If you’re are a fan of bunch sprints then you’d best turn your attention to the semi-classics going on in Belgium this week, as this race offers minimal chances for the sprinters, which makes you wonder why Andre Greipel and Nacer Bouhanni made the trip. This race is all about the Puncheurs and the Grimpeurs, as is usually the case, with two summit finishes and three undulating stages littered with categorised climbs.
Since 2012 the race has begun with a route beginning and ending in Calella, 58km northeast of Barcelona. Each year the course is different, and each year the outcome equally so. In the past, we’ve seen the sprinters take the first leader’s jersey here, other times its been a late attack that wins the day. This year there are six categorised climbs and the last 500m are 5%, so a strong uphill kick will be needed to take the win.
Stage 2 is fairly controversial, in our view, in how it will undoubtably shape the race. A 41.3km TTT will complete ruin the GC challenge for those riders who are on teams that aren’t strong, or even average at the discipline. The first TTT since 2005 and the race organisers seem to be making up for lost time!
Stage 3 has three category one climbs in the last 80km, including two visits up to the ski resort of La Molina, where the stage ends and by which time the GC time gaps will have increased.
There is some respite offered on Stage 4 which takes in flattish and downward roads for the most part until a category two climb rears its head with 13km to go, make this a great day for a break or late attack.
The GC race resumes and will be decided on stage 5. The HC summit finish at Lo Port in the Los Puertos de Tortosa-Beseit mountain range will be a real spectacle with gradients hitting 20%.
The final two stages offer something for the sprinters, but could easily see a break or late attack take them. Stage 6 throws up a category 1 climb with 40km to go, which could throw a spanner in the works for the fast men. Stage 7 take in the familiar 8 circuits of short, but sharp, Alto de Montjuic climb in Barcelona.
This race marks Chris Froome‘s first in Europe this year and his first against main Tour de France rival Alberto Contador, however, he has never finished higher that 6th here as his form isn’t at its Grand Tour peak at this stage of the season. He may struggle to keep with his rivals, who have Paris-Nice and Tirreno-Adriatico in their legs, however, the TTT on stage 2 could give him a big advantage if Sky can avoid any exploding wheels! This is what scuppered Geraint Thomas‘s Tirreno bid and if Froome isn’t feeling it then the Welshman will be the back, along with Mikel Landa.
So far this year, Contador has missed out on taking a week long stage race by 1 (Ruta del Sol) and 2 (Paris-Nice) seconds. There is no doubting his form, the only question is can he keep up the intensity? Bauke Mollema and Jarlinson Pantano will ride in support, however, the Dutchman may well fancy his chance if El Pistolero falters.
Last year’s winner, Nairo Quintana, isn’t taking part in 2017. Alejandro Valverde will lead the team. He missed Paris-Nice with illness but has started this in his typical imperious style, taking the win at the Rute del Sol. The long, drawn out climbs on stage 3 and 5 look to be too hard for him, but he will be favourite for the more undulating stages.
The Quickstep duo of Dan Martin and Julien Alaphilippe has been in great form in recent weeks, the Frenchman in particular with his stage win at Paris-Nice and 3rd place at Milan-Sanremo. The course is more suited to Martin here, who won the race in 2013 and with the likes of Gianluca Brambilla and Petr Vakoc in support, and capable of stage wins f their own, he could be in line to take another overall victory here.
BMC are the current world TTT champions and stormed to victory at the TT at Tirreno-Adriatico. However the stage 2 TTT is a different kettle of fish, but you would expect them to still win it. That should put Tejay Van Garderen in a great position come the mountains. His form so far has been poor and we could the team revert to young Belgium and Tour of Oman winner, Ben Hermans or Rohan Dennis who was second at Tirreno-Adriatico.
The rest of the teams will likely suffer during the TTT and so that means it will be tough for the likes of Adam Yates (Orica-Scott), Ilnur Zakarin (Katusha), Andrew Talanskey and Hugh Carthy (Cannnondale Drapac), Rafel Majka (Bora -Hansgrothe), Steven Kruijswijk (LottoNL-Jumbo) and Romain Bardet (Ag2r) to challenge for the overall. Instead, they will be targeting the summit finishes of stage 3 and 5.
We’ll have daily previews throughout the race detailing each stage and the riders who we think could compete for the win.
Our GC Picks:
Andy – Alberto Contador
Chris – Chris Froome
James – Dan Martin