The first road stage of this year’s race is a short 149km affair with an uphill finish, bound to produce some animated racing as team’s seek to claim the maglia rosa from Filippo Ganna after his brilliant time trial performance. There is not a great deal for the riders to worry about in terms of terrain, with the early inclines looking ideal for the breakaway to form, after which there is plenty of opportunity to reel them back in before the finish at Agrigento.
Concluding with an uphill sprint should make for a great contest, as though it does momentarily reach 9%, the majority is spent at a more manageable 5.3%. The final run to the line is easier still at 3.3%, where the puncheurs are bound to come to the fore and fight for the stage against the remaining sprinters.
Recent showings suggest that Michael Matthews could well be returning to some of his best form and is the sprinter most likely to survive the final climb into Agrigento with enough left to put his rivals to bed. It has been quite some time since we saw the Australian at the peak of his powers, but with a stage win and potential maglia rosa on the cards, this is the time for him to rise to the occasion once again.
It is strange to say it given the lack of victories, but Diego Ulissi is a specialist upon finales such as these, but is often edged out into the podium placings. There have been glimmers of ‘vintage’ Ulissi as of late and he will be extremely motivated by the prospect of the pink jersey alongside a stage win, yet it is tough to see this being hard enough for him to make his talents count.
There is a chance that Peter Sagan might decide to contest the stage honours, as the finale is unlikely to cause him much stress and will certainly be one of the fastest finishing riders left in contention.
If the conclusion is not ridden at too great a tempo, then maybe we might see Arnaud Démare get off the mark with a stage win, especially after looking so strong during the summer. His climbing has been brilliant and he should not be dismissed as easily as many would wish to do so.
Matthew Holmes could be given the task of leading Lotto-Soudal on this stage, as the British rider has enough of a punch to place the faster finishers in trouble during the steeper sections of the final climb, while also possessing a decent turn of pace if required to sprint for the line.
Others to consider are Enrico Battaglin, Ben Swift, Simone Consonni and Davide Ballerini.
1st Michael Matthews 2nd Peter Sagan 3rd Arnaud Démare