A stage for the sprinters? The final climb isn’t too hard but the effect of recent crashes could be seen today with several teams having lost sprinters and with it a reason to chase down the breakaway.
Stage 9 Wrap: a breakaway including mountains competition leader Omar Fraile who picked up five points… and now sits five points ahead of Tom Dumoulin. The group never had a big lead and weren’t working together well in the latter stages. They always needed to start the final climb up Puig Llorença with a big margin which they never got.
Behind the big names traded attacks right from the start of the final climb with Alejandro Valverde and Nairo Quintana doing the old 1-2 and trading attacks. Or was it the new 1-2? This seemed unusually confident for the Movistar tandem as they too risks so early on the climb.
Dumoulin’s win was a victory of pacing. He accelerated midway and sprinted at the finish but overall his ride up the climb seemed far more linear and it probably left him the power to sprint for the win. Meanwhile Valverde, Quintana, Rafał Majka, Esteban Chaves and Fabio Aru were jumping around like popcorn. Froome’s pacing was even more linear, he appeared dropped at first but rode back at his own tempo to the leaders and had the resources to attack late only to be outsprinted by Dumoulin in a thrilling finish.
Too often these uphill finishes can be reductive, repetitive VAM tests but yesterday’s stage saw variety, risk and an unusual winner who now leads Joaquim Rodriguez by 57 seconds and must be looking forward to the time trial stage too. But what will he do in the high mountains? We had high hopes for Esteban Chaves but he cracked and lost a minute today while Chris Froome is back in the game.
The Route: the Puerto del Oronet is a gentle 6km at 4.4% but likely to be climbed fast as moves fly to make the breakaway. There’s then a 100km section to cover on the way to the climb to Desierto de las Palmas. This is a steady ascension, 7km at 5.6% and if there’s a section at 8-9% halfway up this only serves to bump up the average gradient as it’s short. Most of the climb is a 5% and accessible for the sprinters and probably known to many riders as a regular test from winter training camps in Spain.
The Finish: an urban sprint. The race takes the ring road around Castellón de la Plana with a roundabout to cross every kilometre between the 5km and 1km banners. After the flamme rouge it’s a right turn and then another right turn before the 600m finishing straight.
The Contenders: with Peter Sagan, Nacer Bouhanni and Kris Boeckmans out there’s John Degenkolb left in prime position for the win today. Caleb Ewan has shown the sprint speed needed last week but has been dropped on the climbs and Giant-Alpecin have an interest in repeating this. On paper the rest look like sprint outsiders with the likes of Jempy Drucker (BMC Racing), Kristian Sbaragli (MTN-Qhubeka), Julien Simon (Cofidis) and Max Richeze (Lampre-Merida) are sprinting in the top-10 but a grand tour stage win seems like a big ask. Danny Van Poppel will try but he’s bound to be tired after a day in the breakaway.
But the shortage of sprinters makes a sprint finish much less likely. Who will chase down the moves? Giant-Alpecin have an interest in chasing but Tinkoff-Saxo, Cofidis and Lotto-Soudal have lost their sprinters and this changes the balance of the race and increases the chances of a breakaway sticking. So if you’re the betting type Degenkolb might seem the obvious pick but the odds of a sprint happening aren’t so sure.
Otherwise who will try a breakaway? Obvious breakaway specialists include Thomas de Gendt, Adam Hansen, Steven Cummings, Cyril Gautier and Amets Txurruka. Can Alessandro de Marchi do anything? A year ago he was the peloton’s Duracell bunny with endless energy but injury and illness have written of the season and it could be time to show again.
|Ewan, Drucker, Sbaragli, Reza, DVP, Plaza, Gautier|
Weather: sunshine and clouds with a top temperature of 32°C.
Daily Díaz: What to say about Valencia? Its official name is València (which comes from the Latin, meaning “strength” or “valour”), it is the third largest city of Spain, and was the capital of the country for some months during the Spanish Civil War. If I had to recommend one visit, I’d choose the Silk Exchange building, a symbol of the prosperity of the city during the 15th century. Valencia was the head of a Christian kingdom from 1238 (when James the Conqueror crossed the city gates) to 1707 (when Philip V abolished the Furs, local laws). Recently the citizens decided not to re-elect Rita Barberá, mayor since 1991. Apparently they were tired of corruption scandals and big international events (F1, America’s Cup and so). Now that the times have changed, some fear a catalanisation of local and regional politics.
Thanks to cycling podcaster and history teacher Manuel Pérez Díaz for the local information. You can follow him on Twitter as perezdiazmanuel