As expected, Peter Sagan was the only sprinter with a chance in today’s tough finale and so most of the fast finishers will be eager to show their fast legs in stage 5 which is one of the flattest of the entire race. The wind could prove to be an obstacle but otherwise it should be a straightforward day that ends with a big battle between the fastest riders on the uphill finishing straight.
Some of the sprinters have had a nasty surprise in stage 3 where they missed out on the opportunity to sprint so they will be pleased to know that they will get another chance before the race heads into hillier terrain for the final part of the first week. Stage 5 is one of the flattest of the entire race and as the next completely flat finale comes in stage 12, it will be important for the fast riders to grab this chance before they head into a week of survival. However, the wind is an ever-present danger in this part of the country that is also plagued by brutal heat and in the finale there is an uphill finishing straight that will favour the stronger guys.
The stage is another relatively short one that brings the riders over 167.3km from Rota to Alcala de Guadaira. The starting city is located on the coast and the first part of the stage is made up of coastal roads before the riders head inlands to approach the Jerez de la Frontera which hosted the start 12 months ago. The riders get to that city after 46.5km of racing and then most of the final part of the race is made up of a long northerly run along completely flat roads.
The northerly journey ends when the riders reach the city of Sevilla where they will contest the intermediate sprint with 18.1km to go. Here they will turn around to head in a southeasterly for a few kilometres before they take a 90-degree turn to approach the finish. Throughout the entire stage, the roads are mainly flat, with the stage only offering 650m of climbing. There is a very small climb with 10km to go where it is uphill for more than 4km with a very light gradient of 1-3% and then it is slightly descending until the riders get to the final 800m that are uphill.
The run-in to the finish is not too complicated as the riders will follow a big, wide road with a few roundabouts for most of the time. They will go straight through roundabouts with 2.2, 1.4 and 0.8km to go and then they will take a 90-degree left-hand turn onto the much narrower finishing straight. Just 100m from the line, the riders will go straight through a roundabout. The road starts to rise with 800m to go and then gets steeper and steeper, with the final 400m averaging around 5%.
Alcala de Guadaira has not hosted a stage finish of a major bike race for more than a decade. It hosted the start of stage 2 in 2010 when Yauheni Hutarovich surprisingly beat Mark Cavendish in a bunch sprint in Marbella.
As expected, the Vuelta has had some hot days in Andalucia but the heat has been far less extreme than it was 12 months ago. Tomorrow it seems that the temperature will be a bit higher as the riders leave the coast and head inlands. It will be a beautiful sunny Wednesday but knowing that Seville is one of the hottest places in Europe, a maximum temperature of 32 degrees could be much worse.
It will be less windy as there will only be a light wind from a westerly direction which will pick up slightly in the finale. This means that the riders will have a cross-headwind in the coastal section and then a tailwind until they get to Jerez de la Frontera. Then it is a crosswind and a cross-tailwind for most of the day. In Seville, the riders will turn into a cross-tailwind which will assist the riders for the rest of the stage.
Going into today’s stage, both Nacer Bouhanni and John Degenkolb had been hopeful that they would be in contention for the win but as Tom Dumoulin said, it ended up being a day for the tiny climbers – and Peter Sagan. The final climb was very steep and took the sting out of the legs of the heavier guys, including the strong Dutchman. That says a lot about the toughness of the finale and Sagan’s second place is hugely impressive. There is a vast difference between his condition now and 12 months ago and the Slovakian had now firmly established himself as one of the big favourites for the World Championships.
Sagan was in the mix for the stage win and had a chance to make it two in a row. On the other hand, he was not even close to passing Alejandro Valverde who was clearly the strongest in the finale. However, the Spaniard had a fair bit of luck as he would never have got the chance to win if it hadn’t been for Jose Goncalves, Katusha and Tinkoff-Saxo. Again Quintana and Valverde were isolated in the finale and it becomes more and more evident that Movistar could find themselves with real difficulties against the strong Astana and Sky teams in the mountains.
For Sagan, it may have been another second place but he will be pleased to have proved himself in a finale that was dominated by GC riders. There is no reason to dwell to much with today’s defeat as the first week is loaded with opportunities for the Slovakian and he could potentially win another three stages before we get to the first rest day.
He will get his first chance already tomorrow when the riders will tackle one of the easiest stages of the entire race. On paper, the profile is very flat but it could be a bit harder than the roadbook suggests. Today’s stage had almost the double amount of climbing compared to what the official information said and the roads are never completely flat. Nonetheless, there should be no major difficulties and for once it seems that all the big sprinters should be able to make it to the finish with the best.
This part of Spain can be pretty windy and last year we had some great crosswind action here. However, the wind is not very strong at the moment. Today the riders had a cross-tailwind near the coast but it was not enough to split the field. Tomorrow it will be even less windy and even though it will be a cross-tailwind or a crosswind for almost the entire stage, it is unlikely to do any real damage.
Stages 8 and 10 both have flat finales but as they include tough climbs in the finale, they are too hard for most of the sprinters. This means that the next chance for many of the fast finishers comes on stage 12 so they cannot allow themselves to miss this opportunity. Hence, there is no chance that we won’t get a bunch sprint.
There are no KOM points on offer so even teams like Caja Rural and Colombia may be keen to save some energy. Hence, we should get a small break with riders from wildcard teams, LottoNL-Jumbo, Etixx-QuickStep or FDJ that escape right from the gun. Orica-GreenEDGE will set the pace early in the stage but they should soon get some help from the sprint teams.
Orica-GreenEDGE have a double incentive to do some work. They both want to defend the overall lead which will be no major issue and they want to win the stage with Caleb Ewan. However, the latter objective has less priority due to Chaves’ great form so if they don’t get any help, they probably won’t bring the break back.
In stage 3, Tinkoff-Saxo did almost all the work and they also rode on the front for most of today’s stage. They know that this is another good stage for them but they also have to take care of Rafal Majka later in the race. There are no climbs which they can use to make things hard so it doesn’t make sense for them to take full responsibility. They are likely to use a single rider for the chase and Giant-Alpecin and Cofidis should also commit themselves. Expect to see Tom Stamsnijder and Yoann Bagot on the front to keep the break under control.
With no wind, we can expect a straightforward sprint stage. There may be some nervous moments in some of the exposed sections but we shouldn’t see any splits. The highlight will be the intermediate sprint which comes late in the stage and we could see some of the GC riders sprint for bonus seconds if the break has been caught at this point.
In the end, we should get a sprint finish. The finale is technically not very complicated even though it will be impossible not to be too far back when the riders turn onto the narrower road with 800m to go. The main challenge is the uphill finishing straight. The final 400m are uphill at around 5% and this will definitely have an impact on the outcome of the stage. It will be very important not to start the sprint too early as you can easily fade in this kind of sprint.
Peter Sagan has proved that he is in excellent condition. Usually, he is not fast enough to beat the likes of Nacer Bouhanni and John Degenkolb in a flat sprint but he did just that yesterday. He is much better suited to an uphill sprint where he is one of the best in the world. A 5% gradient is perfect for him and the length of the climb also suits him pretty well.
Furthermore, Sagan is excellent at positioning himself. That was evident in yesterday’s sprint where he managed to push Tom Van Asbroeck off John Degenkolb’s wheel. In that stage, he was even on his own as Daniele Bennati was licking his wounds after an earlier crash. Tomorrow the Italian will be back in the mix and this is a big advantage for Sagan. With his current condition, Sagan will be hard to beat in this kind of sprint and so he is out favourite.
John Degenkolb is another rider who really likes uphill sprints. He took one of his first big wins in a very similar stage at the Criterium du Dauphiné when he was still a young HTC-Highroad rider. He may have come up short in yesterday’s stage but there is no doubt that he is one of the fastest riders in this field.
Degenkolb has one big advantage: his lead-out train. Luka Mezgec and Koen De Kort did an outstanding job to deliver him on the front yesterday. Tomorrow the train should have even more firepower as Zico Waeytens who has been set back by a small crash, should also be able to lend a hand. Today they proved their strength when they delivered Dumoulin and Degenkolb on the front for the final climb and if they can again position Degenkolb perfectly, he is strong enough to win here.
On paper, Nacer Bouhanni is the fastest sprinter in this race. However, the uphill sprint changes things a bit. The Frenchman likes this kind of finish as he is a very good climber too but Sagan and Degenkolb probably have a bit more speed in an uphill sprint.
Furthermore, there’s the issue of his many crashes. He has already hit the deck twice and reportedly he can barely walk. It is definitely better on the bike and he showed very good condition by coming back to take second after his crash yesterday. However, the first two days after a tumble are usually the worst so he may not be at 100%. On the other hand, you can never rule out Bouhanni in this kind of finale.
Caleb Ewan was left hugely frustrated when he missed out yesterday. The Australian was dropped after the summit of the category 1 climb and so never got the chance to sprint. Tomorrow he should be there in the finale and with fast riders like Jens Keukeleire, Simon Gerrans, Mathew Hayman, Daryl Impey and Mitchell Docker, he has one of the best lead-outs. The uphill finish should suit the tiny Australian pretty well too.
Danny van Poppel was another rider who was left frustrated yesterday and he will be keen to finally get his chance. The Dutchman showed splendid condition a few weeks ago but doesn’t seem to have the same kind of form anymore. However, tomorrow’s challenges should be manageable for him and he prefers uphill sprints. With Jasper Stuyven and Boy van Poppel at his side, he has one of the best trains to put him into position.
Kris Boeckmans had made it over the climbs in yesterday’s stage but cramps took him out of contention. Tomorrow he will be eager to finally show the speed that has allowed him to have a bit of a breakthrough season. His specialty is an uphill sprint like tomorrow’s as he proved when he won Le Samyn earlier this year. He has Jasper de Buyst, Tosh van der Sande and Adam Hansen for the lead-out and is usually pretty good at positioning himself.
We are very curious to see what Carlos Barbero can do in this stage. The Caja Rural rider is not a pure sprinter but he is very strong in uphill sprints. He recently beat Daniel Moreno in a much harder finale in the Vuelta a Burgos. He would definitely have preferred the climb to be steeper but this finale should definitely be good for him. Jose Goncalves and Lluis Mas did an excellent lead-out yesterday and if they can repeat that performance, Barbero should be up there.
Jempy Drucker took a very fine fourth place in the first sprint stage. That was pretty impressive as he has no team to support him and negotiated the finale on his own. However, he has proved that he is great at positioning himself and this also allowed him to take two top results in the Eneco Tour. Being no pure sprinter, he benefits from the uphill finishing straight so if the fight for position doesn’t leave him fatigued he should do well.
Tom Van Asbroeck was in a great position until Sagan pushed him off Degenkolb’s wheel yesterday. In the end he had to settle for 10th but the LottoNL-Jumbo team proved that their many strong guys can do a good lead-out. Van Asbroeck may not specialize in uphill sprints but he is a tough guy who should be able to do well in this finish.
Vicente Reynes has taken over sprinting duties at IAM after Matteo Pelucchi abandoned. He is no pure sprinter but likes uphill sprints. He has achieved his best results in finishes like tomorrow’s. Unfortunately, he doesn’t have much support from his team but he has a vast experience. This could be the sprint that suits him the best so he will be eager to strike.
Kristian Sbaragli is much more than a pure sprinter as he climbs really well too. With a sixth place in the first sprint, he proved that he can be up there in this race. He has Youcef Reguigui for the lead-out and should find the uphill finish to his liking as he is not the fastest rider in a flat sprint.
Maximilano Richeze did really well to take fifth in the first sprint despite being on his own. The Argentinean is one of the best riders when it comes to positioning and this is a huge advantage which means that he rarely misses the top 10. However, he is more of a pure sprinter so this finale could be a bit too steep for him.
Neo-pro Lorrenzo Manzin had made it into the lead group yesterday but the climbing had left him too fatigued for the sprint. Tomorrow’s easier stage should allow him to be up there. With Kevin Reza, Mickael Delage and Olivier Le Gac he has a very good lead-out. He is probably not fast enough to win but he should be able to sprint into the top 10.
Finally, Jasper Stuyven deserves a mention. The Trek rider is the second sprinter in his team and will get his chance if van Poppel is not feeling good. There are indications that the Dutchman is not at his best and this could open the door for Stuyven who is not a pure sprinter but likes this kind of tough finale.
CyclingQuotes’ stage winner pick: Peter Sagan
Other winner candidates: John Degenkolb, Nacer Bouhanni
Outsiders: Caleb Ewan, Danny van Poppel, Kris Boeckmans, Carlos Barbero
Jokers: Jempy Drucker, Tom Van Asbroeck, Vicente Reynes, Kristian Sbaragli, Maximilano Richeze, Lorrenzo Manzin, Jasper Stuyven
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