After a transportation day from the Netherlands to the Basque Country, the terrain will change. Tomorrow’s stage has 2466 climbing meters but it is hilly enough to write off most of the sprinters. It is a relatively short stage, merely 152.5 km.
They start the stage in Vitoria-Gasteiz, a city founded in 1181 by the King of Navarra as a defensive outpost, but just 19 years later had to capitulate to Castille. They head clockwise and finish the stage in Laguardia, a very small city that also had the purpose of being a defensive outpost as the city was built around a castle protecting the area.
There is not a lot to report in the first 50 km. It is very flat, and that means it could take quite a while for a breakaway to form. It will start to become lumpier as they head south, but there are two key points on the stage.
Below, the finale.
The first is Alto de la Herrara. A climb beginning with just 21.5 km left of the stage. It is the start that is the toughest, with 2.5 km at 8.4%. It then become more manageable with a few inclines towards the top.
The finale climb in Laguardia will be for the puncheurs. It will finish just before it comes flat, leaving a very hard climb at the end. Having a strong team to keep you at the front will be important.
Almost no wind and very warm.
How will the stage unfold?
I think the teams with a sprinter would rather fancy their chances in the breakaway, meaning it will be difficult to tell who (and if) anyone will control the morning breakaway. As mentioned, the flat start will make it difficult for the elastic to snap – we’ve seen that a dozen times in the Giro d’Italia and Tour de France this year. If the breakaway gets free on the first categorized climb (5.3 km at 6.9%), they have a real short at making it to the line.
On the other hand, a few teams may fancy their chances at getting bonus seconds at the top of Puerto de Herrara, something a few GC riders who love to get a few off. With a long descent afterward, a small group could get free, but I doubt it. The main question is, who will help Jumbo-Visma and will Jumbo-Visma even want the jersey as of now? In the Tour de France, they did not let go of it. Why should they do it here?
Jumbo-Visma should look at getting a helping hand from Quick-Step (Alaphilippe/Remco), INEOS (Hayter/Tao G. Hart), Bora-Hansgrohe (Higuita) or UAE (Ayuso/Almeida). I’m going out on a thin line, but Pedersen and Coquard both sprinting very well in Etoile de Bessegges in the first two uphill sprints. They have somewhat of a dark-horse label for me.
I think there will be enough teams to make sure it will end in an uphill bunch sprint but I can not write off a few names for the breakaway. The red jersey is on the line.
Roglic – they have the option to stay in red for another day and hand it over on stage 5 or stage 6. I doubt they want to control the day all by themselves, but Affini, Dennis and Teunissen make for excellent surveillance at the start of the stage. It would not surprise me if one of the would sit on wheels if they manage to get up the road. They have a great team for making sure Roglic is well-positioned at the bottom of the last hill – something that makes him the favorite.
Higuita – has proved time and time again this year that this is a very good stage for him. I wonder if he will be on team duties for either Kelderman or Hindley – I really doubt it. I always seem to have a carte blanche whenever he is racing. I am not sure if Bora will chase all that much tomorrow – they have a lot of captains to protect too.
Hayter – the sprinter who can manage the climbs. While he is not fast enough to compete for a win in regular bunch sprints, he has the attributes to do so tomorrow. INEOS should have plenty of riders helping him, while managing to keep the captain(s) out of trouble. Plapp, Turner and DvB will do the dirty work to make sure the team stays out of trouble, and then the climb will show us the hierarchy of the team.
Tao G Hart – second option for INEOS. He did very well in both uphill sprints in Vuelta a Burgos.
Buitrago – is very quick in an uphill sprint, but I am uncertain how Bahrain – Victorious will approach tomorrow. Landa is the leader of the team but he is not looking very sharp just now. I have a feeling he will attack on the climb tomorrow and hope for a moment of hesitation among the favorites.
Alaphilippe – I think he will get better as the race goes on. On his best day, he will win tomorrow, but his baseline is not very good. It is almost impossible to predict his result for tomorrow’s stage, but I would not be surprised if he wins or if he finish outside the top-10.
Coquard – dark horse. It will depend on how hard Puerto de Herrara is ridden. He had good uphill sprints at the start of the year.
Pedersen – dark horse. It will depend on how hard Puerto de Herrara is ridden. He had good uphill sprints at the start of the year.
Pacher – Breakaway contender / top-10 in a sprint. He was going well in Tour de Pologne.
Robert Stannard – Breakaway contender / top-10 in a sprint. He looked strong in Ethias-Tour de Wallonie.
⭐⭐⭐ Hayter, Higuita
⭐⭐ Buitrago, Pacher, Alaphilippe
⭐ Tao G. Hart, Coquard, Pedersen, Stannard
Who will win?
I will take a win for Roglic from a reduced uphill bunch sprint.