Itzulia Basque Country Stage 2 Preview
Max Schachmann took a dominant win on the opening stage of the Itzulia, he powered away on the dificult technical 11 kilometer route to get a great stage win and mark himself as a true overall contender, gaining loads of time to the likes of Dan Martin (+35) and Mikel Landa (+54), otherwise most of the overall contenders managed to keep the gaps relatively short, so the expected fight for the overall in the last few days will be very tight. He finished with a time faster than Daniel Martinez and Michal Kwiatkowski who completed the podium.
Positive: Schachmann obviously, took advantage of a suiting course and took the right risks, gaining a lot of time and showing himself as a true candidate. Daniel Martinez was a big surprise, a good time-trialist and climber but against such competition I didn't expect such a result, Hugh Carthy also finished in the Top10 and are keeping up EF's good stream of results.
Negative: Mikel Landa definetely lost a lot more time than what he should, 38 seconds back on Adam Yates for example already looks to be a gap too big to shut down, the least the Spaniard needed was a short buffer over some of the other contenders and specially the Astana riders. Dennis, well the course didn't suit him, and the bike apparently not too so it wasn't a surprise, but still only 22nd on the day seems too low for the world champion. Luis Leon Sanchez, David Gaudu and Bauke Mollema also lost a lot of time, more importantly the latter two as they came as team leaders, luck is tha both have backups.
De Marchi was 23rd on the day, so he should have numbers similar to those of Rohan Dennis in power-to-weight terms. Although this stage was much more than that, the final technical descent had a big effect on the times, and it really was a time-trial for someone who can do anything.
The first part was very important, the riders had to mantain a high speed and the false-flat uphill in the first kilometers was essential to have a good time. It took de Marchi around 6:55 minutes to make the final ascent, so perhaps that can explain why Kwiatkowski/Alaphillipe couldn't take advantage of their explosiveness, as it still had to be a measured effort, the climb wasn't as fast as the pure puncheurs would like. This means the time won on the opening section by Schachmann was vital, as there is where he could capitalize on his physical abilities. Then he kept the gap on the climb (which he was very strong noticeably) and rode a fantastic descent, on for a great stage win and at least a day in the lead.
Tomorrow will be somewhat of a novelty for the race. The profile isn't really hard but there will be 6 gravel sectors in the stage. There's no real climb in the stage and the final sector antecipates a long flat section to the line, but the final kilometer will have a 4.4% gradient so it should make for a long and slow sprint, that can favour those less explosive.
It should depend on how the gravel sectors go though, the gravel itself will likely make no difference, but exposed narrow roads can, and the sectors aren't flat as it's visible.
The wind won't be strong tomorrow so the likely scenario really is that the gravel won't make any effect, maybe only fatigue the riders and make for a fast race.
In the end it should still come down to a bunch sprint on challenging gradients.
Who to go with?
Well it isn't a very wide scenario, there is no sprinter in the race who can claim favouritism for tomorrow so it should come down to the puncheurs and those improvised sprinters who can deal with these rough finishes.
Julian Alaphillipe looks in fine form and after the sprinting legs he's been showing he's got to be on the main contenders, Michal Kwiatkowski follows the same line of thought but doesn't quite have the same explosiveness of the Frenchman.
Patrick Bevin comes fresh from Catalunya where he's had a strong run in the sprints, he won a stage in a very similar finish in the Tour Down Under in front of the likes of Ewan and Sagan so he is definetely one to watch, and CCC should be the team in control for tomorrow if the break doesn't contain a rider in orange.
Grega Bole and Jay McCarthy are two fast outsiders, as are Enrico Battaglin, Anthony Roux and Tosh van der Sande. All of these need a very good day though if they wanna win in Gorraiz as the competition will be tough.
If the race so happens to be very attacked and split there are some riders who can fancy their chances, the leader himself Schachmann is a good call, a very explosive rider, Diego Ulissi and Luis Leon Sanchez are also capable of riding strong in this kind of finish. Jon Aberasturi is perhaps the most similar to a pure sprinter, and Caja Rural have recognized this stage some weeks ago, so he's also a possibility.
⭐ Bole, Sanz, Aberasturi, Ulissi, Roux, Battaglin, van der Sande
It's hard to overlook him isn't it... Alaphillipe this year took a strong leap in his sprinting results, and a finish like this certainly suits him very well. He won't have a leadout surely, that can be an issue, but well the finish isn't flat either so riders like Devenyns and Serry may be more than able to have him in prime position so I think he fits the winning picture.
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