Tour de France 2018 Stage 14 Preview: Saint-Paul-Trois-Châteaux -> Mende

Today’s Recap

FDJ and Bora decided they weren’t playing ball today as neither tried to get a man in the break. Once the 4 men went up ahead they controlled it, not letting the gap grow out much further than 2 minutes. Despite Gilbert’s late attack we had a sprint day with the best sprinter here, Sagan, taking the win.

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He edged out Kristoff who in turn edged out Démare to round out the podium. Pretty dull day, let’s hope for some more exciting racing tomorrow. Speaking of which…

The Route

A rolling day that sees a lot of climbing in the latter part.

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A flat start to the afternoon sees an uncategorised drag (roughly 2.9% for 8kms), come after 10kms into the day. The road then goes over several small bumps and some more flat roads for the following 60km before the Cat-4 climb. Will the break have gone by then?

After that, the road goes up from pretty much 95 -> 129km, meaning the average gradient is 2.5% for those 34kms. That of course includes the “proper” climb of Col de la Croix de Berthel which officially clocks in at 5.3% for 9.1kms. The riders will then face a descent before a climb, which will then be rinsed and repeated again.

With a descent and some valley roads, everyone will turn their attention to the closing climb of the day.

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It’s the same finish climb that was used in 2015 when Pinot and Bardet dropped everyone else from the break but they were caught up by a storming Cummings while they were playing games. The climb is tough and it is possible we see some splits in the GC group if it is rode at a crazy pace. Nothing major but a few seconds here and there.

I can’t see anyone wanting to keep this one together so…

TheBreakawayLottery

Break Contenders

Every man and his dog will be trying to get into the break if they can and the fight will be tough. It will take some luck to make the right move but also having good legs is important. Will any GC rider allow a domestique the chance to go for a stage win?

I’m also breaking a few of my rules today as I’ll be naming five guys below, shocking, I know. Here goes nothing…

Gorka Izagirre.

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He looked strong in the breakaway during stage 11 before an untimely mechanical or bout of cramp (still don’t which it is) ruined any chance of going for stage glory. With Nibali no longer at the race Bahrain will be very active over the remaining stages and Gorka looks their best bet for tomorrow. As I mentioned in the preview for stage 11, this season is the best I have ever seen him ride; his climbing is exceptional. He was just unlucky not to be able to showcase it that day. With his good kick he could win a gallop to the line.

Julian Alaphilippe.

The current King of the Mountains has been very smart with his energy use over the past few stages, going hard for the first HC or Cat-1 climbs of the day and then swiftly exiting the break. He’s clearly planned this one out in advance. With only a few points available on Stage 15, I think he might chance his arm and go for the stage win tomorrow. If there was one rider in the peloton (not a GC contender) that you had to pick for this final climb then it would be Alaphilippe. If he makes the break then not many will want to drag him to the bottom of it so he might be susceptible to longer range attacks. Nonetheless, he starts the stage as favourite.

Gregor Mühlberger.

On the attack during the Alpe d’Huez stage, Mühlberger is fast becoming one of my under rated (favourite) domestiques in the peloton – he’s a classy bike rider. He has a bit of everything as he can go well on the flat but can also cope well with hilly terrain. During the Tour de Suisse he was close to a stage win, well kind of, but was brought back by some flying GC riders. Nonetheless, he still managed to hold on for 4th place that day. One who could possibly attack before the final climb and use his good descending skills to advantage. He has a great chance if he starts the ascent with a 30 second advantage.

Jelle Vanendert.

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Lotto Soudal only have half of their roster left in the race but they have been active despite that. One of their riders that has been quiet though is Vanendert. Maybe he has been targeting this stage for a while? His Spring campaign was successful with a string of strong results in the Ardennes classics. Will saving those legs reap the benefits against a tired peloton?

Simon Geschke.

Bit of a wild card here because it requires Dumoulin to allow the German on the attack. His performance on the Alpe d’Huez stage was nothing short of phenomenal though and he was one of only a few domestiques left at the foot of the climb. It is the best I’ve seen him go up some hills since his win at this race in 2015. Has he found his mojo again? A danger man that shouldn’t be underestimated.

Prediction

Alaphilippe, all day.

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Betting

Even as much as I think Alaphilippe has a great chance I just can’t back him at that price for a stage with many variables.

1pt WIN G Izagirre @ 33/1

0.5pt WIN Mühlberger @ 150/1

1pt WIN Vanendert @ 40/1

0.75pt WIN Geschke @ 66/1

Again, you could possibly wait for the Exchanges to open, most likely get better prices there.

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

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

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Tour de France 2018 Stage 13 Preview: Bourg d’Oisans ->Valence

Today’s Recap

I don’t think words can really do today’s action justice: it had a bit of everything!

We had a GC contender (Kruijswijk) go on a crazy long-range attack and start the final climb with over a 4 minute buffer to the peloton. Riders dropping out the back like flies as new kid on the block and future Grand Tour winner Bernal set a ferocious tempo that only a select handful of riders could live with, dropping his compatriot Quintana. Bardet was on a coiled spring as he constantly attacked. Nibali looked good but was involved in a fall which at the time of writing looked to be caused by a police motorbike that couldn’t see properly through the smoke. Dumoulin and Froome exchanged digs, before Bardet went again. The pace then slowed and that allowed Landa back to the group which he then almost immediately counter attacked.

That attack then lead out Thomas perfectly who managed to take back to back stage wins, making him the first rider in Yellow to win on Alpe d’Huez since Armstrong.

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Dumoulin came home next with Bardet nabbing a few bonus seconds in third. Froome trailed home in 4th with Landa not too far behind. Nibali and Roglic regained some ground to only come home 13 seconds back and it looks like Nibali will get the same time as the GC group after his crash, Roglic was already distanced a little by that point. Although this isn’t confirmed at the time of writing.

It was some great racing but the day was almost ruined by some over zealous fans. Don’t be an idiot.

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

The Route

After three big days in the mountains I’m sure plenty of the riders will be happy to see tomorrow’s profile.

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Only two categorised climbs will be music to the ears of those who have struggled and with a descent after 5kms of racing, it will probably be a fast start to the day. The two climbs won’t play any part in the outcome of the stage aside from the first one might see the formation of the break but that all depends on the attitudes of the riders, but I’ll get to that later.

There are a couple of uncategorised climbs later in the day one of which is arguably tougher than the Cat-4, with it coming in at roughly 3.8% for 5kms. It peaks with 36km to go though and starts a series of kickers but again nothing too serious. The riders then descend until roughly 10km to go where the road flattens out a bit.

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Those final 10km are mainly easy but there is a bit of an elongated bowl to the finish.

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There are a few tight turns near the finish, namely a right hand turn with just under 2.5km to go. Arguably the most important thing to note though is an 800m drag at 2.6% which finishes at 550m to go. This could sap the finishing sprint of some and might tempt others to go for a late attack.

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With around 450m to go the riders will face a roundabout but given it is on a wide road it shouldn’t cause too many issues. No doubt though it will stretch things out a little.

That is of course if we see a sprint…

How will the stage pan out?

I already had tomorrow penciled in as a surprise breakaway stage due to the tough three days we have had and some of the riders fancying a “rest day”. However, with the sprinters falling like flies today (Greipel, Groenewegen and Gaviria all abandoned), then it makes it very much less of a surprise. We could of course see a stage where almost everyone wants a rest and only 4 guys get up the road and in turn the sprint teams then decide they actually want to control things.

Which fast men do we have left?

Sagan, Démare, Kristoff, Colbrelli, Degenkolb, Laporte, Boudat and Theuns. Although I am stretching it a bit with the last three as they are either not as good as the others or more than likely on team duties.

So avoiding any elaborate argument here then and straight into everyone’s favourite game, again.

TheBreakawayLottery

Break Candidates

Pffft, pull a name out of the hat and hope you get lucky. We might even see Sagan go on the attack for some fun.

All of the riders I’m going to highlight fit a similar mould; strong on the flat but solid on the short climbs and have the ability to arrive at the finish solo.

Tobias Ludvigsson.

My yearly Big T bet day is upon us. It is very unlikely that FDJ will work all day for Démare so the best plan of action is to try to send someone up the road. Ludvigsson has slowly started to find his legs again after missing the first few months of the season due to injury. He’s a good domestique who on his day gets a chance to shine in the break. Hopefully everyone has fond memories of him pulling a few whips while on the attack in the Vuelta last year, a day that I was on him at 400/1 but Cannondale decided to ruin the break’s fun because they missed the move. Let’s see if Ludvigsson has the same energy tomorrow!

Maciej Bodnar.

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Cruelly caught within the final 250m of stage 11 last year, he then got his revenge later on in the race by winning the individual time trial. Bodnar is one of Sagan’s loyal work horses and the World Champion might reward him with his own opportunities tomorrow. Bodnar was flying in the Polish national championships where he ultimately lost the sprint to Kwiatkowski. A brute of a rider, you don’t want to give him too much leeway near the end of the day.

Michael Valgren.

A faller earlier in the race, Valgren impressed from the break the other day but tomorrow the terrain is suited to him a lot more. It depends on how Astana decide to use their resources but the Dane looks their best option. We’ve seen already this year just how strong he can be with his two superb wins in Omloop and Amstel. Given his power, he might even fancy his chances from a small breakaway sprint.

Jack Bauer

With Yates out of the GC picture Mitchelton will need to change their game plan over the remaining stages, it’s a shame they didn’t have a sprinter with them to chase some stages…Anyway, Bauer is a good mix of solid climber but very strong rouleur who can go well on a course like tomorrow. Another rider who has had his heartbroken before at the Tour when he was caught within the final 100m by a charging peloton back on stage 15 of the 2014 race. That was a similar profile to what we have tomorrow, can he find that extra 100m of energy?

Prediction

Break to stay away and Valgren to win. He looks in great shape at the moment!

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Betting

0.5pt WIN on them all

Valgren @ 250/1

Ludvigsson @ 

Bodnar @ 300/1

Bauer @ 250/1

Big T not priced so will go with Dillier @ 400/1

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

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

Tour de France 2018 Stage 12 Preview: Bourg-Saint-Maurice Les Arcs -> Alpe d’Huez

Today’s Recap

Well that was something else, wasn’t it?

For a while it looked as if the break was going to have its day but Valverde’s attack on the second climb saw a shift in the balance. Nibali oddly ordered Pelizotti to the front of the peloton near the top of the third climb of the day but it was actually Dumoulin who attacked on the descent. He then bridged to Valverde on La Rosière before swiftly dropping the Movistar man.

Things kept getting cranked up in the peloton behind and after a massive Kwiatkowski pull there was no Sky domestique left. Thomas chose those moment to attack and set out in pursuit after Dumoulin who had bridged to breakee Caruso. A lot of looking around by the rest of the GC favourites saw Bardet attack several times but he was brought back by different riders before a flying attack from Dan Martin (who had been dropped a few hundred metres earlier) caught everyone off guard and only Froome could follow. That duo then set off in pursuit of the Thomas group while in the mean time it looked as if Nieve would hold on for the stage win ahead, surviving from the early break.

Yeah nah, Thomas had other ideas as he accelerated to 40km/h on a 4% gradient and crushed the dreams his former team-mate had of being a stage winner in all three Grand Tours, closing down a 16 second gap in only a few hundred metres, passing Nieve at 400m to go.

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It was enough to secure him the stage win and move into Yellow. It’s going to be tough for anyone to dislodge him in his current form, that’s for sure!

Behind, Froome had already dropped Martin and tried to do the same to Dumoulin but he was pipped to second place by the Dutchman. With breakaway rider Caruso pipping fellow breakee Nieve for 4th.

Today’s result leaves Sky 1-2 in the standings with Froome 1’25 behind Thomas and Dumoulin a further 19 seconds back. Will we see any of the contenders try something tomorrow? Let’s have a look at what is in store for them.

The Route

Another day in the mountains and the final day in the Alps and the organisers have saved the iconic Alpe d’Huez.

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Three big climbs (and one small one) await the riders, totalling over 5200m of ascent. This is a monster day in the saddle!

A shallow descent leads into the first climb of the day, the Col de la Madeleine. A tough climb that averages 6.2% for 25.3kms but too far out for anything to happen. The same can even be said for the next climb of Col de la Croix de Fer with its 5.2% average for 29kms.

I was going to post the profiles for both of the climbs but what is the point? We’ll just see Sky tempo up them after today and with some of the GC implosions we had no-one is going to want to attack from that far out, especially with the 14km of flat before we reach Huez.

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On of the most famous climbs in world cycling, the 21 hairpin bends might allow some riders to be out of sight and out mind. The final couple of kilometres of the climb are easier so anyone hoping to damage to their rivals has to go a little bit earlier than what they would possibly like. Teams somehow need to get Sky down to their barebones by 6kms to go and attack but I can’t see how they manage that without burning their own matches first.

How will the stage pan out?

Beats me.

After today’s dominant Sky-train display despite Movistar’s best efforts then I think many will be happy to sit in the wheels and let the race leader’s control proceedings all the way until Alpe d’Huez. We might even see Rowe make it but that just depends on if Froome or Thomas want to win the sage.

Given the strength of their squad then it is possible that they are able to control the breakaway and then set a blistering tempo on the climb and set their two leaders up to one-two attack before one of them eventually gets away.

Sky do like to try to win on the iconic climbs of cycling and they might be confident after today’s performance of almost burying the Tour tomorrow. But it is a tough day for them to control for the stage win and I don’t think any other GC team will help them, therefore I think the breakaway has a good chance of surviving.

That time again…

TheBreakawayLottery

Antwan Tolhoek – Promising young climber that was the last rider to stay with his two team-leaders. 13th on GC in California was followed up with a solid 11th in the Dauphiné. He seems to be in good form at the moment and with his dimunitive figure he should be able to light up the final climb. Could well be used as a foil for an attack behind but if the break is too far ahead he might be given the light to chase his own success.

Jesper Hansen. – With Fuglsang struggling a bit today, I think we’ll see Astana try to get into the breaks. They were active today and I expect that to continue tomorrow. Hansen is one of their better climbing domestiques and he saved his legs today. Possibly could be the one to go for it tomorrow. It will be a tough ask but it all depends on his breakaway companions.

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David Gaudu – The next French climbing sensation, the former Tour de l’Avenir is here to chase some stage wins from the break this year and tomorrow looks perfect for him. A proper talent, will the opening 11 days of racing taken something out of him?

Ian Boswell – After Zakarin struggling again today, then Boswell might be given the freedom to go for the stage win. He’s performed consistently well so far in this Tour but it would take a little bit of luck for him to win. You just never know though.

Prediction

Sky to let the break stay out and Gaudu to take the win!

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Betting

1pt WIN Gaudu @ 40/1

0.5pt WIN Tolhoek @ 80/1

0.3pt WIN Hansen @ 200/1

0.2pt WIN Boswell @ 500/1

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

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

Tour de France 2018 Stage 11 Preview: Albertville -> La Rosière Espace San Bernardo

Today’s Recap

Damp squib GC wise with no-one really testing the water, it was more a case of them all looking at it from the picnic blanket. Nonetheless, we did see some guys lose time already which is not great.

As for the stage win there was no-one stopping Alaphilippe today, he was truly sensational. He was one of the main riders driving the early attempts to get into the break and he didn’t stop all day. Eventually going solo on the foot slopes of the Colombière after bridging to and dropping Taaramaë, he continued to increase his lead over the rest of the breakaway and had plenty of time to celebrate by the time he reached the line.

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Ion Izagirre won the two-up sprint with Taaramaë for second place on the day. A special hat-tip must go to Van Avermaet who went on the attack today just like he did back in 2016 and he managed to extend his lead in the yellow jersey. Can he hold on to it after tomorrow’s stage? Let’s have a look at what is in store for the riders.

The Route

Second day in the Alps and we have the shortest stage of the three and a carbon copy of Dauphiné stage 6.

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The organisers have managed to pack four categorised climbs into 108.5km of racing, including two HC-Cat efforts, totalling a tad over 4000m of elevation. That’s an awful lot, maybe too much. It is a bit of a weird day but in terms of average gradient the climbs are almost inverted with the toughest ascents coming at the start of the day.

Facing an uncategorised drag from the gun it isn’t long until the riders start climbing proper and they face the Montée de Bisanne.

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At an average of 8.2% for 12.4km it is pretty tough to say the least but the second half of the ascent is the toughest. Several kilometres where the gradient is above 9% might see plenty in the peloton struggle.

A long descent follows before they start climbing again.

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The Col du Pré and Cormet de Roseland can pretty much be rolled into one. The Pré is another long climb which averages 7.7% but it is again the latter two-thirds of it that are more difficult with an average of roughly 9%. A short descent and plateau follows before they hit the easier Roseland. Given what they have covered already, the 6.5% average will seem easy!

A long 20km or so descent then sees the riders hit the final climb of the day.

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The hardest part of the climb comes in the middle third but with an easy 4.5km at roughly 4.7% at the end of the stage, will we see any GC riders try to go early? If not, then it will be hard to drop anyone later on.

How will the stage pan out?

A short stage could mean some GC attacking from the gun but as we saw today, everyone was being very cagey and defensive on the climbs. Not that they could do much as Sky set a strong tempo to try to deter attacks. We’re really none the wiser as to the bigger GC picture from today aside that the guys dropped this afternoon came out of the rest day a little shaky.

Sky looked ominously strong this afternoon and took a stranglehold on the race. If they wanted to bring back the break then they could have but they played a good tactical hand by letting Van Avermaet increase his lead, hoping that he can stay in Yellow for at least another day. This doesn’t put as much pressure onto the British outfit to chase but they theoretically have Thomas in yellow who sits close to 50 seconds ahead of his nearest rival. They’re sitting very pretty at the moment.

A lot of people will have hope that the shorter stage tomorrow will entice crazy GC attacks but we saw today no-one was willing to risk anything, it is too early in the Tour for that. I think it will be a similar scenario tomorrow with the GC riders waiting until the final climb to give it a go.

Therefore it is up to Sky to chase the break down if they want the stage win. They are very good at utilising their resources well and we have seen a shift in their mindset over the past season and they don’t necessarily want to go for every stage. I think they let the break go tomorrow with all eyes on Alpe d’Huez on Thursday.

So time to play everyone’s favourite game…

TheBreakawayLottery

Damiano Caruso.

It was a solid effort from the BMC rider as he stuck with the GC favourites group up until the very end of the Colombière when he was dropped along with the likes of Majka and Mollema. With Porte no longer in the race then BMC are hunting stages and Caruso looks like one of their best options for tomorrow. He sits 11 minutes down on GC so is not an immediate threat and will be given some leeway. Furthermore, he has the advantage of racing this stage in the Dauphiné so should know what to expect out on the road. Can he seize the opportunity now that he has the chance or his own goals?

Gorka Izagirre.

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Having his best ever season, the newly crowned Spanish champion watched his brother up the road today and will possibly want in on some of the action tomorrow. Nibali clearly isn’t afraid of sending some of his stronger domestiques up the road and I think we will see something similar with Gorka. If he is on a similar level to those Spanish championships then the final climb is perfect for him as the Bahrain rider packs a very good sprint from a reduced group and he would fancy himself from the break.

Daniel Martinez.

With Uran losing time toady I expect EF Education to go on the attack tomorrow and they have two potential stage winning candidates. The first of those is the youngster Martinez who transferred from Willier in the winter. A strong climber and great talent he might use his slight anonymity to his advantage if up ahead. Although I don’t know how anyone is able to keep a low-profile in a bright pink jersey! He’s showed some strong GC results this year already but can he take that elusive win?

Pierre Rolland. 

The experienced Frenchman is bound to find himself in the breakaway over the coming few weeks so why not start with tomorrow?! He has arrived at this race in good form with a solid 8th place showing overall in the Dauphiné. Now with the opportunity for more freedom, he will hope to replicate that level of performance on stage 11. He broke his several season GT winning duck last year when he won a stage during the Giro and that will certainly have given him a lot of confidence. I’m sure the French public would love back to back winners.

Prediction

Another GC stale-mate, at least for the stage anyway, as everyone waits for Alpe d’Huez. Instead, we will see Damiano Caruso winning the day, after taking advantage of some new-found freedom in this race.

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It wouldn’t be a bad place to pick up your first WT level stage win!

Betting

I don’t fancy some of the guys I’ve listed at their current odds so at the moment I’m just going to go with…

0.5pt EW Gorka Izagirre @ 200/1.

Will post anything else up on Twitter later if I fancy some other riders not listed here etc.

 

Thanks as always for reading! Who do you think wins tomorrow and why? Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

Tour de France 2018 Stage 10 Preview: Annecy -> Le Grand-Bornand

Rest-day Recap

Despite the chaos of many mechanicals and several crashes, the majority of the GC riders got through the cobbles unscathed. It was only Porte who abandoned and Uran that lost a reasonable amount of time. I’m sure most would have been happy with the outcome!

As for the stage win, a trio of riders escaped in the closing kilometres and went on to contest the finish. Degenkolb was left to open up the sprint from the front but he proved too strong for Van Avermaet and Lampaert, taking his first Grand Tour stage win since the 2015 Vuelta.

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It was nice to see him on the top step again after it looked for a while that he would never return to his best after the crash.

With several mostly flat stages behind them, the riders attention turns to the mountains tomorrow as we enter the Alps. Let’s have a look at what awaits them.

The Route

No case of easing yourself into it here as we have 4200m of climbing in only 158km worth of racing.

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The day features five categorised climbs but the lowly Col de Bluffy pales into insignificance compared with what is to come. I would expect a big fight to get into the breakaway and we might not see the move go until the Col de la Croix Fry (11.3km at 7.1%). From there it is a long descent before the road kicks up rather nastily with the very tough looking Montée du plateau des Glières. Averaging a painful 9.7% for 6.8km, the main crux of the climb is actually 11% for 6km!

A little plateau follows before a descent to the uncategorised Col des Fleuries (5.5km at 4.7%) which starts with 74km to go. Don’t expect much to happen over the next 30kms or so as riders and teams will regroup before the fireworks in the final 40km of the day.

Romme : Colombiere

Taken alone the Romme and Colombière are difficult climbs but when they are combined together with only a 5km descent in between then they become very difficult. In the space of 22kms the riders will climb a total of 1400m. The descent will only offer a very limited time to recover, especially if you are already on the limit and someone decides to push on. Taking both the climbs together and removing the descent then it is 17kms at 8.2%. With the steeper gradients coming near the top of the Colombière it is a perfect place for some GC riders to launch attacks and distance some rivals.

Once over the top 12kms of descent await the riders before a flat-ish run to the line.

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The descent will be fast with the average gradient being roughly -6% for the duration of the 12kms. There are some tight hairpin turns but they seem coupled together.

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The final 2kms are mainly flat and the riders will have to be very wary of this turn that comes with just 1.5km to go. It is tight and as we saw earlier during the race those corners are never ideal. Thankfully, we shouldn’t see a massive group arrive here together. The last 1km drags up ever so slightly at 1.2% but the final 200m are at almost 8%. A nice little kicker to settle the day!

How will the stage pan out?

The first real mountain test of the Tour and it comes after the first rest-day. We’ll no doubt see some riders perform above expectations and some perform worst. Who will suffer the infamous jitters?

The age-old question of “break or no break?” for the stage win once again arises. It really is in the balance.

I tried to do some research on mountain stages after the first proper rest day of GTs. There were 6 definite mountain days, with one of them (Vuelta 2017) borderline but probably not given it only had a couple of climbs at the end of the day. Four of the six stages finished with a GC rider winning and it was only Giro 2016 (Ciccone) and Vuelta 2015 (Landa) that saw a break stay out. Even then, the latter was the only surviving member of the break with GC riders filling out the rest of the top 10.

That means Giro 2013, Tour 2014/2015 and Vuelta 2016 were all GC days when there was a mountain stage after the rest day.

Something to think about: a 66:33 split in favour of the GC contenders winning.

Given the current GC standings relative to Thomas, almost everyone will still think of themselves in contention for the title or podium come Paris at this moment in time. Only Van Garderen is really out of it. It could in theory lead to some defensive and tactical racing if everyone just wants to mark each other out, especially with the tough two days to come.

However, I think we will see some aggressive racing tomorrow between the GC guys as they will want to test the waters as to who is going well and who might have come out of the rest day not feeling in tip-top shape.

The Romme/Colombière double ascent should be tough enough to cause some splits if a team or two decides to push the pace on. Although Sky aren’t actually in the yellow jersey, I wouldn’t be surprised to see them ride tomorrow as if they were; taking control of the bunch and not letting the break have much leeway. As much as I want other teams to take control early, it will be Sky that decides if the break makes it or not because no one else has the firepower to keep a lid on things until the final two climbs, unless of course we have an alliance between a few squads.

Sky are notorious for going well on the first mountain stage of the Tour; in 2012 Froome won on Belle Filles with Wiggins third; in 2013 Froome and Porte finished 1/2 on Ax 3 Domaines; in 2015 Froome and Porte once again finished 1/2, this time on La-Pierre Saint-Martin.

They’ve actually not been as great recently with them allowing the breakaway win in 2016 (although Froome won a tougher mountain stage the next day) and Aru winning on Belles Filles last year. Have they changed their approach? Possibly, but I think Froome will want to lay down a marker to everyone else in the race but more importantly to his team-mate Thomas, and show him that there is only one leader in the team.

We also then have the Movistar trident to consider. Is it too early for them to go on the attack? Absolutely not. They need to be as aggressive as possible to wear down the Sky train so I fully expect them to go for it tomorrow.

Right, I’m nailing my colours to the mast and going for it to be a GC day and as I’ve rambled on for a while now I’m only going to name two guys who I think might be involved in the finish tomorrow.

MyTwoPicksWorth

Rigoberto Uran.

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An incredible second last year, Uran has been a bit off the pace this season but he has been slowly riding himself into form for this Tour. In 2017 he won a mountain stage that had a sprint to the line and will no doubt back himself for tomorrow if he arrives in a small group. He was the unfortunate GC rider who crashed at the wrong time on Sunday and it meant that the pace was on and he lost over a minute and a half to his rivals. That will have hurt him as the team rode fantastically in the TTT to put him in a very good position overall. Uran is a competent bike handler who is also attacking when he needs to and I think we’ll se him give it a nudge tomorrow.

Dan Martin.

 

Already a winner at this race on stage 6, the Irishman finds himself the furthest back of the GC contenders mainly due to a crash on stage 8 that saw him lose 1’16 to the rest of the peloton. A very attacking rider, Martin was flying in last year’s Tour until he was involved in Porte’s crash that ultimately put him out of contention due to riding with injury for the following 2 weeks. He still managed to finish 6th overall then, not a bad result! This year he has struggled but from the limited bits that we have seen from him since then he seems to have found his mojo again and looks the lively Martin that we all know. He won’t want to wait a few days to test the waters and given that he is quite far back from the rest of the contenders, he might just be given the freedom by them to go on the attack. There won’t be many who can match his kick up the small ramp to the finish.

Prediction

Dan Martin to take his second stage win with a perfectly timed late attack. Some GC riders will falter tomorrow but I have no idea who, it should be a great watch!

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Betting

One of those stages where it is probably best to back something in-play but for the sake of the blog and the spreadsheet:

1pt WIN Martin @ 14/1 (can get 20/1 on the exchange – would recommend)

1pt WIN Uran @ 33/1 (can get 44/1 on the exchange – would recommend)

Both of those prices are with 365 but they are pretty similar elsewhere. I would obviously recommend going on the exchanges if you can as the odds are much better there!

Thanks as always for reading. Who do you think is going to win tomorrow and how? Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

 

La Course 2018 Preview

La Course 2018 Preview

After the great racing we saw on the slopes of the Izoard last year, I’m completely ignoring the shambles that was the second day of racing, La Course once again returns to the mountains this year.

In 2017 we saw Annemiek van Vleuten take a dominant win after putting three-quarters of a minute into second-placed finisher Lizzie Deignan on the ascent, with Elisa Longo Borghini rounding out the podium.

LA COURSE By Le Tour

 

It was a case of what might have been for the Brit though as she did the majority of the pace setting early on, hoping to set up team-mate Guarnier. However, she turned out to be the strongest in the Boels camp. Would she have beaten van Vleuten had she sat in the wheels? Probably not, but it would have been a lot closer!

The reigning champion is here to defend her title and after just smashing the Giro Rosa to bits, she will be very confident of doing the double. First though, let’s have a look at what awaits the riders tomorrow.

The Route

With 2500m of climbing in only 112.5km of racing, this is going to be a tough day in the saddle for the peloton. Especially when you consider that the majority of the climbing comes in the last 40kms.

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The two early climbs of Col de Bluffy and Côte de Saint-Jean-de-Sixt won’t be decisive in the outcome of the race but they might see some early attrition take place. Although I think this would be unlikely given they know what lies ahead. Instead, they might be a good place for the break to form and teams to send riders up the road so that they can work for their team leader on the two monster climbs to come.

Col de Romme and Col de la Colombière are two tough Cat-1 climbs when taken alone but given that they come back to back with only 5km of descent in between then they are going to be hellish – close to 1400m of elevation gain over 22kms.

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Taking away the 5km of descent then it is really 1400m of gain over 17km, which makes the average gradient of the climbs roughly 8.2%.

Expect to see some big gaps tomorrow!

Once over the top of the Colombière the riders will have close to 12km of descent and 2kms of mainly flat roads between them and the finish line.

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The descent itself will be fast as the average gradient for the 12km is close to -6%, with it being on a standard two-lane mountain road the riders should have plenty of room to judge their lines. There are quite a few hairpins littered throughout the descent and they mainly seem to come grouped together.

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A sharp turn with 1.5km to go could see some mishaps as the riders will be carrying a lot of speed into it but they should be able to smooth out the corner by taking it wide. Nonetheless, we saw what happened in the men’s race when the peloton had to turn back on itself. Thankfully, I don’t think we’ll see a big group of riders arrive at this point together!

The final kilometre averages 1.2% but the final 200m of the day features an 8% ramp. A nice little finish for a sprint showdown, if we get a small group of riders arriving together.

Giro Legs vs Fresh Legs

In the male side of the sport we often see the benefit of riders who have been at the Tour de France with their results in San Sebastian the following weekend after the Tour is finished. Will those from the Giro Rosa see a similar trend in results?

I’m not sure and given that there has only been today in between the Giro finishing and La Course starting, I think some might struggle. Today can almost be viewed as a traditional Grand Tour rest day apart from some of them will have to travel the almost 700km from their bases in Italy to Annecy by car. Doesn’t sound like a great rest day to me! Some will have bitten the bullet and travelled straight away after yesterday’s Giro stage in the hope of a more chilled day today. Other teams with better budgets might even have flown their riders to Geneva and got a transfer from there.

Ultimately I’m not sure how the one-day turnaround will affect the riders and I don’t think many of them will know either. It could make for some unexpected results!

I say that but there are only a handful of riders who can actually win this race.

Contenders – Giro Rosa Riders

Annemiek van Vleuten.

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A dominant display in the Giro Rosa saw her take home pink by over 4 minutes to her nearest rival, collecting 3 stage wins along the way. She comes into La Course as the red-hot favourite and you would be hard pressed to find many people thinking that this is not her race to lose. The mix of tough climbing and fast descent plays perfectly into her abilities as a rider. I would not be surprised to see her drop everyone on the Colombière and solo to the line. Have the past 10 days exertions taken a lot out of her legs though? That is the important question that we won’t find the answer to until during the stage.

Amanda Spratt.

If van Vleuten isn’t at the pointy end of the race then Mitchelton have a great second option in Spratt. The Aussie exceeded my expectations at the Giro where she finished the race third overall and managed to win a stage too. A versatile rider, the diminutive Spratt will relish the back to back climbs. If we see a tactical race unfold then she is the perfect rider to send on the attack while van Vleuten sits behind and marks everyone out of the race. Give her 30 seconds on the Colombière and she will be very hard to bring back.

Ashleigh Moolman Pasio.

Forever the bridesmaid it seems, the Cervelo rider was unfortunate to just come up against a very strong Mitchelton Scott team at the Giro. However, I think she will ultimately be happy with a second place finish overall. On the two summit finishes in the race she was the only rider able to keep remotely close to the Mitchelton riders and she suffered on Zoncolan from having to make the pace. In a race where she can draft the wheels a bit more, then she has a good chance of sticking close to them. If she takes a few risks on the descent I would fancy her chances in a small sprint finish to the line. I think that is her best chance of winning – sounds easy, right?

Brand, Guarnier, Ludwig, Merino and Santesteban are all names to throw into the hat but I think they will fall short. They are top 5/10 candidates though.

Contender – The Fresh Rider

Anna van der Breggen.

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The elephant in the room for this race, the Boels rider is one of only a few riders coming here who wasn’t at the Giro Rosa, the other notable rider being Ferrand Prevot. Van der Breggen has had another ridiculously strong season, winning 4 WWT events: Strade, Flanders, Liege and Fleche. Not a bad record! She arrives in France after taking a few weeks off of her road bike, competitively anyway, while she was instead taking part in the mountain bike world cup event in Val di Sole. That didn’t go spectacularly well for her as she finished over 8 minutes down on the winner. Nonetheless, back on the road she should be in her preferred terrain again. Her form is unknown but that hasn’t stopped her smashing it before, she won in Flanders for example after a few weeks away from racing. She is van Vleuten’s biggest challenger here.

Prediction

I’m looking forward to seeing a very intense Dutch battle on the roads tomorrow with two of the biggest names in the sport going head to head. Giro legs vs fresh legs, who will come out on top?

I’ll go Giro legs and Van Vleuten to double up!

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I think with van der Breggen not targeting the Giro, she thoroughly has her sights set on the latter part of the season so will be slightly undercooked here. I might be wrong, but she won’t be close to where van Vleuten is at the moment.

Coverage

Despite ASO’s best intentions of not really giving us any information at all for the race, aside from some barebones stuff, the race is actually going to be shown live.

It is scheduled to be shown on Eurosport 1 (here in the UK) from 9:15 to 12 (BST). Not sure what the plans are for the rest of Europe but I assume it will be the same. If you can’t watch it at that time of day then I’ll be tweeting intermittently about it as it conveniently falls on my day off from work.

Thanks as always for reading and any RTs etc are much appreciated. Who do you think will win tomorrow and why? Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

Tour de France 2018 Stage 9 Preview: Arras Citadelle -> Roubaix

Today’s Recap

Nothing much happened all day until a crash with roughly 17km to go saw several riders go down. Dan Martin was the biggest GC name to go down and he looked battered and bruised when he got back on his bike. Despite a furious chase from his team who got a helping hand from Cofidis, he would ultimately lose 1’16 to his GC rivals.

In the sprint it was Groenewegen who doubled up, making his effort to the line look very easy – he time it perfectly!

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Greipel produced a solid effort to come second with Gaviria rounding out the podium in third. The less said about Kittel the better, he was awful, no cohesion with his team-mates in the finale.

Onto tomorrow!

The Route

The day every spectator has been waiting for since the route was announced and seemingly the peloton have had the same idea given the lack of action over the past couple of stages.

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It’s cobbles time and the riders will face the largest amount of pavé that has been included in the Tour for a long time: at 21.7km of the stuff.

 

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The majority of the cobbles come in the second half of the stage and they will no doubt lead to nervous racing within the bunch. Some of the sections will be familiar if you’re a regular watcher of Paris-Roubaix (who isn’t?!), such as Mons-en-Pévèle. I could try to decipher which sectors are going to be the most important but given previous history of cobbles in this race, it could be any of them!

Expect some gaps to form at just under the half-way mark as the riders face 4.4km of cobbles in roughly 6kms. From there it will be action throughout the day with the last sector finishing only 6.5km from the line.

stage-9-finish

Given the technical run-in from the last section, I definitely don’t think the organisers intend on a large group coming to the line together. Disappointingly the riders don’t finish inside the Velodrome but instead the finish on the road that is parallel to it. I guess something has to be kept special for Paris Roubaix.

The cobbles and route aren’t crazy compared to the Hell of the North but given the large number of GC riders we have here, they don’t have to be. Some of the overall contenders will no longer be in contention after tomorrow, whether that be through crashes or unfortunately timed mechanicals.

Team Tactics

There are plenty of classics specialists in the peloton who could theoretically win the stage tomorrow but their main role throughout the day might be shepherding their GC man/men. We then have guys without GC men who will definitely be trying to go for the win, then riders who have GC riders but are given a free card. It is just about trying to figure who falls into each category. So below I’m going to try to split some of the contenders into the three categories…

Riders with no GC guy at all: Boasson Hagen, DémareGreipel, Politt.

Riders with a GC guy who might be given freedom: Sagan, GVA, Thomas*, Any QS rider, Kristoff, Stuyven, Degenkolb.**

*Included Thomas here even though he is a GC rider as given his history on the cobbles he should go well. Doubt he gets asked to work for Froome too.

**I think only one of Stuyven/Degenkolb will be given freedom with the other working for Mollema.

Riders with a GC guy who are apparently working for them: Vanmarcke, Phinney, Valgren, Naesen, Rowe, Theuns, Colbrelli, Dubridge, Hayman, +more that I’ve probably missed.

So I’m only going to consider riders from the first two categories for the win.

The Belgian Cobble-trotters

Quick Step arrive with a team that might not be as stacked as their spring campaign but it is not far off of it! They have Jungels for GC, who himself won the junior Paris Roubaix, so it will be interesting to see how many riders they dedicate to his cause. No doubt Declerq, Gaviria, Richeze and Alaphilippe will offer their help but he will probably need the guidance and support of one of the following…

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Niki Terpstra – Winner of this year’s Tour of Flanders, it is hard to deny that the Dutchman is a class act on cobbles. He’s a bit of a divisive character in the peloton but there aren’t many guys who you would rather on your team for this stage. With his success in the Spring, will he be asked to stay behind and work for his GC man? Or will it be the opposite and he’ll get given the go ahead?

Yves Lampaert – As you probably know, I’m a big fan of Yves and it was great to see him win the Belgian championships recently. It is good to see him stepping up and showing the quality that people saw when he was a junior – touted as a half Boonen/Museeuw combo. Often the workhorse, he might be rewarded with a free card to play tomorrow. The Belgian champion winning a cobbled stage at the Tour would be a sight to behold.

Philippe Gilbert – The rider with the most to gain, he could move into the Yellow jersey with a stage win. His quest to win five didn’t exactly go to plan in the Spring and he often ended up playing the good team-mate role, sandbagging the back of groups while his squad rode away up ahead. There’s no doubt in my mind that he will be allowed to do as best as he can tomorrow but will it be enough?

So Gilbert will definitely be given a free card and I think the fact Lampaert is now Belgian Champion helps him massively in the QS pecking order. Therefore, I think Terpstra will be the designated guardian for Jungels. Maybe. It could, and most likely will, just be decided out on the road.

The Two Cobbled Kings

Van Avermaet.

Currently in yellow, the Belgian has made it very clear that he is going for the stage tomorrow and will be allowed to do what he sees fit. Porte even confirmed that after today’s proceedings with the rest of the BMC squad to help him. Van Avermaet didn’t have a great spring campaign and often found himself marked out of races when he wasn’t able to drop everyone. He looks stronger here and I would be surprised not to see him at the head of affairs. Will he be able to beat his nemesis?

Peter Sagan.

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Already a winner in Roubaix this year, Sagan could have the Green Jersey all but sewn up if he takes the stage tomorrow. Not many will be able to match his brute power over the cobbles so it will need to be a tactical race for him to not be in a winning position. Unfortunately for him, I can see that happening.

The Outisde Picks

Yves Lampaert.

Following on from above, I think tomorrow will get very tactical near the end of the day and having numbers at the head of the race will be of a massive benefit for a team. No doubt Quick Step will be in that position. Lampaert will be the least marked of their trident and he might just be able to slip away and take the stage. We’ve seen in the past that if he gets a 20 second gap then it will be very difficult for anyone to bring him back.

Edvald Boasson Hagen.

Slowly building himself into the race, the Dimension Data did a monster turn on the front of the bunch for Cavendish this afternoon. Tomorrow should be all about him and the team will be behind him 100%. After struggling a bit at the start of the year his form has picked up, nabbing a few top 10s here and there. He still hasn’t shown similar form to what he had at this race last year but that could change tomorrow, the route looks perfect for his attributes. If he arrives in a small group of 3 or 4 then he would be a big favourite in the sprint.

Prediction

I’m going for a Jasper Stuyven win though!

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I’ve had this day circled down for him after surprisingly seeing him finish in the front group on stage 5, a day that wasn’t ideal for him so the form must be there. Other than that he has been keeping quiet and I think with one eye on tomorrow. During the spring campaign he was the most consistent rider, managing to finish in the top 10 of E3, Gent Wevelgem, Dwars, Flanders and Roubaix. Not bad! Stuyven is one of those special riders who can power away from people and hold his own in a solo tt, see his win in Kuurne as an example of that. However, he also possesses a fast sprint from a reduced group and he would fancy his chances of a result in a 4-5 rider gallop.

As for the GC riders, who knows how it will go. I wish them all the best of luck!

Betting

1pt EW Stuyven @ 28/1 

0.25pt EW EBH @ 33/1

0.5pt WIN Lampaert @ 18/1

All with Bet365

Using that saved Kittel 1pt on a more sensible bet.

Buy Me A Beer

Back with the shameless self promotion but if you have enjoyed the opening 9 days worth of previews then you can kindly donate the price of a beer/coffee to me through this link. Helps keep me topped up through stages like the past two days. Thanks in advance if you do decide to do so.

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

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.