We've got a couple of really good races set up this week. Chris looked at the Ruta del Sol, and basically everything in there is still valid for that race. Just to expand a little, however, an aggressive Alberto Contador attacked on stages one and two. On stage one he was joined by a group of five including eventual stage winner Alejandro Valverde. On stage two however, he briefly put Valverde into the red in the last few kilometres of the summit finish and looked set for a stage win until he was caught in the final, false flat kilometre, by Thibaut Pinot, who shot past him to win the stage.
Contador, however, goes into the final important stage of the race, a twelve kilometre time-trial, in the leader's jersey, as Pinot was detached from the Spaniard's group coming into Granada at the end of stage one. The FDJ man is only three seconds away from the coveted (well, kinda coveted) red jersey, and based on the recent time-trialling history of both riders, he seems likely to get it. Whoever holds the jersey tomorrow will likely hang onto it until the end of the race, so it's well worth tuning into.
Søren Kragh Andersen made three hundred new VDS owners remember his existence today, winning stage three of what might be an extremely interesting race if anyone would televise it in Oman. He beat out Ruí Costa, who took second again, in a group of eight riders who broke clear of the peloton at the on the day's hilltop finish in Quriyat. The previous two stages also seemed interesting affairs — the recurring stage to Al Bustan ended with a narrow win for GC leader Ben Hermans, and Alexander Kristoff asserted himself in stage one's sprint finish. It's a real shame that there's no way to watch what seems like objectively the best-designed race of the three.
That notwithstanding, there's still a fight for GC going on. Costa looks like a good bet to win on the familiar stage to the Ministry of Housing tomorrow, and Green Mountain will be the largest mountain faced by anyone in this race this season, so there's still plenty of racing to go. I'm going to predict a narrow GC win for Jakob Fuglsang over Costa and Kudus, in a decent battle over the next few stages. It's a shame that the only people who will be able to view it are in Oman.
Meanwhile, in Algarve...
¡La celebración de @DanMartin86 y su auxiliar de @quickstepteam en Meta! #valgarve2017 pic.twitter.com/302eiXHLkI— Alpe d'Huez B&T (@Alpe__dHuez) February 16, 2017
I may be extremely happy. It's Dan Martin's first win since he beat Contador on La Molina in last year's Volta a Catalunya, and while if you look at it from a realistic and objective point of view, it's very clear that it came in the race with by far the weakest climbing field, he was very nearly outsprinted and the majority of his team help came from Zdenek Stybar, be under no illusion that I will not be referring back to this win for several months. His Quickstep team (as I said, mainly Stybar) forced a split in the peloton very early on in the climb. Primoz Roglic (eight points), Michał Kwiatkowski (eighteen points) and Portuguese talent Amaro Antunes (just ONE point) were the only men capable of bridging up to the Irish rider. Attacks back and forth between Martin and Roglic dislodged the hangers-on and the stage ended up in a two-up sprint. Both of them went from much too far out and almost died before reaching the line, but Martin just inched in front.
This may sound weird coming from the guy who wrote an article explaining why Dan Martin would finish on the podium of the Tour, but he's got no chance of taking overall victory. Tomorrow brings an eighteen kilometre time-trial (kind of a Friday theme, this year) and Roglic , a guy capable of winning a Grand Tour test, is only four seconds behind him. Martin can't keep within thirty seconds of his rival over almost twenty February kilometres, so before Saturday's stage to Malhao, he should be relegated to third. Obviously, I'm going to tell you he'll win that, but it will be a consolation as the Slovenian mops up overall victory.
So, halfway through what is a really great week of cycling, that's the story. We've got one unpredictable GC battle, and two far more predictable ones, in addition to an excited columnist and an aggravated Contador. Slow down, cycling season, we haven't even picked our VDS teams yet.