Puente de Génave > Santiago de la Espada 178.9km
It might be the first stage, but we’re straight into the thick of it. With 4155m of climbing, this is the hardest stage of the race, we’ll see big gaps on GC at the end. With three cat 1 climbs, this is going to test everyone’s climbing legs and the best will rise to the top.
Cloudy sun but temperatures won’t get much above 10 degrees.
The first of the cat 1 climbs is Puerto de Navalperal. It starts difficult and gets easier towards the top.
Then it’s Garganta de Hornos, which is the easiest of the big climbs. From the crest there’s around 40km to go.
The final climb of the day is a hard one, but the overall numbers make it sound easier due to the false flat at the top. The opening 7.5km averages 7%, before it levels off. Once the riders eventually crest the climb there’s only 7km to go.
The final 800m averages 4% and cuts through your typical town in this part of the world.
The start of the stage will be interesting, it would normally be a good chance for a strong break to form as there are a couple of cat 3 climbs. The problem for the break is we’re at the start of the race, and this is going to be a GC day, teams can’t afford to gift a big gap.
Given the way Pogačar started his season, everyone will be looking at UAE, and quite rightly so. They are the team who’ll be expected to shoulder much of the chase, but they’ll expect Ineos and Movistar to also lend a hand. It’s a demanding stage, but it should still come down to the final cat 1 climb.
Everyone will be waiting for the Pogi attack, but some will try and anticipate this move and go early. They will look at UAE and hope they have to use up a number of domestiques before the final climb, this would mean that someone attacking early could get a bit of a gap. Pogačar is likely to attack once the final climb hits 10%, this is perfect for him to make a big move and put the others under pressure. The big question is whether anyone will be able to go with him. If not, the GC is over, and the race turns into a series of one-day events.
Tadej Pogačar – after his strong start to the season in Jaén, all eyes will be on him, something he’s used to dealing with. I expect him to attack on the final climb, if he times it right, there won’t be many domestiques left to try and pull him back. If riders manage to go with him, then he knows the uphill finish is perfect for him, he’s the fastest finisher of the climbers. UAE will come under pressure throughout the stage, rival teams know they must try and weaken them before the final climb, otherwise it’s going to be very hard to beat Pogačar. We’ll see if the team can match his ambition.
Enric Mas – first race of the season, so form is unknown. 2022 was a great year for him, 2nd at the Vuelta was followed up with excellent performances in the Italian races, including a win in Emilia. If his legs are good, he’ll expect to go with Pogačar when he attacks, but beating him will be very difficult.
Ruben Guerreiro – I hope Movistar use him as an early attacking option. I don’t see the point in simply waiting for Pogačar to attack, and then seeing if both their captains can follow. I would let Guerreiro attack early on the final climb, forcing Pogačar into covering the move, then Mas can try and go over the top. It’s a risky strategy, but every strategy is risky against Pogačar.
Mikkel Landa – he’ll hope to follow the best on the climb, but his poor sprint means winning this stage is almost impossible.
Tao Geoghegan Hart – the best option for someone who can follow Pogi. He was brilliant in Valenciana and will hope he go follow when Pogačar attacks. If so, a top 2 result could be his.
Carlos Rodríguez – after a very consistent 2022, he started this year a little off his best in Valenciana. He should be better with that race in the legs, and I would expect him to be one of the men challenging Pogačar for the win. Of all the climbs in the whole race, the final one in this stage suits him the best.
Unless the other teams can pull off something special, I think we’re going to see a win for Tadej Pogačar.
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