Volta ao Algarve Stage 4 Preview
It was a hard hard sprint, with a controlled stage and a big fight for the leadouts, and in a complicated finish Sunweb managed to do a perfect leadout for the Dutchman Cees Bol who put on a brilliant and dominant sprint from the front, and beat Sacha Modolo and Fabio Jakobsen to get his first win of the year, one of many I'll affirm.
Positive: Bol and Modolo both with great results, Hoelgaard and Mullen having strong finishes aswell.
Negative: Viviani completely out of position today, another failed race for him seeing he's coming out with no win. Trek was heavily affected by a crash including both Theuns and Stuyven.
Stage 4 is the very familiar face of the race, with the Alto do Malhão loop marking the finish of a hilly stage, that sometimes proves decisive but interestingly sometimes makes little difference. It's a day that depends completely on how it's raced, the start isn't favourable for a strong breakaway but that has happened in the past so all possibilities are on the table.
The stage goes through a rolling section before hitting the Malhão for the first time with 23.5Km to go.
Tt then follows a mostly flat and somewhat descending terrain with the exception of a short steep pitch with 10Km to go, the Cerro dos Negros, despite not being categorized this climb has been seen to be an absolute hellish pitch with no switchback for the who road and no place to rest. It will leave quite a mark in the riders before they have the vital dash to the base of the Malhão.
If you watch this race there's nothing I can tell you that's new. Short steep compact climb, the first 1.5Km are the hardest where the grade barely comes down from 10%, it's a case of trying to get over the 500 meters, those who are able to take a little breather will be the strongest and that middle section is where the climb must be attacked. Then, it's a matter of rolling the final Km in the limit.
Although it will come down during the afternoon, there will be moderate eastern wind and it will still be felt in the end of the day. Will see a slight headwind in the hardest part of the Malhão, also through a lot of what is the start of the stage which can reduce the chances of a huge breakaway.
It's a good day for a breakaway, it was the case in the last couple of years actually and the only thing not giving me that confidence this year is the wind. The first half of the stage isn't that hard, and if there's a team capable of controling a fast and flat start it's Deceuninck. Plus seeing how strong Almeida rode for Evenepoel I believe in the ability to control the race until the final climb.
That said, there still is a large amount of very powerful riders that will want to have a dig, and can deal with these sharp climbs. Mathieu van der Poel tried a breakaway already I'm sure he'll repeat that tomorrow, having riders like Greg van Avermaet and Matteo Trentin, Nils Pollit, Lukas Postleberger, Stefan Kung, Nikias Arndt and Ryan Mullen, a couple of these names may forgo tomorrow in order to boost their chances of success in the time-trial, but most will want to go out and blow the race apart as they prepare for the classics in this warm weather. All these riders and plenty more, if by chance some overall contenders sneak into what can form into a big breakaway like the past two years can still make it dangerous, I had the idea INEOS would do that as they did in 2018 but their race so far as been nothing but bad so I doubt. Some riders like Schachmann, Wellens, Kamna and LLS are really strong on these rolling courses and need to be watched as they may try this kind of raid and are in very good positions overall.
But in the eventuality that Deceuninck are able to control, at least until the first climb of Malhão, I'd imagine there will still be some agressive racing. The Trek duo looked good in Fóia and they really have nothing to loose, attacking in the final climb won't bring an overall victory and honestly I doubt it could bring a win aswell, so I imagine that if they have the legs they'll make a move. Riders like Rui Costa and Dan Martin will save themselves for the final climb for sure, and in any case could be allies of Evenepoel.
My main highlight for this climb is to consider 2017 winner Amaro Antunes, he finished 4th in Fóia before a spotless win in Malhão that year, couple days back he finished 10th in Fóia and having the home crowd behind his back will surely be a boost his rivals won't have. Other Portuguese talent Frederico Figueiredo will be on the lookout. The other two riders that looked good couple days ago and still haven't mentioned are Simon Geschke and Miguel Angel Lopez, I can't really see what they'll do, but chances are they will sit in the GC group until the final climb, both should be in contention and looking for an opportunity to shine.
⭐ MA.Lopez, Nibali, van der Poel, GV.Avermaet, Geschke
I'm gonna go with the home hero Amaro Antunes. I remember perfectly watching his climb in 2017 and how impressive it was. He's came back to the team where he's had that success and the way he's ridden in Fóia tells me he has the form. This climb is exactly to his liking and seeing the GC favourites are a mix of pure climbers and puncheurs, I think he has the chance to fill the spot.
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