Liege-Bastogne-Liege

Liege-Bastogne-Liege

Well, it’s been a busy week with a lot of racing. We’ve not only been treated to Amstel and Fleche but also Tour of Croatia and Giro del Trentino. However, it’s now time for the main event; Liege – Bastogne – Liege.

The only Ardennes to be classed as a Monument, this is by far the most demanding of the races and the most prestigious to win. “La Doyenne” (The Old Lady) started way back in 1892 and several of cycling’s biggest names have won this race such as Merckx, Argentin and Hinault.

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Hinault on his way to a win in the 1980 edition of the race. Could we see similar weather this year?!

More importantly, from a fans perspective, it is in my opinion easily the greatest spectacle of the three races. Unlike Amstel and particularly Fleche, this race doesn’t always come down to a sprint up the last climb and there are a lot of attacks throughout the day which could feasibly be the winning move.

On that note, let’s look at the route for this year’s edition and where these attacks might be made.

Route

At 253km the race is slightly longer than Amstel (248km) and significantly longer than the mid-week Fleche Wallonne (196km). It starts of rather innocuously on the way to Bastogne with rolling, “flat” terrain for the first 100-odd kms. However, these kilometres are just a warm-up before the turn for home and the more action-packed second half of the race. It’s once the race reaches the 90-ish km to go point that the categorised climbs start to become more regular.

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The first five of these will wear down the legs of the riders and we might see some favourites who are having an off-day start to struggle on La Redoute with just under 40km to go. At this point the break won’t be too far ahead (if at all) and I expect to see some satellite attacks by strong second/third tiered riders to make the pace even higher or, so that they’re out the front once it gets even more difficult over the Côte de La Roche-aux-Faucons. I expect someone like Steve Cummings to have made his move by the time we reach that climb.

Roche-aux-Faucons is a tough little climb, 1.5km in length with an average gradient of 9.9% or 1.3km at 11%, depending who you listen to and what you go off. This will get rid of any strugglers in the peloton and only the strongest will be left near the front once the climb is crested. There’s even about a kilometre of un-categorised climbing after a short descent, this really puts the hurt on! From that point, there is a fast run in to the bottom of the penultimate categorised climb: Côte de Saint-Nicolas. Another tough ramp, 1.2km at 8.6%. Some strong attackers could make a move here.

This used to be the final climb, however, for 2016 the organisers have decided to change the route slightly removing a climb (Côte de Stockeau) that was about 75km from home, adding in the Côte de la Rue Naniot which crests with just under 3km left. This will surely add to the excitement in the finale, creating a launchpad for those left in the front (if there is a group) who don’t fancy themselves in a sprint up to the finish line. The riders who’ve ridden this climb today seem to think it will have a big role to play in the race…

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Google Streetview screenshot of Côte de la Rue Naniot. Will a decisive move be made here?!

Once over the top of Rue Naniot, there is a short descent and flat before the final kick up to the finish line. Which although not categorised, is actually fairly steep for around 1km and gaps can occur here. Dan Martin made a race-winning move here during the 2013 edition, dropping Joaquim Rodriguez with around 400m to go. Whereas in last years edition, Valverde marked attacks fantastically and was once again the best on this finish. Same again this year?PROFILKMS

Weather Watch

There’s been a lot of talk of some snowfall on Sunday, however, at this moment in time that doesn’t seem to be the case. The riders will be glad to know it’s just forecast for rain and a high of 7˚C…ha!

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For us, that should make the race even more of a spectacle! It will be harder for teams to control the attacks and we’ll see the cold-weather specialists come to the fore. Having numbers in the finish will be important, it will be a real race of attrition.

Favourites

The bookies have the first 3 from Fleche occupying the top 3 in the market (in a slightly different order), with Valverde a strong favourite ahead of Dan Martin and Alaphilippe.

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I can understand why these three are the market favourites. Valverde has been Mr Consistent as usual this season and is always in form. Both Martin and Alaphilippe performed well mid-week, with the former a previous winner and the latter going well last year it seems obvious. And in a sense, the bookies are right. However, with the potential bad weather, i couldn’t advise anyway to back them with any real confidence, so it’s a no from me. Admittedly, I wouldn’t be surprised to see any of them there at the finish, sprinting to victory and making me look like a mug but from a betting stance, they’re not value unless you want to risk a lot.

I wouldn’t touch Gerrans or Kwiatkowski with a barge-pole either. Two riders who I have backed this season and had successes with so far but again I can’t back them here. Gerrans was good at the start of the season, but hasn’t been convincing since. Kwiatkowski has been in similar form and was dropped early at Amstel and I’ve not seen anything to suggest he’ll recover for this. Even though it is the race that suits him best.

Moving on from this, let’s talk about what the first “L” in LBL stands for…

L – Long range attacks

There has been one rider so far in these Ardennes races that has consistently been attempting to squirrel off the front in the final 20km. That man is Tim Wellens. With the weather on Sunday looking to be poor, the Belgian will look to capitalise on conditions that suit him very well. Just look at his back-to-back GC wins at the Eneco Tour for proof of that! This race suits him better than the previous two and if there are a lack of numbers/teams willing to chase then I don’t think they’ll see him until the finish line. I have him at 36/1 but I’d suggest that the 28/1 with Coral, paying 4 places, is definitely value.

B – Barguil

Warren Barguil has seemed to fly under the radar coming into this race. After recovering from the horrific crash that decimated the Giant Alpecin team at the start of the year, he has slowly produced good results and his form is building. 3rd on a stage at Pais Vasco, 15th at Amstel and 9th at Fleche. He’s done well in long classics before, such as his 9th place at San Sebastian in 2015. I personally think he’s climbing better than ever and will definitely be around the top 10 on Sunday, and with right move and a tactical race he could go on and win. Furthermore, he’s got a good kick so if the group is small (around 5) he could even win from a sprint

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B could also stand for Bardet, who has been climbing well and looking lively at Giro del Trentino. He’s currently available around 33-40/1. I had money on him last year but haven’t backed him this time round. Will I come to regret it?! Hopefully not!

L – Long shots

It’s not just Wellens who won’t want to wait around until the final climbs. I’ve just finished watching the final stage of Trentino and one rider who has impressed me an awful lot is the Dane, Jakob Fuglsang. He was 9th in this race last year after attacking earlier and ending up in the front group at the finish. At Trentino he seemed effortless over the climbs and he certainly is one that doesn’t mind the bad weather/a tough race either. His second on stage 5 of the 2014 TdF exemplifies that. He could be a rider like Wellens who could get away around 20km to go over Côte de La Roche-aux-Faucons for example. With the way he is riding I think few will be able to cope with him. Originally I thought Nibali would be Astana’s trump card here, but he seems to be taking things easily at Trentino. Now that could be bluffing for this race or he might be going for a more gradual build up to the Giro. With the potential bad weather here I don’t think he’ll want to take many risks.

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Therefore, I think Fuglsang will get the role of leader for this race, with LL Sanchez and Diego Rosa as his supporting riders. As i said earlier, having numbers in the end will be key. Astana could have even more left at the end if Nibali turns up and isn’t out for a training ride. A dangerous team, the Shark copes well in the rain! However, Fuglsang is still available at a MASSIVE 80/1 in some places, with Coral even offering 4 places…

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Away from those mentioned above, I haven’t backed any one else for this race. It’s hard to find value at the top of the market unless you bet big and I can’t personally advise that to you.

I think the race will buck the recent trend and be won by a solo rider. It may not be much from a group behind, lets say 5 seconds or so. On that note, this market offered by PP could provide a good bet Screen Shot 2016-04-22 at 16.27.54

The winner may well be a rider that I’ve not even mentioned so far but I’d be here for a while if I wanted to list all the possible outcomes. The likes of Sammy Sanchez and Rui Costa both go well in these races and in bad weather so are ones to watch out for.

Therefore, the three riders I’ve said above (Wellens, Barguil and Fuglsang) are definitely worth a little investment, you should get your money’s worth from them!

It’d be boring if I don’t suggest an overall winner and sat on the fence. So in that case, our 2016 Liege-Bastogne-Liege champion will be the Belgian, Tim Wellens. He’ll get the timing of his attack right for once and take the victory as everyone looks on from behind!

Cycling : 11th Eneco Tour 2015 / Stage 6

*Although from a personal point, Fuglsang returns the most for me, I’d like to see Wellens finally get the big win he deserves.*

With the rain and cold weather forecast, it will only excite the race even more than previous years. The introduction of the new climb close to the finish creates a new dynamic, and I think this will be one of the best, most attacking editions of LBL in recent years! Unlike the riders, I’ll be sat dry and cosy on my couch watching on, hoping to witness a classic.

Hope you all enjoy the race wherever you’re watching it from! Anyway…

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

Amstel Gold Race

Amstel Gold Race

Now that the cobbles of Flanders and Roubaix are over, we’re treated to the first of the three Ardennes Classics. Oddly, Amstel Gold doesn’t take part in the Ardennes at all, but in the Dutch region of Limburg. With similar hilly, rolling terrain, it deserves its place along with Fleche and Liege.

Roubaix Recap

Firstly, before I go onto Amstel in more depth, I’d like to a raise a few points about Roubaix.

What. A. Race.

Unfortunately I had to try to watch the race while on a couple of train journeys, switching between watching on SkyGo and following on Twitter (as I’d stupidly forgotten to charge my phone before I left). However, I made it make to the flat just in time to get the action end of the race. To me the race seemed to be marred and shaped by crashes.

  • Big crash #1 causes the split in the peloton with around 100-odd Km to go. Sagan and Cancellara caught behind. Etixx, Sky and Jumbo with numbers ahead of the split push on.
  • Small crashes #2 and #3 wipe out Team Sky’s presence in the front group. Taking down one of my ante-post bets in the shape of Luke Rowe. He digs deep to get back but that was the race over for him then, devoting himself to work for Stannard.
  • Then the Cancellara crash occurs not long after, taking out Sagan’s only ally from the race which effectively put an end to his bid for glory then.

So after all that I was left with my least fancied rider (EBH) up front. Vanmarcke put in two strong attacks over the last sections of cobbles but was brought back. Everyone left in the front group attacked at some point, but were all brought to heel. And the most unlikely of winners Matty Hayman sprinted to victory in the Velodrome, denying Boonen the record-breaking win. EBH finished 5th, but in a situation where you only get money back for coming top 3, he may as well have come last.

Hopefully you listened to me and kept your money in your pocket!

I personally believe that if he hadn’t gone down, then Rowe would have won that race. There might be a hint of bias because of me backing him at 125/1, but he looked very strong up to that point, effortlessly moving up the pack before each cobbled section. I guess the same could be said for Sagan and Cancellara being held up very early on and having to play catch up for a large portion of the race. But hey, that’s cycling! Anyway, onto Amstel…

Route

The race route remains largely unchanged from previous years, since the addition of the extra 1.8km after the final ascent of the Cauberg was added in 2013, using an almost identical route to 2015’s edition. Credit to the guys at CyclingStage for the route profile.

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As you can see the race is up and down all day, with very little flat roads for the riders to get some respite. This will wear the riders down, slowly sapping the legs. The main climb is the Cauberg which is crested 4 times throughout and is the focal point of the race. Either being used as an early launchpad for an attack before the final lap (Kreuziger pulled off a winning move here in 2013) or a small bunch arriving at the bottom and going full gas up the final ascent.

The extra 1km or so on the end of the climb makes the race tactically different compared to the editions before 2013. It used to just be a slog all the way to the top, but now if a couple of guys get over together, then an unwillingness to work together can bring those who lost a few metres up the climb back into contention. This is exactly what happened at last years edition with Gilbert and Matthews cresting together, only for Valverde to tag along and do his usual sandbagging routine. Allowing a large group to reform and sprint to the line. However, it is possible for one rider to solo off the front at the top of the climb and make it all the way to the finish. Gilbert managed this not only in the 2014 edition, but also at the World Championships in 2012 which was held on a very similar course.

Philip Gilbert

In terms of a spectacle, I have to be honest and say this race isn’t usually the best. More often than not it comes down to the final kick up the Cauberg. So if you’re busy in the afternoon, I wouldn’t fret as long as you can make it back for about 25km to go. De Brabantse Pijl which happened on Wednesday and is viewed as a warm up for this race, is and was much more exciting. Hopefully, I’m forced to eat my words come Sunday and someone tries to light it up from far out, but I wouldn’t hold your breath on that one.

One thing that could make it more entertaining is the possibility of rain on Sunday. Going off AccuWeather, the current forecast gives it around a 50% chance of rain. Although I’ve seen other places who say there’s a less of a chance.

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The rain could potentially make some of the descents more treacherous, so some gaps could form there. Plus, some riders are more adaptable to poor weather so they could gain an advantage in that sense, normally the Belgians and Dutch revel in it.

Race Favourites

Anyway, onto the favourites to clinch the title.

If you’ve been paying any attention to what I’ve written above then there is one name that keeps re-appearing: Gilbert, he is Mr Cauberg so to say. The climb is tailor-made for his explosive nature and not many in the world can match him up it when he’s on a good day. Previously, he’d go into this race as outright favourite. But with the emergence of cycling sensation Michael Matthews and an altercation with a drunken motorist, resulting in a broken finger, he comes in as joint 3rd favourite (along with Matthews team-“mate” Simon Gerrans). He promises that he’s in good shape and that he’s recovered fully from the altercation. I would not be surprised if he goes onto win but that niggle of a broken finger puts me off him slightly. However, he has shown good form recently, finishing 3rd in Volta Limburg at the start of the month and his results have been solid (not outstanding) from the rest of the early season. I am very close to backing him, but will need another day or so to come to that decision, I just can’t make up my mind. It’ll most likely be a no, but out of the top 4 favourites he is the one I’d go for. The 10/1 available at Ladbrokes is very tempting!

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Orica come in with a two-pronged attack in the shape of Matthews and Gerrans. It’s safe to say these guys aren’t the best of friends. Gerrans was meant to lead Matthews out at the World’s but didn’t and they’ve been a bit frosty since then. Matthews even tweeted, congratulating Luis Leon Sanchez on his win at the first stage of Pais Vasco. A stage in which Gerrans won the bunch kick behind the escapees. I’m very interested to see the race team dynamic on Sunday with them being co-leaders. Matthews on paper should win this race, but races aren’t won on paper and I don’t think he’ll win it this year. There are too many things that could go against him. No one will want to bring him to the finish line for a sprint, so he’ll need to drop everyone. Yes, he looked strong in Brabantse having to close down attacks himself and will benefit from the race being kept together by others. I would love for him to win as I have him in my fantasy team but I’m not having it. Personally, I think Gerrans is over the hill (terrible pun intended) in these types of races and I wouldn’t be backing him at the 7/1 that’s available out there either.

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The bookies have Kwiatkowski instilled as second favourite. But again, I wouldn’t be backing him at that price. He hasn’t raced since his implosion at Flanders so it’s very hard to gauge how he’s going. Yes, he won last year, but he had a different route into Amstel. Taking part in Pais Vasco and performing well there. I think his big aim for the Ardennes Classics will come the following Sunday at Liege-Bastogne-Liege, not here. Therefore,

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Below the top 4 the market and race is quite open, with several riders being priced between 20/1 up to around 66/1.

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Cases can be made for several of these riders. Vakoc won Brabantse on Wednesday and is clearly in form. In that race, both Wellens and Alaphillippe were strong and attacking, especially the latter. Gasparotto managed to take second place as well, so he has a good chance. Gallopin was an unconvincing third, but having a blow-out on Wednesday could dust off the cobwebs and he too could be in contention come Sunday. Coquard won the bunch gallop for 4th, but I think this race will be too much for him.

Those not competing on Wednesday must not be ruled out too! One of the riders that I think has a very good chance for this race is Rui Costa. He was climbing as well as I’d ever seen him during Pais Vasco, finishing 7th on GC and 6th on the final mountain TT (even with a mechanical), a discipline he’s not normally that good at. He was 4th in this race last year, and I’m convinced he can get himself onto the podium this year and has a good chance of winning. If it does rain too, he is a rider that can cope very well. His World Championship win in 2013 proves that. I have money on him at 40/1, but reinvested at the 22/1 available at SkyBet that can be seen above. That 22/1 is now gone, sorry!

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Henao put in a dominant display at Pais Vasco but I think the Cauberg is too easy for him and his main focus will be Fleche where he should go in as one of the top 5 favourites. Instead, a left-field pick from Sky would be Ben Swift. Some of you will laugh at that, but I think he has the attributes. His climbing has improved massively this year but he will need there to be some regrouping as I don’t think he’ll make it up in the front 5-10 riders at the crest of the Cauberg. The only thing that puts me off him is that he’s not a winner. He always seems to come top 3 but nothing better.

A rider of similar ilk to Matthews and Swift is Movistar’s JJ Lobato. I managed to snap him up at 300/1 when the prices initially came out at Bet365, but he’s now into 80/1 with them after a win at the Circuit Cycliste Sarthe just over a week ago. I’m not too sure if I’d back him at that price, but without Valverde, I expect him to be co-leader along with Dani Moreno or possibly Gorka Izagirre/Visconti. He’s one to watch, but not put money on.

A few fun names I’d like to throw around at long odds are as follows:

  • Maurits Lammertink at 250/1 with Bet365. The 25 year-old who rides for Roompot has put in a few solid performances recently. Finishing 7th at Brabantse on Wednesday and a couple of top 10s at Sarthe the week before. Furthermore, he finished 21st in this race last year (finishing in the second group along with riders such as Wellens and Felline, who are much shorter price wise for this edition). A year older and stronger, I think he has a reasonable chance (although small compared to the favourites) Whether that be by going long, or if people just watch him if there’s a regrouping and he attacks, because he won’t be rated as highly/marked.

 

  • Sep Vanmarcke at 250/1 with Various bookmakers. Very unfortunate not to have won a semi-classic or classic this year so far and has had a lighter race schedule. He’s not too bad (very underrated IMO) on the short steep climbs (see Flanders or his performance at Strade in 2014) and has been very strong in every race he’s entered. He’s unlikely to win, hence he’s that price, but you never know. One thing that’s certain, is I’m sure we’ll get an attack from him at some point.

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  • Arthur Vichot at 300/1 with B365 or Coral. The Frenchman was flying at the start of the season but has gone off the boil a bit recently. However, he got some good miles in at Pais Vasco and he’ll be FDJ’s leader here. Another rider who won’t be as heavily marked but can climb well and has a solid sprint on him.

 

Overall though, I’m going to stick my neck out (didn’t go well for PR but oh well) and say that Rui Costa will win this race. He has all the attributes to deliver a big result and has a  proven track record in the past with performances such as his 4th last year. As I said above, he’s climbing better than ever before and has a good sprint after a tough day. Plus, if it rains I think that plays into his hands even more, he loves the bad weather! Hopefully we’ll get a scene like this one come Sunday.

Rui Costa (Por) beats J Rodriguez (Esp)

Costa is my main bet, and he should be yours too 😉 In the interest of fairness and honesty, I’ve covered my back and put a couple of quid on the 3 riders I mentioned above. Would hate for them to go and do well and I’ve talked them up here! Nothing wild though and I’d recommend the same for you.

Thanks once again for everyone who’s gotten this far, hope you enjoy the race on Sunday and enjoy a few bottles of Amstel along with it! Any feedback, positive or negative is once again very much appreciated. Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

 

 

 

Road to Roubaix

Road to Roubaix

The second album is always the hardest…

Well last Sunday was exciting! I don’t know about you but I enjoyed a double-dose of cycling with the men’s race on the telly and the women’s race on the laptop. The preview went almost perfectly as well, with Sagan coming across the line victorious (at 4/1) and outsider Luke Rowe putting in a very credible performance finishing in 5th place.

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Will touch more upon that race later on…

Firstly though, I’d like to highlight the women’s race (it deserves the attention)!

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Boels, Boels, Boels

Women’s cycling seems to be a fairly simple sport. 180-odd athletes set out in the morning, race around for a few hours and in the end, a Boels-Dolmans rider wins.

This was the case again last Sunday, with reigning World Champ Lizzie Armitstead taking home the victory ahead of Wiggle High-5 rider Emma Johansson in 2nd and fellow Boels rider Chantal Blaak rounding off the podium. That result has continued the clean sweep of the Women’s World Tour events for the team and a third for Lizzie herself. To add insult to injury, the team even managed to get 4th and 6th place too, meaning they had 4 of the first 6 riders home!

Women's Ronde van Vlaanderen 2016

 

Thanks to those at Sporza and the race organisers, a large portion of the race was able to be live-streamed. Unfortunately, the commentary team had issues so there was no English feed. Wouldn’t be a Flanders classic without listening in Belgian/Flemish anyway!

A group of about 25-30 riders made it to the penultimate climb (the Oude Kwaremont) together. However, Johansson set a ferocious pace up it decimating the group to around 15 strong at the crest. It was once the group had made it onto the wide highway between the Kwaremont and the Paterberg that Armitstead and Johansson made their move with an incredibly strong attack off the front of a rolling group. They continued the charge on the final cobbled climb and had roughly 14 seconds at the top. Over the last 12km the gap would ebb and flow but the two had enough to play some games in the final Km, with Johansson forcing Armitstead to lead out. However, Lizzie was more than up to the task and reproduced a Kristoff-esque sprint to take the win from the front. There’s definitely no Rainbow Jersey curse on her shoulders, 4 wins in 6 race days, amazing stuff!

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It was great that the broadcasters cut to live images of the women’s race during the coverage of the men’s race. A big step forward in the promotion of the sport. However, if they were able to do that then why not put a little more money into the live-stream so the picture quality and transmission is better, creating a more rounded viewing package. As the stream kept cutting out during the race.

Nonetheless, I personally love watching the female races, they are incredibly open and competitive (although it may not seem it because of Boels’ recent domination). This could be due to the smaller team sizes, so a larger share of the workload per team member, which leads to more attacking and exciting racing. I’m most definitely looking forward to watching more races in the future, hopefully we’ll get to see some of them live on Eurosport etc soon!

Oh my god, double rainbow! 

If anyone does not get that reference then watch this video!

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Like the preview, I could go into great depth about the nuances of the race and small things that i noticed, exactly where attacks went etc, but that would be too long (probably another thousand words) and i don’t want to bore you! I would recommend watching Cosmo Catalano’s How The Race Was Won as he does an excellent job at doing exactly that in a concise and informative way.

Instead, I’m going to focus on the race in terms of the Preview; what went as predicted and what didn’t go to plan.

With cycling races being relatively hard to predict, I’d say this one went about 90% the way I thought it would, not bad for a first preview!

Anyway, Sky played a very important part in the race with the 4 strong riders (Kwiatkowski, Thomas, Stannard and Rowe) left in the front group with 40km to go. First to go away was Stannard with a softener of an attack, testing the waters of the group behind. They weren’t very keen to let him get far up the road and he was brought back with about 33km to go. Almost straight away Kwiatkowski went off the front, with Sagan glued to his wheel. Devolder put in a huge turn to try to pull it back but couldn’t, even offering Cancellara a hand-sling to get across. Was interesting to see he didn’t go (maybe he was on the limit at that point) but Vanmarcke put in a strong attack to bridge. He’s a definite danger-man for Roubaix come Sunday, as long as he has a bad-luck-free race for once! The gap grew over the next 10 or so kilometres until Kwiatkowski’s implosion up the final ascent of the Kwaremont. I did not expect that anyway! After that Sky’s role in the race was over, apart from a fine finish from Rowe who managed to come from the back of the chasing group to catch on over the Paterberg and then sprint for 5th, with Thomas finishing on the same time in 12th.

Sagan’s race wasn’t, over it was only just beginning…

As Cancellara and Terpstra attempted to catch the lead duo on the Paterberg, Sagan put in an incredible seated attack, dropping Vanmarcke almost instantly.

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From here, he put on a masterclass and a show of brute strength, managing to hold of the chasing Cancellara and the floundering Vanmarcke. TTing his way for a magnificent solo victory. I did say in the preview that I couldn’t see anyone beating him, but I didn’t expect him to win in such a convincing manner. He’ll be tough to beat come Sunday! His time gap even increased towards the end of the race (although the race timing was a bit off, suggesting the gap was actually decreasing or holding steady until around the 4.5km to go). I never trust the official time-keeping so I like to go old-school methods…

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One thing that impressed me was that the only time he looked back was when he was in the final 500m. He didn’t seem to care where the others were or how they were getting on, he had full faith in his own ability! And not to be forgotten as a showman, in true Sagan style he popped a wheelie after the finishing line. Panache.

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Will be very interesting to see how he goes on Sunday, I would not put him past another victory.

 

Hell of the North

Nope, not a Game of Thrones reference, but the nickname of Paris-Roubaix! You won’t see any Jon Snow here, but as I’m writing this (early Thursday) there is a possibility of rain on Friday and Saturday which will make this race an incredible spectacle.

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The last time I can remember being rain on the cobbles was during the 5th Tour stage in 2014, where Lars Boom was victorious. I don’t expect there to be that much rain this weekend but the race itself will be a lot harder than that Tour stage, with the usual 27 sections of pavé. Although saying that, one of the sections is covered in mud and may not be used , which would be a real shame.

We’ll get the majority of the same cast towards the end of Roubaix as we did with Flanders, although the lack of climbs does open it up to more riders.

Sagan, Vanmarcke, Cancellara, Rowe, Kristoff, Boom, Stybar, Terpstra and co, all riders I can see feasibly winning this race.

If we do get bad weather then this would in theory favour the ex-cyclocross riders such as Boom and Stybar. However, all the guys listed above are incredibly good bike handlers so should be able to cope with the conditions.

FShincapie

Boom for example, was incredibly unlucky in Flanders, having several mechanicals during the race and having to chase back on. He’s definitely in good form and this race is suited to him even more than Flanders was. He’s a danger-man and not one that the rest of the favourites should let get a gap.

Again, like Flanders, it is a race where there is a possibility that a “lesser” rider gets away. For example, someone like a Vandenbergh or an Oss. However, like last Sunday, I think the strongest man on the day will win this race because it will be full gas from Km 0 and only the best will be able to make/or go with the moves in the closing stages of the race.

I have seen nothing to suggest that Sagan can’t win this race as well, he’d fancy his chances in a small bunch sprint, or to ride away from everyone again. He really is on superb form. Cancellara will hope to be able to go with him this time, and the lack of climbs (and better luck this race) should see Vanmarcke and Boom being able to follow. Kristoff flew under the radar a bit with a 4th place last weekend and he’ll definitely have some fun if it rains and try to get in amongst the podium spots. Special mention to Luke Rowe as well who will be hoping to improve on Sky’s best ever finishing position in a Monument after last weekend.

Nonetheless, I’m going to put my neck on the line and say that a rainbow will once again emerge from the rain and Sagan will win this race. Being the first (I think?!) in the World Champions jersey to win the Flanders-Roubaix double and land myself my very own pot of gold.

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Betting

From a punting perspective it’s very hard to find value in the betting markets for this race, even harder than Flanders! Personally, I have the 48/1 Flanders-Roubaix double above. And as much as I really think Sagan has all the capabilities to win this race, I wouldn’t be willing to risk backing him at the price he’s currently at (5/2 or 3/1). One crash or badly timed mechanical and that’s race over. Saying that, if Sagan does go onto win, then that 3/1 looks like a very good price, but I’ll leave that decision down to you! Cancellara will be there as always, but again he’s too short to back convincly (joint favourite with Sagan). If you choose to back either of them it has to be straight outright for the win as EW offers nothing.

I have two more ante post bets placed earlier in the year, one I’m confident in, one not so much. Rowe at 125/1 and EBH at 66/1. The former has a good chance come this weekend, he’s Sky’s best hope in this race (sorry Stannard fans) but all the value is gone I think, 22/1 is very tight. He might be worth a small bet but I’d tread with caution. Whereas, EBH has not shown enough recently to be considered a 28/1 shot that he currently is, I’m not even sure on current form if I’d back him at the 66/1 I got him after his storming start to the season. However, he promises that there is more to come but I’d avoid him this Sunday.

I don’t like to give advice going against what I’ve said previously or who I hope will win. But from the others if I had to choose, Vanmarcke at 9/1 with Coral and Boom 20/1 with Boylesports are the two that I’d strongly consider. They provide some possible EW value. Both looked good in Flanders and have the abilities to win this race, they just need the luck to be on their side for once.

But my overarching advice would be to keep your money in your pocket and enjoy the race! Set the alarms early as Eurosport have coverage of the whole day, starting at 9:15 am. Hopefully, it will live up to expectations and we’ll see Sagan romp home to another Monument win.

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Thanks once again if you made it this far, and apologies for the length of this one, had a lot I wanted to include! I’d appreciate any RTs, shares or feedback in general. I’m hoping to include more of the women’s races in the future (mainly the big ones to start off) because they definitely deserve more coverage and attention! Hope you all enjoy the race on Sunday, wherever you’re watching it from, anyway…

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

 

 

Ronde van Vlaanderen

Ronde van Vlaanderen

Ronde van Vlaanderen, De Ronde or the Tour of Flanders. No matter what you call it, this race is one of the highlights of the early calendar and the first of the cobbled Monuments. It is a race steeped in history, celebrating its 100th year of participation in 2016.

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With a mixture of cobbles and climbs (hellingen) it’s always a lively affair and only the strongest riders win, such as Roger De Vlaeminck (pictured above) who was on his way to win the 1977 edition of the race.

2016 Build-up 

The pre-amble for the cobbled classics starts almost from the first few events of the year with hopefuls such as Alexander Kristoff, Greg Van Avermaet and Edvald Boasson Hagen all taking part in the Tour of Qatar way back at the start of February. However, the first indicator of what may lie ahead at the end of March comes with the double header of racing at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne during the last week of February. From these races early season form can be judged and speculation around who’s in form and who’s not in form starts to circulate around the cycling Twittersphere. Early showings of intent were made by Van Avermaet, Peter Sagan, Tiesj Benoot and Luke Rowe at Omloop, surging clear of the pack on the Taaienberg. The strength of Rowe on this climb surprised me. I’d always had him down as a strong rider (in fact i had a bet on him at 50/1 for Omloop) but in my head he was more of a Roubaix man than a Flanders man, that attack made me think a bit more. Nonetheless, GVA bet Sagan in the up-hill sprint with Benoot 3rd and Rowe coming home in 4th. In consideration for De Ronde, KBK should be taken lightly as the latter is much more of a “sprinters” race. However, special mention must go to the young Jasper Stuyven who soloed away from a group (once again containing Rowe, with others such as cobbled-classic legend Tom Boonen) and the chasing peloton for an incredible win.

After that weekend, the riders go their separate ways, either doing Paris-Nice, Tirreno-Adriatico, some of the smaller one day races or going into training blocks. Glimpses of form once again could be noted from these races, i.e. Sagan and GVA looking strong in TA, plus a particular Swiss rider putting out awfully impressive numbers in that races final ITT…

22.09.2009 - Swiss Cycling:  Fabian Cancellara
Mendrisio: conferenza stampa squadra Nazionale Svizzera gara cronometro Campionati Mondiali Ciclismo su strada Mendrisio 09. Nella foto il campione Fabian Cancellara in conferenza stampa. ©Ti-Press / Francesca Agosta

All goes quiet in terms of cobbled racing until just over a week before De Ronde with a great selection of 3 races taking place over Wednesday-Sunday; Dwars door Vlandereen, E3 Harelbeke and Gent-Wevelgem.

Dwars was won in a sprint by Lotto’s Jens Debusschere after GVA’s late attack was reeled in with about 400m to go. GVA then went onto skip E3 due to illness. Michal Kwiatkowski ended up taking a superb win (I had backed him at 40/1) beating Sagan in a sprint, with fellow Team Sky team-mate Ian Stannard rounding out the podium. Two main talking points that arose from this race that people were keen to discuss are as follows;

  • Etixx-Quickstep’s ability to mess up another race (they had 4 men in the front group of 15 that was up the road) and;
  • Peter Sagan’s apparent tactical ineptitude.

Firstly, in my opinion when Sagan and Kwiatkowski went everyone else was on their limit, they were simply put, the two strongest riders on the day. Yes, Etixx had numbers but it was a 2v2 TT (Terpstra and Stybar were doing the majority of the work) and with the stronger riders up the road the gap stayed in equilibrium. Only when Boonen committed to the chase, along with a bit of help from Daniel Oss did they make any in-roads into the gap but by then it was too late.

Secondly, Sagan was just caught napping by Kwiatkowski. The Pole attacked when Sagan had just looked away from him and by the time he launched a sprint, it was too late. This on the outside seems very amateurish from Sagan, but Kwiatkowski was producing some big numbers

However, I made my opinions very clear at the time on Twitter that i thought there was something more to it than Kwiatkowski just being the better man.

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This wacky and pretty bold theory gained some traction after Sagan then went on to win Gent-Wevelgem on the Sunday: out-sprinting Cancellara, Sep Vanmarcke and Viacheslav Kuznetsov (?!) from a 4-man break. It was once again the manner of the attacks from that group that should worry the rest of the peloton come this Sunday. Cancellara, Sagan and Vanmarcke seemed to glide up the incline, with GVA and Rowe not too far behind. Sagan looked particularly effortless in my opinion.

Gent - Wevelgem 2016
Wevelgem- Belgium – wielrennen – cycling – radsport – cyclisme – Peter Sagan Peter (Slowakia / Team Tinkoff – Tinkov) – Sep Vanmarcke (Belgium / Team LottoNL – Jumbo) – Kuznetsov Viacheslav (Russia / Team Katusha) – Fabian Cancellara (Suisse / Trek Factory Racing) pictured during Gent – Wevelgem 2016 World Tour Elite – photo Davy Rietbergen/Cor Vos © 2016

The Race Itself

Now that the build-up is over its onto the main event. I could bore you with an endless route preview and go through all of the favourites, however, I think there are others out there much better at that than myself. So go check out the guys at CyclingHub who have a very in-depth video run through of the starters and their favourites for the race. Or if something written is more your style (I kind of hope so if you’re reading this 😉 ) then go check out the super detailed preview from CyclingQuotes.

One reason why I find this sport so fascinating to watch is trying to predict the un-predictable. If everything goes according to form and plan on Sunday, I’d suggest a top 3 of 1-Sagan, 2-Kwiatkowski and 3-Cancellara. However, bike racing never exactly goes to plan. Some looking around and stalling by the a-list favourites could allow for one of the smaller riders to get away and take a memorable win, this opens the gate to a whole host of riders. I’d need about 25 or 30 if I wanted to list every possibility…

Team Sky’s First Monument?!

Team Sky have the strongest squad here in my opinion, they should have at least 4 riders left in the last 50km:Kwiatkowski, Thomas, Stannard and Rowe (if Stannard has recovered from his illness). They even could have Puccio or Moscon up there too. They will be the team to shape this race. They have to be in every move that goes, then once that gets brought back, go again. They have to wear down the likes of Sagan, Cancellara and Vanmarcke who will be devoid of team-mates or have very few at the end. I’d expect their 2 captains should be Kwiatkowski and Thomas (with Rowe and Stannard lieutenants/they’ll be leaders for Roubaix). The first two are specialists on the cobbled climbs and will be very hard to get rid of. Rowe and Stannard should be used as satellite riders and to cover attacks by other teams.

But after all that, I still can’t see them getting rid of all 4 of GVA, Sagan, Cancellara or Vanmarcke. And i can’t shake the idea of Sagan winning a Monument

In his Rainbow Jersey.

Betting

From a betting perspective, I have several ante-post bets that have been placed since the end of last year; Terpstra 20/1, Kwiatkowski 40/1, Thomas 50/1, Edvald Boasson Hagen 80/1 and Rowe 200/1. Plus I have that Sagan Flanders-Roubaix double. Therefore, it’s very unlikely that I’ll place any more bets before the race on Sunday, however, i may back some Head-to-heads but i’ll suggest those on my Twitter.

Looking at the odds as of now (late Friday evening/early Saturday morning), if you were looking to have a bet on the race then it’s hard to find value. However, I would suggest backing Sagan straight up for the win at 4/1 with Bet365 (or EW if you desire, you should get your stake back as he should podium). Or if you want an outside shot then I’d say someone along the lines of Luke Rowe at 50/1. He was strong in Three Days of De Panne earlier in the week but pulled out after he could no longer win GC and in a tactical race he may just deliver Team Sky’s first monument.

 

Congrats if you managed to get this far! Was unsure of how this would go and decided on more of an early season cobbled round-up than a proper race preview. Thanks again for reading and I’d very much appreciate any Retweets or feedback (positive or negative) on Twitter! If you enjoyed i’ll do more in the near future as I’m now practically finished University and have some (a lot of) free time on my hands…anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.