Borgofranco d’Ivrea > Crans-Montana 199km
The first proper mountain stage of the race, it’s time to see who’ll be the main challengers for the pink jersey. This race has already seen many GC riders drop out of contention due to injury and crashes, it’s been one hell of a race. The first big mountaintop finish in a grand tour usually goes the way of the GC group, but with an ever-dwindling peloton, will that happen this time round? The change of route sees over 500m of climbing chopped off the race, it’s easier but still hard.
There’s a threat of rain throughout the whole day, luckily the temperatures aren’t too bad, even at the top of the mountains.
Croix de Coeur is the second climb of the day, and the hardest. 15.3km at 8.2% is a very difficult climb, the section near the crest is the hardest with lots of double-digit gradients.
The descent is quite technical, it features lots of hairpin bends. Fingers crossed the roads are dry.
The final climb of the day is Crans-Montana. It’s about time we got to see the top riders taking swings at each other.
This is the day to make a big statement, that’s why the first mountaintop finish usually goes the way of the peloton. Ineos are in pink, but with two men down, they must be careful about how they approach this stage. Swift and Puccio won’t be able to chase down the break, especially as they’ll take San Bernardo steady to ensure both men are still in the bunch to lead the peloton to Croix de Coeur. This gives the breakaway a chance of building a big lead, they’ll need it for the final 75km.
Jumbo-Visma and Bahrain are the only GC teams who still have a full team, it’s up to them to decide if the GC riders fight for the win. I would expect Jumbo-Visma to chase the break, all their team apart from Affini can be described as good climbers. This is a big chance for Roglič to put his stamp all over this race, I would be surprised if they didn’t chase down the break and set up a big finish. Bahrain are still in the position of trying to protect three GC riders, they can’t get too involved in chasing the break, it’s all down to Jumbo-Visma.
GC riders will be worried about the descent of Croix de Coeur, especially if wet. Almeida has shown time and time again that he doesn’t cope with a wet descent. If it’s raining, some will push on the descent and split the bunch, despite 25km in the valley before the final climb.
Once on Crans-Montana, the cream will rise to the top and we’ll get the first proper GC shakedown. With De Plus and Leknessund likely to move down the standings, there’s plenty to play for in this stage. Jumbo-Visma will try and set a fast pace on the climb, hoping to put De Plus and Arensman into difficulty, but I don’t think Roglič will necessarily go for a long one. The race is long, and energy needs to be saved for next week, Roglič can afford to wait for the sprint and go for the stage win, which would put him into pink. The fast pace on the climb will be necessary to deter attacks, especially from Haig or Buitrago, with three options Bahrain have to try something.
Primož Roglič – he starts as the overwhelming favourite for this stage. The final climb looks perfect for him, and his team are strong enough to hold everything together. This is a big chance to take the stage, move into pink, and send a big message to his rivals. Take a commanding win and everyone else will be worried about the final week, this is a huge stage in the fight for the pink jersey.
Geraint Thomas – he knows Roglič will try and put pressure on him, but he’ll be confident of being able to hold his own. He might be a little worried about getting dropped by Roglič the day Healy won, but that climb is totally different to the ones in this stage. He’ll hope to go to the line with Roglič and take his chances in the sprint.
Damiano Caruso – seems to be hitting excellent form, just at the right time. On his day, he’s one of the best climbers in the world, he’ll hope that this is one of those days.
Hugh Carthy – it’s time to make his move into the top 10. The final climb isn’t perfect for him, it would be better if the stage finished on the Croix de Coeur. Saying that, I expect him to follow the best on Crans-Montana but lose a little time in the sprint.
João Almeida – he’ll be praying to survive the big descent. He sits in 3rd, just 22 seconds behind Thomas, but he’s still flying under the radar. If he gets down the descent in the peloton, he’ll fancy his chances on the final climb, his sprint is very fast.
Lennard Kämna – I wonder if he’ll ride in his usual attacking manner, or simply try to limit his losses. The final climb is within his capabilities, he’ll be hoping to follow the best and not lose time.
Brandon McNulty – breakaway hopeful number 1. Does he have to stay with Almeida?
Ben Healy – breakaway hopeful number 2. Has the engine to make the break on the flat.
Lorenzo Fortunato – breakaway hopeful number 3. Will find it hard to make the break.
Jay Vine – breakaway hopeful number 4. Didn’t look great today, he could ride for Almeida.
Jumbo-Visma will be the team to decide if the break wins the stage.
I think they chase and set up a win for Primož Roglič.