We kick off with a tough stage in the Basque Country. We should see a lot of riders that are extra motivated to do well here, as we are very close to home for Landa, Bilbao, Fraile, Aranburu and Castroviejo.
This is a difficult stage to get right. The stage has 3520 climbing meters which makes it a very difficult opening stage.
With 3500 climbing meters, the three most important hills come near the end. They have more or less copied the last two climbs from Circuito de Getxo – Memorial Hermanos Otxoa, here, they do the Alto del Vivero and Pike Bideo too – though the run in to Bilbao is different.
The Alto del Vivero was last used (the identical ascent) in Circuito de Getxo – Memorial Hermanos Otxoa 2022 and this is not the same ascent as we saw in Vuelta a Espana 2022 – Stage 5, it was a different way up. The top is 27 km from the line.
Next up is a muro. Côte de Pike, with a very steep last km. That section is 900m at 12.8%. It starts just out of the bend. I have a feeling a few riders would like to test their legs on it.
The run to the line is mostly downhill, that makes it easier for an attack to stick.
And here the last hill to the line. A steady rise to the finish. Positioning is quite vital here, with a roundabout 1.2 km and 1.1 km from the line – just outside the hill.
Wind from the W/NW and just 22 degrees C.
How will the stage unfold?
I have watched Circuito de Getxo – Memorial Hermanos Otxoa once and I think the approach will be quite similar as the route is identical, we just have to remember there is a big difference being a one-day race and not the Tour de France.
Alto del Vivero is not very difficult. I imagine there will be a big bunch sprint for a good position, as it comes right after they leave the highway. It takes only around 11 minutes, here the peloton will get reduced. It is now a GC battle. I do not think we will see attacks here, the peloton will still be too large – and this is where I think it will differ from the one-day race.
Then, Côte de Pike. We will barely know it starts because the first km is not that tough. Once they cross the bridge above the highway and into the forest – this is where the fun begins. The climb is difficult enough to create gaps and to test – who is not ready for the first week. It reminds me a great deal of Mur de Huy but in fairness, it is tougher.
So a group is over the top together. It will for certain have Vingegaard and Pogacar in it. Since it is “Mur de Huy”-ish, one can imagine Landa, Woods and Skjelmose (they did well this year in Le Fleché Wallone) to maybe be up there as well. Will they work together? The long descent makes it ideal to build up a gap, as favorites behind wait for domestiques. Still, enough riders should miss the attack and be eager to close the gap.
Conclusion: I think Pogacar attacks. Jonas follows. If it is the pair of them, Jonas will not cooperate, he has Wout van Aert behind. If they are 3-5 guys, the have a bigger chance holding off whoever is chasing. With Pogacar downplaying himself, A. Yates as a co-leader too – I do not think Pogacar can do the damage. I see a reduced GC sprint.
Pogacar – It is very rare that you hear him in a pre-race interview talk about another rider being the favorite for something. We have only seen him in the Slovenian Nats, he had a good win there. According to himself, he is still not 100% yet – he seems more calculated this year. He will attack – the question is who can follow. Otherwise, he can still win from a reduced bunch sprint.
Vingegaard – Jonas should be able to follow an attack from a returning-from-injury Pogacar on a climb like this. I do think he has the luxury of not having to work with Pogacar (Wout van Aert sitting behind) but I think he might. He seems much more willing to take risks and gain seconds whenever he can. I think he and Pogacar are similar on a climb such as this. Do not get surprised if Jonas counters. At the moment, given Pogacar’s comeback, Jonas is the best climber here.
Skjelmose – he is going very well just now. He performance at La Fleche Wallone this season indicates he may be one of the few able to do so. I’ve seen him shine at Tour de Suisse, he is a very smart rider. The same can be said for what he did at the Danish Nats. Apart from his form and ability to ride double-digits, he is mighty fast in a sprint.
Wright – is he on duty for Landa? I think he will be in the group catching the attackers. He took a very impressive win the other day, winning the nationals in Britain.
Alaphillipe – what can we expect. He looked decent in Dauphiné but under a week ago he completely blew up 100k to go at the French Nats, likely due to the heat. Tomorrow is one of those days where he in his prime was unbeatable.
Gaudu – French Nats was a bit more uplifting for him. He is extremly quick in an 5-6% uphill sprint. He has won stages at Volta ao Algarve and Dauphiné doing so.
Aranburu – he knows the roads fairly well as he often competes in Circuito de Getxo – Memorial Hermanos Otxoa. Currently, he is in flying form after a 3rd in a tough Spanish Nationals.
Carapaz – Good in Mercan’Tour and levels off in Dauphiné. I think he is one of the few riders that can benefit from the group getting caught. He too is quick in an uphill sprint, where he almost beat Loulou the other day in Dauphiné.
Wout van Aert – I do not think he will be with the strongest over the top. He will likely wait behind in the group and hope for a bunch sprint.
Mathieu van der Poel – tough one to get right here. If we just had the Côte de Pike and not Alto del Vivero, I think he could survive. Remember back to his solo win on a rainy day in Tirreno-Adriatico in 2021. When he is at 100%, he can hope everything gets back together and he will be there for a bunch sprint.
New – Dark Horse 🐴: Victor Lafay.
⭐⭐⭐ Wout van Aert, Alaphillipe
⭐⭐ Gaudu, Carapaz, Skjelmose
⭐ Aranburu, MvdP, Vingegaard, Wright
Who will win?
A group goes clear. I just do not think it will stay away. Despite Pogacar playing himself down, this is a stage he should aim to win. In the attack-stays-away scenario he is the favorite and in the group-of-15 GC sprint, he is the favorite for me too.