The first WT sprint of the year done and dusted! Well, unfortunately, we saw a lot of crashes. I almost forgot in the off-season the downsides of cycling, the ugly parts. Matthews moved further up the GC and Plapp and Covi are yet to decide if the KOM jersey is the main objective. Bad jokes aside, we have a bit more climbing tomorrow. Nettle Hill will be the key point of the race.
We have to difficult climbs in the late half of the stage. Starting off with Parawa Hill, we get some tough gradients. It is the first part of the climb that is tough, 2.1% at 8.5% is no joke. It is harder than Nettle Hill. The main issue is the top is 67 km from the line. You can drop the sprinters, but you will just use up your teammates. I’m afraid this climb will be a little underwhelming.
Moving on – Nettle Hill. A tough little kicker and it tops 21.5 km out. The full climb is 1.9 km at 8.6% but it is the second half where we should see a selection. The last km is 10.7%. This is where people want to test the sprinters. And most of them should drop like flies.
From Nettle Hill to the line, they start with a descend – a short kicker – and more descending before the last 4 km which are flat like a pancake.
The last 5 km is not that easy. There are two corners inside the last km but I imagine the peloton to be reduced. A right turn with 750m left and a right turn with 650m left. Add a roundabout – and not an easy one – with 450 meters left. Having one or two men in the last km is vital if you want to start your sprint from a good position!
The weather has been unusual cold and rainy. Well, tomorrow will be quite cold too with degrees around 20 C but no chance of rain. As they closer to the sea (on their way south), the wind do get stronger. Up to 6-7 m/s. Those are not rookie numbers, those a numbers that should be able to make echelons.
Now, I’m merely interested in the last part from Parawa to the line. The first half – it will be a tough headwind. It will be a hard and long day in the breakaway. A headwind on Parawa Hill and then a long section for potential echelons with 7 m/s. You want to look for red if headwind, violet/dark blue for best echelons spots and teal for tailwind. It seems the best spot is right at the bottom. A very long cross-tailwind section – all the way up Nettle Hill.
The area (44 km left – 21 km left) is not the most optimal spot for echelons. I can not seem to find the right spot – there are too many trees and bushes in Australia. I think it is likely we see echelons but I will not bet my house on it. After Nettle Hill, they head south. Now, that means a 7 m/s headwind. Ouch. If everything is split to pieces, well, a group of riders willing to work together can make it. It requires some big engines willing to work. Another thing is, will the faster favorites have any helpers left? You can not be certain.
Matthews – he had a good day in the saddle, scoring 8 bonus seconds. Tomorrow, he would like to have even more. That means Jayco-Alula will put the hammer down on Nettle hill to drop the sprinters and they have to hope another team will be happy to work with them to the line but I doubt it. If we see a reduced bunch sprint, he should be the favorite.
INEOS – it depends on who their captain is. Sheffield should have no problem with Nettle Hill but he does not have the sprint to get any bonus seconds. Hayter is their best option at getting a good result but his prologue was poor, and do not blame the rain as an excuse – riders normally far worse than him did a lot better. Plapp looks to be the offensive option, he is going for the KOM jersey after all. Plapp to follow moves, Hayter for the sprint. Sheffield will likely play it safe. A late attack in the finale could be his best option.
Covi – he looked very lively on stage 1. We know, when he is in form, he can do well on a short, steep climb and the fact he sprinted to 4th today tell us something about his speed too. I imagine UAE will have one of the strongest teams tomorrow, with Vine, Bennett and Hirschi and perhaps Bax Sjoerd. We will have to see what there priorities are, normally, it is every man for himself when Pogacar is not around.
Bettiol – he can sprint and he can manage short, steep inclines. The question is, how much work will he have to do himself? With Honore hitting the deck in the prologue, he does not have a particular strong helper around him, something that could be a problem. He should hope INEOS and Jayco-Alula will do the dirty work for him, since they will be the ones keen on bonus seconds and the stage win.
Stannard – it depends on his form, but normally this would be the kind of stage he does well in, but it is more often miss than hit from the Aussie.
Ewan – we have all seen him climbing well before, but these are tough gradients. Tougher than he usually manages to overcome. The headwind tomorrow will be a big help for him but there is a big but. His team is weak. He has to be reliant on other teams/sprinters getting dropped and they want to pull him back to the line. That just seems unlikely – but we have seen it before.
Strong – He is quick, but it is time to figure out how well he can climb. I think this will be on his limit, and I am not even sure he will be the highest in the pecking order. They have Impey and Clarke too, two riders who are extremely talented when it comes to reduced bunch sprints.
Coquard – he was not up there today, but in a reduced sprint with a few difficult turns? It is almost like his name should ring a bell in your ear.
Hofstetter – difficult to drop despite his size. He sprints well after a few climbing meters.
Vine – He should be the best climber here, who currently looks to be in form. He can make a gap on Nettle Hill with a few others and it will be a good test before Corkscrew Road, but the headwind will make it very difficult for him to make it to the line with a group.
Who will win?
I think the most likely scenario is this. Someone would like to force an echelon, but it will not be the main difference. That will make Nettle Hill harder due to the fact they just tried to split the bunch for 20km.
The headwind will make it hard for the potential group getting clear of holding it off to the line. A team or two will pace, making it difficult for the dropped sprinters to get back in contention. Their teammates will be dropped and the headwind does not make it easier. Hayter and Matthews will be keen on working together for a reduced bunch sprint, likely with Israel PT. We will see a selection on Nettle Hill, but I do not think it will hold off to the line.
It should be a battle between Hayter and Matthews, and the Aussie just looks better at the moment.