11/05 - Stage 3 - Armagh to Dublin - 187 km

Saturday’s stage ended in the expected bunch sprint. Marcel Kittel won the stage, while Michael Matthews made the hashtag prediction #BlingInPink come true. The Australian is now the new leader of the race. Stage 3 is another one for the sprinters.

The route
Starting out in Armagh, the peloton heads north for a little while before turning around and setting sails for Dublin. The first 75 km are rather bumpy, including two category 4 climbs. A breakaway will most likely sweep the KOM points on the climbs, fighting for the blue jersey. Maarten Tjallingii will try to make it into the morning breakaway again, getting additional points. This will secure him the KOM jersey for at least a couple of days. 

Entering the Republic of Ireland, there is an intermediate sprint in Dundalk. Despite a breakaway being up front, we might see the sprinters fight for the remaining points. There are still over 100 km to go at this point. A quick effort in the intermediate sprint won’t take too much out of the legs for the final sprint.

Riding alongside the sea for most of the day, the wind could naturally play an important factor. Both, the GC riders and the sprinters, will have to pay close attention. This will make for a furious fight trying to be near the front at all time. Hopefully, we won’t see any crashes, even though it seems inevitable on these roads.

With 5 km to go, the course starts to get really tricky. The following four kilometers include no less than six sharp corners. These corners will stretch out the peloton significantly as they are all just about one car wide. It’s very important to be in a good position here. The last 900 meters seem to be easy but there is a dangerous left-right s-bend with just 400 meters to go. From here, it’s straight-out towards the finishing line.  

The favorites
Naturally, the big favorite for this stage is Marcel Kittel. He won stage 2 - easily - and this finish suits him ever better. Without Mark Cavendish and Andre Greipel in the race, Kittel is at least one level above the rest of the sprinters. Nobody in this field can match his top-speed. Giant-Shimano has the best leadout train in the race but even without a perfect leadout, Kittel has proven to be capable of winning. Anything can happen in this kind of weather - on these kind of roads - but without any incidents, it would be a huge surprise not to see Marcel Kittel winning in Dublin on his 26th birthday.

To me, the biggest threat to the strong German is still Elia Viviani. Cannondale put in a strong performance on Saturday, but Viviani wasn’t able to kick hard enough out of the final corner. However, I think Viviani is much stronger than he showed today. He simply got isolated too early. Despite the tricky s-bend with 400 meters to go, this bunch sprint will be much faster than Saturday’s. Viviani is best in a high-speed sprint and he’s extremely fast on the final meters. Due to Marcel Kittel’s superiority, everybody will be looking to Giant-Shimano when it comes to controlling the race. I’m sure Cannondale won’t waste as much energy in the final as they did on stage 2, leaving Viviani alone in the final.

FDJ and Trek did a great job in setting up Nacer Bouhanni and Giacomo Nizzolo. The Frenchman started his sprint too early but still managed to hold on to second place. The difficult turns and narrow roads in Dublin suit Bouhanni very well. As a former boxer, he’s not afraid of getting physical with riders trying to box him in. However, a high-speed sprint isn’t ideal for Bouhanni. Giacomo Nizzolo on the other hand, will definitely be able to profit from a fast finish. He didn’t quite manage to stay on Kittel’s wheel in stage 2, but he still had enough speed to take 3rd place on the stage. If Nizzolo manages to get himself into a good position for Sunday’s stage, he may be able to make podium again.

The outsiders
My super-joker for stage 2, Jetse Bol, came very close to making Top10 as the young Belkin rider finished 11th on the stage. Bol simply had to slow down too much in the last corner and lost the wheel of Manuel Belletti, who finished 6th. Before the race started, Gianni Savio told me that Belletti was doing very well and that Androni has high hopes for their Italian sprinter. Manuel Belletti is a former stage winner in the Giro (from a breakaway though, not in a sprint). He may not be able to win against the top sprinters here, but he should be near Top5 in all the bunch sprints.

For the remaining sprint stages, I will try to pick out a new super-joker each time. For Sunday's stage 3, I will focus on Nicola Ruffoni. The young Italian is the designated sprinter for Bardiani in the flat stages. This is his first year as professional and so far, Ruffoni has had a great start to the season. In Tour of Oman, he finished 3rd on stage 1, in front of riders like Nacer Bouhanni, Peter Sagan and Alexander Kristoff. On Saturday’s stage 2 of the Giro, Ruffoni came too close to the barrier in the final corner and ended up getting boxed in, in the middle of the pack. He won’t beat Marcel Kittel or the other guys near the front, but I’m sure that Nicola Ruffoni has what it takes to make Top10. A high-speed sprint should suit him as well.

For live coverage of the stage, go to steephill.tv.