Yesterday delivered as expected for the pure sprinters, with the SpokenForks prediction landing the first three across the line in the right order. Stage 3 however promises to be a much greater shake up amongst the ‘strong-men’ of the peloton, only those with enough left over after the day’s bumps with be able to contest the select sprint. The classic styled puncheurs will be eyeing up the day’s 197.8km run inland from Cadiz to Arcos De La Frontera, as a chance of a stage win before the GC contender’s takeover proves irresistible.
Departing from upon a Spanish aircraft carrier is perhaps the biggest act of showmanship to be seen at this year’s Vuelta, but the concentration needs to be focused upon a tricky day in the saddle for the riders. The majority of the day will be spent either heading up or going down for almost 70km, an attractive prospect for those wishing to make a day in the breakaway. Relief is offered by the smoother terrain after the last categorised climb of the day, but two uncategorised challenges still remain before the finish can be contested. The last of which comprises the finishing 1.4km at an average gradient of 6%, finishing with only 500m to the line remaining – a somewhat downhill run for the win. All that remains for the contenders to negotiate after completing the kick up to the finish is a couple of sweeping bends which open out onto the 150m finishing straight.
Riders such as Dan Martin have shown that those who find success in the classics can operate as equally comfortably in the typically sharp finishes of a Vuelta stage. But to strike gold here will also require a well drilled team to ensure that no protected rider loses time in the expected scrabble onto the start of the final climb. Giant-Shimano and Orica-GreenEDGE would appear to suit this criteria, as well as possessing suitable contenders with the likes of John Degenkolb and Michael Matthews at their disposal. It would seem that both have seriously targeted the stage as a possible win, perhaps more so Orica-GreenEDGE, which could result in the Australians bossing affairs at the head of the bunch during the day.
The afore mentioned contenders suggest the mould of rider best suited to the stage is one who is comfortable climbing, yet also able to sustain an attack up and over the finale’s climb onto the straight. This means Peter Sagan and Philipe Gilbert should also be factored into the day’s proceedings, though the form of Sagan is under question at the moment, as is Gilbert’s condition. With a course so seemingly suited to both their styles it would be a great shame to not even see the two test the waters with an attack. However, Gilbert will not be fond of the stretch of flat after the climb and Sagan is likely to think the same when looking at Degenkolb’s pace from the previous day.
A note worth considering is the freedom which might be afforded to Sky riders, primarily due to uncertainty over Chris Froome’s exact form at the moment. The little 6% kick towards the finish could draw the attention of Luke Rowe or even Peter Kennaugh, should they find themselves let off the leash. Kennaugh is in great form despite missing the Tour de France having won the British title, Tour of Austria and been the main protagonist in the Commonwealth Road Race after winning a silver medal for the Isle of Man.
Though Degenkolb appears to be in blistering form, the support behind Michael Matthews and a topography which plays into his hands looks likely to put another grand tour stage win in Australian hands. The German will no doubt be amongst it, but may find the proceeding kilometres too tiring by the time it comes to sprinting the last 150m, leaving Sagan & Gilbert to weigh up whether or not it is worth challenging Matthews for the win.
1st Matthews 2nd Degenkolb 3rd Sagan
Bonus: Kennaugh or Rowe