Ronde van Vlaanderen 2018 Preview

My favourite race of the year and the event which saw my first blog piece back in 2016, returns this Sunday for what should be another cracking race. Last year we saw a crazy attack from Gilbert 60km from home after Boonen split the race on the Muur at 90km out. Due to a mix of an incredible ride from the Belgian champion and a crash that took out Sagan, Naesen and Van Avermaet while on the chase meant Gilbert took a dream win.

Ronde van Vlaanderen

 

Behind Van Avermaet recovered and managed to sprint for second, with Terpstra taking third after being denied any chance of doing anything all day because of his team-mate being up front!

Will we see something similarly crazy this year? First though, let’s have a look at what is in store for the riders.

The Route

This section will be a lot shorter than normal as I’m fairly sure you will have read plenty of route reviews this week so I don’t want to bore you with another.

Long and tough, pretty much!

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@LasterketaBurua

Things only really start to get serious after the first 110km but from there it is a constant mixture of climbs and cobbles for the riders. As we saw last season, the race winning move could feasibly go at any point but the most likely place is on the Kwaremont/Paterberg combination. With 13kms from the top of the Paterberg to the finish line, will anyone up the road be able to hold off a coordinated chase effort?

Quick Step vs Sagan vs Everyone Else

That seems to be the narrative this year.

Quick Step have been utterly dominant in the past few races on home soil with a truly remarkable hit rate in terms of wins. At this race they bring 4 riders (Gilbert, Terpstra, Stybar and Lampaert) who could feasibly take home the crown given the right situation. It will be interesting to see how they approach it; do they take a similarly aggressive attacking outlook to last season? Having one less rider in some ways will make that more difficult as there will be less firepower behind to cover anything, but it also means that if you get 3 guys up the road, you should be able to out-number most squads. The one issue I can see in their squad is that a lot of opposition will fancy doing them over in a sprint, so for one to win, they most likely have to arrive solo.

Sagan has blown hot and cold this season so far but when he’s hot, he’s scorching! Still reeling from the crash last year, he will desperately want to make amends this season. With Oss now by his side he should have a strong rider that will last long into the race. Likewise, he’ll be hoping Burghardt can continue his good form and offer support too; he could possibly go in an earlier move as a bridge for later in the race. If Sagan’s on a good day, very few will be able to match him on the Kwaremont and Paterberg and that will worry a lot of riders. Even though he’s not been as successful this season in terms of wins, people will be wary of the “Sagan factor”. He needs to be isolated and you hope to be on the right side of his; “I’m not working” or “We’re going on an adventure” approach as he closes a gap in a kilometre. It is reading which mood he is in that is the toughest but most vital thing for everyone else in the race!

What about the rest of the peloton? We’ve seen plenty of the likes of Benoot so far this year and a lot will fancy their chances but it will come down to a combination of luck and legs whether they make the right move at the right time. Ideally you want to anticipate and follow a strong QuickStep move but you can’t follow everything unfortunately.

The Three Musketeers

Given that I could hark on for a long time about countless different riders and how they might have a chance, I’m just going to keep this fairly simple. These will be the three guys that I’ll be putting my money on at the end of the day and this is why…

Niki Terpstra.

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Backing a QuickStep rider for this race is a must and Terpstra has pretty much been a staple of my punting arsenal at Flanders for the past couple of seasons. His record here is incredibly consistent; 6th (2014), 2nd (2015), 10th (2016), 3rd (2017), not bad! On the short cobbled climbs he is one of the best in the world and his power output is sensational, for example last season he averaged 8.5 w/Kg to keep up with Van Avermaet on the Paterberg. Having already tasted personal glory twice this season he will be keen to continue the run. The performance he gave in E3 was nothing short of incredible and if he gets a gap of 15 seconds in the final 20kms it could be goodnight for an uncoordinated chase group, especially if he has a team-mate sandbagging.With the predicted showers and potential 30km/h gusts on occasions, that only increases the Dutchman’s chances: he is a poor weather expert! The one problem for Terpstra is that he doesn’t have a great sprint so he will more than likely have to come in alone if he wants to win, but 260km does strange things to the legs so you can’t count him out. The same can’t be said about my next candidate.

Greg Van Avermaet.

Conspicuous by his absence atop the winners step of a cobbled classic so far this year, GVA has had a quieter build up to this race compared to his all-conquering 2017. However, I think that is the perfect situation for him to be in right now as it means some riders will be more willing to work with him than they were last year. Well in contention for this race up until the crash in 2017, he followed that disappointment up by going on to win Roubaix. As a Belgian, this is the race he will desperately want to win though. We’ve seen glimpses of him at his best on the cobbles this year, albeit they have been brief. I think that has been part of his game plan though so that others underestimate his form; a dangerous thing to do! A brave and attacking rider at times, it will be interesting to see where he plans to make his move and how far out as he does have the luxury of a strong sprint after a tough day. Like Terpstra, he is exceptionally consistent in this race: 2nd (2014), 3rd (2015), DNF (2016) and 2nd (2017). Tell me again why he won’t be fighting for the win this year?

Oliver Naesen.

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He’s quietly gone about his business so far this classics campaign with a 4th and 6th in E3 and Gent Wevelgem respectively before an unfortuante abandon in Dwars with knee problems. However, he is on the start line for tomorrow and very confident that the issues with his knee are behind him. The only rider to be able to follow Sagan and Van Avermaet last year, he was taken out in the crash which ultimately ruined his race. From that incident he also sustained a knee injury but he went incredibly well in Roubaix the following weekend and if it wasn’t for several unfortunately timed mechanicals, he would have been competing for the win. A rider that seems to enjoy a race the longer it gets, I would expect to see him near the head of proceedings tomorrow as I’m fairly confident he is over any niggles…

Could we see back to back Belgian Champs winning Flanders?

Prediction

Nope!

After going missing in action this cobbled campaign so far, Van Avermaet will finally come up trumps with a perfectly timed peak of form.

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Competition

As Flanders marks my blog’s birthday, I’m running a competition to win a HandmadeCyclist Ronde print. Simply go over to my women’s preview (another shameless plug) that you can view here and leave a comment on the post with who you think will win the race and your Twitter @ so that I can contact you if you win!

Betting

The classics are the classics and are often tough races to call so I’m spreading my stakes around a little. With that said though, it has been a good year so far so I’m happy to be a little more frivolous!

2pts WIN Van Avermaet @ 6/1 with Unibet (would take 11/2 in most places although you can get nearly 8/1 on the exchanges!

1pt WIN Terpstra @ 10/1 with most places (you can get close to 11/1 on the exchange)

1pt EW Naesen @ 22/1 with SkyBet who are paying 4 places (would take down to 18/1).

 

Thanks as always for reading! Who do you think will win tomorrow? I’m looking forward to a good race. Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

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Women’s Ronde van Vlaanderen 2018 Preview

Women’s Ronde van Vlaanderen 2018 Preview

Celebrating its 15th edition this year, the Ronde returns this weekend and we’re set for some great racing. In 2017 we saw one of the biggest group finishes for a long time at the race with Coryn Rivera winning the sprint, narrowly pipping Gracie Elvin and Chantal Blaak.

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For a while it seemed as if that wasn’t going to be the outcome though as a strong group of 4 escaped that included Longo Borghini, Van Vleuten, Niewiadoma and Van der Breggen. However, the latter was told by team management not to take a turn as they wanted to set up Blaak. A move that potentially cost them the win! Will we see something similar this year? First though, let’s have a look at what is in store for the riders over the course of the day.

The Route

Shorter than in 2017, the riders will have to face 11 climbs and 5 cobbled sections over the 151km.

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@LasterketaBurua

As you can see it is a fairly intensive route with a lot of obstacles spread throughout the day. They are somewhat spread out but the majority are bulked between either 60km-90km or 110km – 140km. Expect a thinning out of the peloton, especially as we hit the first grouping of obstacles. This is where we could see some early attacks from squads where they send riders up the road so they don’t have to work in the pack behind. That section finishes with the famous Muur.

Muur_van_Geraardsbergen_profile (1)

Not overly steep at only 6.8% for 1km, it is the fact that the steepest section near the top is on the roughest cobblestones. The riders will really have to grind their way up it and we could see some surprising gaps in the field if the pace is on at the head of affairs.

The riders will then have almost 20kms to “catch their breath” (I use that term loosely as I imagine the racing will be on) before they hit the final 5 climbs of the day. The Pottelberg (1.3km at 6.5%) and Kanarieberg (1.05km at 9%) are both asphalt and give the more traditional climbers a chance to get rid of some of the classics specialists.

At just under 30km to go the riders will face the Kruisberg-Hotond. It averages 5% for 2.5kms but it is the opening cobbled section that is the steepest before it eases out on asphalt afterwards. Considering the length of the climb and what has come before, some might find themselves in difficulty.

Finally, the riders will hit one of the most famous 1-2s in region, with the Oude Kwaremont swiftly followed by the Paterberg.

Oude_Kwaremont_profile

Similar to the Kruisberg, it is the length (2.2km at 4.2%) that can be the downfall of riders on the Kwaremont. Not to mention, the steepest section comes on cobble in the opening half, and this is where we normally see an acceleration from the strongest riders. They have to continue the momentum though as the road continues to drag all the way to the top. Once over the summit, a fast descent on twisting, narrow roads means no time for recovery before the final climb of the day.

Paterberg_profile

Short but incredibly steep (13.7% for 380m), big gaps can be made here in a very short space of time. If a selection hasn’t been made on the Kwaremont, it certainly will here!

12kms of mainly flat roads then await the riders before they finish on the outskirts of Oudenaarde.

Team Tactics

With so many strong teams here this year, it is a really difficult race to figure out. Here’s an extensive list as to who might feature in different situations;

Sunweb – Rivera / Van Dijk / Mackaij

Boels – Blaak / Van der Breggen / Majerus

Mitchelton – D’Hoore / Van Vleuten / Elvin

Cervelo – Lepistö / Moolman

Canyon – Barnes / Niewiadoma / Ferrand Prevot / Cecchini

Wiggle – Cordon Ragot / Wild / Brennauer

Ale – Bastianelli / Hosking / Ensing

Waowdeals – Vos / Koster

Just to name a few…

No doubt we’ll see some early action as teams try to get their riders up the road and a group containing the majority of stronger squads could feasibly stay away after the Muur. Or, we see a race of attrition that only leaves the strongest at the head of the race after the Kwaremont/Paterberg combination and they fight it out at the end of proceedings.

Personally, I don’t think we’ll see a sprint as big as last year.

So if I was a DS, I’d make sure I had a rider in every threatening group that went up the road; easier said than done!

From whatever group (early or late attack) comes to the line we could see a small sprint, or an attack might see a solo rider take the spoils.

Contenders

Given I’ve named about half the peloton above, I’ll only pick a handful here to talk about!

Chantal Blaak.

The World Champion has started her season on stellar form with a 4th in Strade and a second in Binda. In Gent Wevelgem she worked for team-mate Pieters so I imagine that the roles will be reversed at this race. Tough enough to get over the climbs in a good position, she will be a danger in a sprint so not many will want to bring her to the line. I don’t think she could make it with the head of the race so her best chance is to attack early and wait for people to come from behind.

Anna van der Breggen.

Had her chance at going for the title taken away by team orders last year but given her seriously impressive performance in Strade, she surely will be given free rein this season. Much more than just an exceptional climber, the Boels rider is a master on almost all terrain. With the Ardennes classics just around the corner, she’ll be getting close to her peak again so a good hit out on Sunday to blow the cobwebs away will do a world of good!

Ellen Van Dijk.

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I was one race out from predicting a Van Dijk solo win but she did what she does best on Wednesday, taking out a great win in Dwars. Able to keep up with the best on the climbs that day, the Kwaremont/Paterberg combination might be a bit of a stretch for her. Nonetheless, she will be full of confidence and will race with nothing to lose. That makes her a danger! With their team, I expect to see Sunweb attacking throughout the day and we might just see Van Dijk slip away again.

Gracie Elvin.

The Australian has no qualms about it, this is the race she wants to win. Slowly building up her form throughout the classics with the aim of going well here, she will desperately want to go one better than last season. A bit like Blaak, Elvin can climb well but she won’t be able to follow the more traditional names on the slopes, albeit she is a power climber. However, if she manages to pre-empt any moves from behind by being up the road then I would fancy her to cling on over the Kwaremont and Paterberg, even if she starts with only a 10 second advantage. With a good sprint after a hard day, the smaller the group the better for the Mitchelton rider.

Pauline Ferrand Prevot.

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Canyon arrive here with a stupidly strong team. Niewiadoma is apparently the leader but with their strength in depth, I imagine they’ll see how things develop out on the road. Ferrand Prevot was strong in Binda and played a good team-mates role, disrupting the chase behind to let Niewiadoma extend her lead. Given her punchy nature and abilities on all types of terrain, this should be an event that suits. We didn’t see the best of her in 2017, but she is coming in to her own again this year. A good result here will go a long way to restoring her confidence even more!

Ashleigh Moolman.

The slight South African climber has had a good start to the year, in fact it’s been rather exceptional as she has managed to finish in the top 10 in every race/stage so far! Last year she missed the orignal move and tried to bridge on the Kwaremont but she just didn’t make it and burnt a few of her matches. However, this year she looks stronger already and I think she could make a similar split. In a group of climbers coming to the line, I’d back her in a sprint.

Marianne Vos.

A steady return to racing by her standards with only a 3rd/5th/12th so far…It is a race she has done well at in the past, winning the event back in 2013, but she has not competed here since then. However, given who she is and what she can do on a bike, Vos can never be discounted. It was her performance in Binda that will worry her rivals for this race because if she can match them on the climbs there, she should be able to do similar here. With more riders on her level now, will they fear her any less?

Prediction

Pffft, it is a tough one!

I don’t think Boels will make the same mistake they made last year and Anna van der Breggen will manage to take home the spoils with an attack on the Kwaremont/Paterberg that will drop everyone before she rides solo to the finish. Very similar to her win in Strade!

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Coverage 

The race is being shown live on the ES Player from roughly 12:30 UK time. It should be shown via other channels as well so check with your regions broadcaster!

Before then you’ll be able to use #RVVWomen to follow all the action on Twitter.

Competition

Flanders weekend marks the “blogs birthday” so to thank you all for your continued support I’m going to give away a copy of The Handmade Cyclist’s Ronde print. To be in with a chance of winning it just leave a comment on this post with who you think is going to win the race, along with your Twitter handle, e.g. “Anna van der Breggen @JamieHaughey”. If we get multiple correct entries then they’ll enter the sorting hat (random.org) and someone will be granted as the winner. If no one gets the prediction correct, then it will go to second place and so on. Good luck!

Thanks as always for reading! Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

 

 

Dwars door Vlaanderen 2018 Preview

The cobbled action continues with some mid-week Belgian racing in Flanders as Dwars door Vlaanderen marks the final race before De Ronde this weekend.

Last year’s edition saw a strong Quick Step team control the race with Gilbert launching the attack that ultimately led to the winning move from 76km out on the Berendries. The group was slowly whittled down to 4 riders; Gilbert, Lampaert, Durbridge and Lutsenko. Quick Step played the old 1-2 perfectly with the Belgian Champion attacking first followed by Lampaert attacking just after he was caught. The local rider managed to stay away and take the biggest win in his career!

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Behind, Gilbert sprinted home for second with Lutsenko showing promise of what was to come later in the year in third. Unfortunately for Durbridge he finished in 4th place after doing a lot of the work to try to bring back the winner on the day. He’ll hope for better this year!

It was a great day for the blog too as the race almost went exactly to plan (which is strange) and Yves brought home the 66/1 winner. More of the same exciting racing this year? I hope so! Let’s have a look at what is in store for the riders.

The Route

After a fairly hard parcours in 2017, the organisers have made this edition easier given its new position in the calendar just 4 days before the “big event”. That doesn’t mean the racing will be boring though and lots of riders will fancy their chances at a good result.

dwars-door-vlaanderen-2018
@LasterketaBurua

Fewer climbs, fewer cobbles and a slightly shorter distance. Nonetheless, the riders will have to face 12 bergs and 5 sectors of cobbles throughout the day so it isn’t exactly an easy route, just easier than last year.

The main focal point of the race is the Knokteberg which the riders will cover three times throughout the day.

Knokteberg_profile

1.1km long at 8% it is punchy enough that the strongest riders can attack it at a fierce pace and complete the climb in roughly 2’40. On narrow roads, positioning is vital because if the pace does increase you don’t want to be too far back as it will be a struggle to make up the ground.

It’s at the second passage of this climb I think we’ll see some action because it crests with roughly 65km to go. From that point, it is less than 10kms until we hit the busiest part of the race in terms of “obstacles” with Kortekeer (1km at 6.6%), Steenbekdries (a 600m climb at 3.4% that is part of a 2.1km long section of cobbles) and the Taaienberg (890m at 7.1%).

That is the most challenging part of the route as there is no room for rest so if a few teams decide to go wild then it could be goodbye to those at the back of the bunch.

10kms after the Taainberg comes the Kruisberg which is a 1.8km (4.8%) climb. However, it is not just a simple flat road between the two climbs as the parcours rolls a bit and doesn’t give anyone who has went into the red on the Taainberg much time to recover.

At the 147km mark the riders will face the Knokteberg for the last time and is the last place a puncheur can make any massive difference.

With 34km remaining all the obstacles aren’t over though but they aren’t as difficult as what they have faced so far. Nonetheless, climbs such as the Holstraat or Nokereberg could still prove decisive. Especially the latter as it comes 10kms to go and is swiftly followed by the final set of cobbles.

Will it be a solo rider, small group, or large group arriving into Waregem? Well, one factor might play a big part in that…

Weather Watch

It might now officially be Spring, but that doesn’t mean the weather is getting any better.

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Source: Windfinder

 

 

 

 

 

 

The image above is the forecast for Waregem and as you can see it is to be rain, rain and more rain! The riders might get some respite from the wind as it is only meant to pick up in the evening, but that could easily change overnight and they might have to face some windy conditions earlier into the race.

Either way, it looks set to be a tough day out for most although I’m sure the locals will enjoy it.

How will the race pan out?

At a glance, the easier parcours would make it seem that a sprint is much more likely. With the major obstacles completed by 30km to go there is enough time for teams to band together and bring anyone up the road back. However, the terrible weather forecast almost negates this as riders will be more drained than they normally would after a race of this length and some guys just simply hate racing in the rain.

So a 50/50 chance in some ways and a lot of teams seem to be covering both options by bringing a sprinter along with more traditional cobbled classics riders.

Yet, I think we will see something similar to last season where the race is ripped up early in the day.  If the stronger riders attack the 105km -> 135km section then they should have enough of a gap to ensure that the sprinters struggle over the last 50km and don’t have the resources to bring it back in the end.

A strong team is important as having a rider up the road means you don’t have to chase and you’re able to sit on and just follow any attacks. Quick Step done this brilliantly for Terpstra’s win but tried a different approach in Gent that backfired a little. They don’t have as strong a team as normal but with Lampaert, Terpstra and Stybar then those three should expect to be at the head of the race when things get tough.

BMC and Trek will also to have a few riders present in any major attack.

It looks set to be a very intriguing and tactical race!

Ones To Watch

This list won’t be exhaustive as I’m only selecting a handful of riders who I think might have a chance.

Guillaume Van Keirsbulk.

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Did someone say a wet and potentially windy day in Belgium? The Wanty rider has slowly rode his way into some form this year and he made the front group on Sunday before ultimately finishing outside the top 20. A fan of grizzly conditions the rain won’t put him off and it will possibly see him ride even stronger! With the possibility that some riders might have one eye on De Ronde, it opens up the possibilty for a PCT level rider to score a good result in a WT one-day race. I expect to see him attacking at some point!

Edward Theuns.

Bitterly disappointed to have missed the first group on Sunday after being too far back on the Kemmel, he comes into this race seeking a much better result. He was 2nd here in 2015 when then team-mate Wallays won. It’s a route that he apparently likes the look of so it would be a surprise not see him feature. With Boonen retired, Theuns appears to be the rider who loves to rip it up the Taainberg; more of the same tomorrow?

Luke Durbridge.

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Another who was disappointed with his performance in Gent, he had a mechanical/crash which saw his race ruined. His form is on the up though, after returning from an injury in the Aussie Nationals. Brutally strong on his day he has slowly developed over the past few seasons into a reliable cobble rider. In an interview on his team’s website he says he wants to be aggressive and go better than last year. He just needs some luck!

Zdenek Stybar.

He’s had a fairly quiet start to the cobbled races, doing a great job for his team-mates by marking riders in groups behind or pulling on the front but he’s not been prominent himself. Despite that though, he does have two top 10s to his name so the form is there, just not the big result. However, this could be his race to shine; he can cope with the short steep climbs and the cobbles are no issue to him. The weather also won’t bother the former cyclo-cross star. I’m intrigued to see how QuickStep play it, but I think Stybar will be their guy, maybe…

Wout Van Aert.

The youngster has been somewhat of a revelation this year on the road, although i use the term “somewhat” loosley as he had a good 2017 and even the least interested cyclo-cross fan knows that he oozes talent. Strade was a super impressive performance and marked his ability to compete with the best in a WT race. He made the front group with what seemed ease in E3 so tomorrow shouldn’t be too hard for him. In fact the shorter distance is ideal and he’ll go to sleep tonight doing a rain dance!

Stefan Küng.

One of the riders who might benefit from his team captain not wanting to take any risks before Sunday, Küng was impressive in E3 last week. In fact, he seems to have progressed up another level this year with strong showings in Strade and the final stage of Algarve. He came home in the main group behind the front 4 last season so knows what is required in this race. With his strong TT prowess he might be able to slip away from a group and hold an advantage all the way to the line.

Heinrich Haussler.

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The Australian has bounced back from a terrible 2017 that was plighted by injury with some strong showings in his 12 race days so far this year. Another who suffered misfortune in Gent Wevelgem, he punctured before the Kemmelberg and expended too much energy to play any part in the finale. Yet, he was happy with his race and where he is at form wise. With the weather that is forecast, I can’t help but think about his win back in the 2009 Tour de France; can he pull of something special again?

Prediction

No way this ends in a big group sprint, it will be too cold and wet for that!

It will be a tactical race that could be won or lost at anytime. Originally I had this down as a Stybar win, but the more I think about it, I really like Wout Van Aert’s chances. The distance, parcours and weather conditions are great for him and this presents an excellent opportunity to take his first win at this level!

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Or, Valverde just continues his incredible season…

Betting

1pt EW Van Aert @ 33/1 with Bet365 (Would take 20/1, even 18/1 at a push)

1pt EW Stybar @ 20/1 with SkyBet (Would take 15/1)

0.5pt EW Durbridge @ 100/1 with Bet365 (Would take 66/1)

 

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

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

 

Volta Ciclista a Catalunya 2018 Stage 7 Preview; Barcelona -> Barcelona

Today’s Recap

Well, well, well.

That didn’t go exactly to plan but who cares as Schachmann managed to out-sprint his breakaway companion Rubio for victory. A combination of many different factors saw the two rider break manage to stay away on the reduced stage when it seemed as if everything was against them.

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Behind Bennett sprinted comfortably to third but it was too late. Bora’s lack of work in the last 15km certainly didn’t help the Irishman’s cause!

Could we see a similarly tense stage tomorrow? Let’s have a look at what is in store for them.

The Route

We end the race with the traditional Barcelona stage and it’s Montjuïc climb.

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The day starts off with some rolling roads and a few climbs in the first 50km before another 50km of pretty much transitional roads before we hit the circuit.

BarcaCircuit

The circuit can be split into two parts with a longer opening climb before a shorter, punchier effort in the second half.

BarcaCircuitFirstClimb

It’s not an overly tough climb but given the pace that they tackle it the gradients will seem a lot more difficult than they appear on paper. Combine that with the fact they do the ascent 8 times in 55kms and you end up with a good amount of climbing metres at the end of the day and a stage that somewhat represents the rolling terrain of the Spring classics.

Once over the top, the riders plunge down a wide, main road at high speeds before the road ramps back up for another 500m or so.

Second Kicker Barca

The riders do make a right hand turn onto the hill so they do lose a bit of their speed but the first 100m or so should be taken with relative ease. However, in the final 400m a rider can bury themselves and use the steeper gradients as a springboard for an attack. We saw this last year where Dan Martin put in a stinging acceleration that only Valverde was able to match.

With only 2.5km of mainly descent to go once they reach the peak of the hill, will anyone be able to bring an attacker back if they have 5 or more seconds?

How will the stage pan out?

Movistar and Valverde have to be very attentive as it is still possible for the likes of Bernal or possibly even Latour to spring a surprise if things get hectic. However, this stage is our current race leader’s bread and butter so it would be a shock to see him lose the race. In fact, he is the favourite for the stage!

Yet, I think there is a chance some further down the order escape in the last lap to take the win.

Again like the past few days, I don’t have a load of time to write this so I’m just going to focus on two riders who I think might have a chance in slightly different situations.

Two’s A Crowd

Marc Soler.

I can see tomorrow being a very attacking and fastly ridden stage just like it was last year. That means we’ll have a lot of tired bodies in the finale, including some of the Movistar riders. Everyone will expect them to work for Valverde and the stage win but attack is the best form of defence, right? Soler has already proven this year how strong he is and with Quintana and Valverde marking any move behind, he might manage to sneak away and take the stage as a reward for his hard work this week.

Bob Jungels.

Since his probing attack on the final climb of stage 5 I’ve had him on my short list for the stage. At the start of the week I think he was still recovering from the illness that plagued his Tirreno. Consequently he finds himself 2’46 down on GC and no real threat. On this stage last year Quick Step were very attacking and I think we’ll see Jungels give it a go at some point. There is no need for Movistar to chase him and if he produces a strong attack, he might just hold on like his team-mate did today. They’ll certainly be full of confidence although that’s not something that QuickStep lack anyway!

Prediction

Jungels to sneak off the front and take the win.

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Or he just puts it in the big chain ring and powers to victory like he did in the Giro!

Betting

1pt EW Jungels @ 50/1

0.5pt WIN Soler @ 80/1

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

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

 

 

Women’s Gent – Wevelgem 2018 Preview

Women’s Gent – Wevelgem 2018 Preview

Now into its third year as a feature of the Women’s World Tour, Gent Wevelgem returns this Sunday for its 5th edition overall. Last year saw a tough battle but a race which ultimately ended in a reduced bunch sprint.

Lepistö just won the sprint, pipping D’Hoore and Rivera in a very tight photo finish.

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Will we see the same riders come to the fore this year? Let’s have a look at what is in store for them over the day’s racing.

The Route

An almost identical parcours to last year except this season’s edition will be 3kms shorter.

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@LasterketaBurua

The riders will face a fairly flat 50kms to start off with as they roll out of Ypres and I imagine there will be a bit of  a fight to get into the morning breakaway. No team will want a repeat of De Panne where they missed the move and had to chase all day. If a reasonably large break goes expect most teams to make it, however, I think we’ll only see 5 riders or so let up the road this time.

After the 50km the riders will soon hit the Baneberg. The road does rise before the climb officially begins but the majority of the climbing takes place over 300m where the gradient averages 10%. Short but sweet!

There won’t be much time to rest as the peloton’s attention will be on getting in a good position on the narrow roads before the climb of the Kemmelberg.

Kemmel

The road rises gradually as the riders leave the town of Kemmel but it really starts to ramp as they make a right turn, coincidentally just as the cobbles begin! We didn’t see any major attacks here, it was more just an increase of pace that saw those ahead grind away from the opposition.

Once over the top a fast and technical descent follows before they climb almost straight away again.

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The Monteberg is the last place for the climbers to make a difference on the circuit with the slope’s 7.3% average gradient for a kilometre. It is short enough though that the stronger puncheurs and rouleurs in the peloton will be able to grind their way up it near the front of the bunch.

From there it will be 30kms before the riders face the same trio of climbs again but during that time they’ll have to traverse 4kms worth of Ploegstreet. It’s not somewhere you can win the race but as the old cliché goes, you can certainly lose it here.

The Baneberg, Kemmelberg and Monteberg combination are once again faced; with 33kms from the top of the last climb to the finish.

Weather Watch

A race that is often either split by strong winds or testing conditions that wear down the riders, it looks as if it might be a fairly benign day in the saddle tomorrow.

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Source: Windfinder

With a bit of a breeze coming from the north the run home from Ypres to Wevelgem will mean that there is a slight cross-wind but nothing too substantial.

Given the conditions, it looks as if a reduced bunch sprint will be the most likely outcome, unless we see a strong group escape on the Kemmelberg with the majority of the teams represented.

Sprinters

Jolien D’Hoore.

The Belgian Bullet won De Panne with a very strong sprint and she seems to be settling into her new team well. Mitchelton bring a quality selection with them to this race which is Van Vleuten’s first after her foray onto the track. The majority of their team are strong enough to make it over the Kemmelberg in contact, or close to the peloton and they’ll be able to help pull things back at the end. With Elvin as a lead-out rider, she has a very capable sprinter in that role but will the new duo manage to work well?

Chloe Hosking.

She’s been so close throughout this season so far but has failed to take a win again. It looked as if that duck was going to end in De Panne but she got blocked in ever so slightly which cost her. Ale worked excellently in that race to support her and bring the race back for a sprint and I think we’ll see them do the same tomorrow. The win is coming, it is just a matter of when.

Coryn Rivera.

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Sunweb’s pocket rocket has struggled to match her barnstorming start to the year last season but that’s almost understandable! Another rider that arrives with a strong team around her, she’ll want to go better than her 14th in De Panne. Caught out in the wind that day, the easier conditions should suit and I expect a better performance.

Lotta Lepistö.

Didn’t race De Panne as she was still recovering from a crash earlier in the year but she returns for this race wanting to repeat last season’s feat. Both 2016 and 2017 have been breakthrough years in a sense as she started to win a lot more races and featuring in more finishes. However, I’m unsure where she will be tomorrow in terms of fitness. Wouldn’t be surprised to see her win as she is one of the best sprinters in the world after a tough day but I just can’t see it happening.

Marianne Vos.

The current European Champion didn’t start De Panne either but she comes to this race in good form still, with a 3rd place in Alfredo Binda. That performance particularly impressed me as I thought it would be too soon after the cyclocross season for her to be competing over hillier terrain. The climbs tomorrow shouldn’t be a problem and we all know how strong she is after a long day in the saddle.

Chantal Blaak.

It’s amazing what having the Rainbow Jersey can do for a rider! Blaak had a great 2017, obviously winning the World Champs, but she has started 2018 meaning business. Winning the sprint for second in Binda highlights her current form level and she should be at the front of the race no matter what tomorrow. With PietersDideriksen and Majerus her lead-out sounds exceptionally strong. Is she going to get rid of the rainbow curse early in the year?

Alexis Ryan.

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This year’s early season revelation, she took her first win in Westerveld and quickly followed that up with her first World Tour podium. In De Panne she was caught up in a crash and had to fight back hard to rejoin the peloton which meant her sprint was lacking. If she stays on her bike here then she will be a threat as she has a properly strong kick.

Kirsten Wild.

I nearly didn’t mention the Dutch rider as I forgot she had moved to Wiggle in the Winter! She’s just come off a very successful period on the track and has only managed one road race so far this year. Therefore I think she might miss a bit of sharpness, but as a quality bike rider she can’t be discounted.

Others to look out for include Bronzini (Cylance), Siggaard (Virtu), Confalonieri (Valcar), Andersen (Hitec) and Fournier (FDJ).

Prediction

We’ll see a lot of action on the climbs but it will ultimately come back together for a sprint. After being so close this year already, Chloe Hosking will finally cross the line first. She just needs to ensure she can actually manage a clean and full sprint!

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Coverage

Another World Tour race and we get more TV coverage, something must be up as this is highly unusual. It’s a good unusual though! It will be available on lots of different providers, such as Eurosport or VRT, from 12:45pm GMT.

Thanks as always for reading! Who do you think will win tomorrow? Will it come down to a sprint or will we see a strong group get away? Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

 

 

Volta Ciclista a Catalunya 2018 Stage 6 Preview; Vielha Val d’Aran -> Torrefarrera

Today’s Recap

The break managed to stay away in the end, but only just. Pantano won the day in a similar vein to the way he won his Tour stage back in 2016, out-sprinting Laengen to the line.

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A fast finishing Mohoric did his best Pibernik impression celebrating as he crossed the line, only to realise that it was just for third place. Oh dear! Valverde came home comfortably in the group to retain his GC lead with only two stages remaining. Let’s have a look at what is in store for the riders tomorrow.

The Route

The riders might be forgiven to think they’re suffering déjà-vu tomorrow as the opening 77kms of the stage are today’s finale but in reverse.

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@LasterketaBurua

With the stage starting off on a climb, expect plenty of riders to be on the rollers beforehand and we could see an explosive early part of the day. Once they hit the peak of the climb the following 30km are all pretty much descent, although the first half is a lot steeper.

At around the 42km mark they’ll start climbing the Coll de Perves.

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A fairly easy climb it does go up in steps and there are a few kilometres above 6%. It’s too far out for any real drama though. The same can even be said for the Port d’Ager which is the final climb and crests with 70km to go.

A long descent follows with the final 42kms taking place over mostly flat but ever so slightly rolling terrain.

The finish is fairly easy aside from two roundabouts in the closing kilometre. So maybe not that easy after all…

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The road properly narrows down into one lane for the last roundabout so if we get a sprint positioning will be key; once through the turn it will be a straight 300m run for home.

Break or no break? That is the question.

A tough start means that the sprinters will be on the back foot from the gun and their teams really won’t be able to start a chase properly until we finish the categorised climbs for the day. We don’t have many sprinters left here anyway with Bouhanni, Hodeg and Walscheid having already packed up their bags and gone home. Some teams are also lacking in team-mates to control the bunch for their fast men with Bora for example already down to 5 and that includes Bennett.

In my opinion the outcome of tomorrow all comes down to the attitude of one team; Mitchelton Scott.

They’ve shown a keen interest in either chasing down breaks, setting the pace at the front of the bunch on the climbs. In their midst they have Impey who will fancy his chances at getting involved now with the aforementioned riders gone. However, Mitchelton might still think that there will be other riders who are faster than the South African and they won’t want to use up their resources with a tricky final stage on Sunday.

So once again I think we’ll see the breakaway fight it out for stage glory, as long as there is no one dangerous on GC up ahead, although I would be fairly confident in Movistar managing to control the break and keep Valverde in the lead come the end of the day.

Time to play everyone’s favourite game…

TheBreakawayLottery

Lottery Tickets

Tomorrow is a really weird one as given the stage starts on a climb, the break will more than likely be filled with those who are capable when the road goes uphill. Yet, the final 70kms will be less than ideal for a mountain goat so we could see some surprising results. Nonetheless, I think it will be a big move of roughly 18 riders that go so we should see all shapes and sizes up ahead!

Max Schachmann.

With Hodeg no longer in the race Quickstep will most likely be in an attacking mood. Schachmann has shown earlier in the season at the Classic de l’Ardeche and the Drome Classic that he is not afraid of a rolling day in the saddle. A strong rider against the clock, he’s slowly developing into one of the better young rouleurs in the peloton. We saw on Stage 3 that he got involved in the sprint for minor places so he has a reasonable turn of speed.

Rob Power.

Cycling: 12th Strade Bianche 2018 / Men

I’ll give the Mitchelton Scott rider another chance for tomorrow, if they get a rider in the break, the move definitely sticks. Far enough down on GC not to be a threat, he is their most viable option for the break. Power is a strong climber who should be able to follow most on the opening ascents. Will he have the, ahem, power to make an attack in the finale or will he trust his sprint?

Toms Skujins.

Can Trek make it two in a row? With no rider in the top 40 on GC they need to attack like today if they want to get anything out of the race. Skujins has shown already this year that he is not afraid to go on the offensive with a solo win in Trofeo Lloseta Andratx back in January. He’s been near the front on a couple of the stage so far but he is most at home at the head of the race in a break. Like a lot of pro riders this is his “home” race, will that be an advantage?

Nick Schultz.

The ambitious Aussie was ever-present in the breakaways during the Tour of Oman and it’s surprising not to have seen him up the road here so far. A former Tour de l’Avenir stage winner, the Caja rider is hoping to take a step up in level with this season being his second in the pro peloton but also because he completed his first Grand Tour (the Vuelta) in 2017. If he makes the break, he could benefit from the rest of his companions not knowing much about him!

Prediction

Most teams to get a rider in the break and it stays away.

I’ll go with Schachmann to time trial his way to the line!

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Betting

0.5pt WIN Schachmann @ 80/1

0.5pt WIN Skujins @ 40/1

0.25pt WIN Power @ 200/1

0.25pt WIN Schultz @ 200/1

 

Thanks as always for reading! Who do you think will win tomorrow? Will the break make it or will we see a bunch gallop to the line? Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

 

 

Volta Ciclista a Catalunya 2018 Stage 5 Preview; Llívia -> Vielha Val d’Aran

Today’s Recap

Cycling is a sport where 180 guys ride their bikes for 5 hours and in the end, Valverde wins.

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After they messed it up a bit yesterday, Movistar were going to make sure that wasn’t the case today and they rode the final climb of the stage to perfection. We had a flurry out attacks early on but by the time the riders reached the short descent three-quarters up only Quintana, Valverde and Bernal remained. The former acted as one of the best super domestiques in the peloton, setting a strong tempo so that no one could make it back from behind. Bernal attacked around the Flamme Rouge but he only managed to succeed in dropping Quintana and the outcome was inevitable. The Colombians rounded out the podium with Nairo finishing 6 seconds behind the duo; meaning that Valverde holds the GC lead by 19 seconds.

That should be the race wrapped up for him barring any misfortune. Will we see a team try something crazy tomorrow? Let’s have a look at what is in store for them.

The Route

A day that is focussed around three climbs but none of which should cause any major difficulties for the GC riders.

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@LasterketaBurua

Given the slightly downhill start and the high chance that a break will make it all the way tomorrow it might not be until the opening climb that a breakaway manages to escape.

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If so, expect some strong climbers to make the moves on the steeper early slopes. Things to get easier after the first 5km and it becomes more of a power climb from there. Once over the summit, a long 20km descent follows before some valley roads and another climb.

Col de Perves is the sharpest climb of the stage in terms of gradient and with it topping out at 60km to go we might see the breakaway reduced in size at this point. However, it is probably just too far for anyone to try an attack and go on their own so everything will come down to the last climb of the day.

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Averaging 4.5% for 12.2km it is a fairly easy climb in terms of gradient and it only hits 8% as a maximum. Like many of the ascents the peloton has faced in Catalunya this week, the steepest gradients come near the bottom so that is where the stronger climbers will need to make their move. If they leave it too late then a more powerful rider should be able to cope with the less than 4% gradients.

Over the top the riders will have just under 14km of descent until they reach the finish line. It isn’t overly technical to begin with but as we approach our finish town, hairpin binds become more of a regularity.

So who will we see come home at the head of the race? Given Movistar and Valverde’s domination today and his prowess on the downhills, I can’t really see any GC action tomorrow. Instead the breakaway will have the chance to make it all the way to the finish. Looks like we’re playing everyone’s favourite game again…

TheBreakawayLottery

The Breakaway Tickets

Like normal on a stage like this I’ll suggest a few riders who given they actually make the break, might have a chance.

Robert Power.

It was great to see him competing at a high level again during Strade after he’s had a series of setbacks that have hindered his first few years at pro level. One of the best climbers in his age group, he seems to be slowly realising his potential and he has done a lot of work for his team this week, drilling the pace on the climbs. Given that it’s unlikely Yates will try anything tomorrow, it would be nice to see Mitchelton allow Power some freedom.

Jhonatan Narvaez.

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Was on the attack earlier today but his move was ultimately brought back. He then turned his attention to help Jungels and Mas, but still managed to finish strongly. The young Ecuador rider has already had a fairly successful start to his time in the pro peloton with good results in a variety of races. Clearly a capable climber, he’ll hope to be one of the best up ahead.

Floris De Tier.

After a strong start to the year, De Tier will be disappointed to find himself so far back here. He had a good showing in Strade and finished an excellent 5th on the steep cobbled finish in Andalucia. That result in Strade shows that he is more than just a good climber and cope fairly well with a difficult day in the saddle. Why not tomorrow?!

Sergei Chernetckii.

Astana have been fairly disappointing at this race so far with no real meaningful result yet. I imagine they’ll be very keen and active to get in the break tomorrow and Chernetckii is far enough down to be given some freedom by the GC teams. He’s a very hot or cold rider but his performances in the likes of Lombardia highlight he can cope with a profile such as tomorrow’s. He packs a reasonable sprint from a breakaway group too so no one will want to bring him to the line.

Prediction

Breakaway to stick and Rob to Power home…

Cycling: 12th Strade Bianche 2018 / Men

Betting

0.25pt WIN on them all;

Narvaez @ 125/1

Chernetckii @ 200/1

Power @ 200/1 

De Tier @ 300/1

Thanks as always for reading, who do you think will win tomorrow? Will we see the break make it or will it turn into a surprising GC day? Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.