a gap of around 20s? Will they ride with each other? Will they look at each other and the group behind come back to them? I think the two of them will likely be the best, but I’m finding it hard to separate them in my head.
I’ll toss a coin and go for Santiago Buitrago.