Ronde van Vlaanderen 2017 Preview

Ronde van Vlaanderen 2017 Preview

It’s time for my favourite event of the year and a special race as it marks one year of this blog! To thank you all for your continued support I’ll be doing a competition tied in with my women’s preview (that will be out tomorrow), for a chance to win one of The Handmade Cyclist’s artworks. Well, more specifically their “De Ronde” one, obviously. So yeah, make sure you return tomorrow!

Right, now that those formalities are out of the road, let’s focus on this incredible race.

Last year saw an imperious Peter Sagan just ride away from Sep Vanmarcke on the Paterberg and even with a surging Fabian Cancellara the duo could not catch the Slovak.

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Will Sagan be able to double up this year? Let’s have a look at what’s in store for the riders.

The Route

I’m not going to bore you with a massive route analysis (like I normally would), as I’m sure if you’re anything like me you’ll have read plenty about it already this week!

The route in general is pretty much more of the same that we had last year, apart from they have added the Muur at around 90km to go. Although iconic, it will more than likely be too far out for a race winning move to be made there. Instead, we might see some lesser riders attempt to get up the road before it all kicks off.

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It’s once we pass the Paterberg for the first time at around 70km to go that the race starts to kick into action and theoretically a race winning move could go from this point onwards. However, the second passage of the Paterberg, which swiftly follows the Oude Kwaremont, will desolate the peloton if it’s still together.

From there, we’ll have attacks go up the road; groups working; groups not working; solo moves; teams having wrong riders in the right move, etc etc. It all gets a bit hectic to say the least!

With only 17km to go the riders then tackle the Oude Kwaremont once again.

This is where Sagan dropped everyone from the group in front apart from Vanmarcke, likewise Cancellara dropped those behind as he motored ahead trying to catch up. The open highway that follows the Kwaremont can see a regrouping, before they tackle the final climb of the day; the last ascent of the Paterberg.

Sagan blew the wheels off of Vanmarcke here last year.

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Once over the top it’s a 13km TT between the leaders and any chasers, before the traditional finish in Oudenaarde.

Normally the weather will play a part in this race but it looks pretty benign just now so I’m going to completely skip that section!

How will the race pan out? Team tactics.

Flanders is arguably the race in which the winner is more often than not the strongest rider on the day who gets a bit of luck. The reason for this in my opinion is due to the relentless nature of the cobbles and climbs in the closing third of the race, and due to the severe length of the event itself! A strong rider can create a massive gap on the Kwaremont and Paterbeg combination and with only 13km left, it’s hard to get a concerted chance organised.

Last year you could say without doubt that Sagan and Cancellara were the strongest riders in the peloton. Sagan in a sense you could argue got lucky that Cancellara didn’t follow the attacks at 31km left, and it’s hard to say how the race would have panned out if those two arrived at the bottom of the Paterberg together.

A similar situation may occur this year between Van Avermaet and Sagan, who are one step ahead of everyone else in my opinion, and probably yours too!

The only thing that can stop them is the attitude of Quick-Step. The Belgian outfit need to ride as aggressively as they did in Dwars and E3 if they want to have a good chance of success. They need to be in every move that goes up the road, either by following every move or attacking themselves. But more on that later!

Contenders

As I’ve just mentioned above, there are two clear favourites going by the bookmakers and anyone who watches this sport!

Defending champion Peter Sagan has looked his usual exceptional self this year. His attack in Milan San Remo was incredible, as was his stage win in Fermo during the Tirreno Adriatico, but oddly enough there are some people who suggest he’s not going well. He has only won one one-day race this season so far, Kuurne Brussels Kuurne, which is pretty poor from him so they might be right…

Is he suffering from being Sagan? Yeah, I think so, but this is the one race a year where being Sagan doesn’t matter as much. If he’s feeling good, he can simply ride away from everyone on the final double ascent of the Kwaremont/Paterberg like we saw last year. The issue for him will be ensuring that he’s in contention going into that final 15km. Therefore, he’ll need to attack/follow the attacks from where he did last year. Re-watching last week’s Gent Wevelgem, he clawed back almost 8 bike lengths on his main rival Van Avermaet on the Kemmelberg. That’s Flanders winning form!

Talking about Van Avermaet, he was the number one performer of the week just gone by and is Sagan’s main challenger.

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Three one-day World Tour wins already this season, the Olympic champion is flying. He’s beaten Sagan in a sprint (Omloop); won against tough opposition in another sprint (E3); and outsmarted his opponents (Gent Wevelgem). Results wise, he is the rider to beat! He doesn’t seem to pack the same punch up the cobbled climbs as Sagan does, but he benefits tactically from not being Sagan. He seems not to have the same aura amongst the peloton and riders are more inclined to work with him.

However, I think that might change going into this weekend and he’ll struggle with being Van Avermaet. If you’re going to lose to Sagan in a sprint, you’re more than likely going to lose to Van Avermaet in a sprint as well. So why work with him more than the Slovak?

But hey, as you know if you’ve read this blog for a while, DS’ don’t seem to think as outside the box as I do!

Quick-Step have the best chance of beating the two favourites, due to the number of riders in their team that theoretically could have a chance of winning this race, sorry Keisse and Vermote! The rest, all on their day and given the right group could win. Gilbert will be their pre-race favourite and given his scintillating form, he certainly looks the rider best suited to challenge Sagan and GVA.

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He will be able to follow them for the majority of the race and that’s what I would have him do. Let him sit in for most of the race, marking those two out of it. It’s a defensive strategy, using their form rider to mark others, but that’s the teams best chance of winning.

Boonen hasn’t looked in tip-top shape but with only two races left in his career, you would expect him to go well. As much as he would love to win this, I think it might be all about for Roubaix with him. I would save him all-day, hoping he can get close on the Paterberg and that it comes back for a reduced sprint.

Therefore, QS should be attacking from around 70km left with the rest of their riders. Although Lampaert did great in Dwars for the blog, he’s just not strong enough yet on the cobbled climbs to compete here in my opinion. Like Boonen, he is more of a Roubaix kind of guy. I’m not saying he won’t try to get up the road, but he’s not their best option for that.

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So that leaves the triple header of Trentin, Stybar and Terpstra, the three riders who made the front group of around 16 in Gent Wevelgem. Trentin is probably the weakest on this terrain and his past results haven’t been that great. Yet, he’s looked very good this season so far and seems to have taken a step up on the cobbled climbs so he can’t be ruled out, especially if he goes in a move at around 50km to go that stays away until the end. Stybar and Terpstra are their aces in the pack though for long-range moves and I would suggest they both need to be up the road before GVA and Sagan make their attack. If they are, I would be confident enough in Gilbert nullifying them before we get to the last 17km and by then it might be too late to bring back.

The only issue with that is if another big team misses the move and has enough firepower to chase. Who will that team be working for?

Kristoff looks the best of the rest on current form. He’s been unlucky in the first few cobbled classics but his efforts in De Panne were exceptional. In particular, it was his TT that stood out for me. Not a discipline he favours, he lost only 2 seconds to Durbridge who himself is going very well just now. The Norwegian loves this race, having finished 15th/4th/5th/1st/4th in the past 5 years. He will be there or thereabouts at the end of the race!

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Trek have one of the strongest teams here so they will likely aid in a chase if they miss a move. Degenkolb has looked OK so far this season, but it pains me to say, that he is still missing that extra 5% after his crash last year. I can’t see him winning here unless he goes early, but I think he’ll be marked out of it in that situation. Theuns looked tired towards the end of De Panne and Stuyven has been struggling the past week or so with his form. Time for Felline to step up and make that crucial early move!

Naesen (AG2R) has performed exceptionally well over the past 6 months but this could be a tough ask for him, he’s bound to dip in form soon. Surely?!

Lotto have been awful but their saviour Benoot returns this weekend after missing Gent Wevelgem. He almost guarantees a top 10 result but needs to be attacking to get higher up the pecking order, which he might just do.

Sky have been awful the past week and I haven’t seen anything to think they’ll turn that around here. Which is always when they seem to go well!

Boasson Hagen and Thwaites have been going well, albeit quietly, the past few weeks. Like so many others, they’ll need to be up the road before the fireworks kick off behind.

Durbridge will hope to continue his good form but he seems more of a Roubaix man. The same goes for Demare.

I’d love to see Lutsenko get a top 10 placing which I think is a possibility. He’s been 22nd then 14th in the past two editions.

Vanmarcke still doesn’t look great after his injury and illness.

Prediction

I’m really stuck on the fence with this one because I don’t know if I can trust Quick Step to use the same tactics I would. If they do, the race is theirs for the taking, as long as they get some help from other teams to beat GVA and Sagan.

If not, the race is Sagan’s to lose. I know GVA is in great form but even he will fear what Sagan can do on the Paterberg. If there is a 3 second gap at the top, then it’s race over!

Hmmmmm.

Right…

I think the teams will take a similar approach to GVA as they do to Sagan and will not want to work with him 100%. Therefore, various teams will be keen to get numbers ahead before the final 20km. With Gilbert shadowing the Big 2, QS will get Terpstra and Stybar up the road, along with Felline and a few others, with maybe the likes of Oss there for BMC.

He and his team didn’t get it right in GW, but they won’t make that mistake here. Terpstra to win!

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Betting

Already have 1pt WIN on Terpstra from the other week at 25/1 (would take 22s)

Adding;

Stybar 1pt WIN @25/1 with various bookmakers (would take 22s)

Felline 0.5pt EW @ 80/1 with various bookmakers (would take 66s)

Kristoff to beat Degenkolb at 11/10 with PaddyPower (would take it at 4/6 elsewhere Betfair/Bet365). 6pts.

 

Thanks for reading as always and any feedback is greatly appreciated. Who do you think will win and how will they manage to do so? Remember to return tomorrow for my women’s preview and the competition! Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

 

 

 

Volta Catalunya 2017 Stage 7 Preview; Barcelona -> Barcelona

*Apologies in advance, this preview has taken the brunt of me trying to do 3 in a day so it’s fairly short and sweet!*

Today’s Recap

Can I claim that it was kind of a breakaway day? Even I think I would be pushing my luck with that one!

We had a really exciting day of which the exciting part was not televised. The peloton splintered after around 40km of racing with a group of 50 riders ahead, but second placed Froome in the group behind. The gap hovered at around a minute for a long time but the elastic eventually snapped and the Froome group rolled in 26 minutes down!

It was Daryl Impey who won the stage in a reduced bunch sprint, ahead of Valverde and Vichot.

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Will this have an impact on tomorrow? Let’s have a look at what’s in store for the riders.

The Route

We finish the race with the traditional circuit around Barcelona.

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@LasterketaBurua

This stage is all about the circuit, the opening Cat 2 climb is inconsequential!

The Alt de Montjuic on its own isn’t too difficult, but when it’s repeated 8 times over 50km then it certainly takes its toll.

I’ve made a Strava profile of the final circuit that you can view here.

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Like always with Strava profiles, you can smooth out the sudden peaks, but you get a good idea from it anyway!

The riders will mainly be either climbing or descending for the majority of the circuit so it’s a route that really favours the puncheurs. The second little kick on the course averages roughly 5.9% for 700m. So a split can be made here before the down-hill run to the line.

Last year’s race was very attacking, but that was due to the time gaps between the favourites being minimal. This year we have larger gaps but that still doesn’t mean it won’t be an attacking race!

Saying that though, Valverde is the best one-day racer out of the GC riders and he’s in the lead so it will be very hard for any one to beat him.

Contenders

I think we’ll see something similar to last year where some strong one-day racers take the stage, while the GC riders mark each other behind. So I’ll through two names into the hat for that situation.

*Thankfully I didn’t start this section before today’s coverage as there were a few riders I wanted to include who were too close on GC, but now they’re not!*

Jarlinson Pantano.

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The Colombian has been a great domestique for Contador this race but was caught up behind the split today. He’s now way out of contention and with his team-leader more than likely settling for 2nd on GC (after today’s failed probing attack), Pantano may be given the nod to chase the stage. Currently in exceptional form, he has a good chance of going better than the third place last year!

Geraint Thomas.

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After their truly disastrous stage today, Sky will approach tomorrow in a typically bullish way. They’re a bit short in numbers but Thomas  is a great candidate for the stage. He is clearly in great form just now, although admitted he felt poor on the stage to Lo Port. If he has recovered from that blip, then the final circuit should be suited to his abilities. With a gap, he could be tough to bring back!

A few other outsiders I think could go well are Davide Villella and Ondrej Cink, but it will be tough to beat the other two!

Prediction

If you’ve followed this blog for a while, you will know I love a tenuous reason to help my selections…

Pantano to win in front of his mum who’s following the race, and go better than he did last year!

Betting

(All B365)

0.6pt WIN Pantano @ 20/1

0.6pt WIN Thomas @ 15/1

0.15pt WIN Villella @ 66/1

0.15pt WIN Cink @ 150/1

 

Thanks for reading and apologies again for this being shorter than normal. As much as I enjoy writing about the sport; trying to combine writing 3 normal length previews on a Saturday and have some time to socialise is too much!

I might have something out for De Panne or Limburg, but if not it will be Flanders that I’ll be back for next weekend! Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

Gent – Wevelgem 2017 Preview

Gent – Wevelgem 2017 Preview

The final race of our Belgian triple-header this week is upon us, and we finish with the longest outing yet; the 249km long Gent Wevelgem. Shame, as this is my favourite week of cycling in the whole calendar year!

Last year saw Peter Sagan get revenge for being bested in E3, taking a superb win ahead of Vanmarcke, Kurznetsov (who survived from the morning break) and Cancellara.

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Will we see another exciting day of racing? Let’s have a look at what’s in store for the riders.

The Route

Long day in the saddle that like most of the cobbled races, builds slowly for an eventful final 100km.

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Profile once again courtesy of @LasterketaBurua.

This is both the easiest and hardest of the 3 races. There are barely any cobbled sections in comparison to the other races, but the sheer length of the race and repeated nature of hills in the final third take their toll.

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We might see some action up the Kemmelberg first time round, but if not, the plugstreets could cause some damage.

They are pretty much loose gravel roads (for the uninitiated amongst you 😉).

There is often a lot of wind and open landscape around that area which can often lead to splits when the pressure is on.

The Kemmelberg will be the last major obstacle for the riders to tackle and its second ascent comes at around 35km to go. In fact, they approach the climb from the steeper side the second time round. The organisers decided to change it from the “easier” ascent which they tackle earlier in the race, to this tougher approach (max 23%) to make the race more open and exciting. You can see how difficult it is from the highlights of last year’s edition.

From the summit, it’s a TT effort between those who make it over ahead and the chase from behind.

Weather

The weather can often play a massive part in how the race pans out here but it certainly won’t be as bad as it was in the 2015 edition…

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Nonetheless we look to have a consistent 20km/h Easterly wind for most of the day, with some stronger gusts blowing up.

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Source: Windfinder

Now that doesn’t mean that we’re guaranteed to get crosswinds but on the open and exposed areas of road they are certainly a possibility. It may also affect the end of the race as we could have cross-head winds for most of the run in. Which will tire out both those riders ahead and the chase!

How will the race pan out?

I think once again we’ll see an attacking race and there won’t be many teams wanting to hold it together for a sprint.

As we have witnessed in the first two race this week, it is much better to have at least one rider up the road so that you can just follow the moves behind. Therefore there is a chance an early move makes it, but I think instead we’ll see one selection on the plugsteets, followed by a further selection on the final ascent of the Kemmelberg. From there, it will be a case of who’s made the front group and who’s left to chase behind.

I fancy there to be enough fire-power up the road for it not to be brought back for a sprint. Or sorry, I’ll rephrase that, there won’t be enough power and willing workers behind to bring it back for a sprint!

Contenders

Peter Sagan missed out in E3 due to being held up by a crash, but as I said in that preview, I don’t think he really cares that much for that race. Instead, he’ll do something similar to last year where he’ll now want to test his legs here, and test his legs I’m sure he will. He was the rider who put in the killer attack on the Kemmelberg last year and he will no doubt do the same this time round. He will make the front selection and he will more than likely win this race! Sagan also will have the benefit of knowing Bennett will be in the group behind to sprint, so the Slovak can leave it all out on the road up ahead.

So who can beat him?

Quick Step probably have the best chance. In Boonen and Gaviria they have two riders who will fancy their chances of beating Sagan in a sprint, but I just can’t see that happening. Instead if I was DS, I would do my upmost to try to get Stybar and Terpstra in a move with Sagan and try to work him over. Those two riders are the only one’s who can follow him on the Kemmelberg (I’m assuming Gilbert will be tired after his first two races). They can co-operate for a while with Sagan, but then take turns attacking the group at the end. Because if they hold things together for a sprint, they won’t win. Even though he didn’t win, I was still incredibly impressed with Terpstra in E3. There were a few  times he missed the front split due to crashes etc, but soon after he was up front again and looking content. He is going very, very well but is without a result yet. That could come here!

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Fresh from his victory in E3, Greg Van Avermaet will be hoping to repeat that feat here. He was exceptionally strong on Friday and there is no reason to believe that won’t continue at this race. One of the only guys who can follow Sagan and has a proven track record of beating him. Van Avermaet certainly won’t be scared to take the Slovak on in a sprint from a reduced group.

After a terrible first two races, Trek bring their A-squad to this one. Stuyven, Degenkolb, Theuns and Felline are all potential winners if they play their cards right and get a bit of luck on the day. I imagine they’ll keep either Degenkolb or Theuns as a designated sprinter, but the remaining three will be used to attack throughout the day. Stuyven popped in E3 but Felline looked strong all day and was left frustrated in the group behind. He’s my dark horse for this race.

Another rider left frustrated behind in the second group in E3 was Tony Martin. The German comes here as Katusha’s main protagonist for this race and he certainly can go well. It will be tough for him to follow the best on the Kemmelberg, but if a selection is made before that then he certainly has a chance to TT away from everyone.

Sky have their duo of Rowe and Stannard here but they were a bit disappointing in E3. Rowe looked the better of the two but he looked a far cry from his attacking self that we saw in Omloop and Kuurne earlier in the year.

Prediction

I’m being boring here, but Sagan wins. I had similar thoughts last year to this race and Sagan went on to win after a “poor” E3. Now this year’s E3 was actually poor results wise, but that was due to him being held up by a crash. If he can be bothered, no one here can beat him!

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There are a few riders though who do have a chance if things get tactical and they’ll be covered below.

Betting

Big day to end an exciting week and I’m playing up some of the Lampaert winnings before I return to a more conservative approach in the next few weeks!

Sagan 4.5pts WIN @11/4 with Betfred (Would take the widely available 5/2 though)

Terpstra 1.25pt EW @ 50/1 with Bet365/PP/BF (Would take 40s)

Felline 1.25pt EW @ 50/1 with Bet365 (Would take 40s)

Martin 1pt WIN @ 100/1 with various (Would take 80s)

 

Thanks for reading as always! Who do you think will win? Can anyone stop Sagan? Check out my women’s preview if you haven’t already. 2 out of 3 previews done for today…Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

Women’s Gent – Wevelgem 2017 Preview

Women’s Gent – Wevelgem 2017 Preview

Last year saw this race take the step up to World Tour status along with a lot of other races in the cycling calendar due to the WWT. That meant that the field was even more stacked than normal and we had an incredibly tough, attritional race.

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It was Chantal Blaak who attacked from far out, winning by a comfortable margin in the end as her Boels team-mates marked any moves behind. Lisa Brennauer and Lucinda Brand rounded out the podium over a minute down.

More of the same exciting racing this year? Let’s take a look at what’s in store for the riders.

The Route

The organisers have taken advantage of the increased race distance that was permitted by the UCI so this year the riders will have tackle 146km, compared to the 115km in last year’s edition!

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The peloton will cover a lot of flat lands at the start of the race, but the most decisive section will be from 70-110km, when we tackle some climbs. Both cobbled and not! On the run in to home we also have some small rises that create an opportunity to attack. Even the flat run in can be a launchpad if we get a tactical finale.

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The run in to the finish line is pretty much pan-flat and dead-straight for the final 3km.

Weather

One of the major factors that can often play a part in the outcome of this race is the weather and in particular, the wind!

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Source: Windfinder.

It looks as if we’ll get a fairly constant wind throughout the day, with some potential for stronger gusts. The wind direction means that a lot of the middle of the race will be crosswinds, but as the road constantly changes, so will the affect that the wind has on the bunch; cross, tail, head wind etc.

It looks as if the run-in will be a cross-head wind, which would not favour a solo rider. But after a tough day on the bike, there might not be much left to chase behind!

Contenders

The defending champion, Chantal Blaak, arrives with a strong team on paper to support her. Yet, I am wary as to how well the Boels team will go because they had to pull out of Dwars mid-week due to widespread illness in the team. For example, Deignan has had to pull out of the race as she is still unwell. Blaak herself has yet to win this season, but she is very consistent over this type of terrain and I wouldn’t rule her out. Likewise, Amy Pieters has performed well but is without a win too. She pulled out Trofeo Binda due to not feeling well so she’ll be hoping to have recovered for this! World Champion Amalie Dideriksen picked up Boels’ first WT win of the season in Ronde van Drenthe and she may well be the teams best chance of another victory here. She is flying at the moment, and her sprint in the final of Van Drenthe was very similar to that of her male WC counterpart.

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Team Sunweb have been my team of the early season so far. They’ve animated every race that they have been entered in and I expect more of the same from them tomorrow! In Brand and Van Dijk they have great options to attack early and try to force splits in the peloton, which I can almost guarantee they will do. Whereas, I imagine Rivera will shadow moves from other teams and be an option for the squad if we get a reduced bunch sprint. She is exceptionally fast and took a dominant win in Trofeo Binda, more of the same here?

Elisa Longo Borghini will be hoping to maintain her WWT lead after this race. The Italian has been exceptional this year so far, finishing inside the top 10 of all three WT events. However, she seemed to struggle here last year, finishing over 2 minutes down. Will her great form compensate for that? I think so. Wiggle also have the luxury of Belgian sprinter come cobbles expert Jolien d’Hoore who I expect to be there at the pointy end of the race.

Orica have been very active in recent races but are without a win to show for it. They once again bring an attacking team, with Van Vleuten, Spratt and Elvin they’ll be hoping to go better here. I would suggest that Van Vleuten is their best option!

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After a 5th place in Dwars, Thalita De Jong has staked her claim for this race. The former Cyclocross World Champion loves tough terrain and I fancy her to go well here. Now riding for the Lares-Waowdeals she will be the de-facto leader and have the full support from her team. Can she cope with the pressure?

Another rider I’m keeping an eye on this season is Lotto’s Lotte Kopecky. The 21 year-old is a great talent and has featured near the front in all of the races she’s entered so far this year. Terribly unfortunate in Van Drenthe, crashing out of the lead group, I imagine she’ll be wanting to make amends here. With a good kick after a tough day, she’s not one to rule out!

There are several riders from other teams who I expect to feature in the top 20, but I don’t have enough time to go over them in-depth;

Uttrup Ludwig and Lepisto (Cervelo),

Hosking and Ensing (Ale Cipollini),

Barnes and Cecchini (Canyon).

Prediction

It will be another attritional race but the cross-head wind on the run in may be detrimental to lone attackers. Unless of course you are Ellen Van Dijk! Therefore, I think we might get a small sprint from around 5 riders and I’ll for a bit of an outsider; Kopecky to win. The extremely talented Belgian should have the speed required to beat her competitors at the end of a tough day!

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Thanks for reading the preview as always, and any feedback is greatly appreciated. Who do you think will win tomorrow? Unfortunately, there will be no live coverage but there should be highlights at some point. Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

Volta Catalunya Stage 6 Preview; Tortosa -> Reus

Today’s Recap

I should never have doubted him for a minute!

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Valverde won the stage easily, ahead of Froome and Contador. With the stage win and his 21 second gap back to the Brit, the GC battle is well and truly over for the week. Let’s have a look at what’s in store for the riders tomorrow.

The Route

Another rolling day in the saddle. What else can do the riders expect in this region though?!

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@LasterketaBurua

After a few kilometres of flat right from the gun, the riders will then face the long and gradual Cat3 ascent of the Alt de Bot. This certainly looks a good place for a breakaway to be let go, but considering that everyone knows that it typically won’t be! Instead, it might be the rolling terrain afterwards and around the 4okm at Gandesa where the correct group of riders are finally let go.

More, you guessed it, rolling terrain follows. Before we have three categorised climbs in quick succession. None is tough enough to cause splits in the peloton, but they could do some damage to the break. Especially if there are some riders up the road who don’t want to have a sprint at the end of the day.

We have a descent almost all the way to the line once they have traversed the plateau after of the final climb, although admittedly, some of the descending is more false flat than downhill.

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The road does rise up in the final few kilometres but it averages over just 1% for the last 2km so nothing too serious. We do have a roundabout at 500m to go which could be used as a ploy for a late attack from the break.

How will the stage pan out?

I think you’ve guessed it by now…

Nestle Breakaway Milk Chocolate Biscuit 8 Pack 152G

Contenders

Names in a hat? As long as they are no threat on GC Movistar will be happy to let them go. That pretty much means anyone outside the top 20 so we have a lot of riders to choose from! Once again, I’ll suggest a few names that might give it a go.

Xandro Meurisse. 

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The Wanty rider seems to be plodding along quite nicely in this race and is climbing as well as I have seen for a while. Traditionally more of a puncheur, he only finished 15 seconds behind Van Garderen on today’s summit finish. If he gets in the break and can cope with any attacks on the final climb, he has a good chance of winning a sprint!

Peter Kennaugh.

I highlighted him on stage 1 and he did the preview justice on a day I was completely wrong, by giving it a little nudge off the front. He lost 5 minutes today, but considering he was one of the last Sky riders in the front group on Stage 3 I doubt that those losses will be due to bad form. Saving himself for tomorrow?

Gianluca Brambilla.

The Italian was suffering from illness not that long ago, but he’s still racing here which makes me think that he’s now over his bug. He made the break on stage 3 but dropped back to the peloton, but I think that was because teams were still unsure if he was a threat on GC. Or, maybe he is still ill! Nonetheless, he is way out of contention now and the final climb and finish suit him perfectly if he’s back to full fitness. That’s a big if, but it’s a risk I’m willing to take!

Lachlan Morton.

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Morton has had a quiet time of it so far this race, but he has been industrious at the front of the peloton when needed. Namely, doing work for Sbaragli on stages 1 and 4. The Aussie is a very solid climber, finishing 7th on the Green Mountain earlier this year in Oman. With no GC hopes, Dimension Data will be chasing stages and Morton may well be that man!

Prediction

He looked good on Stage 3 and should survive the climb if he’s in the break. If he’s not and we for some reason get a reduced peloton fighting out the stage win, he could well attack once again in the closing kilometres.

Peter “what’s the women’s Giro” Kennaugh to win!

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Betting

Another day I don’t want to get overly involved with but I am most confident in Kennaugh so he gets the majority of the backing!

All B365.

0.7pt WIN Kennaugh @ 25/1

0.3pt WIN Brambilla @ 18/1 

0.25pt WIN Morton @ 250/1

0.25pt WIN Meurisse @ 80/1

 

Thanks for reading as always! Who do you think will win? Tomorrow will be a big day of previews with my final stage preview for this race, but also previews for the men’s and women’s Gent-Wevelgem. I hope you’ll be able to read them all! Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

Volta Catalunya 2017 Stage 5 Preview; Valls -> Lo Port (Tortosa)

Today’s Recap

The opening 50km was chalked off due to bad weather so we had a shortened stage. There were some probing attacks on the final climb but it did end up coming down to a sprint. Nacer Bouhanni managed to haul himself over the rise and duly won the stage with ease!

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Stage one winner Cimolai finished second this time, with Impey rounding out the podium. Let’s have a look at what’s in store for the riders tomorrow.

The Route

Flat -> hill -> smaller hill -> BIG hill.

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Source: @LasterketaBurua

A relatively easy day out in the saddle apart from the final 20km. Even the Cat-2 climb is simple in comparison to some of the other climbs we get in this region. The only reason it’s probably categorised so highly is due to its length, with an average gradient of 2.8% it is certainly not steep!

Tomorrow is all about the final climb.

If you take into account the build up to the official start of the ascent it is actually 13.3km long at 7%. However, the official profile would lead you to believe that the climb is only 8.4km at 8.8% average.

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A very tough end to the day and we could and more than likely will see some large gaps between some of the GC riders. Although we could see a case of riders marking each other out of it, but I fully expect some of the teams to attack it hard from the bottom (Sky, Movistar & Trek) leaving a select group of favourites near the front. From there, not only who’s the strongest on the day, but team tactics will also be important.

Will they be fighting for the win though?

How will the stage pan out?

Normally this would be a GC day 100% of the time but last year we saw a break make it all the way to the line. Could that happen again?

Probably not.

There will be enough interest behind to chase for bonus seconds that any break will be nullified. Or at least you would imagine so!

I’m intrigued to see if having team-mates will be of any benefit to the riders here. The finishing climb is a lot like Terminillo (that we saw in Tirreno recently) so it could be a case of strongest on the day wins. However, if a team has a few good climbers they can always send one up the road and sit back to mark attacks from behind, a la Contador and Mollema in Abu Dhabi. Equally, we could easily just see a big battle between the favourites, which is what I think is most likely to happen.

Contenders

If we do get a massive GC blowout, there are only 4 riders who can win this stage in my opinion.

Alberto Contador.

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El Pistolero was incredibly unlucky in Paris Nice, giving it his all but falling short once again. On the final stage he looked very strong but that was on climbs where the average gradient was around 6%, not the 8% we’ll see here. Contador does sometimes struggle on the steeper stuff, but if he’s still going as he did in PN, it will be hard to beat him!

Alejandro Valverde.

Returning from his illness that caused him to miss PN, he returned with a bang to win stage 3 on Wednesday. That day suited him ideally but tomorrow might be a little long for him. Yet, I keep thinking of his ridiculous long rang attack up Penas Blanacas in Ruta del Sol last year, and that something similar might be on the cards here. He’ll be hoping to emulate what Quintana did on Terminillo and take the GC lead, if not, get very close to it before the next few stages.

Speaking of the Terminillo…

Geraint Thomas.

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The Welshman was able to match Quintana almost blow for blow up the final climb, but the Colombian was just too good for him in the end. That result will have given Thomas the confidence that he can climb with the best in the world. As I said in my Tirreno GC preview, I think he’ll podium or get very close to in the Giro, so another big result here will set him in good stead. Froome may feature but he still doesn’t seem up to speed.

Adam Yates.

He was a very credible third on the Terminillo stage behind Quintana and Thomas. Even more credible when you think he DNF’d the next day after withdrawing due to illness. On the climb to La Molina he looked comfortable and should go well tomorrow on the steep stuff he seems to love. I wouldn’t discount him!

Prediction

I think we’ll see the four I’ve listed get a gap but there will be the usual unwillingness to work, particularly between Contador and Valverde. This will leave it open for the two Brits to attack and due to Thomas being the closest rider on GC, he’ll be left to do the majority of the work. Yates will then attack him in the final 500m, using his more explosive nature to take the stage victory!

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Will it go to plan?

Betting

1pt EW Yates @ 12/1 with B365 (would take 10s)

 

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

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

 

E3 Harelbeke 2017 Preview

E3 Harelbeke 2017 Preview

E3 Harelbeke has the illustrious history of being named after a road. Don’t let its dull naming history put you off though, as this race is often heralded as a “mini Flanders” and the action normally lives up to that billing!

Last year saw Kwitakowski and Sagan attack with 30km to go and they were not to be seen again! The Pole caught Sagan napping in the sprint, taking it up early and ended up winning with relative ease.

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The recent MSR winner is not here to defend his title, but we still have a whole host of talented riders looking to take centre stage.

First though, let’s have a look at what’s in store for the them.

The Route

A day packed with hills and cobbles. My kind of race!

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Profile once again courtesy of @LasterketaBurua.

Like Dwars, the day slowly builds to a crescendo, although we do have some difficulties earlier in the stage. The first challenge of the day is the Oude Kruisberg and from there we have an obstacle every 10 kilometres or so on average.

However, the decisive point of the race will probably be between the 45km-35km to go with the triple threat of; the Kapelberg; Paterberg; and Oude Kwaremont.

If there is no made on the first two climbs, there will certainly be an explosion on the Kwaremont.

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View the Strava segment here.

The 4% average gradient on Strava doesn’t do it justice because as you can see in the image above, it’s mainly flat or false-flat for the first 600m. It then pitches up from 0.8km to 1.5km, averaging 7.9%. Remember, this is all on cobbles as well! If you’re not on a good day here then you’ll be out the back in no time.

Once over the Kwaremont the bunch will have little time for rest as they’ll soon be on the Karnemelkbeekstraat at just over 30km to go. This is where last year’s duo made their move!

From there, we only have one more hill and cobbled section so it will be a frantic chase home and run to the line in Harelbeke.

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It’s not an overly difficult run in but the twisting nature of it does give the group up ahead the advantage of often being out of sight.

Contenders

Without the defending champion here, I guess we better start with that average cyclist who finished 2nd last year…

Peter Sagan obviously comes into this race as favourite, like he does for almost every one day race he starts! His team looks fairly poor, but Postlberger looked good in Dwars so maybe he can protect Sagan for a while. However, the World Champion is used to riding races unaided. The one problem with Sagan being Sagan, is that very few riders will want to ride with him in a group that might be chasing the leaders. Therefore he will be leant on to do a lot of the work. Yet, if he’s in a similar mood to his San Remo outing then he may well just attack himself and his opposition will have to be in exceptional form to follow!

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Quick Step will be hoping to use strength in numbers to beat the Slovak and everyone else. They bring their crack squad of classics riders with them, although Lampaert will sit this one out. In Boonen, Gilbert, Stybar, Terpstra and even Trentin they have potential winner candidates. With this type of parcours though, I would have to favour Stybar and Terpstra as their best options. They both looked very strong in Dwars to attack from the 3rd to the 2nd group on the road, halting that groups progress and helping their team-mates ahead build up a lead. Stybar looked good, but I think the Dutch rider looked even better, bridging across to his team-mate relatively comfortable even though Stybar was going full gas.

Greg Van Avermaet will be hoping to repeat his Omloop victory earlier in the season tomorrow. After looking very strong in Strade, he was a bit disappointing in Tirreno and MSR. His BMC team looks strong, but I’m still not convinced by how many of them can be there at the end and offer much support. Nonetheless, as one of the best classics riders in the peloton, he certainly can’t be discounted!

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Sky bring a solid squad but it will no doubt be up to the diamond duo of Rowe and Stannard for them. Both riders are exceptional on their day but I’m sure they would have hoped for some worse weather! They each won a stage in the Herald Sun Tour but the Welshman performed much better in the opening semi-classics. Sky have not finished off the podium in the past three editions, can they make it 4-in-a-row tomorrow?

After a disappointing Dwars, Trek bring Degenkolb and Stuyven into the team. It’s good to see the German back to near his best and he certainly can contend here. My one concern is that he struggled to follow Sagan in MSR on the Poggio, maybe Paris Roubaix is more suited to him than a Flanders style course. Stuyven has looked very impressive this season so far and is certainly living up to the hype surrounding him. Having numbers near the pointy end of the race will be important for any team, but Trek should have at least two. Felline might even turn himself into a third option.

Lotto Soudal are another team that had a disappointing Dwars. They only had Wallays up the road but he wasn’t able to follow the big move when it counted. Benoot and Gallopin were left frustrated behind, with the young Belgian sprinting to 7th place. I think he’ll go a lot better tomorrow! Could he win his first professional race?

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In the three Belgian races he’s competed in so far this season, Naesen has finished in the top 10 of them all. He was terribly unlucky in Dwars with a mechanical but showed just how strong he is right now, managing to get back to the second group and sprint for 6th. With Vandenbergh by his side, they can certainly roll over a few hills and cobbles!

There are obviously lots of other riders who could have a chance, such as Vanmarcke, Durbridge and Lutsenko but I think I’ll stop the list there as I could go on for a while.

Prediction

A very tough race where numbers will once again be important. Sagan will more than likely be forced to do a lot of the work chasing others and to be honest, I don’t think he cares for winning this race. So he might just call some riders’ bluff and sit on. Conversely, he could easily just romp away from everyone!

Nonetheless, I don’t think he wins.

Instead, it will be Niki Terpstra who this time will solo away from the opposition.

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I was impressed with the way he was riding in Tirreno, and have had him shortlisted for this race (and Flanders next weekend) since then. His tandem attack with Stybar has convinced me that his form is in the right place, and I think he can make it two from two for Quick Step, and everyone will forget about their poor opening weekend in February!

Betting

Other than Terpstra there are two riders I want on my side and after Wednesday, I’m being a bit gung-ho with the stakes. The odds are shorter than Lampaert after all!

2pts WIN Terpstra @ 16/1 with Bet365 (would take 12s)

1pt WIN Naesen @ 28/1 with B365 (would take 22s)

1pt WIN Benoot @ 25/1 with B365 (would take 20s)

Prices might be better else where but I can’t be bothered looking!

Also,

1pt WIN Terpstra for Flanders @ 25/1 with various bookmakers

Thanks as always for reading and as usual any feedback is greatly appreciated. Who do you think will win E3 and how? Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.