Innsbruck 2018 World Championships – Men’s ITT Preview

A dominant performance in Bergen saw Dumoulin crush the opposition to take his first World title, beating Roglic by 57 seconds and Froome by 1’21.

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With the latter two riders not here to compete this year, Dumoulin will have to look further down the order for his nearest challengers and there are plenty waiting for him to make a mistake. First though, let’s have a look at what is in store for the riders.

The Route

It really is a course that can be split into two.

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The opening 30km is almost pure flat, although there are a few rocks and rolls along the way. It will be interesting to see how the riders approach this section as you will want to keep something back for the climb but then again, you don’t want to start the final 20kms with an almost insurmountable gap to claw back.

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The 7.6% average for 4.3km makes the climb seem a bit easier than it is because the opening 3.6km actually average 8.9%. This is a tough climb and riders can gain/lose serious time here depending on their abilities but also their pacing throughout the effort.

Once over the top of the climb and through the second time check, the riders will face a short plateau before a roughly 6km descent, before tackling the same rolling finish to the day that we have seen in the previous days action.

How much time will the climbers take on the, erm, climb?

Catchy sub-title that, isn’t it?

The ascent of the Gnadenwald climb (sounds like a Harry Potter character) is tough and cannot be underestimated. In fact, it is not much easier than the much talked about “Hell” climb in the road race. Some serious time can be gained here by those who go up hills well and likewise, a lot can be shifted by the heavier riders.

I have no idea what power outputs the guys will be doing tomorrow but I guess we might see something like 5.5w/kg on the climb – complete guess. Given what we have seen in Grand Tours and such though, we could expect Dumoulin to take possibly 25 seconds out of Dennis on the ascent, maybe more maybe less, all depends on the legs on the day. However it is important to remember that it is just one climb in one day of racing so there is no accumulated ascending or fatigue to think of.

Of course though, the margin to the even heavier riders such as Tony Martin for example will be even more, possibly edging towards 45 seconds, even more.

The Distance Factor

It is important to consider the length of the TT though as it is not often throughout the year that riders will have to compete over such a long course. Some national championships take place over a similar distance but they are few and far between.

2013, 2014 and 2015 were the most recent WC to feature a course of a similar length but given 2013 was pan flat and 5 years ago, I think it is only fair to look at 2014 and 2015 in a little more detail.

2014 saw a rolling 47km TT around Ponferrada with Wiggins taking home the crown. The Brit has obviously retired and isn’t in Innsbruck but the following 4 home are all competitors here though; Martin (+26s), Dumoulin (+40s), Kiryienka (+47s) and Dennis (+57s). Also in the top 10 that day were Oliveira and Castroviejo but they both finished more than a minute down.

In 2015 the riders faced another rolling but not as difficult 53.5km course around Richmond. Kiryienka won in that day and with the other podium finishers having retired from the sport, Castroviejo is the only current rider to have finished within a minute, coming home in 4th at 29 seconds down. Dumoulin (1’01), Dennis (1’07) and Martin (1’16) followed home in positions 5 through 7.

Dennis and Dumoulin are the favourites but as we have seen in previous years, the distance can sometimes through up some surprises. If you’re on a bad day, you have less room to hide!

The infamous Rule of Thumb

Despite the riders competing for their national teams, they will still be riding trade team bikes so the RoT has to come into play. You should know the drill by now; Sunweb, Sky, BMC and Jumbo riders often go best in the TTs, but after their performances in the Vuelta and the recent TTT, Quick Step have now joined the list.

It is hard not to see maybe 7 or 8 of the top 10 come from those teams but there are always exceptions to the rules, especially over the longer distances.

Dennis vs Dumoulin

 

The battle we’ve all been waiting for.

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Dumoulin arrives here as defending champion after blitzing the competition last year. This season he has more than proved his mettle in the Grand Tours by taking back to back podiums at the Giro then Tour, although I am sure he would have liked it to have been more. The tough climb should be a big advantage for him but it is then a case of him managing to not lose too much time on the flatter section to Dennis. Being the best all-round TT rider we have here, this is his to lose on paper. Interestingly, he didn’t compete at his nation championships this year. A sign that he was confident enough of taking the WC jersey again?

Dennis often seems to have bad luck at these championships, having had a crash and a mechanical issue last year, yet still managing to finish in the top 10. The Aussie has competed in 9 TTs this season (including one prologue), having won 6 of them. More importantly though, he was won the two longer TTs that he has competed in at a Grand Tour this season – a big mental breakthrough for him after his bad luck in longer events before. That Giro win was ahead of Dumoulin while both were competing for GC, which to me is important, as it shows that he is able to produce a big performance after depleting his body over a few weeks. Then he showed the world at the Vuelta just what he can do in a TT after resting up with one of the most incredible TT performances I have seen over the past few years.

Can anyone beat them? 

A dangerous question given what we’ve seen over the past few days of racing where sometimes the favourites disappoint, but I would be very surprised if anyone did.

Martin – Surprised everyone at the Giro by coming second in the longer TT before going on to win his national championships comfortably. He has the pedigree in this type of event but the climb isn’t ideal for him – he is not the Tony Martin of 2012.

Kiryienka – Another former World Champion who does seem to go better when the race gets longer, he has been very disappointing against the clock this year. Have his abilities finally started to wane?

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Schachmann – Not for me. He’s done ok in longer TTs before and is clearly in good form but I think this is too much for him. I think the Euro result was a bit of a one-off and thanks to some changing conditions. Maybe in a few years.

Jungels – Looked super strong in the TTT and in both this season’s Tour and last year’s Giro he has performed commendably in the individual efforts against the clock. He’ll be the closest Quick Step rider in my opinion.

Castroviejo – If you’ve followed the blog for a little while you will know by now just how much I love his position on a TT bike. The Spaniard was arguably the MVP domestique for Sky at the Tour and he followed that up by doing the Vuelta. Is he fatigued? If not, he is a real danger for a medal.

Kwiatkowski – Like his team-mate above, he has done both the Tour and Vuelta. He started off in GC contention for the latter before deciding to try to chase a stage win, unucssesfully. This will be his first time competing in the discipline at the Worlds since 2013 and I’m intrigued to see how he does.

Oliveira – A consistent nearly man, he was strong in the Vuelta and followed that up here by looking the best in the Movistar line up for the team event. He’s one to watch but probably only for another top 6.

Kung – Has struggled of late so it is a no for me.

Campenaerts – In theory could go well but he has talked down his chances and he seems to be tired too.

Two rank outsiders I am intrigued to see how they go are the BMC pair of Bevin and Van Garderen. Both have delivered good efforts against the clock this season but only on the sparing occasion. The former was strong in the Tour of Britain and I’m intrigued to see how he copes with distance. Meanwhile, TVG has had a pretty dull season but a win in California and third in Suisse over 34km courses show he can last the distance, at times.

Prediction

I’m probably bucking the trend here because it doesn’t really make much sense given how Dumoulin should cope with the climb much better, but I’m going to go with Dennis to take the title.

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That second Vuelta stage win was poetry in motion. To take almost a minute out of the rest of the field on what was a tough and rolling course just highlights how good his form is – it really was sensational. After the disappointment of the team even on Sunday, he said he was really looking forward to tomorrow and was confident of delivering a good result. I have called for your aid Rohan, will you answer?

Dumoulin to come home second with Jungels confirming his great form at the moment and take third.

Betting

Do I want to back him heavily though?

You can get almost 2/1 on the BF exchange which I’m going to have a little nibble at but I’m not going to recommend it. Instead, I’ll make Jungels my main play as a solid EW bet.

1pt EW Jungels @ 25/1

Then just for the fun of it, some tiny punts on Bevin and TVG

0.125pt EW on them both – Bevin @ 150/1, TVG @ 200/1

I do like the look of the Jungels over Schachmann H2H though.

5pts on at 5/4 with WillHill

 

Thanks as always for reading. Who do you think will win tomorrow? Can Dennis stop Dumoulin? Can anyone get close to those two? Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

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Innsbruck 2018 World Championships – Women’s ITT Preview

Last year saw clear favourite for the day Annemiek van Vleuten take home the rainbow jersey for the first time in her career with a strong performance but one that might not have been as dominant as some expected. Nonetheless, she got the job done and returns this year once again as the rider to beat.

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Compatriot Anna van der Breggen won the silver medal while Australia’s Katrin Garfoot took home bronze in her last World Championships. Both came home within 20 seconds of Van Vleuten and van der Breggen will be desperate to finally get one over her this year. First though, let’s have a look at what is in store for the riders throughout the afternoon.

The Route

A rolling course but how much it “rolls” depends on what resource you consult. According to the organisers there are 262m of total ascent over the 27.8km whereas with the Strava/Veloviewer profile I made has it at 396m. Bit of a discrepancy there!

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Given how much Strava over exaggerates some of the tiny little changes in altitude, I would have to agree that it will be closer to the official profile – maybe around 300m at most.

Either way, you can view the interactive VV profile here.

The route can really be split into two parts with the first 15km very straight forward aside from a couple of small bumps and rises before the more challenging second half.

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As witnessed in the men’s U23 this afternoon though, it isn’t that challenging compared to what it could have been, with the riders able to hold a lot of speed coming off of the descents. In fact, some riders hit 100km/h in sections so you can effectively nullify some of the rises by carrying enough speed. Therefore, having the right gearing will be important and it will be interesting to see what approaches the riders take.

Weather conditions look set to be similar-ish all day, although the wind might get slightly stronger later on, albeit by only 1km/h or so. That means over 3km of headwind before the crossing the river and turning left, with the majority of the rest of the course being aided by a slight cross/tail wind.

You can view the start list/times here.

Can anyone stop van Vleuten?

The reigning champion skipped the trade team event on Sunday so that she could be fully focussed and rested for tomorrow, and given her results in the individual events this year, who can blame her. In 2018 she has taken to the start for 4 TTs (not counting prologues or epilogues, see the TDU), with the Dutch woman winning 3 of them. In fact, the only race she didn’t win was her national championship where she finished 4th and behind the other three compatriots that are going to be here competing too.

In an interview with CyclingNews van Vleuten explains that she came into the season with three intended peaks. One smaller peak during the Spring Classics before a bigger peak for the Giro and then the Worlds. It is safe to say that the peak for the Giro was certainly “bigger”! She blew away the competition in that race and followed it up with my favourite finish to a race of the year, when she pipped van der Breggen in the closing 100m of La Course. I don’t think it is possible for her to be in even better shape than she was at the Giro, but if she arrives here in a similar vein of form then she is rightly the favourite.

The course tomorrow isn’t bad for her, but I think she would have preferred the climbs to be more challenging than they are, so she can really make a difference compared to some of the more traditional power TT riders.

Nonetheless, she has a big say in the outcome of the day and it will require her to be at less than 100% and for one of the other riders to be flying for her to lose.

It was all…Oranje?

We could feasibly see an all Dutch top 4 tomorrow.

Ellen van Dijk.

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The current and back-to-back European Champion will arrive here wanting to redeem herself after what was a disappointing 5th place in last year’s edition. The Sunweb rider is one of the most powerful in the women’s peloton and the mix of flat and rolling hills looks very good for her. She actually goes out quite early on in the day in what is a strong group of riders around that time. Guess that’s what happens when numerous nations have more than one person here!

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Said group of strong riders

Lucinda Brand.

The first Dutch rider down the ramp has the luxury of being the 5th rider out on the course. 2018 has been her best season to date and she has really developed as a rider, moving away from being just a strong one-day contender, into a much better climber. Her form doesn’t seem to be great at the moment though and I think she might struggle for a good result here: a top 10 would be solid.

Anna van der Breggen.

Arguably one of my favourite female cyclists so I am a bit biased but a lot has been made of her “poor season” in 2018. It says a lot that then considering she has won 5 races this year and numerous podium places. In the Spring she was untouchable and the only thing that stopped another Ardennes Triple happening was team tactics at Amstel. She has failed to win since Durango in May though and I think that has effected her a little bit. In TTs this season she has won 1 out of 4, finishing 2nd twice and third the other time. The course here looks great for her and she’s been slowly riding herself into form at the Boels Ladies Tour. If there is one rider who I think has a chance of beating van Vleuten, it is her.

Fight for the podium

If we’re to make the assumption that at least one, if not two of the podium spots will be secured by the Dutch, heck, even all three could as I’ve alluded to above, who is going to be the nearest challengers?

Amber Neben.

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A surprise winner of the 2016 edition, she was pretty atrocious by her lofty standards in 2017. A wax on wax off kind of rider though, she appears to be smashing it so far this year having won all 4 of the time trials she has entered. Maybe this is a wax on year?

Lisa Brennauer.

Disappointing in the European Championships, some of that can be attributed to her going deep on the track at the same competition. During the TTT event she looked to be the main driving force behind Wiggle’s strong time so there is definitely some form there. A bit hit or miss on road TTs, the 2014-champion can’t be ruled out on a rolling course.

Trixi Worrack.

Like her German compatriot, she seemed to be one of the main driving forces behind her teams sensational TTT win on Sunday. I’d have to say the course isn’t ideal for her but she did surprise and come third at the Euros so we could see something similar tomorrow.

Some outsiders to keep an eye on for finishing in or around the top 5 include; Thomas, Uttrup Ludwig and Cordon.

Prediction

For the TTTs I thought they were both two-horse races and in the end it was the third favourite who ended up winning. Tomorrow looks like a one-horse race but with a few riders who are ready to pounce. It will be incredibly tough to beat van Vleuten but I think it might actually happen and we’ll see van der Breggen take the win!

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I think she has timed her peak perfectly for this week and if she is at a similar level to her Spring campaign where she just rode away from everyone – the course will be a piece of cake for her.

Van Vleuten to come second with Neben rounding out the podium in third.

Betting

Another race that I can lose some money on!

Win only markets for the race and given that AVV is still the favourite, I don’t want to go wild with them.

1.5pt WIN AVDB @ 5/1 (Bet365/Ladbrokes)

Some H2H do entice me though.

4pts WIN van der Breggen to beat Van Dijk @ 3/4 (Unibet)

2pts WIN Neben to beat Van Dijk @ 7/2 (B365) – the price is just too big for a wax on year

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

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

Innsbruck 2018 World Championships – Men’s TTT Preview

In 2017 we were treated to somewhat of a surprise performance with third favourites on the day, Team Sunweb, beating BMC by 8 seconds.

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Team Sky rounded out the podium but were definitely the disappointment of the day as they brought their best ever line-up to this event. Will Sunweb be able to double up on what is the last running of the event? Or will someone else take the title from them? Let’s have a look at what is in store for the riders.

The Route

The longest edition since the event returned in 2012, the riders will face an almost 63km route through the valley.

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There is a slight rise at the start but the only real difficulty the riders will face, aside from some roundabouts, is the climb which tops out at around 18.5km to go.

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The opening 1.75km of the climb averages roughly 8% before it “flattens” for the remainder. It isn’t an overly challenging ascent when taken in isolation but with it combined with an almost flat-out effort beforehand, we could see some surprise cracks. Conversely, those with a good pacing strategy might see all of their riders in the group over the top.

After the climb there is a plateau before the riders descend and are left with 10km of flat to the finish.

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There is a sharp turn with around 1.6km to go but aside from that, it should be plain sailing and full gas.

Team Tactics

I for one am very intrigued to see how the teams split themselves up for this race. Do they have a designated rider who’s main job is to empty the tank before and onto the foot slopes of the climb? Will the squad ride a solid tempo to keep all six together before drilling it in those final 10km?

Annoyingly for most of the teams but something that adds to the tactical intrigue, is the hardest part of the climb comes at the bottom. This means it will be harder for the heavier riders to keep up with the pace of the lighter guys, potentially meaning they go into the red and fall of the back of the pace line.

The length of the climb also adds an element to the tactics. At 4kms, it is probably just too long to slow the pace down to let all six riders stick together but some teams might think otherwise and the 20-30 seconds they lose on the ascent they can gain back later on.

Personally, and I am no TT expert, I would try to have five riders over the top together. That means sacrificing one guy to drill it into the bottom and the rest to just ride tempo so that they stick together. Losing one rider but still having an extra over the 4 rider minimum at the finish means that the periods of rest will be slightly longer when making rotations on the run in. That could make all the difference and help keep the speed that 1km/h quicker.

A two-horse race?

Much like the women’s event, there are two clear favourites here.

Sunweb are obviously the defending champions and they arrive with a squad that looks as strong, if not stronger than last year. Comparing all of the teams here, they are arguably the only squad that I can see keeping everyone together over the climb. Although I do think they might sacrifice Haga early on and keep the remaining five together. A powerful unit, they arrive here as rightful favourites. However, they will hope to improve on their disappointing 5th place at the Tour TTT.

sunwebm_2000_gettyBMC will have been bitterly disappointed to come away with second last year, which made it two years in a row that they were the bridesmaids at the main event. A stat that is somewhat surprising given their dominance in the event in previous years and throughout the seasons at different races. They were disappointing in the recent TTT effort in the Tour of Britain, juxtaposed to that though is Dennis smashing it at the Vuelta in the individual event. In 2018 they have tasted victory in all three of the WT level TTTs so far and that will certainly bring them confidence. With Pinotti leading them from the car, their pacing strategy will no doubt be perfect. It will just be a case of them having legs on the day.

So that’s it then? Well, there are a few teams that might upset the apple cart.

Team Sky – Perennially the “oooh, they could go well” squad before more often than not disappointing. They bring with them a strong squad but in recent times their pacing strategy has been off and I see them dropping Stannard and Doull on the climb which will cost them, despite just how strong their final four is.

Quick Step Floors – Once the strongest team in the world in the discipline, they have waned a little bit in terms of their results. However, they always come into races now as the underdogs and almost over achieve. On paper their squad might not stand out to some but it does to me. They have six exceptionally strong riders with them though and I would not be surprised to see them on the podium come the end of the day.

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Team Katusha – Another solid outfit with six good riders but the climb might just be their undoing. However, a team with Dowsett and Martin can never be underestimated.

Mitchelton Scott – Might have a chance, might not. As I’m writing this it is just over 24 hours to go until the start of the race yet there is no final team for them. Like Katusha, they can’t be underestimated but the hill might be their undoing.

Prediction

A BMC v Sunweb fight and I think the former will get it right this time around.

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Sunweb to come home second with Quick Step rounding out the podium.

Betting

Close race that is hard to predict so just a H2H double for me, nothing wild.

3pts on BMC > Sunweb and QS > Sky @ 2.45/1.

 

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

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

Women’s TTT World Championship 2018 Preview

In Bergen last year we were treated to somewhat of a shock with Sunweb taking home the title but looking at results throughout the year, it was a result that was certainly on the cards.

Cycling: 90th Road World Championships 2017 / TTT Women Elite

They had the advantage of arriving with a string of podium places in TTT events but with Boels Dolmans still the massive favourites after their successes in previous years. The Dutch outfit could only manage second though, coming home 12 seconds behind Sunweb, with Cervélo Bigla rounding out the podium.

Will Sunweb be able to double up in what is the last event for trade teams in the foreseeable future? Let’s have a look at what is in store for the riders.

The Route

The longest edition yet (at 54km) since the event’s reconception back in 2012, the organiser’s have somehow managed to make as much of a pan flat course as you can in this area.

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With only roughly 150m of elevation gain throughout the course, this one is all about pure power.

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There are a few roundabouts out on course which might disrupt the rhythm, nothing too crazy though. As you can see on the image above, there is a tight turn with around 1.6km to go but that is about it as tough as it gets all morning.

A two-horse race?

On paper the best teams here are Sunweb and Boels.

The former are obviously reigning champions and this is a discipline that they have focussed on a lot over the past year. In 2018 they’ve won three TTTs: at the Giro, Tour of Norway and the recent Madrid Challenge. They did however lose the longest TTT effort of the year though and the traditional World Champs warm-up, Crescent Vargarda, shipping 16 seconds to Boels. Yet, they can argue that they were missing their big TT powerhouse that day in Van Dijk. Is the inclusion of the Dutchwoman here enough for them to claw back that gap?

Boels were the traditional go-to TTT squad in recent times but lost they lost their crown last year. This season they have fallen a little flat again with the Healthy Ageing Tour and then the recent Vargarda their only wins in the discipline. The latter result there is the most important though as it is the course most like the Worlds and it was a race that they sent a carbon copy of their squad that they have at Innsbruck to. Can they regain the title and take the crown for one last time?

One interesting point to note for the two main teams is that they are both going to include their strong Dutch TT rider in their race squads. Given that the women’s individual event is only two days after on Tuesday, it might mess with their preparation for that event. Conversely though, it could be a good way to blow the cobwebs off and open up the legs.

The reason I mention it though is that ITT favourite van Vleuten is not riding the event for Mitchelton Scott, a big blow for the Aussie outfit but one that is kind of understandable. Back in the Giro Rosa I tipped them for a very good TTT effort and they just missed out to Sunweb by one second on that day. Consequently, they could have been the dark horses for tomorrow but with some more recent injuries plaguing the team, I think they will fall short.

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Canyon SRAM could be there or thereabouts in the fight for the podium and they bring a solid squad with them here, included in their midst is 4x TTT champion Worrack. The original TTT GOATs, can they rekindle that form? I’m not too sure, they are a pretty hit or miss team at times so who knows.

Wiggle High 5 will be riding their last event as a team and they bring arguably their strongest squad ever to Innsbruck. With a good mix of strong individual TT riders and rouleurs, they will have their sights set on a podium. They have struggled a lot this year in the discipline but a second place to Subweb’s “A-team” in Madrid is a sign that things might finally have clicked.

Prediction

A day with two different battles; one for the win and one for the final podium spot.

Given the results we have had so far this year it should be very close between Boels and Sunweb. The former obviously have the advantage of winning Vargarda by a 16 second margin but the latter have Van Dijk to add into the mix now. Will that equal enough of a turnaround? I don’t think so.

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Boels to win by a very small margin, maybe 5 seconds or so, with Sunweb trailing them home in second place.

The battle for third will be hotly contested by Mitchelton, Canyon and Wiggle but I actually fancy the team that is folding to pull one last result out of the bag, so Wiggle to come in third.

Coverage

The women’s event starts early on Sunday morning, with coverage on from 9:10 to 11:30 (UK Time). You should be able to watch it on your regular cycling provider or via the UCI Youtube channel.

Betting

For only the third time this season I get to curse my picks with actual money this time!

As it is so tight for the win I can’t be backing Boels at their current price although a double with the men’s TT winner might be a good idea. However, I do like the value you can get for a Wiggle podium so I’m going with that.

2pts Wiggle Top 3 at 9/2. (Bet365)

Thanks as always for reading! Who do you think will win the two-horse race on Sunday? Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth

Vuelta a España 2018 Stage 21 Preview: Alcorcón -> Madrid

Today’s Recap

It looked for a while as if Mitchelton were happy with letting the break stay away but Astana decided to up the pace with 60km remaining and things were back together over the second summit of Beixalis. Lopez had bridged to team-mates up the road but it was too early and they were pegged back by Adam Yates.

Some attacks went on the descent (Quintana) and on the Cat-3 climb (Lopez), before Simon Yates and Mas bridged from the peloton just before the top of that climb. The four worked well, aside from Quintana who had Valverde behind, and they built up a strong gap by the last climb of the day. The Movistar man dropped back to pace Valverde behind while Mas and Lopez pushed on a little, as Yates just decided to do the sensible thing and set his own pace so he didn’t go into the red. The young duo then fought out for the stage win and it was the Quick Step rider who took his maiden Grand Tour success, which meant his team’s tally moves up to a rather remarkable 64 wins for the year, so far. Must be something in the water and by looking at the following picture, it might just be too much caffeine, eh Patrick?!

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Yates crossed the line in third to seal the overall title. A result that shows a lot of his character and legs with the fact he had the mental fortitude to bounce back so quickly after his disastrous finish to the Giro earlier in the year. Congratulations to him!

He does now hold the dubious honour (at least I think he does but I’m not 100% sure) of being the first rider to win their maiden GT after returning from a doping ban. His win also makes it three British winners of the three GTs and the first time ever that they have been separate riders. Don’t think I’d be saying that when I got into the sport back in 2007!

With a few slipping and losing contact behind, it meant that Mas climbed to second overall with Lopez trailing him in third place. Both great results considering this is only Mas’ second ever GT and it is the first time Lopez has done two GTs in the year.

Anyway, there is one last day of “racing” ahead so let’s take a look, very quickly, at what lies ahead for the riders.

The Route

A little commute into Madrid that then sees some laps of a circuit.

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The circuit itself is pretty easy and I would describe it as an elongated hot dog.

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With the last dead turn coming just before the Flamme Rouge, it is possible for a team to drill it through there and power home. That’s exactly what Quick Step did last year for Trentin and I imagine it will be something very similar this time out.

Can anyone stop Viviani?

No, probably not.

Can anyone get close?

Possibly.

Sagan is looking better and at the end of a Grand Tour he always seems to produce a strong sprint. Van Poppel will have his whole team devoted to him and he does have the speed to challenge, just needs to work on the positioning. Nizzolo is a nearly man but I’d love to see him change that and win.

We do get some odd results sometimes on the last day of racing and some surprise names appear. Pull a name out of a hat for the regular 5-12 finishers as they look to upgrade to the podium.

Prediction

Quick Step to nail the lead out, bringing up number win number 65 this season for them.

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Unless of course they have already made it 65 over in Slovakia before the stage here finishes.

Betting

No bet, might have a look at H2Hs later/tomorrow, maybe not.

Thank You!

A big thanks to everyone for reading and sharing the content and joining in the conversation over the past month. That’s the third Grand Tour of the year ticked off with daily stage previews. It has been a slog at times but there have been many rewarding and fun days of racing to write about too and it turns out I’ve written roughly 78,000 – 80,000 words throughout them all. I’m amazed most of you have put up with my drivel for that long. The season isn’t over though and I’ll be back with the Worlds and end of season one-day races before you know it.

If you’ve enjoyed the previews and want to show some support then you can do so through this link : http://paypal.me/jamiehaughey/3.50

For one final time this Vuelta…

Thanks for tuning in,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

Vuelta a España 2018 Stage 20 Preview: Andorra. Escaldes-Engordany › Coll de la Gallina. Santuario de Canolich

Today’s Recap

The stage was going almost identical to yesterday’s preview, with Movistar controlling things all day and a break never allowed clear. Once onto the final climb Quintana launched early and was followed by Kruijswijk. Blog pick Pinot then rode across the gap and made the duo up front a trio. However, that’s when things went a bit off-piste!

Yates attacked from the rest of the GC group and no one was able to follow. Carapaz did some work but he soon went pop and Quintana dropped back from what was now a front four to help pace Valverde. The Colombian then punctured not long later and things went really pear-shaped in that group. No one wanted to commit fully and some more attacks came from Kelderman and Gallopin. Eventually, Bilbao pulled for Lopez but the gap had went out over a minute by then.

The stage and possibly the GC were gone up the road and with Yates continuing to push full gas, Kruijswijk eventually popped in the closing kilometre. Pinot, who had done several turns to be fair, launched his sprint and took what was a “comfortable” stage win in the end, with Yates trailing home 5 seconds behind.

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Wasn’t exactly how I imagined it playing it out but it will do!

Kruijswijk finished in third place, only a further 8 seconds behind Yates, a result that moves him up onto the current GC podium.

Will things change again tomorrow? Let’s have a look at what is in store for the riders.

The Route

The one everyone has apparently been waiting for, but it appears Yates didn’t get the memo today!

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Over 3400m of climbing in only 98km, is it a bit overkill? Pretty much from the gun they will face the Cat-2 climb of Coll de la Comella (4.4km at 7.7%) and no doubt this will be rode at a very aggressive pace as those hoping to make the break look to escape. It wouldn’t surprise me if the break doesn’t go, unless it is a massive move, until the Coll de Beixalis (6.8km at 8.3%) which officially starts at around the 13km into the day mark.

A descent leads into some valley roads and the intermediate sprint point before yet another Cat-1 climb  of the Coll de Ordino (9.4km at 7.2%). It reaches an altitude of 1977m and it might be a place to test those who suffer at that kind of height. Then again, there are still 55kms to go and a lot of racing. Where is Froome when you need him?

Once again a long descent follows before the road rises straight away up yet another Cat-1, but this time they are repeating the Coll de Beixalis.

coll-de-beixalis

Again, the climb is tough but with its distance to the finish will we see anyone go for it? A fairly long descent is followed by the most amount of valley roads the stage has to offer, albeit, they are rudely interrupted by a paltry Cat-3.

It’s then over to the big finish and the last mountain the riders will have to face this Vuelta.

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Touted as Andorra’s toughest climb, it is known for having some double-digit switchbacks near the summit. The 8.1% average gradient will be a killer after what the riders will have had to face throughout the day, but on closer inspection the final 4km are even tougher than that as they average 9.5%. After a tough day, we could see some big gaps.

The Battle for the Top 10

With Yates asserting his dominance today, he now sits with a good buffer over his nearest rivals. Furthermore, both Haig and Adam Yates looked fairly comfortable for the majority of the final climb so he should have strong domestiques with him throughout the day.

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ProCyclingStats

There is scope for movement though but I’m not too sure we’ll see a hail mary attack from the gun by any of the top 5. I would love for it to happen but it is pretty foolish. Even attacking from the second ascent of Beixalis is unwise, unless you have team-mates up the road of course, because a lot of energy can be expended on the valley roads before the summit finish. We might see someone from Uran down try to get into the morning move and it will be interesting to see how it plays out from there. If that happens, then we could see some teams come to the front and ride to protect their GC rider’s placing.

Barring any major catastrophe Yates has this race wrapped up as he was the strongest on the climb today and he has a very solid bit of mountain support too. However, I did say that coming into the final few days of the Giro so who knows…

The battle for the podium is very much on though and any of the guys from 2nd to 5th could finish on it and in any order. That should be the exciting race to watch and it will probably provide some very tactical battles!

How will the stage pan out?

No doubt we will see a big fight to get into the break and those hunting the KOM prize will most definitely feature. Given the amount of points on offer there are still several in with a chance so it will all be about race and pacing management throughout the afternoon, choosing the right move to go with etc.

Once again I think Mitchelton will be happy to let a break go up the road and take the stage win and after their collapse today, I’m not too sure Movistar will be keen to set the pace early on and instead will no doubt turn to an ambush style strategy.

So for the break to be caught it either needs Astana to go crazy, which is possible, or for there to be one of those really awkward riders in the top 15 who will sneak into the top 10 to make the move, and another team closes them down.

One thing that also lends itself to the break is that the once over the second passage of the Beixalis, the riders still have 26km to the foot slopes of the final climb. That’s probably too far out for anyone to fully commit. Furthermore, I think the race tomorrow might just be too tough and it will scare a lot of the GC riders out of trying anything early. Instead, they will wait until the final climb and by then the race might be done ahead of them.

Therefore, for one last time this race, let’s play everyone’s favourite game…

TheBreakawayLottery

Candidates

It is hard to read into today’s stage a bit. For example, there are some who finished quite strongly where it is a matter of “do they have good legs?” or “will they be cooked tomorrow?. Likewise, the opposite can be said for those who just rolled home in the grupetto: bad legs or saving themselves?

I’m going to take two from each set and see what happens. I’ll be keeping the next bit brief!

Vincenzo Nibali.

Milano-Sanremo 2018 - edizione 109 - da Milano a Sanremo (294 km)

The Shark of Messina did a lot of work on the front of the peloton during stage 15 in an effort to set up Izagirre before going in the break on stage 17. He failed to live up to expectations on that day but the super steep slopes are not really suited to him anyway. After that stage though he said he was on the up and I think he will want to give it a dig tomorrow to test where his form is at before some Italian Cup races and then the worlds.

Rudy Molard.

Back to back Groupama wins? I was impressed with how long Molard hung on with the main group today so I think his legs are there. An attacking rider, I think he will be let of the leash by Pinot to chase his own success. This season has been a bit of a breakout year for him and after wearing the red jersey already here, can he take a stage win too?

Pello Bilbao.

I was very impressed with Bilbao who hung tight and looked as strong as some of the GC candidates today. His team leader Lopez disappointed me a little because he didn’t have the legs to go earlier on the climb, otherwise he would have asked the Basque rider to do some work sooner. Possibly Astana will allow Bilbao a free role tomorrow? I pointed out before his home stage that he seems to be “doing a Poels” and timing his third week perfectly. It will be tough to beat him if he makes the break.

Michal Kwiatkowski.

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Desperate to make the break today, the Sky rider just rode home with the grupetto to save his legs for tomorrow. He seems really keen to get in a break and win a stage here. The amount of climbing throughout the afternoon could be a test for him but I think he will be fine, especially with the shorter day. He’s been saving himself the past few days for one big blow out, will it end in a win?

Prediction

Bilbao to be given freedom and fly.

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Betting

Dabble on each of the breakers.

1pt WIN on them all;

Kwiatkowski and Nibali @ 50

Bilbao @ 66

Molard @ 100

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 19 Preview: Lleida -> Andorra. Naturlandia

Today’s Recap

Nailed on sprint day huh? The peloton severely underestimated the strength of the trio of riders up the road and what a tailwind on the run to the line can do. After becoming a duo in the final 5km, Wallays and Bystrom pushed on and co-operated well all the way until the Flamme Rouge. Things got a little bit cagey but they just had enough of an advantage for the Lotto Soudal rider to bide his time and go for the sprint, taking a famous victory.

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A super strong rider and hard-working domestique, it was nice to see him take another pro win. Bystrom got a second place out of the day while Sagan followed just on his wheels, “winning” the bunch sprint for third. I did say in yesterday’s preview that I thought Sagan might have it today so him coming home first of the group reaffirmed to me that his form is nearly there now.

So the sprinters were denied their fun today but it was mostly their own doing to be fair, will we see the GC men slip up tomorrow? Let’s have a look at what is in store for them.

The Route

A pretty easy day out, although the terrain is deceptively rolling at times, but with one big sting in the tail.

vuelta-a-espana-2018-stage-19

No beating around the bush, tomorrow is all about the final climb.

naturlandia

It is a long climb and is in fact one of the peaks with the most amount of ascending in this race. As you can see, the toughest ramps come in the opening 7km before it “flattens out” for the final 10km. The easier gradients to the line could see some kind of sprint between riders but that is of course assuming it is not split up earlier on.

One important aspect to note is that the finish is above 2000m and this might have an effect on the breathing of the riders. Some perform better than others at high altitude. Thankfully for those who suffer, they aren’t above 2000m for long so it shouldn’t be too much of an issue.

How will the stage pan out?

Looks as if it will be much the same pattern as previous days; where Mitchelton will be happy to let the break get up the road and take the stage win. However, unlike previous days, there will be an incentive for both Movistar and Quick Step to chase, as Valverde and Mas were on superb form the other day. Throw in Astana and Lopez to the mix and we might just see an alliance to keep a tight leash on things.

Furthermore, it is an easy stage to control tomorrow and the squads can use their rouleurs without fear of them cracking on the climbs because there aren’t really any before the summit finish.

We could see them all take the approach of just let Mitchelton do the work and tire them out but the prospect of a controllable day and bonus seconds on the line should be too much.

We’ll see a GC winner tomorrow.

Tactics

Does someone go early on the climb in a bid to regain some valuable time, hoping that there is looking around by others? We could see some inside the latter half of the top 10 go on the offensive and as they are not an immediate threat, the might be given some leeway, just like Pinot’s win earlier in the race.

Quintana and Kruijsiwjk are in the position of where they could probably attack and get away without being latched onto straight away by Yates and his team. However, if the gap starts to grow to them then some panic might set in.

Movistar are at a clear tactical advantage with having both Quintana and Valverde in the top 6 of GC but the Colombian has lacked the legs the past few week. If he has managed to turn it around then I would expect a hail mary attack from home, while Valverde can just sit in and let the race leader do the work.

Contenders

Yates.

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Up until Wednesday’s summit finish most would have said Yates has been the strongest climber in this race and I was one of them. The question we now have to ask, and so does the rest of the peloton, is: was that 8 second loss just a blip or a crack starting to appear? Tomorrow might not give a lot more away either but it could quite easily be another Prato Nevoso situation. The Brit currently lives in Andorra so no doubt he knows the roads better than most and that could be a big advantage, as is having his brother up to support him who seems to have “done a Poels” and timed his third-week peak to perfection.

Valverde.

If Valverde can get over the steeper sections earlier on in the climb then he will love the look of the profile near the finish, rating his chances of nabbing some bonus seconds highly. The Movistar man is one of those riders I mentioned above who will be thankful the climb just tips the 2000m mark as he has never been one to go too well at altitude. He looks as strong as ever though and I would be surprised to see him crack tomorrow.

Mas.

Will the young pretender prove his worth as a fully fledged contender? I think the answer to that is already “yes”, despite whatever may happen over the coming days. Touted as Contador 2.0, he has some lofty heights to live up to but Quick Step seem to be managing him very well. Like Yates, he currently resides in Andorra and says he knows the perfect place to attack. The issue for him is that he is now a marked man, unlike earlier in the race.

Lopez.

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The rider whom the higher altitude should suit the best, he will hope to go better than his slightly disappointing performance on Stage 17 after his team did a lot of the work. Nonetheless, he only lost 2 seconds to Yates and 10 to Valverde/Mas so it wasn’t too bad a result. The Colombian now sits on the tipping point of not being immediately marked so he could slip away in the closing kilometre or so. However, he is still close enough to have a watchful eye kept on. I’m sure Yates won’t want to give him 30 seconds and let him right back into it.

Kruijswijk.

The Dutchman has had a really up and down race so far but still finds himself somewhat in contention for the overall title. He’s said in the press that it will be all or nothing from him so I expect either a crazy early attack from him tomorrow or he will save all of that for Saturday. It is hard to read what type of day he will be on but if he is on a good day, then he could be tough to beat.

Pinot.

The one rider who no longer has a real chance of winning the race overall but that I fancy to go well tomorrow, the Frenchman had his jour-sans on Stage 17, now finding himself 5’31 down on GC. Yet, we saw with his exceptional performance on Lagos de Covadonga that he is more than capable of hanging with the big boys. As one of the GC riders with a fast kick, I think he has a very good chance.

Prediction

A Movistar, Astana and Quick Step alliance keeps the break in check before the climb. Quintana goes early but unfortunately for him he just doesn’t have the legs anymore this race and he is reeled back in by Adam Yates. A little bit of stalling in the main group sees Pinot attack and in a déjà vu scenario, he manages to steal a march and take the stage in an idental manner to Covadonga.

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Behind, Yates cracks a little again and Valverde gains the second place bonuses, but the Mitchelton man remains in the lead – only by a margin of 16 seconds going into the final mountain day.

Betting

No bet for now

Thanks as always for reading. Who do you think will win tomorrow? Will the break be allowed any freedom? Or will the GC teams control it? Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.