Dan Martin and Rigoberto Uran placed in the top three on stage 3 as predicted by Spokenforks yesterday, but Alejandro Valverde was left missing from the front of affairs having lost time in a crash. The Movistar leader was snarled up by a peloton splitting incident 35km from the finish; conceding around 20 seconds to the day’s contenders as they tackled the Alt des Angels. A disappointing result which negates the time he took when winning the second day’s race into Olot, leaving the likes of Martin, Uran, Contador, Aru and Porte all ahead of him in the general classification. This year’s queen stage is set to light the fuse on a flurry of attacks from those who fancy their chances of taking the overall lead, with one well timed attack on the summit finish into La Molina.
It is a 188.4km from Tona to the summit of La Molina, but riders will be afforded some time in order to get their legs into gear as the opening 50km are relatively gentile; especially compared to what lies in store for them later on. The opening exchanges will begin on the slopes of the category 1 Alt de Bracons, stretching over 10.5km with an average gradient of 4.9% (max 12%), the waters might be tested here. A flat section will follow the climb’s descent, before the riders begin facing up to the category 1 Alt de Coubet. The 10km climb boasts an average gradient of 5.5%, with slopes which rise up to a maximum of 10%, summiting after just over 90km of racing. Another drop in altitude will follow, lowering the tempo before racing becomes decisive with a little more than 63km remaining. The day’s sole HC climb comes in the form of the Alt de la Creueta, a tiring 21km in length which bores away at the riders with an average gradient of 4.5% (max 9%). Only 42km will remain once this gruelling ascent has been tackled, but life will be about to get increasingly harder with the summit finish up to the line at La Molina standing between them. Despite only being 5.3km long, the 5.8% average gradient is compounded by ramps of 9% to make life difficult for the favourites and form the stage for a winning attack. It is not uphill right to the line however, as La Molina is not quite a thoroughbred summit finish with the terrain dipping in the last kilometre, before edging up to 3% in the final 500m.
Ever present favourite Alejandro Valverde will be fancied to live up to expectations on this terrain and take the win in La Molina. It suits the Spanish rider down to the ground and offers the sort of finish which is easy to envision seeing him romp away upon or sprint to victory from a depleted group of contenders. However, a crash on stage 3 meant he lost time and had to work hard on the front of a chase group in order to prevent the gap growing out of control to the leading riders. This impressive effort can be viewed in two ways, first of all as a dominant display of the sort of stage winning form he is currently competing in; a good sign for stage 4. On the other hand, this sort of effort is likely to have taken a fair amount out of any top rider and with a two arduous climbs to conquer on stage 4, you have to wonder if Valverde’s potency may have been blunted somewhat.
Though the day’s terrain does not scream his name, Richie Porte has been in all conquering form when afforded the loosening of his leash this season. His condition is strong at this time of year, with Paris-Nice demonstrating his ability to attack late in a stage when winning on the road to Croix de Chaubouret alongside Geraint Thomas. If the majority are still together with only several kilometres remaining, busy exchanging glances between Contador, Aru, Valverde, Uran and Froome, Porte seems the favourite to gain a gap as those behind hesitate while he tears off to victory.
The Colombian Rigoberto Uran has been ticking over nicely so far this season and his certainly due a stage win sometime soon. He is yet to look in troublesome waters during this race and could have been biding his time for a big attack on the queen stage’s climb to La Molina. Given its relatively short length, Uran would be able to give it everything on the sharper slopes and hope to stay clear on the later section with his fast finishing speed if required.
Fabio Aru and Dan Martin are placed well on the general classification and have been riding well; even challenging for stage honours on day 3. Despite this, neither appear set to be in their top condition at this point of the season; compared to that of Valverde or Porte for example. The terrain fails to play into the hands of either rider and it seems likely they will both see their names slip down the order by the end of the day.
If the favourites are found to be occupied playing cat and mouse with one another late on, a man such as Rafael Valls could benefit and take the win. Though he did lose time on stage 3, the steeper slopes of La Molina do suit his style of attack and he would commit fully to any such move if the opportunity arose. Giampaolo Caruso is another rider which the favourites would be stupid to let get away late on La Molina, he climbs well on this sort of terrain and will be Katusha’s best chance of making their appearance here worthwhile.
Outcome: 1st Porte 2nd Uran 3rd Valverde