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Will Bouhanni make it two in a row in Catalonia?

Photo: A.S.O.

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VOLTA A CATALUNYA

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NEWS
22.03.2016 @ 13:31 Posted by Emil Axelgaard

Nacer Bouhanni fully lived up to his status as the star sprinter in the Volta a Catalunya and was completely superior when it all came down to the expected bunch sprint in Calella. The result confirms his excellent condition and the Frenchman can now realistically target as many as four stage wins in the remaining part of the race, starting with tomorrow’s stage to Olot which should offer another chance for the sprinters.

 

The course

The early part of the Volta a Catalunya is traditionally dominated by the same kind of rolling stages where a late climb is followed by a descent to the finish. In 2016, it will be more of the same as stage 2 should be a similar affair to the opening stage. In fact, the final part of the stage is completely unchanged compared to last year’s second stage and so the riders know what to expect in what should be a sprint stage

 

Like last year the 178.7km stage brings the riders from Mataro on the Mediterranean coast to a finish in Olot but the first part of the stage has been changed. After a lap of a flat 10km circuit around the starting city, the riders will leave the coast to start their journey towards the finish and they will travel in a northwesterly direction for most of the day. The roads are mainly flat, with the category 3 Alt de Can Bordoi (2.4km, 6%, max. 7%) at the 26km mark being the main challenge.

 

Compared to last year, the stage has been harder as the riders will head to Girona where they will contest the first intermediate sprint at the 78.3km mark. Then they will tackle the famous category 1 climb of Alt de Els Angels (10km, 3.8%, max. 9) whose summit is located 70.2km from the finish. Then it’s back down to the flat valley road as they pass Banyoles where the final intermediate sprint comes with 37.9km to go.

 

As they get closer to Olot, the riders will hit last year’s course which finished with a circuit. With around 17km to go, the road starts to climb with a hard 2.1km section with an average gradient of 4.5% and a maximum of 7% ending 14.7km from the finish. After a short descent, the roads are gradually rising.

 

The summit comes with 6.2km to go and then there’s a short descent before the riders hit a long, mainly flat section. Inside, the final kilometre, there’s a small rise and then the final 500m are slightly descending at an average of 2%. The finale is pretty uncomplicated with just two small turns between the 2km and 1km to go marks. The final right-hand turn comes with 1300m to go and from there it is a long, straight road to the finish.

 

Last year was the first time that this finish was used. The stage was held in torrential rain but this did not prevent a bunch sprint finish. Jose Joaquin Rojas did a perfect lead-out for Alejandro Valverde who picked up important bonus seconds by winning the downhill sprint, with Rojas making it a 1-2 for Movistar.

 

 

 

The weather

There was a bit of rain in today’s stage which again proved that there is no guarantee for good weather in the Volta a Catalunya. However, Tuesday should be a great day with beautiful sunshine and a maximum temperature of 16 degrees and there should be virtually no chance of rain.

 

There will be a moderate wind from a northerly direction which means that it will be a headwind or a cross-headwind for most of the day. In the finale, the riders will turn into a crosswind. After the final turn, it will be a cross-tailwind for the sprint.

 

The favourites

For some reason, many regard Nacer Bouhanni as a pure sprinter. That’s a big mistake as the Frenchman is one of the best climbers among the fast finishers. In fact, he achieved some of his first top results in some very hard stages in the Tour of Oman and he even had ambitions in the Ardennes classics. Two years ago he was up there with the GC riders in a very hard Vuelta stage that was won by Daniel Navarro.

 

Hence, it is no mystery that he has decided to include the Volta a Catalunya in his schedule. The Spanish race has always been great for strong sprinters who can handle a few climbs as Gianni Meersman and Luka Mezgec have proved by dominating the sprints in the past. This year Bouhanni has finally set his sights on a race that suits him down to the ground and as stages 2, 5, 6 and maybe even 7 (Bryan Coquard was second in that stage in 2015) all within his reach, he can become the dominant figure.

 

Today he proved that he is by far the fastest rider in the race and Geoffrey Soupe proved that he can still do a great job as the final lead-out man even though he has actually lost that position to Christophe Laporte who is riding in Belgium this week. Furthermore, Bouhanni proved his great climbing skills as he seemed to be riding in the first positions on all the climbs.

 

Bouhanni now wears the leader’s jersey and he will try to increase his lead and double his tally in tomorrow’s stage which is tailor-made for him. It has the right kind of lumpy profile and a flat finish where he can make use of his speed.

 

The profile may look pretty difficult but last year’s stage proved that the final uphill section was no big challenge and most of the sprinters made it to the finish. This year’s stage is a bit harder but the category 1 climb comes too early to make a difference. The next two days are for the GC contenders so this is an opportunity that the sprinters don’t want to miss.

 

Cofidis are never afraid of controlling things and they are likely to do again tomorrow. With a long day in a headwind and a sprint finish on the cards, we can expect the break to be formed pretty early. Then it will be up to the French team to organize the chase and they probably won’t get that much help.

 

Catalonia can be windy but tomorrow there won’t be much crosswind so it should be less stressful. The category 1 climb could cause a bit of action but mainly because everybody wants to be safe on the descent. Otherwise, it should be a relatively straightforward stage until we get to the final rise.

 

As said, the climb is not hard enough to distance the sprinters that are here so most of them should make it to the finish with the best. Orica-GreenEDGE may try to make things hard by setting a fast pace and we could see a few attacks. However, it will be very hard to get clear and Cofidis and Orica-GreenEDGE should make sure that we get another sprint.

 

The sprint is non-complicated from a technical point of view. As it will be a tailwind and slightly downhill, it will extremely fast and it will be difficult to come from behind. Lead-outs will be very important here and this means that we can expect another battle between Cofidis and Orica-GreenEDGE who have the best trains here.

 

However, there is no doubt that Nacer Bouhanni is the fastest rider and his train workds really well. Today Soupe and Romain Hardy did everything right and tomorrow they could even have Borut Bozic at their disposal. This means that Bouhanni is likely to be delivered in an ideal position and then it is hard to imagine that anyone will be able to beat him. The only real challenge will be the fact that they may not get much help which could be costly for the lead-out. However, there should be enough resources to set Bouhanni up for another win.

 

Today’s sprint was a big battle between the Orica-GreenEDGE and Cofidis trains and it will be the same tomorrow. The combination Daryl Impey-Simon Gerrans has often been a winning one, with both riders having helped their teammates in stages like this one. Today an in-form Impey was given the chance as Gerrans is still building form but it remains to be seen who will be given the nod tomorrow. Today we didn’t have much doubt that Impey was the man but it could be different tomorrow. Gerrans will certainly get his chance at some point but there are stages later in the race that suit him better. This could be another day for Impey as it is a downhill run to the line and Gerrans prefers uphill sprints. In any case, this sprint will be very much about lead-outs so the Orica-GreenEDGE pair will be the biggest rival for Bouhanni.

 

The lead-out is exactly what is detrimental to Ben Swift’s chances. The Brit is obviously in great form but he doesn’t get much support in the finale. Today Vasil Kiryienka tried to lend him a hand but he will always have to latch onto the stronger trains. This downhill sprint doesn’t really suit him so it will be difficult to win. On the other hand he is faster than Impey so if he can again get onto the wheel of the Orica-GreenEDGE train, he may be the man to benefit if Cofidis fail.

 

Today things didn’t work out for Gianni Meersman who again proved that his form is not great. The Belgian was dropped but he will have a better chance in tomorrow’s stage which will be a bit easier. Despite his lack of form, he is one of the fastest riders here. We have no guarantees that he will be there in the end but with Petr Vakoc and Julian Alaphilippe for the lead-out, he can count on one of the best teams to set him up. That’s important in this kind of sprint.

 

Today’s stage was also a bit too hard for Jonas Van Genechten but he will be ready to get his revenge tomorrow. He likes this kind of relatively hard finale and a downhill run to the line which makes it similar to the sprint he won in the Tour de Pologne a few years ago. Jarlinson Pantano and Martin Elmiger have the speed to do a good lead-out and this should put him in a good position.

 

Ilnur Zakarin proved that he is never afraid of working for his teammates by doing an excellent job to set Alexei Tsatevich up for the sprint. Katusha mainly have climbers here but it seems that Tsatevich will get the right support. He has been in good form all year and has been sprinting better than he has for a few years. He is usually not fast enough to win flat sprints but at the end of this kind of hard stage he will be fresher than most.

 

When it comes to top speed, Davide Cimolai is one of the fastest. However, he doesn’t have much team support and will be on his own in the sprints. That’s a bit disadvantage here but he has proved in the past that he is good at positioning. He is not in best form yet but usually this stage should not be too hard for him.

 

Carlos Barbero is usually not fast enough to win a flat sprint but he has the big advantage of being supported by Eduard Prades in the finale. He showed good form by sprinting to sixth in today’s stage and he should be up there again tomorrow. He usually needs an uphill finish to win but at the end of a relatively hard finale, he may be fresher than his rivals.

 

Finally, we will point to Tosh van der Sande. The Belgian was left behind in today’s stage but tomorrow the easier terrain should be better for him. He has shown good form and so we were very surprised to see him fall of the pace. It is likely to just have been a bad day and he should find a hard sprint like this to his liking.

 

Other fast riders are Julian Alaphilippe, Petr Vakoc, Nikias Arndt, Kiel Reijnen, Kevin Reza, Lorrenzo Manzin, Eduard Prades, Nick van der Lijke, Maurits Lammetink, Pawel Franczak, Jordi Simon and Enrico Gasparotto.

 

CyclingQuotes’ stage winner pick: Nacer Bouhanni

Other winner candidates: Daryl Impey, Simon Gerrans

Outsiders: Ben Swift, Gianni Meersman, Jonas Van Genechten

Jokers: Alexey Tsatevich, Davide Cimolai, Carlos Barbero, Tosh van der Sande

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