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13/03 - Stage 3 - Cascina to Arezzo - 203 km

Today is another day for the fast riders. However, with a late kick in the final, it won’t be easy for the pure sprinters to take the win on stage 3.

The route
This stage is almost identical to the one the organizers used last year. From the start in Cascina, the peloton heads east below Florence towards Arezzo. It’s not a very demanding course but it does include two categorized climbs.  San Martino and Poggio alla Croce both have an average gradient of around 6 %. Today’s two intermediate sprints are located in Castelfranco di Sopra and Indicatore and offer 3-2-1 bonus seconds to the first three riders.

When the peloton reaches Arezzo, they take on five laps of 11 km. This means they will get to know the tricky finish very well. The circuit starts out with a fast descent before entering the city center where the riders have to pay close attention to traffic islands and roundabouts. After passing under the last kilometer-banner, the peloton turns right in the following two roundabouts. Soon after, they cross a medieval gate. This is where the road starts to kick up. The final 900 meters have an average gradient of 5 %. The maximum gradient hits 11 % when the riders turn left after the gate. The last part of the stage takes place on big cobblestones. The road is narrow and twists and bends. It’s important to have a good position before entering this last kilometer as there is simply no space to move up later on. The last corner comes with about 200 meters to go. You need to be among the first three riders into this corner if you want to have a chance of winning the stage. If you want to re-watch last year’s finish in Arezzo, click here.

The favorites
Last year, Peter Sagan was the big favorite for the stage win and he didn’t disappoint. The Slovakian had no problems outsprinting Michal Kwiatkowski and Philippe Gilbert on the last 200 meters. This year, Sagan is once again the man to beat. He hasn’t been able to cross the line first this season but he’s clearly in good condition. His first big goal of the season are the spring classics. He needs to enter these races with a strong morale. Today’s finish is tailor-made for him and he simply can’t afford to miss out another time. Also, if Peter Sagan wins this stage, he’ll be the new leader of the race.

Another rider who has been very consistent but not able to win is Greg van Avermaet. The Belgian is in outstanding shape right now. He finished 6th in Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, 2nd in Strade Bianche and somehow managed to almost beat Malori and Cancellara in the opening prologue. Van Avermaet is good on this kind of punchy finish where the pure sprinters have a tough time staying near the front. Without a clear favorite for the general classification, BMC can put all their focus on supporting Greg van Avermaet today.

Zdenek Stybar is also a very strong candidate for today’s stage. The Czech champion has been doing very well in all the races he has done this season. From Vuelta a Murcia (3rd) to Strade Bianche where he won after dropping Valverde and Van Avermaet in the final. For Stybar, an actual uphill finish would have been better as he’s not as fast as Sagan in a flat sprint. However, if Etixx can position him well heading into the last kilometer - like they did with Michal Kwiatkowski last year – Stybar should be able to fight for the win.

The outsiders
Personally, I’m very much looking forward to seeing what Magnus Cort can do in this stage. The young Dane had a fantastic season last year, which landed him a WT-contract with Orica GreenEdge. After a training camp in South Africa, Cort proved to be in great shape when he followed the first big move in Strade Bianche, joining all the favorites in the front. Today’s type of finish is right up his alley. The uphill section at the beginning will thin-out the peloton significantly. If Cort is in a good position at this point, he should be able to use his fast finish to sprint with the best. It’s a tall order to expect him to win in his first ever World Tour race, but don’t be surprised if he’s up there fighting for the win in Arezzo. Yesterday, he finished 6th in the chaotic sprint. I think he’ll do even better today.

Today’s finish is also good for a rider like Filippo Pozzato. I’m sure this is a stage he has circled in the road book. Tirreno-Adriatico is already Pozzato’s fifth stage race of the season. He has a lot race days in his legs and now it’s time to capitalize on his good condition. Lampre-Merida has a strong team to support their Italian veteran, who, like many, is using this race to fine-tune his shape ahead of the classics. It has been a while since Pozzato crossed the finishing line first in a race. Today, he might be able to break the spell.

For other strong candidates for this type of stage, look to riders like Edvald Boasson Hagen, Fabian Cancellara, Sam Bennett, Enrico Battaglin, Ramunas Navardauskas, Pim Ligthart and maybe even Astana’s former U-23 world champion Alexey Lutsenko.

For the overall favorites, the main goal today is not to lose any time. Last year, a few time gaps opened up on the final 500 meters. For riders like Alberto Contador and Nairo Quintana, who didn’t do well in the prologue, it’s crucial they stay close to their rivals today. We might even see Contador on the wheel of Sagan on the final kilometer, trying to score a few seconds if a gap opens up behind him. Dani Moreno's GC ambitions got ruined when he was caught up in a crash with 10 km to go and lost over 8 mins. On a good day, Moreno could do very well on this type of finish. If he's ready after the crash, he might have a go as he's very fast on the line.

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