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Starting at 15.15 CET you can follow the penultimate stage of the Spanish race on CyclingQuotes.com/live

Photo: © Cor Vos / Team Giant-Shimano

VOLTA A CATALUNYA

RACE PROFILE
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NEWS
29.03.2014 @ 15:15 Posted by Emil Axelgaard

Luka Mezgec asserted his dominance over the Volta a Catalunya sprint field by taking another convincing win in today's fifth stage of the Spanish race and he has a big chance of adding another win to his tally in tomorrow's penultimate stage of the race. The 172km route is the easiest of the entire race and has a big bunch sprint written all over it. Starting at 15.15 CET you can follow the stage on CyclingQuotes.com/live.

 

The course

The weekend kicks off with the stage that seems to be the easiest of the entire race. The 172km stage from El Vendrell to Vilanova i al Geltru only has one small category 3 climb at the midpoint and with the final half being mostly downhill, it is hard to imagine that the sprinters will let this one slip away.

 

From the start in El Vendrell on the Mediterranean coast, the riders follow the flat coastal road for the first 12.9km until they reach Torredembarra. They now turn right to head inlands, contesting the first intermediate sprint after 36.2km of racing.

 

The long gradual uphill continues - only interspersed with a short descent near the top - all the way to shortly before the city of Pontons which comes with 78.4km to go. It is now time for fast descent until the riders hit the bottom of the only categorized climb, the category 3 Alt de Font-Rubi (5.7km, 3.8%, max. 6%).

 

From the op, 58.6km remain and they consist of a long gradual downhill run back to the coast, with a flat section coming midway down the descent. The final intermediate sprint precedes the final descending part and comes 26.4km from the finish. The descent is mostly non-technical but near the end, a few corners make things a bit more complicated.

 

The descending continues all the way back to the finish in the coastal town of Vilanova i al Geltru as the riders do a clockwise loop around the city before getting down to the coast and a finish along the seafront. The finale contains three sweeping bends inside the final two kilometres, with 2000, 1500 and just 300 metres to go. The final one is not a sharp turn but it will be important to enter it in one of the first positions. The roads are downhill from the 2km to 500m to go mark until it flattens out for the sprint.

 

The stage is the only one to have the design of a completely traditional race for the sprinters and it is no wonder that the two most recent stage winners in the finishing city are Mario Cipollini and Erik Zabel who won stages in the 1999 and 2000 editions respectively. In 2010, the city hosted a finish of a Vuelta stage that went up the brutally steep Alt de Rat Penat and was won from a breakaway by Imanol Erviti.

 

The weather

Today's conditions were much better than the brutal weather the riders faced in Thursday's stage but there is certainly no summer in Catalonia at the moment. In fact tomorrow will be a rather unpleasant day for the riders as it will be a very windy one.

 

It will be cloudy all day but there won't be any rain. With the temperatures reaching just 13 degrees, it will even be a rather cold day in the saddle.

 

However, the biggest factor will be the wind. There will be a very strong wind from a westerly direction and it should reach its climax at the midpoint of the stage. The means that the riders will have a fierce tailwind from the start before turning into a cross-headwind for the next long stretch until the top of the climb. However, there will be a couple of sections along the way where they will have a direct crosswind.

 

After the climb, the riders will turn into a crosswind that precedes a tailwind section. It will be a cross-tailwind for the final 26km to the finish. In the finale, the riders will have a tailwind until the 2km to go mark where they will turn into a cross-tailwind before having a direct tailwind for the sprint.

 

The favourites

Luka Mezgec has asserted his dominance over the Catalunya sprints and he has a big chance of taking more than half of the stages in this race. On paper tomorrow's stage has bunch sprint written all over it as it is by far the easiest day of the race and the most likely outcome is that it will all be back together for a big battle between the fastest finishers.

 

However, it may not be such an easy affair for Mezgec and Giant-Shimano to set up their favourite scenario. By now, everyone knows that Mezgec is the fastest and so most teams will probably line up at tomorrow's stage with the intention of going on the attack. Big time gaps have opened up and so the Dutch team cannot expect to get any help from the GC teams either.

 

Most teams only have stage wins left as their objectives in this race and so we can again expect a very fast start to the stage. On the opening tailwind run along the coast, we can expect a fierce pace and a very aggressive peloton and will require a lot of hard work for Giant-Shimano to make sure that the escape is not too big and strong.

 

Today they decided to put a rider into the breakaway and tomorrow they could try a similar tactic to avoid having all the responsibility to chase. In the early part of the stage they will of course get a lot of help from the teams that miss out on the many groups that will go clear in the early part of the stage but when the elastic snaps, it is time to take stock of the situation.

 

If a big, strong group goes clear, they may throw in the towel - especially if they don't get any help from the other teams. If they have a rider in the front group, they won't do any work at all and so there is a chance that the break will stay away.

 

On the other hand, they would seem to throw away a guaranteed win if they don't start to chase and the most likely outcome is that it will come back together. As it will be very windy, the peloton might be very nervous on select sections and this will increase the pace even further, making it more likely that things will come back together.

 

If the roads are exposed, we could see some teams try to attack in the crosswinds but as it will mostly be a cross-headwind, we doubt that things will split. Nonetheless, it should make for a very nervous day in the saddle for the GC riders.

 

As the most likely outcome is a bunch sprint, Mezgec is of course the big favourite. It is hard to imagine him getting beaten but tomorrow's finish may be a bit more tricky for him. It will be very important to enter the final turn in one of the first positions and until now, Mezgec has been on his own in the finishes. He is likely to be a bit too far back when he gets to that turn and then he has to catch his rivals on the finishing straight. Until now, he has handled the positioning aspect okay but he has always started his sprint from too far back.

 

On the other hand, Mezgec has proved that he is very superior in the sprints and with a tailwind, he can allow himself to hit the front right after the corner. This should give him enough time to pass his rivals. Even though the finale is a bit trickier, he will be the man to beat.

 

His biggest rival could very well be Roberto Ferrari. On paper the Italian is one of the three fastest sprinters in this race and his team had a lot of confidence in him after his 2nd place on stage two. As we had already predicted in our preview though, it was hard for him to get over the final climb and he ended up getting dropped.

 

Tomorrow's flatter stage suits him much better and even though he can't count on much support in the finale either, he should have a better position than Mezgec when the sprint is launched. The Italian is famously known for his positioning skills and we wouldn't be surprised if he gets through the final turn in 2nd or 3rd position or right on Mezgec's wheel.

 

Ferrari is also a very explosive sprinter who will benefit from the short finishing straight. In general, he has all the characteristics to shine in this sprint and he will be the most dangerous rider for Mezgec.

 

If Brett Lancaster was still in the race, Leigh Howard would have been a very dangerous rival as there was a very big chance that the Orica-GreenEDGE train would enter the final turn in the first positions. With Lancaster out, he is down to Sam Bewley in the finish and he doesn't have Lancaster's top speed.

 

However, no team has a very strong lead-out in this race and so there is a great chance that Bewley and Howard will be the first riders through the final corner. Howard has recovered from his stomach issues and is one of the fastest sprinters in the race. If he gets through  the final turn as the first sprinter, he will hava solid chance of finishing it off.

 

Another rider with strong lead-out support is Daniele Ratto. Michel Koch and Jean-Marc Marino have provided with him good lead-outs but today he was hampered as Koch was fatigued from his breakaway. Ratto is no pure sprinter and doesn't have the top speed to match the best but if he has his entire train at his disposal, the support may make up for his lack of speed in this technical finale.

 

Omega Pharma-Quick Step have done a great job to support Julian Alaphilippe in the finale and even though riders like Rigoberto Uran, Gianluca Brambilla and Pieter Serry are certainly no sprinters, in this field they form one of the best trains. Alaphilippe has proved that he is one of the fastest sprinters in the race and with positioning being key in tomorrow's stage, the combination of speed and team support may land him a win.

 

Davide Vigano was signed as a lead-out man for Francesco Lasca but as the latter is just coming back from injury, Vigano has had to take on the role as lead sprinter. This has given him the chance to be one of the protected riders in a WorldTour race and he will be keen to show his skills. Vigano did well earlier this month when he finished on the podium in the Clasica de Almeria and even though the sprinting field wasn't too deep in that race, it proves that he has the speed. In this race, he doesn't have an awful lot of support and this has been costly so far. However, he is one of the few riders that may have the speed to come away with the win.

 

Finally, we will select our joker. Until now, Koldo Fernandez hasn't shown anything in the sprints and he seemed to be struggling at the start of the race which is his first for a long time. However, he seems to be progressing rather well and performed solidly in the big mountain stages. Tomorrow's easier stage should suit him well and it may be time for him to try his hand in the sprint. The days when he regularly sprinted against the best are over but in the past he did well in some rather big races. If he manages to position himself well for the final turn, he may take a top 3 result for Garmin.

 

CyclingQuotes' stage winner pick: Luka Mezgec

Other winner candidates: Roberto Ferrari, Leigh Howard

Outsiders: Daniele Ratto, Julian Alaphilippe, Davide Vigano

Joker: Koldo Fernandez

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