Vuelta a España 2018 Stage 8 Preview: Linares -> Almadén

Today’s Recap

An OK break made it up the road but Bora were more than happy to help Groupama FDJ keep tabs on it so they were never really given north of 3 minutes. Things spiced up on the penultimate climb with plenty of riders dropped, but it was the descent off of that climb that was the undoing of Kwiatkowski who went down along with two team-mates. With the pace on up ahead and the tough climb to come, he would never make it back on despite his and a few others best efforts.

In the peloton we saw numerous attacks from solo riders and groups, but it was Gallopin who went at the perfect moment. A small lull as the decision as to who would cahse was made ended up being enough for the Frenchman to get a big enough gap to take the stage win.

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It is a result that is nice to see given how much he has suffered from illness or injury this year.

Behind, Sagan sprinted to second place after keeping himself nicely hidden from the tv motorbikes in the final 10km. Seems he is building some form again as he definitely wouldn’t have made this finish a few weeks ago. Pre-stage favourite Valverde trailed home in third place.

Will tomorrow see a similarly aggressive and attacking finish to the day? Let’s have a look at what is in store for the riders.

The Route

I’m branding it as Stage 7 Lite.

The riders will face only 2100m of climbing compared to today’s 2500m.

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The ascents themselves are less intense too, with the only categorised rise of the day averaging a lowly 3.5% for almost 9km: that’s not the Vuelta I know! Even the finale is a bit of a rip-off of today’s finish.

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Admittedly, the ramps involved in those closing 6.5km are tougher than the steadier 2% drag to the line we had this afternoon but it still equates to pretty much the same finish: a 6km, just over 2% run to the line.

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The final kilometre averages 3%, but it does feature a few switchbacks on a narrow road so positioning will be vital. Expect a big fight for the penultimate turn off the main highway. Also, ignore the poor surface on the image above, that is taken from a 2008 Street View trip (if that’s the right word) but the road has since been done up with some swanky new asphalt.

How will the stage pan out?

With a big day ahead of them on Sunday, I think most will want to keep their powder dry. Despite the rolling hills at the start, it is fairly easy terrain therein for the peloton to control the breakaway. I think we’ll once again see Bora help with the chase and possibly a few of the other sprint teams so I don’t think the break has a very good chance at all tomorrow if I’m honest. It is the Vuelta though so you can never fully discount it.

The only way that it does have a chance is if we see a surprisingly large group of 8 or 9 go clear and everyone else decides not to work with Bora given that Sagan is looking strong again.

I think that is unlikely though, so an uphill sprint it is!

Can anyone stop Sagan?

I didn’t expect to be writing that a few days ago but given his performance today then I think it is a fair question. The run to the line tomorrow will be no issue for the World Champion if he continues to recover and he has to start as the out-and-out favourite for the day. His kick today was impressive and caught a few by surprise, let alone Valverde, who didn’t even realise he was in the main group.

Viviani – Can he make the finish? I think he will and he is the main threat to Sagan. It was only poor positioning that cost him a second stage win on Wednesday. He is punchy enough to deal with the drag and if he shows the same closing speed as he did the other day, then I think he has the beating of the World Champion.

Bouhanni – Now with a stage win, the Frenchman will be full of confidence. I mentioned in one of my earlier previews that Bouhanni is traditionally one of the better climbing sprints in the peloton, having won tough stages in Catalunya in the past. Tomorrow is different, easier in fact, but I can’t help but cast my mind back to the 2014 Vuelta and Stage 13 when Bouhanni finished 5th amongst GC contenders and puncheurs on a tough uphill finish.

Trentin – Just doesn’t seem to be at 100% at the moment. He’s another the finish looks great for but I don’t think he has the speed to beat Sagan if it is more selective and the same goes if it is less selective.

Nizzolo – Has managed okay on these dragging uphill finishes in the past but I’m not certain he has fully returned to his former level yet, therefore, I don’t think he’ll feature.

Outsiders to watch

Simone Consonni.

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I’ve been impressed by the Italian’s development this year in what is his second season in the pro peloton. He’s a solid sprinter but can also hang quite well on the short climbs. It will be tough for him to win but a top 10 on a tough-ish finish like this would be a good result.

Eduard Prades.

Not as much of an outsider as he would have been had he not come 4th today. The Euskadi Murias rider has had a string of very good results this year, particularly in races with tricky finishes. The rise to the finish certainly helps him but against the quality of opposition here then I think another top 10 would be good.

Mike Teunissen.

Given Max “speed bump” Walscheid won’t be competing come the finish, I would expect Sunweb to give Teunnisen the chance to go for a result as they will have plenty of others to help guide Kelderman. We’ve seen so far this year that Teunissen is competent on the short climbs so tomorrow’s drag to the finish should be okay for him. Is he capable of going better than his fifth place result on the opening day of Paris Nice?

Prediction

This is a tough one. I think it comes down to a sprint, the question is who? Sagan is the obvious choice but I do feel both Bouhanni and Viviani have the abilities to challenge him.

Hmmmmm.

Given his season so far, I’ll go with Viviani to win again.

 

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Betting

2pts WIN Viviani @ 8/1

0.5pt EW Teunissen @ 200/1

3pts H2H Double (Consonni > DVP and Bouhanni > Nizzolo) @ 3.2/1

Thanks as always for reading. Who do you think will win tomorrow and how will they do so? Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

Vuelta a España 2018 Stage 7 Preview: Puerto Lumbreras -> Pozo Alcón

Today’s Recap

Told ya, well, kind of.

A stiff headwind for a lot of the day saw a slow pace throughout the afternoon but a combination of some poorly marshalled bollards and wind resulted in splits throughout the bunch late on. Annoyingly, those pesky sprinters made the front group along with team-mates so things were kept at a reasonable pace and the wind just wasn’t strong enough to create any more splits in the final 10km, despite the best intentions from a few teams.

I did say in yesterday’s preview that Viviani wouldn’t win and that is exactly what happened. The Italian finished ridiculously fast but he was poorly positioned coming around the final roundabout and could only manage third place.

Instead it was Bouhanni who sprinted to the victory, a result that will probably be divisive in the cycling community. I for one am happy to see him pick up the result, it is what he needed desperately. It also puts to bed the fake news/misinterpretation that was spread yesterday after the stage.

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Van Poppel got up well to finish second but just didn’t have the legs to come past the Cofidis man.

There weren’t many GC losers today but Pinot and Kelderman were the main ones, both shipping 1’44 to their rivals. Not ideal but it isn’t the end of the Vuelta for them, however, they will have to work hard to gain that time back. Will they get a chance soon? Let’s have a look at what is in store for the riders tomorrow.

The Route

Another rolling day out for the peloton, with 2500m of climbing throughout the stage.

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Only two of the rises are categorised but as you can see on the profile, there are plenty of drags and peaks elsewhere. The rolling terrain does make it a bit more awkward for the sprinters teams to control but nothing should worry them too much in the opening 160km. It is the final 15km of the day that will be crucial and we might not see many of the sprinters make the line in what is billed as another flat day and one for them. In fact, I’ll be surprised if any of them do.

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Just ignore the fact I wrote Stage 8 above, bit of a brain fart…

To kick the closing 17.5km off, the riders will face the second categorised climb of the day: Alto de Ceal (4.3km at 5.8%). It is a very steady climb with the gradient keeping regular – good for those wanting to set a tempo. Once over the top, the road descends for 4kms, albeit that is interrupted by another short rise.

The day’s intermediate bonus sprint is handily placed on top of the following climb.

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The fight for position will be intense going into the climb and not because of the double-digit gradients that await in some points, but the ridiculously narrow streets through the village of Hinojares.

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Once through the sprint point a short descent follows before the road drags all the way up to the finish line, with an average gradient of 2% for the remaining 5.5km.

How will the stage play out?

It’s too difficult for any of the sprinters so it will be a puncheur that could sprint to the line from a reduced group. The final 20km actually look perfect for Valverde and Kwiatkowski but they also look very tempting for a late attack.

Will anyone want to work all day and hold the race together?

Movistar might, as today and tomorrow are both the closest stages to Valverde’s home in Murcia and given that the route suits him perfectly, they could give it a try. However, it will take a lot of energy to control things as I’m not sure many others will want to. Sky deliberately gave away the jersey to avoid controlling on days like tomorrow so I doubt they’ll decide to chase now.

Therefore, it once again looks like we’re about to play everyone’s favourite game…

TheBreakawayLottery

Dries Devenyns.

Solid rider with a good bit of form, Quick Step will want to be present in the break after missing out the other day. Devenyns is the type of guy who can finish it off. Can’t really be bothered to repeat myself from the other day so go and read that instead!

Dylan Teuns.

BMC were close to a win with De Marchi the other day and we saw the strange sight of Porte in a three-man break on a sprinter’s stage this afternoon. Teuns on paper looks their best shot at a win tomorrow as he can handle the punchy gradients very well.

Daniel Moreno.

No WT for EF Education up until Clarke’s victory on stage 5, can they get another one quickly? Moreno is in search of a contract for next year so I expect him to see him animate a few stages this race, it is just a question of which ones. Tomorrow looks like a good opportunity as Uran won’t need much help and there is time for him to recover before Sunday’s mountain top finish.

Nelson Oliveira.

Movistar are always competitive in the Team classification so if a big group goes up the road tomorrow then expect them to have someone there. Oliveira is a strong rider who can deal with varying terrain. The steep climb before the final 5km might be on his limit, but it all of course depends on his company in the move.

Prediction

Dani Moreno to roll back the years and make it two in three days for EF Education.

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Betting

“Punts on the break picks as per, then reassess in-play”, but given the price of Valverde, I’m also backing him…

2pts WIN Valverde @ 11s

1pt WIN Teuns @ 22s

1pt WIN Devenyns @ 50s

0.5pt WIN Moreno @ 250/1

0.5pt WIN Oliveira @ 125/1

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

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

Vuelta a España 2018 Stage 6 Preview: Huércal-Overa -> San Javier. Mar Menor

Today’s Recap

After a long fight this morning/early afternoon, a big break of 20-odd riders eventually escaped from what was at that time a reduced peloton. Sky let them go and with it the race lead at the end of the day, a sensible decision given they’ve struggled a bit over some of the previous stages.

Up ahead the day was pretty tactical with several attacks and counters throughout the afternoon. I’ll be honest, I didn’t really watch much of today’s action at all and only tuned in with 20km to go with a trio up ahead: Clarke, De Marchi and Mollema.

The latter two tried to play games and drop the EF Education rider but it was not to be as he was just too strong on the flat. They nearly got caught by a group of three behind, which included new race leader Molard, but the trio at the front held on for the sprint with Clarke taking what was an inevitable win.

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Mollema finished second with De Marchi.

No opportunity for the sprinters today but that looks likely to change tomorrow. Let’s have a look at what is in store for the riders.

The Route

A pretty benign day by Vuelta standards with only 1400m of climbing throughout the afternoon.

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There are a couple of Cat-3 climbs to deal with out on the course but they aren’t overly difficult and come too far from the finish to cause any real issues. Or at least you wouldn’t think so, anyway.

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The run in is fairly straightforward with the final 5km being pan-flat. There are a few corners and the most difficult of those typically comes inside the final 1km, where the riders will have to traverse the long way around a roundabout. It will certainly string things out and coming out of the roundabout near the front of the bunch is necessary to be competing come the end of the day.

Weather Watch

It gives me great pleasure to bring back this segment for the first time in the race and it is for everyone’s favourite reason: possible echelon action!

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Source: Windfinder

The above screenshot is the weather forecast for a town just to the north of La Unión, a.k.a the 25km to go marker for the day.

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The riders head pretty much north for twenty of those kilometres before the turn back on themselves before again heading north for the approach to the finish line. The tailwind finish means you can afford to go earlier with your sprint.

Anyway, creating echelons in a peloton needs three inputs really.

First, the road and wind direction combination needs to be perfect, and that is the case for tomorrow with the route heading north and the wind coming directly across from the riders right.

Secondly, you need areas of land that are exposed enough for the wind to have an effect. There’s no point in it being a gusty day if the road is in a valley and sheltered by hills or trees for example.

Oh, would you look at that…

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Wide open plain…

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After wide open plain…

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After wide open plain.

As you can see, even in the final few kilometres to the finish the riders are exposed to the wind coming off of the sea. The only place of real respite they have is when they travel through the towns of Los Alcázares and Los Narejos: only a 4km stretch of road, before it all starts again once they leave the cover of the buildings.

I make it therefore that out of the last 25km in tomorrow’s stage, 20km of them are prime echelon territory.

Finally, the last thing you need for echelons to happen is a couple of committed teams in the peloton. Given how close things are GC wise just now then there will be a good few squads looking at tomorrow as an opprtunity to split things up and gain time for their overall contenders. We’ve seen Movistar do this in the past and back in 2011 Liquigas pretty much did a TTT and tore things apart. We obviously have the likes of Quick Step who are masters in these conditions, remember Stage 2 last year, or stage 3 of the Giro that same year?

How will the race pan out?

I’m being bold here and I don’t think we’ll see a full bunch sprint tomorrow as things will get split up on the run in. As to who might be there, it really is tough to tell!

We will have GC teams trying to protect their main rider but we’ll also have guys trying to split things up with a hope of increasing their chances for the stage win. It’s going to be manic. One thing that you do find though is that a lot of sprinters tend to be the better riders in cross winds due to their size and raw power, so a lot of them should be near the front tomorrow. Unless it is complete chaos.

Viviani is probably still the favourite for the stage given how good he is this year and the team he rides for. But the conditions tomorrow probably don’t help him as much as they hinder him because I’m sure he would prefer his lead-out to be there in full to guide him through the finish.

Bold prediction number two: Viviani doesn’t win.

The Two Lotto Tickers

Tosh Van der Sande.

Lotto Soudal are exactly the type of team with the strength and know-how in these conditions to help split the bunch. They have no GC aspirations so can go all in to try something and hope it pays off. With their full Belgian squad, the wind will be a welcome sight to them after the heat of the past few days. Van der Sande is their fastest rider and if they can get him into a group of 10-15, then he has a very good chance of producing the win.

Victor Campenaerts.

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Another strong rider who eats wind for breakfast, the current European TT Champion is clearly in good form after his very good run in the opening effort against the clock. He looked lively on the third stage and went on the attack but unfortunately came off of his bike. However, he only sustained some “abrasions to the buttocks” so it was nothing too serious. After a couple of days at the back of the bunch, I think he’ll have recovered and want to put on a show again. He’s the type of rider who could ping off the front of a group at the end and be nigh on impossible to bring back. Come on the ‘tache!

Prediction

Tosh van der Sande wins an echelon filled finale. Don’t @ me.

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Actually you can @ me all you want, I know I’m being a bit ridiculous but this doesn’t end in a full bunch sprint so why not have some fun!

Betting

Day to be avoiding Viviani unless you’re ridiculously confident. So I’m throwing a few pennies around on the two Lotto riders.

0.5pt WIN Campenaerts @ 400/1

0.5pt EW TVDS @ 300/1

Thanks as always for reading. Who do you think will win tomorrow and why? Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

Vuelta a España 2018 Stage 5 Preview: Granada -> Roquetas de Mar

Today’s Recap

It was one of those days where a “weird” break went that lacked many of the expected big names. However, they proved strong enough to stay away all day thanks to good co-operation and a lack of willingness to chase them down from Sky behind.

A little split occurred in the group before the penultimate climb where King, Stalnov and Wallays gained 40 odd seconds over the rest of the break. As the road ramped up, the latter was detached and we saw an attack from Rolland behind. The remaining two continued to work well, keeping the stronger Frenchman at bay. They did start to mess around in the closing kilometre and Rolland got tantalisingly close to catching them but it wasn’t to be.

King ended up king on the day, producing a very explosive sprint to the line to win comfortably with Stalnov trailing home second and Rolland in third.

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Behind, we did get a bit of GC action with Yates and Buchmann the main two winners on the day. There were no real drastic changes though so let’s have a look at what is in store for the riders tomorrow.

The Route

Another classic Vuelta “sprint stage” that includes 3000m of climbing and a Cat-2 climb cresting only 27km from the finish.

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Rolling roads are pretty much how you would describe the whole day. The first categorised ascent comes after 50km but there will have already been three more gradual rises before then.

Alto de Orgiva is arguably the sharpest ascent of the day, averaging 7% for 4.4kms. Yet more rolling road follows with several more climbs as we pass through the feed zone and then the intermediate sprint.

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All of this happens before the main test of the day, the Alto el Marchal.

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The road actually gradually rises for around 3km before the climb officially starts, with much the same gradients of the ascent itself. The 4.1% average makes it sound easy and to be fair it kind of is, but there are several flat sections on the climb which lowers the average gradient. Still, with it never really going above 7%, it should see a group ride it together unless if someone tries something crazy/stupid.

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The descent off of the climb is long and sinuous, with several technical sections. It will be a fast one though as the inverted gradient is -6% for 16.5kms. Somewhere that the pressure can be put on? Possibly.

Nine kilometres of flat will see the riders arrive at the finish.

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A roundabout and a left hand turn in the closing kilometre could cause some issues if we see a big bunch arrive together.

How will the stage pan out?

Once again it is a day where we have to decide between four options for the win: break, big sprint, or reduced bunch sprint, really reduced bunch sprint/surprise GC day.

I don’t think many, if any, of the main sprinters will get over the final climb with the peloton so a big sprint is the least likely option. It would take a dud of a breakaway, maybe 3 riders or so, and a slow steady pace in the peloton for that to happen. 5%.

Surprise GC day would require Sky to keep things under control and as we saw today their team just isn’t that strong so they’re happy to let things go. In fact, it would be over to the other teams to create a surprise GC day but I think they will want to keep their powder dry and let Sky work in the heat. So again, this is very unlikely. 5%.

A reduced sprint could happen but it require teams to control the tempo all day but who would do it? Movistar could if they fancied Valverde to arrive in a group that he could beat. If Sagan was in form then he would make the finish but Bora have GC riders to look after now, unless of course they work for them? Same goes for Mitchelton and their Trentin/Yates combo? Make it tough enough for Yates or try to hold things together for Trentin? Likelier than the other two options above, but I just think the terrain is too difficult and sapping for someone to bother to waste resources to hold things together all afternoon. 25%.

So for the second day in a row, time to play everyone’s favourite game…

TheBreakawayLottery

I give the break a 65% chance of making it.

Break Candidates

As we saw today it might not be a break with some “big hitters” that makes it to the line and a move could go at any time. However, the more rolling course tomorrow would lend itself more to the stronger/more traditional break riders making the move. So here goes nothing…

As honorable mentions I’ll say De Marchi and De Gendt again but given it is so early into a GT, I like to mix the names up a bit before repeating the tried and tested riders later on.

Alexandre Geniez.

A two-time stage winner at the Vuelta before, we should see an attacking Ag2r outfit throughout this race as they have no-one with real GC aspirations – as much as Gallopin’s great start would suggest otherwise. Geniez is a good climber but also strong on the flat land too so he is the perfect mix to make the break on tomorrow’s terrain. He also packs a pretty fast sprint so could be a contender if the morning move makes it all the way to the line together.

Rohan Dennis.

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Flying on the opening day, since then he has been his Aussie team-mate’s minder pretty much, shepherding home Porte every day. Roche was up for them on GC before today’s stage where he lost two minutes to the main group. Like Ag2R, I expect BMC to put on an attacking display throughout this Vuelta and it was a surprise to see them not make the move today: they’ll duly rectify that tomorrow I think. Dennis is obviously strong on the flat but as we saw in the Giro he can handle himself well on the climbs too and the “easy” gradient of the final climb tomorrow suits him. His breakees can’t get him 20m on the run in to the line or he will be very tough to bring back.

Dries Devenyns.

The man with arguably the best Twitter handle in the peloton, Devenyns has been in lively form this year, albeit mainly at the start of the season. He picked up strong results Down Under and in Oman before returning to Europe. Since then he has been in a domestique role but once again seemed to be in good shape in Poland where he was on the attack. Clearly someone who can cope with the heat, see his results Down Under, the weather shouldn’t be an issue for him tomorrow. I am intrigued to see how QuickStep play it as they of course have Mas to look after for the overall, but Devenyns has been given freedom to chase stages at some point throughout the race. Is tomorrow one of those days?

Nick Schultz.

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Caja Rural have been surprisingly absent from the attacks over the past few days and I would expect that to change soon. Schultz has taken it easy on the first stages, maybe because his signing for Mitchelton is official now…I think he’s been saving himself and riding his way into his second GT, he’ll have learnt a lot from his Vuelta experience last year. Tomorrow doesn’t feature any massive climbs so the rolling terrain suits the young Aussie. We saw with his third place in GP Indurain that he can climb well but also descend too, both characteristics that will come in handy tomorrow.

Prediction

Break stays away and Geniez continues his Vuelta winning streak!

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Betting

1pt WIN Devenyns @ 33/1

1pt WIN Geniez @ 66/1

0.5pt WIN Schultz @ 200/1

0.5pt WIN Dennis @ 300/1

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

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

Vuelta a España 2018 Stage 4 Preview: Vélez-Málaga -> Alfacar. Sierra de la Alfaguara

Today’s Recap

Misread the intensity of the riders today as most decided they fancied a day off, so I’ll hold my hands up for that one! Pretty dull afternoon for us spectators with things only getting exciting inside the last 20km. Considering there was no real pace early on, all of the sprinters made it to the finish and the stage favourite won.

Viviani only needed Morkov in the final kilometre to lead him out, with the Dane dropping him in a perfect position. From there, it was over the Italian Champion who duly delivered. He is having his best season ever and has been the sprinter of the year, no doubt about it!

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Nizzolo continued his recovery with a good second place and Sagan survived the heat to come third. However, the latter still didn’t look as good as normal, with him mainly getting that podium due to his great positioning in the finale.

With the slow pace today, I reckon many have been looking to save energy for tomorrow: let’s have a look at what is in store for the riders.

The Route

It may only be the 4th stage but we have the first proper summit finish of the race.

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50km of flat lands will lead the peloton to the bottom of the opening climb of the day. The Puerto de la Cabra is a fairly steady climb, averaging 5.7% for 16.4km, with its steepest section coming in the middle. Too early for anything wild to happen, just expect a solid tempo in the bunch to tire the legs ever so slightly and that’s it.

The road plateaus and then actually rises after the official KOM point, before the riders reach the feed zone half-way into the day.

A descent and an uncategorised hill leads into an elongated U-shaped valley, before the final climb to the line starts properly.

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As first mountain top finishes of a race go, it is pretty much what you want. Not too difficult that loads of guys will struggle, but it is just tough enough that if a few teams put the hurt on (Movistar and Sky namely), then we could actually see a couple of surprise GC casualties. The opening 4km and closing 2km are the easier parts of the climb, with the middle 6km averaging 7.25% and that is the key section of the day. If you want to drop some rivals, it has to be done there.

How will the stage pan out?

Once again we’re left with the age-old question of break or no break?

Given what we have seen so far, the stage once again looks great for both Valverde and Kwiatkowski, although the former is traditionally better on these types of climbs. However, if the current race leader can make it through the steeper section in the middle then he should be there to compete for the finish at the end of the day. There are of course other GC guys who will fancy their chances on a finish like this but they won’t commit their team to chasing the break, therefore, it is down to Sky and/or Movistar to control things.

Sky will be happy to let the break take the day if there is no danger to the overall or their current race lead in the move so a lot of the onus will be on Movistar and their approach. Valverde said in an interview the other day that he was targeting this stage so I think we will know Movistar’s plan then! Unless of course they decide to play a game with Sky and just let them expend some extra energy controlling things all day.

So what about the break then?

With the 45km+ of “flat” roads before the first climb then it will be difficult for any mountain goats to get into the move, unless if they manage it by luck/good timing – it depends on who you ask as to what the answer is to that. A group of strong rouleurs will be able to keep a chasing peloton at bay behind if it is just Sky or Movistar who are doing the work on their own. There are plenty of strong riders far enough down on GC not to worry Sky so I do think it will be down to two factors for if the break makes it:

  1. Any threat to Kwiatkowski’s lead in the move
  2. How much Movistar put into the day/Sky don’t

We could of course just have one of those days where a rubbish break of 4 escapes after the flag drop and that’s it, easy GC day. Who knows.

In the words of Natalie Imbruglia: “I’m torn”.

I think the sensible play is to go with the break then reassess in-play, so it’s time to play everyone’s favourite game again…

TheBreakawayLottery

Just two juggernauts of the breakaway game being named here from me.

Allesandro De Marchi.

A very impressive 6th place on the opening TT, De Marchi is a rider who seems to produce his best performances at the Vuelta, where he has taken two stage wins in the past. BMC currently have Roche in “GC contention” but I don’t believe he’ll be competing all the way to Madrid so no doubt we’ll see them ride aggressively over the coming weeks. Key to get some practice in before the name change for next year and no real GC leader for the Grand Tours anymore, well, none named so far. De Marchi is a powerful enough rouleur to make the break early on and a solid enough climber to deal with the finishing climb. If he makes the move, it has every chance, just like the next rider.

Thomas De Gendt.

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Mr Breakaway, De Gendt was on the move on stage 2 but decided to drift back to the peloton after they realised they weren’t going to get any success come the end of the stage. Either that or he cramped up but I’ll believe the former! Tomorrow is the type of early GT mountain stage that De Gendt can go exceptionally well in. The rolling but mainly flat terrain in between the climbs are good for him while the low average gradients of the ascents themselves are also favourable. I think he’ll have tomorrow circled in his road book. Can he deliver?

GC Contenders

Aside from Kwiatkowski and Valverde, a GC rider will need a good sprint to finish off tomorrow’s stage given the “flatter” final 2kms. Look towards the likes of Pinot, Kelderman and Lopez to pack a punch.

Prediction

The break to stay away after Sky and Movistar play games behind, and De Marchi to take his third Vuelta stage of his career. I really liked the way he looked on the attack in Poland plus his powerful TT on the opening day!

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Betting

As I said above, a day to throw some pennies onto breakaway picks then reassess in play what’s happening.

1pt WIN De Marchi @ 25/1

1pt WIN De Gent @ 50/1

Thanks as always for reading. Who do you think will win tomorrow and why? Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

Vuelta a España 2018 Stage 3 Preview: Mijas -> Alhaurín de la Torre

Today’s Recap

Well I pretty much had today’s stage bang on in yesterday’s preview, if we just ignore the part where I decided to dream about a Benoot victory…The Lotto Soudal rider was with the front group but pulled off and swung left at roughly 2km to go, possibly struggling with the heat and rhythm of the bunch.

De Plus launched a very strong attack with just over 1km left and gained a reasonable gap while there was a bit of marking out behind. Valverde bit the bullet (see what I did?) and hit out to close him down, with only Kwiatkowski being able to stick to his wheel. The Pole came round Valverde at 250m to go, leading into the last corner. It worked out perfectly though for the Movistar man who was able to use Kwiatkowski’s slipstream and launch past him in the final metres to take the win.

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De Plus held on for third with a whole host of GC riders coming trailing in behind.

The result on the day means that Kwiatkowski moves into the leader’s jersey, 14 seconds ahead of Valverde and 25 ahead of Kelderman. With the parcours to come tomorrow, he should hold on to it, but who knows. Let’s have a look at what is in store for them…

The Route

A classic Vuelta “sprint day” where the riders have to traverse two categorised climbs, including the first Cat-1 of the race, and several other unclassified ascents, totalling over 3000m of altitude gain. Javier Guillén is the biggest patter merchant going!

stage-3-profile

The Cat-1 climb of Puerto del Madroño averages 4.4% for 23.5km so it isn’t too tough gradient wise, but it is the length and heat combined that will cause some issues. If we don’t see the break form until here, then expect it to be strong again and it might be one that could go all the way.

The terrain continues to roll for pretty much the remainder of the day, taking in the Cat-3 Puerto del Viento (6.4km at 4.3%) and the uncategorised rise just after the feed zone which comes in at 4.1% for 6kms.

A long descent follows before yet more rolling terrain and some rises before the intermediate sprint point with only 25km left in the day.

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As you can see on the profile above, there are a few rises in the closing 7kms, with the most notable of them being a 1.2km drag (3.6%) average that ends with just 2.5km left in the day. From there, it is mainly flat, if not ever so slightly downhill all the way to the line.

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There are 4 roundabouts to traverse in those closing 2.5km, just a typical Vuelta finish really. The last of those comes with roughly 600m left but it is quite open so it shouldn’t be too bad.

Question Number 1: Break or no break?

The stage looks great for a breakaway to establish a good gap before the sprinters teams can start chasing properly once they are over the Cat-1 climb and normally it would be a good stage to get into the move. However, the issue lies with the fact that Kwiatkowski currently leads the overall and Sky might be keen to keep him in that position so they will keep things on a fairly tight rope, hoping to get some assistance later on. Consequently, I don’t think we’ll see the break win tomorrow despite the favourable profile, although I’ll still give it an 20% chance of it happening.

Question Number 2: Big bunch sprint or reduced bunch sprint?

We saw today that several of the sprinters bailed out early on what was an easier stage than tomorrow. It is hard to read into that though as many of them wouldn’t have rated their chances at all and just decided to save their energy.

However, we are in for a similarly hot day tomorrow and more climbing metres (roughly 400m more), then we could see several sprinters dropped early and not make it back. It will be interesting to see who pushes the pace on and given their current form, I think both Valverde and Kwiatkowski might fancy their chances in a reduced bunch gallop. Consequently, we could see Sky and Movistar form an entente cordiale at the start of the stage and drop most of the fast men on the opening climb. As looking at the stage profile, there isn’t really a lot of flat land where a team can make a concerted chance to get back if the pace is on at the head of the race. It’s not really until 40km to go that the major difficulties of the afternoon are out-of-the-way.

The slightly rolling run-in to the line as well could see some surprisingly lose contact after a tough day. If not, their zip might be gone.

It’s a tough one to call, but I think we’ll see a reduced bunch sprint of maybe 70-90 riders.

Contenders

Elia Viviani.

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Arguably the best sprinter this year, Viviani has had a truly incredible season. He recently won the Cyclassics Hamburg in rather dominant fashion but somewhat disappointed today. I would have expected him to stay with the bunch for longer but as mentioned above, he might just have decided to write the day off and focus on tomorrow. If he can manage the climbs and make it to the line, then he has to be the clear favourite.

Matteo Trentin. 

Another who disappointed me today, he finished ahead of the gruppetto but not by much, coming home almost 11 minutes down. Sensational in this race last year, will he get given the same free role now with Mitchelton? Theoretically he should be one of the fastest “climbing sprinters” here, but does he have the form…His win in Glasgow would suggest so but today’s performance doesn’t. Hmmmm.

Michal Kwiatkowski.

He just seems to be able to continue his great form, doesn’t he?! Today he got played by Valverde who let him lead into the final turn and the Pole will be desperately gutted to have missed out on the stage win, again. Being in the red leader’s jersey isn’t a bad consolation but he will want more. Sky have a strong team to put the sprinters into trouble early and if they form an alliance with other squads, we could see the current race leader sprinting for the win from a reduced bunch. He clearly has the form and speed at the moment to go well and the rises before the line will help to bring him closer to the fast men.

Alejandro Valverde.

Can El Bala make it two in a row? Much like Kwiatkowski, Valverde packs a good sprint on the flat too and he’ll no doubt want to chase some bonus seconds so he can move into the race lead. If the race is aggressive and attritional tomorrow then he has a great chance.

Tom Van Asbroeck.

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Slightly left-field pick but he impressed me a lot on the tougher finishes in the Vuelta last year and he seems to be arriving here in good shape. He was the best finishing “fast man” today, coming home only 2’15 down on Kwiatkowski. He should make it over the climbs with the main group tomorrow and if some of the properly fast guys have been dropped then he has a great chance of pulling off what is a shock result.

Nacer Bouhanni.

I still remember fondly the 2014 Vuelta and just how strong Nacer was then, it is a shame to see him a shadow of his former self, or is he? Today he came home alongside Nibali and Benoot: not exactly bad company for a sprinter on a tricky finish. To me that indicates that his climbing legs are starting to come back and I think he will be up for it tomorrow. On his day Bouhanni can climb very well and I keep harking back to his win in Catalunya last year. One to watch.

Ivan Garcia Cortina.

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The Bahrain rider really announced himself with a third place from the breakaway during last year’s Vuelta on what was a difficult day out. Like Bouhanni, he finished alongside his team-mate Nibali today so there is obviously a reasonable amount of form there at the moment. With Bahrain looking a little lacklustre GC wise already, only Ion is left, then they might turn their attention to Garcia tomorrow: he certainly could challenge for the podium in a reduced gallop.

Note I’ve left out Sagan (probably at my peril) because I still don’t think he’s 100% and isn’t fit enough to compete. Also left out Walscheid as he can barely get over a speed bump.

Prediction

Reduced sprint with some of the sprinters missing out.

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Kwiatkowski to get that win!

 

 

Betting

Backing two riders…

1pt EW Kwiatkowski @ 18/1

1pt EW Van Asbroeck @ 40/1

Should cover a few bases. Maybe not a Viviani win though!

Thanks as always for reading. Who do you think will win tomorrow? Will we see a sprint, reduced bunch sprint or even a breakaway contesting for stage honours? Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

Vuelta a España 2018 Stage 2 Preview: Marbella -> Caminito del Rey

Today’s Recap

Was it ever really in doubt? The Rohirrim were well and truly mustered. Dennis smashed it out the park, winning by a relatively massive 6 seconds in the grand scheme of things: taking almost one second per kilometre over his nearest rivals.

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Kwiatkowski produced a strong time to come home in second, just edging out Campenaerts. The three pre-stage favourites finishing in the predicted order. The trio were a cut above the rest with a 10 second gap between Campenaerts and 4th-place finisher Oliveira.

Will Dennis hold onto the jersey tomorrow? Let’s take a look at what is in store for the riders.

The Route

No messing about from the organisers here, the open road action kicks off with a real tease of a stage.

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Climbing from the gun, the Puerto de Ojén (8km at 5.6%) will offer the chance for a strong break to go clear. There are two more 3rd Cat climbs out on the route which rolls pretty much all afternoon before a climb to finish.

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They will get a look at the final climb just before the halfway point in the stage. As you can see, at an average of just under 4% for 4.7kms, it isn’t the toughest climb in the world. However, it goes up in steps and the final kilometre of it averages a slightly punchier 6.5%. As they round the final corner with only 200m to go, things flatten out somewhat and a slight drag to the line awaits.

How will the stage pan out?

Given the tough start we could see a strong break get away, something a lot of the peloton won’t want. There is a chance if that is the case though, and that the morning move fights it out at the finish. We’ve seen this before where there is a lack of organisation by the big GC teams as to who chases down the move, almost trying to call each others bluff but failing in the end.

However, I don’t think that will be the case this time around and there will be enough co-operation behind to keep things on a fairly tight leash.

Expect the likes of Movistar and Sky to control the tempo on the final climb, whittling down the group in the hope to set up their riders. It is punchy enough to see some attacks though and if the bunch becomes unorganised then someone might be able to sneak away.

Kwiatkowski v Valverde?

On paper these are the two favourites for the stage as I personally think the finish will be too tough for the likes of Viviani and co. Sagan would be up there if this was in July but it’s not and he’s not been in the best of shape recently so yeah…

Kwiatkowski was dominant in the Tour of Poland, winning two stages along with the GC title. Both of his wins came on uphill finishes, although they were different in nature compared to what we have tomorrow, which is somewhere in between the two. If anything, the finish is very similar to his win earlier in the year in the Algarve when he won up the climb of Foia.

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Valverde is of course Valverde and you would have to be living under a rock not to know his capabilities on a finish like this. We’ve seen him take numerous wins in sprints from reduced groups at the top of climbs over the past few years. His team should be strong enough to hold it all together but who knows. His form is a bit unknown though as he hasn’t raced since the Tour so he might get caught out a bit here but then again, it is Valverde and he is always on form. The Tour was his down time in form for the year…

Not Just a Two-horse Race.

There are of course plenty of others within the field who will fancy their chances via either a sprint or a late attack. Think of Dan Martin, Dylan Teuns, Bauke Mollema, the Yates’ and Pello Bilbao to name but a few.

However, I’ve had one rider in mind for this stage for a few days now and I think as an “outsider” he has a good chance of going very well…

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I’ve been very impressed by Benoot’s transition from one-day racer to potential future one-week stage race contender this year. Saying that, his biggest and only win did come in the very tough edition of Strade Bianche. On that day he was flying on the short and punchy climbs and it was one of the rides of the season. Set to ride his first Tour de France, he was unfortunately the victim of one of the opening week crashes; ultimately being forced to abandon before the start of the 5th stage. He returned to racing in the Cyclassics Hamburg recently and was one of the riders on the attack over the final climb, where he looked fairly comfortable. He’s talked up his form quite a bit in the run in to this race and I believe him! Just look at his “sprint” results in Tirreno and Dauphiné, he can pack a punch from a small group. Will he wait for the galop though, or go for a hail mary attack?

Prediction

I was going to be boring and just say Kwiatkowski here but I’ll stick my neck out and go with Benoot. It’s also a perfect excuse to share my favourite cycling related Instagram post…

View this post on Instagram

Forza Tiesj Benoot! 🎉 @tiesj #ohn

A post shared by Sporza (@sporza.be) on

Forza Tiesj!

Betting

1pt EW Benoot @ 33/1

Thanks as always for reading! Apologies for this being a little bit shorter than normal but I’ve had a few other things on this afternoon. Normal length should return tomorrow. Who do you think is going to win the stage? Will we see a surprise? Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

GP de Plouay 2018 Preview

The last “hilly” one-day race of the year returns tomorrow, as the women’s peloton gears up towards the World Championships in Innsbruck which start in just under a month. GP de Plouay is often one of the most hotly contested races of the year, always providing some tense and tactical action. In 2017 we saw Deignan and Ferrand Prevot escape late on in the day, working together until the final few hundred metres where the strength of the Boels rider would ultimately shine through, as she took a comfortable win in the end.

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Ferrand Prevot held on for second, with Mitchelton’s Sarah Roy taking home the reduced bunch sprint for third place.

With Deignan not here this year, for obvious reasons, there is a chance we could see a new winner tomorrow. However, with Marianne Vos in her current form then we might not! Or of course Eugenia Bujak could repeat that fairly surprising 2016 win but that is a little less likely…

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

The Route

A carbon copy of last year’s route pretty much. No excuses for not knowing it!

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The riders will take on a circuit around Plouay with the focal point of the course being two climbs. The first of which, the Côte de Bois de Kerlucas, comes pretty much from the gun and will kick the action off straight away. It’s not an overly difficulty climb at an average of 5.1% for a kilometre, but expect it to be raced almost full gas every lap.

An important thing to note too is that the road is never really “flat” with it either gradually descending or rising throughout the route. Combining that with the narrow and quite often twisting roads, it is a tough race to keep control of.

The most decisive part of the route though is the final climb: the Côte de Ty Marrec.

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Again, it is not an overly difficult climb but its place on the course means that is raced very fast. With only 3.5km from the summit to the finish line, it means that if a strong group of riders escapes here and co-operates well, then there is no chance to bring them back.

That closing 3.5km is mainly made up of very gradual descent before the final couple hundred metres where the road kicks up ever so slightly to the line. If a group comes to the finish together, that slight rise makes the timing of the sprint more important.

How do you stop Vos?

The question on everyone’s lips going into this race. The Waowdeals rider is on sublime form at the moment, having won in Vargarda and followed that up by just casually winning every stage in Norway, along with the GC, obviously. It wasn’t like she struggled to win the stages too, just scraping by. Nope, quite the opposite really! On the final day of racing in Norway she closed down at least 20 small attacks by my reckoning and she still had enough of a kick to win the bunch sprint. If anyone takes her to the line tomorrow, I don’t care who it is, they lose.

It could be argued that her team is her weakness, but I expect Rowe and Rooijakkers to last quite a while into the race with their leader, especially the former. However, it is possible to isolate her with some aggressive racing. The only issue then is that any aggressive racing will most likely isolate some of the other riders.

Vos has countered this isolation in the past few races by just going on the attack herself, because why not? Whittling down a group to a much more manageable size means that she can follow almost every attack and play the numbers game better. Pulling the old “you have more chance to win now there are less of us” to her fellow escapees when really that isn’t the case.

The only way to beat her in this race is to isolate her and have numbers of your own in the front group. If that is the case, send off repeated attacks until she can’t follow or decides not to follow a group – while the other riders sit on behind her. As strong as she is, she isn’t the best TT rider over a longer distance so it would be hard for her to bring back a group of 3 or so out ahead.

The issue with this plan is that there aren’t many teams here that I could envisage having numerous riders in a front group where Vos doesn’t have a team-mate with her.

Anyway, here goes nothing (probably) and a list of three riders to keep your eye on throughout the day…

Cecilie Ludwig.

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Fast becoming a fan-favourite, the young Danish rider put in a very aggressive and impressive performance at La Course where she went solo on the penultimate climb but was ultimately caught near the top of the last ascent of the day. Equally impressive was her colourful outburst at the end of the stage which was one of the moments of the year: true passion and pride for her sport. Following on from La Course, she was one of the more attacking riders in the recent Crescent Vargarda, where she stuck to Vos’ wheel like glue. Cervélo do have Lepistö for a potential sprint but I think we’ll see Ludwig and Moolman on the attack throughout the afternoon and they arguably form one of the stronger duos to take the race to Vos.

Emilia Fahlin. 

In a little bit of a purple patch at the moment, she finished on the podium on every stage in Norway recently. Having only done this race once before back in 2017 where she finished a lowly 47th over 6 minutes down, it will take a much better performance from her this time to compete. However, like I said, she seems to be going well and it is the type of course that should in theory suit her as a strong rider. With Brennauer, Longo Borghini and Cordon-Ragot, it will be interesting to see how Wiggle play it. I would expect them to be attacking and after last week’s results, Fahlin would fancy her chances in a sprint of escapees.

Amy Pieters.

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Having her best season to date, Pieters arrives here as part of a strong Boels squad, standard. Another who has not done this event many times before (2010 and 2014 were her only participations), it will be interesting to see how she copes with the parcours. I think she’ll be perfectly fine as she has shown more than enough in the past to suggest that she can deal with 1km climbs at the gradients we have here. Moreover, I expect Boels to be incredibly attacking tomorrow afternoon and I don’t expect them to wait for a sprint. Pieters possibly could be that sprint option for them but I think they would rather put on a show and try to split things up before that. As we’ve seen in the past, Pieters is one of the best in a sprint from a small group, but will she be there?

Prediction

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Was it ever really going to be anyone else?

Coverage

You’ll be able to follow the race via some hashtags before the live coverage starts. As to what hashtags those will be, your guess is as good as mine as several teams have used different ones. It looks like “#GPPlouay” and “#Plouay” are the most used options.

Live tv coverage starts at 15’15 local time and will be available on the following channels.

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Hopefully you’ll be able to tune in at some point throughout the afternoon.

Thanks as always for reading! Who do you think will win tomorrow? Can anyone stop Vos? As always, any Retweets or shares etc are greatly appreciated. Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

Vuelta a España 2018 Stage 1 Preview: Málaga -> Málaga

Vuelta a España 2018 Stage 1 Preview: Málaga -> Málaga

The Route

Pretty much on the borderline of the prologue/stage 1 debacle, the opening day of racing kicks off with an 8km effort against the clock around the streets of Málaga.

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Very insightful profile from the organisers…

So as is tradition for TTs, I’ve made my own that you can view here.

Vuelta S1

It’s only the opening day and we already got our first chance to witness some classic Vuelta road-book/profile patter. The TT is actually 8.2km by my reckoning not the 8km that they say, and the hill in the middle is certainly a lot steeper than what it is made out to be.

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The road “flows” for the majority of the route but there are several roundabouts to negotiate in the opening kilometres but they shouldn’t knock off too much speed. It is possible to gain some time through the tighter corners though with good bike handling skills. Nonetheless, it will be a day for riders to get up to a high-speed and maintain it. Well, except for the small little obstacle just over halfway into the stage…

Now the profile I’ve made does make the climb seem a bit more extreme but that’s of the close contours on the map, blah blah blah. The actual “segment” below is a much more realistic representation.

Vuelta TT Climb

As you can see, it is almost a kilometre long and averages 5.5%. Although going off of the elevation gain on my profile it is roughly 1.2km at closer to 6%. It really is six or half a dozen though!

One of the more important things to note about the climbs is that the riders won’t be able to carry a lot of speed into it. Arguably the tightest corner of the route comes just before the road starts to head upwards – explosivity will be important.

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The riders will cross over to the other side of the road, taking the sharp left, turning back on themselves as they head towards the hill, exiting past where the other cars are sat at the junction.

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A short descent follows over the crest of the climb, before a shade over 2kms of flat sees the riders make their way to the finish line. With only a few turns to make, it will be the last chance for the big power riders to gain back any time that they lost on the short ascent.

Thankfully, it looks as if the riders will get pretty much the same conditions throughout the evening. Speaking of which, you can view the start order here.

A Clear Favourite?

To answer my question simply: yes.

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Rohan Dennis is the best in the World at short TTs in my opinion, although he would possibly prefer a couple of more kilometres on the distance to round it up to 10 – just like the Tirreno TT that he regularly smashes. I say this as he has only won one prologue in his career but given tomorrow is technically not a prologue and with no Dumoulin here, his competition isn’t as strong, he should take the win. The slightly punchier route does bring some closer to him and with a bug going around in the BMC camp (Porte’s illness), then he might have been affected himself and not be near 100%. However, I can’t see anyone beating him if he is on good form. Quite simply, the best TT rider here. Don’t @ me.

Rule of Thumb…

I have a rule for TTs that has developed over the past couple of seasons: always consider BMC, Sky and Jumbo as they seem to be the most consistent performers in the discipline. Lately, I’ve added Sunweb to that list too as they’ve really upped their game since mid 2017.

BMC – Obviously they have the aforementioned stage-favourite Dennis but they also have Bookwalter and Rosskopf who both should turn in good times. They should be in or around the top 15 but I can’t see them challenging for the win. It’s all or nothing for them with Dennis.

Team Sky – We’ve seen numerous Sky riders in the top 10 of several TTs throughout the year. In fact, I was left rather red-faced when they decided not to bother turning up in the opening Giro TT. Kwiatkowski is the threat in the team to Dennis, the Pole has been flying in and since the Tour really. The punchier course suits him very well and he would be disappointed not to be on the podium come tomorrow. However, it would be foolish to discount De La Cruz and Castroviejo, both of whom are very talented on the TT bike and again, they should enjoy the route. The latter lost the Euro TT by less than a second to Campenaerts recently so it seems he has continued his Tour form as well.

Lotto Jumbo – One of their worst squads in terms of TT depth that I’ve seen in a while. You could argue that Boom might produce a good result but he’s not been great all year since his operation. He needs to find a contract though so who knows.

Team Sunweb – Another squad who seem to be lacking in big hitters. Kelderman would be one to consider but given his lack of racing and only recent return from a crash, it is hard to know where his form is at. Geschke might be able to spring a surprise but again it is tough to see him break onto the podium.

The Rule Breakers

There are of course some riders who break the rule.

Victor Campenaerts.

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Able to retain his European crown, Campenaerts then produced a good time in the BinckBank TT a few days later, only to be blown away by Küng that afternoon. A powerful rider, he should be able to cope with the short climb but it won’t be too his liking as much as others. However, we did see in the opening Giro TT that he can roll with the punches so will be there or thereabouts at the finish.

Jose Goncalves.

How could I not mention #GoOnCalves?! If you’ve followed the previews for a while then you’ll know I’m a big fan of the Katusha man. It was back in the 2015 Vuelta that he really sprung onto the scene when riding for Caja Rural. He’s a very punchy rider and has a lot of raw power. I say “raw” as he often doesn’t have the best tactical brain (partly why I like him) but that doesn’t matter in a TT. He’s improved a lot in the discipline this year with a 4th place in the opener at the Giro the highlight. Would it be a surprise if he was up in the top 5? I’d definitely say no!

Prediction

I’ve lead you on a long merry-go-round only to end up with saying Dennis as my pick. The best short TT rider in the World wins, simple!

I expect Castroviejo and Kwiatkowski to be close for Sky, with Campenerts and Goncalves also in the mix as well.

Betting

I’ve lumped on Dennis before and I would maybe consider doing it again but can’t bring myself to do it. The Castroviejo or Goncalves top 3 angles are interesting, in fact, I have a couple of quid on the latter at 100/1 but that price has gone now. Don’t think I’d take him at his current 20/1 and Castroviejo is too short for the top 3 at 9/4 IMO.

I have found an angle I like though and it is probably only available to some so it will be a no bet for most.

Unibet have a H2H market and I really like the Castroviejo v Boom one they have. The Spaniard is 1/2 to win it and that is a price I will happily take.

No 30pters here but 5pts will do…

Thanks as always for reading! Who do you think will win on the opening day? Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

Vuelta a España 2018 GC Preview

Vuelta a España 2018 GC Preview

It doesn’t seem that long ago that I was settling down to write about the Giro, yet here we are three and half months later and it is time to talk about the final GT of the year: the Vuelta. Or “Spain 2018”, depends what I’m allowed to say really…

Last year’s edition of the race saw a dominant Chris Froome take the red leader’s jersey on stage 3 and hold it all the way to Madrid.

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He had a couple of nervy moments but never really looked in that much trouble, ultimately beating Nibali by 2’15 with Zakarin 2’51 behind in third place. Froome isn’t here to defend his title this year but we do have three former champions in the shape of Nibali, Aru and Valverde on the start list. However, there is plenty of talent at the race looking to take their maiden Vuelta, or even Grand Tour in general, win.

As always, I’ll be doing daily stage previews I’m just going to gloss over the route completely really. There will be plenty of others who look at key stages etc so I don’t want to bore you with that again!

The Bookmaker’s Favourite

Richie Porte.

The BMC rider arrives at this race after once again failing to complete a Grand Tour without incident; crashing out of the Tour was his downfall again this year. He’s openly admitted that his form is not as good as pre-Tour so he will hope to ride himself into the race and go from there. In fact, he’s not raced since that crash so it will be very interesting to see how he copes in the opening week where there are a few summit finishes. He is the best climber in this race when on form, it is just a question if he is near that level now? I don’t think so, but I’m willing to be proved wrong. There is also then the cloud that looms over his head of Porte not being able to complete a GT without a bad day. It’s happened too many times for it to be classed as “just bad luck” and it will once again be the undoing of him this race. I think we’ll see him here to gain some miles on the clock and re-find his good condition before having a tilt at the Worlds in Innsbruck.

The Main Challengers

Simon Yates.

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Super strong in the opening two-weeks of the Giro, there was no one able to match him on the climbs. However, he cracked massively and his tumble-down the order was dramatic: losing 1 hour and 15 minutes over two stages. He’s back here to have another tilt at GC along with his brother Adam who provides another option for the team, although it has to be said, after a poor Tour from him it will be interesting to see how he bounces back. Simon is their main guy for GC and if he can repeat the form he had in those opening two weeks at the Giro over the three weeks here then he has to start as the favourite. I think both he and the team will have learnt a lot from that experience, gaining a lot both physically and mentally. Although if we see them chasing down every break in the first week – then maybe they haven’t!

Nairo Quintana.

We caught a glimpse of the old Nairo returning at the Tour when he took a rather spectacular stage win on the Col du Portet. However, that was only short-lived after a crash the following day saw him ship a lot of time over the coming stages and he slipped down the order to finish in 10th place overall. If he has recovered from that fall then he should be one of the main contenders for the race. Back in 2016 when he won the Vuelta his third week peak in the Tour was very similar to what this year’s *could* have been. I do expect him to go well this race, but it will once again be a case of him trying to avoid any silly time losses in the opening week before they even get to the mountains proper.

Miguel Angel Lopez.

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A third place finish at the Giro and the young rider’s jersey to boot, this will the Astana man’s first attempt riding, let along being competitive, at two Grand Tours in a season. Theoretically the course is good for him, with lots of summit finishes where he can show his climbing prowess. His recent performance in Burgos was a good indicator that his form is on the up, where he got a stage win but ultimately finished behind a flying Sosa on GC. The long TT isn’t ideal for him and he will definitely ship some time there. Also, he seems like a rider who suffers one bad day in a GT – so will he be able to recoup the TT and bad day losses over the rest of the climbing days? I’m not so sure but he will be there or thereabouts.

The Podium Contenders.

With such an open race, there are several guys who will rate their chances of making the GC podium come the end of the three weeks in Madrid.

Alejandro Valverde – After performing a good supporting role for his team-mates in France, this will be the Grand Tour where Valverde gets his chance to shine. He probably enters the race as co-leader with Quintana and they will see how things pan out throughout the race. There are plenty of opportunities for him to pick up bonus seconds but some of the tougher finish climbs might worry him. Nonetheless, this is Spain and we are in Valverde territory so he can’t be discounted. Will having one eye on the Worlds detract from his performance? I don’t think so.

Rigobero Uran – Disappointing in the Tour before abandoning the race, he arrives here with only San Sebastian in his legs since then. At that race though he did look fairly strong for someone who dropped out of the Tour but will he have been able to re-find that form? If he’s on or close to his 2017 Tour level then he has a very good chance of winning this race.

Fabio Aru – One of the enigmas of Grand Tour cycling, Aru only seems to ever really turn up at the for the big events and even then he’s struggled since 2015 with consistency. His implosion at the Giro was pretty dramatic but even before then he wasn’t really in the fight for the title and found himself sitting 5’33 down on Yates. He does seem to go well in Spain though and he certainly seems more “chipper” on social media which to be indicates that he is in a good place – maybe the results will follow and we’ll see 2015 Fabio again?

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David De La Cruz – Sky’s GC man for this race, it was here that he had a breakthrough performance in 2016 when he finished in 7th. At the start of the year he was in good form but he lost the opportunity to chase his own results in races such as the Giro and Tirreno. However, a recent third place in Burgos shows that he is slowly riding himself back into form for the Vuelta. Will we see an attacking Sky for once with Henao and Kwiatkowski also possible outsiders for a good result.

George Bennett – My favourite outsider for the race, I have been really impressed with the Kiwi’s development this year. He had a solid Giro where he finished 8th overall but the Vuelta on paper has the parcours that suits him a lot better. Recently in Poland he was by far the strongest on the short few kilometre climbs and it was just a shame for him that they weren’t just a little bit longer so that he could definitely drop everyone. I did question his tactics on pulling during that final day, but maybe he’ll cash in that favour from Kwiatkowski at some point here? The TT will see him lose a good bit of time but as an attacking rider I think he can gain it back elsewhere.

Ilnur Zakarin – After a successful Giro (5th) / Vuelta (3rd) attempt in 2017, this will be the Katusha riders first effort at the Tour/Vuelta combination. A little bit like Quintana, although not as evident, Zakarin seemed to grow into the Tour in the final week and find some good legs in the closing stages. The number of mountain finishes will be great news for him as it means he can avoid descending to the finish line!

The “Unknowns”

Those with questionable/unkown form or riders that have their sights elsewhere…

Wilco Kelderman – His 4th place last year was his second “breakthrough” GC performance after his 7th in the Giro back in 2014. He was strong in his comeback race in Suisse but he was meant to go to the Tour to support Dumoulin but crashed in training and missed the race. That has resulted in his preparations for here being a bit rushed so no one really has any idea of how he will go. Given what we saw last year, he has to be considered a contender if the form is there. He will love the long TT.

Vincenzo Nibali – Unjustly forced to abandon the Tour after he was taken out by a spectator, he says that his current shape is miles off where it needs to be. I kind of believe him but this is Nibali after all and if he has a chance of winning the race in the final week, he’ll turn up. However, I do think this is all just preparation for the Worlds at which he has a serious chance of winning.

Richard Carapaz – One of the standout performances at the Giro where he took a very impressive 4th place on GC. Will he be here to help Quintana and Valverde, or will he get another chance to chase glory? Who knows!

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Thibaut Pinot – Another who completely capitulated at the Giro, he looked good on his return to racing in Poland earlier in the month. I see a lot of people are touting him for success here and given the field, he is one of the riders with a solid pedigree. However, my main concern with him for this race is the heat: he notoriously struggles in the warm weather and the opening week looks like it will be typical Spanish August weather. So a with a return to an old blog favourite, take it away Simon…

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Mas, Buchmann and Ion Izagirre all fall into the same category for me of “solid top 10 potential but I struggle to see them fighting for anything further up the order”. A stage win and a top 10 would be a good result for them!

I think I’ve covered everyone, there are certainly plenty of guys to cover…

Prediction

Is this the most open Grand Tour we’ve seen in recent memory? I think so. We could be in for some surprises over the coming few weeks as teams and riders battle for control. As for who will win? I’m not overly confident in choosing any of the contenders as a clear candidate so I’ll stick to tradition in this situation and go for someone slightly left-field…

George Bennett to take home the title!

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Both he and his team have looked lively over the past couple of weeks and I think they will continue that form into the Vuelta.

Betting

I’m not normally one to make many antepost bets but the odds of 50/1 on offer a few days ago were too good to pass up.

Bennett is still available at 40/1 in some places but I would even accept the 33/1 that is common.

1pt EW Bennett at 50/1 (take the 33/1).

As for other antepost markets, I made a short KOM thread on my twitter yesterday and pointed to two potential candidates for that: Nick Schultz (300/1) and Thomas de Gendt (14/1), but both of their prices have dropped dramatically – now 80/1 and 9/1 respectively, I think TDG is still back-able at that price, Schultz not so much.

Likewise, for the points jersey I fancy Kwiatkowski (33/1) to go well but that price has shortened to 16/1 with Bet365. However, he is still available at those same odds with Ladbrokes/Coral.

Thanks for reading as always. Who do you think will win the race overall and why? I shall be back with my stage 1 preview on Friday evening so hope to see you then! Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.