Tour de Romandie 2018 Stage 1 Preview; Fribourg -> Delémont

Today’s Recap

After a disappointing performance on Sunday, Michael Matthews bounced back excellently today to take the win on a course that suited him perfectly.

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I’ll hold my hands up and say I got it wrong as I hadn’t expected him to have recovered from Liege, oh well! Behind him, Swiss rider Tom Bohli confirmed his explosive TT potential with a strong second place, with blog pick Primoz Roglic only managing to finish third.

Dennis was edged off the podium but he, Bohli and Roglic all finished just one second behind Matthews in what was a closely fought day. Interestingly, Matthews made a lot of his time on the slight downhill first section, with Dennis and Roglic gaining 5 seconds in the latter part but it was not enough for them.

Can the Sunweb rider hold on to the leader’s jersey tomorrow? Let’s have a look at what is in store for the riders.

The Route

A rolling day that hopefully should tempt some attacks from the bunch later on in the afternoon.

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@LasterketaBurua

The early climbs will more than likely see a fight for some KOM points between the breakaway and the honour to wear that jersey but the battle for the stage win comes down to the lap circuit around Delémont.

As per, I’ve made a Strava/VV profile of the closing lap that you can view here.

Romandie S1 Lap

The opening climb of the circuit is the toughest with the Col du Sommet averaging just over 7% for 5.1km.

COl du SOmmet

As you can see on the profile above, it is a climb that seems to go up in steps with quite sharp rises of gradients at some points. This should in theory make it difficult for some riders to get into a good rhythm and it might lend itself to a more punchy climber who likes to accelerate and decelerate.

Once over the top, the riders will face a 5km descent that isn’t overly technical and it is one that they will have to pedal on as some of the gradients aren’t too steep.

The road then kicks up again with the uncategorised ascent of Prés Sur La Croix. Or at least that is what the Strava segment is called.

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At an average of 4.3% for 3.1km most who made it over the previous climb should make it with the bunch here. However, with the final kilometre of the ascent averaging a more challenging 7%, it could be a perfect launchpad for an attack. There is around 600m of plateau before the road plunges down again, so it will need to be a committed attack to distance anyway. Conversely, an attack could even be made on the plateau as everyone looks around at each other.

Once onto the next descent the riders will only have 10km left, of which 6km are spent going downhill. It is much steeper this time so any gaps made previously will be hard to bring back.

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The final 4kms have their own challenges though with a 4% drag halfway through and a 300m, 6% kick up to the line on narrow roads: which would be interesting if we get a reasonable sized bunch come to the line.

How will the stage pan out?

Tomorrow is one of those really weird days where almost anything could happen.

If Matthews doesn’t fancy his chances of holding on to the overall then Sunweb might call everyone’s bluff and we could see a break take the win. Conversely, the day could be raced at a pretty slow pace and he makes the finish and consequently doubles up.

It could quite well turn into a GC day but that all just depends on the approach of the riders. After all, it is only tomorrow and stages 2 and 4 which could shape the outcome of the race overall. Those looking to gain time might seize an opportunity and make it an aggressive race.

That situation then leads onto the possible late attack sticking, or will it be a very reduced group sprint?

Personally I think we will see something similar to what we had in the Alps recently, with tomorrow turned into an aggressively raced GC day with either a solo, or group of riders escaping. However, with the way the finish is, it will be hard for any big gaps to be made unless there is a complete stall in the main group. Which is possible.

Contenders

I could name a multitude of riders who might have a chance tomorrow given the unpredictability of the stage but I don’t want to be here all evening so I’ll just stick to a few.

Tejay van Garderen.

44th Volta Algarve 2018 - Stage Five

Somewhat disappointing today but the prologue never has been a speciality of his, the American will enjoy being back on the open road for tomorrow’s stage. I expect BMC to have quite a few guys in the head of the peloton as it is whittled down but I’m not too sure they will wait for a sprint with someone like Dennis. Instead, I expect to see them attacking on the lap circuit in an attempt to make the race as difficult as possible. Van Garderen was to the fore in Finistère but was caught not too far from the finish and his pretty poor sprint saw him finish in 8th. I think he has some good climbing legs at the moment but he will probably need to arrive solo to the line.

Egan Bernal.

Another team who should have numbers near the head of the race are Sky. Rosa, Thomas and Bernal all placed within the top 12 today and give them great options for a stage like this. Although the young Colombian is returning from the terrible crash in Catalunya that cost him his first WT stage-race GC podium, he appears to be in good form from first viewing. He is one of the most talented riders in the peloton and I don’t think he will be to far off his Catalunya level. That will scare the other teams as he was the only one who could match a flying Valverde then, even taking the race to him on the last stage before the unfortunate crash. He packs a surprisingly good sprint so he will fancy his chances in a gallop to the line against a handful of others. Will he be granted the freedom?

Louis Vervaeke.

If Matthews falters then Sunweb could possibly turn to their young Belgian rider to get involved in the finale. Vervaeke had a strong start to 2017 before over-training and burning himself out. This season he has taken a slightly different approach and it seems to be paying off as he slowly rides himself into form. A very strong climber as a junior and U23, can he roll back the years this week?

Emmanuel Buchmann.

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The former German champion is another who has had a slow start to the year but he showed in the recent running of Itzulia that his form is now starting to pick up. He finished a very respectable 4th on GC in that race against some strong riders. Arriving at this race as Bora’s “protected” rider, he will be unfortunately be left with little help in the mountains as half of the team is sprint-based with only a returning from illness Kennaugh and Poljkanski to help. I think he might be isolated quite a few times at this race! The best form of defense is attack as they say, so it would be good to see him being aggressive tomorrow. He’s not a slouch in a very reduced sprint to the line.

Prediction

The teams to ride an attacking race with the limited GC days that we have here and we’ll consequently see a small group of guys escape on the final lap. They all might not be the obvious favourites for the overall win, but with the majority of the stronger teams represented, the move stays away.

Bernal bounces back from Catalunya disappointment by taking a powerful sprint victory!

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Betting

1pt EW Bernal @ 18/1 (would take down to 14/1).

0.5pt EW Buchmann @ 66/1 (would take down to 40/1)

1pt EW Roglic @ 33/1 (Would take down to 22s)

I know I didn’t name Roglic in the list above but if he is climbing as well as he was in Itzulia then he has a chance of escaping and possibly riding solo to the line. As we saw in that race as well, he is no slouch. The price is too big to ignore.

Thanks as always for reading. How do you think tomorrow’s stage will play out? Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

 

Tour de Romandie 2018 Prologue Preview: Fribourg -> Fribourg

Tour de Romandie 2018 Prologue Preview: Fribourg -> Fribourg

GC Overview

Last year’s race was won by a flying Richie Porte and he returns in 2018 to defend his crown. It will be tough from him though as he is just back to racing after a period out of competition due to illness so BMC leadership might pass to Tejay van Garderen in what is the Swiss outfit’s local race. Nonetheless, if Porte is back to his best then it will be tough to beat him, especially with the uphill TT on stage 3.

However, we could see a challenge from Roglic who himself was going incredibly well in Itzulia until a crash on the final day hampered his dominance ever so slightly. He did still take the overall though but it is yet to be seen if he has recovered from that crash: on his blog post he says that the wounds are still healing. Could it all be a ruse and we’ll see the former ski-jumper make it two WT stage race wins back to back at the end of the week?

Thomas is the only other rider who should be near the head of affairs on GC come the end of the race. He started the year with a strong showing in Algarve before a very untimely mechanical in Tirreno scuppered any chances of taking the overall. He finished Liege on Sunday which might see him a bit tired from the travel on the opening day but once the mountains start I expect a good race.

Hmmm, Roglic could well go back to back but because we’re in Switzerland I’ll go for a BMC win and a surprise result with Tejay Van Garderen after they play the numbers game very well in the mountains. Time to finally get that “European GC win” monkey off your back Tejay!

44th Volta Algarve 2018 - Stage Five

One extra thing to consider is that potential poor weather later in the week might see some of the stages altered.

Before anyone can think about the mountains though the riders will have to navigate a very tricky opening prologue. Let’s take a look at what is in store for them tomorrow.

The Route

This looks like a fun watch!

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@LasterketaBurua

As per usual for a TT/prologue, I’ve made a Strava (Veloviewer) profile of the route that you can view here.

Fribourg Prologue 3D

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Once down the start ramp, the road continues to head downhill for the riders before they cross a bridge and take a left at a roundabout. Carrying a lot of speed through the corner is important as it will continue your momentum onto the slight 450m drag (5.1% average) which follows.

After that they will take a sweeping hairpin turn and plunge back down towards the river for a kilometre, no doubt travelling at ridiculous speeds for the town roads.

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Interestingly, some cobbled roads are thrown into the mix on both times the riders cross the river as it meanders through the valley. I wonder if the Swiss Roubaix hero will have a smile on his face?

The road continues to roll for around a kilometre or so before the riders will face the final test: the climb to the finish.

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With an 8.3% average gradient for 850m and a peak kick of almost 16%, it is no easy finish to the day but it is short enough that some of the puncheurs will hope to contend with the proper climbers and GC riders we have at this race.

Oh, one other thing, did I mention the opening 400m or so are cobbled?

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The Romandie organisers do know how to design a good opening prologue that has a bit of everything!

Thankfully it appears that riders will get similar conditions throughout the day with no rain forecast to fall. However, it is meant to rain heavily in Fribourg this evening so the roads might still be wet and slippy for the early starters in the afternoon but the likelihood is that it will have dried up by then.

This really is a mixed bag of a prologue with a few fast descents, some technical corners, cobbles and a punchy climb to finish. Given the short distance, it opens up the stage for some who may not be the best at pacing themselves over the longer efforts. However, given the rise at the end, whoever wins has to be half-decent at climbing. Sorry Alex Dowsett, that means you’re out unfortunately.

Three Clear Favourites?

Rohan Dennis.

The best TT rider in the World over a 12-15km distance (in my opinion), he often misses the mark when it is a really short effort against the clock. He has never won a prologue out of the seven that he has competed in as a professional, something that came as quite a surprise to me. To be fair to him, the last effort he had a chance of winning, I’m excluding the uphill prologue in the 2016 Dauphiné, was the opening day of the Baloise Belgium Tour in 2015 and he has improved a lot in the discipline since then. This is his last preparation race before the Giro so he should be in good form but he won’t be at tip-top shape just yet. Does that make him vulnerable for another second place?

Primoz Roglic.

The guy is a machine and he will love every aspect of tomorrow’s course. He has no fear on the descents so will no doubt fly down the road and we saw in Itzulia just how well he was climbing on the short, steep ramps. Question marks will remain over his head about how well he has recovered from the crash on the final stage of Itzulia, but I think he’ll be over the knock and fully focussed on this race. Unlike Dennis, Roglic has a prologue win to his name at the Ster ZLM Tour so he has shown to be explosive enough over the distance.

Geraint Thomas.

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A 4km effort against the clock with some cobbles and an uphill finish: doesn’t that sound great for a former team pursuit come one-day rider come GC contender? As I’ve mentioned above he’s been on good form so far this year and if it wasn’t for great team tactics or a terribly timed mechanical, he would probably have two GC titles under his belt. He’s a bit hit or miss in efforts against the clock but when he’s on, he’s normally really on!

The “they might cause a surprise but will ultimately fall short” riders

Matthews – He would have made the list above a quartet if it was not for his poor performance in Liege. With the travelling to be done as well and after a tough race, I can’t see him bouncing back.

Any BMC rider apart from RD – It’s their home race and they’ve really upped their TT game in general over the past few years. This season they (and Sky) have dominated top 10s, it is just a case of who will go close for them. Also, they’ve been in the wind tunnel testing a new skinsuit; will it make a big difference?

Izagirre Bros – See Matthews.

Boom – Too early in his comeback from surgery but I’d love to be proved wrong. He can pull a result out the bag.

Campenaerts – Not long enough.

Amador – He could be the surprise package here.

The Super Duper Longshot

Mr Romandie himself, Simon Spilak.

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No real results to shout home about this year and no signs of great form: a 9th at GP Indurain is his best finish so far. Yet, Spilak always seems to go well at this race and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him near the pointy end of affairs come the end of the week. Can he be there tomorrow? Maybe. He is a very hot or cold rider (mainly freezing) but when he sets his sight on a race he can match the best. If he is in the right frame of mind a good TT effort could start his week off on the right foot. I imagine he would probably prefer some rain though!

Prediction

A Dennis v Roglic v Thomas battle for the stage with the in-form Slovenian taking the honours.

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Betting

I tweeted out the Roglic pick before when odds were released.

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He has shortened drastically but I would still take

3pts WIN @ 9/2 with Bet365 (I would have him priced up at 3/1).

Also for a bit of fun, let’s go double Slovenian…

0.25pt EW Spilak @ 400/1 (Would take 200/1 lowest).

 

As for GC: 1pt EW Van Garderen @ 33/1.

 

Thanks as always for reading! Who do you think is going to win tomorrow? Could we see a surprise result? Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

Liege Bastogne Liege 2018 Preview

The final race of the Ardennes’ week sees the riders tackle the fourth Monument of the year. We saw a tactical race last year but one that was ultimately decided by the final drag into Ans, which saw Valverde double-up after his win in Fleche earlier in the week.

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Can Alaphilippe repeat the feat this year? Let’s take a look at what is in store for the riders.

The Route

Pretty much a carbon copy of last year’s race!

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Roughly 4000m of climbing over 258km makes it a long day in the saddle for many, especially with the majority (9 out of 11) of the categorised climbs featuring in the final 100kms of the race. Expect to see a race of attrition

There is a chance we see some action on the Côte de La Redoute (2km at 8.9%) as this was a springboard for a group of escapees to go last year. With the climb cresting at just over 35km to go, if several strong teams are represented then it could be the spot of the winning attack of the day.

The Côte de la Roche-Faucons (1.3km at 11%) comes next and again offers those not wanting to wait until the end of the race to spice things up. Over the top only 19kms so a chase will have to be organised quickly to bring anyone ahead back: especially when the following few kilometres are all down hill.

Last but not least, the Côte de Saint-Nicolas (1.2km at 8.6%) can split the bunch again on the run in to the line. If not, it will all come down to the final uncategorised ramp in Ans.

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Although it isn’t very tough when taken alone, once you consider everything else that the riders will have faced then the 1.4km rise will see gaps in the peloton. There are a few hundred metres of flat once the riders turn left at the top of the rise, but if a rider has a few seconds gap then it is race over. Will it come down to a reduced sprint?

L for Legs

Liege will be one of the longest races on the calendar for many of the riders here and it is this length combined with the rolling terrain that makes it very difficult for a lot in the peloton to win. For a rider to go well, ideally they have had to show in the past that they can cope with the distance so an ok result in any of the monuments are almost a necessity but obviously the ones with more climbing take precedent, i.e. here or Lombardia.

Every winner here in the past 5 years has competed at this race a minimum of 3 times before they have gone on to take glory. So course knowledge but also effort management are important factors to consider too.

However, statistics and records are there to be broken and we’ve had riders go very well on their first attempts here: Alaphilippe’s 2nd place in 2015 springs to mind.

Liège-Bastogne-Liège-2015

Nonetheless, experience often shines through so those at the head of the betting reflect that with Valverde, Alaphilippe, Nibali and Matthews as the favourites.

No doubt though you will have read a lot of previews the past few days that go into great detail about them and their chances, so as I don’t want to bore you (and I’m short of time), I will avoid them and just focus on 4 other riders who I think might have a chance.

The Countdown Approach

One from the top, one from the middle and two from the bottom…

Romain Bardet.

This is the Frenchman’s 6th appearance at the race, having previously finished 13th (2013) / 10th (2014) / 6th (2015) / 13th (2016) / 6th (2017). Not a bad string of results, he seems to be very consistent here! He was an outsider of mine for Fleche, a race in which he finished 9th at, but apparently he suffered from a crash not too long before the final ascent of the Huy so it makes the result an even better one. 2018 has been a solid year for the AG2R rider and although he hasn’t performed too well in stage races, he has really shone in one-day races. In the 7 one-day races he has competed in so far he’s finished in the top 10 on 6 occasions: the only time he didn’t achieve that feat was in the not very climber friendly (unless you’re Valverde) Dwars Door Vlaanderen. Not bad! The longer ascents of Liege should suit him very well. I’m intrigued to see how he approaches the race but no doubt we will see him attacking at some point towards the closing stages of the race. He’s one who might take advantage of the “big favourites” marking each other.

Tiesj Benoot.

03-03-2018 Strade Bianche; 2018, Lotto - Soudal; Benoot, Tiesj; Siena;

He finally got the monkey off his back after taking a great win at Strade Bianche earlier in the year. In general he has really taken a step up in the level of his performances and he seems to be moulding himself into someone who can go well on a variety of terrain. This was highlighted with a 4th place on GC in Tirreno which was closely followed by successive top 10 places in the WT Belgian one-day races. This will be his first attempt at Liege which does make it harder for him to go well here but given he has been at the pointy end in Flanders before, I think he should be ok. Deliberately missing Roubaix to focus on the hilly Ardennes, the past week hasn’t gone exactly to plan for him. He DNFd Amstel after having a bit of an off day before working for team-mates in Fleche, possibly still recovering from whatever made him struggle in Amstel. However, this is the parcours that should suit his characteristics and I think we will see him near the head of the action tomorrow. Lotto Soudal have plenty of strong riders so they should approach the day aggressively, can Benoot make the right move?

Stephen Cummings.

The most difficult rider to read in the peloton, the British champion arrives at the race not named as one of Dimension Data’s potential winners in their press release. When has that ever stopped him going well though? Cummings set his sights on an unnamed Monument last year (according to Brian Smith) but he didn’t really shine in either San Remo or Lombardia so potentially it is Liege he will be gunning for this time round. He has raced here before, finishing in 19th place in his last outing back in 2016. Theoretically he should go well on the rolling terrain but as I’ve suggested above, it is hard to tell where he is at form wise and if he can actually be bothered to try. His best result this year on an open road stage is 73rd in Milan Sanremo, with a 92nd place on the third stage of Itzulia the only other time he has finished within the top 100. An almost impressive achievement! Clearly the form is good…

Sam Oomen.

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A talented rider, it is incredible to think he is still only 22 years old. Liege is a race that Oomen has competed at twice already, finishing 26th on his first attempt in 2016. It was an 11th place in Lombardia last year that caught my eye in regards to his classics potential; no mean feat for someone so young to go well in that brutally tough race. With his first Grand Tour in his legs, he should reap the benefits of it this year. Tomorrow he will most likely play a supporting role for Matthews but he will probably be used in an attacking sense so that no one else from the team has to work behind. We have seen in previous races that early attacks stick if enough of the stronger teams are represented; could Oomen get lucky? He has the punch on the slopes to fancy his chances in a group of “second-tier” riders.

Prediction

A tactical race with some of the bigger favourites marking each other, leading to a bold attack from Romain Bardet paying off and securing the Frenchman his biggest ever win.

BARDET_10_BD_©Vincent-Curutchet

Betting

Tweeted out my selections yesterday.

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Thanks as always for reading! Who do you think is going to win La Doyenne tomorrow? Will we see a surprise or will the favourites be at the fore? Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

La Flèche Wallonne Féminine 2018 Preview

Last year’s edition of the race saw a dominant Boels Dolmans once again top the podium at the end of the day with a late-attack from van der Breggen before the Mur de Huy saw her hold on to the line rather comfortably: taking what was her second win of the week and third win in a row at this race. Valverde who?

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Deignan completed the 1-2 for Boels (a recurring theme during this week last year) with Niewiadoma coming home third after she was the rider who split the field on the penultimate climb of the day.

Will we see a similar outcome this year? Let’s take a look at what is in store for the riders.

The Route

The organiser’s have decided to change the route ever so slightly from last year with the finishing circuit being completed twice, rather than once, which means the removal of the Amay and Villers-le-Bouillet.

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@LaFlammeRouge16

It means the women will have to face 6 categorised climbs inside the final 50kms of the race. The Côte d’Ereffe (1.7km at 6.4%) and Côte de Cherave (1.4km at 7.6%) act as a “warm-up” for the big finale atop the Mur de Huy.

MurdeHuy

The road just gets going up as the riders continue, with brutally steep gradients of 19% in some places. Whoever comes out on top here will have deserved it!

How will the race pan out?

Well, unlike the men’s race we might actually see (well, we won’t actually see them but more on that later) some attacks from far out and not just a sprint up the Huy. Last year Moolman attempted a long-range effort with an attack on the Villers-le-Bouillet, ultimately holding off the bunch on the first passage of the Huy, but she was soon brought to heel. However, the winning move of the day was formed on the Cherave where Niewiadoma put in a brutal attack that only van der Breggen could initially follow before Deignan caught back up just near the top. Moolman was close behind but she paid for her earlier efforts.

I’m hoping something similar happens this year, especially with lots of teams having a few options who could feasibly win the race. We saw this happen in Amstel when the “second-tier leaders” got up the road and with enough teams represented, they were never going to be brought back.

Van der Breggen is dominant in this race and even when the peloton arrives at the foot of the climb together, she is almost impossible to beat. They need to try to isolate her but given the strength of Boels that will be difficult. However, the climbs here are harder than they were in Amstel so the other teams do have a chance.

After missing out in Amstel, I think it will actually be the favourites who will be pushing the pace early.

Contender

Wielrensters in actie tijdens Waalse Pijl

In all seriousness, I’m struggling to think of a situation where van der Breggen doesn’t have a really good chance of winning this race. We saw in Amstel that Boels have plenty of riders to fill the void left by Deignan and the Olympic Champion is on some sensational form at the moment. She is the current Queen of this climb (Vos is not the same as she was a few years ago) so a rider will have to carry an advantage onto the foot slopes to beat her.

Best of the rest?

Niewiadoma is the obvious challenger to van der Breggen and she should be there to seize her opportunity should the Boels rider falter. In her last three attempts at this race Niewiadoma has finished 5th, 4th and 3rd: so 2nd this year? She’s been lively so far this season and will no doubt animate the finale again this time round, can she finish it off though?

Van Vleuten was disappointed after Amstel not to be able to test her legs as she said she felt very good at the moment. Her performances in the second part of last season would suggest that she is capable of going well on a climb like the Huy. In 2017 she was best of the rest from the reduced peloton, finishing in 4th place, while back in 2015 she was 12 seconds down on AVDB. Not having Kennedy there will be a big loss for Mitchelton, she would have had the ability on the climbs to potentially attack early and force others to chase. Spratt will have a lot of work to do.

Moolman might just be the dark horse for the day. This is a climb that the South African admits she loves and she is incredibly consistent here: 5th (2012), 3rd (2013), 5th (2014), 4th (2015), DNF (2016) and 6th (2017). Despite not having won this year, I have been very impressed with how well she has ridden, she just needs to time her attack correctly this edition.

Longo Borghini returned to action at Amstel Gold after missing some races due to illness. A classy bike rider and climber, if she has fully recovered and is back to racing fit then she can compete here. Last year she missed the race but she has finished on the podium here twice in the past so knows what it takes to compete at the pointy end. A lot of her season so far has been derailed by bad luck so it would be nice to see something go her way for once!

Those are the four riders who I can see challenging AVDB for the title but of course others might get involved in a tactical race where attacks come early and no one follows; Ferrand Prevot (Canyon), Guarnier (Boels), Ensing (Ale), Stultiens (Waowdeals) and Gillow (FDJ) spring to mind.

Prediction

It is hard to look past a van der Breggen win but I’m going to do exactly that…

Ashleigh Moolman to take home the crown!

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I have been very impressed with the slight climber who has gone well in every race she has competed in so far this year, including a strong 4th place in Flanders – a race which doesn’t really suit her. Fleche Wallonne does suit her and I think she has the form to go toe-to-toe with anyone on the Huy. Her early part of the season has been built around this race and week, skipping the Commonwealth Games to be here, and I think we’ll see that decision justified.

Coverage.

We’re not getting a live stream, great job ASO.

Every WWT race has managed to at least have half an hour of the race live streamed but for some reason the arguably biggest cycling race organisation, with over £40million profit in 2017, can’t manage to get it together. Go figure.

Heck, 1.1 level race Omloop Hageland had the whole race covered. So it is clearly not money motivated but I’m struggling to think of a reason/excuse for the ASO not to cover the race. But then again, what else should I expect from an organisation that loves a glamourised criterium: original La Course and Madrid Challenge are prime examples of that.

Aaaaaand that’s me now on a blacklist.

Personally I think the UCI should introduce some regulation that if you want a race to be WWT level, there needs to be a live stream available. How can they expect the sport to grow if no one is able to watch it, apart from being roadside?

Anyway, to follow the race it will have to be via Twitter and the “#FWWomen” hashtag. I also recommend following @richiesteege and @petervdveen who tend to have the best updates from the ground.

Thanks as always for reading; who do you think is going to win tomorrow? Will we see an upset or will the Queen of the Mur win again? Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

La Flèche Wallonne 2018 Preview

The Ardennes Classics week continues with the first race which actually visits the region. Flèche Wallonne is a race many fans do not like due to the very same-y race pattern and outcome we get every year but it has grown on me. You just have to view it as you would with a sprint stage; it is all in the positioning and energy conserving before the final dash up the Huy. Last season saw Valverde win, again, making it 4-in-a-row for the Movistar man.

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Behind, Dan Martin finish second behind Valverde, again, with Dylan Teuns taking home a surprising third place: a sign of things to come from him in 2017.

Will we see a similar outcome this year? Let’s have a look at what is in store for the riders.

The Route

We do have a bit of a parcours change compared to the past few seasons but that is mostly in the early part of the day, with the riders facing some of the climbs that will feature at the pointy end of the race on Sunday.

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@LaFlammeRouge16

3200m of climbing in 200km of racing makes it a fairly tough day in the saddle but the majority of the climbs are under 2km in length so they suit the puncheurs and climbers alike.

On paper it look as if the parcours would suit a long-range attack on the Côte d’Ereffe (2.1km at 5%) which crests at roughly 17kms to go. We sometimes see some attacks go here but one hasn’t been successful in a long time!

The Côre de Cherave (1.4km at 7.6%) is the last place for someone to attack if they want to avoid the sprint up the Huy. Cresting with only 6kms to go, a strong rider or group of riders could hold off the chasing bunch if there is a stall behind.

It is then over to the Mur de Huy to decide the race itself.

MurdeHuy

 

The climb gradually gets steeper the longer it goes, with the steepest ramps coming around a semi-hairpin turn. More often than not though, it is a very tactical ascent with no one really wanting to take the pace up fully until 150m to go. Last year Gaudu spiced things up by attacking at 200m out but he “blew up” near the end and finished 9th in the end. Will anyone go for broke this year by attacking at the bottom? I would love to see that.

How will the race pan out?

I hope we see some teams take it up early and try to isolate Valverde by forcing his team to seriously chase before the final run up the Huy. The slightly trickier opening half of the day might see some riders more tired than they are used to once they come in to the final 30kms and it could increase the chances of an attacking sticking. However, it needs to be a serious move for that to happen though with a few strong riders from big teams represented.

I do think there is an increased chance of an earlier move sticking this year because of the trickier opening part of the stage but ultimately I think it will once again come down to the peloton climbing the Huy together.

However, I hope someone goes full gas from the bottom to throw the proverbial cat amongst the pigeons. Maybe I’m just being wishful with my thinking though!

Contender

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Best of the rest?

Alaphilippe looked sprightly in the opening few stages of Itzulia before he made the selection on Sunday in Amstel. He is the only rider here who I genuinely think has a chance of beating Valverde by going toe-to-toe with the Spaniard, but even then, it will be tough for him to do just that.

Teuns surprised everyone last year at this race with an impressive third. He’s started the season well with some good GC results in Paris Nice and Itzulia, which included a solid 4th place in the latter race’s tough Arrate finish. However, he missed the move in Amstel which might indicate that his form isn’t as good as it should be.

Martin has had a pretty horrid year so far with a 4th place on the second stage of the Volta ao Algarve the only result to even somewhat shout home about. He was a DNF in Amstel and I can’t see him getting on the podium this year.

Vanendert, Izagirre, Gaudu, Bardet and Henao might all be involved at the head of the race too.

However, I am interested in the chances of four outsiders tomorrow.

The “Value” picks

Michael Matthews.

Yep, I’m doing it again. Those of you who read last year’s preview will potentially remember my “if Albasini is a favourite; why isn’t Matthews?” argument and I’m rolling that bad boy out again. The Australian has had an early season that has been hampered by injury but he’s been slowly refinding his form as of late and he might just have timed his peak correctly. In Amstel he looked comfortable following the main group but a very untimely puncture before the Cauberg ruined his chances of a good result. We saw in the Tour last year that Matthews can climb very well on the short, sharp ascents so why can’t he do the same here? A 3 minute power effort should suit him well.

Jay McCarthy.

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The same argument can be made for McCarthy who also was robbed of a chance to perform well in Amstel after being involved in a crash just before the race kicked off with 40km left. He tried to get back in but his day was done and he ended a DNF. In an interview with CyclingTips he says that he has been training for this type of effort and is aiming for a top 5. I believe he can deliver, but he just needs to be in a good position at the bottom of the climb, like everyone else. An improvement from his 19th last year should be easily achievable. Can he go a lot better?

Romain Bardet.

Bardet has quietly gone about his business this year in stage races, instead, he has performed much better in one-day races. Aside from Dwars door Vlaanderen, the AG2R rider has finished 8/1/8/2/2 in those events so far this year and a good result tomorrow is within his sights again. He comes into this race almost under the radar but he shouldn’t be discredited and I think he’ll improve on his 13th last year. Who remembers his win on the steep finish of the Peyragudes in France last year?

Enric Mas.

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One of the riders who I would love to see go full gas from the bottom of the Mur, I hope to see QuickStep deploy him in a role like that to cause panic within the Movistar camp. His stage win on the brutally steep climb to Arrate highlights just how well he can go on the steep slopes and I think he has a good chance of going well again tomorrow. Could we see QuickStep repeat the 2-3 they had from a few years ago?

Prediction

Boring, but Valverde wins. I just can’t see any team being bold enough to try something serious from far out which means that we’ll see a sprint up the Mur and the result from there is inevitable.

Please prove me wrong other teams: I would like them to at least try.

I do think we could see a few surprises on the podium though…

Betting

A day for picking some outside value and cheering them on as they finish 7-12th.

I already tweeted the two outside picks of Mas and Matthews before Amstel so I am sticking with the odds that were available then (and a while after).

0.25pt EW Mas @ 200/1 (still available at that price with William Hill, would take 150/1 elsewhere)

0.25pt EW Matthews @ 300/1 (he’s shortened a lot but is still 250/1 with Betfair, I’d take 150/1)

Newer bets are;

0.25pt EW McCarthy @ 325/1 with Betfair (would take 250/1 elsewhere)

1pt EW Bardet @ 125/1 with Betfair (would take 80/1)

 

Thanks as always for reading! Who do you think will win tomorrow? Can anyone stop Valverde? Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

Women’s Amstel Gold Race 2018 Preview

The race is back for its second edition as part of the Women’s World Tour and like the men’s counterpart, it kicks off the Women’s Ardennes Week.

In 2017 we had an aggressive race almost from the gun but it wasn’t the climbs that split the race. Instead, strong winds caused echelons on the flatter sections between the hills, before they did their own damage. The penultimate ascent of the Cauberg saw Deignan, Niewiadoma and Longo Borghini escape but due to everyone not putting in their fair share of work and a massive chase from Van Dijk saw the gap reduced before the Bemlerberg. Van Vleuten, van der Breggen and Rivera attacked on the climb and managed to bridge to the trio up ahead. From there the outcome was almost inevitable as numbers for Boels played their part; van der Breggen attacked solo and she was not seen again by the others until the podium ceremony.

Cycling: 4th Amstel Gold Race 2017 / Women

Behind, Deignan made it a 1-2 for Boels after winning the sprint with Niewiadoma and Van Vleuten inseparable in the photo finish so they oddly shared third place.

Will we see a similarly attacking race this year? First, let’s have a look at what is in store for the riders.

The Route

Pretty much the same as last year and in fact, it is 3kms shorter at only 118km, making it one of the shortest races in the UCI WWT calendar. Hopefully it should entice some attacking racing!

amstel-gold-race-wwt-2018
@LasterketaBurua

17 climbs littered throughout 118km will test everyone in the peloton, but it is the main circuit of Geulhemmerberg (1.2km at 4.6%), Bemelerberg (900m at 4.5%) and Cauberg (800m at 6.5%) that will see the decisive action as the riders face a full 3 laps.

The women’s race sticks to a more traditional Amstel route, with the Cauberg coming just before the finish.

cauberg

The famous climb has its steepest ramps in the opening 400m as that section averages 9.5%. This is where the more explosive riders and better climbers will hope to drop anyone that is trying to cling on for a sprint. That is if we see a big group arrive at the foot slopes…

The van der Breggen factor

So often we here about the Sagan factor when talking about the men’s races (I myself am guilty of that – see my preview for Amstel) but little is made of just how good the Boels rider actually is. Last year she survived the #HaugheyCurse and took home a famous Ardennes triple and this season she has started with a bang winning Strade Bianche and the Tour of Flanders in dominant fashion. On a hilly course like this there are very few who can match her if it comes down to the final climbs. She also possesses a very strong time trial which allows her to attack from a distance and hold off a bunch.

All of the other teams and riders will be very wary of her but what can they do to stop her? Well, one thing is already going their way with Deignan not racing this season which means that van der Breggen will have a much tougher task in the finale. Boels still have a strong team with Guarnier, Pieters and Canuel hopefully going far into the day.

However, if the other teams start making some serious attacks from a good bit out, then Boels might not have the firepower to keep it all together. I hope we see some of the co-leaders / second in line riders give it a dig from 30km out to shake things up a bit. Nonetheless, given how imperious van der Breggen has been, she still has to start as favourite for the race. Who will she be up fighting against for the title though?

Contenders

Katarzyna Niewiadoma.

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She couldn’t break the Boels dominance last year but three podium places in a row throughout the week highlights just how good she is at this type of terrain. So far this season she has been slowly building form, taking aim at this week, but also managing to win Trofeo Binda along the way. An exciting rider to watch, she lit the blue touch-paper last season and I expect to see her and her Canyon team ride aggressively again – they are super strong. With Ferrand Prevot by her side, they could form a formidable duo, only if the latter has fully recovered from her crash in Flanders.

Annemiek van Vleuten.

A true warrior, she also went down in Flanders but continued on with a dislocated shoulder before sprinting to third place. This race is important to her due to it being on home roads and she possesses all of the attributes to go well here. Mitchelton bring a very strong squad in support of van Vleuten with Spratt and Kennedy both very capable climbers themselves. They are one of the teams that I hope animate the race in the closing hour of racing as any three of the riders mentioned could potentially win the race in the right circumstance.

Elisa Longo Borghini.

The Italian champion has had a solid start to the year but compared to previous season’s she will be rather disappointed. She’s missed a few previous races due to illness but arrives at this race feeling much better apparently. An almost ever-present rider in these types of races she will want to be near the front tomorrow. One thing I admire about her is her never say die attitude and that she is always willing to work with whatever group she finds herself in. It will be hard for her to win but she’ll be helped by super-domestique Cordon Ragot deep into the race, who might even get a chance herself in a tactical finish.

Ashleigh Moolman Pasio.

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This is what the South African’s early season has been geared towards but to say she has just been finding form at the other races would be an insult! Her lowest finishing position out of her 8 race days so far is 8th, not bad. A great climber who also can produce a very strong sprint, a lot of her contenders will be worried about bringing her to the line. Her team isn’t the best and a lot of the workload will lie with Ludwig in the closing stages but given the form Moolman is in then she can’t be discounted no matter what.

Some others to look out for include Stultiens (Waowdeals), Gillow (FDJ), Ensing (Ale), Van Dijk (Sunweb) and Riabchenko (Doltcini).

Prediction

I think we’ll see a tactical race and having numbers in the front groups on the road will be very important. However, I think we’ll see a small group of 4 or 5 escape with Van Vleuten winning a sprint to the line after her team-mate Kennedy does a lot of the pulling at the head of the race in the closing kilometres.

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Coverage

The final 45 minutes of the race will be streamed on Eurosport Player and via various different broadcasters throughout the world so have a check of your local listings to find more.

Before the live stream starts though you can follow the race via the hashtag #AGRWomen or #AGR18 or just #AGR… I’m not a fan of organisers that can’t decide on one hashtag for their events!

Thanks for reading as always. Who do you think is going to win? Will it be one of the usual suspects or could we see a surprise? Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

 

Amstel Gold Race 2018 Preview

A week of racing in the Ardennes kicks off with a race that is not in the Ardennes and sponsored by some average Dutch beer; it can only mean it is Amstel Gold time!

Last season the organisers decided to switch things up and move away from the traditional Cauberg finish in a hope to liven up the racing. Their plan worked rather well and with what was the year of the long attack, we saw the winning move get away with 35km to go. A group of 7 riders with the majority of stronger teams represented worked well enough to ensure it would be they who were fighting out for the title. On the last climb of the day Kwiatkowski and Gilbert attacked, managing to shake off their break compatriots, before they worked well together until the final sprint to the line. The Belgian champion was too strong but the result was fairly easy in the end as the Sky rider seemed to open up his sprint too early.

16-04-2017 Amstel Gold Race; 2017, Quick - Step Floors; 2017, Team Sky; Gilbert, Philippe; Kwiatkowski, Michal; Valkenburg;

I guess you can take the Cauberg out as the final climb but that doesn’t stop Gilbert from winning Amstel!

Behind, Albasini took home third place with a comfortable sprint win ahead of the remnants of the breakaway.

Will we see a similarly attacking race this year? Let’s have a look at what is in store for the riders.

The Route

An almost identical route to last year but the organisers have made one slight change to hopefully keep the excitement right until the end of the day.

amstel-gold-race-2018
@LasterketaBurua

As was the case last season, the opening 200km will act mainly to sap the strength of the riders legs before the racing really begins in the last 60kms. The most critical part of the day will be the 4 climbs the riders tackle in quick succession; Kruisberg, Eyserbosweg, Fromberg and Keutenberg.

The Kruisberg is a reasonably long climb for the area at a total distance of 1.8km with an average of 4.8%. Not overly steep, it should be tackled at a pretty fast pace but it does beg for the puncheurs in the race to attack. Almost immediately after cresting the Kruisberg the riders descend and being climbing the Eyserbosweg.

eyserbosweg

The climb (900m at 9.3%) has a sting in the tail with its steepest gradients coming in the final few hundred metres. The perfect place for a strong rider to attack and get a gap.

A slightly longer descent follows before the Fromberg (1.6km at 3.6%), then rinse and repeat with another section of downhill which precedes the climb of the Keutenberg.

keutenberg

1.2km at at 5.9% doesn’t tell the whole story as you can see on the profile, the opening 400m averages over 12.5%. Ouch!

Given that all these climbs are traversed over a roughly 10km stretch, it should theoretically see the race explode like it did last year. It will then be a case of: Who’s ahead and who’s left to chase?

The race isn’t over though as the riders will still have to face the famous Cauberg (800m at 6.5%) and the Geulhemmerberg (1.2km at 4.6%) before the final climb of the day: the Bemelerberg.

bemelerberg

A fairly easy ascent if taken on its own, after 250km of racing the 900m climb at 4.5% might just see a rider sneak clear if they launch a strong enough attack.

Unlike last year, the organisers have changed the run-in from the Bemelerberg to the finish line, opting for narrower roads in the hope to disrupt a chase and entice attacking racing.

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As you can see, it descends before kicking back up at almost exactly the same gradient until the Flamme Rouge. That final uncategorised rise averages 1.7% for almost 1.5kms. Nothing too crazy, but it could be the place for a last-ditch attack from some.

How will the race pan out?

Amstel used to be a bit of a dull race with most teams and riders waiting for the sprint up the Cauberg and one kilometre flat run in to the line. However, things changed last year with the altered route and we had an attacking race that was delicately poised for a while before it eventually tipped in favour of those up ahead. Will we see something similar this year?

It is hard to draw on any course form given we’ve only had the one edition of this new route but I think we will see an attacking race again and that is because the current world champion, Peter Sagan, is here.

We’ve seen countless times that on terrain similar to this he should be able to make the finish with the main group. His win in Roubaix was incredible so it is fair to say that he is in pretty good form. If the peloton arrives as a reduced bunch at the finish, no one beats him. Well, maybe only one or two have a chance but after a tough day out, not even Valverde can beat Sagan in a sprint. The other teams and riders will know this, so therefore to increase their chances they have to go on the attack early and hope to get into a breakaway that sticks. Unless of course Sagan makes the move himself, then it should be fun!

So with that said, I think it will be someone from a break that goes with roughly 35km left who wins the race. As to who, there are numerous names and potential contenders but I could be here all day going through permutations and nobody’s got time for that.

Therefore, here’s a short list of four to keep an eye on throughout the afternoon.

The not so famous four

Rui Costa.

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After an exceptional start to 2017, the Portuguese rider has not managed to live up to the same heights so far this year with only a few top 10s to his name so far. He was hampered by illness in Paris Nice but bounced back with a fairly solid showing in Itzulia where he finished 12th on GC. Not spectacular but not bad. The Ardennes Classics are his playground normally though as he heads into this week with confidence and good morale. I don’t think we’ll see him wait around until the finish and he’ll go on the attack at some point, UAE will ride an attacking race in general, it just depends if he makes the right move or not. If it comes down to a small group sprint of 8 or so riders then Costa will fancy his chances.

Jay McCarthy.

Another who will like the hand he has been dealt with if he makes it into a small group sprinting for the line. McCarthy is the perfect tactical ploy to send up the road so that Sagan gets a “free” ride behind. I expect Bora to go on the offensive so that they don’t get shouldered with the work back in the peloton. I’m a big fan of McCarthy’s and it is good to see him develop each year. This season he took a big win at Cadel’s Race before taking a commanding sprint victory in the recent Itzulia. My concern is if he can match the best on the climbs, but given their fairly short and punchy nature then he should be able to.

Søren Kragh Andersen.

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The young Dane has had a pretty disappointing season so far results wise but like a few others, it has been plagued by illness and injury. However, he seems to be on the mend and he arrives at this race as second in command to Matthews, with Sunweb stating that they have a few cards to play throughout the race with Andersen being one of them. A very punchy rider who should be able to cope on these short climbs it will be interesting to see how he approaches the day and if like McCarthy, he gets the nod to go on the attack while Matthews waits behind. A very talented rider, he is not one to underestimate.

Alexis Vuillermoz.

Ag2R bring an attacking squad with them to this race as the parcours doesn’t suit anyone on their team 100%. Expect to see Vuillermoz, Naesen, Dillier and Bakelants be attentive at the front and aggressive throughout the day. On paper the route looks best for Vuillermoz as he should be able to cope with the climbs the best. In Itzulia he made a few forays into the break but nothing too exciting to note, however, he will be peaking for this week (like a lot of people) so should not be discounted. I hope we get to see his trademark goldfish breathing style at the head of the race!

Prediction

An escape to stay away like last year and I’ll go with Jay McCarthy to get the win.

 

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I’ve seen enough of a progression from the young Aussie to have him as a strong contender for this race, he just needs team tactics to go his way!

Betting

1pt EW McCarthy @ 66/1 (Would take 40/1)

1pt EW Costa @ 66/1 (Would take 40/1)

0.5pt EW Vuillermoz @ 150/1 (Would take 100/1)

0.5pt EW Kragh Andersen @ 200/1 (Would take 150/1)

All with Bet365.

Thanks as always for reading! Who do you think is going to win on Sunday? Will we see an aggressive race again or will it all come down to a sprint? Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.