08/04 - Stage 2 - Ordizia to Dantxarinea (Urdazubi) - 155.8 km
This is the designated sprint stage of Vuelta al Pais Vasco. It’s not a flat stage - such don’t exist in this part of the world - but there aren’t any categorized climbs within the final 50 km of the stage.
After the demanding opening stage 1, the GC riders will now hope to have a quiet day in the saddle. A breakaway will most likely get away within the first 30 km of the stage. Tinkoff-Saxo will take control of the race and after the final categorized climb of the day (Alto de Lizaeta, detailed profile available), teams like GreenEdge (Matthews/Gerrans), BMC (Gilbert), Team Sky (Swift), FDJ (Vichot) and Cannondale (Ratto) will probably start setting the pace, hoping for a bunch sprint.
With a little less than 20 km to go, the road starts to kick up for about 3.3 km with an average gradient of 3.3 %. None of this should trouble the fast guys, but it will become harder for a break to make it all the way. With 6.5 km to go, there is another uncategorized climb of 2.2 km (average gradient of 3.4 %). The following 3.5 km are downhill. The run-in is fast and the final part is tricky. With about 350 meters to go, the riders go right into a roundabout, an almost 180° corner according to the detailed map in the road book. The final 300 meters are uphill with an average gradient of about 4 %.
The two riders I named as outsiders for stage 1 are actually my two favorites for stage 2. On the first day, Tinkoff-Saxo and Movistar didn’t want to take any chances. The high pace on the climbs all day completely drained the sprinters and left them without a chance in the final. Today it will be different though. GreenEdge is aiming very big at this and the following stage. Michael Matthews is in great shape right now and - to me - he’s the fastest rider in the race on a finish like this one. The Australian team knows these routes very well and with Simon Gerrans, Michael Albasini and Simon Yates to set the pace, I think Matthews will win this stage.
As mentioned in the preview for stage 1, Ben Swift is doing very well these weeks. He was impressive in Milano - San Remo (finishing 3rd) and had a great Coppi e Bartali (winning stage 1 and finishing 2nd on stage 3). Team Sky doesn’t really have any lead-out riders for Swift, but I think he will be able to position himself well enough on his own. This uphill finish suits Swifty perfectly.
Arthur Vichot is another good candidate for this stage. The French Champion won the last stage of Paris-Nice in a reduced group. Vichot is very fast on the line and this type of uphill finish is just up his alley. This will be a good test-run before the Ardennes Classics. Personally, I doubt he can outsprint Matthews or Swift. However, positioning is very important in this tricky finale. If Vichot enters the final 300 meters in a better position than the two other favorites, he could very well win this stage.
Had there been bonus seconds on the line in this year’s Vuelta al Pais Vasco, Alejandro Valverde would have been a good pick. Without bonus seconds, the GC riders ‘just’ have to avoid losing time. Still, the peloton will be stretched out in the final right hand corner, and we might see small time gaps on the line. This means that GC riders like Valverde has to stay near the front and might sprint for the stage after all. Alejandro Valverde is a killer. When he sees the finishing line, he finds extra energy. However, without any time gaps in the peloton, it would make sense not to waste any energy on a sprint stage like this one.
Instead, I think Danielle Ratto and Philippe Gilbert could give a solid performance. Ratto is usually doing very well in this race and today’s finish suits him. The fast Italian finished 6th and 3rd in the two opening sprint stages in Volta Catalunya last month. I think it will be difficult for Ratto to win this stage, but another podium spot is definitely within his reach. Gilbert hasn’t won a race yet this season. He came close in Tirreno-Adriatico and he’s now hoping to finally get that big motivation boost ahead of the Ardennes Classics, his first big goal of the season. The uphill finish might not be steep enough for Gilbert to excel but he should be up there fighting for the win.
For live coverage of the stage, go to steephill.tv