Omloop Het Nieuwsblad 2019 Preview

The cycling season “begins” for many this weekend with the cobbled classics and Omloop Het Nieuwsblad returning this Saturday. Last year’s edition of the race saw quite a tactical battle in the closing 30 kms of the day with a pretty strong head wind. Despite a strong group getting away and looking as if they were going to fight out for the win, the co-operation within the move completely fell apart within the last 3 kms of the day. Valgren timed his attack perfectly and with team-mates in the group behind to quickly halt any chase, the Dane managed to ride away and take the win.

1531244381

Wisniowski and Vanmarcke also escaped the group, just holding off the charging peloton to round off the day.

Will we see something similar happening this year? First, let’s take a look at what is in store for the riders.

The Route

A tad over 200 kms of twisty Belgian roads: sounds fun!

omloop-het-nieuwsblad-elite-2019

Although there are several cobbled sections in the opening half of the race, it won’t be until the Wolvenberg at around 60 kms to go that the riders will start to consider their options for the day. However, as we’ve seen in previous years at various cobbled classics, it is feasible for the race winning attack/move to be made from any point onwards.

Comparing the route to last year, it seems as if the organisers have wanted to make it a little more intense from roughly 40 km out with a quick succession of climbs and cobbled sections. This is one of the key sections of road throughout the whole day.

download (72)

Although none of the rises are incredibly long, it is the constant up and down nature of that section, combined with the always twisting and turning roads that will see the peloton fully stretched out. The strongest riders can really put those suffering into difficulty here.

Next on the agenda is roughly 8 kms of mostly flat (there’s no such thing as an actual flat road around here) through the towns of Sint-Martens-Lierde and Deftinge before they reach the famous Geraardsbergen.

download (73)

 

Two steep and tough climbs that need to introduction or explanation, the Muur and Bosberg offer a final chance for a selection to be made. With a shade over 12 km from the crest of the Bosberg to the finish line, will those ahead be able to stay away, or will we see some kind of regrouping?

Weather Watch

As is often the case for cobbled classic races, one of the important factors which can help to determine the outcome of the day is the wind.

Screenshot 2019-02-28 at 20.18.31

As I mentioned earlier, a strong headwind in 2018 caused some more “negative” racing because no one really wanted to commit too early in fear of blowing up. That led to the tactical and exciting finale we had so it wasn’t all too bad I suppose!

However, tomorrow we’re due to have pretty consistent winds coming mostly from the West throughout the day. This of course means that some of the course will be into a headwind, due to the nature of the parcours, but most importantly those final 40 km won’t be.

Screenshot 2019-02-28 at 20.12.42

As you can see, most of it will either be tail or cross wind, dependent on their location throughout the final hour of racing. This should make for some fast and exciting action!

How will the race pan out?

I expect it to be full gas from just after the Wolvenburg (60 km left) but the first major moves to be made at 40 km to go marker and the aforementioned quartet of cobbles/climbs. Given the mostly tailwind run to the line, teams and big favourites won’t be as afraid to attack from far tomorrow. Those with numerous options to play such as Deceuninck Quick Step and Jumbo Visma will most likely adopt the approach of attacking rather than pacing the front of the peloton in the final hour.

There are two big danger men in the race that I think will make sure the day won’t come down to a sprint of 10+ riders: Trentin and Matthews.

Trentin has had a superb start to the year, already taking three wins to his name. He comes here as Mitchelton’s number one card with Durbridge playing second fiddle. The Italian has been climbing like a dream in this opening month of racing so he’ll cope perfectly well with the rises that we have here. Everyone will be well aware of just how well he is going and as one of the fastest riders on the start list, it would simply be stupid to bring him to the line. I’m not even sure the likes of Van Avermaet would be happy arriving for a small group sprint against him.

Conversely, this is Matthews first race of the season but that shouldn’t be a negative for the Sunweb rider as he always begins his year in great form anyway. Not many have talked about his chances in the press but in Lotto Soudal’s preview Wellens was quick to point out the Aussie as a real threat. I was going to say he had a poor 2018 but he ended up with 4 wins and all of them at World Tour level so it wasn’t exactly a disaster! It’s almost a case of “what could have been” given that he had to withdraw from several races due to illness or injury. He’s a rider that I rate very highly and I expect him to be in the mix tomorrow. Like Trentin, it would be unwise for anyone to bring him to the line.

Contenders – A trio to watch

I could list about 15 riders here if I desperately wanted to but that’s not my style, so I’m just going with three. No apologies.

Yves Lampaert.

Cycling: 73rd Dwars door Vlaanderen 2018

If you’ve followed the blog for a while then you’ll know I’m a massive Yves fan and it’s been good to see him make steady progress in the past few years. Last season he managed to retain his Dwars door Vlaanderen title before going on to claim the Belgian championships later in the season. So far in 2019 he’s put in some pretty solid training at races both in Provence and Algarve with a focus of building that form for the cobbles. Once touted as a Boonen/Museeuw hybrid, it is understandable that he has not lived up to that lofty billing but now coming into the strongest years of his career, I certainly think he will start to pick up some more individual results. Stybar and Gilbert are probably the two main leaders for DQS but Lampaert will no doubt be given a free role as he looks to step up and replace the Terpstra shaped hole that is left in their classics team, with Senechal replacing 2017/18 Lampaert. As I mentioned earlier, having numbers near the head of the race will be important and DQS should have exactly that. I think we’ll see Lamapert as one of the early attackers for them and if he can get away in the right group with the right teams represented, that could be it for the day. Packing a pretty decent sprint from a very small group he is certainly one to watch.

Tim Wellens.

A rider who always starts his year in barnstorming form, 2019 seems to be no different for Wellens. With consistent results in the opening Trofeo’s, including a win, the Lotto Soudal man went on to pick up two stage wins in Andalucia before a 9th placed finish on GC. Not a bad result for someone who had to skip Besseges due to illness. An all round brute of a rider, it amazed me that Wellens hadn’t dabbled with the cobbled one-day races before Omloop last year because the parcours definitely suits him in my opinion – I could see him go very well in Flanders for example. Last year at this race he burnt too many matches early on, hoping to split the race up but with the headwind conditions it proved too difficult. Tomorrow’s race should reward attacking riding more and I’m looking forward to seeing what he and Benoot do as a duo. As a former winner of the BinckBank (formerly Eneco) Tour, Wellens is no stranger to cobbles so it is not like he lacks experience. One of the form riders in this early season, he is one that I wouldn’t give a few bike lengths to as you might not get them back.

Taco van der Hoorn.

bram-berkien-jumbo-visma-training-stage-alicante-2019-01-17-16.38.13

Talk about teams with options, Jumbo Visma have a squad of riders who could feasibly challenge for a good result here – are they Quick Step in disguise? A lot of the attention from the cycling world will be on van Aert but with van Poppel, Teunissen, Roosen and van der Hoorn it would be unwise to just focus on one of them. Since his win in Schaal Seis back in 2017, I’ve been intrigued to see what Taco can do. His season last year started very late due to him suffering from lingering effects of concussion. In fact, he only raced from August onwards but managed to pick up 2 wins and 5 other top 10s in 19 days on the road – not bad! He spent a lot of his time in Algarve on the front of the bunch, pacing the peloton for Groenewegen and getting some good miles in the legs. He’s possibly a bit further down the pecking order in the Jumbo Visma team than I would think he should be, he’s not even mentioned in their race preview, but I certainly wouldn’t discount him. If anything van der Hoorn is the stereotypical rider that I like to go for on here: a complete wildcard that not many people know of but he’ll probably turn good in a year or two!

Prediction

Plenty of form riders are here and I’m looking forward to some aggressive racing. I’ll go with Tim Wellens to power away from everyone over the Muur and stay away to the end of the day.

Dz3I7V2WkAIWlOF

Zweeler

Quick shout out to my affiliates over at Zweeler who are starting up their Fantasy Spring CyClassics Game which offers a prize pool of 8000 Euro with first place guaranteed 1400 Euro and the top 160 people guaranteed to at least make their entry fee back.

Pick 20 riders from a budget of 230 million to score you points over the coming weeks with the game active from Omloop through to Liege. Choose wisely though as there is are no transfers available!

Sign up for each team is 10 Euro.

Think you’ve got what it takes to take home first place? Sign up here to find out.

If you do it helps me out a little and I’ll be forever grateful!

Betting

Tweeted out my picks for Omloop yesterday…

Screenshot 2019-03-01 at 10.49.30

Thanks as always for reading, who do you think will win tomorrow? Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

Vuelta a Andalucia 2019 Stage 5 Preview: Otura -> Alhaurín de la Torre

Today’s Recap

Well that certainly lived up to my expectations!

Once we managed to get TV coverage, the race had already been splintered over the first Cat-1 climb of the race with only a 50 rider peloton left at the front. On the penultimate, short and not overly difficult climb, we saw several attacks from Astana and Mitchelton riders, hoping to soften up the current race leader. That certainly worked as once the head of the race crossed the bridge and began the climb of Hazallanas, there were only about 10 riders in the front group.

With a perfectly timed attack and thanks to not being a threat for the overall title, Simon Yates managed to get a gap and increase it all the way to the summit. Given the mainly downhill run to the line, he was never going to be caught from behind and he had enough time to sit up and celebrate his first win of the year.

D0HRLJ5XgAA6cfu

Youngster Higuita won the sprint from behind to take second place on the day with Kruijswijk rounding out the podium spots. The result sees Fuglsang take over the race lead and given the parcours tomorrow, it should now be his for the rest of the race. Let’s have a look at what is in store for the riders anyway.

The Route

A day with over 2000m of climbing, the majority of that comes in the opening half.

vuelta-a-andalucia-ruta-ciclista-del-sol-2019-stage-5

A slight drag from the flag leads the riders onto a shallow descent before three back-to-back Cat-3 climbs. Although none of them are particularly difficult, they do provide a good opportunity for a strong breakaway to get clear.

From there it continues to roll somewhat, but they mainly head downhill after the 80 km mark, albeit there are several short rises there too. The last categorised climb of the day crests with 30 km left and is another Cat-3, but this one is not like the other 4 Cat-3s that we have.

download (71)

At an average of 10.4% for the 2.1 kms, this is a brutally steep climb and will see some riders in the peloton really struggle. In fact, there are prolonged sections of the ascent that are just above 13%! It’s nice to see it given the classic Spanish categorisation – some things don’t change with a new year.

A short but fast descent then leads them onto the final 25 kms of the day, most of which are flat. However, the last 2 km do rise up at an average of 2%, with the last 300m apparently being roughly 5%.

Screenshot 2019-02-23 at 13.39.53

It also seems to be a “count by roundabouts” kind of day, with 6 in the closing 3 kms. Some of them aren’t overly difficult to traverse with riders managing to take them almost straight on, but there are a couple which will stretch things out and force the riders to slow down a little.

If we do end up with some kind of bunch sprint, expect it to be pretty hectic.

How will the race pan out?

That depends on a couple of factors…

Firstly, is someone dangerous for the overall in the break? If not, Astana will be more than happy to let it go but obviously if someone does sneak in, then they will have to keep it in check or close it down completely. This leads nicely onto point two…

Who wants to hold it together for a sprint? I can only really see Mitchelton (Trentin) and Jumbo Visma (Van Poppel) committing their resources to try to bring things back for a sprint. With the former team already having two wins under their belt this week, they might just take things a little easier tomorrow although conversely, with no chance at the overall GC win then they might just use everyone up to help Trentin.

I don’t think they’ll do that and instead it will be a day for a strong breakaway to get up the road and fight out for the stage win. So it brings me great pleasure that we can play everyone’s favourite cycling based lottery for the first time this year!

BreakLott

Break Candidates

As always, it is a pretty difficult task trying to pick potential riders who will make the break but I’ll try my best!

Jurgen Roelandts.

Movistar haven’t got anything out of this race so far which normally doesn’t happen for them in Spain. Without any GC leader they’ve been without any real chance of doing that but tomorrow presents an opprtunity for them to go on the attack. Roelandts has been building his form with one eye on the classics and he’ll like the look of the rolling opening to the stage. In the Trofeo’s at the start of the season he was in good climbing shape there and will hope to carry that in to tomorrow’s stage.

Mattia Cattaneo.

If there is a sizeable break getting away, I would be very surprised to see Androni not present. Cattaneo or Montaguti seem to be their best riders at the moment but even then they are still far enough down on GC not to be a big threat. Tomorrow’s parcours is like a rolling Italian one-day race and one that suits Cattaneo well. He was going strongly in Argentina but it has obviously taken him a little time to re-find those legs over in Europe. Will that be tomorrow?

Angel Madrazo.

4936094

A bit of a journeyman, Madrazo has raced for a quite a few outfits throughout his career. Ever an attacking rider, it is surprising to not have seen him up the road so far already in this race. Burgos will want to be represented in the break and Madrazo could be a good candidate for the win given his punchy nature.

Matej Mohoric.

Heading into the day in the top 10 on GC, the Slovenian was hoping to hold on for as long possible but a double puncture before the penultimate climb of the day saw all hopes dashed of a good GC placing. Now sitting over 7 minutes down, he should have enough freedom to go on the attack and knowing his nature, I think he might just do that. If he makes the break, everyone will have him as the big danger so it could be hard for him to win but he’ll just try to let his legs do the talking.

Prediction

Someone that takes bad luck in his stride, I think Mohoric will bounce back tomorrow with the stage win.

1023141684_670

Betting

1pt WIN Mohoric @ 28/1

0.25pt WIN Cattaneo @ 400/1

0.25pt WIN Madrazo @ 300/1

0.5pt WIN Roelandts @ 80/1

All with Bet365

Thanks for reading as always, who do you think will win tomorrow? Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

 

Vuelta a Andalucia 2019 Stage 4 Preview: Armilla -> Granada

Today’s Recap

Well, well Wellens!

D0BX52_X4AAJCMX

The current race leader clearly has benefited from those extra hours on the TT bike this winter as he blasted his way around the course: taking the win and extending his race lead. Fuglsang was a bit of a surprise as the first Astana rider home with pre-stage favourite Izagirre only managing third place at the end of the day.

The GC battle is well open heading in to tomorrow’s Queen stage so let’s have a look at what is in store for the riders…

The Route

Taking a leaf out of the Grand Tours books, the organisers have decided on a short but sharp stage tomorrow with the riders only facing 119 km from Armilla to Granada.

vuelta-a-andalucia-ruta-ciclista-del-sol-2019-stage-4

With over 2500m of altitude gain packed into such a short stage, there are sure to be some GC time gaps come the end of the stage. It will certainly be an intense day in the saddle for everyone. However, with that being said, I can’t see any teams try to take it up on the first of the two difficult climbs, instead, they will probably wait until the final ascent of the day.

download (69)

The closing 40 kms sees the road start to rise up with the gradual second category climb of Alto de Guejar (6.2 km at 5.2%). Not a tricky climb, expect it to be raced at quite a tough pace with a few teams looking to thin things out before they reach the much tougher climb of Alto de Hazallanas.

download (70)

A brute, the gradients speak for themselves really! The opening 5 kms average roughly 11%, before it “flattens off” down to a measly 6.5% for the remaining part of the climb. It was used as the finish climb of stage 10 at the 2013 so try to watch that on Youtube if you can!

With over 20 km from the summit to the finish, you might think that it would be weird to see teams attack on Hazallanas but given that the majority of it is downhill – then we might just see that.

Screenshot 2019-02-22 at 13.53.08

The downhill itself will be fast, but as you can see on the image above, it is pretty technical in some sections too. Either way, it will be difficult for a chase to form here. Once off the descent there are roughly 5 kms of flat left before the finish line on the outskirts of Granada.

How will the stage pan out?

We could see quite a fierce fight to get into the breakaway but with the stage being so short, it will be easier for the GC teams to control any early attacks. As I said, I don’t think we’ll see any major action until the penultimate climb of the day where Mitchelton and Astana will come to the front of the bunch and start to turn the screw. Both of those have squads capable of tearing things apart on Hazallanas and leaving only a select group of riders out the front of the race.

From that point, it is a case of does anyone attack and try to go solo over the top of the climb, or will it be a smaller group that gets away and fights it out to the finish?

The stage reminds me a lot of the opening day of racing we had at this race back in 2017. With the peloton whittled down on the last climb of the day, a select group of riders neared the summit together, with Valverde and Contador attacking and managing to get a gap. The former actually went on to drop Contador in the first few hundred metres of the descent and he kept plying on. Things would eventually regroup though, with 6 at the head of the race coming into the closing kilometres. There were a few attacks but things were closed down and we got a very reduced sprint from GC favourites coming to the line.

I think something like that will happen tomorrow, but it possibly might be even more selective due to the tougher final climb and it being the final day where we can see a GC shake-up.

Astana Attack

The key to the stage is when and where Astana are going to attack.

With Fuglsang (+7), Izagirre (+14) and Bilbao (+28) all within half a minute of current leader Wellens, they have the options to make the race difficult for the Lotto rider. I expect the Belgian to be isolated on the final climb and despite how well he is clearly going at the moment, it is difficult to see him following the very best climbers on an ascent like this given its gradients. However, he does seem to be the form rider so who knows.

After LLS drilling it at the front, I think we might see one of the trio put in a relatively early dig on Alto de Hazallanas, forcing Wellens and the other rider in the top 10 to chase. This is where it then becomes an important time of the stage for Mitchelton because they clearly have the climbing talent to keep things in check if need be, in an attempt to give Haig a shot at the GC win. However, having messed up the opening day and with Adam Yates the other Mitchelton rider in contention, but over a minute down, all anyone else has to do is to follow Haig. If Yates was somewhat closer and on a similar time to Bilbao, that could be a really dangerous duo to attack and force others to think. Consequently, I think Mitchelton will have to decide in the morning if they try to go just solely for the stage win and race aggressively, or try to ride for a top 3 on GC with Haig – because I just can’t see the Aussie winning.

I would be very surprised if an Astana rider doesn’t win the stage tomorrow because they should have 3 of the last 7 riders on the climb. As I’ve said above, it is all about timing the attack and hoping the right rider gets away.

If someone from Astana does get away over the top, then the other two will just sit on the chasing group behind and counter attack if things get brought back as I don’t expect them all to sit there and just ride tempo to the line in a group of 8 or something. Unless of course Wellens has been well dropped, then they would do that to secure the GC win.

Prediction

As he is the smallest threat for the overall, it is arguably easiest for Bilbao to escape as he won’t be instantly marked like Fuglsang or Izagirre. It is a day of many variables though because as I’ve said just above, if Wellens is dropped by quite a distance, the trio of Astana riders could just ride tempo to ensure a Fuglsang overall victory.

Te4Xy9WHjggWyNfm

However, I’ll go for Pello to go in his “Bilbao Baggins” style adventure and take the stage win!

giphy (2)

Betting

 

Thanks as always for reading, who do you think will win tomorrow? Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

Vuelta a Andalucia 2019 Stage 3 Preview: Mancha Real -> La Guardia de Jaén (ITT)

Today’s Recap

A pretty benign day and a peloton that was actually pretty well controlled despite the rolling parcours in the finale. Mitchelton Scott were well rewarded for all of their work they did throughout the day, with Matteo Trentin taking the win.

Dz8TNTGXQAAmSXe

He didn’t have it easy though, just pipping Van Poppel and Garcia in a photo finish. He’ll be taking it easy tomorrow though as all eyes turn to the GC contenders. Let’s take a look at what is in store for the riders.

The Route

It wouldn’t be a Spanish stage race without a tricky TT, now would it?

vuelta-a-andalucia-ruta-ciclista-del-sol-2019-stage-3

As per usual for the race of truth, I’ve made my own Strava/Veloviewer profile of the complete course that you can view here.

download (66)

The afternoon can really be split up into three parts with the opening being the first 6 kms and the drag out of Mancha Real.

download (67)

After leaving the start gate the riders descend for 800m before they start the 5.5km (at 3.6%) drag upwards. However, those figures don’t tell the whole story and as you can see on the profile, the drag goes up in steps, with the final 1.5 km being a proper climb. That section itself averages 7.6% but over half of that is at 9%. Certainly not ideal on a TT rig but it’s something the riders will have to get over!

From there, the next 7 kms are all downhill at quite a steep negative gradient (-6 % average), so it will no doubt be incredibly fast.

Screenshot 2019-02-21 at 14.43.37

The danger here for the riders are the couple of technical and sharp turns that they face near the start of the descent, but in particular the two greater than 90-degree corners that they are greeted with on the outskirts of Pegalajar.

Screenshot 2019-02-21 at 14.45.27

Here’s hoping everyone takes them safely! There is roughly another 1km of very shallow descending, before the riders cross the river and face the final climb of the day to the finish line.

download (68)

At 1.8 km in length and averaging 8.4%, the organisers do sure know how to make a fun end to the day. Although I’m not entirely sure some of the riders will agree with that sentiment. The climb is tough and long enough for those that have got their pacing strategy wrong to blow up a little and lose quite a bit of time.

Contenders

Ion Izagirre.

The clear favourite for the day given his performance in the opening TT in Valenciana. Izagirre is very competent against the clock and with his ability not only on the climbs but also on the descents, you’d be hard pressed to find someone to back against him tomorrow. Astana are flying at the moment and after a strong performance on the opening day they still have 3, potentially 4, riders in contention for the overall. They’ll all be going full gas and they could well get a couple on the podium in the TT.

Tim Wellens.

Clearly going well after his win on the opening day, he seems to have fully recovered from his illness a few weeks ago. Wellens has been working a lot on his TT bike over the winter and is looking forward to getting his first outing on it here just to see where that has gotten him. Last year he took an 8th place on a rolling course so he will expect a similar result here. Not known as a TT rider by nature but one that is improving, given his early season form then he must be considered a threat for the day.

Pello Bilbao.

news_idnews1665_photo_1525442738

Astana option number 2, Bilbao is an old blog favourite since his Caja Rural days and it is good to see him really improving each year at the World Tour level. He’s another rider that has steadily worked on his TT with a solid 7th place in the opener in Valenciana. On the first stage here, he was doing a lot of work for his team-mates but still managed to finish in the top 10. Clearly he’s in great shape and might just be the sleeper rider for the day.

Jakob Fuglsang.

Astana option number 3. Having only started his season in Murcia, the Dane has found his legs pretty quickly and was the first man home after Wellens on the opening day here. A very hot or cold TT rider, you can never really know what to expect from Fuglsang until he gets onto the TT rig. If on a good day, he could compete against the field here.

Steven Kruijswijk.

One of the consistent GC TT riders who delivers solid results with the very occasional brilliant performance. He’ll hope to be in or around the top 5 but it will take one of those special efforts for him to win. In fact, it is surprising to see that for a rider so consistent he has only 2 professional victories to his name.

Prediction

Another Astana win, with Izagirre taking the day.

news_idnews2368_photo_1549468564

Wellens and Bilbao to finish on the podium as well, but not sure what order!

Betting

No bet, at the moment.

Wanted to back Bilbao for top 3 but that’s currently not possible or back him against someone in a H2H as long as it wasn’t Wellens or Izagirre. Will have a proper look at the other H2Hs available now and maybe see what the other books offer later on.

Thanks as always for reading. Who do you think will win tomorrow and why? Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

 

Volta ao Algarve 2019 Stage 2 Preview: Almodôvar -> Fóia

Today’s Recap

A really quiet stage until all chaos ensued after 7 kms to go when a crash at the front of the bunch wiped out around 80% of the peloton. With the sprint teams already pretty much in full flight, there was only a brief hiatus before things continued full gas as you would expect. Despite the smaller group, things were held together for the sprint with Jakobsen taking his first win of the season in his first race – a truly dominant effort to the line from him.

Dz3ZBQVWwAAbFsA

Démare trailed him home in second with Ackermann in third.

With some riders crashing, while other just lost some time, it will be interesting to see how they have recovered and approach the traditional stage tomorrow. Let’s have a look at what is in store for them.

The Route

Quite a tough day out in the saddle for the riders, especially this early in the season, with over 3000m of climbing to be tackled.

volta-ao-algarve-em-bicicleta-2019-stage-2

As you can see on the profile, there are numerous short climbs back-to-back once the riders pass roughly 60 km to go. These will no doubt be used to sap the legs of those struggling in the peloton but I would be very surprised if a team takes it up early enough to do a lot of damage – especially with the rolling plateau (oxymoron, I know) from 151 km to 168 km.

It is an interestingly placed intermediate sprint point in Marmelete and I wonder if we’ll see any of the GC contenders try to nab a bonus second or two. A quick descent into the valley below leads them onto the false-flat rise before the climb of Alto da Foia begins properly.

download (65)

A fairly consistent climb, it is not a finish where we often see large time gaps, with the majority of the time the top 10 arriving within 20 seconds of each other. However, that was thrown out the window in 2017 when Quick Step decided to tear the race bits before Foia and consequently 10th placed Benoot came home three-quarters of a minute down.

Expect a fast ascent time tomorrow with a strong wind coming from the south-east.

Screenshot 2019-02-20 at 14.32.20

The teams will have to be wary throughout the day though as they travel mainly from the east to west, so there are potential for splits due to cross winds. Will anyone try to split it?

Contenders

Wout Poels.

A strong start to the season saw Poels finish second on Willunga Hill and consequently took home 3rd on GC Down Under. Sky arrive with a very solid squad to support him on the climb and we’ll no doubt see them engage their now traditional mountain train. It will be interesting to see how they approach it as De La Cruz, Geoghegan Hart and possibly even Dunbar have the credentials to challenge on a finish like this. Will they try to attack to split things up? Poels has an under rated sprint for a GC rider so he’ll be happy for things to be held together and a reduced gallop to the line.

Enric Mas.

bettiniphoto_0359008_1_2000px_670

Part of the Quick Step team that absolutely destroyed the bunch back in 2017, Mas took a big step up in personal performances last year with his second in the Vuelta obviously being the stand-out. With a lot of the team geared towards the two sprints, Mas will most likely have to fly solo although he’ll hope to get some assistance from Stybar quite far up the climb. He’d probably prefer a punchier and steeper finish but given his talent, he can’t be discounted.

Sam Oomen.

Another who avoided the crash today, it puts him in a great position for a strong overall result. It’s hard to know where his form is at given this is his first race of the season but he should be there or thereabouts. A rider that I rate highly, he should start to get some of his own personal results soon after learning the ropes behind a loyal worker for Dumoulin in the GTs. He does only have two wins to his name, both coming in the Tour de l’Ain back in 2016, but tomorrow does offer him an opportunity. An attacking rider, I’m keen to see what he can do.

Tadej Pogacar.

The highly talented young Slovenian impressed in his opening WT debut down under and he’ll like the look of a climb he can properly get his teeth into tomorrow. Before the race the honours for leadership would probably have been shared between Aru and himself, but with the Italian held up today, UAE will turn to Pogacar for the overall. Possibly still a bit of an unknown to his contenders, he might be able to use that anonymity and slip away on the final climb and use the tailwind to his advantage.

Amaro Antunes.

Held up after the crash today, his focus will now turn to stage wins. He’s only ever won two bike races in his life but both of them have been at Portugal and one of them in this race. Quite an attacking rider when he wants to be, I’m expecting to see him give it a bit of a nudge in anger tomorrow. Will he be allowed some freedom?

Prediction

The teams of Sky, Deceuninck and Sunweb to control things in hoping to set up their leader and I’ll go for Poels to get his first win of the year.

2018-ruta-del-sol-02-poels-wout-finish-02

He normally starts his season well and without the obstacle of Porte here this is a good chance for him.

Betting

No bet

Thanks as always for reading and apologies for the shorter preview. Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

Vuelta a Andalucia 2019 Stage 2 Preview: Sevilla -> Torredonjimeno

Today’s Recap

Despite Astana and Bahrain’s best efforts to try to split things up a little before the final climb, we had a pretty large peloton arrive at the foot of the ascent. Movistar took it up early and things quickly thinned out, however, no one really wanted to go full gas from the bottom like they did last year. Possibly knowing just how brutal the climb they decided it was better to save something. Astana then put in a little dig on the false flat descent but it was Tim Wellens who took the corner I highlighted in the preview yesterday, exactly the same way he did back in 2018. Carrying some momentum through it and onto the steep finish, he sat in the saddle and powered away from everyone as they struggled to hold his wheel. A dominant performance and a good one to beat Astana and the illness he faced a week or so ago!

Dz3I7V2WkAIWlOF

Astana will be happy with their current position though with Fuglsang and Izagirre taking 2nd and 3rd respectively.

Disappointed with blog pick Yates, who looked as if he was being brought up by his team-mates but then lost the wheel with around one kilometre to go until the start of the climb. From there he began the ascent in about 50th place and was never going to come back after that. He might not have won against Wellens, but we’ll never know!

Oh well, let’s have a look at what is in store for the riders tomorrow.

The Route

A long day in the saddle which sees the road rise steadily up; will the sprinters be able to hang on?

vuelta-a-andalucia-ruta-ciclista-del-sol-2019-stage-2

With nothing overly difficult in the opening 185 km of the stage, the main battle will take place over the final 25 – 30 km.

download (63)

The only classified climb of the day crests with about 24.5 km to go and given it’s 4.6% average for just over 4 km – it isn’t exactly the toughest ascent in the world either. However, it definitely could be used to put the peloton under a little pressure, especially if those eyeing up stage victory later on want to make things more difficult. After a short descent, the riders face the final 20 km which are all ever so slightly uphill, averaging 1.5%.

download (64)

The day will be decided (obviously) in the final 5.6 km.

With an “opening” climb of 2 km at 4%, followed by 1.6 km of flat, then a 2 km climb at 3%: there are opportunities for the finesseurs of the bunch to try to nab a win.

How will the stage pan out?

With some time gaps after today’s stage and no bonus seconds on the line, it could actually be a day for the breakaway. However, I don’t think that will happen as there should be enough interest behind from teams wanting a stage win to close things down.

Will it be controlled all the way to the line though?

With no pure sprinters here as such, the likes of Trentin and Van Poppel will be hopeful of sticking with the bunch and being the fastest riders left. Yet, it will be a tough ask for teams to keep things in check as I think plenty will fancy their chances of attacking in the finale and spoiling the party. The classics riders and puncheurs will be licking their lips at the prospect of the drags in the closing 5km.

Consequently, I think we might see a small group get away near the end of the day, who battle it out for a stage win. Or even a solo rider who times their attack perfectly as everyone else looks at each other.

Riders to look out for include Prades, Gavazzi, Luis Leon Sanchez, Canola and of course the aforementioned Trentin and Van Poppel.

However, I don’t think any of them will win, instead…

Prediction

A blog favourite will be raising his hand come the end of the day and that man will be Matej Mohoric.

1023141684_670

I was very impressed to see Mohoric grinding his way up the climb today, slowly picking off riders ahead of him and ending up in 11th place. He’s a rider that keeps improving year on year, especially now that he is fully focussed on his cycling after finishing his studies. We saw that come to fruition last year with what was a breakthrough year and I expect him to match that this season with some very strong performances in the classics. The slightly tricky finish looks perfect for him to launch a doozy of an attack in the closing kilometres and with a bit of confusion and lack of co-operation behind it will be very difficult to bring him back. Mohoric does also have the advantage of packing a pretty handy sprint in a stage like this so he might just wait but that isn’t his nature. All or nothing for Matej!

Betting

1pt EW Mohoric @ 25/1 with Bet365

Thanks as always for reading the preview and apologies it is slightly more stumped than normal; I’m a bit under the weather and trying to write two previews a day takes a little time. It’ll probably the same tomorrow as I’m heading home for the weekend so will be spending a bit of my time travelling. Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

Volta ao Algarve 2019 Stage 1 Preview: Portimão -> Lagos

Volta ao Algarve 2019 Stage 1 Preview: Portimão -> Lagos

As I’m doing both Andalucia and Algarve previews this afternoon, no GC funny business here – straight into the opening day it is!

The Route

At over 2000m of climbing throughout the stage and with a profile that can be best described as “rolling”, it’s not exactly going to be an easy sprint stage.

volta-ao-algarve-em-bicicleta-2019-stage-1

However, with the majority of the bigger climbs coming in the opening half, a sprint is what we should get. So the stage will come down to the final 5kms and how the teams approach it.

download (62)

The major “obstacle” in those closing 5 kms is a 600m rise that averages 4.4% so it shouldn’t be enough to drop any sprinters given how fast the peloton will travel over it. However, with it cresting at just over 2 kms to go, you don’t really want to be out of position here given that the next kilometre is almost all downhill and it will be hard to make up some ground.

Screenshot 2019-02-19 at 17.18.14

At roughly 1.2km to go the riders come to their first roundabout when entering Lagos, with them being forced to take the long way around the right side of it and exiting on the left. The turn at the bottom of the roundabout is quite tight so this will slow the bunch down a little and stretch things out.

They face another roundabout with around 800m to go but it is pretty straight forward and shouldn’t see any issues. After that, it is a straight drag race to the line for the final 750m so I expect things could be quite chaotic as that gives some teams enough time to try a hail mary, last-minute lead-out.

Another to note is that it is expected to get reasonably windy later on in the day, with roughly 18-20km/h winds coming in from the coast. With the direction it is forecast, the riders will more than likely have a head wind for the finish – so timing of the sprint is even more crucial.

Contenders

We have quite the sprint field here!

Dylan Groenewegen.

Fresh off of a narrow stage win in Valenciana, the Dutchman will want to prove why he is one of the best sprinters in the world. His 2018 was superb but no doubt he’d like to do even better and with a team that is built around him for this race, he’ll be hopeful of picking up another win or two throughout the week. Roosen and Teunissen are a powerful last two men to have in front of him but without the likes of Tony Martin, Jumbo Visma will probably revert back to type from 2018 and try to ambush the closing kilometre. As stated above though, it is quite difficult to improve your position coming off the descent and into the roundabouts but if there is one team who I think can bring their sprinter forward in the closing 500m it is Jumbo. Groenewegen starts as the favourite for me.

Pascal Ackermann.

ROT_ACKERMANN_AL19120_

After a little warm-up in Murcia, Ackermann was quick to take his first win in Almeria on Sunday – where he just managed to edge out a fast finishing Marcel Kittel. I’m more than willing to dub the Bora man as the breakthrough sprinter in 2018, after he managed to pick up 9 pro wins. Not a bad tally considering he had none before the start of the year. Another rider with a team dedicated to him; there is an awful lot of horsepower in that Bora squad. If there is a team capable of drilling it up that incline and keeping things stretched out all the way to the finish then I think they could manage it. Does Ackermann have the top end speed to see off the competition here though?

Arnaud Démare.

The Frenchman is starting his season off here so it is difficult to know where his form will be. Looking at previous year’s results though, he seems to be there or thereabouts in the opening races so he should be trying to fight for the win tomorrow. However, with a lot of his contenders having already had a few races under their belt, then I think he’ll be a little off the pace.

Fabio Jakobsen.

Another rider beginning his 2019 in Portugal, Jakobsen was by far the most successful neo-pro in terms of wins last year with 7 to his name. As per usual, Quick Step have started the year in flying form so despite this being his first race, I would expect Jakobsen to be ready. He has a strong lead-out to help him here, with Lampaert and Senechal able to provide a lot of top end speed come the end of the stage. Can he get his team their 9th win of the year already?

Christophe Laporte.

The impressive Frenchman has started his year will with 2 stage wins and the GC title in Besseges – a race he completely dominated. Known more as a good climbing sprinter, you would be foolish to just class him as one of those though as he has a deceptively good kick on a flat run in. With there being the slight rise not too far from the finish tomorrow, I think that should help him be well positioned going into the final couple of kilometres, but can he finish it off?

John Degenkolb.

degenkolb-tour-provence2 (1)

It was nice to see Degenkolb get a win in Provence last week: maybe something to do with good karma after his fundraising campaign to save the junior Paris Roubaix? Trek have a team full of sprinting talent but I imagine they will all be on lead-out duty for Degenkolb, with Theuns possibly last man. They haven’t worked together as a unit before though so the few sprint stages could be more of a learning process than anything else. As the main classics group for Trek, it is important that they get on well and work together here. Despite how strong Degenkolb looked in Provence, I just can’t see him getting a win tomorrow.

Jasper Philipsen.

Will UAE work for him or Consonni? In more of a pure sprint like this I would say that it is the Belgian who is faster and we’ve already seen glimpses of that at the Tour Down Under where he took his stage win. Consonni obviously did some great lead-outs for Gaviria over in San Juan so he will hope to continue that here but he is a more than able replacement if going for the sprint himself. Although put it this way, I could see Philipsen sneaking a win against this field tomorrow but not Consonni.

Others to look out for who might nab a top 10 spot include Debuscherre, Dupont and Boasson Hagen.

Prediction

I feel like a little bit of an upset so I’ll go for Christophe Laporte to keep piling the pressure on Bouhanni by taking a surprise win here.

Dy51WDtWoAAiodl-min

Or Groenewegen wins comfortably.

Betting

Odds are up with Betway but I don’t really fancy anything there.

Thanks as always for reading, who do you think will win tomorrow? Anyway

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.