For each stage of La Vuelta, the Rouleur panel of ‘experts’ will give their picks for the following day’s race. Top tipster Cycling Mole, meanwhile, will dismantle our choices and give his own prediction for the likely winner. In a change to last year’s rules, selection’s don’t have to be unique. Who’s going to take risks? Who will play it safe? Most importantly of all, who will come out on top?
Stage 4: 175.5km, Cullera-El puig
Ian Cleverly: Max Walscheid – Sunweb
It will take all the stars to align (or three top sprinters to collide) for Mr There-or-thereabouts to cross the line first, but he is consistently in the mix, so why not? Go on, Maxy baby, step up and win one for me.
Andy McGrath: Fernando Gaviria
Bear in mind I’m writing this pre-race, but I reckon the Colombian, a little forgotten this summer due to his injury problems, will have shaken off his race rust and take a debut Vuelta stage win.
Nick Christian: Sam Bennett
As I’ve had to write this before the Vuelta has actually begun, we’ve yet to see definitely what kind of flat form the Irishman’s main rivals have actually brought with them to Spain. Could Fernando Gaviria make a contest of it? He got beaten into second by Pascal Ackermann and Luka Mezgec in Poland so it doesn’t look likely. Degenkolb or Boasson Hagen? Erm…
Miles Baker Clarke: Sam Bennett
Mr Bennett is obviously difficult to overlook, and it’s going to be a huge surprise if he’s not already notched a win by this point. But for the sake of shaking-the-apple-cart, I wonder if he might be forced to wait a few days to get his hands in the air.
Ben Ward: Fernando Gaviria
More of a desire than a prediction – most sprinters have not endured their barren periods with such good grace, the Colombian always seemingly quick to congratulate his opponents after the finish.
Eurosport’s Rob Hatch: Sam Bennett
Heading north away from the regional capital, Valencia. Barring the final stage to Madrid, this is just about the easiest stage the fast riders will get in a Vuelta. Gaviria & Jakobsen are the other big sprint names, with the latter being backed up by a top leadout, but I’m going Bennett all the way, again.
And we’re on the scoreboard, apart from poor Miles and Andy. Maybe I should have told them that Jakobsen can’t climb! The postman always delivers, and Sam Bennett certainly didn’t fail. The Irishman breezed past his opponents to take the win and make a few of us very happy.
Stage 4 is the easiest sprint stage, apart from the final day in Madrid. Before the race started, all the quick men would have been liking their lips at this one, counting down the days until the race hit Valencia. Just imagine their poor wee faces when checking tonight’s weather forecast, and seeing thunderstorms and heavy rain predicted for stage 4. No more easy sprint stage, more like strap yourself in for some filthy racing. The final 5km has no fewer than 6 roundabouts, the peloton should put on their knee and elbow pads for this one, it isn’t going to be pretty.
Looking at the predictions, Ben thanks that Gaviria might turn it around, just because he’s a nice guy. Back to the drawing board Benny boy. Andy is also on Gaviria, but he’s getting his excuses in early by reminding you he picked him a few days ago. Excuses, excuses.
Ian’s trying to keep us all entertained, by choosing Max Walscheid. Rumour has it, his name directly translates as “big German sprinter, who couldn’t beat his granny in a sprint.”
Sam Bennett is again a popular pick, which makes perfect sense, he looks considerably faster than his rivals. I’m surprised that only Rob, Nick and Miles are on him.
Trek pushed him close today, but we’ll have to wait and see who wins tonight’s Sudoku competition before they decide if Theuns or Degenkolb gets the nod in this stage. The late conditions are perfect for a late attack, but no one is brave enough to take this option on.
Verdict – Sam Bennett was born in Flanders and raised in Carrick-On-Suir; heavy rain isn’t going to slow him down. It has to be a second win for Sammy B.
Rob Hatch is commentating on the 2019 Vuelta a España in the English language for Eurosport International