The race begins for real and there’s no soft introduction, this is a mini-mountain stage with a summit finish.
Stage 1 Wrap: a team time trial without times nor trials. Given the seaside setting perhaps the riders would have preferred to stop for an ice cream, a beer or some sangria? Some could have with several teams visibly riding the course rather than racing it and Europcar, last and by almost a full minute, could have worn sombreros instead of aero helmets. BMC Racing won the stage and put Peter Velits into red, the Slovak escaping the shadow of Peter Sagan for a moment. But does it matter? Yes because BMC get a stage win already. While other teams coasted along the coast did BMC force the pace to take an early win and take risks because they’re nervous about the condition of van Garderen? We’ll learn plenty today.
The Route: it’s all about the final climb. The roads along the way don’t have too many obstacles, the Alto above Ardales is just 5km at 4.4% and not as spiky as it looks on the profile above but it is up and down for a lot of the day.
The Finish: 4.7km at 6.5% but as the profile shows the gradient varies. It’s narrow, barely wide enough for two cars to pass and steep too with 8-10% from the 3km to go sign and this makes it selective, they will hit this with speed so being on a wheel still means energy savings but it’s all about being on the right wheel and trying to come around riders is a big extra use of energy. It doesn’t show it above but it flattens out for the finishing straight.
The Contenders: the sharp climb suits punchy riders but this is a sustained effort rather than a sprint and we’ll see who is ready to fight for the overall win almost immediately today. Indeed picking a winner today is as hard as picking a winner for the overall, it’s hard to know who is in form and who isn’t.
The safe pick is Dani Moreno, the Katusha rider won two mountain stages of the Vuelta a Burgos and he thrives on the steep climbs but today’s finish with its almost flat run to the line doesn’t suit him, he’ll have to strike early. Joaquim Rodriguez is suited to a climb like this too but we don’t know his state of form. If Alejandro Valverde is still there he can sprint past them both in the final 200 metres.
Among the other GC riders Fabio Aru should have that zip in his legs and the added motivation of becoming Astana’s capo or leader. Sergio Henao is another uphill finish expert, he was looking solid in the Tour of Poland but not sparkling and it’ll be interesting to see how Chris Froome fares, his bid for the Tour de France included a strong ride up the Mur de Huy.
Dan Martin can win a stage like this but he’s the erratic sort, capable of winning the biggest races going from stages in the Tour to Liège… but often not much more. Team mate Andrew Talansky has shown he can punch through for the win in the past but not this year so far.
If Dan Martin is tipped then Simon Gerrans could snipe the win… if only we know his form. He’s not raced since crashing out of the Tour de France so don’t bet a peseta on him but do watch him especially if he’s hanging with the best. Can Peter Sagan hang in there? Probably not, he’ll have to be in peak condition to make it and hope the main teams don’t force the pace. Yet we’re likely to see the main teams in formation as each tries to place their leader near the front coming into the climb.
|Alejandro Valverde, Dani Moreno|
|Joaquim Rodriguez, Fabio Aru, Dan Martin, Sergio Henao|
Weather: warm and sunny with a top temperature of 28°C
TV: the Alto de Ardales is at 4.30pm Euro time and the finish comes at 5.30pm. Tune it by 5.00pm to watch the teams jostle for position in the approach to the final climb.
Daily Díaz: The King’s little pathway? The current king’s great grandfather, Alfonso XIII, crossed this walkway in 1921 for the inauguration of a nearby dam. It has been pointed as one of the most dangerous hiking trails in the world (Hua Shan in miniature, if you like). The views are spectacular, and unexpected if you imagine Southern Spain as a desert. This is the hinterland of the Sun Coast, a country of bandits, shepherds, hippies and hikers (INRNG: and cyclists on training camps). The Caminito reopened earlier this year after some extensive repairs. You can visit for free, but need to book in advance as there’s a limit to how many people can visit it at once. See it at youtube.
Thanks to cycling podcaster and history teacher Manuel Pérez Díaz for the local information. You can follow him on Twitter as perezdiazmanuel