09/04 - Stage 3 - Urdazubi-Urdax to Vitoria-Gasteiz - 194.5 km
This stage has GreenEdge written all over it, at least it did so in the past. Daryl Impey won in front of teammate Allan Davis in 2012, and last year, the Australian team performed a brilliant leadout for Impey to make it two in a row. This time, GreenEdge, once again, has one of the top favorites for the win.
Stage 3 is the longest stage of this year’s Vuelta al Pais Vasco. The day starts with a tough category 2 climb right at the beginning. The 6.6 km towards the top of Alto de Otsondo have an average gradient of 6.4 %. It’s steepest in the beginning and we will most likely see a break getting away at this point already. The road kicks up again just 20 km after the top of Alto de Otsondo, when it’s time to climb Alto de Belate (10 km long). This is another category 2 climb but gradients aren’t very steep this time, with an average of 4.9 %.
The following 120 km are more of less flat. As flat as it can be in the Basque Country. A breakaway will be able to gain a lot of time in this part of the stage. Teams like GreenEdge and Team Sky will have to pay attention and not let the gap get too big. This could also be a crosswind section. If the wind is right, the teams of the GC riders may try to break apart the peloton. With about 35 km to go, it’s time for the penultimate climb of the day; Alto de Vitoria (detailed profile available). This category 3 climb isn’t very steep (4.8 km of 3.9 %). The peloton will be able to set a high pace and take back a lot of time on the breakaway up front. If anybody wants to avoid a bunch sprint, they have to attack on Alto de Zaldiaran (detailed profile available). The 2.8 km towards the top have an average gradient of 5.3 % with the steepest part coming near the top. There are only 9.3 km to go from the top of the climb and a small group of strong riders may be able to keep the peloton at bay. There are no less than three roundabouts within the final 2 km with the last one coming just 500 meters before the line. Personally, I doubt a breakaway will make it. The most likely scenario is a repetition of last year’s bunch sprint. Just with a different winner.
Okay. I know. I’ve been pumping up Michael Matthews’ chances the last couple of day. So far without any luck. On stage 1, Movistar and Tinkoff-Saxo didn’t give the sprinters any chance and on stage 2, GreenEdge didn’t get any help chasing the break before it was too late. Especially Team Sky messed up, as Ben Swift took second place on the stage behind Tony Martin.
I would imagine GreenEdge isn’t interested in taking the responsibility all day again. Ben Swift won the sprint for second place and now Team Sky has to control the race. As mentioned in the recent previews, Swifty is in great shape right now. The way I see it, only Michael Matthews can beat him in a clean sprint. In 2012, Bling finished 5th on this stage. Last year, he gave up his own chances of success as he led out teammate Daryl Impey on the final meters. This stage clearly suits Matthews and after missing out on stage 2, GreenEdge must be very eager to finally get it right.
As mentioned, the climbs near the finish aren’t very difficult. However, without bonus seconds, the GC riders will have to take advantage of any given opportunity to gain a little time. Still, since the big mountain stage of the race comes the following day, the GC riders can’t afford to waste too much energy either. They really have to calculate their effort today. Michal Kwiatkowski is fast on the line in a reduced group and he also sprinted for second place on stage 2. However, he couldn’t outsprint Ben Swift and finished third. It gave a few points but it also cost him a lot of energy. Kwiatkowski is still young and, to me, this was a tactical mistake. Thursday’s mountain stage is a tough one. He needs to be as fresh as he can be if he wants to have a chance of winning this race overall.
One rider who is out of the GC already and might fancy this stage is Rui Costa. The World Champion had a horrible start to the race. Due to cancelled and delayed flights, he didn’t arrive until 23:30 the day before Vuelta al Pais Vasco started. Furthermore, his bike was missing too. He never really found his legs on stage 1 and finished 4:15 min after Alberto Contador. On stage 2, Rui Costa was back on his normal bike. On the final climb, he tried to follow a couple of moves and he now seems to feel just fine again. He’s not a threat in the general classification so the GC riders won’t start chasing him down if he attacks. However, GreenEdge and Team Sky most certainly will. This is most likely the last chance for the sprinters to win a stage in this year’s Vuelta al Pais Vasco and their teams can’t afford to miss out again.
For outsiders in the expected sprint, look to riders like Paul Martens, Danielle Ratto and in-shape Yukiya Arashiro.
For live coverage of the stage, go to steephill.tv