Il Lombardia 2017 Preview

The “Classica delle foglie morte” or “The race of the falling leaves” for those of us who speak little Italian, is arguably one of the most beautiful races of the year, and is the last Monument in the calendar. I don’t know if that is due to its position at the end of the season which makes everyone see it as one last huzzah as things wind down, or the very attacking racing we get. Probably both!

Last year saw Esteban Chaves take the win in a three up sprint against Rosa and Uran.

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More impressively though he managed to avoid the Haughey Curse, after I had backed him to the hilt in the preview. It was a good end to the year!

With 2016’s route taking the riders from Como to Bergamo, things will switch around this year as is tradition, with the finish being in Como.

Let’s have a look at what is in store for them tomorrow.

The Route

Almost a carbon copy of the 2015 edition. Are the organisers trying to be kind to a certain native?!

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There are a few tough ascents early on in the day but the race really starts to kick into action once we get to 70km to go and the famous Madonna del Ghisallo. We’ll see a thinning out process here and possibly some early probing attacks by second and third tier riders from the top teams.

Any rider who is in difficulty this early on won’t have much time to rest though as they will soon face the toughest climb of the day; the Colma di Sormano.

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At 7kms in length it averages a leg breaking 8.9% in gradient. That is hard either way you look at it, but it is the final 1.9km of the climb that averages close to 16% which is the real killer.

If a team pushes on in the bunch, not many will be left in with a chance once they are over the top. Back in 2015 we had around 20 riders who made it over together, with a few more getting back on in the descent and flat roads as we head towards Civilgio.

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Anyone that went out the back door on the Sormano but managed to get back to the peloton, will unfortunately meet their maker for the second time in the race here. Steep and persistent is the best way to describe it, the climb will wear the riders down and only the strongest will be left at the head of the race. As a tough penultimate climb, it acts as the perfect launchpad. Will anyone manage to break free?

If not, then the race could be decided on the last climb of the day, the short San Fermo. At only 7.2% for 2.7km it is one of the easier ascents. However, given its position in the race and the fact the riders will have already covered 235km+ then we could see some go pop all of a sudden.

Cresting with just over 5km to go, it will then be a charge down to the line if we have a solo rider with a frantic chase behind as there is very little time to get organised. There is a chance things could still be toghether, and we see an incredibly tactical finale, or even a small gallop to the line!

How will the race pan out?

I expect action and chaos from as far out as the Ghisallo, with Bahrain being the main driving force behind it all.

During this week of Italian racing they have been exceptional, putting other teams to the sword on numerous occasions. They’ve only came away with one win but it is their attitude on the road that has impressed me most.

I think we’ll see Gasparotto and Brajkovic set a tough pace on the Ghisallo but it will be the Sormano where they will go crazy; hoping to shed as many riders from the peloton as possible. They’ll hope to have Visconti and Pellizotti left with Nibali, and hopefully no more than 20 other guys there either.

Things will inevitably regroup on the descent and flat, but those who rejoined will once again go backwards on Civiglio.

One of the key parts that will decide this race is how some of the stronger teams approach the flatter roads. Do Bahrain, Sky, Astana etc send someone up the road so that they don’t have to chase the move behind? I think it would be wise to do so, but will they?!

We could see a front group made up of Visconti, Fugslang, Latour, Haig, Formolo and Henao for example, that might well stay away. I am really intrigued to see how the teams approach this part of the race.

If things are all together, and when I say all together I mean a group of 5 or 6 riders, then it will be very tough for anyone to drop the rest of the bunch on the final climb. Like in 2015, it will come down to a tactical attack and everyone looking at each other, or a small bunch gallop.

Three Clear Favourites?

Nibali, Uran and Pinot have all shown their credentials over the past week and are the most obvious riders who should be in contention come the end of the day.

The Shark has been excellent all week, particularly in Emilia where he looked effortless. He chose to skip Torino and will come here as fresh as possible. He’s clearly in great form, but is he strong enough to drop everyone on the climbs? I’m not so sure. That then leads to the issue of; “surely no one will be foolish enough to let one of the best descenders get a gap on a descent” again? He either wins solo by putting down some astronomical watts on the climb, or not at all.

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Uran seemed forever the nearly man, but he is having arguably his best season as a pro yet. Since the Tour he has built slowly towards this race, looking fairly good in Emilia but taking that up a step and putting in a strong performance in Torino. Will that have taken a lot out of him? Possibly. He cruised up the climb last year to a third place finish, but he then seemed to not have the same kick as Rosa and Chaves in the final of Lombardia. The Astana man had an easier time of it in Torino, while last year’s winner didn’t race MT at all. It probably won’t make much of a difference but it is something to consider. One advantage that Uran has is his speed; he would be confident of winning a 3 or 4 rider gallop to the line. We’ll just forget about last year’s sprint though…

Pinot is almost the unknown here. A great climber who seems to put in solid performances at this race, his second half of the season has been geared towards this race. He was the only rider who could follow Nibali’s vicious attack in Emilia, and the Frenchman never really looked in trouble. I wouldn’t read too much into his result in Torino, as he will have gained enough confidence from Emilia, that Torino would have been more a training ride than anything else. Before the start of the season I would say he would be in the middle of the trio in terms of sprinting, but I think he has the speed to challenge Uran.

Will the three of them get the chance though?

Azure Attacks?

Although Astana have Aru in their ranks, they might not 100% back the Italian Champion and instead play an aggressive tactic, getting riders up the road. There are two riders who given the right situation, I think could surprise and win this race.

Jakob Fuglsang.

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On fire at the Dauphiné, his season really went downhill from there. Crashing out of the Tour and then injuring his collarbone in a criterium. Not ideal! He has returned to racing as of late but his form is not overly promising; DNF’ing both of the Canadian races and a 61st in Torino. He did win the “hilly” stage in the Tour of Almaty, but given that is basically a criterium and the best Astana rider wins on the day, then I won’t read much into it. However, I have a feeling that he might go well. I don’t really know why, but he is a classy, classy bike rider and can’t be underestimated. In the hilly one day classics he is often a feature near the front and animating the race, so he has experience in that sense. Remember his Silver in Rio? I can’t wait to watch him pull out of the race tomorrow with 100km left!

Pello Bilbao.

A pick based on a favourite rider?

*Pretends to be shocked*

If you’ve read the blog for a while, then you’ll know I’m a big fan of the Spaniard and I’m really pleased to see him take a step up this season. As I pointed out in my Milan Torino preview, he was arguably one of the best domestiques in the final week of the Vuelta, he just was outshone by Moscon. The distance might be an issue for him, but in a very tactical race he might just be Astana’s trump card.

Prediction

None of the above riders will win though…

Instead, I’ll go for somewhat of an outsider, although he really isn’t.

Wout Poels.

Liege - Bastogne - Liege 2016 WTThe winner of Sky’s first Monument back at Liege last year, he has the ability to go well tomorrow. His 6th place in Torino on Thursday was slightly underwhelming, but promising. I would call it considered.

His racing schedule has been a bit sparse but he is someone who seems to really time his peak at the end of the season. Especially when he isn’t racing heavily in the early season. In theory, compared to his rivals he should be “fresh” due to his time off the bike and I think this will help him massively tomorrow.

While Nibali and co mark each other out of it, Poels will manage to sneak away and take the win. If not, as we saw in Liege, he packs a fairly decent sprint. I wonder if it will be as easy for him as Angliru was?!

Betting

End of the season so pushing the stakes out there a bit more.

0.5pt EW on Fuglsang @ 150/1 with Skybet who are paying 4 places (would take 125 and no less)

0.5pt EW Bilbao @ 250/1 with various (would take 200)

2pt EW Poels @ 33/1 with Ladbrokes/Bet365 etc.

 

This could well be my last preview for the year. I won’t be doing anything for Paris Tours and it is very unlikely I’ll do something Turkey. The new stage race in China might be a possibilty but it does look pretty dull…

I’m not entirely sure what will feature in this blog over the off-season. There are a couple of things I have in mind that I could do but any suggestions would be appreciated! Rider interviews could be a possbility but I’ll have to get my finger out for that.

Thanks though for your continued readership throughout the year. I’m pleased/proud/whatever you want to call it of the blog this season and the way it has grown. Il Lombardia marks my 209th preview of the season, more than double from last year, but I wouldn’t be as motivated to continue if you didn’t keep reading and interacting/offering feedback etc.

There have been some ups and downs this season, from the glory days of Lampaert’s win in Dwars and the famous Le Samyn preview, to the duldrums of the Giro and some other unnamed races. And what about the Wongshots?!

So that’s it for the previews in 2017. I might make an appearnce with a few features, and I might well be featured elsewhere…but if not, I’ll see you all for the Tour Down Under.

Thanks again for reading.

Thos were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

Milano-Torino 2017 Preview

After an exciting finale in Varese on Tuesday, the riders will turn their attention to Milano-Torino tomorrow as they make their final preparations before Lombardia on Sunday.

In 2016 we saw a great battle between Woods and Lopez on the final climb after they broke free from a group that had attacked on the flat run in to said ascent. They traded blows but ultimately it was the Astana rider who came out on top after Woods went too early and mistimed his effort.

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Uran bolted from the peloton behind to finish third, leaving Lopez in a Cannondale sandwich on the podium.

With the defending champion not returning to defend his crown, will we see a new winner? Let’s have a look at what is in store for the riders.

The Route

It seems as if the organisers have adopted the “if it is not broke, why fix it?” adage, as we have the exact same route as the past few years.

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Flaaaaaaaaat then two tough ascents up to the Basilica de Superga to decide the day.

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On the first effort the riders will complete only 4.29km of the climb, making it ever so slightly steeper than when the climb is taken as a whole. Well, when I say that, the average gradient is 9.137% for that part of the climb. Compared to the 9.081% for the ascent as a whole then there isn’t much difference, I’m just being pedantic!

And that’s pretty much it really, there’s nothing else to know about the route.

How will the race pan out?

The race tends to be very formulaic until we get to the first ascent of the Superga. A breakaway makes it up the road and is then controlled by the teams of the favourites and of those without a rider in it. Fairly standard procedure!

However, we then have a few potential outcomes as to what could happen from there.

Given that the first passage crests with just under 20km to go, then it is very feasible that a counter attack launched here could make it all the way to the line. Of course, for it to succeed then many of the favourites’ teams would need to be represented. If not, there will probably be enough firepower behind to bring it back, but it will have a lasting impact as to how the race is controlled from there.

Last year we saw Kennaugh hold on from the original break until the flat 5km section that bridges the descent and the climb. Once he was caught, the impetus went from the peloton and a splinter group made it off of the front. As the majority of teams were represented, there was very little cohesion behind (although there was little up ahead too to be fair), the front group managed to gain a reasonable time gap. Our top two on the day ended up being from that selection and there is a possibility something like that happens again this year; where the “second in command” riders get up the road while the favourites stay behind and mark each other out.

Of course, the final option is that everything is held together until the final climb and that the best rider on the day wins. That’s what happened back in 2015 when Diego Rosa took off at 2.6km to go and was never seen again. To make that win even better, he managed to make the move in front of his own fan club!

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So, what will we see happen this year?

With no Nibali here, then quite a few teams might be happier to take it all the way to the final climb. However, we witnessed in Tre Valli that teams are keen to race aggressively and try not to lean heavily on their star-cards.

Therefore I think we could see a similar outcome to last season; where a smaller group escapes either over the top of the climb or on the flat section. They will then stay away as the majority of the strong teams will be represented.

Contenders

Due to my logic above, I’m not going to go through the “favourites” as I think they might be fighting for lower places as 3-4 riders from the group ahead will stay away until the end. Maybe!

Once again though, this list won’t be extensive, just a few outsiders to keep an eye on!

David Gaudu.

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A rider who produced an incredible result earlier in the year that has barely been talked about since; when he finished 9th at Fleche aged just 20 years old. He is a talent, that’s for sure! After that performance he’s continued to feature in races here and there, including his first pro win in the Tour de l’Ain. A natural climber by body-type, he is incredibly light, tomorrow’s summit finish looks good for him and given the right company he can contend. After Pinot’s very strong showing in Tre Valli, I think teams will be wary of bringing him to the final climb with the bunch together, so FDJ will have to go on the counter. Can the former Tour de l’Avenir winner cap off a good first season as a pro?

Diego Rosa.

The local hero will no doubt have his fan club cheering him on roadside, but will it once again be the catalyst to spur him on to victory? In his recent races he’s done a lot of work for his team-mates so it is hard to tell where his form truly is at the moment, but it is normally at this time of year where he comes good. Really good. With this being his local race, I think Sky might have him as a co-leader, in the hope that he will be more willing to help Poels/Landa/Kwiat in Lombardia on Sunday. He is one to watch.

Primoz Roglic.

He’s certainly not a one-day specialist, but given the way he flew up the climb at the TT in the World’s then I think he has recovered from his illness that thwarted his late season. On his day, he can climb with the best as we saw at the Tour de France when he took a great win. I’m intrigued to see how he goes tomorrow, but I think he can surprise.

Pello Bilbao.

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It is basically a rule of thumb that an Astana rider has to go well here, they’ve won it the past two years! Both the riders that have won on those occasions have been the rider who is not the clear leader of the team, so sorry Aru it is not going to be you. Bilbao finished well here last year, taking a fine 7th place for Caja Rural. He is a rider I like a lot and it is good to see him take a step up this year now that he’s riding at World Tour level. At the Vuelta he was climbing as well as I have ever seen from him so it will be interesting to see if he can repeat that here. If so, he is a big danger!

Sam Oomen.

A case of which Sunweb rider to go for, they have brought an embarrassment of riches to this race. I thought Oomen would be tired after his first Grand Tour but he certainly proved me wrong and was part of the very impressive TTT winning outfit. In Tre Valli he followed that up with a very commendable sixth place so he’s clearly doing something right! Like Gaudu, he is a small rider who packs a mean punch and he could dance his way up Superga tomorrow.

Prediction

The local hero to take another victory though, with Rosa to make it two wins at this race in three years!

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As I’ve said above, I think we’ll see a similar outcome to the previous edition where a smaller group will breakaway on the flat run in to fight out the race.

The real question for the day though is; where will the Diego Rosa fan club be positioned out on course?

Betting

As of yet, only the likes of Unibet are offering odds for the race. Tempted with something on Rosa for the win and top 3, and then also “Any other rider” as this covers Bilbao and Gaudu too. Nothing wild with the stakes though!

Thanks as always for reading! Who do you think will win tomorrow? Could we be in for an upset? I’ll be back on Friday with my Lombardia preview. Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

Tre Valli Varesine 2017 Preview

After missing writing a preview for Emilia and Begheli due to some other things that cropped up, I thought it was only fair to get back into the swing of things with the next Italian one-day race; Tre Valli Varesine.

This is a time of the season that I enjoy. There is something about the Italian one-day races that are really special and this one is no different. A tricky circuit finish around Varese lends itself to some aggressive and tactical racing and we could see a whole host of outcomes tomorrow.

Last year it all came back together despite several attacks in the closing 10kms and Sonny Colbrelli won a very reduced sprint, beating Uran and Gavazzi.

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Will we see a similar outcome this year?

Let’s take a look at what is in store for the riders.

The Route

Pretty much the same as previous years with the riders leaving Saronno and completing almost 80km before they reach Varese and the traditional lap finish.

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Credit goes to @LasterketaBurua for the two main profiles I’ll be using today. Go check them out on Twitter and thank Ricky and Rafaelle!

The key part of the day is obviously the circuit in Varese that they will face 9 times. You can view an interactive profile of it here.

An undulating parcours, there are two important tests that the riders will face.

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First up is the short 1km (at 7.3%) climb. Due to its proximity near the start of the circuit it is hard for any winning moves to be made here, but it can be used to put the strain on the opposition. It is certainly tough enough though that some riders from several of the strong teams can breakaway here and not be seen again.

Once over the climb, the riders face a mixed-bag of descents and flat before they reach the final 4km.

These areas of flat often see an attack made, but only for the rider to gain 30m or so and be reeled in. Another will go, but the same will happen again! It is similar to the climb in the sense that a move could escape here but it would require either the right number of teams represented, or that the chasing “peloton” behind is actually only 8-10 riders big and no one wants to work together.

More often than not though, the race is decided by the final drag.

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With the steepest ramps coming right at the bottom, riders normally attack the final turn coming off of the descent so that they can be the first into the climb. This is what Nibali did rather brilliantly in 2015 on his way to victory.

I hope you didn’t get motion sickness after watching that!

Gaps can be made on the ascent but you need to be a very strong rider to maintain them if there is a concerted effort behind to chase. The one thing that does aid the solo rider is that things are very strung out from the bottom so it is hard for help to come from behind.

Anything that is brought back though then leaves the group open to counter-attacks again as the road then flattens out going into the final kilometre.

If things do stick together we’re most likely to see a group of no more than 20 riders contest a reduced bunch sprint.

How will the race pan out?

It beats me – this is arguably the most stacked start list this race has had in a long time, which certainly throws a few proverbial spanners in the works. There are several World Tour squads here who bring very strong teams and a selection of riders that can compete in differing scenarios.

Looking at the past three years you might think that a reduced bunch sprint is the most likely option.

Yet, given that it has happened 6 out of the last 9 editions, a solo rider winning is statistically the most likely outcome. However, with the much stronger teams here, then in theory it will be very hard for someone to stay away on their own.

The only way this can happen is if the race is ridden very aggressively from 3 or 4 laps out and the peloton is really stretched out going into the final circuit.

However, I think a group getting away early (i.e. before the last lap) to contest the finish or a reduced bunch sprint are the more likely options. Of course, with the former option we could see a solo victor!

Trying to cover my back as much as possible here 😉.

Names to look out for

Like always I’ll only suggest a few names to look out for as you and I could be here for a while otherwise!

Tom Dumoulin.

Superb in the time trial at the World’s he will come here full of confidence. With that race being his main target for the end of the season, there is a chance he could take his foot off the gas here. Unlikely! With Lombardia not too far away, he could well test his legs here. Given his incredible power at the moment, he is someone who could attack out of a small bunch  and stay away to the line. For that to happen he would need some luxury team-mates behind to mark everyone out and I guess he is in luck as he has just that!

Steve Cummings.

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His recent win in Toscana was a big middle finger to the British World Champs selectors, a course that he potentially could have animated in the finale. With Sbaragli most likely to be involved in any reduced sprint, then Cummings will be given the nod to mark out any attacks and make the race aggressive himself in the closing. I said above that the flat sections during the descent are ideal for a strong rider to attack an incohesive group; what I meant to say was that it looks ideal Cummings territory. He’s one of the few in the peloton who I think could get away and make it stick!

Davide Villella.

The Italian was very strong in these races towards the end of last season and I’m sure he’ll be looking to be at the same level this year. Giro dell’Emilia was his first race back after his KOM success at the Vuelta. Working for Uran, he put in a fairly solid performance and the favour might be returned here. Packing a fairly solid sprint from a small group, he could surprise.

Michael Valgren.

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Attacking in both of his recent races, the Danish rider seems to have carried some good form into the end of the season. Given his ability to cope with the short climbs, the course tomorrow looks ideal for him. Astana arrive without a sprinter so they will have to animate the race to make it successful and I think Valgren presents one of their better chances. A powerful rider, he should be able to churn up the final drag!

Marco Canola.

I have to include a PCT Italian rider in here somewhere! Canola has performed very consistently over the past few weeks, finishing no lower than 16th in all of the races he has competed in during September – not bad. He won the hilly Limburg Classic earlier this year, along with a tricky circuit stage in the Tour of Utah. He’ll probably have a tough task winning against the opposition here, but stranger things have happened.

Prediction

I think we’ll see the World Tour teams try to make this as an aggressive race and we’ll see the toughest Tre Valli Varesine in a while. Consequently, it will be unlikely that the bunch will be held together enough for a reasonable sized bunch sprint of 20 riders. There is a chance we could see 5 or so riders come to the line but I don’t think it will be any more than that.

Nibali looked exceptional in Emilia, but I think the drag up to the finish is suited much more to the new TT World Champion.

Dumoulin to attack and manage to hold off everyone behind thanks to Matthews marking anyone trying to follow as they won’t want to take the Aussie to a sprint.

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Betting

Not sure who else has prices, but in the UK SkyBet do.

1pt EW Dumoulin @ 33/1

0.75pt EW Valgren @ 66/1

 

Thanks as always for reading and as usual, any feedback is greatly appreciated! Who do you think will win and how? I think we’ll be in for a very exciting race! Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.