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Will Niccolo Bonifazio get his revenge in the second sprint stage of the Vuelta a Espana?

Photo: Trek-Segafredo






23.08.2016 @ 19:11 Posted by Emil Axelgaard

As expected, the second summit finish of the race failed to create any differences between the overall contenders and the favourites now have a few days to take stock of the situation before their next battle in stage 8. Meanwhile, the sprinters ready themselves for one of the most important phases of the race as the next three stages can all suit the fast finishers but it is Wednesday’s fifth stage that is the only really flat stage, meaning that it will be a hotly contested affair.


The course

The first part of the stage definitely hasn’t been friendly to the sprinters who have only had one sprint stage in the first four days so they will be pleased to know that there will be a second opportunity on day 5.  They will be even more pleased to learn that stage 5 doesn’t have the same tough finale as stage 1 as there is a much flatter run-in to the finish. However, the final 5km are a long, gradual uphill drag which could take the sting out of the legs of some of the fast guys before they can showcase their speed in a very technical finale.


The 171.3km stage will bring the riders from Viviero to Lugo and with a total amount of climbing of 2599m, it is not a completely flat affair. However, in the first part, the challenge will be the wind and not the climbs as the first 57.4km follow the flat coastal road in an easterly direction. Then the riders will turn inland to head in a southwesterly direction for the rest of the day but at first the terrain won’t change much. There’s a small uncategorized climb with 100km to go but then the riders will again follow flat roads until they get to the intermediate sprint at the 98.2km mark.


From here, the riders will take on the main challenge of the day, the category 3 climb of Puerto de Marco de Alvara (11.8km, 3.6%) which is more of a long gradual uphill section than a real climb. It will lead the peloton onto a plateau where they will spend the rest of the stage so there won’t be any descent. Instead, the riders will follow largely flat roads for the final 52.5km as they head towards Lugo. Here they will do a small loop around the city to approach the finale from the south. However, the road will be slightly uphill between the 5km to go and 2km to go marks, culminating with 1600m at an average gradient of 3.4%. However, it is largely flat for the final 2000m. The finale gets pretty technical with 3km to go where there are numerous turns in quick succession until the riders get to a sharp turn with 1.1km to go. From there, the sprinters only have to get safely through a final right-hand turn with 500m to go. The sprint is slightly uphill.


Lugo last hosted a stage finish in 2006 when Alexandre Vinokourov started a remarkable comeback from a slow start. The Kazakh made a late attack after a tough day and managed to hold off a reduced bunch by a single second. The reinvigorated Vinokourov made it two in a row one day later and would ultimately go on to take the only grand tour win of his career.





The weather


The heat was a bit more bearable in today’s stage but tomorrow it will again be worse. However, despite a maximum temperature of 31 degrees, it will be less sunny on a relatively cloudy day. Furthermore, there is a 25% chance of a shower but the risk is bigger before and after the stage so it is most likely to stay dru.


There will only be a very light wind from a southeasterly direction which will gradually turn around. In the finale, a light breeze will be blowing from the north. This means that the riders will have a headwind in the first part and it will gradually become a cross-tailwind as thy head towards the finish. As they go around Lugo in the finale, they will slowly turn into a headwind. In the finale, it will be a tailwind in the penultimate kilometre and a cross-headwind in the final kilometre.


The favourites

As expected, the final climb in stage 4 was not hard enough to make a real difference and as we had predicted yesterday, no one had a real interest in going for the stage win. Movistar are always very conservative in the first week of a grand tour and rarely go for stage wins. At the same time, they have a long-term goal of overall victory and so they are very pleased that they won’t have the responsibility in the next few days. As we wrote yesterday, they were very likely to give the jersey away and that’s what they did. To have Atapuma in the red jersey is a perfect scenario as BMC will now have to do most of the work. That will be important in stages 6 and 7 which can be pretty fast and aggressive and Movistar have saved a lot of energy by allowing the Colombian a stint in red.


The big surprise was the fact that they decided to sacrifice Ruben Fernandez at a time when Daniel Moreno was still there. However, the youngster is untested as a GC rider in grand tours while the veteran has lots of top 10s on his palmares. Movistar probably want to keep Moreno in GC contention as long as possible as that will make it easier to put Sky under pressure in the mountains. Hence, they decided to keep him in reserve and limit his losses in the GC battle. Ultimately, he still had to do some work though as they were unwilling to give Peter Kennaugh too much of an advantage.


At the same time, it was a pleasure to see Lilian Calmejane confirm his huge talent. The Frenchman was the big revelation in February and seemed to be destined for a great neo-pro season. However, he has had a hard time since then and we had actually started to lose our hope for him a bit. Today he showed that his excellent results in the early part of the year were no fluke and he certainly has the potential to be a great rider for the Ardennes classics and in the medium mountains.


With the ceasefire between the favourites, the GC battle will be put on hold for the next three days until we get to the key phase with four consecutive summit finishes. Instead, the sprinters will be very keen to grab their chances. The second week doesn’t offer a single obvious sprint stage so they have to make the most of their opportunities in the next three days. However, stages 6 and 7 are far from flat and won’t be easy to control so the only guaranteed sprint stage is tomorrow’s fifth stage. This means that a host of hungry sprinters will be at the start and this means that it is very unlikely that we won’t get a bunch sprint.


With the sprint teams keen to show their intentions right from start, we expect a very calm and uneventful stage. The break will probably be formed right from the gun and there’s not even a mountains jersey up for grabs. There will barely be any wind so there won’t be much stress in the peloton and BMC will just set a steady pace until the sprint teams take over.


In stage 2, the work was left to Giant-Alpecin and Trek and as they are mainly here for the sprints, they will take responsibility again. This time they should get some help from Etixx-QuickStep as they can no longer hide after Meersman’s victory. If they have no rider in the break, Bora-Argon 18 should also eye their chances so there should be plenty of interest in bringing things back together. That should make it a steady affair and there won’t be much action at the KOM and intermediate sprints either.


In the end, it should come down to a bunch sprint which won’t be straightforward. There’s a tough uphill drag inside the final 5km and this means that it’s a day for the stronger guys. At the same time, there is a very technical section in the penultimate kilometre and it will be very important to be in a good position at this point. Later there will be a small chance to move up but with a headwind, it is important not to go too early and to have a rider and a strong lead-out to keep you protected.


In the second stage, we put our money on Niccolo Bonifazio and we will do so again for tomorrow’s stage. The Italian didn’t have much luck in the first sprint where he was caught out of position and never had a real chance to sprint. Nonetheless, he is still the fastest rider on paper as he proved when he nearly beat Kittel in Romandie and when he beat Gaviria in Poland.


Bonifazio crashed a few days ago but sustained no major injuries and will be ready to go. The hard finale with an uphill drag should suit him as he is a good climber. Usually, he is good at positioning but his lead-out train of Fumy Beppu and Kiel Reijnen is not at the level of Giant-Alpecin and Etixx-QuickStep. However, the final kilometre is not that technical so speed will still be very important. That gives Bonifazio an edge and he should be the fastest if he is not caught out in the technical part. He is not always very consistent in his positioning so he is not a safe bet but in this field, Bonifazio is the best sprinter and so he is our favourite.


On paper, Giant-Alpecin have the best lead-out here but they never had the chance to show it on stage 2 where Koen De Kort and Nikias Arndt were caught behind a crash. Hence, they failed to achieve a result and they will be eager to get their revenge. By joining the break after the frantic start to today’s stage, Arndt showed that his form is great and he should definitely benefit from the relatively hard finale. With a great lead-out, the technical section should also be great for him as he is very likely to be delivered in one of the front positions. On paper, Arndt is the second fastest here and if De Kort can do one of his best lead-outs, only Bonifazio has the speed to beat Arndt.


Gianni Meersman is not the fastest sprinter here but he still managed to win stage 2. It was always evident that Etixx-QuickStep have one of the best trains and they did everything perfectly to deliver Meersman on the front. They may not have the top lead-out man like De Kort but they have the most powerful train when it comes to manpower. Niki Terpstra, Zdenek Stybar and Yves Lampaert could very well be on the front in the technical section, leading Meersman safely through the many turns. The hard finish is great for the Belgian who is not a pure sprinter so he will be fresher than most of the rivals. When it comes to speed, there are faster riders but if Etixx-QuickStep dominate the finale in the way they did two days ago, Meersman won’t be easy to beat.


Magnus Cort did a very good sprint on stage 2 and if there hadn’t been a crash, he could very well have won the stage. The Dane is not a pure sprinter but he had an impressive speed last Sunday. He has been in great form recently and with Jens Keukeleire for the lead-out, he has solid support. The team are mainly here for the GC so they lack the manpower to match the more powerful trains but if Keukeleire can handle the technical finale well, Cort has shown that he has the speed to win.


Jempy Drucker was one of the many riders to be caught out in the crash on stage 2 but he showed good form by sprinting to 9th place despite being out of position. He likes this kind of tough finale and when it comes to positioning, he is one of the best and most consistent. He doesn’t have an awful lot of support but he usually doesn’t need more than the likes of Dillier and Wyss to bring him to the front. He knows how to find the right wheel and if he is in a good position, he has the speed to win here after his many near-misses in Burgos.


On stage 2, Dimension Data did an excellent job with Tyler Farrar and Nathan Haas and they showed that they have one of the best trains here. They hit the front too early and so Kristian Sbaragli didn’t have the best position for the sprint. However, they have the manpower to be up there with the best teams and Sbaragli has the speed if he gets a good lead-out. A better timing could deliver Sbaragli to victory here.


Michael Schwarzmann has had a bit of a breakthrough season but few would have expected him to finish second in his first ever grand tour sprint. This year he has been up there in the sprints in the harder finales and so this stage suits him really well. Rudiger Selig and Scott Thwaites mean that Bora-Argon 18 have one of their best trains and this will make a big difference in this finale. In the past, Schwarzmann didn’t position himself very well but he seems to have improved a lot. With such a good train and a very fast turn of speed, there is no reason he can’t win here if everything goes right.


We will also point to Jonas Van Genechten. The IAM sprinter looked like he had the potential to become a top sprinter a few years ago but he hasn’t been able to confirm what he showed in 2014. However, he is still a decent sprinter and he has been in good form recently. Unfortunately, he lost Vicente Reynes in today’s stage and this is a huge setback as he no longer has a real lead-out man. He still has Vegard Stake Laengen and so he won’t be on his own but he needs a bit of luck to be in a winning position in the end.


Things didn’t work out of Lotto Soudal and Tosh van der Sande on stage 2 and they will be eager to get their revenge. The Belgian is not a pure sprinter and there are definitely faster riders. However, Jelle Wallays and Adam Hansen are big powerful riders who are strong enough to keep him near the front. They lack the top speed to be really competitive with the best trains but van der Sande should still be able to be in a good position. His confidence is high after his win in Ain but he may still miss the speed to beat the faster riders with the better trains.


If you are looking for more sprinters, keep an eye on Lorenzo Manzin, Jhonatan Restrepo, Ryan Andersen, Tony Hurel, Enrico Battaglin, Eduard Prades, Kenneth Vanbilsen, Gediminas Bagdonas and Yukiya Arashiro.


CyclingQuotes’ stage winner pick: Niccolo Bonifazio

Other winner candidates: Nikias Arndt, Gianni Meersman

Outsiders: Magnus Cort, Jempy Drucker, Kristian Sbaragli

Jokers: Michale Schwarzmann, Jonas Van Genechten, Tosh van der Sande



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