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.

 

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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!

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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.