Having left the day’s start of Escaldes – Engordany, the riders will face a 198.2km journey to the coastal finish at Tarragona, most of which being a gradual downhill route. The only classified climb of the day is the Category 3 Alto de Belltall, punctuating the day with a 13km rise at a gentle 2.8% and unlikely to cause much trouble for anyone. Once over the top, it is downhill all the way to the finish line, with a bunch sprint of sorts expected to decide the outcome. Position will be crucial, as plenty of road furniture in the way of roundabouts feature on the route into town, with a small 2.5% drag to make things more difficult still.
John Degenkolb is often the man to beat on finales such as these, as even the slightest of inclines, seem to make the German almost unmatchable in the final moments. His form is certainly still bubbling up to the level we know from him, though this could prove to be the launchpad which signals his return to great form once again. The technical nature of the last few kilometres might be troublesome for him, especially as he would prefer a simple head to head drag race to the finish, concentrating simply of churning his pedals. Regardless, if he informs his team that he believes he can do it, then the expectation is that Degenkolb shall deliver on his word.
Edward Theuns might instead prove to be the card which Trek – Segafredo choose to play on Stage 4, backing the gifted Belgian to seize the opportunity while teammate Degenkolb waits for a more suiting finale. Theuns’ form has been blistering as of late, and if he has managed to sustain that when heading into La Vuelta, then there is a great chance he will be untouchable in the final metres of the stage. The jostling for position and drag up to the line are ideal for Theuns to make his skills count, attacking hard from a jumbled bunch of leadout trains and opening a gap which nobody can close.
Adam Blythe could be the joker in the pack on the second sprint stage at this year’s Vuelta a España, the British rider clearly aggrieved by the lack of a bunch kick on Stage 2, especially given the form he has possessed for such a long time now in 2017. This drag is not perfect, but such a gentle incline can still be decided simply by sprinting power, meaning those who lean closer towards being puncheurs are unlikely to better him. The leadout train at his disposal is certainly one of the top three at the race and they will be confident of positioning Blythe well here, allowing the Yorkshireman to focus on timing his effort perfectly.
Matteo Trentin was pleased to see his teammate Yves Lampaert take the win on Stage 2, though there is no doubt that the Italian would have fancied a more typical finish to the day’s proceedings, as he looked well positioned in the final moments to secure a win. Quick – Step have already looked impressive as a coherent unit during the race thus far and stand a good chance of proving why they are the best leadout train present at La Vuelta. With its tricky final kilometres, Trentin and his leadout men will relish the technicalities, applying pressure to their rivals and hoping to slingshot their Italian rocket skywards over the line.
Juan José Lobato is a real champion at winning upon uphill finishes, though he is likely to have wanted more of a severe challenge to really see the day play into his hands on today’s stage. Regardless, such talents do not always need the perfect conditions to succeed and there is every chance that he shall be in the mix for the win at the very least.
Other names to consider on a day such as this are Tom Van Asbroeck, Michael Schwarzmann, Jens Debusschere and Jonas Van Genechten.
1st Adam Blythe 2nd Edward Theuns 3rd Michael Schwarzmann