By David Hunter
We are back in Andalucía, my favourite place in the world! Get ready for another week of amazing racing, featuring some brutal climbs.
The opening stage is not one for the sprinters. The climbing begins straight from the gun, with a tough little climb in Mijas. The riders then have to tackle a big cat 1 climb, which will end the day for the quicks. This should be a relatively small sprint.
I’m delighted to see Alto de las Allanadas back in the race, Froome won here back in 2015. This climb is one of the hardest the riders will ever face and it will blow the GC apart.
The 3rd stage is one for the sprinters, their only chance of the week.
The final of the stage is one of the craziest climbs I can remember. Yes, it is very steep, but that’s not the main problem. The road is made up of tiles, with big cracks in between. It is incredibly bumpy and we even have a little descent before the final ramp to the line. There will lots of unhappy riders!
The race ends with a 14km ITT, with 5.5km on dirt roads. The craziness continues!
Wout Poels – make no mistake, he had a disaster in Valenciana. With that race in his legs, he should come here feeling better and looking to challenge for the overall. Team Sky have a very strong team and I think Poels deserves to be team leader. He normally likes steep climbs and should perform well in the TT. It would be a surprise if he didn’t challenge for the overall win.
Mikel Landa – Landa is free! The talented Basque rider is now at Movistar and he starts this race as the team leader, something that won’t happen too often in 2018. Landa had a wonderful 2017, riding as a loyal domestique for Team Sky, but you could tell he was frustrated. The steep climbs are ideal for him, but he’ll need a big performance in the TT, an area where he has improved.
Chris Froome – the elephant in the room. Should he be riding? No. As we all wait to find out what is happening with his positive drugs test, Sky want to continue as if all is okay. This is making a mockery of the sport and Team Sky. His presence here drags everyone down, but we just have to get on with it. I’m not sure if he’s here for the GC, or to ride as a loyal teammate. One thing is for sure, I really hope he doesn’t win.
Tim Wellens – I’m hoping to see the Belgian target the GC and not breakaway success. A rider that can handle steep slopes, but stage 2 will be right on his limit. Wellens really is a fantastic rider and he started the season well, by winning in Mallorca. The dirt roads in the TT won’t scare him either, he is a big fan of Strade Bianche.
Luis Leon Sanchez – seems to have found his mojo again! The Spaniard has started 2018 in amazing form, probably as good as he’s ever been. He’s been able to match Valverde in the recent Spanish races and took the win in his home region on Saturday. Astana start the race with a very strong squad and they will be confident that Sanchez will be able to take another victory this week.
Jakob Fuglsang – the Dane provides Astana will a two pronged attack. He’s also enjoyed a fine start to the season and will be looking to challenge for the overall podium. The weren’t able to make use of their numerical advantage in Valenciana, but this race could be different. Having both riders high on GC, will give them a big advantage in the GC stages.
Steven Kruijswijk – last year was one of frustration for the Dutch climber. A crash in the Tour of Yorkshire had a massive impact on his Giro performance and despite finishing 3rd in the Tour de Suisse, it was a year of missed opportunities. He is a rider that usually struggles to peak early in the season, but that is something Jumbo are trying to change. He would be happy with a confidence boosting performance.
Ben Hermans – it’s strange not seeing him in a BMC jersey. Now riding for Israel Cycling Academy, it will be interesting to see how he copes on a smaller team. He won’t have a huge amount of help in the GC days, but he is experienced enough to cope with this. He didn’t enjoy himself in Valenciana and will be looking for a much better performance in Andalucía.
Form doesn’t lie, so I have to choose Luis Leon Sanchez as my winner. He is flying just now!
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