Spokenforks may have predicted Alejandro Valverde’s presence as a danger-man on stage 2, but nobody expected that he would find success at the expense of his teammate. Having highlighted José Joaquín Rojas has the most fancied sprinter to haul himself over the final climb; it looked certain he was set to take his first win in the absence of any other quick men making the select group come the finish. What pundits failed to estimate was the level of desire Valverde had been harbouring in order to begin shrinking the time he had lost on unexpectedly on the first day. Sadly for the battling Rojas, this meant scrapping the chance of a stage win in order to help Valverde cross victoriously and scoop the additional time bonus for the winner.
Day three at the Volta a Catalunya will feel like a trip home for many of the peloton’s riders, as the popular city of Girona hosts the start and finish of stage 3’s 156.6km route. Many professionals have made Girona their European base in recent years, meaning those with ingrained local knowledge of the roads will certainly be viewed as dangerous men. Two category 3 climbs will form the first 60km worth of racing and are unlikely to have much impact upon the day; they are the Alt de Romanya (2.6km avg. 3.4% max. 6%) and the Alt de la Ganga (3.7km avg. 4%, max. 6%.) A small flat section will follow these two climbs once overcome, but attention will soon turn to the category 1 Alt des Angels; which at 6km long (avg. 5.5% max. 8%) is sure to be the backdrop to the day’s winning move. Though this will not happen on the first ascent, instead the riders will drop back down into the valley and tackle the category 2 Alt de Santa Pellaia (5.9km avg. 4% max. 6%); leaving them with less than 40km left to ride once summited. Their focus will then once again fall upon the decisive Alt des Angels climb, one which is harder than it seems on paper and will guarantee a heavy shelling of many cyclists from the peloton. This will leave an elite group to drop down the subsequent 10.4km descent, which well then place them upon the remaining 2.6km of flat terrain to the finish line. Though the process will be selective, it is likely a larger group of riders (approximately 10-15) will stay in contention for the most part of this climb and descent; only once the road becomes flat are attacks bound to fly. Taking all of the above into account, the fastest finishing mountain man could benefit the most and take victory in Girona with a rapid sprint.
Given the ruthlessness he demonstrated today when depriving his teammate of a well deserved win, Alejandro Valverde seems guaranteed to have a big say as to the outcome of stage 3 in Girona. The terrain will allow him to pace the day well and break the legs of the thoroughbred sprinters on the final ascent of Alt des Angels. His intent to win this race has become apparent, meaning he will be a marked man in the eyes’ of the other general classification hopefuls during the day. Though this means he will have a hard time to distance Chris Froome or Alberto Contador before the finish, he is clearly the fastest man present in such an elite group and will fancy his chances of taking another time bonus with a win in Girona.
A man who has local knowledge which is bound to come in handy during Catalunya’s third day in the saddle is Irishman Dan Martin. He is not always on promising form at this time of year, despite having previously won this tough race overall in 2013, but has shown intent when taking bonus time at an intermediate sprint already this week. Similarly to Valverde, this finale will suit his potent sprint finish, one which helped him win Lombardy at the end of last season when others sat watching over their shoulders’. Not only is the attraction of winning a stage at home a great lure, he will also know that he is unlikely to stay the pace with the bigger name on the queen stage; so stage 3 would be the day to make a move.
Rigoberto Uran looked strong in Tirreno-Adriatico and boasts a challenging turn of pace to that of Valverde if it all comes down to a sprint. The supporting evidence to his claim for day three’s win is his performance on the same stage in 2012; taking third place in a sprint finish alongside Michael Albasini and Dario Cataldo on that occasion. He will be in contention, but whether he makes the stage winning move is hard to say given those who are likely to sit beside come the finish.
Beyond those named above, it is possible to make a case for the 15 or so riders who are likely to stick the pace right to the descent of the Alt des Angels. Of course a dark-horse always has the chance to cause a shock, so Julien Simon, Jonathan Hivert, Rafael Valls Julian Alaphilippe should be noted in case the mood takes their fancy on the day.
1st Alejandro Valverde 2nd Dan Martin 3rd Rigoberto Uran