After a team time trial and a sprint finish now it’s time for a summit finish. Yes, it’s only Stage 3 but the finish of today’s stage will be explosive and exciting and forces riders to show their cards very early in the race.
The route: the start is in Faustino V, not the name of a town but of a bodega, or winery. The early part of the stage looks suited to a breakaway going clear with the Alto La Aldea offering early mountains points. But the finish today dominates and we can expect several teams to work and control the race, setting a high tempo on the approach to the final climb.
This will be dangerous at times, everyone will need to be at the front for the climb today because if you’re not near the front when the climb starts then you’ll use up all your energy to overtake others on the climb whilst the main riders prepare to attack.
The finish: followers of the spring stage race the Tour of the Basque Country will know the Alto de Arrate climb above Eibar as the place where Samuel Sanchez has twice struck to win the stage. The climb is 5.5km at an average of 7.8% and as the diagram shows the middle section is vital. The top of the climb is 2km from the finish, the road levels off and then descends to the line. This matters because if a group is away then the descent and flatter finish means the best climber might get outsprinted for the win and the time bonus.
The scenario: Alberto Contador seems in top form right now and yesterday he was even going for an intermediate sprint to win two seconds because “grand tours are sometimes won and lost by seconds“. I don’t think he’s worried about losing the race by one second in Madrid, he’s just highly motivated. We’re likely to see him take off today. The immediate question will be whether anyone can follow him, if they try they risk cracking but if they don’t then they could lose the race after three days, if not for real then at least in their minds.
We’ll also see whether Team Sky try the same tactic as the Tour de France, riding the climb as if it was a team time trial to pace Froome to the top or whether Henao and Uran get jumpy. Above we can scan the results to see who is there and who isn’t. Perhaps in Samuel Sanchez’s absence Igor Anton will strike but if it comes to a sprint amongst the main names, Joaquim Rodriguez has a fast finish.
Weather: another hot day but with less wind that yesterday. Temperatures will reach 30°C which, whilst hot, is more manageable than the temperatures of the weekend.
TV: it’s live on TV from 4.00pm to 6.00pm Euro time, with the finish expected between 5.30-5.50pm. The best action will come in the end, aim to catch the race from 5.00pm onwards.
Local Ride: not a rider this time but a ride, as in Orbea, the Spanish bicycle manufacturer. It is from Mallabia, a short spin outside Eibar. The Basque region has long been an industrial powerhouse of Spain with steel, shipbuilding and other heavy industries. Orbea is a subsidiary of Mondragon Corporation and if this sounds like a faceless corporate machine, think again. It’s a workers’ co-operative, owned by the staff and they each get a vote in the way the business is run.