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Will Ilnur Zakarin get his revenge in the Tour de Romandie queen stage?

Photo: Movistar Team




29.04.2016 @ 20:15 Posted by Emil Axelgaard

Nairo Quintana turned everything around as he was the one of the two favourites to gain time in the time trial and now finds himself in the perfect position to win the race. However, nothing is guaranteed yet as Ilnur Zakarin is looking for revenge in the brutal queen stage which will be marred by bad weather.


The course

In recent years, the queen stage has mostly come on the penultimate stage and even though there will be two mountain stages in 2016, that won’t change. Saturday will again be the day of the hardest stage and unlike the previous mountain stage, stage 4 includes several big mountains which makes it a really big day with 3311m of climbing. With a flat stage on the final day, this is where the race will be decided.


The stage brings the riders over 172.7km from Conthey to Villars and has a relatively flat start as the riders head along the river in an easterly direction, passing through the city of Sion along the way. Then terrain briefly changes as they go up a small category 3 climb (2.7km, 7.5%, max.10%) at the 15.4km mark before they descend to the city of Sierre where they will turn around and head back along the flat road on the other side of the river.


After 66km of racing, they will contest the first intermediate sprint just before they get to the city of Martigny. Here they will leave the valley to tackle a small circuit with the category 1 Col des Planches (10.4km, 8.9%, max. 12%) which is a very tough climb whose top is located at the 78.3 mark. Then they will descend back to Martigny where they will follow the flat river road in the valley in a northerly direction. Along the way, the flat terrain will briefly be interrupted by the category 3 climb of La Rasse (1.6km, 9.5%, max. 12%) whose top comes with 57.7km to go. After the descent, they will continue along flat roads while contesting the final intermediate sprint with 49.4km to go just before they get to the city of Les Devens.


Here they will hit the 32.3km finishing city which mainly consists of the category 1 climb to the finish in Villars and its descent. With 45.3km to go, they will hit the bottom of the climb for the first time. It’s an 8.9km ascent with an average gradient of 7.8% and a maximum gradient of 12%. The top comes 4.1km from the line and is followed by 2.5km of rising roads that average around 1%. Then a short descent leads to the final 400m that are uphill at 4.7%. There are late turns with 1km and 400m to go. Having crossed the line for the first time, the riders will do a full lap op the circuit, meaning that they will go down the descent back to the valley where a very short flat section leads to the bottom of the climb.


Villlars has not hosted a stage finish for more than a decade.




The weather

Unfortunately, the sunny weather will come to an end for the queen stage. It will be a sunny morning, but massive rain is forecasted the late afternoon and the evening. In fact, a total of 19mm of rain is on the menu in Villars where the temperature will drop from around 10degrees to 6-7 degrees when the rain sets in.


There will be a light wind from a westerly direction which means that the riders will first have a cross-tailwind and then a cross-headwind in the long flat section. There will be a tailwind on the first big climb and a headwind on the descent and then it will be a crosswind that leads to the circuit. Here it will be a tailwind on the climb and then a cross-headwind in the section that leads to the finish. It will be a headwind on the descent.


The favourites

If anyone had told Thibaut Pinot in 2013 that he would win a time trial at the Tour de Romandie just three years later, he would probably never have believed them. However, the Frenchman has progressed steadily and for the last two years, the TT has been a bit of an asset for him and no longer a matter of pure defence. Nonetheless, he still lost the race lead in the time trials at last year’s Tour de Romandie and Tour de Suisse so today’s win is another massive step up for the Frenchman who now stands out as one of the most complete grand tour riders.


Pinot is now in a great position to finish on the podium. He was clearly one of the best climbers in stage 2 and tomorrow’s harder stage and harder finishing climb should suit him even better. Furthermore, he excels in cold conditions so he will be one of the few to welcome the arrival of bad weather.


However, the biggest winner in the time trial was definitely Nairo Quintana. It was another great TT for the Colombian who has improved massively. It all started at last year’s Vuelta and it continued at this year’s Vuelta al Pais Vasco. That result could partly be attributed to the course but today’s performance was a true test of TT skills.


On the other hand, Ilnur Zakarin did a poor time trial. This year he is evidently climbing much better than he did in 2015 and it is likely that it has cost him a bit of strength. Furthermore, this year’s course didn’t suit him as well as the one that nearly allowed him to win the TT twelve months ago. As his relegation cost him a total of 8 seconds to Quintana, he is probably now too far back to win the race overall but he will still be eager to give it a try and at least get that elusive stage win and move back into second overall.


Unfortunately, the bad weather will return and so the queen stage could be altered as it has soon often happened in Romandie. Luckily, the organizers are well aware of the risk and so always design the stages in a smart way. As all the big climbs come on circuits, it will be possible to skip the circuit with the first climb and skip the lap of the finishing circuit, meaning that the riders will just have to climb to the finish once. In that way, they will take out all the descents so in any case we should have a summit finish. However, the stage will obviously be significantly easier if some of the early climbs are taken out. We will base this preview on the assumption that the stage goes on as planned.


We are now late in the race so we can expect more aggression. There is a bigger chance that a break will make it so we should have a much faster start with more attacks. It will probably take some time for the break to be formed but as the start is easy, it should be possible to control things. There are some big climbs later in the stage but most of the stage is flat. Hence, we won’t give the breakaway much of a chance as there are a number of teams that want a stage win.


Movistar won’t be too concerned as they already have two stage wins and would be pleased to see the bonus seconds disappear. However, Zakarin wants his revenge and a stage win is the only remaining goal for Froome. Hence, we expect Katusha and Sky to make sure that things will be decided by the favourites on the final climb.


If that’s the case, we will put our money on Ilnur Zakarin. The Russian was simply impressive in the first mountain stage when he swiftly bridged the gap to Quintana. Usually, no one is able to bring the Colombian back when he has gone clear but Zakarin made it look easy. It just comes as confirmation of the great form he showed in Liege where he was the strongest rider and only lost out due to a lack of power on the cobbles.


Tomorrow’s bad weather should even suit Zakarin and the harder stage and climb will be no disadvantage either. He will be extremely motivated to get his revenge and we doubt that anyone will be able to drop him. He may not be able to get rid of Quintana but as he is faster than the Colombian in a sprint, he is our favourite to win the stage.


His biggest rival will of course be Nairo Quintana. The Colombian is having his best spring season ever and is clearly stronger than he was 12 months ago when he rode pretty poorly in this race. He was very strong in the first mountain stage and this one should suit him even better. He is not afraid of the cold and he likes the fact that there will be more climbs.


Quintana’s main concern will be the overall win and he won’t take any unnecessary risks. However, he would love to prove that he is the best climber in the race and get a stage win in a ‘correct’ manner so if he gets an opportunity to attack, he will definitely take it. It won’t be easy to drop Zakarin but it won’t be impossible either.


The big joker is of course Chris Froome. The Brit wasn’t exactly impressive in the first mountain stage but it is always difficult to base too much on a chase effort where you have to gauge your effort carefully. Today he proved that the form is not too bad and even though it was not a time trial like the ones he did in the past, it was a solid performance. Furthermore, it was a great proof of his competitive mentality as he bounced back from a situation where most would have lost all the motivation.


There is no doubt that Froome will be eager tomorrow. This is final race before a big break so it will be his only chance to test himself on the climbs before the Dauphiné. Hence, he needs to gall out in tomorrow’s stage and he has the advantage that he won’t be heavily marked by his rivals as he is no GC threat. We doubt that he is at his best and will be able to ride away in his usual dominant fashion but you can never rule Froome out. Furthermore, he has a solid sprint which is important in this kind of finale.


Rui Costa did a bad TT but it was his only poor performance for several weeks. The Portuguese is in the form of this life and was very strong in the first mountain stage. He is not a pure climber so he won’t be able to match the best but he has the big advantage of being fast in a sprint. In this kind of finish, it’s not impossible that a group arrives together and then he will be one of the favourites.


The same goes for Rigoberto Uran. Today’s stage confirmed our fear that he has gone from being a TT specialist to being a very poor time triallist as he has done bad TTs for more than a year now. However, he is climbing really well. Like Costa, he won’t be able to ride away on the final climb but he is maybe even faster than the Portuguese in a flat sprint.


Thibaut Pinot is obviously riding very well and he wasn’t far off the mark when Zakarin attacked in stage 2. This stage should suit his diesel engine a bit better and he will be extremely motivated after today’s great performance. He won the queen stage 12 months ago and if he can keep up with Zakarin and Quintana, he definitely has a chance to win a sprint.


Rafal Majka seems to be ready for the Giro. He climbed well in the first mountain stage where he claimed to be a bit afraid of trying to follow the best as it was his first big climb for some time. Tomorrow he will have more guarantees and so he will be willing to take more risks. He has lost some time on GC and this may give him some freedom.


Mathias Frank was riding very well in 2014 but he was not at the same level in 2015. Now he seems to be back at his best level and like Majka, he regretted not having tried to follow the best in the queen stage. Of course he will have an eye on defending his top 10 in the GC but he will be willing to take a few more risks. He is clearly one of the best climbers and this will give him opportunities.


As said, we don’t give a breakaway much of a chance but it can’t be completely ruled out that a strong group can make. In that case, Diego Rosa stands out as a good joker. The Italian completed a solo ride of more than 100km to win the queen stage in Pais Vasco in similarly bad weather and he was in excellent form in Liege where he attacked on Saint-Nicolas and finished in the top 10. He has had some breathing problems in this race but if he is feeling better tomorrow, he is one of the best climbers in this race and he definitely has the form to win this kind of stage.


CyclingQuotes’ stage winner pick: Ilnur Zakarin

Other winner candidates: Nairo Quintana, Chris Froome

Outsiders: Rui Costa, Rigoberto Uran, Thibaut Pinot

Jokers: Rafal Majka, Mathias Frank, Diego Rosa (breakaway)



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