Volta Ciclista a Catalunya Stage 3 Preview
Michael Matthews conquered today's stage in the uphill sprint as predicted. It was a long sprint finish, Matthews took advantage of Daryl Impey's long accelaration, and got out of his wheel to outsprint Valverde who couldn't manage to overcome him, although capturing important bonifications. Impey still finished third in the day Chris Froome crashed and failed to return to the peloton, thus loosing his overall ambitions.
Jonas Gregaard (Astana), Josef Cerný (CCC) and Marco Minnaard (Wanty) went into the day's break, the wind must've demotivated the riders into trying their luck. Anyhow the trio still managed to build a 7-minute gap, but they never posed a threat to the peloton.
The pace in the final climb was severely pushed by Astana who also stretched out the pack in the following descent. In the final kilometers the same situation followed although having no real rider to despute the stage.
A short spike in the road with some 3 kilometers to the line saw an accelaration by Jumbo-Visma, followed by an attack by Michael Woods. It was short-lived, and when the Canadian was caught Max Schachmann put on an attack just like yesterday. But with Pavel Sivakov's pace driving the peloton the German never got away with a big gap.
Mitchelton-Scott led out the race into the final climb, and that way it remained until Daryl Impey launched his sprint.
From quite far our, around 250 meters to go, Michael Matthews got into his wheel for some seconds and then kicked with less then 150 to go, having Alejandro Valverde in the wheel, but the Spaniard never got to get out of Matthews' wheel.
The race is moving north up into the Pyrinees, the 3rd stage will head towards the mountain range and will finish over 2000 meters above the starting town. The first part of the route is somewhat flat but the second is much harder.
The climbing starts in the Port d'Oix (7.7Km at 5.2%), a small descent then leads to the Port de Rocabruna (7.3Km at 5.8%), with very little descending following, as a false flat will lead into the final climb in Valter 2000. Featuring 11.2Km at 7.6% average gradient, it has been raced only once in the race back in 2014 where in the middle of the snow Tejay van Garderen beat Romain Bardet in a thrilling finale.
The final climb has a false-flat run-in, but the final 12 kilometers have a record time (in Strava) of a little less 35 minutes by Romain Bardet back in 2014. So it's expected to see a similar time going up it tomorrow.
The road up to Valter 2000 Setcases is in the middle of the valley most of the way, there will be some northern wind which will harm the attackers. It isn't strong, but it picks up some intensity near to the top, so it is something that won't motivate anyone attacking and may lead to a more compact finish. But the wind isn't enough to block any attacks obviously, it may play more in the heads of the riders.
Who can we expect to see?
To start off Movistar must be the team to mention. Current defending champion Alejandro Valverde is already 11 seconds ahead of most of his competition after a strong start to the race. Together with Quintana they set out as big favourites for the overall, and there's good reason to think of tomorrow aswell. With Marc Soler and Richard Carapaz in support, Movistar is well capable of climbing by pace the whole way. And with the wind situation it is possible to see Quintana pacing Valverde up the mountain so the World Champion can use his explosiveness in the best way. Quintana can also act as a rider to go up the road and force rivals to work, in both ways Movistar's strenght and form seems superior to all other teams.
Simon and Adam Yates have both been giving great evidences of form lately, two lighteight and explosive riders, they should like tomorrow's ascent, and they should be very dangerous in their own way, even more together.
Egan Bernal won the Paris-Nice recently and is leading Sky. With Sosa, Froome and Sivakov he should have good support, but it will come down to his legs on the day, he was second overall last year until the final stage where he abandoned, and it was inbetween a bunch of Movistar riders so he knows what he's facing.
Dan Martin is a former winner in Catalunya, he and Thibaut Pinot are two great climbers who should also fancy their chances tomorrow, and both are used to riding strong in Catalunya. Miguel Angel Lopez and Enric Mas were part of the final podium in the Vuelta and both are here, both also good riders to look at tomorrow. Romain Bardet and Michael Woods are two explosive climbers who should fancy their chances tomorrow if they have good legs. Woods may struggle with the lenght of the climb, but he's a Catalunya resident and a very fast finisher, whilst Bardet was 2nd here 5 years ago already, and is also an explosive finisher. Steven Kruijswijk is the opposite of an explosive climber, but the climb is long enough to play in his favour, and today's exhibition and motivation to get bonus seconds show apparent good form.
Two riders that haven't been showing great form recently are Richie Porte and Wilco Kelderman. Both are very strong in their own rights, but the questions upon them are their form. Ilnur Zakarin, and former winner in Valter Tejay van Garderen also deserve a mention.
⭐ Kruiswijk, MA.Lopez, Mas, Porte, Formolo, Bardet, Woods
Simon Yates won here last year, and as he keeps his Paris-Nice streak I believe he can do the same in Catalunya. Yates as shown good form climbing in Andalucia, in Paris-Nice he wasn't so bright but he won the time-trialing showing that it wasn't a matter of form. The climb tomorrow is steep and it suits an explosive climber in the end, but it requires also the skills of a long climber, both which he has.
The stage will be heavily disputed, there are lots of favourites so it may even be a game of luck or opportunitym but Yates is a rider that has great inteligence and is one of those that can take advantage of it, and can also take advantage of having his brother present, tactically beneficial.
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