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We provide you with previews of the stages in Oman, Andalusia and Algarve

Photo: ANSA / CARCONI - PERI

PREVIEWS

NEWS

TOUR OF OMAN

RACE PROFILE
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NEWS

VOLTA AO ALGARVE

RACE PROFILE
|
NEWS

VUELTA A ANDALUCIA

RACE PROFILE
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NEWS
18.02.2016 @ 22:56 Posted by Emil Axelgaard

This week is an extremely busy affair in professional cycling as no less than four stage races will take place in Oman, France, Spain and Portugal respectively. Instead of doing our usual extensive stage preview, we will provide a short preview of the stages each day.

 

Tour of Oman, stage 4:

The course:

Since the second edition in 2011, the Green Mountain, or Jabal al Akhdar, has played host to the finish of the queen stage of the race and been the scene of the season's first big mountain battle between some of the best grand tour riders in the world. With the stage having been a huge success in the past editions, the organizers have found little reason to remove the race's landmark climb and it will again be the scene of the queen stage. Like last year, the key stage comes on stage 4 after it has previously been held on the penultimate day but this year the organizers have made the stage even tougher as they will now go further up the mountain, making the brutally steep climb even longer.

 

Apart from the change in the finale, the stage is almost identical with the one that has been used in the previous editions and it is only the starting point and the first part that vary a bit. This year the distance has been shortened a bit as the riders will cover a total of 177km from the start at Knowledge Oasis Muscat until they reach the top of the Green Mountain. Right from the start, they will head into the desert, approaching the mighty climb which will gradually become visible in the horizon.

 

In the first part, the roads are gradually ascending and already after 15km they will hit the course of last year’s stage from where there are no changes until the riders get to the very finale. They will continue in a southerly direction as they approach the mountains, following a long, gradual uphill drag that will not be too challenging. They will reach a temporary top before heading down to Al Jarda where they will turn right and contest the first intermediate sprint after 82.5km of racing.

 

From there, they will follow rolling roads for the next 86km as they travel in a predominantly westerly direction until they reach the site of the second intermediate sprint in Birkat Al Mouz. From there, only 13.5km remain but most of them are simply brutal.

 

The riders will start to climb immediately after turning right to head north out of the city but the first 5.8km will be easy as the gradients are very mellow. However, all hell breaks loose when the riders hit the bottom of the Green Mountain. It has a length of just 7.5km but with an average gradient of 10.7%, it is a real leg breaker. Last year they only climbed 5.8km at an average of 10.5% but 1800 even steeper metres have been added.

 

The first two kilometres have average gradients of 11.4% and 12.8% respectively but then there is a bit of a respite with a 5.5% section. It is only a chance to breathe before the brutal finale. The final 4km average 11.9%, 12.4%, 11.9% and 13% respectively, making it one for the true climbers. There are four hairpin turns inside the final 2km before a light bend leads onto the 200m finishing straight.

 

The finish on the Green Mountain made its debut in 2011 when Robert Gesink put a massive 47 seconds into his nearest rival, Edvald Boasson Hagen. One year later, Vincenzo Nibali beat Peter Velits to move to within one second of the overall lead. In 2013, the climb was the scene of a thrilling battle between Cadel Evans, Alberto Contador, Chris Froome, and Joaquim Rodriguez, with lots of attacks and riders constantly dropping off before getting back to the front. Having already lost time on the previous stages, Rodriguez exploited the tactical face-off between his competitors to sneak away for the win while Froome accelerated inside the final kilometre to take second and the overall lead. In 2014, Team Sky used an unusual tactic by sending Sergio Henao on the attack and when he was caught, Froome delivered a demonstration of force to take an impressive solo win. Last year it came down to a final battle between Rafael Valls and Tejay van Garderen and surprisingly the Spaniard turned out to be the strongest.

 

The weather:

After today’s rain, Friday will be a typical Oman day. It will be beautiful sunshine with a maximum temperature in Muscat of 24 degrees. There will be a moderate wind from a southwesterly direction which means that it will mainly be a tailwind and then a crosswind in the run-in to the climb. On the ascent, there will be a headwind.

 

The favourites:

After today’s small intermezzo for the sprinters, the GC battle will be resumed in the queen stage which will be harder than ever before. The Green Mountain stage has always been by far the most decisive stage in the race and with the addition of 1800m of very steep climbing, the time gaps will be even bigger than they have been in the past.

 

This is the stage that has attracted all the big grand tour contenders who want to test their condition on one of the hardest climbs in cycling. Hence, there will be no room for a breakaway. Astana want to win the stage with Vincenzo Nibali and have been very active in this race so they will work with Dimension Data and maybe Ag2r to make sure that it is back together for the climb.

 

There will be crosswind in the run-in and this will make things very nervous and the fight for position extremely intense. In stage 2, the peloton split in the wind before they even got to the climb. The wins is not very strong so it is unlikely to happen but everyone has to be on their toes.

 

There will be a headwind on the final climb but it will make very little difference. On these gradients, it is all about the legs and there is no need for punch and explosiveness. This is a stage for the pure climbers who excel on the steepest gradients.

 

For the first time since 2013, Vincenzo Nibali seems to be in good condition in the sprint. Finally, he is back to his usual consistent level and has been very strong in this race. To finish second in an uphill sprint for puncheurs is pretty impressive for the Italian who is not very explosive. At the same time, he is the best climber in this race and he has proved in the past that he can do very well on steep gradients – he is even a former winner on the Green Mountain. We expect Astana to try to make the race hard and then Nibali is probably strong enough to finish it off, making him our favourite to win the stage.

 

His big rival will be Domenico Pozzovivo. The Italian is one of the most consistent riders in the peloton and finally seems to be back to his best after his horror crash in the Giro. He attacked on stage 1 and he put everybody in the hurt zone with a strong acceleration in stage 2 whose final climb didn’t suit him. Tomorrow’s final climb is tailor-made for him: very steep and not too long. If anyone is going to beat Nibali, it is probably Pozzovivo.

 

We are curious to see how Richie Porte will do. The Australian is out of the GC battle and has been taking it easy for the last few days after he arrived late from Australia. However, he wants to use this stage as his big test for Paris-Nice. He has not been shining in this race but he was very good in the Tour Down Under. That form cannot have disappeared completely. Tomorrow he will finally go into the red zone and if he has his usual legs, he is strong enough to challenge Nibali.

 

Ag2r have another card to play with Romain Bardet but the Frenchman has not been as impressive as his teammate Pozzovivo. He has been suffering more on the climbs. On the other hand, he had to chase back after he was caught out in the crosswinds on stage 2 and this has definitely cost him some energy.

 

Gianluca Brambilla was a surprise victim in the first stage but bounced back with a great ride on stage 2. It is not unusual for riders to suffer in the first stages in Oman before bouncing back in the queen stage. He was in great condition in Mallorca and should be up there.

 

We never got the chance to see what Daniel Martin could do in stage 2 as he was dropped in the crosswinds. On paper, this climb suits him well and he was strong in stage 1. He openly admits that his form is probably not good enough to win but we expect him to be among the best.

 

Floris De Tier was another crosswind victim but the Belgian is a very talented climber and he could be the big surprise of tomorrow. Eduardo Sepulveda is also capable of a good ride as he was in great form in San Luis and bounced back from his stage 1 crash with a good performance in stage 2 which didn’t suit him. Other interesting contenders are Jacques Janse van Rensburg and Patrick Konrad who have both been climbing really well in this race.

 

Of course Rui Costa will also be up there but the climb is too steep for him to win. The same goes for Edvald Boasson Hagen who will lose his leader’s jersey.

 

CyclingQuotes’ stage winner pick: Vincenzo Nibali

Other winner candidates: Domenico Pozzovivo, Richie Porte

Outsiders: Romain Bardet, Gianluca Brambilla, Daniel Martin

Jokers: Floris De Tier, Eduardo Sepulveda, Jacques Janse van Rensburg, Patrick Konrad

 

Vuelta a Andalucia, stage 3:

The course:

If stage 2 was too hard for them, the sprinters will get a final chance to potentially show their fast speed before the GC battle will dominate the weekend. Stage 3 barely offers any flat roads but the climbing is not too severe and they will definitely try to hang on on each of the four climbs, hoping to still be in contention for the flat finale.

 

At 157.9km, stage 3 is relatively short and brings the riders from Monachil to Padul. Those two cities are located very close to each other and most of the stage is made up of a short journey into the hills on their western outskirts. The first part is almost completely flat but leads to a hillier section with the category 2 Alto del Lucero (8.6km, 3.0%) and the category 3 Alto de los Bermejales (5.4km, 3.0%) at the 36.1km and 48.2km respectively.

 

After the intermediate sprint at the 54.8km mark which is held in a flatter part of the course, the riders will turn around and go back towards Padua by tackling the category 2 Puerto del Legionario (10.9km, 3.2%). The summit is located 65.7km from the finish and from here the riders will take a gradual descent to the finish line which they will cross for the first time with 43.9km to go.

 

The final part of the stage will see the riders tackle a circuit on the southeastern outskirts of Padua. The first part if flat or descending and leads to the category 2 Puerto del Valle (7.6km, 4%). The summit comes 15.1km from the finish from where the riders will follow flat road back to Padua. The finale is relatively uncomplicated as the riders will follow a long straight road until they make a 60-degree turn with 2.1km to go. Inside the final kilometre, there’s a sharp turn with 700m to go and a slight bend 500m from the line. The penultimate kilometre is slightly uphill and then the riders descend to the final 500m which are uphill at a gradient of 1.4%.

 

 

Padul has not hosted a stage finish of a major bike race in this century.

 

The weather:

Friday will be another cloudy day but the sun may come out in the afternoon. For most of the stage, there will be a 15% chance of rain. The maximum temperature will be 12 degrees and there will be barely be any wind, with just a very light breeze coming from an easterly direction. It means that it will first be a tailwind and then a headwind. On the final circuit, there will mainly be a crosswind – also on the final climb – and then it will be a cross-tailwind back to the finish. It will be a tailwind sprint.

 

The favourites:

Today’s final climb did much less damage than expected. Sky were the only team to take the initiative and they only used Nicolas Roche. Hence, most of the sprinters had survived and it was only a difficult descent that briefly threatened a sprint from a relatively big group. In the end, Nacer Bouhanni and several sprinters managed to get back with 3km to go and then the outcome was never really in doubt.

 

Tomorrow’s stage is a similar affair. The overall amount of climbing is a lot bigger so it is a harder stage. However, the longest climb comes at the midpoint and from there it is mainly downhill until they get to the final climb. Hence, it won’t play much of a role.

 

However, the final climb will be a challenge. It only averages 4% but it includes a very steep first part, woth 20% sections and one kilometre that averages more than 10%. Then there’s a short descent and a flatter section that lead to the final 2.5km that are around 6-7%.

 

This should make the final climb much harder than today’s and we can expect a much bigger selection. Furthermore, the riders will be more tired by the time they get to the bottom of the ascent. Finally, there will be no descent after the climb and less time to rejoin the peloton.

 

It’s the kind of stage that has no obvious favourite and this means that the break may have a small change if it contains no riders that are close on GC. Nacer Bouhanni has admitted that it will be hard for him to survive here so Cofidis won’t do much to defend their top position. Instead, it will be up to other teams to do the work.

 

Today Tinkoff did most of it but they won’t do so again tomorrow. However, we expect Movistar to take the initiative and Sky and Trek may also do so. Hence, it will probably be back together for the final climb.

 

Today Sky set the pace and they will probably do so again tomorrow to make sure than Ben Swift has fewer rivals. We were a bit surprised that BMC didn’t give it a go on the climb today. They have a formidable team and tomorrow they simply have to try to get rid of the sprinters. That will make the race selective and we expect a sprint from a small group than we had today.

 

Fabio Felline is both a great climber and able to win bunch kicks in a field like this one. Today he was second and tomorrow he will be keen to do better. He is a great climber who should be able to follow the best and as most of the sprinters are likely to have been dropped, he is our favourite to win the stage.

 

Ben Swift is known as a sprinter but he is a much better climber than most think. In the Vuelta al Pais Vasco, he has survived climbs that were much harder than this one and we expect him to be up there as he has shown great condition. He is not as fast as he once was but he is definitely capable of beating Felline if he can finally get the positioning right.

 

Juan Jose Lobato has often suffered on longer climbs but today he rode really well and was also attentive on the descent. Again the positioning destroyed things for him but he definitely has the form. Tomorrow the field will be smaller and he has Valverde to set him up for the sprint. The less technical finish should also make it easier for him and if he is there in the finale, he is likely to be the fastest.

 

Philippe Gilbert completely missed out in the sprint today but tomorrow the field will be smaller. BMC really have to try to make the race hard and he has a strong team to set him up for the sprint. However, he is not as fast as the likes of Felline and Swift. Alejandro Valverde is faster and able to beat most riders in this field. He may take his chance if Lobato is dropped but he won’t take any big risks.

 

At his best, Enrico Battaglin should easily survive this climb and he is fast enough to win these sprints. However, he has not been sprinting or climbing at his best level in recent years and he has also been a bit ill.

 

Enrique Sanz has shown outstanding condition since joining Southeast and looms as a strong joker after he climbed really well in today’s stage. Christophe Laporte may also be capable of surviving the climb and he will take his chance if Bouhanni is dropped. Another fast finisher is Tosh van der Sande and he has handled harder climbs in the past. However, he doesn’t seem to be at his best. Finally, Oscar Gatto was reportedly very strong today until he punctured on the descent. If he makes it, he will be one of the fastest.

 

CyclingQuotes’ stage winner pick: Fabio Felline

Other winner candidates: Ben Swift, Juan Jose Lobato

Outsiders: Philippe Gilbert, Alejandro Valverde, Enrico Battaglin

Jokers: Enrique Sanz, Christophe Laporte, Tosh van der Sande, Oscar Gatto

 

Volta ao Algarve, stage 3:

The course:

For the third year in a row, the time trial will take place earlier than usual as the riders will already make use of their TT bikes on the third day. It takes place in the same area as it has done for the last two years but the course has been changed. The distance has been reduced from 19km to 18km but the route is flatter than it was last year. Furthermore, it still includes several technical challenges.Like last year the stage goes from Vila do Bispo to Sagres but this year the riders will continue along the coast for a few more kilometres to finish the stage at the southwestern tip of the Iberian peninsula, meaning that the distance has been increased from 13.6km to 19km.

 

Unlike last year’s stage, the 18km course both starts and finishes in Sagres. The roads are mainly flat as the riders will stay between 25m and 67m above sea level. However, it can still be split into two different parts. The first half is very technical and includes numerous turns as the riders tackle a difficult circuit in the eastern part of the city.

 

Having almost returned to the starting ramp, the riders will face a completely different course for the final 12.5km. They consist of a long straight run along a flat road to the westernmost point of the coast. Here they will turn around before heading back to Sagres. Then they will turn right in a roundabout before heading 600m to the finish on the southernmost point of the city.

 

The stage has been changed compared to the two latest editions but the nature is not much different. In 2015 Tony Martin beat Adriano Malori by less than a second while Geraint Thomas was 3 seconds behind in third. The German was beaten in 2014 as Michal Kwiatkowski surprised himself by beating Adriano Malori by 11 seconds and his German teammate by 13 seconds. Martin won the TT in 2013 and 2011 while Bradley Wiggins was faster in 2012. Luis Leon Sanchez won the 2010 TT while Alberto Contador took the win in 2009 and Stijn Devolder in 2008.

 

The weather

Friday will be another day with great sunshine and a pleasant maximum temperature of 16 degrees. It will be another windy day as there will be a relatively strong wind from a northeasterly direction. It means a cross-headwind on the way out and a cross-tailwind on the way back. The speed will decrease a bit later in the day.

 

The favourites:

The combination of a very strong wind and less steep gradients made it a perfect climb for the bigger guys in today’s stage and it was no surprise to see Luis Leon Sanchez and Geraint Thomas do well in that kind of finale. The big surprise was of course Alberto Contador’s poor showing. He claims to have spent too much time in the wind but it is hard to believe that this can explain such a big time loss. The Spaniard has always been competitive in Algarve so this is very unusual for him to be so far off the pace.

 

The GC is still wide open but we will be much wiser after tomorrow’s stage. The time trial will probably be the single most decisive stage as time gaps on the Alto do Malhao are limited. It will be a tough one for the tiny climbers as it is a great course for the big engines. The first part suits explosive and technically strong riders that can accelerate out of the corners but the final 12km are all about power. Furthermore, the wind will play a big role on these exposed coastal roads as it will be very windy. There will be less wind later in the stage and this will favour the GC riders.

 

Fabian Cancellara has been in great condition right from the start of the season. Today he was again up there and this is a time trial that suits him really well. He is probably the best in the first technical section and he has the power to make the difference on the flats. Furthermore, the medium distance is very good for him. He is often very strong in time trials at this time of the year and now he seems to be riding better than usual. We expect him to make a difference in the technical part and then maintain it until the end so he is our favourite.

 

Tony Martin is obviously his big rival. The German showed excellent condition in today’s stage as he limited his losses really well. He won this time trial last year and has usually been very good in Algarve. It will be a close battle with Cancellara but he will lose time in the first part. He hasn’t been time trialling too well in 2015 and as he is very focused on Rio’s hilly TT, he has been working much on his climbing. This could be a bit costly in this stage.

 

Geraint Thomas was reportedly brutally strong in today’s stage and he was close to the win in this stage last year. He is powerful on the flats and a great bike-handler so he has all the skills to do well here. The main issue is whether his improved focus on climbing has cost him a bit of power compared to last year. After today’s performance he is the favourite to win overall and he could get it all off to a good start with a win tomorrow.

 

Luis Leon Sanchez is stronger than he has been for several years and he is also a great time triallist. He was second in Valencia and this combination of technical skills and power suits him well. It won’t be impossible for him to make it two in a row.

 

Jonathan Castroviejo was time trialling extremely well last year and was just a few seconds shy of a medal at the Worlds. He has had a belated start due to a training crash and crashed in today’s stage so it remains to be seen how he is feeling but he was up there in the finale of today’s stage. It’s a bit too much about power for him to win.

 

His teammate Alex Dowsett is really suited to this kind of powerful effort and he seems to be riding well. However, he has not been able to match the best recently. Anton Vorobyev is also really strong on the flats and he has showed good form in recent months after he has finally left his health issues behind him-

 

Nelson Oliveira has improved his level a lot recently and he was riding really strongly in today’s finale. He should be able to do well here. The same goes for his Movistar captain Ion Izagirre but this stage is probably a bit too much about power for him.

 

It’s a good stage for Jan Barta but the Czech is usually not at his best at this time of the year. The same goe for Matthias Brändle but he usually needs a slightly shorter distance to really shine. Victor Campenaerts should also be capable of a good ride after his great performance in Valencia.

 

CyclingQuotes’ stage winner pick: Fabian Cancellara

Other winner candidates: Tony Martin, Geraint Thomas

Outsiders: Luis Leon Sanchez, Jonathan Castroviejo, Anton Vorobyev

Jokers: Matthias Brändle, Nelson Oliveira, Alex Dowsett, Ion Izagirre, Jan Barta, Victor Campenaerts

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