Úbeda > Baeza 177.9km
It’s the 2nd edition of the race, but the organisers have decided to change things up a bit. We’ve got 7 gravel sectors, the longest is a whopping 11km in length. It’s not just the gravel the riders have to worry about, with nearly 3000m of climbing throughout the day, this is a demanding day in the saddle. The organisers are delighted that Tadej Pogačar will start his season here, it’s a massive coup for the race.
Nice and sunny, with temperatures hitting a maximum of 15 degrees. The wind will be around 15km/h throughout the day.
Without doubt, the hardest sector. This is where the peloton will be blown to pieces. Ignore that it says sector 4, it’s actually sector 3 as the first gravel road was recently removed from the race.
The race ends with two laps of this circuit, and it contains 5.7km of gravel, which also includes a little kicker of 900, at 6.2%.
Pogačar is here! He’s decided to change things up a bit in his schedule and instead of doing the UAE Tour, he comes here and then heads to Andalucía. UAE have the strongest team in the race, you could argue that most of their team have what it takes to win this race. This means they’ll try and ride this like QuickStep used to do in the classics, make sure when the race splits they have four guys at the front.
This is when they should start to rotate attacks, to tire out the other leaders, before launching the killer move. However, UAE aren’t going to get this all their own way, especially with Ineos around. They arrive with a team strong enough to challenge UAE, they’ll look towards Turner and Tulett as team leaders, but guys like Heiduk, Leo Hayter, Swift and Rowe will hang around for a long time.
This is key, most expected UAE to simply roll everyone over, but Ineos are too strong for this to happen. As this is only a 1.1 race, expect most to ride with freedom, there’s a chance a group escape up the road, and as long the big teams are represented, it goes all the way to the end.
UAE – take your pick from Pogačar, Trentin, Covi, Wellens and Hirschi. Tadej did have a spell of sickness, so he might be a little off his usual level at this time of year, but that’s very hard to say without having seen him race. Wellens was better in Murcia than he was in Mallorca, definite signs that his form is growing. Hirschi was good in Australia and doesn’t look too far off the level required to win a race like this. Obviously, Pogačar is their trump card, but as this is only a 1.1 race, he could well use it as training and look to set up one of his teammates. Maybe they ride for a Trentin sprint.
Ineos – Turner and Tulett are two excellent options for this race. Tulett is a former CX rider, he’ll find no issues with the gravel in this race, and he copes well with short climbs. Turner is fresh from taking his first professional win, it was a great sprint to win in Murcia. With two strong options, they are in a good position to fight UAE for the win.
Matis Louvel – this kid has big potential. He picked up one win in 2022 over in Belgium, he’s the type of rider who goes well in this type of race. He’s unlikely to win, but I expect a top 10 finish.
Loïc Vliegen – was 3rd here last year, he’ll be hoping for better this time round. Vliegen has a very fast sprint, so his rivals need to hurt him on the climbs. The bad news for them is that Vliegen also copes well with short hills, it won’t be easy to get rid of him during the race.
Ion Izagirre – spends a fair bit of time on his CX bike, this is a race he’ll be looking forward to. Doesn’t have much of a sprint, so he’ll need to be solo to win the race.
Gorka Izagirre – I wonder if he and his brother have a bet on who does the best. Another who should be fighting for the top 5.
Andreas Kron – I don’t know if we’ll see the 2021 version of him, or the 2022 edition. I think we’re all hoping it’s the former.
Simon Clarke – 2nd in Murcia, which followed up an excellent 3rd place in the Cadel Evans race. Clarke is looking more and more like Peter Pan, it’s great to see continue to be at the pointy end of big races at 36 years of age. He’s got a good shot at another podium; it would be his fourth of the year.
Gonzalo Serrano – I’ll throw his name in the ring just in case it ends in a sprint.
Right, I don’t know. It’s a hard race, but most of the climbing is out of the way with 45km still to go. If teams want a difficult day, the pace needs to be high in the middle section of the race, you need to make the climbs hard, that’s where the damage can be done. If the group is still fairly big for the final 45km, it should end in some kind of sprint.
I don’t think either UAE or Ineos will want a sprint, so expect them to smash the race and seriously reduce the bunch, but they’ll still need numbers to continue to drive the pace on. The current form of Pogačar is the big unknown factor in the race, just how good will he be on season debut?
Okay, enough waffle, you’ll be wanting a prediction. I’ll take a win for Ben Tulett.
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