Sierre > Cassano Magnago 196km
A lot of people were complaining about today’s stage. First, it was shortened due to extreme weather, and then the GC teams decided to ride tempo up the final climb. At times like this some fans can become irrational and want to burn the riders at the stake, they need to take a breath and calm down. The change of route was due to a pretty horrific weather forecast which predicted freezing rain, I’m fine with the room changing on this occasion. The GC teams riding tempo is something else, it’s all to do with the long game. Jumbo-Visma could have attacked, but they choose to let Ineos ride all day and burn matches that will be needed in the third week. It’s not up to them to make the race attractive for the watching public, it’s up to them to win the pink jersey, whichever way they see fit. Okay, on with the preview.
I don’t recall ever seeing a stage like this at this point in a grand tour. The last time I can think of something similar was stage 3 of the 2018 Vuelta. That day the riders had to tackle a climb of 23.5km at 4.4% almost from the gun. The sprint teams ensured a weak break escaped and then the bunch rode tempo up the climb to ensure all the sprinters made it over. The break was gradually reeled in, and Viviani won the big sprint, but as it was only stage 3 everyone was nice and fresh, which is not the same for the stage I’m about to preview.
You guessed it, more rain. The temperature at the top of the mountain is close to zero, hopefully there isn’t a change of route.
To get the best elevation data I’ve had to split the climb in two. Above, is the first part, which is the hardest.
This is the rest of it.
The crest of the climb comes with 140km to go, that’s an awful lot of road still to be raced. Sprinters will obviously get dropped on the climb, but how many minutes will they lose and is it possible to make it up in the remainder of the stage? We’ve lost a lot of the fast men, but most teams still have a sprint option, but do they have the will to chase all day long in the pissing rain?
The break will smash the climb, a big group of riders will get up the road, bringing them back will be incredibly difficult. Just how many minutes will a sprinter lose on a climb of roughly 20km at 6.6%? It’s hard to say as I don’t know just how hard the breakaway riders will push, but it’s likely to be somewhere in the region of 5-8 minutes. Bringing that gap back is possible, but only if several teams are committed to the chase. Some of the sprint teams could well have riders in the breakaway, meaning they won’t chase, it’s going to be complicated for those wanting a sprint.
We’ve already seen that in rainy conditions, it’s very hard to bring back a committed breakaway. De Marchi and Clarke should really have won back in Naples and the bunch failed to stop Cort in Viareggio, it’s very difficult to chase when most in your team are fucked.
In this stage I don’t see any deals getting struck beforehand. There will be no agreement to ride at tempo and ensure all the sprinters survive, we’re too deep into the race for that to happen, especially as someone like Ilan Van Wilder will sense a chance to jump in the break and leapfrog into the top 10.
One other thing I need to consider is Sunday’s stage, another one that suits the breakaway riders. Will some of the big hitters decide to save their energy? I think some will decide to do that, but I wouldn’t if it was me.
What I’m trying to say is a big group will go clear and the sprint teams will attempt to chase them down. Who will come out on top? We’ll have to wait and see.
Jonathan Milan – the fastest man left in the race, but do Bahrain have enough resources to chase all day and set up a sprint? It’s unlikely we’ll see Haig and Buitrago involved in chasing, so I think the answer is no.
Pascal Ackermann – he’s sprinting and climbing well, but his chances depend on his team approach for this stage. Formolo, McNulty and Ulissi are good breakaway options, but if they’re in the front group it means UAE won’t chase for Ackermann. Given the way he won the other day, the team could well decide to skip the break and give their full backing to the German, I think he deserves this support after his win.
Michael Matthews – if only he had a stronger team at this race. He’s got the legs to cope with the climb, but he won’t have many teammates left. He’ll hope that we end up with some type of reduced sprint.
EF – they’ve got Healy, Cort and Bettiol as attacking options. Cort could decide to play the waiting game and hope for a reduced sprint, leaving the other two to push on the climb and see what happens. Will Healy save his matches for Sunday?
Stefano Oldani – the Italian is going well just now, he’s another who’ll be hoping for a reduced sprint. He doesn’t have many teammates left; he just has to hope others do the work for him.
It’s one of those stages where I can put my hand up and say I have no idea how this will play out.
EF continue to impress, I’ll take a win for Alberto Bettiol.