Itzulia Basque Country Stage 4 Preview
Max Schachmann won the third stage of the Itzulia, his second win in three days with an uncomparable uphill sprint. The stage was under control by the peloton despite a big breakaway, but with 6 kilometers to go there was a massive pile-up that took down many GC riders. Alaphillipe and Michal Kwiatkowski were badly hurt but were able to finish the stage. Inbetween the riders who lost time were Fuglsang, De la Cruz, Martinez, Gaudu, Teuns. These had limited losses, topping in 25 seconds but the following had over a minute; Pogacar, Carthy and Mas. Geraint Thomas, Kwiatkowski and Alaphillipe were drawn out of the overall race. Schachmann timed his sprint well in the final climb, there were no gaps inbetween the riders that started in the group and in a sprint of puncheurs, he easily beat Diego Ulissi and Enrico Battaglin and managed to extend his lead.
Positive: Schachmann gained time and lost a lot of riders that could take his lead, both in the short and long-term, the big winner of the day. In fact all the GC riders who didn't crash were winners in a way. The riders that followed him all had a good result (Ulissi, Battaglin, Hirschi), in terms of teams Bora remains flawless and they are the only ones who seem unnafected by the gaps, punctures and crashes that have occured in the opening days.
Negative: Those affected by the crash previously mentioned. It doesn't look like gaps would appear if it wasn't for it, and there wasn't anyone with a bad strategy or bad legs, simply bad luck.
Stage 4 provides another unexpected race-situation prediction. The stage favours the sprinters in a way, that it can end in a sprint, but there's a nasty climb with it's summit just 3 kilometers away from the finish. The average gradient means very little as it has a descent in the middle, but the ramps are hard in it and with the descent to the line it's good for a late attack, or of course to decide who can take it out from the breakaway. Of course, there's a 4.9Km climb at 8.5% with 37Km to go to mix thing up even more.
The final kilometer will have a 1.1Km climb at 6.3% and then a 1Km at 7% summiting with a mere 3 kilometers to go. And after, a downhill finish with some steep gradients. It isn't overly technical, but the slope will easily allow any attacking rider to recover and make a very fast approach to the line.
So it's surely a stage that will have a solo escapee winning, otherwise it's for a bunch sprint for sure, with indefinite size. But will the weather have it's part?
There will be rain but not much, likely have very few effect. The roads are twisty as the profile which suits the breakaway but the wind won't really help, it'll come generally from the front for the biggest sections of the stage, but in the middle of the hills it won't be very noticeable.
Who can we expect to see?
It's a 50/50 for a breakaway in my opinion. In case of the peloton arriving it isn't easy to know what will happen. Because the peloton option also has a 50/50 of coming in a group or a rider finishing solo or with another rider or two.
There's no main favourite for the day really, it should come down to a breakaway. If it doesn't Max Schachmann may again be a top contender for the win, it suits him but he will surely not be on the offensive. Alaphillipe and Kwiatkowski are risky to bet on with their crash today specially the first.
The explosive riders will have an advantage, mainly as position over the summit will be vital to be able to enter very well positioned in the final section, so riders like Lambrecht and Dan Martin who really like the double-digit gradients can be dangerous, despite both being lightweight for the descent. FDJ's trio Gaudu/Molard/Madouas can all be outsiders, Astana's Fuglsang/I.Izagirre/Fraile aswell obviously, Lutsenko is strong but he seems in full domestique dutie so he won't look like a proper contender. Dylan Teuns may be the one getting the lucky shot too, he will like this finale a lot.
Adam Yates is also a contender. It's critical to think of who can actually gap the others in the final ramp, the rider has to be strong enough to do so to win solo, so riders like Ulissi and Battaglin don't really have that explosiveness, and both are solid for a flat sprint but will have stronger riders around surely.
For the breakaway there are some riders who fit very well in the picture. Alessandro de Marchi has to be considered, the problem is he's only 2 minutes back in the GC so he won't be given much freedom as the peloton is aware of his abilities. Serge Pawels, Ricardo Zoidl and Amaro Antunes will all have freedom though, they aren't bad options.
Lotto Soudal have a set of riders good for tomorrow, Sander Armée is the one I point out though. Mollema for Trek, and Guerreiro/Gonçalves for Katusha are also a good option, Serry for Deceuninck although they have plenty of options, Simon Clarke for EF, Lucas Hamilton for Mitchelton
⭐Alaphillipe, Lambrecht, Kwiatkowski, De Marchi, Serry, Ulissi, Battaglin, Fuglsang
It's time for another very long shot. I'm calling Bauke Mollema tomorrow for the win from the breakaway. He can even be a contender if he rolls in the peloton actually, but I think he'll have much more chances of winning from the front, he just needs to be able to get in it, cause his disadvantage won't make him a danger for GC.
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