A rampon to the balcon, today’s stage features one of the longest climbs in the Basque Country with the finish at the Balcon de Bizkaia on the flanks of Monte Oiz.
Rainbow Rohan: the win for Rohan Dennis and just as he won by a large margin in the opening stage in Malaga, he took the stage by 50 seconds and looks a certainty for the title in Innsbruck. Among the GC candidates Steven Kruijswijk did a great ride and is now up to third place overall. Simon Yates extended his lead on Alejandro Valverde by a few seconds while Nairo Quintana slipped back.
The Route: a mountain stage of sorts, 157km and close to 4,000m of vertical gain on the menu. The races passes through Gernika, a town infamous for the civil war bombing and its subsequent depiction by Pablo Picasso.
The first time up the Alto del Balcon de Bizkaia it’s 7km at 4.3% and a gentle climb before tackling the descent which will later be climbed. Then come more two more gentle climbs on a loop, steady climbs of 4-5% for the most part through the Basque woodland. If they’re not hard in isolation, the repeat efforts are tiring and the ever-twisting roads put a premium on being near the front of the bunch.
The Finish: they climb the road they descended earlier for the first four kilometres and then turn off onto a concrete track that leads up the mountain under the ridge of wind turbines, it’s been freshly surfaced for the most part which helps. The profile says 23% but you’d need a surveyor to fund it, instead it’s more about the long, consistent ramp of 14% that leads to the 2km to go point. After this the slope levels out for a while before kicking up to the line.
The Contenders: another sharp climb to the finish meaning a similar cast of characters. There’s a good chance the breakaway stays away, with tomorrow a likely bunch sprint and then the Pyrenees, many will hope they can stay away today. The final is packed with climbing so the winner needs to be versatile, think perpetual attacker Bauke Mollema (Trek-Segafredo) or Alessandro de Marchi and Dylan Teuns (BMC Racing) but take your pick from others outside the top-10, for example Davide Formolo (Bora-Hansgrohe) and maybe Fabio Aru (UAE-Emirates) goes in the break to make up for a so far discreet performance.
Among the GC contenders Simon Yates (Mitchelton-Scott) has relatively slender lead of 33 seconds over Alejandro Valverde but this puts him in a strong position as it’s up to the others to make the moves, he need only mark them and then snipe the stage win and the time bonus. Yates lacks team support but can the Movistar tandem of Nairo Quintana and Alejandro Valverde pose a threat? Maybe not today, Quintana will surely prefer a long race move in the Pyrenees. Miguel Angel Lopez (Astana) now has the space to jump away, if he goes in the final two kilometres he might not be closed down immediately.
|Simon Yates, M-A Lopez|
|Valverde, Pinot, Mollema, de Marchi, Teuns, Formolo|
Weather: warm and sunny, 28°C in the valleys.
Tune in: the finish is forecast for 5.40pm CEST.