Estella > Estella 203.8km
The bunch roll into town looking to get some racing in the legs before Itzulia starts on Monday. The route remains almost the same as the last couple of years, lots of little climbs to sap the strength before the steep climb and fast descent to the finishing line. Warren Barguil won last year, unfortunately he’s not back to defend his title.
A little grey, with a threat of rain throughout.
This climb crests with just 10km to go. It’s not hard enough to drop the top riders, but it does slim down the bunch and provide a chance for a team with multiple options to go on the attack.
The final 2.5km is a thing of beauty. First up is the hellishly steep climb, which is followed by an extremely fast descent to the line. The climb is 600m at 11.4%, perfect for the puncheurs to do their thing. If you lose positions on the climb, it’s very hard to make them up on the descent. The winner of the race will likely be in the first five riders over the crest.
Who is the strongest team and what type of race do they want? Movistar and UAE are probably going to be the strongest here, and I think both will be happy with it coming down to the final climb, but holding this race together in the finale isn’t easy. The climbs might not look much, but it gives a chance for a strong group to form and not come back. Both teams will be wary of this and need to have representation in any front group that forms in the finale, and they do have strong back-up options.
Those who miss any splits will be forced into chasing, but if the front group has the right mix, it could go all the way. Movistar, UAE, Bora and EF look like the teams with the most resources, a group with representation from these teams would be very hard to bring back. It’s still more than likely we’ll get a big finish, but it’s not as straightforward as in other races.
I see the action kicking off in the final 40km, and then we’ll see teams trying to fire riders up the road. As usual, the front group will need to cooperate if they are to stay away, and the peloton will need domestqiues to chase to bring it all back together. We’re in for an exciting finale.
Ruben Guerreiro – he’s enjoyed a good start to his Movistar career, and this is exactly the type of race he should be winning. Movistar have a good team here, they should look to control things and set up a big finish, Guerreiro will be a hard man to beat on the final climb. He’s likely going to be riding for Mas in Itzulia, I think he’ll want to take this opportunity before moving into a domestique role next week.
Alex Aranburu – he’d love to win this race. If the race is relatively easy, he’ll be a hard man to beat. The final climb will be a test for him, but if he’s on good form, it’s a test he can pass. He gives Movistar an excellent second option.
Sergio Higuita – his season hasn’t really got going yet, but as his first targets of the season are close, I expect him to be in good form. On paper, this is a perfect race for him. He copes well with steep climbs, descends well, and packs a fast sprint. He’s one that no one will want to take to the line.
Victor Lafay – he was in the move that got brought back on the final climb last year, but his current form doesn’t fill me with confidence. He hasn’t raced since being a DNF in Tirreno, we’ll have to wait and see how he goes.
Esteban Chaves – looked good in Catalunya, especially on Vallter 2000. The Colombian doesn’t often win one-day races, he’s much more suited to stage races, but I think he could surprise a few. He needs to use the climbs to his advantage, that’s where he can put the others into difficulty.
Richard Carapaz – form wasn’t great in Catalunya, but I get the sense he’s building. Carapaz is a good one-day racer, I think we’ll see him attacking from distance.
Marc Soler – technically speaking, the route isn’t perfect for him, but the legs are good. He left Catalunya on great form, his confidence will be up, and he’s another who’ll look to attack from distance.
Diego Ulissi – I get the feeling that age is catching him up, it happens to us all. He took an excellent stage win in Oman, but results since then haven’t been great. He ticks a lot of boxes for this one, but can he follow the best up the final climb? It wouldn’t even have been a question a few years ago, but it is now.
Mattias Skjelmose – hasn’t raced since crashing out of Paris-Nice, it’s case of wait and see how his legs respond. If on a good day, this is a great race for him. He climbs well, descends brilliantly and packs a fine sprint.
Andreas Kron – I sense a growing frustration in the Danish puncheur as he struggles to find his very best form. He wasn’t far off in Catalunya, but the breakaway days turned out not to be, but his current form seems strong enough. This is a good race for him, he’ll enjoy the length of the climbs, and he has the punch required for the final hill.
This should be a good race, and it’s quite hard to pick a winner as the main contenders are close in terms of ability.
Looking at the final 20km, I’ll take a win for Sergio Higuita.
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