Itzulia Basque Country Stage 5 Preview
"Oops I did it again", must Max Schachmann have thought after finishing the Itzulia's 4th stage. The German took his third win in four days, his love of rainy racing has brought him nothing but success this season, he is in great form and that was again visible when he answered Adam Yates' attack on the final climb. With them, Tadej Pogacar (who finished 2nd) and Jakob Fuglsang (who finished 3rd), who were able to take advantage of the lumpy terrain to gain time on their rivals.
Schachmann increased his lead even more, it is now 51 second over his own teammate Pattrick Konrad, and he'll enter the decisive final two stages with a good buffer, but one he will surely struggle to keep as the longer climbs don't suit him as well.
Positive: Schachmann isn't only going through the race without flaws, he's constantly dealing blows. He may not be in the fight for the win with the following stages but Konrad and Buchmann are also racing perfectly so far. All the other who finished with him today have lost time previously, so it''s expected that all of them will be on the attack tomorrow.
Negative: George Bennett and Sam Oomen lost time today, they had been good overall until today and this is an important setback. No other big flaws to point out, except for Pello Bilbao who was a victim of a crash with 7 kilometers to go, and is another rider Astana looses for the overall fight.
The rain affected the profile, so that isn't to be taken into account. The penultimate climb was ridden in a hard pace but it didn't get any contenders in dificulties, so it all came down to the final climb and it's run-in.
With a technical wet descent in the middle it was crucial for the riders to be well positioned in the summit of the first peak, hence Pogacar's effort to be at the very front in it. The descent allowed him to take some rest but the final 1Km was full-on, the gradients were around 10% for the first 600 meters, the Slovenian had to push hard to keep momentum at first but very quickly had to answer Yates' attack. The road flattened out a bit but before the top he still made a little move which can be seen there right in the end of the effort, it didn't gap the other riders but allowed him to start the descent in front, which in the end almost gave him the win as the others struggled to get on his wheel.
Stage 5 is going to climb one of the most iconic climbs. Being used often in the last few years, the climb to the Alto de Arrate via Usartza has been a living hell for all riders riding up it. With 6 categorized climbs before the final one, including the brutal Izua climb at 10% for 4 kilometers. As for the final ascent, it summits with around 1.5Km to go and is 4Km at 7.3%, mostly on concrete roads and several areas where the gradients get even steeper.
Last year the stage was very attacked by Movistar, who in urgency managed to distance Roglic, but Landa was unable to take back the gap that the Slovenian had put earlier in the race. It's a very hard stage and it's where we should see the main gaps.
The Ixua climb is definetely the hardest side, the gradients reach unimaginable numbers of 24% right in it's begining, with 1900 meters at an average gradient of 15.8% it's absolute hell, and even more so if the roads are wet, it can be chaos in the climb. It's also where long distance attacks can "easily" be made, and the favourites will show their true legs in here in any scenario.
And the final ascent will be through the Usartza side, the most traditional one. It isn't as hard but it's still a very hard ascent, of 5Km at 8.8%, much more constant gradient. It should be a 15/16 minute effort, maybe more with the hard stage it is though it will be, it is definetely hard enough to make decisive gaps.
The rain will be present tomorrow, the roads will be wet and dangerous. This is only going to make the descents harder. And with it's gradients even the Ixua climb may be harder, specially for those who have a habit of standing on the pedals.
As for the wind, it will come from the north, around 10Km/h wind 30Km/h gusts. Normally in this type of terrain and climbing it won't make as much difference, but it is noticeable the the wind will come in the form of a headwind in both climbs, it can make it harder to create gaps, specially in the final ascent.
Who can we expect to see?
A raid? I think so. Astana have literally brought an entire squad full of riders who could realistically fight for the GC, but at this point only Fuglsang and Ion Izagirre, their desginated leaders in a way, are still in contention. So, the natural thought is that their agressive style of racing will make for a brutal stage. The begining and bulk of the stage are hard enough for the climbers to get in, and Astana have a rack of them, Pello Bilbao also is a serious threat, he's in great form and in the break he can be the biggest of cards for Astana to bridge across with a rider. The Ixua climb should be a launching pad for several GC riders to try and make some damage for sure, as chances of an organized chase afterwards are very low.
Adam Yates had the bad luck in the second stage, he is clearly in good form, the climbs will suit him perfectly so it's a matter of when he will try out. His disadvantage doesn't make it impossible for him to win the race if he still waits for the final climb, but he needs time on lots of other riders so it is a possibility to see Mitchelton placing riders in the break for Yates to try and bridge in the Ixua climb.
UAE have a dangerous duo, Dan Martin and Pogacar sit 5th and 16th overall, they certainly are riders who should go on the attack tomorrow, as they also have some riders who can back them up very well as Sergio Henao who's been on the podium of the race twice and sits 11th, and Ulissi also in 15th.
Then there's Bora. Schachmann, can he hang on? I don't think he can hang on to the lead, the climbs will be too long for him. Not that he isn't bad for long climbs, he was 7th in Jebel Jais after all in the UAE Tour, but this climb isn't a rolling one, that fits a 70Kg rider, it's an explosive ultra-steep climb that is long at the same time. The final one is also preety steep and long, the repetition of climbs should drain his power and be the major obstacle. Pattrick Konrad and Emanuel Bucmann on the other hand are used to those type of efforts, 2nd and 6th in the GC they should be a big factor, I don't see them waiting for the yellow jersey, and they can use the leader card so as to save energies or even block attacks if they come.
Mikel Landa hasn't been showing himself much, his time-trial wasn't good but he's sitting 9th overall, and has been able to avoid the punctures and crashes in the past few days making him a proper GC contender still. Movistar aren't looking as strong in relation to other teams but they still have good cards to play, and Landa himself, a home rider, should be very fond of the coming climbs, he knows them very well and they suit him just as well. Finally there's also Daniel Martinez, he isn't as strong of a climber but he is good enough to be in contention, he has a good team and will be looking to defend his 4th place. Enric Mas won here last year, but you can't help thinking the crashes that have affected him and his team all week long will have an effect on him, both phisically and mentally.
It's hard to imagine a breakaway winning here, but there are some names that can be accounted for that, either that or taking advantage of the sitting up in the main group. Pello Bilbao has been mentioned, but likely will be working for his teammates. But Molard/Gaudu duo is interesting, Bauke Mollema has been very good also, but out of GC. George Bennett and Sam Oomen will have freedom, as will Geraint Thomas and David de la Cruz from Sky
⭐ De la Cruz, Thomas, Martinez, Konrad, Buchmann, Bilbao, Mollema
I see an Adam Yates win. Astana have strenght in numbers, but there's a gut feeling that runs in the Yates' brothers that always seems to work so well, both are very tactically strong, very strong on both short and long climbs, steep and rolling, and they are never scared of attacking from far. I definetely see Yates attacking with one of the Astana riders far from the finish, maybe between climbs, and he can definetely take the win in that scenario, and in any in fact.
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