Volta a la Comunitat Valenciana 2018 Stage 2 Preview; Bétera › Albuixech

Today’s Recap

We got the expected sprint finish into Peñiscola with the lead-out trains battling it out on the run-in.

It was Lotto Jumbo who came out on top, delivering Van Poppel excellently into the home straight. He did have to start his sprint ever so slightly earlier than he would have liked, but the Dutchman showed enough power to hold on for the victory.

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Mezgec looked as if he was going to come round him at some point but he just couldn’t manage it, nonetheless, he held on strongly for 2nd. Roelandts came home third, pipping a few other riders in an almost blanket finish for the minor places.

Will Van Poppel be able to hold onto his lead tomorrow?

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

The Route

A really interesting stage that could cause a GC shake-up.

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@LasterketaBurua

Five categorised climbs jammed into only 155km of racing makes this stage a stern test for the riders given how early into the season we are.

I can’t see the opening 4 climbs have any major impact on the outcome of the stage, but they will definitely wear down the riders legs for the second half of the day.

The focal point of the stage though is the climb of El Garbi.

Alto Garbi

This was the climb that Alberto Contador used to decimate the peloton on stage 6 of last year’s Vuelta, with only a select group of riders making it over the crest with him.

Unfortunately he’s not here so it will be interesting to see if we have the same aggressive racing.

The climb as a whole averages only 5.6% for 9.2km, which in the grand scheme of things isn’t too difficult. However, it is the almost 3km section at pretty much 10% where the real damage can be done.

Riders will be all over the road if someone attacks this one aggressively. The key word being if.

Once over the crest, the riders will descend for almost all of the remaining 30km into the finish town of Albuixech. It is not a descent where you can free-wheel on though, as the percentages only max out at around -5% or so. A strong and organised group could gain time on others here.

How will the stage pan out?

I’m really hoping for some fireworks on the Garbi. I have a feeling we might see Valverde try to light it up to reduce the group down significantly to 8 riders or so. However, the issue with that plan for him is he might be left with very few team mates and that then leaves the door open for Sky Harlem Globetrotters to attack him from all angles.

The stage is similar to the opener in Andalucia last year that Valverde won from a group of 7, although the final descent that day was 10km shorter.

Instead, we might see a slightly easier pace, where a group of 25 riders crest the climb together.

Same rules still apply though and attacks will go off the front and we could then see a splinter group make it to the line. As to who makes that group, your guess is as good as mine but one thing is for sure, they have to climb well!

As I’m short on time, I’m just going to throw a few names into the hat so the list isn’t going to be exhaustive.

Contenders or Pretenders?

Any Team Sky Rider.

Well, maybe not all of them. Seriously though, everyone on their team apart from Kiryienka and Stannard could win this stage given the right situation. I think they’ll try to make the pace hard to reduce the peloton as much as possible, isolating other riders. The old 1-2, will be turned into the old 1-2-3-4-5 as they constantly send riders up the road on the run-in. Take your pick for them, I’ll go with a lively Diego Rosa.

Alexis Vuillermoz.

The AG2R man had a great end to 2017 with a very respectable 4th place in Il Lombardia. He copes well on the steep gradients and if the pace is not pushed too hard, then he’ll hope to make it over with the main group. If the race splits up from there, he won’t be marked too much as Ag2R won’t be massive threats in the TTT so he could slip away. Furthermore, he packs a solid sprint from a reduced group so he could challenge that way.

Pello Bilbao.

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I’m a big fan of the Spanish rider and it was great to see him really take a step up in level towards the end of the Vuelta last year. This season he’ll no doubt be working for his leaders at some point, but this is the type of race where he might get leadership in. If he’s climbing like he did in the Vuelta, he should be able to follow the front group. Packing a punch, he could be a threat from a reduced sprint.

Jaime Roson.

I’m intrigued to see what the new Movistar man does this season and I think he’ll have a lot of expectation on his shoulders at this race to help Valverde. He’s a strong climber but is still a bit raw so to speak. Anyway, while everyone has their eyes firmly on El Bala, Roson manages to slip away in the closing few kilometres. He has a bit of kick to his sprint but I’m not entirely sure the flat run-in will be ideal for him, nonetheless he has a chance in a very tactical finish. Or he just works tirelessly to keep everything together.

Prediction

A climbing selection to be made on El Garbi and it all to kick off from there. I think we’ll see a counter move go and a small sprint to the line of about 5 riders, with a group of 20 or so coming in not so long after.

Vuillermoz to take the day!

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There is absolutely no season long fantasy league bias here at all. Ok. Maybe there is a bit…

Thanks as always for reading and apologies for the slightly truncated preview. I’m looking forward to what should be an interesting, tactical finale tomorrow. Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

 

 

 

Volta a la Comunitat Valenciana 2018 Stage 1 Preview; Oropesa El Mar › Peñiscola

Volta a la Comunitat Valenciana 2018 Stage 1 Preview; Oropesa El Mar › Peñiscola

GC Overview

I was originally intending on writing a full GC preview for the race but that won’t be happening now so instead, here’s a short overview.

The GC battle will come down to 2, possibly 3 stages.

Stage 2 has the potential to cause some big splits in the peloton, given how tough the final 3kms of Garbi are. However, with 30km to go from the summit to the finish, will riders want to put in a big effort?

Stage 3 sees the return of the TTT, with a 23km route to Calpe. Fast and dangerous, teams will need to take some risks if they want to stay close to the favourite on the day. BMC and Sky look like the teams to beat.

All will be decided on stage 4 with the Queen stage of the race. The riders will face a total of 7 categorised climbs throughout the day but it is the finishing 4.6km of Canteras de Cocentina that averages 8.4% that will make the difference. Depending on how aggressively the day has been raced before that point, we could see some very big gaps here. Can a rider overcome the deficit from the TTT, or will a rider hold on to their advantage?

It looks set to be a battle between Sky and Valverde, as they will inevitably have to close down any gains BMC made in the TT. Having numbers should help Sky and I expect them to try something on Stage 2 once over the climb. It also will help them on stage 4 and they could possibly send some riders on long-range attacks.

But we’re in Spain, Valverde seems lively on his return to racing and he’s in my fantasy team, so I think we’ll see El Bala on the top step come the end of the race. Hopefully!

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Anyway, let’s have a look at what is in store for the riders on the opening day.

The Route

Right, get the sniggers out of your system straight away, as the opening stage finishes in the town of Peñiscola.

Now that the immaturity is out-of-the-way, what can we expect on stage 1?

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@LasterketaBurua

A fairly straightforward stage with one climb in the middle to reward a breakaway rider with the KOM jersey.

There isn’t really much to this stage but it will be interesting to see if the wind plays a part as the riders head through Vinaroz and along the coast towards the finish. At the moment it looks as if it will be a cross-head wind, but at only 15km/h or so, it isn’t strong enough to create echelons. Teams will be wary though if the forecast changes and it does kick up tomorrow.

As for the final 5km, they are pan-flat but do involve a few turns and roundabouts.

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Incoming Preview by Pictures™…

The most important part of the run in will be the double-header of two 90-degree turns the riders will face in the final 2km.

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Turn #1 at roughly 1.9km to go.

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Turn #2 at roughly 1.6km to go.

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Turn #3 at roughly 1.1km to go.

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Turn #4 at roughly 1km to go.

What can we take from this then?

Well, the road after turn 1 is very narrow and the bunch will be strung out through that section. Turn 2 is slightly more forgiving and the road does open up after that for the following kilometre. This gives those behind a chance to move up if there is some hesitation at the front of the pack.

The second pair of turns are less sharp, but it is important to note that the road narrows a lot once through the final turn. It goes from 2 lanes wide, with plenty of space for parked cars on either side, to only two lanes wide and that’s it.

That continues for the following few hundred metres but the road does open up into the 2 lanes with space either side in the closing 500m.

Therefore positioning coming into the final 2km will be very important as I think it will be hard for teams to move up once through that point.

Sprinters

We don’t exactly have a plethora of sprinting talent here but that means that a couple of riders can get a confidence boosting win over this coming week.

Danny Van Poppel.

After his switch from Sky to Jumbo in the winter, the Dutch rider will be looking to impress for his new outfit. Arguably one of the fastest riders here, he’ll be able to rely on the engines of Van Emden and Van Hoecke to get him into a good position, but from there he will most likely have to follow the wheels of the better sprint trains. If he chooses correctly, then he has a good chance to take the win.

Luka Mezgec.

Mitchelton Scott could go with three options but I fancy them to go with the Slovenian over Albasini and Trentin; with that pair on lead-out duties. Kreuziger -> Bewley -> Albasini -> Trentin is arguably one of the best trains we have their and they pack a lot of power in the final two. That could be crucial in seeing Mezgec through the twisty and tight final few kilometres. Does he have the top end speed to deliver?

Sacha Modolo.

Whisper it quietly but EF Education might have the strongest sprint train here. Their whole squad will most likely get involved in the effort, apart from Rolland maybe, it will just be a case of if they go for Modolo or McLay. Both of them are fast enough in their own right, and it might just be decided on the day as to who is feeling best. I think it will be Modolo on the opening day though. The Italian had an up and down year in 2017, but he will hope his new move means he has more ups than downs this season. In theory, he should be in the best place going into the final few hundred metres, but does he have the top end speed to win?

Those are probably the fastest three guys here/have the best teams around them, but we certainly could see a surprise from some others.

Hugo Hofstetter – More of a lead-out rider, the Cofidis man will be given the go-ahead in the sprints here. Fairly fast, a second place behind Kristoff in Norway last year is testament to that, will he be able to up his game here though. We’ll see!

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Clément Venturini – Nippy little AG2R rider that reminds me a lot of Sammy Dumoulin. He’ll have the trusty services of Oli Naesen to lead him out. Could surprise.

Baptiste Planckaert – An incredible 2016 saw him make the jump from CT up to WT and he did struggle a bit last season. However, he started to find his feet towards the end of the year. Would prefer a harder route though.

Adrien Petit – Another lead-out man who gets his chance to shine. With some racing already under his belt in the Bongo, he should theoretically come here in better shape than some of his rivals. He’s not a slouch and he’ll be aiming for a top 5. Would probably prefer a harder course as well though.

Enrique Sanz – A 4th place in Palma shows there is a reasonable bit of form there for the Euskadi rider. I’m not sure about his top speed on a finish like this however.

Albert Torres – I’m a fan of the track star who occasionally rides road races for the Inteja team. His winter of track riding served him will in the Trofeo’s with two top 10 places. He has a very fast finish and he’s one I’m keeping my eye on.

Marko Kump – The Slovenian has taken a step down to PCT in a hope for more leadership opportunities. He is a weird rider in the sense that sometimes he seems incredibly fast, while other times, he’s a bit “meh”. Given this field, if he is on a strong day then at least a podium is a good possibility.

I think that’s everyone covered, although to be fair, I could almost start naming the likes of Valverde and Van Avermaet to be in the mix at this point.

One thing to consider about tomorrow’s stage though is that given the lack of a clear sprint favourite, then we might see a bit of bluffing and refusing to chase the break. There is a much better chance than normal for an opening stage that the break stays away due to no one wanting to work behind. The race really needs a GC team like Sky or Movistar to help with the pace making, otherwise we could well see the break stick.

So it is not a bad day for the pro conti and conti teams to make the move!

Prediction

We will end with a sprint and it will be Luka Mezgec who is victorious.

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Mitchelton have a very strong final 4 that should be able to take control in the closing two kilometres when it matters most. They could conceivably go for Albasini or Trentin as well, but I think Mezgec will be their chosen rider. He worked exceptionally hard for the team last year but showed he had the speed to take his own chances when given them. As an integral part of Ewan’s train, he once again might be allowed to chase personal glory before working hard for others later on in the year!

Betting

I can’t remember if we had odds last year or not so I’m just publishing this preview now anyway. There are odds available with Kirolbet in Spain, but nowhere else unfortunately. Hopefully this might change, but I’m not entirely sure if I’ll back anything anyway. Keep an eye out on my twitter if there are odds published as I’ll post any fancies there.

Thanks for reading as always though! Who do you think will win tomorrow? Will there be enough urgency in the peloton to bring it all back for a sprint, or will we see a breakaway surprise everyone and hold out? Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

 

 

Women’s Herald Sun Tour 2018 Preview

Women’s Herald Sun Tour 2018 Preview

Originally I wasn’t intending on writing a preview for this race, but then I thought it would be rude not to cap off the Aussie summer of racing with another blog piece. Plus, it keeps me on track with my new years resolution of writing more about women’s racing.

2018 will be the first year of the Herald Sun Tour in the women’s peloton. Calling it a “Tour” might be a bit farfetched though, as we only have two days worth of racing, but at least it is something I guess!

Anyway, let’s have a look at what is in store for the riders over the next two days.

The Route

Stage 1.

On paper the more decisive of the two days; the peloton will tackle the longest and arguably toughest climbs that they will have faced over their fortnight of racing in Australia.

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@LasterketaBurua

The opening 50km or so will see the riders attack some fairly flat terrain, with a few sparing rises in the road. It is possible that we’ll see a conventional breakaway form on this stage, which is something that doesn’t often happen in women’s racing, but the parcours is certainly suited to it.

Old Warburton Road (4.4km at 4.5%) marks the first test for the riders, but given it only crests halfway through the stage, I can’t see anything crazy happen here.

Instead, the real racing will start once they pass through the finish line in Healesville for the first time, with the pace ramping up and riders jockeying for road position. Why?

Well, the climb of Myers Creek Road starts not long after the passage of the line.

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It is not the steepest of climbs, but given its length, it is probably as close to Alpine as you’re going to get in the region. The average of 5.8% will wear down the peloton and I’m sure we’ll start to see gaps appear, possibly just after the 2km mark where the road pitches up to 9-10% for a few hundred metres.

I’m really intrigued to see how the teams approach this climb. Will we see some early attacks, forcing other riders to chase?

This exact route was used in the first stage of the men’s race back in 2016; which saw Froome and Kennaugh attack on the climb, opening up a 20 second or so gap.

Once over the top, they managed to hold off the pursuing bunch as the road descends almost all the way back into Healesville.

Will we see something similar tomorrow?

Stage 2.

If there aren’t significant gaps on the opening day, then it will all come down to the short, pan-flat TT the following day.

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At only 1.6km in length it is more of a prologue than a normal TT, in fact, the same course will be used as the men’s prologue later in the day. Does that make it an epilogue for the women then? I’m calling it an epilogue.

It will all be over in a flash, but some technical corners will create gaps, along with the pure power sections.

Will the leader from the previous day have enough of a lead to hold on?

Contenders

The list of contenders all depends on how aggressively the opening day is raced. We should see the race blown to bits on Myers Creek but there is the slight chance that things stay more compact than expected, especially if we have a headwind on the climb.

Furthermore, if there is a lack of co-operation up the road, then riders who have been dropped on the climb can make it back on the long run in back to Healesville. If that is the case, then look out for the podium to look very similar to what we saw in Cadel’s Race, with Hosking, Elvin and Bronzini all looking very sharp at the moment.

Nonetheless, it looks set to be a race for the climbers.

Katrin Garfoot.

Garfoot

Arguably the strongest rider on the climbs in both of the races so far (TDU and Cadel’s  Race), Garfoot will love the look of Mylers Creek. The average gradient should suit her characteristics very well, allowing her to set a solid tempo, trying to ride everyone off her wheel. Given her TT prowess, she has the potential to maintain a gap of 20 seconds once over the top if there are only a few riders behind her. The same can be said for the “epilogue” the following day where you would expect the veteran rider to shine. Ably supported by a strong Aussie selection, she has to start the race as favourite.

Annemiek van Vleuten.

Along with getting to show her climbing legs, this race will be the first time the newly crown TT world champion will get to wear her rainbow stripes. I am intrigued to see how she goes on the longer, shallow climb of Mylers Creek as she seemed to struggle on the steep slopes of Challambra on Saturday. Packing a good sprint from a reduced group, she has a good chance if 5 riders come to the line. Bonus seconds could be crucial in shaping the GC. Well, at least I think there are bonus seconds?!

Lucy Kennedy.

This race is possibly the reason as to why the Mitchelton rider was left out of Cadel’s Race on Saturday, which kind of makes my dismay in the previous preview look a bit stupid now! The climb of Mylers Creek is well suited to the rangy Australian and it will be interesting to see how she goes against Garfoot on this type of ascent. Admitting she can’t sprint, then she’ll more than likely have to arrive alone to win. But if Mitchelton play the numbers game well, then there is every chance she can do so.

Sabrina Stultiens.

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One of the stand-out performers on Saturday, much to the surprise of Phil Liggett. However, any knowledgeable cycling fan would know that Stultiens has a lot of class and showed great promise back in 2014/15 when breaking onto the scene. 2016 was a write off for her due to a long-term knee injury that plagued her, which meant 2017 was a year where she had to re-find her feet but I think she’ll come good this year. Marianne Vos wanted her on WaowDeals which speaks a lot about the type of rider Stultiens is! She is a rider to watch out for and one that shouldn’t be given a lot of leeway.

Audrey Cordon.

The French rider is known as a good time trial rider but she can also climb well too. The fairly shallow gradients of Myers will suit her style and rhythm and she’ll hope to be near the front of the bunch when things start to split up. Sprinting to 4th on Saturday, she has a good turn of speed from a small group and might surprise a few people if we get a 5-8 rider gallop to the line.

McIlroy, Brown and Malseed are other names to look out for if we get some chaotic and fast paced racing on Myers.

Prediction

I’m still really torn as to how this one will play out. Myers is long enough to create some gaps but the fairly shallow gradient does allow for some of the “less-climby” types to hold on.

Nonetheless, I think we’ll see the Korda-Mentha team and Mitchelton Scott attempt to rip it up from the bottom, dropping the likes of Hosking etc.

We’ll be left with a select group including the 5 main contenders I’ve mentioned above. Team tactics will play a part with Mitchelton Scott constantly attacking and counter-attacking, trying to get away.

Kennedy will get away, but she’ll be followed by Cordon and Stultiens, as van Vleuten and Garfoot mark each other out behind.

The trio work together well, but Cordon eventually rolls them in the sprint taking home the opening stage. The bonus seconds (if there are any) and her strong TT, will be good enough to see her take home the overall crown.

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Allez Audrey!

Coverage

There is no live coverage of the race but there will be highlights on SBS which I’m sure will be available at some point.

Thanks as always for reading! Who do you think will win? Will Mylers be as explosive and decisive as I think, or will some of the sprinters hold on? Anyway,

Those have been My Two Spokes Worth.

 

 

 

 

Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race 2018 Preview

Billed as Australia’s answer to the spring classics, Cadel’s Race offers some exciting one-day action early in the season.

The past three editions have seen one solo winner (Kennaugh in 2016) with the other two editions being won via a reduced bunch sprint.

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2017’s champion, Nikias Arndt, returns for this season but can he double up tomorrow? Let’s have a look at what is in store for the riders.

The Route

After having the same final circuit in the first three editions, the organisers have decided to alter it ever so slightly. They’ve taken out the climb of Hyland Road and bypassed some other areas, meaning the circuit is cut down to 17km from the 20km or so it was previously.

Furthermore, they’ll enter the circuit before the famous Challambra climb this year, meaning that the riders will have to tackle it 4 times throughout the afternoon, not the 3 it has been in previous years.

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@LasterketaBurua

So the organisers have somehow managed to make the race both easier and more difficult at the same time.

The removal of Hyland Road means that the only meaningful place to put in an attack on the circuit is Challambra. Of course, we could see attacks go throughout the Geelong circuit but the biggest differences should be made on the climb, in theory.

Challambra

It is a tough little climb as well, with the steepest section coming right at the top. However, as it is only 1km long, some of the stronger, heavier guys in the bunch can hold on to the coat tails of the climbers. If they can maintain the power that is!

Michael Woods holds the all important Strava KOM for the segment, clocking in at 2’28 in last years race. Interestingly, that was set on the second passage of the climb when he chased down Sebastian Henao, with the third effort taking 7 seconds more.

More importantly though, the summit of Challambra this year is only 9.2km from the finish unlike the 12.2km it was in 2017. Given that the first 2.5km of that is an incredibly fast descent, then an attack over Challambra sounds more appealing than in previous years.

A chase will need to be quick to organise, if a strong, small group of riders escape.

Weather Watch

With the TDU having been effected by searingly hot conditions last week, the riders probably won’t be pleased to hear the potential 39-degrees that could be about tomorrow.

Thankfully, there is meant to be some cloud cover throughout the day, but it will still be around 35 degrees in the afternoon when the riders are finishing.

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Source: Bureau of Meteorology

How will the race pan out?

Anyone’s guess.

History would suggest that it will be a selective finale, with a possible late move or small bunch sprint to the line.

The change to the route could make it more selective, or it could see the race stick together. I really don’t have an idea as to which way it will go!

Given that Challambra is the only meaningful place to attack and distance the fast men, I hope to see some teams really step up the pace in the opening two ascents. It is quite far out at 40km to go, but it is what is needed if they are looking to make the race as difficult as possible.

If that does happen, then we could see some attacks go on the penultimate passage, and with the correct riders and teams represented, it might just well stick to the line. If a group doesn’t go on the penultimate lap, then we’ll see the riders sprint up Challambra for the final time. Can Porte make it the new Willunga?

Yet, we could quite easily see a defensive race.

Teams might be afraid to take it up on the opening laps, cruising over the first two ascents. Consequently, the faster men in the bunch will be a lot fresher going into the final two laps meaning they would be much more likely to make the finish.

It will be tough for them to follow the best on the climb, but things can easily regroup, especially if there is only a 15 second deficit to the head of the race.

Hmmm.

See the conundrum I’m in?!

Two’s Company

I’m sure if you have read/are going to read plenty of previews on this race, then the same names will crop up again and again. So instead of me boring you with the usual suspects, I’m just going to name two riders and how they might be in with a chance of a good result.

That and the fact I’m incredibly tired and running a bit behind schedule with this preview, but you didn’t have to know that!

Richie Porte.

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Yup, the King of Willunga makes the list.

I almost ruled him out of that stage in the Tour Down Under, as I thought he was a bit under the weather. Boy, I was wrong! He put on his usual masterclass but what was even more impressive was that he did it into a headwind. Clearly in great shape at the moment and wanting to make up for his crash at the Tour last year, I wouldn’t be surprised to see him give it a go tomorrow. In last year’s race he lead the peloton over Challambra for the last time, but it didn’t seem as if he was going full gas. He did however attack the group on the ascent but was eventually reeled back in. BMC will probably front as if they’re working for Gerrans but I have a feeling they’ll make it tough on the opening few laps in an effort to give Porte a shot at it. The climb of Challambra is possibly just on the short side for the Tazmanian, but a harder race beforehand will make it seem longer for his competitors. If he can get close to matching the 10.37 W/kg he managed with his stinging attack on Willunga, many will struggle to follow him if it is full gas from the bottom. After that, it will be over to him to manage his pace and TT all the way to the line. Something that definitely could happen given the shorter distance.

Ruben Guerreiro.

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The more left-field pick, the Trek rider is now into his second season in the pro ranks and I’m intrigued to see what he can do this year. A talented rider; he can climb well on the short hills, but he also packs an explosive punch. Winning the Portuguese championships against the likes of Vinhaus, Vilela and Goncalves on an uphill finish is no mean feat. Furthermore, he managed an impressive sprint to 6th place in the tough Bretagne Classics last year, highlighting good levels of endurance for such a young rider and not to mention that explosive kick once again. He’s started this season with a solid string of results Down Under, including 10th place on Willunga, which saw him finish 9th on GC. If we get a small group escaping tomorrow over the final crest of Challambra, he seems to have the speed to challenge in a group of 5-6. Importantly as well, Trek seem to have started the season flying and there will be a feel good atmosphere in the squad. Can Guerreiro continue that streak?

Prediction

Beats me!

I think we’ll see a hard tempo from far out, hoping to eliminate the faster riders who might hold on to the finish on an easier day.

BMC will set things up perfectly for Porte to fire off some rockets right at the bottom of Challambra. No one will be able to follow him and that will be that for the race.

The King of Willunga will therein be known as the King of Willunga, Ruler of Challambra and breaker of chains.

Well, actually, hopefully he won’t become that last Game of Thrones reference!

Betting

A couple of punts for interest, but I don’t want to get overly invovled…

1pt EW Guerreiro @ 33/1 (would take 25s lowest)

1pt WIN Porte @ 66/1 with PP. Although I doubt you could get 1pt on there (I can’t), so I’d happily take the 18/1 available elsewhere (I’m going to have to).

Thanks as always for reading. What do you make of my two, slightly left-field candidates for the race? Who do you think will win? Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

Women’s Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race 2018 Preview

2018 marks the third edition of the Women’s Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race (CEGORR) as a UCI event, with the riders set to face the famous Challambra Crescent climb for the first time.

Both of the races have been won by Mitchelton Scott (formerly Orica), with Amanda Spratt taking home the spoils in the inaugural race in 2016 and team-mate Annemiek van Vleuten winning last year. Will the Australian outfit manage to make it a three-peat, or will we see someone else assert their dominance?

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First, let’s take a look at what is in store for the riders.

The Route

At only 113km long, it isn’t exactly the longest race the women will face all season but given the Australian heat, some of the Europeans will be very happy about that. The obvious main change from last year is the addition of the famous local ascent; the Challambra Crescent climb.

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@LasterketaBurua

The opening 80km will act as almost a warm-up for the riders, but it will be the final 35km where we could see a potential race winning move go.

The first place we might see shakeout is at 30km to go where the riders will be greeted by a small drag in the road. Fairly innocuous, averaging only 3.1% for 2.1km, it will be interesting to see how the riders attack it. Furthermore, as it is placed on a fairly open stretch of road, the wind direction and strength will also add another factor that has to be considered.

Once over the top of that climb, the riders will have to contend with almost 10km of flat/slightly descending roads before the quick double climb into Ceres.

Climb to Ceres

The first ramp is only 500m long but it averages 4.6%. A stinging attack here could certainly line out the bunch before a fast descent and the second, longer part of the climb begins. At 1.8km in distance and averaging 4.4%, it is tough enough for some of the stronger riders in the race to create some gaps. Who will be brave enough to go all in 16km from the finish?

If gaps are made, then they should be held or even extended with the short flat section before the road plummets all the way down for the next 4kms as they approach Challambra.

There is a little 300m kicker (6%) which will disrupt their rhythm 600m or so before the start of Challambra itself.

Challambra

Not an easy climb as you can see, with it going up in various ramps. Not ideal for those who like to keep a steady pace. If a few riders attack this hard then we will no doubt see some fairly large time gaps at the top of it. We saw the 6.8% gradient of Mengler’s Hill do some damage in the Tour Down Under and although Challambra is shorter, I think we’ll see a similar outcome due to the steepness.

From there, the road mainly heads downwards for the remaining 9km, albeit there is one last kick up and a chance for a climber to try to distance someone. That comes just after they cross the small bridge with the 800m section averaging 4%.

If we don’t have a solo rider in the lead by then, it will all come down to team tactics and a potential reduced bunch sprint along the Geelong harbour.

How will the race pan out?

With the tricky final 35km, I expect to see a very tactical race with lots of attacks and counter-attacks throughout the closing hour of racing.

We could feasibly see the winning move go at any time, but the likelihood is that it will come on the climb to Ceres or the ascent of Challambra Crescent.

As stated above, the weather conditions will play a part in the outcome of the race. Thankfully, the initial heat wave that was predicted won’t be as prominent, with a “cool” 30 degrees forecast.

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Source: Bureau of Meteorology

The direction of the wind is important, and a southeasterly wind means cross-tail for the majority of the run in to Geelong. Consequently the racing will be fast but also dangerous, as a cross-tailwind tends to cause some mild panic in the bunch as they are pushed along. It might not be “cross” enough for some echelons, but who knows!

One thing is for certain, it should increase the willingness of attackers compared to if it was a headwind.

Garfoot vs Mitchelton Scott – Part 2

After their great battle during the women’s Tour Down Under, Katrin Garfoot will hope to get one over her old team this time round.

She was arguably the strongest rider in that race, but got worked over by the numbers that Mitchelton Scott had close to her on GC. That is less likely to happen here due to it being a one-day race, but the same principles do still apply, apart from there is one thing missing; Kennedy.

Mitchelton arrive with Spratt and van Vleuten as leaders, but they don’t have the third prong that they had in the TDU, and that will make it harder for them here. I’m confused as to why Kennedy isn’t racing, her results at this race over the past few years have been solid and with the introduction of Challambra, the course should suit her even more. At the TDU, she was the only rider who managed to hold onto Garfoot’s wheel on the summit finish and that will be missed massively here. Illness is the only reason I can think of as to why she is not starting!

The change to Challambra suits a flying Garfoot, who climbed impeccably during the TDU. Others will know this and will need to go beforehand. However, I think they’ll find it hard to shake her off, but it can be done.

Spratt lost 8 seconds to Garfoot on Mengler’s Hill, with van Vleuten losing 15. I am intrigued to see what they’ll do during the race to wear down their former team-mate.

Can anyone else compete against those three? On paper no, but races aren’t won on paper! We could see a tactical stalemate between Garfoot and Mitchelton, which allows for some others to take a somewhat surprise victory.

Other Riders to Watch

Lauren Stephens – The Cylance rider was runner-up in the TDU and is evidently on some good form. She’s probably not the best climber here but her strength lies against the clock. If she is able to get a gap while others sit up and argue behind as to whom is going to chase, then she might be very difficult to bring back!

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Grace Brown –  After a strong showing at the nationals where she picked up a third place, the Holden Gusto rider continued that on with a solid 5th place overall in the TDU. A bit of an unkown quantity, she might benefit from the bigger riders looking at each other. Another top 10 is on the cards, but she might just go a bit better…

Linda Villumsen – You would get short odds on the New Zealand rider launching a solo attack at some point during this race! She is a good climber, but not great, so will struggle up Challambra against the pure mountain goats. However, she does have a big engine so if she gets a gap she will be hard to chase down, especially with a disorganised effort. Can the former world TT champion outsmart 2017’s winner?

A few more names to keep an eye out for are Cordon, McIlroy and Anderson.

Prediction

I just can’t see anyone other than Garfoot winning this!

Garfoot

The Uni-SA team is strong enough to keep the race together until we get to the final few climbs. From there, Garfoot should be able to track any moves from the Mitchelton pairing or any of the other contenders. Once onto Challambra, she’ll fly, and leave everyone in her wake!

Consequently leaving Mitchelton ruing not letting Kennedy race as she is the only one who could possibly follow on Challambra. (I’m not bitter at all given she’s in my season long fantasy team, although I can’t imagine you can tell…)

Coverage

The race will be streamed live on 7plus here  from 10am local time (11pm UK time on Friday/tonight). The feed itself might be geo-restricted, but I’m sure some helpful people will sort it out and there will be other streams available online no doubt.

Thanks as always for reading though! Who do you think will win? Can anyone stop the flying Garfoot? Will we see a surprise winner this year? Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth

 

Tour Down Under 2018 – Stage 6 Preview; Adelaide -> Adelaide

I’m short on time so this will be a quick preview; faster than Porte up Willunga…

Stage 5 Recap

Well, the King lives on!

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Porte stormed away from his rivals up Willunga, but didn’t get enough of a gap to lead GC overall. The Ochre jersey will be worn by Impey (who finished second on Willunga) going into the final stage, as he is ahead of the BMC rider due to count back. Slagter took third behind the two and consequently finds himself on the GC podium as well.

I can’t see Porte and BMC trying anything on the streets of Adelaide to distance Impey, but you never know.

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

The Route

Same old, same old; the classic final circuit around Adelaide.

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Nothing really exciting to see here!

We’ll no doubt see a break form at some point but this should be controlled well enough to bring it all back for a sprint.

There is a little hill during the circuit that helps to line things out going into the final few laps.

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Coming through near the front in the final few corners is important as it can be quite hard to make up places from behind here. Saying that, it looks as if there might be a bit of a headwind this year so it could actually be an advantage to come from 6 riders or so back. We’ll have to wait and see!

Contenders

Ewan – Mitchelton will keep an eye on BMC/Porte early on, but they’ll fully turn their attention to the pocket rocket in the closing few laps. He’s been in a good position a few times but has messed it up. I’m wondering if that with his improved climbing that he seems to be showing; if he’s lost some of his power in the flat sprints?

Greipel – It is nice to see the German have his mojo back; he’s looked very powerful in the sprints so far. With the cooler temperatures set to return, I imagine he’ll no doubt give it another good go and it would be a surprise not to see him on or around the podium.

Viviani – Lightning fast on stage 3, the Italian does seem to have some early zip about him. With Sabatini as lead-out, he should be delivered well into the final few hundred metres. However, I think it is best for Viviani to come from behind, so it will be interesting to see how they approach it. He is a danger though!

Bennett – Given Sagan has his stage glory and McCarthy is no longer in the GC picture, I hope Bora give their Irish sprinter a chance. He’s shown on numerous occasions that he has some great top end speed. With Sagan and Selig putting down the power for him, he should get an armchair ride through those final turns. It is all a question whether he has fully recovered from his cold, but going by his intermediate sprints the other day, I think he has.

Bauhaus – I knew after not backing him on Stage 3 he would go and produce a strong result. Like Viviani, he flew from far back, using the slipstream of the other riders very effectively. A powerful rider in his own right, he reminds me of Kittel in some ways. Can he show the same top end speed here?

Consonni – I like the young Italian a lot and he’s much more versatile than just a sprinter; finishing second in the U23 category on the tough World’s course in Richmond a few years ago. After a season in the pro ranks, his top end speed seems to be coming along well. He’s produced consistent results this week; but he can make that final step?

Prediction

The veteran to be the smartest in the headwind; Greipel to power home for a second stage win.

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Consonni to finally break onto the podium as well!

Betting

3pts WIN Greipel @ 4/1 with Bet365

1pt EW Consonni @ 33/1 with Bet365

 

Thanks as always for reading and apologies for the shorter preview! Hope you’ve all enjoyed the opening week of the men’s racing season. I’ll be back with both men and women’s CEGORR previews next weekend. Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

Tour Down Under 2018 – Stage 5 Preview; McLaren Vale -> Willunga Hill

Stage 4 Recap

That didn’t disappoint, although I did think the race would be slightly more selective. We saw attacks from many riders throughout the closing 10kms, all of which looked at some point as if they might be “the one”. However, things were eventually brought back together for a super fast sprint into Uraidla, with Sagan showing his raw power by overcoming Impey in the closing 50m. Luis Leon Sanchez rounded out the podium.

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That result means the World Champion is in Ochre heading in to the classic Willunga stage. Let’s have a look at what is in store for the riders; this will be brief!

The Route

If you’ve watched the Tour Down Under at any point then you’ll know what is coming.

Santos Tour Down Under 2018 - Stage 5
@LaFlammeRouge

Nothing all day really until we get to the final 25km and the first ascent of Willunga.

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In the grand scheme of things it is not an overly difficult climb but the combination of the heat and the speed they ascend, makes it tougher than it seems.

Porte has flown up here the past few years, normally launching his attack from ~1.2km to go, and fully dropping everyone by the S-bends at ~800m to go. Will we see the same this year?

Weather Watch

After the ridiculously hot conditions of the past few days, it will ease in temperature a bit for Willunga. The following is the forecast for nearby Mount Terrible.

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Source: Windfinder

There is one thing that has caught my eye though…Look at that wind. I didn’t expect to get the opportunity to speak about the possibility of echelons this early into the season!

They are unlikely, but given we’ve seen some teams try before, I’m hoping that might be the case this year. It all depends on what way the wind ends up blowing.

The 4kms along McMurtie Road could offer a prime opportunity if the wind does come from the south.

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Likewise, the same can be said for the 3.5km of Main Road as the riders head directly south for town of Willunga, if the wind has swung round.

How will the stage pan out?

With so many riders still close on GC, there are 33 riders within 14 seconds, then I hope we see some aggressive racing early. Leaving it to the last ascent of Willunga really narrows down the list of riders who can win this race overall.

Ideally, I’d love to see a few teams set a very hard pace up Willunga the first time followed quickly by some counter-attacks over the top. This could create some really interesting, tactical racing.

Will we see that though?

I fear not and once again it will be a sprint up Willunga but the headwind will play a big part and we might not see as wide margins as we have in the past.

Can anyone stop Porte?

Probably not, he looked strong on stage 4 and seems as lean as ever going by the pictures floating around social media. However, there are reports that he was suffering from a bit of an illness on Friday, although that didn’t really show the other day! Yet, if that has matured into something worse, then it certainly could be highlighted on Willunga. Porte has attacking spot nailed down; putting in a strong dig at 1.2km and not slowing down until the finish. With the headwind though he might have to hold on until later, meaning his winning gap might not be as big in the end.

From what we’ve seen so far there are a few riders who might go close to the BMC rider.

McCarthy has been consistently strong throughout this race and he impressed me on the climb of Woods Hill in yesterday’s stage. He’s not a pure climber, but given his current form he certainly should be up at the pointy end on Willunga. The headwind is a massive advantage for him as it plays nicely into his good sprint. He’ll hope to finish no more than a few seconds behind Porte if possible, then pick up some bonuses on the final day.

Pozzovivo is lurking and has been climbing to the fore on the few tests we’ve had so far. Bahrain still have three riders close which could play wonderfully into their hands if they attack the race. The Izagirre brothers have been solid too and I really hope we see them go full gas on the first ascent. It will be hard to beat the King of Willunga, but if they can isolate him early then who knows.

Canty.

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A bit of an outsider, he was one of the standout riders for me yesterday. On the passage of Norton Summit he was very attentive, coming over the crest in third place behind Gerrans and Porte. Then once we got onto Woods Hill he made a move with Gorka Izagirre. That didn’t last too long but he was one of the first to follow when Porte went again later. To me that suggests he’s going well and feeling confident. Completing his first Grand Tour last year will have a positive effect on him this season; will we see that come to fruition on Willunga?

Prediction

The King will be dethroned!

Porte will try his best to get rid of everyone on Willunga but the headwind will scupper him and he’ll rue the missed opportunity to work with his successor on stage 4…

George Bennett to win!

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I was really impressed with the Kiwi on stage 4 and he arguably looked the strongest on Woods Hill Road; a great sign for Willunga. It was a shame that Porte soft-pedalled a few turns when the two of them had got a gap, but it will only make Bennett hungrier to beat the BMC rider on his own turf.

He is a classy rider who took a big step forward last year and I think that upwards trajectory will continue in 2018!

Betting

B365 have been boring and went 1/5 odds for 3 places not the usual 1/4, but anyway;

1pt EW Bennett @ 14/1 

0.5pt EW Canty @ 50/1

3pts on Canty to beat Hamilton @ 1/1

 

Thanks as always for reading. Apologies that this is a slightly truncated preview but given that it is the same route every year and I’m a bit knackered after the past few days; what can you do?! Who do you think will win on Willunga this year? Can Porte really be dethroned? Can Sagan somehow hold on enough to be in with a chance on Stage 6? Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.