Il Lombardia 2017 Preview

The “Classica delle foglie morte” or “The race of the falling leaves” for those of us who speak little Italian, is arguably one of the most beautiful races of the year, and is the last Monument in the calendar. I don’t know if that is due to its position at the end of the season which makes everyone see it as one last huzzah as things wind down, or the very attacking racing we get. Probably both!

Last year saw Esteban Chaves take the win in a three up sprint against Rosa and Uran.

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More impressively though he managed to avoid the Haughey Curse, after I had backed him to the hilt in the preview. It was a good end to the year!

With 2016’s route taking the riders from Como to Bergamo, things will switch around this year as is tradition, with the finish being in Como.

Let’s have a look at what is in store for them tomorrow.

The Route

Almost a carbon copy of the 2015 edition. Are the organisers trying to be kind to a certain native?!

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There are a few tough ascents early on in the day but the race really starts to kick into action once we get to 70km to go and the famous Madonna del Ghisallo. We’ll see a thinning out process here and possibly some early probing attacks by second and third tier riders from the top teams.

Any rider who is in difficulty this early on won’t have much time to rest though as they will soon face the toughest climb of the day; the Colma di Sormano.

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At 7kms in length it averages a leg breaking 8.9% in gradient. That is hard either way you look at it, but it is the final 1.9km of the climb that averages close to 16% which is the real killer.

If a team pushes on in the bunch, not many will be left in with a chance once they are over the top. Back in 2015 we had around 20 riders who made it over together, with a few more getting back on in the descent and flat roads as we head towards Civilgio.

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Anyone that went out the back door on the Sormano but managed to get back to the peloton, will unfortunately meet their maker for the second time in the race here. Steep and persistent is the best way to describe it, the climb will wear the riders down and only the strongest will be left at the head of the race. As a tough penultimate climb, it acts as the perfect launchpad. Will anyone manage to break free?

If not, then the race could be decided on the last climb of the day, the short San Fermo. At only 7.2% for 2.7km it is one of the easier ascents. However, given its position in the race and the fact the riders will have already covered 235km+ then we could see some go pop all of a sudden.

Cresting with just over 5km to go, it will then be a charge down to the line if we have a solo rider with a frantic chase behind as there is very little time to get organised. There is a chance things could still be toghether, and we see an incredibly tactical finale, or even a small gallop to the line!

How will the race pan out?

I expect action and chaos from as far out as the Ghisallo, with Bahrain being the main driving force behind it all.

During this week of Italian racing they have been exceptional, putting other teams to the sword on numerous occasions. They’ve only came away with one win but it is their attitude on the road that has impressed me most.

I think we’ll see Gasparotto and Brajkovic set a tough pace on the Ghisallo but it will be the Sormano where they will go crazy; hoping to shed as many riders from the peloton as possible. They’ll hope to have Visconti and Pellizotti left with Nibali, and hopefully no more than 20 other guys there either.

Things will inevitably regroup on the descent and flat, but those who rejoined will once again go backwards on Civiglio.

One of the key parts that will decide this race is how some of the stronger teams approach the flatter roads. Do Bahrain, Sky, Astana etc send someone up the road so that they don’t have to chase the move behind? I think it would be wise to do so, but will they?!

We could see a front group made up of Visconti, Fugslang, Latour, Haig, Formolo and Henao for example, that might well stay away. I am really intrigued to see how the teams approach this part of the race.

If things are all together, and when I say all together I mean a group of 5 or 6 riders, then it will be very tough for anyone to drop the rest of the bunch on the final climb. Like in 2015, it will come down to a tactical attack and everyone looking at each other, or a small bunch gallop.

Three Clear Favourites?

Nibali, Uran and Pinot have all shown their credentials over the past week and are the most obvious riders who should be in contention come the end of the day.

The Shark has been excellent all week, particularly in Emilia where he looked effortless. He chose to skip Torino and will come here as fresh as possible. He’s clearly in great form, but is he strong enough to drop everyone on the climbs? I’m not so sure. That then leads to the issue of; “surely no one will be foolish enough to let one of the best descenders get a gap on a descent” again? He either wins solo by putting down some astronomical watts on the climb, or not at all.

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Uran seemed forever the nearly man, but he is having arguably his best season as a pro yet. Since the Tour he has built slowly towards this race, looking fairly good in Emilia but taking that up a step and putting in a strong performance in Torino. Will that have taken a lot out of him? Possibly. He cruised up the climb last year to a third place finish, but he then seemed to not have the same kick as Rosa and Chaves in the final of Lombardia. The Astana man had an easier time of it in Torino, while last year’s winner didn’t race MT at all. It probably won’t make much of a difference but it is something to consider. One advantage that Uran has is his speed; he would be confident of winning a 3 or 4 rider gallop to the line. We’ll just forget about last year’s sprint though…

Pinot is almost the unknown here. A great climber who seems to put in solid performances at this race, his second half of the season has been geared towards this race. He was the only rider who could follow Nibali’s vicious attack in Emilia, and the Frenchman never really looked in trouble. I wouldn’t read too much into his result in Torino, as he will have gained enough confidence from Emilia, that Torino would have been more a training ride than anything else. Before the start of the season I would say he would be in the middle of the trio in terms of sprinting, but I think he has the speed to challenge Uran.

Will the three of them get the chance though?

Azure Attacks?

Although Astana have Aru in their ranks, they might not 100% back the Italian Champion and instead play an aggressive tactic, getting riders up the road. There are two riders who given the right situation, I think could surprise and win this race.

Jakob Fuglsang.

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On fire at the Dauphiné, his season really went downhill from there. Crashing out of the Tour and then injuring his collarbone in a criterium. Not ideal! He has returned to racing as of late but his form is not overly promising; DNF’ing both of the Canadian races and a 61st in Torino. He did win the “hilly” stage in the Tour of Almaty, but given that is basically a criterium and the best Astana rider wins on the day, then I won’t read much into it. However, I have a feeling that he might go well. I don’t really know why, but he is a classy, classy bike rider and can’t be underestimated. In the hilly one day classics he is often a feature near the front and animating the race, so he has experience in that sense. Remember his Silver in Rio? I can’t wait to watch him pull out of the race tomorrow with 100km left!

Pello Bilbao.

A pick based on a favourite rider?

*Pretends to be shocked*

If you’ve read the blog for a while, then you’ll know I’m a big fan of the Spaniard and I’m really pleased to see him take a step up this season. As I pointed out in my Milan Torino preview, he was arguably one of the best domestiques in the final week of the Vuelta, he just was outshone by Moscon. The distance might be an issue for him, but in a very tactical race he might just be Astana’s trump card.

Prediction

None of the above riders will win though…

Instead, I’ll go for somewhat of an outsider, although he really isn’t.

Wout Poels.

Liege - Bastogne - Liege 2016 WTThe winner of Sky’s first Monument back at Liege last year, he has the ability to go well tomorrow. His 6th place in Torino on Thursday was slightly underwhelming, but promising. I would call it considered.

His racing schedule has been a bit sparse but he is someone who seems to really time his peak at the end of the season. Especially when he isn’t racing heavily in the early season. In theory, compared to his rivals he should be “fresh” due to his time off the bike and I think this will help him massively tomorrow.

While Nibali and co mark each other out of it, Poels will manage to sneak away and take the win. If not, as we saw in Liege, he packs a fairly decent sprint. I wonder if it will be as easy for him as Angliru was?!

Betting

End of the season so pushing the stakes out there a bit more.

0.5pt EW on Fuglsang @ 150/1 with Skybet who are paying 4 places (would take 125 and no less)

0.5pt EW Bilbao @ 250/1 with various (would take 200)

2pt EW Poels @ 33/1 with Ladbrokes/Bet365 etc.

 

This could well be my last preview for the year. I won’t be doing anything for Paris Tours and it is very unlikely I’ll do something Turkey. The new stage race in China might be a possibilty but it does look pretty dull…

I’m not entirely sure what will feature in this blog over the off-season. There are a couple of things I have in mind that I could do but any suggestions would be appreciated! Rider interviews could be a possbility but I’ll have to get my finger out for that.

Thanks though for your continued readership throughout the year. I’m pleased/proud/whatever you want to call it of the blog this season and the way it has grown. Il Lombardia marks my 209th preview of the season, more than double from last year, but I wouldn’t be as motivated to continue if you didn’t keep reading and interacting/offering feedback etc.

There have been some ups and downs this season, from the glory days of Lampaert’s win in Dwars and the famous Le Samyn preview, to the duldrums of the Giro and some other unnamed races. And what about the Wongshots?!

So that’s it for the previews in 2017. I might make an appearnce with a few features, and I might well be featured elsewhere…but if not, I’ll see you all for the Tour Down Under.

Thanks again for reading.

Thos were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

Milano-Torino 2017 Preview

After an exciting finale in Varese on Tuesday, the riders will turn their attention to Milano-Torino tomorrow as they make their final preparations before Lombardia on Sunday.

In 2016 we saw a great battle between Woods and Lopez on the final climb after they broke free from a group that had attacked on the flat run in to said ascent. They traded blows but ultimately it was the Astana rider who came out on top after Woods went too early and mistimed his effort.

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Uran bolted from the peloton behind to finish third, leaving Lopez in a Cannondale sandwich on the podium.

With the defending champion not returning to defend his crown, will we see a new winner? Let’s have a look at what is in store for the riders.

The Route

It seems as if the organisers have adopted the “if it is not broke, why fix it?” adage, as we have the exact same route as the past few years.

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Flaaaaaaaaat then two tough ascents up to the Basilica de Superga to decide the day.

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On the first effort the riders will complete only 4.29km of the climb, making it ever so slightly steeper than when the climb is taken as a whole. Well, when I say that, the average gradient is 9.137% for that part of the climb. Compared to the 9.081% for the ascent as a whole then there isn’t much difference, I’m just being pedantic!

And that’s pretty much it really, there’s nothing else to know about the route.

How will the race pan out?

The race tends to be very formulaic until we get to the first ascent of the Superga. A breakaway makes it up the road and is then controlled by the teams of the favourites and of those without a rider in it. Fairly standard procedure!

However, we then have a few potential outcomes as to what could happen from there.

Given that the first passage crests with just under 20km to go, then it is very feasible that a counter attack launched here could make it all the way to the line. Of course, for it to succeed then many of the favourites’ teams would need to be represented. If not, there will probably be enough firepower behind to bring it back, but it will have a lasting impact as to how the race is controlled from there.

Last year we saw Kennaugh hold on from the original break until the flat 5km section that bridges the descent and the climb. Once he was caught, the impetus went from the peloton and a splinter group made it off of the front. As the majority of teams were represented, there was very little cohesion behind (although there was little up ahead too to be fair), the front group managed to gain a reasonable time gap. Our top two on the day ended up being from that selection and there is a possibility something like that happens again this year; where the “second in command” riders get up the road while the favourites stay behind and mark each other out.

Of course, the final option is that everything is held together until the final climb and that the best rider on the day wins. That’s what happened back in 2015 when Diego Rosa took off at 2.6km to go and was never seen again. To make that win even better, he managed to make the move in front of his own fan club!

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So, what will we see happen this year?

With no Nibali here, then quite a few teams might be happier to take it all the way to the final climb. However, we witnessed in Tre Valli that teams are keen to race aggressively and try not to lean heavily on their star-cards.

Therefore I think we could see a similar outcome to last season; where a smaller group escapes either over the top of the climb or on the flat section. They will then stay away as the majority of the strong teams will be represented.

Contenders

Due to my logic above, I’m not going to go through the “favourites” as I think they might be fighting for lower places as 3-4 riders from the group ahead will stay away until the end. Maybe!

Once again though, this list won’t be extensive, just a few outsiders to keep an eye on!

David Gaudu.

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A rider who produced an incredible result earlier in the year that has barely been talked about since; when he finished 9th at Fleche aged just 20 years old. He is a talent, that’s for sure! After that performance he’s continued to feature in races here and there, including his first pro win in the Tour de l’Ain. A natural climber by body-type, he is incredibly light, tomorrow’s summit finish looks good for him and given the right company he can contend. After Pinot’s very strong showing in Tre Valli, I think teams will be wary of bringing him to the final climb with the bunch together, so FDJ will have to go on the counter. Can the former Tour de l’Avenir winner cap off a good first season as a pro?

Diego Rosa.

The local hero will no doubt have his fan club cheering him on roadside, but will it once again be the catalyst to spur him on to victory? In his recent races he’s done a lot of work for his team-mates so it is hard to tell where his form truly is at the moment, but it is normally at this time of year where he comes good. Really good. With this being his local race, I think Sky might have him as a co-leader, in the hope that he will be more willing to help Poels/Landa/Kwiat in Lombardia on Sunday. He is one to watch.

Primoz Roglic.

He’s certainly not a one-day specialist, but given the way he flew up the climb at the TT in the World’s then I think he has recovered from his illness that thwarted his late season. On his day, he can climb with the best as we saw at the Tour de France when he took a great win. I’m intrigued to see how he goes tomorrow, but I think he can surprise.

Pello Bilbao.

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It is basically a rule of thumb that an Astana rider has to go well here, they’ve won it the past two years! Both the riders that have won on those occasions have been the rider who is not the clear leader of the team, so sorry Aru it is not going to be you. Bilbao finished well here last year, taking a fine 7th place for Caja Rural. He is a rider I like a lot and it is good to see him take a step up this year now that he’s riding at World Tour level. At the Vuelta he was climbing as well as I have ever seen from him so it will be interesting to see if he can repeat that here. If so, he is a big danger!

Sam Oomen.

A case of which Sunweb rider to go for, they have brought an embarrassment of riches to this race. I thought Oomen would be tired after his first Grand Tour but he certainly proved me wrong and was part of the very impressive TTT winning outfit. In Tre Valli he followed that up with a very commendable sixth place so he’s clearly doing something right! Like Gaudu, he is a small rider who packs a mean punch and he could dance his way up Superga tomorrow.

Prediction

The local hero to take another victory though, with Rosa to make it two wins at this race in three years!

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As I’ve said above, I think we’ll see a similar outcome to the previous edition where a smaller group will breakaway on the flat run in to fight out the race.

The real question for the day though is; where will the Diego Rosa fan club be positioned out on course?

Betting

As of yet, only the likes of Unibet are offering odds for the race. Tempted with something on Rosa for the win and top 3, and then also “Any other rider” as this covers Bilbao and Gaudu too. Nothing wild with the stakes though!

Thanks as always for reading! Who do you think will win tomorrow? Could we be in for an upset? I’ll be back on Friday with my Lombardia preview. Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

Tre Valli Varesine 2017 Preview

After missing writing a preview for Emilia and Begheli due to some other things that cropped up, I thought it was only fair to get back into the swing of things with the next Italian one-day race; Tre Valli Varesine.

This is a time of the season that I enjoy. There is something about the Italian one-day races that are really special and this one is no different. A tricky circuit finish around Varese lends itself to some aggressive and tactical racing and we could see a whole host of outcomes tomorrow.

Last year it all came back together despite several attacks in the closing 10kms and Sonny Colbrelli won a very reduced sprint, beating Uran and Gavazzi.

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Will we see a similar outcome this year?

Let’s take a look at what is in store for the riders.

The Route

Pretty much the same as previous years with the riders leaving Saronno and completing almost 80km before they reach Varese and the traditional lap finish.

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Credit goes to @LasterketaBurua for the two main profiles I’ll be using today. Go check them out on Twitter and thank Ricky and Rafaelle!

The key part of the day is obviously the circuit in Varese that they will face 9 times. You can view an interactive profile of it here.

An undulating parcours, there are two important tests that the riders will face.

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First up is the short 1km (at 7.3%) climb. Due to its proximity near the start of the circuit it is hard for any winning moves to be made here, but it can be used to put the strain on the opposition. It is certainly tough enough though that some riders from several of the strong teams can breakaway here and not be seen again.

Once over the climb, the riders face a mixed-bag of descents and flat before they reach the final 4km.

These areas of flat often see an attack made, but only for the rider to gain 30m or so and be reeled in. Another will go, but the same will happen again! It is similar to the climb in the sense that a move could escape here but it would require either the right number of teams represented, or that the chasing “peloton” behind is actually only 8-10 riders big and no one wants to work together.

More often than not though, the race is decided by the final drag.

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With the steepest ramps coming right at the bottom, riders normally attack the final turn coming off of the descent so that they can be the first into the climb. This is what Nibali did rather brilliantly in 2015 on his way to victory.

I hope you didn’t get motion sickness after watching that!

Gaps can be made on the ascent but you need to be a very strong rider to maintain them if there is a concerted effort behind to chase. The one thing that does aid the solo rider is that things are very strung out from the bottom so it is hard for help to come from behind.

Anything that is brought back though then leaves the group open to counter-attacks again as the road then flattens out going into the final kilometre.

If things do stick together we’re most likely to see a group of no more than 20 riders contest a reduced bunch sprint.

How will the race pan out?

It beats me – this is arguably the most stacked start list this race has had in a long time, which certainly throws a few proverbial spanners in the works. There are several World Tour squads here who bring very strong teams and a selection of riders that can compete in differing scenarios.

Looking at the past three years you might think that a reduced bunch sprint is the most likely option.

Yet, given that it has happened 6 out of the last 9 editions, a solo rider winning is statistically the most likely outcome. However, with the much stronger teams here, then in theory it will be very hard for someone to stay away on their own.

The only way this can happen is if the race is ridden very aggressively from 3 or 4 laps out and the peloton is really stretched out going into the final circuit.

However, I think a group getting away early (i.e. before the last lap) to contest the finish or a reduced bunch sprint are the more likely options. Of course, with the former option we could see a solo victor!

Trying to cover my back as much as possible here 😉.

Names to look out for

Like always I’ll only suggest a few names to look out for as you and I could be here for a while otherwise!

Tom Dumoulin.

Superb in the time trial at the World’s he will come here full of confidence. With that race being his main target for the end of the season, there is a chance he could take his foot off the gas here. Unlikely! With Lombardia not too far away, he could well test his legs here. Given his incredible power at the moment, he is someone who could attack out of a small bunch  and stay away to the line. For that to happen he would need some luxury team-mates behind to mark everyone out and I guess he is in luck as he has just that!

Steve Cummings.

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His recent win in Toscana was a big middle finger to the British World Champs selectors, a course that he potentially could have animated in the finale. With Sbaragli most likely to be involved in any reduced sprint, then Cummings will be given the nod to mark out any attacks and make the race aggressive himself in the closing. I said above that the flat sections during the descent are ideal for a strong rider to attack an incohesive group; what I meant to say was that it looks ideal Cummings territory. He’s one of the few in the peloton who I think could get away and make it stick!

Davide Villella.

The Italian was very strong in these races towards the end of last season and I’m sure he’ll be looking to be at the same level this year. Giro dell’Emilia was his first race back after his KOM success at the Vuelta. Working for Uran, he put in a fairly solid performance and the favour might be returned here. Packing a fairly solid sprint from a small group, he could surprise.

Michael Valgren.

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Attacking in both of his recent races, the Danish rider seems to have carried some good form into the end of the season. Given his ability to cope with the short climbs, the course tomorrow looks ideal for him. Astana arrive without a sprinter so they will have to animate the race to make it successful and I think Valgren presents one of their better chances. A powerful rider, he should be able to churn up the final drag!

Marco Canola.

I have to include a PCT Italian rider in here somewhere! Canola has performed very consistently over the past few weeks, finishing no lower than 16th in all of the races he has competed in during September – not bad. He won the hilly Limburg Classic earlier this year, along with a tricky circuit stage in the Tour of Utah. He’ll probably have a tough task winning against the opposition here, but stranger things have happened.

Prediction

I think we’ll see the World Tour teams try to make this as an aggressive race and we’ll see the toughest Tre Valli Varesine in a while. Consequently, it will be unlikely that the bunch will be held together enough for a reasonable sized bunch sprint of 20 riders. There is a chance we could see 5 or so riders come to the line but I don’t think it will be any more than that.

Nibali looked exceptional in Emilia, but I think the drag up to the finish is suited much more to the new TT World Champion.

Dumoulin to attack and manage to hold off everyone behind thanks to Matthews marking anyone trying to follow as they won’t want to take the Aussie to a sprint.

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Betting

Not sure who else has prices, but in the UK SkyBet do.

1pt EW Dumoulin @ 33/1

0.75pt EW Valgren @ 66/1

 

Thanks as always for reading and as usual, any feedback is greatly appreciated! Who do you think will win and how? I think we’ll be in for a very exciting race! Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

Men’s Road Race World Championships Preview – Bergen 2017

After finding success on the rolling course in Richmond back in 2015, Peter Sagan went on defend his title a year later in Doha; winning a reduced bunch sprint.

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Can the Solvakian make it an unprecedented three wins on the trot tomorrow? Let’s take a look at what is in store for the riders.

The Route

Long, at a total of 276.5km! But that is what you would expect for the World Championships.

The riders don’t actually start in Bergen, instead, they’ll start in the town of Rong before heading south along a 40km stretch of exposed road and reaching the finish town. Thankfully or not, depending on what way you look at it, the wind forecast is for it to be very low so we won’t see any echelon action. Much to my disgust!

BergenRR Circuit

 

You can view the interactive version of my profile here.

If you’ve watched any of the action over the past few days then you’ll be familiar with the circuit above.

11 laps will certainly wear down the riders legs, with the total elevation gain for the day being roughly 3500m.

The key focal point for attacks over the past few races has been Salmon Hill and the small climb that comes just before it.

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Taken as a whole it is 3.7km at 4% which doesn’t sound much, but after 200km+ of racing then it certainly can cause some splits. The stronger climbers will be looking to put in their stinging attacks on the steeper ramps; either just before the “top” of the uncategorised climb, or halfway through Salmon Hill. This is where big gaps can be made.

The issue though is that after the summit there are still 10.4km of the course remaining. Any riders that make it away need to work well to ensure that they stay away from the chasers, especially with the final few kilometres being into a head wind.

I’m not going to bore you with any more route analysis though, as we’ve had plenty of that this week already. Instead, I’m going to jump straight into trying to figure this race out and what possible scenario we might see unfold tomorrow afternoon.

How do you stop Sagan?

A question many teams and riders ask themselves throughout the season but it is once again the case here.

Option 1 – Outsprint Him.

With a lot of nations bringing a rider who get involved in a reduced sprint at the end of the day, then there is a chance we might see it held all together to the line. Sagan is obviously fast in these types of situations, especially after a tough days racing. However, he has shown at MSR this year that he is certainly beatable.

Option 2 – Drop Him.

A tough task but some squads will certainly try it. If strong teams such as the Dutch, Belgians and French make constant attacks on Salmon Hill in the closing 80kms, then Sagan might get tired out trying to cover everything. That is of course assuming that he won’t have any team support left to work for him. The pace needs to be high from far out for that to happen though.

Option 3 – Refuse to work, hope your rider gets lucky.

We saw this recently in Quebec where no one wanted to co-operate with Sagan after he attacked in the closing stages. If they did, then there was a good chance they would have caught the group ahead, consequently fighting it for the win. They didn’t though and Sagan just shrugged and moved on. Although this is less likely to happen tomorrow as the Slovak will try to chase everything, it still might just do so. It is a very Sagan thing after all!

Option 4Illness

Bilogical warfare is probably a step too far, but there are rumours flying around on Twitter that he is currently suffering from illness and hasn’t been on the bike in a few days. I’m sure this was the case last year and has been for a few of his other races that he has went on to win. All mind games? We’ll just have to wait and see tomorrow.

Option 4 – Accept defeat.

He can follow almost any rider on the climb and he can match any rider here in a sprint after 200+km. Is there any point in trying?

Of course, and I think we won’t see him take a third title!

Definitely.

Maybe.

Possibly.

Ah who am I kidding, he probably will.

Contenders or Pretenders? The infamous Five

Like with my women’s preview, I’m only going to name a handful of riders here who I think could go well in a variety of situations. So once again apologies if I have not named someone you were hoping for; repeating the names you’ll no doubt have heard of a lot over the week such as Kwiatkowski, Matthews and Gaviria doesn’t appeal to me much!

Alex(bae)ey Lutsenko.

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The first punt I had committed to for this race and it was always going to happen, it was just a matter of time. If you’ve followed the blog over the past year and a half since its inception then you’ll know I have a lot of admiration for the talented Kazakh. He was strong at the start of the year; finishing a very respectable third in Dwars. Yet, it is his recent form at the Vuelta that impressed me most. He was super strong there to get a stage win and a second place finish on two tough breakaway days. The climb tomorrow is probably on his limit if the likes of Dumoulin go crazy in the final lap, but he has the quality to be close and he might infiltrate an earlier move. Will the former U23 champion take the step up?

Petr Vakoc.

My second punt for the race and another rider that was always going to be backed. A brute of a rider, he hasn’t taken as big a step forward in 2016 as I was expecting and hoping for but his performances have been solid. To win he’ll most likely have to go early and hope to be there if the strong climbers attack from behind. Packing a solid sprint from a very reduced group, he might fancy his chances in an 8 rider gallop.

Now that the two “long-term” selections are out of the road, it is time to move on to some other riders who I think could do well. Some are certainly more obscure than others.

Danny Van Poppel.

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Yup, you read that right. The Dutch have been on fire at these Championships so far and I wouldn’t be surprised to see them get a medal again tomorrow. Dumoulin is obviously one of their stronger guys and will be attacking early but if it all comes back for a 40 rider sprint then Van Poppel has a good outside chance. He’s impressed me a lot this season and certainly seems to becoming a more versatile rider. On the short bergs he can follow some of the stronger one-day riders, as was highlighted at BinckBank, but it will be interesting to see how it goes tomorrow. Given the instruction to not waste any energy at all and wait for a sprint, will he get his chance to shine?

Tony Gallopin.

A strong one-day racer, he arrives here in good form after taking two top-10s in Canada which were swiftly followed up by a second place in Wallonie. In terms of career he should be hitting his peak soon and given how strong he looked at San Sebastian in July, I think he’s in for a good couple of years; he just needs some luck. His last two appearances at the World’s have seen him finish 7th in 2015 and 6th in 2014. This course tomorrow in theory suits him very well, and packing a fast sprint he could fancy a small group of favourites battling it out at the line. It will be interesting to see how France approach tomorrow in general, with no “proper sprinter” they will no doubt be attacking throughout the day and making the race tough. Something that will help Gallopin a lot!

Daryl Impey.

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Last man on the list, Impey has had a fairly solid season in support of other riders at Orica. However, when presented with his own chances he has taken them, including a reduced bunch sprint in Catalunya earlier this year. A rider who’s climbing is very hit or miss, he showed some great form in the final week of the Tour, supporting Simon Yates deep into some of the stages. If he has those kind of legs tomorrow then he could be a real dark horse!

Prediction

We’ll see some fairly serious attacks around 50km out as teams try to make the race tough and ensure we don’t see a sprint. This will thin the bunch out going into the final 30km and the penultimate climb of Salmon Hill. Much like the women’s race, a smaller group will get away here but will be brought back due to a lack of cohesion ahead. This will then allow some riders to escape on the run-in before we hear the bell. A lot of the strong teams will be represented and with no impetus from behind, they stay away to the line.

Tony Gallopin to, erm, gallop home and take the win from a 7 rider sprint!

finish low

#SuperGallopinFantastic

Betting

Certainly a day to spread some punts around!

0.25pt EW Lutsenko @ 100/1 (would take 80s)

0.25pt EW Vakoc @ 200/1 (would take 150s)

0.25pt EW Impey @ 200/1 (would take 150s)

0.5pt EW Van Poppel @ 80/1 (would take 66s)

1pt EW Gallopin @ 66/1 (would take 50s)

 

Thanks as always for reading! Who do you think will win tomorrow? Could we see an upset on the cards, or will it be the cream rising to the top? Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

Women’s Road Race World Championships Preview – Bergen 2017

After some strong performances in the individual time trial on Tuesday, the rider’s focus now switches to the road race on Saturday afternoon.

Last year in Doha we had a large bunch sprint that was won rather surprisingly by Denmark’s Amalie Dideriksen.

Cycling: 89th Road World Championships 2016 / Women Elite

Pre-race favourite Wild could only manage second, with Finland’s Lepistö getting up for third. Two of those three are here this year, with Wild as a reserve for the Dutch team, will they be up at the pointy end come the finish tomorrow?

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

The Route

The women will face 8 laps of the circuit around Bergen, totalling 152.8km; which makes it one of the longer races the peloton will face all year.

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As for the circuit itself, it can be described as rolling with very little flat all day. Taken in isolation it is not too difficult but it can be made hard by some aggressive racing.

BergenRR Circuit

You can view my interactive profile for the circuit here.

The most challenging part of the route is of course “Salmon Hill”; I guess the sponsors wanted to get something out of the week! However, the road does ramp upwards before then and the climb can be taken as a 3.7km test.

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It’s not steep like the climb we had in the time trial, but it is long enough to cause some splits in the bunch. Will a rider try to take advantage of some of the sharp ramps to get an advantage?

With 10km to go from the crest, it could be tough for someone to stay away though. A small group definitely has a better chance.

Conversely, those final 10km allow for a chase to get organised and reel it in. “Organised” is the key word there though! In both the road races today, the chase was not coherent enough and the escapees held on for victory. Will something similar happen tomorrow? I’ll guess we’ll have to wait and see…

How will the race pan out – Dominant Dutch?

As is often the case when we arrive at World Championship’s the Dutch bring a formidable team. We saw this last year when they had a superstar squad in support of Kirsten Wild, but one that would be allowed to chase an opportunity if it arose. Unfortunately it didn’t work out last year so they’ll be hoping to bring another World title home this time.

I could feasibly make an argument for all of their starting 8 riders to win the race, although some would be more farfetched than others. Nonetheless, it just highlights their immense strength in-depth. I’m not sure they go into the race with an out-and-out leader; possibly Vos might be kept back for a bunch sprint. But then again, Blaak or Pieters could fill that role if the 3x-former champion is allowed to do what she wants. Van Vleuten and van der Breggen were exceptional in the time trial and both clearly are in great form. I imagine they will be the prime attackers, hoping to split the race up on Salmon Hill. Can anyone follow?

I think if we see a group escape in the closing laps that has 2 Dutch riders within it then that will be game over and the winner will come from there.

The one reason I say this is because no other team has an Ellen van Dijk. She is incredible and can bring back strong breakaways herself by setting a strong tempo at the head of the peloton.

There are a few teams who might hope for a 40-50 rider sprint, such as Denmark, USA and maybe Australia, but I don’t think anyone has the firepower to bring back a strong move on their own. They’ll need a lack of cohesion up ahead, and a lot of co-operation behind for that to happen.

The next to consider is that if the smaller group will come to the line and sprint it out, or if it will fragment and split again. That of course all depends on numbers and team representatives, but I think it will split into a smaller group which will battle it out for the win.

Possible Contenders

Aside from the Dutch team, there are plenty of riders who will love the route tomorrow but the following list won’t be excessive, so apologies if I have missed someone you were looking/hoping for.

Coryn Rivera.

CorynRiveraAlfredoBinda2017-800x528 (1)

The US pocket rocket has had a great first year racing for a European team. She’s proven that she is much more than a fast sprinter though as her climbing has developed a lot. In the Ardennes she was able to follow the best until the very final stages of the race. I don’t think the US team will be banking on it coming back for a big bunch sprint tomorrow so both Rivera and Guarnier will be given license to attack. If the Sunweb rider does come to the line in a small group, she has to be the favourite.

Hannah Barnes.

The British team have one of the favourites in the shape of Deignan but her form is unknown just now after having her appendix removed. I think they’ll ride an aggressive race and hope to get two riders into any strong move that goes off the front. With everyone marking Deignan, then Barnes could make the final selection. She performed above expectations in the TT so she is in good shape. Not as strong a climber as some of the others, she won’t be too far off the pace but will hope that the final selection will have gone before Salmon Hill. With a fast sprint after a tough day, she is an outsider to keep an eye on!

Pauline Ferrand Prevot.

Former World Champion and arguably the rider with one of the best season’s of all time back in 2014/2015 when she held 3 separate World titles, the Frenchwoman has a good chance of going well again here. A pretty uneventful season due injury and illness; she’s only managed 8 race days so far; picked up again at Plouay where she finished second to Deignan. Since then she has went on to podium at the mountain bike Worlds and could really have challenged Neff for gold if it had not been for an untimely puncture. She can climb and with a fast sprint from a small group, she won’t be afraid to bring it to the line.

Shara Gillow.

A rider who I have grown fond of over this season (it has absolutely nothing to do with her being in my season long fantasy team, I promise), the Aussie can climb with some of the best in the world on her day. I expect their squad to be attacking all day and Gillow is certainly someone who can follow attacks on the climbs. She lacks any kind of sprint really, but she makes up for that by being a strong time trial rider. Something I’m sure Carlton will remind you of tomorrow! If we get a group out front and she times her attack perfectly, it might just stick. Look out for her and her now standard snood off the front!

Leah Kirchmann.

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Another one of those riders who is a solid climber but also packs a good sprint. She recorded a top 15 back at Liege in the Spring which highlights her ability on the short climbs. However, she might find it difficult to follow some of the strong climbers if they go crazy on Salmon Hill. Nonetheless, if she can remain close to the front and there is some type of regrouping then she is a danger in the sprint.

As I mentioned above, of course there are several riders who could contest but I’ve only cherry-picked a handful for the preview. It should be an open race but I don’t think the winner will be a “surprise”.

Prediction

The Dutch to have ‘too many cooks’ and with everyone expecting them to chase down every move as the strongest team; Pauline Ferrand Prevot to take advantage and win her second road title, signalling that her career is back on track!

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Van der Breggen to pick up her second second of the week, with Barnes coming home just behind them in third.

Betting

Three selections from me to cover a few options; PFP as my favourite, Barnes as an outsider, then Gillow as a solo arrival. I’ve already backed Barnes at 300/1 but that price is long gone. I think the 66/1 available is still worth a punt though.

1.5pt EW PFP @ 20/1 with Ladbrokes/Coral (would take 16s)

0.75pt EW Barnes @ 66/1 with SkyBet/PP/BF (would take 50s)

0.5pt WIN Gillow @ 150/1 with Bet365 (would take 100s)

 

Thanks as always for reading! Who do you think will win tomorrow? Can anyone outsmart the Dutch team? Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

Men’s Individual Time Trial World Championships Preview – Bergen 2017

Last year saw Tony Martin smash the opposition on a pan-flat course in Doha but it is very unlikely he’ll manage to defend his title this time round. In fact, the second (Kiryienka) and third (Castroviejo) finishers from 2016 have a better chance than the German.

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Will any of them be able to match the big favourite for the event Tom Dumoulin? Let’s have a look at what is in store for the riders over the afternoon.

The Route

The riders will complete almost two full laps of what has been known as the “short” circuit for the TTs that we’ve had over the previous days.

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The laps are rolling but not overly difficult and the riders should be able to maintain a fairly high-speed of roughly 50km/h or so.

The biggest test they will face out on the route is a staggered climb that starts at roughly 5km into the day.

Bergen Short Lap Climb

At an average of only 3.5% for 1.5km in length, the more traditional TT riders shouldn’t lose too much time here. With that being said though, some of the steeper ramps involved in the climb do allow those who are less gravitationally challenged to gain a bit of an advantage. Nonetheless, it is one for the power riders to attack and it shouldn’t make a massive difference either way unless someone is on a bad day.

Tomorrow though is all about the final 3.5km which have been well documented about in the run up to these Championships with the ascent up Mount Floyen.

Mount Floyen

Tough!

So tough in fact that we will inevitably see bike changes in the special bike exchange zone just before the climb itself.

At an average of 9.3% for just over 3km this test will put to bed the hopes of Martin etc who are far too heavy to go close on this type of route. It is similar to the Mont Brouilly TT that we had in Paris Nice earlier in the year, but the closing climb is even harder here in Bergen.

Weather Watch

With the riders starts being so spread out due to the lap nature of the course, Lutsenko is first off at 13:05 while Martin starts at 17:03, then changing weather could no doubt have a massive impact in the outcome of the race.

You can view all of the start times here.

Once again, varying reports suggest different things, but we are sure to get rain at some point throughout the day.

Screen Shot 2017-09-19 at 19.11.19
Source: Yr.no

After a fairly accurate forecast for today Yr.no suggests that the riders will be in for consistent rainfall throughout the day, but it will pick up more for the riders who are starting their efforts towards the end of the 3rd wave and those off at the start of the 4th wave.

The “big hitters” going off at close to 17:00 might not have the same levels of rain fall but they will have to contend with a wet route.

That is of course assuming that the forecast is close to being correct!

Ultimately though, I don’t think the weather will play too big of a part in the outcome of the race, with the rider’s legs doing the talking so to say.

Bike Change Kerfuffle

One of the hotly debated topics in the run of to tomorrow’s race is if rides will change from a TT bike to their road machines to tackle Mount Floyen.

Such a fuss was kicked up that the UCI have designated a specific “bike exchange zone” that is 20m long and is located just before the start of the climb. If you have watched any of the action over the past few days, you’ll recognise the section as the slight cobbled drag the riders have had to contest with.

The whole thing doesn’t sit right with me if I’m being honest. Yes, they should be allowed to change a bike if they want to, but there shouldn’t be a specific zone. Furthermore, by the sound of it riders will have a mechanic waiting road-side to make their change more seemless. In my opinion if a rider is wanting to change bike then it should still have to be taken from the roof of their following car. But hey, what do I know!

There is also a lot of confusion as to the rules that are to be followed in the exchange zone. I’m sure if you have been on social media today then you will have stumbled across videos of riders practicing their change-overs. In most videos you will see the riders get a 10-15m push from their mechanics to get them up to speed again.

Except, this is not allowed according to the UCI. I have a feeling that it might be a bit of a kerfuffle tomorrow!

If there is no pushing allowed, is that running and pushing, or just a static push? The latter isn’t so bad but it will need a UCI commissaire there to make sure everyone is doing it properly. Will they have the guts to DSQ a favourite if they make an improper change? I guess we’ll just have to wait and find out…

Contenders

Tom Dumoulin.

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On paper this is the Dutchman’s race to lose. He arrives here as arguably one of the freshest riders in the bunch, with this TT being his main focus in the second part of the season. He’ll be one of the fastest over the rolling section and the short climb where he can push out a lot of Watts is ideal too. We witnessed what he can do on an uphill at the Giro and more specifically with his win on Oropa. Can he handle the pressure of being the favourite?

Chris Foome.

The likely contender who is having his best ever season. Following on from winning the Tour, the Brit went on to clinch the Vuelta with a rather dominant performance, completing an unprecedented Tour-Vuelta double. The craziest thing is that when finishing the Vuelta he didn’t even look that tired, which is really ominous for his competitors here. Furthermore, a 31km effort isn’t going to add much to his current fatigue levels so he has as good a chance as any.

Rohan Dennis.

The Aussie looked very strong in the TTT and was putting his team-mates into the red which could have potentially cost them the title. The shorter length of the TT is great for Dennis who is the best short TTer in the world, a title awarded by me! However, although he is a good climber, I think he might struggle on Floyen. Furthermore, he is known to go out too fast and if he does that tomorrow, then he will go backwards on the final climb.

Vasil Kiryienka.

World Championships - Mens TT

Champion back in 2015, he is a rider who always turns up and performs on the big stage at the Worlds. A diesel engine, TTs of over 30km are good for him as he only seems to properly get going after 20km! One of Sky’s super domestiques, he will no doubt crush the opening two laps of the route but I’m intrigued to see how he goes on Floyen. He shouldn’t lose too much time, but compared to some of the better climbers he might struggle. Will he have enough experience to see him through?

Primoz Roglic.

One of the breakthrough riders of 2016, the Jumbo man has taken a step up in his performances this year. A very strong all-rounder he could be great tomorrow. However, his form has been a bit hit or miss lately and he did struggle at the Worlds last season. A year on though will he cope with the pressure better? I’m not so sure and I think he will fall flat. I’m ready to be pleasantly surprised though.

Jonathan Castroviejo.

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He is my dark horse for the podium and possibly better. Although saying he is a dark horse is unfair but that is what he is according to the bookmaker’s odds! His performances at the World’s in the past three years have been 10th/4th/3rd; a nice bit of progression and similar to Garfoot in the women’s race. Furthermore, he has shown form in longer TTs such as his Euro Champs win last year and 4th place at the Olympics. It was his 3rd last year on a completely flat course that really impressed me. Given his smaller build, he should in theory struggle on the flat and go better on the hills. Tomorrow’s route looks a lot better for him than last year! His build up to the race hasn’t been great with a bit of a lacklustre performance in Britain but he is a classy rider who has to be given some respect.

Jungels, Kelderman, Bodnar, Campenaerts and Küng will all be fighting for the top 10.

Prediction

I nailed my colours to the mast almost a week ago; Froome to win.

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As I’ve said above, he looked unbelievably fresh at the end of the Vuelta and if he has carried that form, which I think he will have, then he should win here.

Dumoulin to follow him home with Castroviejo to equal last year’s result in third!

Betting

I tweeted this out a few days ago;

Screen Shot 2017-09-19 at 20.31.51

I would say that he is still back-able at the 4/1 or even 7/2 you an get in some places. So I’ll play up some of the profits from today’s women’s race..

Froome 4pts WIN @ 4/1 (with William Hill)

Castroviejo 1pt EW 125/1 with Bet365 (would take 80/1 or even 66/1)

He is just so massively overpriced – falls into the value bet like Garfoot today.

 

Thanks as always for reading! Who do you think will win tomorrow? Will we see the expected dual between Froome and Dumoulin? Or will another rider cause an upset?

Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

Women’s Individual Time Trial World Championships Preview – Bergen 2017

After the somewhat of a shock win from Sunweb on Sunday in the team effort, our focus now turns to the individual race against the clock and riders are back to riding for their country, not trade teams!

The power course in 2016 saw Amber Neben of the USA take a surprise win, beating Van Dijk and Garfoot into the silver and bronze medal positions respectively.

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The 42 year-old is here to defend her title but there are plenty of others looking to take it from her. First though, let’s have a look at what is in store for the riders.

The Route

The women will complete just one “long lap” around Bergen, which is quite disappointing if I’m honest. Especially when you consider that the U23 men completed a “long” and “short” lap for their event today!

Anyway, as per usual I’ve made a Strava/Veloviewer profile of the route that you can view here.

WorldsWCITTWOmen

A fairly flat and not overly technical opening 5.6km will allow the power riders in the peloton to open up the taps and hopefully get into a rhythm. However, after that they will then face the toughest part of the course where that “rhythm” might get thrown out of the window!

Rolling Section Women's TT

Lots of small drags and fast descents for the riders to tackle, the term “rollercoaster route” describes this section perfectly. Averaging 2.7% for the 4.4km it isn’t too tough and the more traditional TTers would hope not to lose too much. Well, that is until we get to the climb that has put to bed some of the contenders chances over the past few days of action.

Paradis2

A short but very sharp climb, it is important to pace it and not go too deep. The lighter riders will hope to make up some time here but given its length, they won’t be able to make up much. If only the women finish on Mount Floyen too!

The reason pacing is important, is because the riders still have more than half of their ride to complete.

That closing 11kms actually average -1% so it can be a place for riders to gain a lot of time if they nail the descents and put the power down on the flat. We saw this in the women’s TTT with Sunweb gaining roughly 15 seconds on Boels over that section. Can Van Dijk do it again?!

Weather Watch

Over the past few days it has hardly rained. We had a smattering during the women’s junior TT earlier but in the city that is apparently one of the wettest in the world it has been a lot less than expected.

However, that might change tomorrow.

Saying that different forecasts have different outlooks. You can’t trust meteorologists these days!

So I’ll go off of Yr.no (A Norwegian site) which hopefully should be the most accurate*…

*famous last words.

Screen Shot 2017-09-18 at 17.41.00
Source : YR.no

It seems that we’re in for another sprinkling of rain in the afternoon, which in theory should affect those late on in the order.

Speaking of which, Lauren Stephens is first down the ramp at 15:35 local time, with defending champion Neben off last at 16:54.

You can view the full start list and times here.

Contenders

I’m really not sure what to make of this race tomorrow. We have a whole host of riders who in theory could compete on this course, but it all depends on their form!

Lauren Stephens.

First down the ramp, the American will no doubt set the fastest time early on but it could be one that might stand a while. She’s been very impressive so far this season, taking 3 wins to her name, including two-time trials. Possibly benefiting from better weather, can the strong all-rounder shock the peloton?

Anna van der Breggen.

World Championships - Womens TT

The rider who could potentially knock Stephens off that early hot-seat, the Dutchwoman has had a great season; winning a famous Ardennes Triple. Her efforts against the clock have been solid, but she’s failed to win a TT. The course tomorrow suits her as a strong all-rounder but I think she might prefer a few more hills.

We’ll then have to wait a bit for riders to challenge the times of the two above. There will be some who might come close but I can’t see anyone beating them for almost another hour…

Annemiek van Vleuten.

The bookmaker’s favourite for this race “Vleuty” has been incredibly strong this season, bouncing back form her horror crash in Rio last year. Everything she’s touched recently has turned to gold pretty much, it has been a truly remarkable effort. She will arrive her full of confidence after beating Van Dijk in the recent Boels Rental Tour and she has every chance to do that again. My one doubt about her is that as she has been so strong for a large percentage of the year, is she starting to tire now, while others have managed their peaks a lot better?

Ellen Van Dijk.

The third Dutch rider/potential winner on the start list, she was instrumental in helping Sunweb to the TTT title on Sunday. A powerhouse on the bike, the course looks almost ideal for her. She is one of the last riders down the start ramp so she’ll be hoping any rain holds off until after she has finished, but she will be up there fighting either way. I imagine she will be satisfied with nothing less than Rainbow at the end of the day.

Amber Neben.

Last year’s somewhat of a shock winner, we could well be in for another surprise again. I personally don’t know much about her as I only started following the women’s side of the sport a few years ago, but she apparently can put out some serious watts. At 42 years old though, surely this is a step too far? Then again, winning your first Worlds at 41 kind of negates that a bit…

Olga Zabelinskaya.

10-08-2016 Giochi Olimpici Cronometro Elite Donne; 2016, Russia; Zabelinskaia, Olga; Rio De Janeiro;

A strong TT rider with a “dubious” racing history, she always seems to go fairly well at the big events. Her form this season has been poor though and she disappointed at the Euro Champs. However, given her ability to surprise then who knows what we’ll get from her tomorrow!

Katrin Garfoot.

Not too far off the pace last year, where she somewhat avoided the Haughey Curse and managed to take third; she will obviously be hoping to go better this time round. Like Van Dijk, this course looks great for the naturalised Aussie who can manage on the climbs but also put the power down on the flat. She has been slowly building some form and a third place during the Tour of Norway is promising. Watch out for her!

Others to look out for to be in and around the top 10 include Villumsen, Brennauer, and Duyck.

Prediction

Hmmm, I’m still really torn on this one.

The course suits a rider who can climb fairly well but is strong enough on the flat to put the power down. Before the Championships started I had this down as van Vleuten’s to win, but after watching the opening few days of racing I’m not so sure. In fact, I’ve changed my mind and I think Van Dijk has the best chance for the Dutch team.

EuropeanChampionships_Ellen

The European Champion to add a World title to her collection!

Watch out for Garfoot though, I think she could sneak a podium place and possibly even better…

Betting

The 7/2 available for Van Dijk to win is very tempting but I’m still not overly convinced. So to take out any “shocks” we might see, I think that the 2/1 to beat Van Vleuten offers some value.

I’m also tempted to back the Garfoot to beat Villumsen H2H at 5/4 as on this course I would have the Aussie as favourite.

I also think Garfoot is way overpriced as an outside podium contender at 22/1. As a rider who turned pro late (back in 2014) she’s since gone on and finished 11th/4th/3rd over the past three World TT competitions. Not bad. I think she’ll be close again tomorrow and has to be backed at the price.

So with all that said (including some of me talking through my logic) my punts are as follows –

3pts Van Dijk to beat van Vleuten @ 2/1 (would take 13/8)

5pts Garfoot to beat Villumsen @ 5/4 (would take at 10/11)

1pt EW Garfoot to win @ 22/1 (would back down to 14/1)

 

Thanks as always for reading and any feedback is greatly appreciated. Who do you think will win tomorrow? I think we’ll be in for an exciting and close afternoon of TT action. Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.