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Will Simon Gerrans finally take that elusive win on the final day in Catalonia?

Photo: Sirotti

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VOLTA A CATALUNYA

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26.03.2016 @ 20:41 Posted by Emil Axelgaard

While the sprinters got their final chance to go for glory in a nail-biting finale, Daniel Martin edged closer to the podium by picking up three crucial bonus seconds. The Irishman will have his eyes on more seconds in the traditional final stage on the Montjuic circuit in Barcelona where the classics riders will be eyeing victory and Alberto Contador will go all out in one last attempt to win his final Volta a Catalunya.

 

The course

In 2013 the race ended with a stage in Barcelona that included several laps of a circuit with the famous Montjuic climb and it produced some very exciting racing as Michele Scarponi used the ascent to attack and move himself up into 3rd on the final day of racing. The organizers were so pleased with that stage that they again used the very same circuit in the Catalonian capital for the 2014 and 2015 editions and it will be back on the course for the 2016 race too.

 

The final day sees the riders tackle a short 136.4km stage and like last year, the race will both start and finish in Barcelona. In fact, the stage is very similar to last year’s and only has been modified in the early part which is a bit harder than usual. From the start at the L'Hospitalet de Llobregat on the western outskirts of the city, the riders head along flat roads in a northwesterly direction as they contest the first intermediate sprint already at the 8.3km mark before they tackle the category 2 Alt de l’Ullsatrell (7km, 3.5%, max. 8%) whose top comes at the 27km mark and is the northernmost point of the race.

 

At the summit, the riders will turn around and head along flat roads to the bottom of the category 3 Alt de Corbera (3.9km, 4.7%, max. 8%) whose summit comes at the 42km mark. From there, they will follow flat roads back to the centre of Barcelona, contesting the final intermediate sprint at the 84.6km mark. They will reach the start-finish area after 75.4km of racing.

 

The race ends with 8 laps of the 6.4km finishing circuit in the Montjuic park and it is a tricky affair. From the line, it goes almost straight up the category 3 Alt Montjuic (2km, 5.7%, max. 8%) that is well-known for most bike riders. At the top, 4km remain to get back to the line and they are almost entirely downhill. The descent is not overly technical and follows a winding road. The riders will turn left in a roundabout with 2km to go and go straight through a roundabout around the flamme rouge and then the road only has some sweeping turns as it continues its way back down to the finish. The final 2km are descending at an average of 3%.

 

The Montjuic is an iconic climb in cycling. In 2009, Thor Hushovd won a tough uphill sprint on its slopes in the Tour de France while the climb last featured in a grand tour in the 2012 Vuelta. On that occasion, Philippe Gilbert and Joaquim Rodriguez escaped and held the peloton at bay on the descent, with Gilbert taking an easy sprint win, his first victory for BMC.

 

When the final stage finished on the same circuit in 2013, Thomas De Gendt and David Lopez attacked 22km from the finish to join the early breakaway and after dropping their companions, they were joined from behind by Michele Scarponi and Robert Kiserlovski. With Scarponi riding for GC, the quartet stayed away to the finish where De Gendt won the sprint to take his only victory of 2013 while Scarponi moved up to 3rd on GC. Behind, a 57-rider group sprinted for the minor placings. Joaquim Rodriguez tried to attack overall leader Dan Martin on the final laps but the climb was not hard enough to make a difference.

 

In 2014, the stage was held in rainy conditions and the organizers had to change the circuit to avoid the most difficult parts of the descent. Alberto Contador tried to attack overall leader Joaquim Rodriguez which turned out to be impossible. Meanwhile, the early breakaway managed to stay away and it was a strong Lieuwe Westra who dropped his companions and soloed away to a big win. Last year Alejandro Valverde had one final chance to take the overall victory but he quickly realized that it would be impossible to drop Richie Porte. Hence, he waited for the reduced bunch sprint which he won by beating Bryan Coquard in a close battle to move onto the podium by picking up bonus seconds.

 

 

 

The weather

There will be no repeat of the epic conditions that marred this stage two years ago. However, it will be a cloudy early afternoon and as the sun will only come out late, the riders will probably not get much chance to work on their tan. There will be a maximum temperature of15 degrees.

 

There will be a moderate wind from a southeasterly direction which means that it will first be a tailwind and then a headwind back to Barcelona. In the city, there will mainly be a crosswind. On the circuit, there will be a headwind on the climb and a tailwind on the descent.

 

The favourites

Like yesterday, today’s stage may have looked easy on television but it was another very fast day and there will be plenty of tired legs in the peloton when they roll out from Barcelona tomorrow. However, there won’t be any chance to get the legs going as the scene will be set for another furiously fast stage in the Catalan capital.

 

One always expects the GC to be decided after the Pyrenean stages but every year the final three stages seem to change things. In 2013, it was Michele Scarponi’s gutsy attack in Barcelona that allowed him to move onto podium and in 2015 it was Alejandro Valverde who picked up enough bonus seconds to push Alberto Contador off the podium. This year it is Daniel Martin who has his eyes on the lower step of the podium and he has gradually closed most of the gap to Richie Porte.

 

That sets the scene for another very interesting battle for seconds in the final stage and BMC will have to come up with a good plan to prevent Martin from taking that elusive third place. Porte has no chance against Martin in the sprints and their only chance is to use Philippe Gilbert to try to take the seconds away. He tried so in today’s stage but he was unable to beat the fast Irishman and the money is on Martin to finish on the podium as the first intermediate sprint comes already at the 8.3km mark. Etixx-QuickStep will do everything to keep things together for the sprint. With a formidable team to lead him out, Martin is destined to pick up at least one second which will be enough to move into the virtual third place on a countback.

 

With the intermediate sprint out of the way, the scene will be set for the attacks and it will again be very fast. The early break has made it on two out of three occasions and can definitely do so again. Hence, it will probably again take a long time for the break to be formed and in such a short stage we may even get to the circuit before anyone manages to get a noticeable advantage.

 

The rest of the stage will depend much on whether Martin has picked up that elusive second. If not, Etixx-QuickStep will have to work hard to either bring the second intermediate sprint into play or bring things back together for the finale which is the most likely scenario. In that case, it is hard to imagine that the break will have any chance. Otherwise, a lot will depend on which teams have made the break. If Orica-GreenEDGE are there, the group will have a much better chance but if the Australians have missed the move, they will probably be chasing hard to set Gerrans up for the win. They may get some assistance from Etixx-QuickStep who may eye the stage even if Martin has already moved onto the podium or if he even eyes second place, BMC who have a good chance with Gilbert and Wanty that have Gasparotto for the stage.

 

Racing is always extremely entertaining when Contador is in second place and there is no doubt that he will give it one final try. On the final circuit, we can expect Tinkoff to try to make it hard and BMC may have similar plans as Richie Porte and Tejay van Garderen have not given up yet. That will make it even harder for the break to make it.

 

In the end, we will see the usual attacks from the GC contenders the final time up Montjuic but history shows that it is not hard enough to put the GC contenders in difficulty. This year it will be a headwind and that won’t make it any easier. Neither, Porte nor Contador have the explosiveness to challenge Quintana on a short climb like this so it will probably all come to nothing. Hence, it will probably be a reduced peloton that arrives at the finish. With lots of teams eyeing either a stage win or a hard race, the pace will be so fast that we expect the break to be caught but there are no guarantees.

 

If it comes down to a sprint, Simon Gerrans will be the man to beat. The Australian is building form for the Ardennes and has proved that he is at a very competitive level. He won the uphill sprint for sixth in stage 5 and today he was in the top 5 while trying to do the lead-out for Daryl Impey.

 

Gerrans is very strong on short climbs and Montjuic is a climb to his liking as it is not too steep. He should be up there with the best on the ascent and so be in a good position for the sprints. He is faster than almost everybody here and definitely faster than the riders that can expect to survive here. At the end of a hard race, Gerrans can even win bunch sprints so he is our favourite to win here.

 

Philippe Gilbert has gradually improved his condition in this race after he had to skip Milan-Sanremo due to illness. He has tested himself in sprints and breaks and seems to be at a reasonable level. BMC’s main goal is to defend third place with Porte but the best chance to do so is by having Gilbert going for the stage. This is a great stage for an Ardennes specialist like him as he will be one of the best on the climbs and is fast in a sprint. He is not as fast as Gerrans but here it is more about positioning so he will have a chance.

 

Enrico Gasparotto has been impressive in this race. He has been sprinting very well and been up there on the climbs for a long time. He is on track for a great Ardennes campaign and he would love to boost his confidence by winning this stage. This is a stage that is tailor-made for him as he is strong on short climbs, a good descender and fast in a sprint. He is not as fast as Gerrans and Gilbert but as said, this is more about positioning and he hasn’t been far off the mark in the previous sprints in this race.

 

If Daniel Martin has picked up bonus seconds earlier in the stage, a stage win will be enough to catapult him into second. Etixx-QuickStep can’t let that opportunity slip away as this is a great finale for the Irishman. He is very fast even in a flat sprint as he proved in today’s intermediate sprint and he will have a formidable lead-out with the likes of Petr Vakoc and Julian Alaphilippe. Gerrans will be hard to beat but Martin will give it a go.

 

Petr Vakoc had definitely deserved to win today’s stage but he has another chance tomorrow. Montjuic is a climb to his liking and he has the descending skills and speed to win this kind of stage. Of course Etixx-QuickStep’s main goal is for Martin to move up in GC and he may have to do the lead-out for his teammate. However, if Martin is no longer within reach of second place, Vakoc may get his own chance and he is definitely strong enough to win this stage.

 

Etixx-QuickStep are loaded with riders for this stage. Another very good option is Julian Alaphilippe who seems to be getting better and better. Like Vakoc he will probably have to work for Martin but depending on the situation he may be given a chance in a stage that suits him down to the ground. It remains to be seen whether his form is already good enough to be competitive but the stage definitely suits him.

 

Alexey Tsatevich seems to be in the form of his life and when he has this kind of condition, Montjuic is not too hard for him. If he can make it over the top with the best, he will one of the fastest in the group that sprints for the win. An in-form Ilnur Zakarin will be ready to support him and he has the speed to win this sprint. It will all depend on whether he can crest the summit close enough to the front.

 

We doubt that Carlos Barbero will make it to the top with the best but that doesn’t mean that Caja Rural are without their chances. Eduard Prades is a great rider for this kind of terrain and he is fast in a sprint. He is not in the excellent form he had in the second half of the 2015 season but he is riding well enough to be up there.

 

Rigoberto Uran is not in his best form but this could still be a good stage for him. Among the GC riders, he is very fast in a sprint and he would love to move up in GC by picking up a few bonus seconds here. He has always been competitive in sprints in this race and tomorrow he will be keen to give it another shot.

 

As said, it is definitely not impossible for a break to make it. In that case you should keep an eye on Brent Bookwalter, Ben Hermans, Rein Taaramae, Nicolas Roche, Dario Cataldo, Daryl Impey, Louis Vervaeke, Thomas De Gendt, Prades and Maurit Lammertink who can all do well on this kind of tough circuit.

 

CyclingQuotes’ stage winner pick: Simon Gerrans

Other winner candidates: Philippe Gilbert, Enrico Gasparotto

Outsiders: Daniel Martin, Petr Vakoc, Julian Alaphilippe, Alexey Tsatevich, Eduard Prades, Rigoberto Uran

Breakaway candidates: Brent Bookwalter, Ben Hermans, Rein Taaramae, Nicolas Roche, Dario Cataldo, Daryl Impey, Louis Vervaeke, Thomas De Gendt, Eduard Prades, Maurit Lammertink

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