The penultimate stage in a race that has been anything but predictable. An undulating stage with some stern climbing should see a good opportunity for the break to go the distance. However, with the GC still up for grabs, we could a showdown on the final climb and descent to the finish.
the first 10km are a false flat and then the riders are straight into the first climb of the day, the cat 3 Alt de Bot and expect to see an early break try and get a gap. At the summit, the road undulates for 50km before descending back down. After a lump in the road, the roads heads uphill again for the final two cat 3 climbs of the day, the Alt de Falset and straight after the Coll de Porrera.
Immediately after these, the riders come onto the main challenge of the day, the cat 1 Alt de Musara. The longest climb of the stage, at over 11km long and an average gradient of 5%, with a maximum of 11%. Depending on how much of an advantage the break has will determine how this final climb if raced by the peloton. If the gap is a number of minutes then it’s likely it will be allowed to stay away and the GC men will watch each other for to see who make the first move. However, if the gap is less then expect Sky, Trek-Segafredo and Orica-Scott to drive the pace to reel in the break and create gaps for their leaders to attack. After this final climb will be a fast paced decent over 20km before the final 3km are a false flat to the finish line.
Once again this is a stage that has Alejandro Valverde name written all over it and at the moment if he fancies it, then you’d be foolish to bet against him getting away on that final decent.
Chris Froome has shown over the last year that he can surprise and attack when least expected. He is only twenty-one seconds behind Valverde and so it still all to play for. Expect Sky to force a harsh pace of the Porrera for Froome to try and attack before the summit and extend the gap on the decent.
Much of the same should be expected from Alberto Contador, who is forty-seven seconds back on Valverde. He’ll have Mollema and Pantano working for him and has it in him to attack from further out and try and make it stick. we could be in for another Paris-Nice treat from him. The win will be beyond him, but he’ll fight for a podium or stage win.
Adam Yates is well out of it at one minute fifteen seconds back, so a tall ask for him to overhaul Valverde, but a podium and stage win is also within his grasp. The Orica-Scott team are well drilled on climbs like this with Bewley, Howson and Plaza to be called upon to help with the pacemaking. Yates will likely try and keep on the wheels Froome and Contador and if he can do that, launch an attack of his own.
Romain Bardet and Pierre Latour didn’t feature much of the climb to Lo Port, perhaps saving themselves for today as the decent will be right up their street. Both are well out fo GC and will be amongst the leader’s group. They’ll try and attack before anyone else and hope that the leaders hesitate and then allow them to head off up the road.
Other breakaway candidates are:
Gianluca Brambilla appears to be back from the illness he suffered from at the start of the race. Another good descender, the finish is similar (all be it with a tougher climb) to the stage he won in the Giro last year.
Jose Goncalves has been quite all race and with his team leader Zakarin withdrawing Katusha will want to have something to how from this week and he is yet to show off his new team’s jersey in a race.
Rafal Majka has had a very average race so far and is still clearly build to form for the Giro. But he’s fantastic at a mountain stage breakaway win, so tomorrow could be an opportunity to really test his legs at this stage in his preparation for May.
Finally, Rafael Valls and his Lotto-SOudal team have had very little to say about the race so far, in fact Valls hasn’t said much since he finished 7th on Willunga Hill in January. the 2015 Tour fo Oman winner had a poor follow up season in 2016 and needs a change in fortune soon.
Our Pick: Romain Bardet. He can take advantage of the GC eyeballing on the final climb and keep a gap by flying down the decent.