The last time the race visited the climb to Lo Port, last year’s winner Nairo Quintana had just turned one. The race returns after a twenty-six-year absence and this year’s edition will be decided on its slopes.
There is the climb to the Coll de Fatzes, that begins at 60kms, The cat 2, 14.4km long climb, average 3% which will likely see a few plucky escapees shoot off the front and gain some time on the descent, but given how the GC has been raced so far we can’t see them making it to the finish.
The rider will approach the climb to Lo Port with just under 18kms left to race. The climb itself is a beast, but the riders are eased into for the first half where the gradient doesn’t go above 6%. However, after this, the final half of the climb is in double digits for the majority, with a max of 20%. The race will be blown apart here and we could very well see Tejay Van Garderen’s 40+ second advantage evaporate.
Here’s how the GC looks going into this stage. Personally, we can’t see Tejay Van Garderen hanging onto to his lead. He hasn’t shown good form in the high mountains so far this year and even with a decent lead, there are better climbers in the race that could eat that up and go beyond it.
Movistar are not BFFs with BMC at the moment, after TTT-gate. So you can bet Alejandro Valverde and Marc Soler will be champing at the bit to spit Van Garderen and Sanchez out the back of the group when we hit the tough gradients of the climb. However, Valverde doesn’t suit climbs like this, it’s too long and hard for him. Solar won the ‘future grand tour talent show’ that is the Tour de l’Avenir in 2015 and so we think he’ll go best out of the two on this type of finish. He was great in the final two stages of Paris-Nice, finishing just behind the favourites on stage 7 and keeping up with a rampant Contador on stage 8.
Speaking of Alberto Contador, he is only just over a minute behind Van Garderen and that will be fair game to him. We know he can go off like a rocket, but he struggled to make attacks stick on the long climb to the finish of stage 7 in Paris-Nice, so expect him to go early here and hope it lasts. He’ll have Jarlinson Pantano to put in a big shift on the front, as he did on stage 7 in Paris-Nice, to tire out his rivals before he goes for it.
Dan Martin finished third, behind Contador on that stage and paced his effort perfectly. We’d expect him to do so again here and as he is well out of the GC if he makes the final group and times an attack well he could sneak the stage win.
The team with the best scenario though is Sky. They have Chris Froome and Geraint Thomas forty-nine and forty-four seconds back respectively and both can handle these types of slopes. Thomas went toe-to-toe with Quintana on the Terminillo at Tirreno and could use Froome as a foil to launch his own stage and race winning attack.
The other dynamic duo who we fancy are that of AG2R’s Romain Bardet and Pierre Latour, both winners of Grand Tour high mountain summit finishes last year. Both are also well down on GC and could be allowed to go off alone if the leaders start looking at each other.
Adam Yates was third on La Molina and third on the Terminillo behind Thomas and Quintana at Tirreno. He’s also on just over a minute behind and will fancy a podium or something more if things go his way.
Other riders to look out for are George Bennet — we didn’t expect him to be in the mix on La Molina as he usually favours the longer, harder climbs, but this shows he’s going really well and feeling good. Davide Formolo also went well on La Molina and (sorry, but we’re going to say it again) his team desperately needs a win! Finally, expect Thomas De Gent to be in a breakaway and gunning to make it back to back wins in the Queen Stage
Our Pick: Geraint Thomas. He really surprised us with how he could keep up with Quintana and with the Giro two moths away he will be wanting to lay down a marker for the GC. Can he also take the overall win here too? Yes!