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)!

***NB. The highlighted text can be clicked so that the link opens in a new window***

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.

 

 

 

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