Time is running out for those wanting to take the red jersey away from Evenepoel. Tomorrow has a flattish start, with a very steep climb at the center of the stage. Then a double ascent of Alto de Piornal, but from two different sides. On paper, it doesn’t look like much – but it will be the riders who decide how difficult it will be.
Let’s start off with the flattish first half. Here, they head towards the north. Once again, very difficult to say where the break will form, but there are a few climbs around 1km at 6%. I will happen on one of the smaller hills.
My theory tomorrow would not be the logical one. After 97 km of racing, the riders start tackling some hills. One of them will either blow the peloton completely or make a fool out of me.
I think it is difficult enough, 18 days into a GT, to put some pressure on. I will be up to UAE, INEOS, Movistar and Astana to do so. It is far out and that would normally have me going “it will not matter that much”, but it will be a good first climb to try and isolate Evenepoel.
Moving on, we have the first ascent of Alto di Piornal (from the east). 13.4 km at 5%. It saddens me it isn’t steeper, as you could benefit quite a lot from drafting. Nonetheless, if we see a selection on the climb before, we could see moves.
Looking at the descent, I see a few chances for Movistar to put the hammer down. There are a few very nasty switchbacks. If you are not aware, you are likely to fall or end in the grass. It isn’t very steep, or technical, but Evenepoel has before shown weakness downhill.
Then a short valley, before heading back up from the westside. Very similar to the first ascend, though a bit steeper. The road surface also looks better than from the east.
Colder than usual, mid-20 degrees C. Wind from the west, 4 m/s. That gives the riders a headwind on the first ascend (fairly covered ascent, plenty of trees and lots of switchbacks) and a tailwind on the last ascent (more open terrain, but plenty of switchbacks still). More importantly a nice tailwind on the first of the three climbs mentioned, the short and steep one – and a tailwind afterwards. Surely, that will be inviting. No rain on the forecast either.
How will the stage unfold?
It depends on how teams will put their plan. I think at least one of the four teams (INEOS, Movistar, Astana or UAE) will look to attack on the steep climb. That opens the race up to some extent. Then, it will just be about if they can keep the pedals spinning. I don’t really see anything else they can do.
Will the breakaway have established a big enough gap by then? They are likely there own worst enemy because the longer they keep the attacks rolling, the longer it takes for it to form properly.
Mind is saying breakaway, but there are 3680 altitude meters. It will be a lucky few that can hold off the bunch tomorrow.
Luis Leon Sanchez – the veteran is the first to be named today. Tomorrow is a mix of engine, freedom from team orders and experience. He has all three. It has been some time since his last win, but he is a very consistent rider. The lower gradients are perfect for him – I think he will go well tomorrow.
Carapaz – team duty or carte blanche? He doesn’t have any trouble getting in the morning breakaways despite the starts being flat. I could see him starting as a satellite rider and being called back, but Rodriguez do look like a rider fading and not improving in the third week.
DLX – team duty or carte blanche? He is going well, but it is likely we will see Astana have all their riders near Lopez tomorrow. I see him being a satellite rider too, pushing in a valley or up the last climb for Lopez. All the teams must try something – but he is going very well at the moment.
Vine – time to go for another stage and some points? It will be colder tomorrow, something he will fancy. The flat start is good for him, it almost ensures he will be one of the strongest climbers in the breakaway.
Evenepoel – I doubt they can distance him, but somehow I would find it unlikely if he won.
Mas – always just behind Evenepoel. I think Movistar will try and attack on the short climb and see what it brings and the attack on descents. It used to be their trademark move – it is time to bring it back.
Ayuso – looking good and I think it is a climb that suits him. He will likely have to respond to a great deal of riders not that far behind him which can be a problem.
Almeida – seems to be going for glory himself. He has a fast finish and is currently looking like one of the strongest in the race.
Ben O’Connor – if we see a stalemate, the climbs weren’t decisive enough and we have the favorites playing games, O’Connor will emerge from the shadow and find some redemption in the last half of the season.
Lopez – He should be able to follow, but the climbs are neither steep or long enough for him to make it high on my list.
⭐⭐⭐ Carapaz, Vine
⭐⭐ Mas, Ayuso, Evenepoel
⭐ O’Connor, LLS, Lopez, DLX
Who will win?
I will take a stage win for Almeida. Someone will have to keep the pace up. I think a lot of riders in the breakaway will be dead weight, just riders waiting to work for their teammates. Despite so many riders abandoning, a team must insist on attacking. Therefore, GC day for me and Almeida is looking better and better.