The first road stage of this year’s race is a 203.4km passage from yesterday’s French city of Nîmes to Gruissan, pushing the peloton closer to the Mediterranean coastline and the grand tour’s eventual reunion with Spain itself. With no recognised climbs throughout the entire stage, this incredibly flat day is all about the sprinters, as the outcome of a bunch sprint deciding the day seems impossible to argue against. Regardless, there shall no doubt be a futile breakaway to keep the cameras entertained (if possible) for the most part, with a catch likely to be made as last as possible. The finale itself looks to be a simple enough task to negotiate for those with eyes on the win, but a roundabout only 400m from the finish line does pose an interesting challenge for the favourites. Depending on how this impacts upon the leadout trains of the sprinters, this finish could become more about acceleration than maximum sprint speed.
John Degenkolb offered glimpses of his best during this summer’s Tour de France and shall enter this race with the confidence that his abilities are returning to their best since suffering his well documented crash last year. Usually one to prefer tougher days in the saddle or finales with a bit of a ramp, this looks surprisingly within his grasp, as many of the top thoroughbred sprinters are not present at La Vuelta this year. His leadout train is not perfect, yet it is still better than what he was afforded during Le Tour de France, making him a standout candidate to assume pole position in the absence of more recognisable rivals.
Matteo Trentin has the rare opportunity to lead Quick – Step’s sprint ambitions at a grand tour and has been provided with great firepower to realise his goals; Bob Jungels, Niki Terpstra and Yves Lampaert all at his disposal in the sprints. The Italian rider has a great burst of speed which could be the deciding factor as the bunch exits the final roundabout, his teammates are well skilled in placing their protected rider in the ideal place during such decisive moments and Trentin may prove clinical during such a relatively short sprint.
Adam Blythe was part of the leadout team for Peter Sagan at one point, though clearly has the ability to take charge of a team’s sprinting hopes at grand tour level. The former British champion will be aware that a wide open field of sprinters makes it unlikely that one will dominate this entire race, giving him a better chance of winning than he perhaps originally expected here. The course suits him particularly well and his form has seen him collect a clutch of second place finishes recently, giving the suggestion that a breakthrough is imminent for the Yorkshireman. Aqua Blue Sport are expected to be able to offer him a great leadout in the final kilometres, setting him up to burst forth and surge late to the line.
Sacha Modolo often struggles to sustain periods of great form, beginning this year’s Vuelta without a blistering season of wins and now lacking the quality of leadout which saw him perform so well for Lampre – Merida previously. If this becomes a trickier finale than anticipated, where the final roundabout could create a messy last few hundred metres, Modolo is a canny rider who can spot the perfect wheel to follow en route to victory. However, he does not have a great number of experienced teammates at his disposal, and if isolated before the final kilometre, he might not make it into contention to even make the most of his skills which have already delivered him grand tour wins.
Mangnus Cort would normally be a frontrunner on a day such as, yet the fact his team is well stocked with riders aiming for the overall victory, Orica – Scott may have already made the decision that his chances will come later in the race; protecting team leaders being the priority during a hectic first week for now. If he is allowed to make his own attempt at the win on Stage 2, then he will be one of the fastest present and a real threat to the likes of John Degenkolb and Matteo Trentin, even without a leadout train to support him.
Other expected to feature in the final top ten placings of the day are; Jens Debusschere, Jonas van Genechten, Tom Van Asbroeck and José Joaquín Rojas.
1st Adam Blythe 2nd Matteo Trentin 3rd John Degenkolb