Le Samyn 2018 Preview

 

If you don’t like this race, we can’t be friends.

Last year’s edition saw a truly epic battle in absolutely brutal conditions that wore the peloton down over the laps around Dour. Only the strongest were left at the head of the race and we saw a late two-up attack hold their advantage over a small chasing group, battling it out in a sprint to the line for victory. Van Keirsbulk came out on top ahead of Kirsch, with Keisse winning the group sprint for third.

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Conditions aren’t going to be as extreme this year, although, I suppose you could argue that they will be but I’ll get to that in a bit. First, let’s have a look at what is in store for the riders tomorrow afternoon.

The Route

“If it’s not broke, don’t fix it” seems to be the attitude of the organisers this year. We have pretty much the exact same route as last year which will see the riders leave Quarengon, head north and complete a large loop before heading south and to the finish town of Dour where they will take some local laps.

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It’s great to see that the profiles I’m using from @LasterketaBurua are actually the official ones too, great work guys!

Although we do have some climbs early on, the bulk of the action will happen in the final 100km once we reach the circuit.

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On the profile it may look like the riders have some tough climbs to contend with, but they are more “slogs” than anything else averaging 2% or so. Definitely for the rouleurs of the peloton and not lightweight climbers.

The cobbles will wear down the riders as they have to tackle 12kms worth in only just over 70kms of racing. Not ideal for some! A good portion of the circuit is on exposed country roads which makes for exciting racing if the wind gets up…

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You can view the interactive finish circuit profile that I made here.

The most important section of cobbles is the last; the Rue de Belle Vue. At 700m long and coming only a few kilometres from the finish, it is one of the last places for someone to launch a decisive move if they don’t want to come to the line in a group. I’m not sure what the state of the cobbles are like this year, but in last year’s race they were battered by rain and looked like this…

There’s certainly no easy place to ride on them.

As for the finish, the road drags all the way up to the line so you don’t want to launch your sprint too early and fade in the closing metres. Timing and experience counts for a lot here.

Weather Watch

With the last two editions of Samyn heavily impacted by the weather, it looks as if we will have something similar this year. However, instead of the wind and rain that we had last year; it will be dry this time around, except it will be bitterly cold instead. Oh, and of course it will still be windy!

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Source: Windfinder

The above image is the forecast for a town called Hornu that is situated just 10km or so to the north-east of Dour.

As you can see, the riders will face freezing conditions with the temperature set not to rise above -2ºC all day. Furthermore, a constant 25km/h wind coming from the NE/E will make the day feel even colder with a “Feels like” temperature of -9ºC.

This adds a different dynamic to the race and it could arguably be even harder than the past few years when they ‘just had a bit of rain’…

The wind direction is important as well because a lot of the exposed sections (like the one I highlighted earlier) will have crosswinds which means the possibility of echelons is very high, especially if the wind is gusting at 40km/h at times. It does mean that they will face a bit of a headwind on the run home, albeit, it might be more of a cross-headwind than anything else.

I can guarantee the peloton will be battered at the end of the day and the winner will definitely have deserved it.

Contenders

With only three WT teams here, there is plenty of chance for the PCT teams to step up and take a good result, like we saw last year with the first two on the podium. However, the WT teams are normally full of quality and they’re the squads that animate the race.

Quick Step arrive with a stacked squad, as you would expect, and I’m not entirely sure who will be their leader. On their website, they suggest it will be Terpstra, Gilbert and Stybar who are the protected riders but I have a feeling the latter two will be saving themselves for bigger goals, possibly Strade on Saturday. That leaves Terpstra and another rider who I think will go well here; Senechal.

Niki Terpstra.

CYCLING GRAND PRIX DU SAMYN

A former winner of this race and an expert in bad weather conditions, the Dutchman was disappointed with his performances this weekend. He’ll be looking to bounce back and this race offers him a great opportunity to do just that. The flat parcours is ideal for him and you would be hard pressed to find anyone in the peloton that rides better in the wind than he does. If he gets a gap of around 20 seconds, he will be very difficult to bring back.

Florian Senechal.

The young Frenchman has a very good track record in this race with a 4th and 3rd place finishes in the last two editions of this race. Those results came when he was on Cofidis who albeit were strong, they’re not on the same level as QuickStep. The extra team support could be a massive benefit to him. He did miss Kuurne due to a stomach bug so it will be interesting to see if he’s recovered from that.

Alexis Gougeard.

This is exactly the type of race that the AG2R man should start to excel in at this point of his career. Originally a breakaway rider, he has developed into much more than over the past two seasons. He’s put in some very solid performances over the first few races of the year, being active in most of the races. A “strongman” of the peloton, he won’t be too concerned with the gritty weather, it should suit his nature.

Guillaume Van Keirsbulk.

Can he repeat last year’s success? It will be hard given that he will be marked more in this edition but given the right circumstance he certainly has a chance. We saw in Kuurne that he tried a dig off the front of the peloton but it didn’t really come to much. Was he simply just stretching his legs for this race?

Dimitri Claeys.

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With Senechal now at QuickStep, Claeys will be the defacto leader of Cofidis at the cobbled races. His 2017 was probably one to forget with no real result to his name but he did manage to pick up a 5th place at the Tacx Classic at the end of the year, compared to his great 2016 season where he finished 9th at Flanders. It has possibly taken him a bit of time to gel with his new team and I’m hoping to see him improve this year. He’s already clocked a lot of miles this season taking some solid results in Marseillaise and Murcia which are certainly not races he should excel in. A rider who will like the tough conditions, I’m expecting a good result tomorrow.

Lasse Norman Hansen.

He could be a bit of a wildcard for a race like this. Starting off his season very well in Australia where he took a stage win in the Herald Sun Tour he has since gone on to DNF the three races he’s competed at back in Europe. Not a great sign really! However, he is a very strong rouleur and he should be ideally suited to the terrain and conditions that we have tomorrow; he loves an aggressive race!

Pim Ligthart.

Now into his second season with Roompot after dropping down a level, it will be intriguing to see if he fulfills the leadership role he has been given. Last year he took a few good results here or there but nothing outstanding. He was 4th in Kuurne on Sunday so his confidence will be up a little and he’ll fancy his chances if we don’t get a really tough day and a group of 20 or so arrive together.

I’m not going to ramble on anymore about contenders as I could easily be here for another 2000 words if I wanted so I’ll leave it be!

Some other random names I’ll throw into the hat though are; Pardini (Team Differdange – Losch), Spengler (WB Aqua Protect), Gaudin (Direct Energie) and Goolaerts (Verandas Willems)

Race Tactics

Wait until the final circuit and for the race to blow apart unless of course we see some very keen teams take it up on the loop north.

However, the outcome will depend on the approach of QuickStep. They have the class team in the race and have many different options that could feasibly win. This isn’t a WT race so I can’t see them trying to control it all day, instead, they’ll more than likely send riders onto the attack as soon as we get to the circuit around Dour, or try to rip things up in the cross winds.

It is important for teams to mark any move by a QS rider and get their own guy up the road too. Conversely, if they are in a move without a QS rider then it will be very difficult for it to succeed unless they are the only team that has missed out, which is incredibly unlikely. Last year it was possible to outfox them and wear them down due to the team they had, but in 2018 they bring some of their crack-squad so it will be different.

Consequently, this should make for some very interesting racing throughout the day as the right riders might not be represented in the correct moves.

It takes a great deal of luck but also experience and strength to win a race like this.

Prediction

This is a tough one.

Originally I had this down as a Senechal win but given he pulled out of KBK due to sickness then I’m not sure how he’ll do. It might have been a more precautionary thing than anything else, who knows.

No doubt QuickStep will play a massive part in the outcome of the race but I can’t see many teams making it easy for them.

Hmmm, I’ll go for Alexis Gougeard to take the one-day cobbled win that seems to have been coming for a while.

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The race will splinter a lot on the laps around Dour both due to the harshness of the conditions but also the difficult course. Quick Step won’t have as many riders near the front of the race as they would like but given their reputation they are burdened with a lot of the work. On the final lap we have a group of 12 riders at the head of the race but an attack sees a few riders get away. They work well together until Gougeard drops them all on the Rue de Belle Vue and solos to victory.

Betting

No odds, no party!

Kirolbet have odds in Spain and I’d be backing Gougeard at 40s and LNH at the same price.

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

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Omloop Het Nieuwsblad 2018 Preview

Oh yes, the cobbled races are back!

Last year’s edition of the race saw an almost carbon copy of 2016 with Greg Van Avermaet beating Sagan in the uphill sprint into Gent. The reining champion returns this year hoping to make it three in a row at this race and without the current World Champion, he has a good chance of doing so.

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There are plenty of riders who will be hoping to stop him though so let’s have a look at what is in store for them at the traditional “start of the season”.

The Route

A big change from the past editions with a new finish town and a route that is reminiscent of a “mini Flanders”.

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@LasterketaBurua

The riders will face no less than 12 cobbled sectors, of which 5 are cobbled climbs; it’s a real race of attrition. To make matters worse for the riders but much better for our viewing pleasure, it is the second half of the day that is back loaded with obstacles. In total there are 16 cobble sections or hellingen to complete in the final 100km and that doesn’t include any uncategorised lumps or bumps either.

With any spring cobbled classic, the action can start anywhere along the route. However, the likely place we’ll see the favourites begin to cause a selection will be the Molenberg. The riders will tackle the 500m at 9.8% (including 300m of cobbles) climb with roughly 50kms in the day to go. From there it won’t be long until the Haaghoek and anyone in difficulty here can wave their chances of success goodbye.

Some more Hellingen follow over the next 20km before an iconic final two climbs.

At just under 20km to go the riders will tackle the famous Muur van Geraardsbergen a.k.a the Kapelmuur.

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The iconic cobbled climb is a brute and averages 6.8% for a kilometre. That might not seem like much but these are proper cobbles and with ramps of 20%, riders can explode and lose the race here. Likewise, a rider can surge away from his opposition and build up a gap, not to be seen again!

Once over the top of the ‘Muur, a fast, twisting descent follows before the final challenge of the day; the Bosberg. Shallower than the Muur, it averages 5% for roughly 1.2km but the final 800m or so are all cobbled. A perfect launchpad for a puncheur to try one last attack and distance the group that they are with.

From there, 11kms remain and the finish in Ninove awaits.

Weather Watch

It’s the start of the cobbled classics so we’re surely in for some bad weather right? Well, that’s partly correct. The riders are set to get sunny conditions all day but it will be very cold all day with a wind chill factor making it feel around freezing point. They should manage fine though, as on my commute to work the other day it was -8ºC but I guess I’m carrying some more bulk than them…

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Source: Windfinder

The above screenshot is the forecast for Aalst which is just north of the finish town of Ninove. As you can see, the riders will have a constant wind coming from the East/NorthEeast throughout the day.

It is strong enough to create some echelons if we get the right road direction and lack of tree coverage out on the route. Consequently the peloton will be on edge the whole day which might lead to faster, more nervous racing and the unfortunate likelihood of more crashes. Having numbers near the head of the race at all times will be very important.

One thing to consider though is that from roughly 30km to go onwards, the riders will face mainly a headwind/cross-headwind which could be to the detriment of a solo escapee. Unless of course everyone is battered by then and the strongest rider survives.

A Clear Favourite?

We come into the race this year without Sagan which is a shame but we do have a Sagan style rider, especially when it comes to these types of events, with Greg Van Avermaet. Having won the race the past two years and in scintillating form at the moment on the punchy stages in Oman he comes into this race as the massive bookies favourite. So much so, that according to them he has a 40% chance of winning.

His team is weaker than last year mainly due to the ahem, loss of Oss, but Roelandts should be with him long into the race. He’ll need a big performance from Küng as well because I can’t really see many others in his team staying at the head of the race when the going gets tough.

The tactics GVA adopts will be very interesting. He has the power to go with almost anyone and drop a lot of people on the climbs, but he also possesses a strong sprint so he might be happy with the headwind on the run in and sit in for a bunch gallop.

Last year during his Spring domination I mentioned that if people want to win against him, they need to treat him like Sagan in these races. Refuse to co-operate and try to work him over with numbers if he is isolated. I wonder if Van Avermaet will adopt the Sagan style and just shrug his shoulders and let people ride off; I can’t see that happening.

In conclusion, his okay-ish team and the fact he is such an overwhelming favourite means this race will be a lot more difficult for him to win than it appears on paper. Now, I wouldn’t be surprised to see him to be raising his arms come tomorrow afternoon but I’m going to be bold and suggest he doesn’t.

Van Avermaet won’t win.

 

The Harlem Cobbletrotters

Quick Step bring a ridiculously stacked squad with them. I mean, the strength in-depth they have is just stupid and they will play a big part in the outcome of the day.

Devenyns isn’t known as a cobble specialist but he has started the season in great form and that has to be taken seriously. He can climb well, pack a decent sprint and he isn’t a stranger to tough races here having won the Belgium Tour and Tour de Wallonie in the past.

Terpstra has had a quiet start to the season results wise but he’s been either working for team-mates or making audacious attacks. The latter suggests he’s going quite well at the moment and given the terrible weather conditions, his contender status goes up even further.

Gilbert started his year with a respectable third in Murcia and followed that up with an appearance in the breakaway in Algarve along with team-mate Stybar. Both riders pack a punch on the short slopes and have shown in previous years they go well in these types of races. I’m sure Phil will enjoy the return to the Muur/Bosberg combo, he dropped everyone on the latter in the 2011 Flanders but was brought back near the end.

Lampaert has been applying himself working for others so far this season and it is hard to tell where his form is at. He would probably prefer the older, slightly flatter finish but he is an ideal rider to send up the road early if QuickStep don’t want to control the race. The same can be said for Keisse although I fear he’ll be taking the “Vermote” role.

Finally we have Gaviria. He will win a cobbled race at some point in his career, it might even come on Sunday with Kuurne so I’m not too sure how he’ll approach Omloop. Nonetheless, he is punchy enough to deal with the climbs and I have a funny feeling QS will try to keep him safe with that headwind in the finale. Things might just come back together for a small bunch sprint and no-one here will beat the Colombian in a 20 rider effort.

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The Countdown Selection

As I’ve rambled for a bit already, and there will be plenty of previews that go into almost every contender possible then I’m just going to name another four here to keep an eye out for tomorrow. Taking inspiration from “Countdown” the selection is made up of one favourite, an outsider and two Wongshots.

Tim Wellens.

Arguably the form guy here, it will be good to see the Belgian rider take a proper shot at a cobbled one-day race. He was strong in the opening Spanish races but it was his performances in Andalucia that really caught my eye and I’m sure they caught yours too! Managing to follow the likes of Poels, Fuglsang, Landa etc up a tough 3km climb on the second stage really marks a step up, but he wasn’t just following, he was even one of the riders attacking. Then, he absolutely tore the race to shreds on the shorter but very punchy cobbled climb of Alcalá de los Gazules, taking the victory and ultimately the GC because of it. That type of performance should be able to transfer into a race like this and I would be very surprised not to see him right in the action at the end. Having strong team-mates like Benoot and Keukeleire will be a massive help too and it will allow Wellens time to rest in what will be a hectic day.

Daniel Oss.

Tour of Flanders

Once a loyal domestique for Van Avermaet, Oss made the switch from BMC to Bora during the winter. He’s only raced in Australia so far and if you just look at the results, then nothing stands out too much. However, it was his performance in the Great Ocean Road Race that really stood out for me. After missing a slight split on Challambra he powered back to the head of the peloton in the final 100m of the climb. Looking lean and mean, he then did a shed tonne of work for McCarthy, keeping everything together. Without Sagan, Oss will more than likely be Bora’s protected rider. Can he get one over his former team-mate?

Timo Roosen.

When talking about riders who seem to be taking a step up this year and have shown good form, then the Lotto Jumbo man has to be mentioned. Instrumental in Groenewegen’s sprint wins, he proved on the Hatta Dam that he isn’t too shabby a rider either and put out some massive power to finish third that day. He’s done ok in one-day events in the past including an 18th place at this race last year. I’m intrigued to see how he copes with the Flanders style finish and it will certainly be on his limits. However, that pesky headwind might see things come back together a bit and with the way he’s riding just now, things could go better than last year.

Filippo Ganna.

Vuelta San Juan 2018

Somewhat of an early season revelation, the UAE rider stunned everyone with a third place overall in San Juan back in January which included a very industrious 7th on the mountain finish. Post-race he said he worked really hard over winter to lose some weight, dropping almost 4kgs. Importantly though, he seems to have maintained his power though and that should help on the cobbles. As a former Paris-Roubaix U23 winner, he certainly knows how to handle them. Don’t get me wrong, he is a definite outsider but with the ambitious goal of finishing in the top 5 of a cobbled race this season, he certainly has some confidence in himself.

Prediction

That pesky head-wind really makes things difficult and there is a chance we could see a small sprint at the end. Nonetheless, I think things will still be torn up fairly early and we’ll see a very elite selection come the Muur/Bosberg combo.

I’ll go with a flying Tim Wellens to continue his sparkling start to the season and win the race.

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No one, not even Van Avermaet, will be able to match him on the Muur/Bosberg, and with some hesitation from behind and marking out by Benoot, his gap will be too big come the finish, even with the headwind.

Betting

Went a bit wild but it is the first cobbled race and I’ve been saving up those “No Bets” in Abu Dhabi for this!

2pts EW Wellens at 12/1 with most bookmakers.

1pt EW Oss at 66/1 with Bet365

0.25pt EW Roosen @ 150/1 with Various

0.25pt EW Gana @ 250/1 with Bet365.

I tweeted out those selections a few days ago (they’re the current prices though) but I’m also adding the following just incase the pesky headwind ruins things.

1pt WIN Gaviria @ 80/1 with Bet365 (Would take 50s)

Thanks as always for reading! Who do you think will win tomorrow? Personally I can’t wait and I’m just looking forward to some exciting racing. Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

 

Abu Dhabi Tour 2018 Stage 3 Preview; Nation Towers > Big Flag

Today’s Recap

We did get some crosswind action out on the road today albeit fairly brief. Things regrouped with only 30 riders or so missing the cut.

Teams jostled for position and it was a fairly chaotic sprint once again although it was certainly more “traditional” than what we had on the opening day. QuickStep put on a masterclass in bringing their man to the front and Viviani duly delivered with the win after romping home by what seemed a country mile.

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The Italian has continued his sparkling start to the season and seems to be at the top of his game at the moment.

Van Poppel managed to come home second, after rounding an impressive Ackermann in the closing metres.

Will we see similar QuickStep domination tomorrow? Let’s have a look at what is in store for the riders.

The Route

Pan flat, once again!

stage-3-route

The stage is pretty much a sightseeing tour around the main attractions that Abu Dhabi has to offer. At only 133km in length it is also the shortest of the open road stages we have this week.

The finish is fairly straightforward aside from a few sweeping turns.

stage-3-finish

Once again having a good lead-out will help a lot but it is not the end of the world if a sprinter can follow the right wheels and get lucky.

Like today, there is a small chance of echelons when the riders make their way along the top part of the loop, along the exposed causeway. It is forecast for ~20km/h winds coming from the north so we’ll just have to wait and see what happens!

Prediction

I’m not even going to bore you with going through the sprinters again today as it is much the same as over the past few stages and if I’m honest, I can’t be arsed. Gives me more time to write Omloop instead!

Anyway, I think it was clear today who the fastest rider here is and with the best lead-out he should make it back to back wins, Viviani to finish first again.

Betting

No bet, again.

Thanks as always for reading and apologies for this truncated preview but I’d much rather focus on a more exciting race than this!  Tomorrow’s TT write-up should be longer although I think a one-word post of “Dennis” might suffice. Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

Abu Dhabi Tour 2018 Stage 2 Preview; Yas Mal › Yas Beach

Today’s Recap

My echelon dance last night didn’t work and we had a fairly benign day out for the riders, albeit with a fairly strong headwind on the way “home”. The sprint teams were amassed at the front of the peloton and we had a fairly chaotic run-in with sprinters disengaged from their trains as everyone jostled for position.

Some went too early, some went too late, but in the end it was the King of Headwind Sprints a.k.a Alexander Kristoff who took the win.

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A very fast finishing Guardini was somewhat of a surprise in second place, while Ewan managed to hold on for third after opening up his sprint early. The top 10 is a smorgasbord of random riders with a few weird names up there and some notable exclusions.

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

The Route

Much the same as today with a pan-flat parcours for the riders but I’m sure they’ll be happy to know that they’ll have 35km less to ride.

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We do travel along the coast but there will be no chance of echelons unfortunately, much to my disappointment. Not much to shout about then until we get the run in to the finish.

stage-2-finish

A long, wide-open road will once again see the sprint teams battle for position as they approach the Flamme Rouge. No StreetView here either so a satellite image will have to suffice for the second day in a row.

The only major pinch point is when they turn off the big highway at 750m to go and the road narrows down to one lane.

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This should in theory stretch things out and it is conceivably long enough for a team to control the closing kilometre. However, with the short sprint trains that we have at this race it will be tough if someone takes it up from far out.

What Can We Take From Today?

A bit, but not a lot!

It was a very chaotic sprint so the lack of structure might have made some results better than others, while also having the opposite impact too. For example, our stage winner Kristoff actually lost the wheel of his lead-out man (Ferrari) in the closing kilometre but latched onto the back of Ewan and effectively used the Mitchelton rider as his last man. An experienced decision that helped him win the stage.

QuickStep looked the most organised for Viviani but they went to the opposite side of the road to everyone which ended up being the Italian’s downfall. The lead-out ran out of steam and when Viviani launched he had no one to draft. In fact, he moved all the way back to the side where the sprinters were but he’d used up too much energy by then and could only settle for fourth. He still looks fast though.

Ewan had a great lead-out but launched too early and just faded in the final 50m. Possibly a bit of inexperience on his behalf. He does seem to be going well though and will fancy his chances in a non-headwind sprint tomorrow.

Guardini finished fast but was it a flash in the pan performance? Who knows! He’ll neeed a similar level of luck/cunning to go well tomorrow but we’ll see.

I have no idea what is wrong with Kittel at the moment. His lead-out was better today, albeit not great, but he just went backwards when he started sprinting. He can’t even argue that he was blocked off or anything as 2016 Kittel would have barged his way through the large gap that was there. He’s possibly ill or it might be his mental attitude that is letting him down but he doesn’t seem at 100% to me.

Jumbo blitzed the front today at around 3km out but they ran out of steam and Van Poppel was way-down in the end. If they time their coming to the head of the peloton better, then they certainly seem to have the firepower to dominate proceedings, they just need to have the patience.

As for the rest of the sprinters, I have no idea as to what happened to them as things were too chaotic or they were just simply too far down.

Prediction

Given what we witnessed today it looks like a Ewan/Kristoff/Viviani showdown.

I think Mitchelton Scott will get the timing much better this time and the young Aussie will get the win.

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Although there is a good chance we get another chaotic sprint and a potential surprise winner.

Betting

No bet.

Thanks for reading as always! Who do you think will win tomorrow? Will we see a similar result or will it be completely flipped around? Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

 

Abu Dhabi Tour 2018 Stage 1 Preview; Madinat Zayed -> ADNOC School

GC Overview

The last of the races in the middle-east and the only one that holds World Tour status, the Abu Dhabi Tour features five stages this year. We should have three sprints, one time trial and a mountain top finish with the latter two more than likely deciding the GC.

In 2017 it was Rui Costa who took the win which topped off his cracking start to the year.

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He’s here to defend his crown this year but with the added effort against the clock it will be difficult for him to do so.

Given the TT, anyone who hopes to go well in the GC can’t afford to lose anymore than 30 seconds here and even then, it might be a struggle to gain them back on Jebel Hafeet. So with that said we have a few stand-out candidates.

Tom Dumoulin races for the first time this season but that doesn’t really mean anything as he finished here in 2017 on his first outing. The TT/Mountain top finish combination suits him perfectly and he’ll hope to be close to winning both days. He might not actually get a stage win but it could be enough to secure the GC. Sunweb also have the benefit of having Kelderman here too and it will be interesting to see how the Dutch pair combine.

Rohan Dennis is hoping to develop into a GC rider with this season being a crucial point in that transformation. The best TT rider in the World over a course of this length he’ll hope to end the day with almost a minute of some of the climbers and maybe 15 seconds or so over Dumouln. Holding on to that lead of Jebel Hafeet will be tough but it will be a good acid test for him and his GC abilities.

Jonathan Castroviejo will get his first chance at leadership for Sky here. The British outfit have been flying in TTs as of late, winning both the Algarve and Andalucia efforts against the clock. Castroviejo is an exceptional TT rider but also a competent climber too. Jebel Hafeet will be on his limit but he’ll certainly be hoping to make the top 5 on GC and possibly go a bit better.

Alejandro Valverde isn’t great against the clock, but he’s not bad either. After a return to racing after his crash in the TDF last year, the Movistar man has once again looked imperious in the races he’s competed in so far. He’ll hope to limit his losses in the TT, to maybe 30 seconds at most then it is all up to a big effort on the final day. He’s certainly put a strong dig on Jebel Hafeet during training as he now holds the Strava record for te climb!

Others will be there or thereabouts but I’m not going to bore you with names, Tom Dumoulin to win the GC!

Team-Sunweb_Tom-Dumoulin_Giro-d-Italia-stage-4_photo-by-Cor-Vos

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

The Route

A boring sprint stage with an almost out and back route through the desert; no need for a profile as it is pan flat.

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It’s pretty much the same stage that was used last year. Expect a lot of images of camels and rocks!

The finale is fairly straightforward with there being only two key pinch points/turns. Apparently Google Streetview isn’t a thing in this part of the Emirates yet so a satellite image of the final 3km will have to suffice.

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One right-hand turn at roughly 2.5km to go is followed by a roundabout at ~1.3km. I’m not sure what way they’ll take the roundabout, whether they go on the inside line (likely) or if it will be taken as a sweeping turn as above. Either way, the teams will have one kilometre dead ahead of them with a final jockey for position before they release their sprinters.

We’ve seen so far this season how simple run ins like this cause a lot of chaos because everyone is fairly evenly matched and they’re all vying for the same road space. We have a stacked sprint field here so I expect this to be equally manic!

Wind Watch

Given that the riders will be travelling into the wide open desert the possibility of echelons increases (much to my excitement). I’ve had my eye on the forecast for the past few days and it has changed a bit. Originally it was supposed to be a crosswind across the main stretch of straight road except that has changed to more of a headwind now.

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You can see on the screen capture above Madinat Zayed at the top of the map with the “turning point” of the stage down at the bottom. The wind is probably not coming from the East enough to cause any crosswinds but there is the point around halfway up the image that the road itself heads more West. Could this be enough to see some echelon action? I would love it, but I’m not holding out hope!

I’ll certainly be doing by crosswind dance before I go to bed tonight though.

If we do get echelons, then expect the majority of sprinters to be present at the front of the race anyway as a lot of them are masters at riding in bad conditions. In that situation it would depend on how many team-mates are there to hold it together for a sprint but it is still likely we’ll see some type of gallop to the line.

Sprinters

It seems as if the whole sprinting peloton is here; so much so, that I’m fairly certain that I could write another 1000 words. I’m not going to bore you with that so I’ll try write a few sentences at most for each rider!

Kittel.

Disappointed with his poor performances in Dubai, he’ll be here to remind everyone that he is the fastest rider in the peloton. A straight forward finish should be good for him but he’ll need to be positioned better.

Cavendish.

Already matching his tally of wins from last season, the Manxman will hope to continue that winning streak here. A tenacious rider, he always seems to rise to the occasion and knowing that the majority of the top sprinters are here he’ll desperately want to get one over them.

Greipel.

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Started the season with a bang in Australia, taking two stage wins. The German seems to be as powerful as ever but his lead-out train lacks a fast last man. Will need to latch onto another train which might cause issues. Headwind sprint helps him a lot though.

Kristoff.

The second rider that I proclaim is the best in the peloton (along with Greipel) in a headwind sprint, he is a master of tricky conditions. After firing a few blanks in his first races, he opened his account in Oman. Can he continue that here?

Ewan.

Was good in Australia but didn’t seem his scintillating best in the sprints. However, he was very strong in Almeria with a comfortable win over Van Poppel. Having a strong, strong lead-out here for him will help massively.

Viviani.

Arguably the in-form sprinter of the season so far, he has been truly exceptional. Arriving with a slightly different train, he has his reliable pilot fish Sabatini and that will be pivotal. Will the winning run continue?

Van Poppel.

Looked good in Valenciana but he’ll have been humbled a bit by Ewan in Almeria. Nonetheless, he’s a strong guy and will be hoping to bounce back. Jumbo nailed the lead-outs for Groenewegen so far this season, will DVP get the same quality?

Bauhaus.

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I’m a fan of the ‘Haus and it will be good to watch his progression again this year. He had a few strong placings in Australia but just missed out on the win. Tipped as the “new Kittel” he’ll be able to rely on the massive engines of Dumoulin and Arndt for a lead-out. He could surprise but would it really be a surprise though?

McLay.

Gets his chance to sprint for EF Education here. No lead-out for him so he’ll have to freestyle but that might work to his advantage. He is capable of pulling a very good result out of the bag but a top 10 will be solid for him nonetheless.

Minali.

Another “M” sprinter who will probably have to fly solo, he looked fast in a few of the finishes in Dubai but he seems very inconsistent. Will require some luck for him to go well.

Guardini. 

My #PFCL4 rider is in high company here and a top 10 result would be nice in a few of the stages. Back in 2015 he was notorious for strong showings in the desert sprints but he has since lost his way. Has he found Bernard’s Watch and rolled back the clock?

There are even more guys to consider such as Ackermann, Bonifazio, Barbier and Halvorsen to name a few but I think that the list is exhaustive enough!

Prediction

After a bit of a wind-battered day in the peloton, the riders will be more fatigued than expected. I have to go with one of two riders that I proclaim are the best in the world in a headwind sprint, no doubt picking the wrong one…

Alexander Kristoff to take the win!

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Having start off the season promisingly but without the result to show for it, it was good to see him get the proverbial monkey off his back in Oman. He looks in great shape, a 4th place on Hatta Dam is testament to that and I think a few people will underestimate him here.

Betting

1pt EW Kristoff at 12/1 with Bet365 (would take 10/1)

Thanks as always for reading! Who do you think will win the opener tomorrow? Will we see some splits in the bunch, or will it be a long day in the saddle? Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

Vuelta a Andalucia 2018 Stage 5 Preview; Barbate › Barbate

Today’s Recap

Well that was an excellent finish!

The race all came together again just at the bottom of the final climb into Alcalá de los Gazules and Landa swiftly made an explosive attack. Only Wellens was able to follow the Movistar man and the two went back and forth for the closing kilometre. However, it was Wellens who took charge in the closing few hundred metres, rounding Landa in the penultimate turn and holding on for a spectacular win.

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Fuglsang trailed home 12 seconds down in third place with former GC leader Poels a further second behind.

The result consequently leaves Wellens in the lead going into the final day of racing. Let’s have a look at what is in store for the riders.

The Route

TT day!

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@LasterketaBurua

A fairly straightforward TT aside from the 5.5km of gravel roads the riders will face. Those kilometres on the dirt road have an average gradient of 1.6% which adds a little extra spice to the day. Not a steep climb, it is certainly one for the rouleurs and typical TT riders in the peloton.

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Once over the halfway point it will be a fast second part to the effort with the route being mainly downhill back in to town. One thing the riders might have to consider is the weather conditions.

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We should have similar conditions throughout the day which is good, but being beside the sea the wind can swirl and change around without much notice. The riders will need to save something so they don’t struggle into the headwind on the way back home!

Contenders

We have a pretty weak TT field here if I’m honest and makes the day wide open.

Chris Froome (a.k.a He Who Must Not Be Named).

On paper he is the class rider here against the clock but given everything over his head at the moment, will he go full gas? He certainly gave it a nudge on the opening mountain stage of the race so I wouldn’t be surprised to see him do the same tomorrow. Then again, I equally wouldn’t be surprised if he did nothing of note given his GC chances are out of the window.

Tim Wellens.

Given his sensational form at the moment, the current GC leader has a good chance of a good result against the clock. He’s not known for his time trial capabilities but he isn’t exactly bad in the discipline either, with a good few top 10s to his name. Riding with confidence, he’s certainly one to watch.

Luis Leon Sanchez.

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In spectacular form so far this season, he will have been bitterly disappointed to lose so much time today. That result throws his GC title tilt into jeopardy but he has a glimmer of hope with a good performance tomorrow. On his day he can produce very good times against the clock but those have been few and far between as of late; although it is hard to judge as he often doesn’t have to go full gas.

Stef Clement.

The Dutch rider is a very solid TT rider and in a field like this he can be classed as a specialist. The flat course should suit him well and he’ll hope to find similar form to what he had during the national championships last season which he only just lost out to a flying Dumoulin. Jumbo have massively improved in this discipline so I’m intrigued to see if they’ve made any more advances during the winter.

Moreno Moser.

It would be rude not to mention the Italian for what seems like the 7000th preview in a row. As you can probably tell, I’m scraping the barrel for any TT talent that we have here and a new Moser could possibly go well. He was third in the European Championships in 2016 and he’s been good against the clock in the past. Astana will want an early rider to go well to give their two GC guys race-pace info about the course so we might see Moser in full flight. Maybe.

Prediction

Piss weak TT field should make for an exciting and open day. I’ll go for Stef Clement to take the win!

Stef Clement N Lotto-Jumbo rode a strong tt finishes 4th on the stage

Betting

1pt EW Clement @66/1 (would take 33/1)

Thanks as always for reading and apologies for a slightly shorter than normal preview but I am shattered and there’s not much more to say really! The next race I’ll be previewing will be the Abu Dhabi Tour so I’ll see you all then. Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

Vuelta a Andalucia 2018 Stage 4 Preview; Sevilla › Alcalá de los Gazules

Today’s Recap

We did end with a sprint and Modolo took the win as expected.

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Barbero followed him home with young Colombian Soto taking his first European podium.

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

The Route

A weird stage that has a lot of flat but with a mountain in the middle of the day and a tricky finish.

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The road does roll a little from around the 60km mark but it is nothing too serious. It will be interesting to see how long it takes for the break to form as a lot of riders and teams will fancy its chances.

We should see something go by around 30km into the day but you never know. The first obstacle the peloton will have to face is the Puerto de las Palomas. It’s a long climb at 12.5km with a fairly steady 6.5% gradient throughout. It’s too far from the finish to be attacked by the GC group so I imagine they’ll ride at a steady tempo. It could split the break if someone really decides to push on but that all depends on the composition of the move.

Once over the crest they’ll face a small descent before the Puerto del Boyar. A short climb at only 2kms, it is more an interruption to the downhill more than anything else. Fifteen kilometres of proper descent follows before the road rolls in the closing 70km. Again, there is nothing too serious but it can sap the legs.

The major difficulty of the day though is the climb to the finish.

The road actually climbs for a few hundred metres before the video begins.

You should be able to see above how terrible the surface is. Well, it’s just typical for a side-street in Southern Spain. Some of the gaps between the paving stones look fairly large! I mean it does get better for a bit, but then it gets considerably worse after again.

The road is also extremely narrow and can only comfortably fit one car up it so positioning will be important coming into the bottom so expect a big battle between the GC contenders and their teams.

The average gradient of 10% for 1.4km almost makes the climb easier than it actually is. In fact, there is even a little descent around half-way up!

Andalucia S4 Fin

If people haven’t done a proper recon, then they’ll be in for a big shock. I just hope they haven’t repaired the road surface, it would just take away from the spectacle/my viewing pleasure. It is one that I’ll enjoy from the comfort of my chair. I mean, just look at the final turn…

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Some great Spanish infrastructure!

The winner here will certainly be deserving of it, that is for sure.

Break or no break?

The age-old question is back again.

One of the factors that does swing the stage into the breakaway’s hands is the fact there are no bonus seconds on the line so there is no need to catch them. Sky have their stage win and GC lead so they’ll be happy enough to just ride tempo and have a battle behind. Astana have looked the liveliest in chasing the break but their best option might be to send someone up the road themselves and let Sky do the work and hopefully tire them out.

I really can’t see anyone else pitching in to help work so with that said, I think we all know where this is going…

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My Tickets

The flat start to the stage makes this a really interesting day. Theoretically, it should be harder for the climbers who might fancy their chances on the closing slope to make the break as they’ll be weaker in the opening part of the day compared to the rouleurs.

Moreno Moser.

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I mean, why the heck not mention him for the third day out of 4! I’ll keep this one brief but it’s pretty much the same reasoning as in the other previews. Astana want a stage win and Moser said in an interview with the team that he would like a chance at personal glory this week. On the finish of stage 2 he buried himself on the run in and on the footslopes of the final climb. Explosive enough to go well on the steep gradients out of a break, can he finally deliver after I’m rambled on about him so much this week?

Silvan Dillier.

Active in Laigueglia and active on the opening day of racing, the Ag2R man sits third on the mountain classification but is still in with a chance of winning it if he takes maximum points on the day. The flat start gives him a good opportunity to make the break over some better climbers but he should not be discounted on the slopes himself. A punchy rider, he might just surprise.

Lluís Mas Bonet.

Cycling: 51th Tour of Turkey 2015/ Stage 8

Re-used pick number two. The current leader of the KOM competition, he might want a venture in to the break to secure that classification. Today a team-mate swept up the points for him but he’ll possibly need to go in the move himself. The flat start might make it difficult for him but he has a lot of fighting spirit. If the composition of the break is made up of mainly rouleurs, he has the climbing ability to take the win.

Sean De Bie.

An all-rounder, the Belgian can climb ok, sprint well and put in a good effort against the clock. He’s had a fairly disappointing few stages so far with only an 11th place on the opening day. He did manage to pick up a win in Etoile before finishing 8th on GC so he does have some form. The type of rider who will hope that the break is made up of heavier riders with few climbers; he could be one to look out for.

GC Battle

It will be interesting to see what gaps we get between the GC contenders. The climb is short and steep enough that team-mates aren’t a great help. Positioning will be important coming into the bottom so expect to see a big battle between Astana and Sky for control of the peloton. The Kazakh team have the advantage of having two riders in contention so I think we might see Fuglsang go hard and early in an attempt to put the others into difficulty.

Poels motored away from everyone with his accelerations on stage 2 and with the same form he could do something similar tomorrow. The climb isn’t long so it will be interesting to see how he approaches it.

Landa is of course a danger, especially when you think of his performance on the brutally steep ramps of Aia a few years ago.

Then of course we have Sanchez who is in incredible shape at the moment. He’ll fancy his chances of winning the title in the TT but he will be wary of Sky and their ability to pull some great results against the clock out. He needs to not lose any time to Poels here in my opinion.

Wellens is the dark horse but he can’t be underestimated. He’s started this season in sparkling form and his performance on stage 2 will be a massive confidence boost. The shorter distance in theory gives him even more of a chance of a good result as his weight won’t be as much of a detriment.

Given how close they all were on stage 2 it is hard to split them. I reckon we’ll see someone fall behind but I’m not so sure as to who. As to who might profit on the day and move into a more commanding GC place, that also has me stumped!

I’m just looking forward to a good race, hopefully on two fronts.

Prediction

The break to stay away and Silvan Dillier to win.

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His development last season impressed me a lot and he seems to have continued that so far this season with some good performances in his few race days so far. He can climb well enough to cope with the ascents in the middle of the day but he’s also punchy enough to be in with a chance at the finish. Of course, it all depends on who makes the break (Hint – None of my picks typically will) but I will be watching him with interest if he does.

Betting

Just can’t bring myself to back Dillier at the price he is so;

1pt WIN on both

Moser @ 50/1

Mas Bonet @ 80/1

Thanks as always for reading. Who do you think will win tomorrow? Will it be a GC rider or will the break succeed? Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.