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Will it be a sprint or a breakaway on stage 6 of the Volta a Catalunya?

Photo: Kristof Ramon / Wanty-Groupe Gobert

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VOLTA A CATALUNYA

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25.03.2016 @ 20:22 Posted by Emil Axelgaard

There’s never an easy day in the Volta a Catalunya which was evident in today’s extremely fast stage, and while the GC battle will be fought out in the battle for bonus seconds, the fight for the stage wins won’t get less intense in the final two stages. Tomorrow’s stage may be the easiest of the race but with almost every team wanting to be part of the break, there is a big chance that it will be another day for the a breakaway. At the same time, the GC riders will have to be attentive on a day where there will be crosswinds in the finale.

 

The course

The GC riders who lost out in the queen stage are all hoping that they may be able to create a surprise in the hilly final stage but first they have to get through the penultimate stage. On paper it has the easiest finale of all stages and even though it includes two climbs along the way, it is mainly a flat course

 

The stage brings the riders over 197.2km from Sant Joan Desp to Vilanova i La Geltru. The riders are back at the Mediterranean coast for the start and the first part of the stage consists of a westerly run along the coastal road. It is mainly flat and only includes the small category 3 Alt de la Maladona (5.2km, 3%, max. 7%) at the 21.6km mark. The first intermediate sprint comes after 10km of racing and offers some early bonus seconds.

 

Before reaching the finishing city, the riders will head inlands along flat roads before contesting the final intermediate sprint after 95km of racing just before the feed zone. Then it’s another flat section until the riders hit the main challenge, the category 2 Alt de les Ventoses (7.5km, 6.7%, max. 9%) whose summit is located with 80.7km to go. From there, the riders do a small loop along rolling roads before they head into mainly descending terrain as they get back towards the coast where the finish is located at the seafront. There’s a small little rise inside the final 10km which are otherwise almost completely flat. The penultimate kilometre is slightly descending and the final kilometre is flat. The finale is not complicated as the final turn comes with more than 2km to go and from there the road only bends slightly to the right.

 

Vilanova i La Geltru last featured on the course in 2014 when Stef Clement rode to a solo win from a breakaway. In 2000, Erik Zabel won a bunch sprint and Mario Cipollini was the fastest in 1999. The city hosted a stage finish of the 2010 Vuelta a Espana where Imanol Erviti emerged as the strongest from a breakaway.

 

 

 

The weather

Saturday will be another perfect day for a bike race as it will be bright sunshine all day. The maximum temperature at the finish will be 16 degrees.

 

The real danger is of course the wind which will be moderate and come from a southwesterly direction. This means that the riders will have a cross-headwind in the first part and then a cross-tailwind as they head inland. Then it’s mainly a headwind until the riders get to the final part where it will be a crosswind. In the finale, they will turn into a cross-headwind with 2km to go and that will be the conditions for the final part of the race.

 

The favourites

The stage to Valls never disappoints. Every year it’s a true war to get into the right break and as it happened two years ago, it took more than half of the race for the break to be formed. That made it a brutally hard day and while it may have looked easy on television, it definitely wasn’t. Many riders have already described it as the hardest stage of the race.

 

That kind of racing always characterizes the final stages in Catalonia. The race is usually decided after the Pyrenees but that doesn’t mean that the final days aren’t hard! They are always extremely aggressive and it is no easy task for anybody to get to Barcelona at the end of the week. The bad news is that it will be more of the same in the final two stages.

 

The stage allowed Sky to bounce back from the disappointments and Wout Poels’ win proves that they really have a classy team here even though Froome has failed in the mountains. They won’t settle for this though as they are still aiming for wins with Ben Swift.

 

At the same time, the stage showed that the battle for the GC is not over yet. Contador picked up a single bonus second and will use every opportunity to get closer to Quintana. By winning the first intermediate sprint, Daniel Martin also picked up three bonus seconds and he is now pretty close to the podium. The final stage suits him pretty well and could allow him to take more bonus second and so leapfrog Richie Porte in the overall standings.

 

He will already get a first chance to take back some time in stage 6. He won’t play a role in the finale but the first intermediate sprint comes already at the 10km mark. It’s a perfect opportunity to take back more time and we will probably see Etixx-QuickStep control things in the first part. He is much faster than Richie Porte and BMC don’t have many fast riders who can try to deny him the bonifications. Philippe Gilbert and Brent Bookwalter will have to do the sprint but there is a chance that Martin will be even closer to the podium at the end of the stage.

 

Tomorrow’s stage is mainly flat but that doesn’t mean that it will necessarily be for the sprinters. In fact, it has been a flat course for the penultimate stage in the last two years as well and in both 2014 and 2015 the break made it to the finish. That could easily happen again tomorrow in what will be an unpredictable stage.

 

We will again have a very fast start to the stage and apart from Movistar, every team will probably try to have a rider in the break. With no big-name sprinter here, there won’t be a team that is focusing fully on a bunch sprint so everything will depend on the composition of the group that goes clear. If a few sprint teams have missed out, they may be strong enough to bring it back but there are no guarantees. This could be a day for both a breakaway and a sprint.

 

What will add an addition twist to the stage is the fact that it will be a crosswind in the final part of the stage. This will make things very nervous and we all know that Alberto Contador never gives up. We will be pretty surprised if Tinkoff don’t try to split things and other teams may have similar plans. This will make the peloton very nervous and means that the GC teams will come to the fore. We doubt that the wind will be strong enough to distance the attentive main contenders but the nervousness will increase the pace and this increases the chance that we will get a sprint.

 

As everything will depend on the composition of the break, it’s 50-50 whether it will be a break or a sprint. The chase failed today and we will again put our money on a breakaway. That makes it a bit of a lottery to pick the winner but there are a few in-form riders who will have a better chance to make it in what will be a very hard and fast start.

 

We have been impressed by Enrico Gasparotto in the first part of the race. The Italian is clearly on track for the Ardennes. He has been up there in the sprints against much faster guys and he has been hanging onto the best in the mountains for a long time. Wanty-Groupe Gobert are here to chase stage wins and he knows that he won’t have a real chance to win a bunch sprint. Hence, he will probably try to join the break tomorrow and he is definitely strong enough to make it. If he is there, he has the experience and speed to finish it off in a successful way.

 

Today Orica-GreenEDGE did everything to get a bunch sprint but they failed. They will be eager to go for the win in Barcelona with Gerrans but tomorrow they will probably take a more opportunistic approach. That could open the door for an in-form Daryl Impey to get his chance. He was allowed to do the sprint on the first stage but since then he has been doing the lead-outs. While Gerrans will probably save some energy for Sunday, he will try to join the moves. He is strong in flat terrain and very fast in a sprint.

 

Philippe Gilbert was in one of the groups that went clear in today’s stage but was quickly reeled in. Tomorrow he will try again as he is chasing his best form for the classics. The Belgian has proved that he is very good at hitting the right break, probably because he is one of the strongest riders. With his fast sprint, this is a great stage for him but the challenge is that he will of course be a marked man if he joins the right move.

 

Petr Vakoc has been riding extremely well all year. The Czech won two one-day races in France earlier this year and is a future Ardennes star. In this race he has been working for his teammates but tomorrow he will be given the chance to go for himself. He has the skills to get into the right break and is fast enough to come out on top.

 

If it comes down to a sprint, we will put our money on Gianni Meersman. The Belgian is not in his best form but he is getting better. He did a great job for Martin in stage 4 and he survived the climb in today’s stage. Tomorrow it’s a flat sprint which could give him the edge over Gerrans who is probably his biggest rival. With Vakoc and Alaphilippe, he has the lead-out to put him into a good position.

 

His biggest rival will probably be Gerrans. The Australian won today’s sprint but it will be harder for him in tomorrow’s flat finale. Nonetheless, he has proved that he can beat almost everybody at the end of a hard day – just recall that he has beaten both Sagan and Greipel in bunch sprints. He has Impey for the lead-out and this is likely to put him into the best possible position for the sprint.

 

Sky boosted their confidence in today’s stage and tomorrow they will try to make it two in a row. Their man for the sprint is Ben Swift whose excellent form has been on show for most of March. Earlier in the race he didn’t get much team support but now he will have the team at his disposal. Unfortunately, he has lost Geraint Thomas and so he won’t get a real lead-out. However, he is definitely one of the fastest here, especially at the end of a hard day s it will all come down to positioning.

 

Davide Cimolai is getting closer to his best form and sprinted to a top 10 today. Tomorrow he will be eager to improve on his performance. He prefers uphill sprints but in this race he is clearly one of the fastest in a flat sprint too. His disadvantage is the fact that he won’t have much team support.

 

Alexey Tsatevich has been the most consistent sprinter in the race and he will definitely be up there. He seems to be in the form of his life and has done really well despite missing some support. However, he is probably not fast enough to win a flat sprint.

 

Finally, we will pick a few more breakaway riders. Julian Alaphilipe is building form for the classics after his bout on mononucleosis. He is still far from his best but he is improving. He has already been in the break once and he tried again today. He is fast in a sprint and will be eager to make up for the disappointment of finishing second in the penultimate stage last year.

 

Another strong riders is Eduard Prades. Caja Rural have been riding really well in this race and Prades has been one of their best. This is the kind of lumpy stage that really suits him. He is strong on the flats and fast in a sprint.

 

Sky hope to continue their string of successes and will try to attack in tomorrow’s stage. Nicolas Roche is probably their best candidate to go for the win. He is never in very good form at this time of the year but his strong attack in stage 1 proved that he getting there. He has the experience and sprint skills to win this stage from a breakaway.

 

Finally, we will point to Alex Howes. He looked strong in the break on stage 3 and is constantly getting better. He did a good world championships last year and if he can add to his level in 2016, he is ready to win at the WorldTour level. In any case, he has the strength and sprinting skills to emerge triumphant in this kind of stage.

 

CyclingQuotes’ stage winner pick: Enrico Gasparotto (breakaway)

Other winner candidates: Daryl Impey, Philippe Gilbert, Petr Vakoc (breakaway)

Outsiders: Gianni Meersman, Simon Gerrans, Ben Swift, Davide Cimolai, Alexey Tsatevich (sprint)

Jokers: Julian Alaphilippe, Eduard Prades, Nicolas Roche, Alex Howes (breakaway)

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