Portimão > Lagos 200.0km
The opening stage of the race, and it should be one for the sprinters. This is the same finish as last year, but the organisers have added a little climb with 20km. This isn’t hard enough to put the pure sprinters into difficulty, it should be a big sprint. Fingers crossed; we avoid the crashes that always seem to happen in this stage.
Not great. There’s rain around and it’s quite windy. As most of the route is covered by trees, there shouldn’t be any echelons.
Last year the bunch was tiny for the finish, due to a few crashes, so we didn’t get to see how technical it is. There’s a little rise that finishes with 2km to go, then the riders are funnelled into a single line as they fly down the right-hand side slip road of a roundabout with 1.3km to go. Next up it’s a big left at the roundabout, going all the way round anti-clockwise, before the final roundabout with just 800 to go.
This is a tough finish, being at the front just after the little rise is vital, there’s little chance to move up the bunch after that.
Teams without a sprinter will try and use the hills to attack, but the climbs aren’t hard enough to make a big difference. Some will be nervous about the wind, but I doubt we’ll see splits. The weather will also have an impact, wet roads and a nervous bunch usually mean one thing.
QuickStep will be expected to do a lot of the donkey work, Jakobsen is the fastest sprinter by a country mile. Most teams do have a sprint option, and as it’s the opening stage, someone will give the Belgians a hand to chase down the break. If it wasn’t Tim Declercq chasing, I would have said the break had a small chance of success, but not with Tim around. This will be a sprint, hopefully one without crashes.
Fabio Jakobsen – should have Asgreen, Pedersen and Mørkøv as his train, maybe Cavagna too depending on how much work he has to do earlier in the stage. I’m looking forward to seeing Pedersen slot into the sprint train, his current form is excellent. Jakobsen got one win in San Juan, but it was surprising to see Sam Welsford smoke him in the last two stages. Jakobsen has good memories of this finish, he starts as the big favourite.
Alexander Kristoff – his new sprint train worked well in Almeria, but he wouldn’t have been happy with 4thplace. He’s no longer the type of sprinter who’ll win a big sprint, unfortunately age catches up with all of us. Looking at his train, he should be challenging for the podium.
Casper van Uden – the new kid on the block for DSM. It didn’t work out for him in the Saudi Tour, but he’ll learn from that and come back stronger. With Degenkolb and Eekhoff to support, the Dutch youngster should be up there when the sprint launches, then we’ll see how he matches up against the likes of Jakobsen.
Jordi Meeus – third in both Murcia and Almeria, it was a good weekend for the Belgian. He arrives with a decent sprint train, he’s got Politt, Koch and Haller to help guide him in the closing kilometres, he’ll be confident of getting in a good position for the final kilometre.
Paul Penhoët – the French youngster will likely get the nod to sprint for FDJ. The team have an impressive looking train: Askey, Scotson and Stewart. They haven’t ridden together much, but if they get it right, Penhoët could be challenging for the win.
Madis Mihkels – just 19 years old, but the Estonian is fast. This race will be a steep learning curve for him, but a top 10 is achievable.
Edward Theuns – not much of a train to help, Eddie will be hoping Vacek and Mosca can do a job for him. Often an underrated sprinter, Eddie is more than capable of challenging for the podium if he starts the sprint in a good position.
Best sprint train and he’s the fastest sprinter, it’s got to be a win for Fabio Jakobsen.
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