1st Team Sky 2nd Sunweb 3rd BMC
The third stage of his year’s race should guarantee a group sprint of sorts, though the composition of such a drag race to the line will depend upon the intensity of the final kilometres. Overall, the day is a simple enough affair from Castelnuovo Val di Cecina to Montalto di Castro, a 176km jaunt which includes only a single categorised climb; the 16.7km rise up to Scansano.
Peter Sagan took second yesterday on a tricky finish which saw Zdenek Stybar solo his way to victory, but Sagan did secure second with a convincing sprint which he made look easy going. Considering the inclusion of moderate slopes during the finale here, Sagan might have the edge over his purer sprint rivals. Another man well worth keeping an eye upon given the terrain is Giacomo Nizzolo, arriving here in great early season form and possessing a strong leadout train to position him well. Caleb Ewan has already demonstrated that he can better the big names of sprinting at the top level and will be eager to repeat such feats on Stage 3 today; a real threat if still present in the final few kilometres. Another new hotshot on the sprinting scene has been Fernando Gaviria and he fits the bill here with a blend of climbing prowess and top finishing speed; he does arrive here however off the back of a testing Track World Championships which secured him a rainbow jersey though. Outsiders worth keeping an eye upon include Jempy Drucker, Edvald Boasson Hagen and Elia Viviani.
1st Peter Sagan 2nd Giacomo Nizzolo 3rd Caleb Ewan
The sprinters should come to the fore on Stage 3 of the Tour of Oman, stealing the limelight back from the puncheurs and climbers who have dominated proceedings up to now in this race. The latter part of the day rolls downwards to the finish at Naseem Park after 176.5km of racing, likely to prove the perfect drag race for the fast men to contest the win.
Alexander Kristoff is sure to be the man to beat on Stage 2, the Norwegian appearing strong once again at the early part of the season and is surely poised to add to his 2016 tally. Edvald Boasson Hagen’s form has been scintillating so far this year and cannot be discounted from featuring here despite the lack of ideal terrain for the current race leader. Moreno Hofland is certainly a man to watch here as the leadout train at his disposal could rival that of Katusha if everything goes well, though he will really need to be on top form to better Kristoff in the anticipated sprint.
1st Alexander Kristoff 2nd Moreno Hofland 3rd Edvald Boasson Hagen
The harsh desert will feature more prominently on Stage 3, leaving the city roads which we have become accustomed as the peloton seek out the lumps and bumps of the surrounding area. Similar to last year’s stage which finished atop the Hatta Dam, Stage 3 will once again be an uphill finish but has reduced the amount of hills preceding it to make a less selective process. A total of 172km from start to finish, climbs en route to Hatta reach double-digit gradients and will certainly drain the legs before any sprint for the line can be ignited. The final selection will begin 3km from the finish as the road rises right the way to the line, gradients here reach as high as 17% and are poised to be the setting of another fantastic uphill battle.
Despite a reputation for poor positioning, the expectation of having greater support here than last year should help Juan José Lobato to build on his 3rd place in 2015 if everything goes to plan. Philippe Gilbert stretched his legs on Stage 1 in the concluding moments of the race and appears in strong condition on a finish which should play to his strengths convincingly on day three. The alteration to this year’s latter stages to Hatta Dam could make it a more open affair, possibly bringing somebody such as Rui Costa into contention, should he find himself in good form; his target usually lie a little later in the year however.
1st Juan José Lobato 2nd Philippe Gilbert 3rd Rui Costa
The Corkscrew climb returns once again to the Tour Down Under in 2016, offering us the first true insight as to those earmarked for general classification contention. Stage 3 is relatively short, only taking 139km to complete in total, but has the rolling terrain to drain the legs steadily throughout. All focus will be upon the pivotal ascent of the Category 1 Corkscrew climb, the 2.5km drag to the summit has an average gradient of 8.8%, but does hit double digits at times. Its summit appears a little under 6km from the finish and it is then a downhill run straight to the line, ensuring a rapid finale to Stage 3 looks certain.
Rohan Dennis evidently considers himself to be in competitive form off the back of yesterday’s showing and has all the requisite skills to attack over the Corkscrew climb and solo to the line. Sky will look to Sergio Henao today, hoping for him to stretch his legs and deal damage to his rivals on the Category 1 ascent; he also possesses a strong sprint when in an elite group. The diminutive Domenico Pozzovivo should have a great chance of competing strongly here, the gradients are suiting and he may discover the freedom required to slip off the front.
1st Domenico Pozzovivo 2nd Rohan Dennis 3rd Sergio Henao
Once again in keeping with the moderate distances of the Vuelta a España’s opening week, Stage 3 takes the peloton on an 158.4km ride from Mijas to the port city of Málaga. The day itself should offer up a good opportunity for the sprinters to open their accounts at this race, but with two categorised climbs and a noteworthy bump not far from home, the outcome here is not clearcut.
After only 8km have passed the pack will begin tilting skywards as they climb the first ascent of the day, the Category 3 Alto de Mijas. At 6km long and averaging 7.1% for the most part, this is certainly a testing climb at such an early point in the race on Stage 3. Once successfully tackled, the bunch will regroup on the subsequent steady descent which leads onto an extended period of flat(ish) terrain and into the finishing city of Málaga. Excitement of nearing the finish for the first time will be extremely limited as the peloton are immediately pointed into the neighbouring mountains and tasked with ascending the Category 1 Purto del Leon, a climb which places its summit almost perfectly in the middle of today’s stage. Stretching on for 16km with an average gradient of 5.2%, it will truly test the sprinters’ ability to stay in contention with the more gifted climbers and not dig too deep if they wish to contest the finale competitively back in Málaga. Possessing slopes which fluctuate to a minimum of 2% for the most part should aid the sprinters and their supporting riders in maintaing a steady tempo from bottom to top; though a couple of short lived sections do reach 15%.
Around 82km will remain once they reach the top of the Purto del Leon, though this almost acts as a false summit when considering the true descent does not even begin for another 10km – 15km. Once it does however, the pace will be high as those distanced on the ascent look to bridge back to the front of the race, taking advantage of the almost entirely flat 50km which separates them from the finish. One challenge will remain for those with their hearts set on victory here though, as with 10km or so remaining, an unrecognised 3km hill requires beating. It beings moderately enough with an average around 3% – 5%, but like the Purto del Leon, its deceptive false summit leads into a further 1.5km of climbing at a much more testing 7%, building to 15% in places. The dictated pace here will have big implications on the selection which occurs late on, likely to attract puncheur styled riders who will want to attack over the top and exploit the extremely fast descent back to level terrain.
The limited technical demands of the finale itself means a simplistic sprint should await those who have emerged from the day’s rigours in good enough condition to fight for the glory in Málaga. Set upon a kilometre long finishing straight, we expect the likely sprint finish to be fast and possibly ignited earlier than expected today.
John Degenkolb has previously performed well at the Vuelta a España on the back of a Tour de France showing and is one of the obvious frontrunners to dominate the fight for the points jersey. His support team here is very strong and should guarantee him strong placement and a rapid lead-out throughout this grand tour appearance. The finish itself suits him particularly well, the German having a strong reputation for success when battling it out on these long power based sprint finishes. As with all the quick men eyeing up today, the biggest question will be whether or not he survives the day’s climbing (particularly the final unrecognised hill) without expending a race damaging amount of energy.
Caleb Ewan has never seen his talents doubted, but he is still developing more rapidly than many would have expected. This year he has been going up against some of the biggest names in sprinting and emerging regularly with having pushed them to their limits in order to beat him. The young Australian is possibly the fastest rider here after Nacer Bouhanni, but it is his climbing prowess which is sure to swing the odds in his favour today more than any other attribute. Not only this, but his team is well balanced to help him over the climbs, place him well in the final 5km and ultimately lead him out into a great position. Should all of these align perfectly, we might just see his first ever grand tour victory by the end of today.
Nacer Bouhanni was the second protagonist alongside John Degenkolb in last year’s battle for the points jersey and will certainly be eager to reignite this competition at the first time of asking at 2015’s edition. His Tour de France appearance this year was disappointing due to crashing out, but he has recovered well and arrives here on the back of Tour de l’Ain success. Like the previous two candidates mentioned here, Bouhanni also has a great team at his disposal and should be confident of featuring regularly in the available sprints as a result. Bouhanni has demonstrated on several occasion that he is considerably faster than his rival Degenkolb and is sure to get the better of him, but that might not be possible here due to two clear negatives. Of the clear favourites for today’s win, Bouhanni is the least gifted in regards to climbing and could struggle if he becomes exposed on the final climb with 10km remaing. Most of all however is the style of this finish, he is not the best when it comes to long power based sprints and would certainly have preferred a conclusion with more technical demands which would allow him to attack later and utilise his ruthless burst of acceleration.
Danny van Poppel is a strong outsider for the win on Stage 3, though not blessed with the same pure speed as Bouhanni for example, the Dutchman is still developing well and has one of the best support networks at this race. On a day were many are likely to tire if the combination of gradients and pace becomes too much, Poppel will come into greater contention for the win. However, Fabian Cancellara took to the start today with flu and will be sorely missed if he is unable to help his man late on in the stage.
Tom Van Asbroeck and Kris Boeckmans have the potential to feature in the final top five placings and both come here on the back of increasingly strong performances this year. The latter would have liked a simpler day in the saddle and it is unclear if his high-end speed will be reduced due to the day’s demands, but teammates Adam Hansen and Tosh van der Sande offer a great deal to his ambitions on Stage 3. Asbroeck is also likely to stake a claim to a stage win or two at this year’s Vuelta a España and arrives here with considerable backing from his LottoNL-Jumbo team, though he may wish to keep his powder dry for a more fitting opportunity.
Peter Sagan is perhaps the biggest threat to the ambitions of favourites Nacer Bouhanni and John Degenkolb. This year may not have reaped the biggest of rewards for the Slovak champion, but his performances appear to be the most impressive and consistent of his career thus far. Today’s stage could see the pace driven extremely hard late on and possibly convince Sagan to utilise the final hill with 10km remaining in order slip off the front and attack either solo or part of a breakaway. If he stays in the pack and chooses to contest the sprint alongside Degenkolb and Bouhanni, his speed is not as impressive, but his strength to overcome the challenges and an immense talent for position compensates for any disadvantages in order to makes a podium placing plausible in Málaga.
1st John Degenkolb 2nd Caleb Ewan 3rd Nacer Bouhanni
The howling coastal gales of the Netherlands certainly played their part in shaping the day’s racing on Stage 2 of this year’s Tour de France, but a sprint was still the fashion in which the day’s winner was crowned. The German André Greipel took the first road stage of this tour and subsequently makes his debut as a wearer of the Green Jersey; however attention was focused greater upon Etixx-QuickStep after the race. Having forced decisive splits in the crosswinds, the Belgian outfit found themselves staring at the possibility of a stage win and yellow jersey double, but the end of the day found them without either. The leadout for Mark Cavendish may well have cooked themselves when pushing to maintain their gap to the maillot jaune, but it was the defeat of the Manxman himself which acted as a double-edged disappointment for the teame; a late surge from Fabian Cancellara taking third place and a time bonus ahead of the Brit to leapfrog Tony Martin on the general classification simultaneously. It seems that Stage 2 can act as another chapter in what is becoming an almanac of tactical flops by Etixx-Quickstep this year. Perhaps their support shall turn to that of Michal Kwiatkowski on Stage 3, a day culminating upon Flèche Wallone’s famous Mur de Huy climb, an ascent which provides a chance for the young Pole to win.
As if the Tour de France was not already a great enough spectacle in its own right, the organisers this year seem to have created a miniature run of classics during the first week. For those who found a safe passage through the tumultuous ride to Zeeland, they will now strike upon a familiar foe in the mould of one of the Ardennes’ famous Spring races Flèche Wallonne. The debut inclusion of this icon of cycling is great for fans of the sport and even more so for the classic styled puncheurs who seldom find opportunities at France’s national tour to take a victory so tailored to their talents.
An inspection of the day’s route indicates that this is not quite the carbon copy of this Ardennes’ classic that many have expected, though the finale itself is exactly the same as that of 2015’s Flèche Wallonne. The big difference on Stage 3 is the total distance, the Tour’s version of this race clocking in at a more modest 159.5km; 46km less than this Spring’s edition of the race. It all begins in Antwerp where an opening 30km of flat terrain will allow the peloton to get up to speed and gauge their fatigue from the previous day’s hardships. Though the profile shows a few gradual lumps and bumps after the early period of simple riding, the real race will be lit up around the 105km marker as the categorised climbs approach on the horizon and the battle for positioning becomes a priority ahead of the conclusion.
A Category 4 ascent opens their account for the day, the 2.4km Cote de Bohisseau and its 5.5% gradient likely to be familiar to those who rode Flèche Wallonne earlier in the year; as will all of the day’s categorised climbs. Rolling roads follow which lead into the day’s intermediate sprint where it is likely we shall see Peter Sagan strutting his stuff if he deems it a worthwhile effort. Next comes another Category 4, this time the 2.1km Cote d’Ereffe (avg 5%), after which funnels the peloton down to the town of Huy and out to contest the penultimate climb ahead of the concluding Mur de Huy. The third and final Category 4 climb arrives with less than 10km remaining of the day’s racing, the Cote de Cherave sure to have an impact upon the outcome with its 8.1% average gradient playing out upon tight cobbled streets; its short 1.3km length a small upside for the peloton.
Tempo will be high as those with eyes on the victory seek to stay in contention at the front of the group as they sweep through tricky streets and negotiate the usual blend of Ardennes road furniture. At 1.3km from home the infamous Mur de Huy begins twisting the thumbscrews upon the day’s favourites, its soft start a trick to lure those naive enough to go hard too soon. A miscalculation here will be punished with no mercy once the road hits its maximum gradient of 19%, a brutal test which has crowned a worthy champion year after year.
Alejandro Valverde is the clear favourite to win Stage 3 having won Flèche Wallonne in 2008, 2014 & 2015; demonstrating a clear affinity for pacing the harsh climb perfectly. His ability to always position himself neatly ahead of the Mur de Huy is an enviable skill, the contrast here will be the lack of total team support which he usually finds afforded to him in the normal running of this infamous climb. Valverde has not had the same solid build up which has delivered him three prestigious wins on the Mur de Huy in his previous appearances here, but there is no doubt he is a major contender on familiar territory once again. A greater depth of puncheurs and climbers means his rivals are not as clear cut as usual when riding here; so great are those able to mount a serious charge that Valverde could possibly be swamped late on. If the Spanish road race champion finds daylight with around 300m left of the Mur de Huy, he should pocket yet another victory on a climb he has made his own as of late.
Irishman Dan Martin has proven to be a consistent rider at Flèche Wallonne and he will be part of the frontrunners which decide this stage; if he avoids the misfortune which haunts him so frequently that is. He is clearly impassioned to make a statement here, primarily due to abandoning this year’s running of the race after a silly crash brought down several riders and sent him out of the running. Martin’s recovery has been encouraging despite the short time afforded to him and a solid Dauphine certainly strengthens his claims to winning on a course tailor made for him. Assuming his team works hard to place him decisively ahead of the finale, Martin has a good chance of winning, but will perhaps need to make a move earlier than expected due to faster finishing rivals.
Spain have another former champion of the Mur de Huy in the shape of Katusha’s Joaquim Rodriguez, coming here off the back of an encouraging Dauphine much like Dan Martin. Over the years, Rodriguez has built a reputation for winning upon these brutally steep finishing slopes and will no doubt be present in the shake up here. Though his prowess has not necessarily been forthcoming as of late on similar finales, this is a brilliant opportunity for the 36 year old puncheur to claim a major win ahead of what must be an impending retirement.
A similarly consistent rider on this terrain, specifically the Mur de Huy, is Orica-GreenEDGE’s Michael Albasini who has notched up seven top ten results over the years at Flèche Wallonne. The Swiss rider rounded out the podium this year when finishing behind a flying Alejandro Valverde and the surprise star of 2015’s Ardennes’ races Julian Alaphilippe. The broader spectrum of contenders is certainly a negative for Albasini, but the real positive for him is the diminished length compared to the usual running which brings him over the Mur de Huy. If he can stay fresh and safe during the ratcheting maelstrom towards the end of the day, Alabsini could finally turn his consistency on this climb into a satisfying victory.
Third in 2014 was the blossoming Michal Kwiatkowski, winner of the most aggressive rider prize at the end of Stage 2’s blast through the Dutch coast’s testing gales. There is little doubt that the reigning World Champion is in great condition at the start of this year’s Tour de France, spending a large amount of time driving hard in the name of Mark Cavendish and doing his utmost to set his team leader up for the win. In recent seasons there is little which the young Pole seems unable to turn his hand too, finally taking an Ardennes victory after good showings this year when edging out Alejandro Valverde for the Amstel Gold title. Etixx-QuickStep shot themselves in the foot somewhat on Stage 2, but Kwiatkowski could prove the perfect man to remedy this at the first time of asking.
Tom Dumoulin has a fantastic chance to place himself in yellow by the end of Stage 3, but it is Bauke Mollema and Wilco Kelderman who could both stake a claim to stage honours on day three. The former having secured several top ten finishes in previous editions of Fléche Wallonne, while Kelderman managed a tenth place finish on only his second ever meeting with the Mur de Huy earlier this year.
British interest could be represented by Chris Froome, Simon Yates and Peter Kennaugh. Froome is perhaps the most suited of the general classification contenders to seriously challenge here, his high cadence attacks often deadly on such short, sharp climbs. The young Yates is surely saving himself for the first volley of major mountains and is likely to be here in order to support Albasini, but if the opportunity to strike out in his own right arises, the Orica-GreenEDGE rider could deliver a shock win. Peter Kennaugh recently defend his national road race title on the cobbled Michaelgate climb, which although considerably shorter in total length, contains similar gradients to that of the Mur de Huy at its maximum. He suffered in the previous day’s crosswinds, but if he his given permission to attack, Kennaugh could sail away unexpectedly to take an early victory for Sky.
Beyond those mentioned above are a variety of riders who could all go towards animating the race, either in its latter stages, or as part of a breakaway; Julian Arredondo, Tony Gallopin, Warren Barguil and Romain Bardet all worth watching as the peloton turn onto the final climb.
Cyclists are notorious for replicating past successes on the same terrain, making Alejandro Valverde the man to back as he attempts to find further glory upon the Mur de Huy. Positioning will be more crucial than ever at a grand tour version of this finale, though Valverde clearly has the skills to compensate for this and with his potent acceleration should win. Others appear in slightly better condition than Valverde, both Joaquim Rodriguez and Dan Martin have the current strength and history to perform well here on Stage 3 and cannot be overlooked in regards to the win. Their biggest advantage compared to Valverde is that they are likely to have an entire team at their disposal in order to place them well ahead of the finale; Movistar on the other hand will be protecting Nairo Quintana as expected. Though the Fléche Wallonne should be a strong indicator of the victor on Stage 3, the topsy turvy world of a grand tour could certainly throw this out the window, paving the way for a real outsider to stand atop the Mur de Huy as champion on day three of Le Tour de France.
1st Alejandro Valverde 2nd Dan Martin 3rd Joqauim Rodriguez
Outsiders: Michael Albasini & Michal Kwiatkowski