1st Arnaud Démare 2nd Fernando Gaviria 3rd Dylan Groenewegen
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
The mercury reached beyond 40 degrees yesterday and forced race organisers into reducing the length of the opening stage by omitting one lap of the finishing circuit. Today’s challenge is expected bring the general classification focused riders to the fore on a course which could see contenders slip out of contention by the end of the day. The 148.5km route from Stirling to Paracombe rolls considerably throughout the day and offers an uphill finale to ensure viewers are guaranteed fireworks as the battle for the line is lit. The Tour Down Under’s use of Wilunga Hill has often been highlighted as the crunch point of each year’s edition, but last year proved that today’s finish can be more important in the overall standings than many expect. Riders will need to have gritty determination to survive the selection process, maintaining enough energy in reserve to fight their way to the top and potentially cement their grip on the leader’s jersey with a single knockout attack.
Sergio Henao performs strongly on such hilly terrain, arriving here stronger than last year and now with extra support as a result of the ill Owain Doull being replaced by the French climbing specialist Kenny Elissonde. Such a substitution should improve Henao’s chances of being positioned at the head of affairs in order to time his decisive move perfectly, ensuring maximum damage when he finally does kick for the line. The Colombian rider may well have wished for steeper gradients during the latter stages, but an average gradient of nearly 10% and ramps which pitch at twice that much still provide Henao with ideal springboards for aggressive tactics.
Richie Porte is the firm favourite for many pundits to walk away as overall champion by the end of the week, which means he needs to muster his finest form to either win Stage 2 or simply prevent losing any ground to major rivals. Porte slipped up last year when expected to win the title, losing out to Simon Gerrans by 9 seconds, making it tough to back him entirely without a certain amount of hesitation for 2017. A longer ascent would have made for a more ideal finish for Porte, but even if he does concede a handful of seconds here, Wilunga Hill is certain to draw the best from him as he pursues his fourth victory atop that climb; potentially winning the race there.
Michael Woods was another of the main protagonists during last year’s edition, the Canadian rider able to deliver a punchy attack on this type of finale which definitely has the chance of delivering stage honours to him in Paracombe. As a rider who the bigger names may expect to fade as the race progresses, Woods might be able to capitalise on the others’ eyeballing of one another to launch himself to victory.
Diego Ulissi is no stranger to outperforming his abilities on paper, often surviving some of the toughest races alongside pure climbers, before showcasing his talent for uphill sprints to great effect. If the true mountain men spend too much time watching one another, failing to up the tempo enough to dispatch Ulissi before the final ramps, nobody will be able to match him on his favoured terrain.
Esteban Chaves is a difficult prospect to gauge at the Tour Down Under, the Colombian rider is often far from his best during the early months of the season, yet coming here to ride for his Australian team surely demands a strong performance. He is undoubtedly one of the best climbers at this race when on top form and is well documented for his explosive ability to ride away from the peloton; a lapse in concentration from Porte or Henao may deliver him victory.
Other riders who may catch the eye during Stage 2 include Robert Gesink, Jarlinson Pantano, Jay McCarthy and Petr Vakoc
1st Sergio Henao 2nd Esteban Chaves 3rd Richie Porte
Though this year’s edition lacks the top ranking sprinters of other grand tours, the 160.8km trip from Ourense Capital Termal to Baiona should bring the small pack of fast finishers to the fore on day two. The majority of the day is flat, but the Category 3 Alto de Fontefria shall look to break up the day’s riding somewhat; even though the gradient struggles to exceed 5% for the majority. The decisive kilometres to the line are populated by roundabouts and other tricky road furniture, after which the sprinters shall have more than a kilometre to the line to truly put the power down and contest the win. Contenders:
Niccolo Bonifazio is a stand out contender for stage honours on the second day, as the Italian seeks to increase his tally of major career wins in 2016. As ever, his team Trek-Segafredo have assembled a team which shall not struggle to meet the demands of leading Bonifazio out and shall be confident of securing at least a podium spot on Stage 2.
Kristian Sbaragli is an extremely talented finisher, one who could challenge for the win today and subsequently begin his campaign upon the points jersey. An attritional race would improve his hopes of winning here, but it remains a big test as to whether or not he can beat rivals typically faster than him so early on in the race.
Nikias Arndt should be poised to capitalise on this type of opportunity and demonstrate the level he can perform at when given the chance to lead the team’s sprinting hopes. He appears to be fresh heading into the race and has a strong support team for the leadout who will be encouraged to ride aggressively during the final kilometres into the finish,
Beyond those mentioned above, there are an array of teams who shall all seek to secure a victory early on at this year’s edition of La Vuelta a España. Tosh van der Sande, Gianni Meersman and Jose Joaquin Rojas all have the potential to steal the win here, making them dangerous riders who will need watching by the bigger name sprinters’ teams.
1st Niccolo Bonifazio 2nd Tosh van der Sande 3rd Nikias Arndt
The 2016 Giro d’Italia’s first foray into Italian territory takes the form of a 200km trip from Catanzaro to Praia a Mare, poised to be a hectic finale. The second half of this race looks set to shatter the ambitions of the pure sprinters, though many of the more versatile strongmen could mount a convincing challenge and take the win here instead. For many, the major challenge to overcome are the ascents of Bonifati, San Pietro and Via del Fortino late on in the race; the last of which includes ramps hovering around 18%.
Giacomo Nizzolo has been one of the strongest climbers amongst the quick-men in recent years and is likely to fancy his chances of taking his first ever grand tour stage win at 2016’s Giro d’Italia. His recent showings demonstrated a greater turn of speed than we have previously seen from him in the sprints when beating the likes of Mark Cavendish in Croatia, making him the likely favourite in a reduced sprint which lacks the powerhouse that is Marcel Kittel.
Sonny Colbrelli enjoyed a relatively successful Spring campaign which showed his return to strength after a 2015 season hampered by poor health. Colbrelli seems to flourish in the face of an attritional race, and with so many late climbs to test the legs, it is easy to see him turning in a good showing here. A strong tempo which drops his faster rivals will do him huge favours on Stage 4, leaving him the fastest man left in a sprint.
Matteo Trentin is the perfect alternative for Etixx-Quick Step to secure glory despite their expected loss of the maglia rosa, as Marcel Kittel is not anticipated to stay in touch over the final decisive climbs. Trentin has form for winning on these tricky intermediate stages, possessing similarly styled staged wins at Tour du Romandie and Le Tour de France for example. He is a dangerous man amongst any elite group and will need serious marshalling to reduce his odds of winning here.
Luka Mezgec is an interesting watch for Stage 4, the Slovenian rider has great form for winning from a reduced sprint, though may lack the support today. Mezgec has recently moved to Orica-GreenEDGE and potentially misses the team commitment required to really dominate on a day such as this. Depending on the condition of teammate Caleb Ewan, Mezgec may find his efforts somewhat hamstrung here unfortunately.
Kristian Sbaragli and Arnaud Démare are two riders who often lack the ability to string together a convincing run of form in order to contest a day such as this, but if today does prove to be an on form stage of the Giro, then they are a danger to anyone’s ambitions after surviving the late ascents.
In regards to a late breakaway move lasting all the way to the line as a result of a poorly organised chase, Gianluca Brambilla will be a threat along with Tim Wellens, while a wildcard sprinter worth remembering is Movistar’s José Joaquín Rojas.
1st Giacomo Nizzolo 2nd Matteo Trentin 3rd Luka Mezgec
Marcel Kittel crushed his rivals into the same dust they were left to chase as he opened up his sprint and crossed the line well ahead of any other riders. Stage 3’s 190km run from Nijmegen to Arnhem is essentially one giant u-turn on the previous day’s affairs, likely to feature a greater amount of crosswinds however; no doubt adding to early tour stresses. Unless the wind really stirs and causes a level of trouble on par with that of Stage 2 at last year’s Tour de France, then Arnhem should enjoy another high speed Giro finale.
Marcel Kittel already appears in unstoppable form after only a single win, seeing his Etixx-Quick Step team perform perfectly and deliver him to the ideal position to take the victory relatively stress free. A repeat is very much expected on Stage 3, which looks likely, but his greatest rival may in fact actually be the wind. Scything gales have the potential to cause mayhem during the day, though these are well anticipated by many, so their damage should be greatly reduced as long as riders maintain concentration. In regards to the chances of other teams scuttling the hopes of Kittel and co, FDJ were a surprise package and subsequently warrant keeping an eye upon.
Arnaud Démare has long been known for his great turn of speed, though having lacked convincing support for so long now, Démare’s palmarés lack the quantity of wins to showcase this; a Milan-San Remo win certainly demonstrates the quality however. The surprising effectiveness of his FDJ teammates today saw him finish second behind an indomitable Kittel, but with better anticipation and preventing Etixx-Quick Step from delivering their German ace onto his back wheel once again, Démare could secure an early French victory.
Sacha Modolo surfed the wheels with great success after his limited team resources dropped him off into a good position ahead of his sprint as the Italian rider secured third. On the right sort of finish it is easy to see Modolo taking a stage win at this year’s Giro d’Italia, though today does not tick the boxes required for that to happen.
Giacomo Nizzolo was a real disappointment on Stage 2 after many, including us, had expected him to at least be in the mix for a podium place. The Italian could well have cooked himself earlier in the day at the intermediate sprints unnecessarily, leaving him short on the energy required to really have chance of winning. It would come as no surprise to see him keep his powder dry on Stage 3 instead, which would improve his chances no end, especially given his recent victories in Croatia.
Moreno Hofland managed to turn in an almost solo effort amongst the maelstrom to take fourth place after making up ground rapidly before the line. The Dutch rider often goes under the radar at tours such as this and can never truly be ruled out of taking a win; especially if the winds take hold and riders such as Kittel miss the crucial echelons as they form.
Caleb Ewan is sure to find this race a great learning experience for himself, one of the few who does possess the speed to better Kittel, though today he simply failed when it came to positioning himself well enough to contest the win.
1st Marcel Kittel 2nd Arnaud Démare 3rd Sacha Modolo
After yesterday’s prologue decided the order of things ahead of the first road stage at 2016’s Giro d’Italia, attention now switches to the sprinters and their opening skirmish in the battle for the points jersey. Running a total of 190km from Arnhem to Nijmegen, the terrain is typically flat for this gallop around Dutch roads, but does feature the first categorised climb of this year’s race with the Berg En Dal.
Marcel Kittel has returned to impressive form since his slump last season and is expected to dominate the sprints throughout the next three weeks. This looks to be a typical ‘power sprint’ for the German ace to open his account with and it will be tough to match both his speed and positional abilities here.
Caleb Ewan is one of the few riders who can challenge Kittel in regards to speed, the young Australian already establishing himself as a major threat since rising to the very top of cycling. The team at hand to lead him out in the sprints is by no means a well oiled machine to match the likes of Etixx-Quick Step and could be the biggest detrimental factor to his hopes of winning Stage 1.
Giacomo Nizzolo does not suit this finale on paper due to the flat and non-technical nature, but his recent form warrants a mention here regardless. Nizzolo’s team has the level of firepower to match anyone in the sprints, able to bridge the gap to bigger sprinters if executed perfectly and secure Italy its first home win.
André Greipel would normally be one of the first names in mind for a stage like this, but the German arrives here with limited support and is notoriously awkward at positioning himself in the sprints on his own. He needs a lot of luck to have a chance of finding himself in the right place before opening his sprint up, but remains noteworthy in case he can pull off such fortune amongst a sprint which plays to his strengths.
Other riders likely to feature in the top ten are Elia Viviani, Sacha Modolo and Jakub Marezcko.
1st Marcel Kittel 2nd Caleb Ewan 3rd Giacomo Nizzolo