The first mountain top finish.
Starting in Bilbao and finishing on Pico Jano. San Miguel de Aguaya.
Starting off, they head west. Not a lot of climbing in the first third of the stage. The first climb starts 32 km into the stage, 5.5 km at 4.5%. The break likely goes here, otherwise, the next climb you see is 8.1 km at 6.4%. The breakaway could well be established between the climbs or before the first, so being a rouleur looks like is essential. The pure climbers will have a decent shot – if they invest teammates making sure moves go on the climbs and not on the flat.
I imagine it will take some time tomorrow for the breakaway to establish.
The middle part of the day is quite flat and straightforward. A small climb in between, nothing more than a bump.
When they get closer to the finish, the climbing intensifies. Two climbs with a valley in between.
The first climb, starting with 42 km left, is the Collada de Brenes (6.3 km at 8.6%). It will thin out helpers, but they have a change to come back in the valley.
The last climb of the stage is Pico Jano, never been used before. It is a mix of two climbs with a small plateau in between.
The first section: 6km at 8%.
The second section (after plateau): 4.5 km at 6.4%.
Together, they should take 30 – 35 minutes, depending on how fast the best climbers will be going.
A day with crosswind for the most part of the day before a tailwind for the last 66km. As the wind brings clouds from the sea, it brings a bit of rain too but they should avoid the worst of it.
How will the stage unfold?
Just as I thought the teams were going to pick up the pace on the climb today when the breakaway was down to 3:30 with 48 km left, they sat up. None wanted anything to do with the stage, except the breakaway.
Tomorrow is a harder stage. Molard is in the red jersey with Fred Wright breathing down his neck. How will they defend themself? My best guess is to put Pinot in the morning breakaway or only allow riders who are distanced to go in the morning move.
As for the bigger teams, they ride to not lose, instead of trying and doing a big coup. You can’t really blame them. The last climb is not difficult enough for a big coup but we could see who is feeling well and who isn’t. The question I have is Collada de Brenes (6.3 km at 8.6%). Since they have a tailwind afterward, perhaps we will see a move by a team – on the descent perhaps. Narrow roads and quite a few tricky corners.
I think we will see a big fight for the breakaway, FDJ will do what they can to make sure they can keep the jersey, and the GC teams will start racing at the bottom of the peninsulate climb.
Lutsenko – has been on the move once already. Now, he has lost a lot of time. The mostly flat start is good news for him, and the last climb is not too difficult. He is very good at grinding those 6-8% gradients. If he gets in the morning move, he will be the big favorite.
Vine – he has not raced all that much since Tour de Suisse, problems with the heat made him leave. Tomorrow is a colder day in Spain with a chance of light rain. I do not think he will have a problem joining the breakaway if it happens in the flat. If he is in good shape, and makes the break – he is difficult to beat. He really has improved a lot this season.
Taaramae – always out for a stage win on the first mountain top finish. Almost succeded at the Giro d’Italia (3rd), won the first mountain top finish here last year too. A trademark. Form has not been that impressive but he rarely perform well outside Grand Tours.
Wilder – well, let’s see if the young Belgian is allowed by the other teams. He does not strike me as a big threat, but I would be worried about giving him too much time. The good news is, that FDJ will keep an eye out for him, meaning other teams should not worry. He has the engine and the climbing abilities to get far tomorrow.
Buitrago – Wright was on the move today, time to led Buitrago out and have some fun. He is climbing well just now, but I worry he may be on a watchlist of people they do not want in the breakaway. If he makes it, not few can beat him.
Pinot – FDJ’s defensive plan? Pinot freewheeling all day and then making everyone suffer on the last two climbs? I don’t think the idea is half-bad. He has already had a long season and it always seems like he arrives in great form. I think going for breakaway wins in the Tour de France was a smart plan, he will not be as exhausted as going for the GC.
Juan Pedro Lopez – second on Etna in the Giro d’Italia this year. He was not that impressive in Burgos, but he did well in the Giro to keep the jersey. He will likely try, but he will not fly under the radar. Otherwise, from the team, I do like Kenny Elissonde for tomorrow.
José Manuel Díaz – not a name I’ve written about before. Struck me that he has been going well in Burgos and won the Queen stage in Tour of Turkey last year, beating some good names. He is a strong wildcard.
Roglic – if I’m wrong again, JV should be able to keep things in order long enough for him to win. I do think he is going well, despite rumors of him not being 100%.
Hindley – he has a good kick in an uphill finish.
⭐⭐⭐ Buitrago, Lutsenko
⭐⭐ Lopez, Vine, Pinot
⭐ Hindley, Roglic, Díaz, Elissonde
Who will win?
I have a feeling Wilder is allowed in the morning breakaway tomorrow. He has been climbing well all season and has a big engine for a young man. His first win is right around the corner, I think it will be tomorrow.