Volta a la Comuntiat Valenciana 2019 Stage 4 Preview: Vila-Real -> Alcala-Alcossebre

Today’s Recap

An exciting final 20 km that saw quite a few teams interested in pushing the pace on at the front of the peloton once the break was caught. There were attacks from the likes of Hermans, De Marchi and Oliveira but everything was brought back coming in to the last 2 km.  With the pace being drilled at the front by Haig and Mohoric, there was no chance for a lull in the action and a counter-attack like I thought might happen and instead we got a sprint to the line from a bunch of 40 riders.

With it strung out through the tricky chicane at 200m to go, it was Luis Leon Sanchez who opened up the sprint first, but Greg van Avermaet came almost immediately off of his wheel and around the Astana man. Matteo Trentin tried to do the same to Van Avermaet but he just didn’t have the legs to match the Olympic champion, with CCC taking their first win of the season.

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Yesterday’s stage winner did come home in second place with Sanchez rounding out the podium. There were no gaps between the first 29 riders so no cheap time gained/lost by the favourites for the race overall, so let’s have a look at what is in store for them tomorrow.

The Route

The stage that will decide the GC, the riders will face over 3200m of climbing throughout the day, with a very tricky summit finish.

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Although there are plenty of climbs early on, there is nothing that will worry the GC contenders. Once again, this will be a stage that comes down to the closing ascent, there’s no chance of anything exciting happening before then.

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Compared to this afternoon’s very consistent final climbs, the final ascent tomorrow is horribly inconsistent as you can see. It always seems to be up or down, with the gradients changing throughout. Consequently, it definitely suits a more punchy climber rather than one who prefers to sit in the saddle and ride tempo.

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The ominous warning for the steep gradients that are to come!

Oddly enough, it took until I started going through the climb on street view until I properly recognised it from a poorly paved bit of road (sad, I know), but it is the same finish that was used on Stage 5 of the 2017 Vuelta.

That day was taken by the break, but in the fight between the GC riders a group of 4 managed to distance themselves from the other contenders. Time gaps weren’t massive but it is important to remember that was at the Vuelta where almost everyone as at 100% form and fitness, whereas, there certainly won’t be that same level tomorrow.

Whether that means we’ll see bigger time gaps or the opposite, I’m unsure and we’ll only find out during the race.

How will the race pan out?

It could very well be a day for the breakaway. We saw today that Dimension Data were happy to keep the race under check, but they didn’t extend themselves too much, hoping to get some help from the other teams. Tomorrow they will know that it is unlikely Boasson Hagen will be able to keep the jersey come the end of the stage, so they might be a little less keen to chase all day. Therefore, the onus will fall on the stronger GC teams who are confident of trying to set up their rider.

Astana no doubt will take up the mantle again and they’ve certainly been the most active team on the front of the peloton this race. Movistar will more than likely chip in too, but they have been quite coy with their willingness to work so far; they might try to bluff it. UAE and Bahrain are two teams that could work as they have contenders for the stage win but again, it just depends on their approach. If a group of 6 or so riders get away who are no threat for the GC, then there is a chance that they stay away all day because with the lack of bonus seconds, there is not as much impetus to bring them back.

However, I think we’ll see plenty teams co-operate to shut things down as the incentive of getting an early season win under the belt is enough of a carrot. Peloton takes the stage 80% of the time.

Contenders

Alejandro Valverde.

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With no bonus seconds on the line, Valverde will need to distance Ion Izagirre by 9 seconds which will be no easy feat. Everyone will be looking at the world champion as this short climb is perfectly suited to his characteristics, but he’ll need to attack somewhat early as just winning the stage alone might not be enough to take the GC. A cool character, don’t expect Valverde to crack under pressure and if he is being forced to chase down attacks by his competitors then he’ll just sit up; he’s won plenty of races and will no doubt win plenty more, to not be overly bothered by missing out here. Starts as the big favourite on paper but it will be difficult for him to win because of that.

Dan Martin.

Like Valverde, Martin will be looking forward to this climb. He flew up the ascent in the TT and has been lively since then, today sticking to the world champion’s wheel like glue. A genuine contender and one that will worry Valverde, Martin packs the short climb speed and kick to seriously challenge for the stage win. A lot of his wins in the past have come on climbs similar to this and with the way UAE have started the year, they could well go on to make it a 4th victory already.

Dylan Teuns.

Rinse and repeat for the above two, Teuns will be licking his lips at this finish. Last season he built on his strong 2017 and we’re now seeing a rider who seems to be living up to that original hype when he broke onto the scene. A master on steep ascents, the constant changing nature of the climb will suit his punchy and attacking nature. Sitting only 3 seconds behind Izagirre on GC, he’ll be incredibly motivated to get a result.

Ion Izagirre.

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The “virtual” race leader in essence, I was very impressed with his opening TT – clearly he is going well. Not traditionally known for his punchy ability on the short climbs like we have tomorrow, it will be interesting to see how he copes. The one advantage for him as that Astana have a very strong team with them and they should be able to control the race. I am intrigued to see what role Bilbao takes on; whether he attacks and forces others to follow, or if he just sets a tempo that means no one can attack. I think it will be hard for Izagirre to win the stage as there will be a lot of pressure on him as the GC leader in waiting, and everyone will look to him and his team do close anything down on the climb.

Sergio Higuita.

A real outsider, but I fully expect to see an attack from the young Colombian tomorrow. With his build of a traditional mountain goat, he should be able to float up the steeper parts of the climb and given that he is over a minute down on GC; he might just be able to slip away unmarked. I’ve not seen him race much before but his results in the Trofeo’s followed up by his 6th place have been enough to warrant my attention. He’s certainly one to watch.

Prediction

No breakaway win and we get a GC battle on the final slope. I think this is the time for Dylan Teuns to take another step up in his career by taking the stage win against the strong opposition we have here, and with it the GC title.

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Betting

1.5pt WIN Teuns @ 12/1

0.5pt WIN Higuita @ 33/1

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

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

Volta a la Comunitat Valenciana 2019 Stage 3 Preview: Quart de Poblet -> Chera

Today’s Recap

The early break was caught on the final climb of the day, with Astana and Mitchelton Scott drilling the pace at the front of the bunch in the hope to distance some sprinters. Their plan worked with Groenewegen dropping off the back of the peloton, trailing them by roughly 30 seconds at the summit. His whole Jumbo Visma team dropped back to help pace him back to the bunch and things calmed down a little with around 15 km to go. However, that only lasted for a little while and things quickly sped up going into the last 5 km of the day. There was a big fight for position and it looked like Team Sky had got their timing perfect going into the final and decisive roundabout with 300m to go, but a burst of speed from Sondre Holst Enger saw Bouhanni and Trentin follow the Israel Academy rider, beating the Sky train into the corner. Trentin elbowed his way past Bouhanni so that he led coming out of it, and that would be our 1-2 on the day, with the Frenchman running out of road in his attempt to come around the current European Champion.

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Swift recovered his sprint a little and rewarded his team’s efforts by rounding out the podium in third.

With a punchy route on the cards tomorrow, it will be unlikely we’ll see any of the guys who were in the top 10 today up there again until the final stage. So let’s have a look at what is in store for the riders on stage 3.

The Route

A saw-toothed profile with 3200m of climbing throughout the day, the organisers have managed to find the fairly challenging day in the saddle without having the riders traverse any mountains.

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Despite the categorised and uncategorised climbs early on, the stage will more than likely be decided by the last 20km.

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The opening climb isn’t too tough, averaging a very consistent 5.7% gradient for 4.16 km. Without any steep ramps it will be hard for anyone to make gaps here, instead, we’ll more than likely see a battle of attrition with riders going out the back and not the front.

A quick descent follows before the longer but more shallow, last climb of the day.

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Again, it is not an overly difficult climb so the proper mountain goats will find it difficult to make much of a difference, while the puncheurs will be licking their lips in the hope of hanging on. Once over the summit, there are still a tricky 2.5km to navigate before the finish line.

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As you can see, those final 2.5 km are along quite a twisty and narrow single-track road. It is possible that if someone or a small group of people get a gap then they could be difficult to bring back because it will be difficult to organise a chase on that road and in the short time frame they will have.

The final 500m are uphill at an average gradient of 6%, which should make it ideal for the puncheurs. Also in typical Spanish fashion, like today, the finish isn’t exactly easy either…

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Having to make a quick left then right, I’m sure the riders will be glad that it is somewhat uphill as this would be complete chaos otherwise. Once again, given that there is 100m or less coming out of the final turn, it is imperative to be at the head of the race coming into that chicane. In fact, I’ll say whoever leads into the chicane will win the stage. Take note any pros/teams who happen to be reading this…

How will the stage pan out?

If this stage was after what we’re getting on Saturday, this could well have been a day for the breakaway but given the minimal gaps on GC, aside from a few riders, things should be kept together. Looking at the design of the stage, it seems as if the Spanish organisers had their new World Champion in mind as they’ve built a course that is tailor-made for him. I think that everyone else in the peloton will know that too so there will be a lot of pressure on the Movistar team to keep it together.

The selectiveness of the race all depends on how aggressive the closing 20kms of the race are ridden. If we see a couple of strong teams come and set a relentless pace on the two climbs, then we might have a group of 30-40 riders reaching that 2.5km to go banner within relative contact with each other. We could even see a smaller group but I don’t think the gradients are tough enough for it to be incredibly selective, then again, it is early season so who knows.

Do the puncheurs make it? If the climbs are taken at a steadier pace then there is a good chance that the likes of Boasson Hagen, Van Avermaet and even Trentin could make the finale.

With no bonus seconds on offer at the line, a GC rider will need to create a gap here to gain some time on their rivals. It will be difficult for one of the main contenders to get away but a team having options will certainly help, and maybe their “second tier” rider might manage to slip under the radar on the tough to control finish.

In fact, that’s exactly what I expect to happen: a late attack in those closing 2.5 kms from one or a group of riders, that then sticks to the finish. So who could we see try to slip away?

A trio to watch

Rui Costa.

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Often one to start his season strongly, the former World Champion produced a good TT result by his standards on the opening day of racing here. With a lot of eyes on his team-mate Martin, Costa has the ability to fly under the radar and attack in the closing kilometres. An aggressive racer when he senses an opportunity, I expect UAE to give him free rein tomorrow to go for the stage win and see what happens. He failed to take a win last year which is unlike him, so can he capitalise on some good early season form?

Pello Bilbao.

Astana have both the blessing and the curse of having a number of riders who this finish could suit, given different scenarios. It will be interesting to see who they work for but I assume they will want to give their two highest placed GC riders the best chance of winning the race overall going into the decisive stage 4. With Izagirre effectively in the race lead (as EBH won’t last on stage 4), Astana could play the card of just following some attacks tomorrow with Bilbao and see if they stick. The Basque rider has a good punchy finish on him and is clearly in decent shape at the moment with his strong opening TT.

Jesus Herrada.

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Having already tasted victory this season so far with his win at the Trofeo Ses Salines, Herrada will be hoping to double up tomorrow. The Spaniard certainly seems to enjoy the opening part of the season as he was absolutely flying at this stage last year and appears to be in similar shape this time round. As a rider from Cofidis, there is a bit of a stigma that he won’t be an immediate threat so he might not be chased down immediately. Not an ideal thing to do when he’s in good form as he will be very difficult to bring back on a punchy finish.

Prediction

Small group escape in the closing 2.5 km and we see Pello Bilbao (a classic blog favourite) take the win. Potentially setting up a good tilt at the overall title.

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Betting

No odds out yet but will tweet anything that tickles my fancy once we get them.

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

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

 

 

 

Volta a la Comunitat Valenciana 2019 Stage 2 Preview: Alicante -> Alicante

Today’s Recap

Well that was an enjoyable TT course to watch, with a whole mix of riders involved at the top of the order. It was Edvald Boasson Hagen who took  home the win though, with Dimension Data making most of their new BMC TT bikes and the Norwegian’s solid block of winter training.

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Izagirre caused a little bit of an upset with a second place, showing that maybe the Astana bikes aren’t that bad in the right hands. While former TT World Champion Tony Martin rounded out the podium for his new team Jumbo Visma.

There was quite the mix of traditional TT riders, puncheurs and GC riders in the top 20 so we’re all set up for an exciting race over the coming week. First though, let’s look at what the riders will face on the road tomorrow.

The Route

A rolling day in the saddle awaits the riders as they face just over 2400m of elevation gain throughout the stage.

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None of the climbs on the route are particularly difficult but given the constant up and down nature of the terrain, teams will have to be alert at all times. The final climb of the day is a fairly consistent drag, with the percentages staying at roughly 5% throughout.

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With it cresting at 42km to go, things should come down to a sprint to the line, albeit with a possibly reduced group. Last year we saw Valverde, Fuglsang and LL Sanchez attack on the final climb, on a stage similar to tomorrow, but with longer to go to the finish and a less severe final ascent to tackle, I can’t see that happening this time.

So the stage should be decided in the final 5km and in typical Spanish racing fashion, it isn’t 100% straight forward…

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From 4.5 km to 3.5 km to go, the riders face a kilometre long drag that averages 3.4% before a descent that almost mimics the length and gradient of the climb. A short 500m (3.4% again) rise follows that sees the riders taken to the 1.5 km to go banner and another dip down. One final kicker (300m at 2.6%) takes them to about 400m to go, where you would expect a straight run to the line. Well…

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The riders will carry a lot of speed from the previous downhill onto the slight drag because it is straightforward and down a wide boulevard, so that rise will be negated somewhat. I expect a big fight to get into this roundabout first, as coming out of it there are only 200m left, almost enough for your sprinter to go full gas from; they only need a little turn coming out of the roundabout.

Sprinters

Will they all make it to the line? That all depends on how aggressively they early part of the race is attacked by the peloton and if there are a few teams that want to try to drop some of the more traditional sprinters, namely Dylan Groenewegen. It is possible, but it will take a lot of effort so I think they should more than likely all make it.

Dylan Groenewegen.

One of the best sprinters in the world last year, Groenewegen will look to hit the ground running this season. Jumbo Visma bring a strong squad to support him, with new recruit Teunissen most likely slotting in as the last man in the train. We saw today in the TT that Van Emden and Martin are strong at the moment so they should be able to try to line things out in the closing kilometres. There will be a lot of pressure on them to do so and I think we’ll see plenty of teams try to come over the top of them late on, hoping to get to the roundabout first. Saying that, Jumbo honed their skills and became one of the best “late lead-outs” in the business, only appearing at the front in the last 2km so it will be interesting to see their approach tomorrow. Groenewegen is the man to beat, but he’s certainly not unbeatable.

Alexander Kristoff.

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With Fernando Gaviria having already taken two wins to his name in Argentina, the pressure is both on and off Krisotff here. The Norwegian is said to want to shift his focus towards the classics a little bit more, but still be involved in the bunch sprints when he can. Tomorrow is a good test for him against a solid field and the slightly rolling finale should suit his strengths. For a while I didn’t think he had the top-end speed that he used to but on the final stage of the Tour last year he showed he can still mix it with the best in a flat stage.

Nacer Bouhanni.

Contract year for the fighting Frenchman and I’m expecting a good year from him. In 2018 we saw a tough teething phase for him with new management at Cofidis but by the end of the season he seemed to be coming around to their approach more, taking a much-needed win at the Vuelta. Traditionally one of the better climbing sprinters, Bouhanni should be there at the finish. His Cofidis lead-out isn’t incredible but with Claeys and Vanbilsen as the two in front of him, they could arrive late and time it right. He’s definitely one to watch.

Giacomo Nizzolo.

Can Dimension Data make it two from two? The mood in the team camp will be buoyant so there will be a lot less pressure on Nizzolo for tomorrow. The Italian had an OK 2018 but nothing extraordinary, it was good to see him just competing at the pointy end of races after his injury plagued 2017. A rider capable of a very fast sprint on his day, he’ll be able to rely on the current race leader in the lead-out, unless of course the plan is for EBH to go and double up, but I can’t see that happening as it should be for Nizzolo.

Sonny Colbrelli.

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One of the sprinters that should happily make it over the climbs, Colbrelli delivered a very strong TT this afternoon by his standards, coming home in 19th. Although the team will want to do well in the overall with Teuns, they have a squad here that can help out Colbrelli massively tomorrow and I think they are the one team that can challenge Jumbo with their sprint train speed. With Tratnik, Mohoric and Garcia they certainly have some firepower to put the Italian into position. Does he have the sprint speed to take the win?

Matteo Trentin.

The current European Champion had a pretty poor debut year with Mitchelton Scott in 2018 but that was mainly due to an injury (caused by the #HaugheyCurse) that saw him miss a lot of the season. He obviously came back to take a well fought win in Glasgow and going by his solid TT result today, his form seems to be there too. Not a team with a lot of sprint support, he will have to rely heavily on Mezgec and his own positioning but he could well surprise.

Of course there are others that could well be in the mix and we have a good field here of solid sprinters: Cort, Boudat, Lobato, Roelandts, Enger, Noppe and Lawless will all hope to try to make the top 10.

Prediction

All the pressure will be on Groenewegen and on that tricky run in I think we’ll see some chaos due to the big fight for position. One man in this field loves those types of finish so I’ll go with Nacer Bouhanni to get his season started in the best way possible.

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There might be a slight bit of #PFCL5 bias coming in to this as he’s in my season long fantasy team…

Betting

Nothing wild as it is quite a tricky stage…

1pt WIN Bouhanni @ 13/2 with Betway

Should hopefully get odds elsewhere later as SkyBet and Ladbrokes/Coral eventually had the race priced yesterday too.

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

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

 

Volta a la Comunitat Valenciana 2019 Stage 1 Preview: Orihuela -> Orihuela (ITT)

European stage racing starts this Wednesday with the Volta a la Comunitat Valenciana in Spain and the Etoile de Bessèges in France. Both races attract a solid line up of teams but given that it is early in the year, form is often difficult to figure out so we could see a surprise result. Or of course, Valverde just wins like he did last year.

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GC Overview

With a route tailor-made for him and a bonus second system in place, it does look hard for anyone to topple the reigning champion. The opening day TT will see some time gaps but they shouldn’t be too significant given the short nature of the race against the clock. Saying that, a climber who has started the season a little slowly could see the race already slip away from them if they don’t hit the ground running. Stage 2 could be a surprise GC day but it is more than likely going to be a reduced bunch sprint, with stage 3 the first day we should see some kind of selection and an uphill sprint finish that looks perfect for Valverde. The overall will be decided on the penultimate day of racing though with a tricky climb out of the town of Alcossebre where the better climbers will hope to come to the fore and steal the race title.

Valverde starts as the obvious favourite but there are certainly some strong teams here with multiple options that could put the World Champion under pressure. Firstly, we have an Astana trio of Izagirre, Sanchez and Bilbao who all should be there or thereabouts with the tough to control stage 3 a day where they will hope to utilise those numbers with aggressive racing. Likewise, UAE (Martin and Costa), Mitchelton (Yates and Haig) and Sky (Thomas and De La Cruz) have a couple of options to ensure that this isn’t a walk in the park for Valverde.

However, like night follows day, Valverde wins his “home” stage race again.

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Let’s take a look at what is in store for the riders on the opening day of racing.

The Route

An almost pan flat 10.2km individual time trial awaits the riders but they need to be wary as it does have a sting in the tail.

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The route can really be split into three sections. First, we have the largest section which comprises of the opening 7.8km and is a pure test of power.

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There are a few roundabouts on course through that section but they are few and far between, with the majority of the corners being able to be taken at full speed. This is where the stronger and more traditional TT riders will hope to build up an advantage.

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Next is a shorter section which has quite a few roundabouts and tight corners to traverse, so good technique and line choice here will be important. As the cliché goes, you probably can’t win the stage here but you can certainly lose it.

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Finally we have the closing 700m and a climb to the line. The strava/veloviewer profile that I made for the whole stage above is quite deceptive as there is no “descent” in the final climb. Instead, it is more of a false flat than anything else, so this Strava segment is a much better indicator of what it actually looks like.

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The riders will face some “cobbles” as they leave the town and onto the hill but it would be offensive to the Spring Classics to call them anything serious, more like slightly bumpy paved stones.

The steep gradients will be a bit awkward on a TT rig but nothing the riders haven’t dealt with before. At 600m it is short enough for the traditional TT riders to fancy their chances of powering up it, but it is also at a length where the climbers/puncheurs will hope to gain back some time.

I really like this TT course because there will be quite a few in the bunch that will fancy their chances due to the varied parcours.

Contenders

Tony Martin.

After a pretty disappointing two years at Katusha, by his normal standards, the German made a switch of teams in the off-season to Jumbo Visma. I for one am really looking forward to seeing what he can do this year on the Bianchi bike, as Jumbo have their TT rigs properly dialled in. A 10km TT that is mostly about pure power with a short climb at the end would be perfect for Martin of 2014/2015 but have his legs waned in recent years? We’ll just have to wait and see.

Geraint Thomas.

Last year’s Tour winner arrives here early in the season but with his main goal to try to retain his crown in France this summer, will he be at a high enough level to challenge? On paper this course is ideal for him and Team Sky are one of the top TT teams around so no doubt he’ll put in a pretty solid time but I think this will be more of a training race for him. He had a festive off-season by the looks of it with some photos of him appearing a little podgy compared to the skeletal standards of most GT contenders. Since then he has seemed to lose a some weight so he could well hit the ground running but I just can’t see it.

David De La Cruz.

Conversely, I think it will be Sky’s Spaniard that will be the best finisher for their team tomorrow. A solid debut season for the outfit last year saw De La Cruz take home the TT win in Andalucia as well as the final stage in Paris Nice. Going to the Vuelta as co-leader for the team, he will have been disappointed with the final outcome and hope to hit the ground running. His results in efforts against the clock last year were fairly consistent with him being in or around the top 15 for the majority of them. Tactically for Sky it will be useful for them to have two riders near the head of the race before we head to the more mountainous stages so I expect a good result.

Alejandro Valverde.

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Although the race isn’t technically a “home” race for the current World road champion, the opening stage in Orihuela is only a 20km cycle from his home in Murcia, so the Movistar man will want to do well here. In fact, on a training ride recently he did some reconnaissance of the final ramp so he is most definitely preparing well and taking it seriously. Normally you wouldn’t consider Valverde for a traditional TT but given the short nature, he always starts the season well, that kicker at the end, plus some friendly Spanish motos: he has a very good chance of taking the stage and holding the GC jersey throughout the race.

Nelson Oliveira.

Likewise, his Movistar team-mate will no doubt be looking forward to this hit out as well, with Oliveira starting the season well over in Mallorca; doing some good work for his squad and managing to bag a 6th place in Trofeo de Tramuntana. Still only 29, he’s very consistent in efforts against the clock with a 15th place finish being his worst result in 2018. My one concern about him is that he doesn’t win too much and he’s never tasted victory in a TT aside from his national championships. Is this the year he finally breaks that duck?

Ion Izagirre.

From one dud of a TT bike to another, Izagirre will hope that his legs can do the talking rather than the bike. Astana arrive here with a very strong squad to challenge for the overall so they need as many of them as possible to be near the top of the standings after tomorrow. Izagirre looks the most likely to challenge for the stage as he has the best TT out of the lot of them. Saying that, he wasn’t as strong last year as he had been in previous seasons so it will be interesting to see what he can pull off tomorrow.

There are a couple of Katusha riders who I’m looking forward to seeing how they fare: Tanfield and Goncalves. The former will get his first chance to show his mettle in a TT for his new WT team, while the latter on occasion has produced a great TT and the short but punchy climb should suit his characteristics. I don’t think either of them will win, but they should turn in decent performances. Van Emden is also another one who should do well but given that his climbing ability is pretty abysmal, he might lose quite a bit of time on that final rise. Tratnik steps up to the WT this year as well but how will he fare on that Merida bike? He’s one to watch for a top 10 anyway. Finally, I have my eyes on the young Portuguese rider João Rodrigues who rides for W52 and their new-found Pro Conti license. If this was La Grandissima he would be a shoe-in for a good result but it’s not, so we’ll see how he goes.

Prediction

Tony to roll back the clock? Sky to keep up that great TT record? Valverde to smash his “local” 10km? Nope, I’ll go with the Oliveira to get his first pro TT win narrative!

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After a good hit out in Mallorca, I think he’s ready to start his season proper with a bang. I’ll go for De La Cruz to finish second with Valverde in an ominous third.

Zweeler

Once again I’ll plug the blog sponsor Zweeler and their fantasy sports games. For Valenciana they have a competition open for the race, with the top 23 finishers (there are 200 teams entered already) guaranteeing themselves a return on their entrance fee. You can sign up to play it via this link here (which helps the blog out a little).

If you fancy yourself as more of a long-term prospector of cycling talent, their “1st period” game starts with Valenciana too. For that you have to pick a total of 30 riders from 6 different categories, with points being scored right through from Valenciana to the Tour of California. Due to the amount of entrants for the game so far the total prize pool has increased from €1500 to €1900, with the overall winner guaranteed a cool €350 from their €7 entry fee. If that tickles your particulars, then you can sign up to that via this link!

Betting

As for tomorrow’s stage, I’m going to keep it simple-ish as TTs early in the season can often be a bit tricky.

2pts WIN Oliveira @ 6/1 (With Betway)

1pt WIN De La Cruz @ 16/1 (With SkyBet)

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

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

 

 

Grand Prix Cycliste la Marseillaise 2019 Preview

The French cycling season begins tomorrow afternoon with the 40th edition of GP Marseillaise. A race that is often a tough one to predict with varying parcours and early season legs within the peloton, it consequently leads to some exciting cycling. Last year a strong group of 9 managed to escape over the climbs, before battling it out for the win, with Alexandre Geniez coming out victorious.

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Odd Christian Eiking and Lilian Calmejane rounded out the podium just behind the AG2R man. Will Geniez be able to double up this year? First though, let’s take a look at what is in store for the riders.

The Route

About 5 or so years ago the race suited a sprinter who could climb very well (think Sam Dumoulin), but in recent times the parcours have been made more difficult with added climbs and we’ve seen that translated onto the results sheets, with much more selective races. This year’s edition of the race was meant to be on an almost identical parcours to 2018 but due to strong winds that are expected the decisive climb in the final 50km of the race, Route des Crêtes, has been removed and replaced by the Pas d’Oullier.

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Before they get to that point though they still have the small matter of the Petit Galibier (7.6km at 3.7%) and the Col de l’Espigoulier to traverse, along with the uncategorised Col des Bastides (7.1% at 3%). Those climbs will certainly sap the legs but given the shallow gradients, it makes it much more difficult for the climbers to create some gaps.

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As you can see, there are no crazy gradients in the closing 38km so anyone looking to get away will have to go very hard on the 5.5% slopes of the Pas d’Ouillier, or on the uncategorised rises after that. With 10km of descent and flat to the line after the final hill, it is possible for a committed chase to bring things back together.

How will the race pan out?

It all depends on the attitude of the teams. Personally, I think the parcours is still capable of creating a selective race but it won’t be the pure climbers who manage to escape, instead it will the puncheurs who have a chance. Conversely though, if some of the bigger teams decide to take it easy early on then the race can be controlled over the closing 40km and a slightly reduced bunch sprint set up.

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Another factor that could see the race come down to a reduced bunch sprint is the strong wind which for the closing 20km will be cross-head wind, with the closing 5km being a pure head wind.

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The finishing boulevard will act as a funnel for the wind and make it very difficult for a small group to stay away if there is a motivated chase behind. Looking at the teams though and we don’t have many sprinters here, which might just be enough to entice a strong group away made up of riders from the bigger teams and that be that for the day. As you can probably tell, I’m struggling to decide what will happen!

Hmm, I think the forced change of parcours will see this race return to what it was like a few years ago, with a reduced bunch sprint deciding the day.

Contenders

Sam Dumoulin.

Former winner of this race, the Frenchman would expect to make the selection tomorrow. Entering the twilight of his career, he doesn’t win very often but is consistent in the French Cup races and consequently that makes him a danger man. The AG2R squad is made up of competent climbers so they should have plenty of numbers to control things at the finish. I am intrigued to see though if his team-mate Venturini makes the split too, and if so, who sprints?

Marc Sarreau.

Can he make the finish? If so, the FDJ rider is the classiest sprinter in this field in my opinion. With a good mix of youth and experience at the race it will be interesting to see how they work together but I think they will get on fine. Madouas was up there for the team last year so he should be able to contribute in the finale if we get an even more selective race. One thing is for sure, I would definitely be trying to get rid of Sarreau if I was a DS in another team.

Arthur Vichot.

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Another former winner of this race, Vichot made the move away from the FDJ set up in the winter to only his second team in his career, Vital Concept. Again, they are another squad that look set up for a tougher race so expect to see them try to make it more difficult and reduce the group as much as possible. Vichot does have a deceptively fast kick from a group though so he will be confident of challenging for the win again but I just think there will be faster riders there.

Tom Van Asbroeck.

A step down from the WT in the winter sees the Belgian now ride for Israel Academy in the search of getting his own opportunities. Tomorrow presents a great chance for him to get off to a good start. By no means a pure sprinter, van Asbroeck falls into a category similar to Dumoulin where he will hope to be climbing well and make a group of 40, and if so, he will have one of the faster sprinters there. However, it is the start of the season so the legs might not respond in the way he wants. In that case, Israel Academy might turn to Sbaragli as their option for the day, although he has really fallen away in terms of good results since his breakthrough 2015 Vuelta stage win.

Amaury Capiot.

One of the few teams who I think will be relishing the change in route is Sport Vlaanderen as they have several fast finishers that will now fancy their chances of making it to the end of the day at the head of the race. Their best option would probably be Capiot who is looking to build on 2018 where he returned to the peloton after spending the majority of 2017 out injured. A good sprinter who can handle some hills, I think 2019 could be a belated break out year for him, he just needs some good luck. If the legs aren’t there yet, the team could turn to Warlop or Menten.

Baptiste Planckaert.

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His move to WT didn’t really work out for him and now the Belgian finds himself back at his old outfit. Will he be able to rekindle that 2016 magic? This is the exact type of race that he would have challenged in back then and I think he’ll be up there tomorrow. Possibly he won’t have the form to win, but he should be top 10.

Others to look out for that would have preferred the tougher profile are Hivert, Finetto and Eiking.

Prediction

Despite the still rolling and difficult parcours I think we’ll see a reduced sprint of around 50 riders or so. Timing will be critical in the monstrous head wind they’ll be cycling into along the finish straight so we could see a surprise result if some get it desperately wrong.

I’ll go with Amaury Capiot to take the day and start his 2019 season with a bang.

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Thanks as always for reading and I hope you enjoyed the preview; it’s not always about the WT races! Who do you think will win tomorrow and in what manner? Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race 2019 Preview

The race with the second longest name in the calendar (nothing on the Amgen Tour of California Women’s Race empowered with SRAM) returns this Sunday for its 5th edition. A quite unpredictable race to call, last year we saw Jay McCarthy take the win after a small group managed to escape over the top of the last ascent of Challambra.

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However, that doesn’t tell the full story as some strong sprinters managed to come back to the lead group in the final 500m, with Viviani storming his way through the front group to come home second, while Impey rounded out the podium in third. It does show that the fast men can make it to the finale but it all just depends on the pace at the head of the race and of course team tactics. Before we get to all that, let’s have a look at what is in store for the riders.

The Route

Fans of the adage “if it’s not broke, don’t fix it”, the organisers have decided to go with the exact same parcours we had last year.

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Although there a few climbs early on, this race is all about the circuit around Geelong.

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The riders will join the circuit for the first time just before the foot of the Challambra Crescent climb, an ascent that they will have to take on 4 times throughout the race and the most focal point of the afternoon.

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The climb is short but very punchy with some of the steepest gradients coming near the top. It is actually very important to keep something in the tank for the summit as things flatten out for a few hundred metres before heading downhill and a rider in the red can really lose a lot of time here if they can’t turn the pedals. Likewise, someone who has measured their effort can power on and gain quite a substantial gap.

A quick 2km descent follows Challambra before the last real hill of the day and attack point.

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At only 500m long, it will be tough for some to get a gap but the steep gradients in the second half do make it possible. With it only being a shade over 6km to the finish after the rise, those chasing behind will need to co-operate well to bring any attack back.

The final kilometre is a very simple with a sweeping left hand bend along the Geelong waterfront but it could see a tactical finish depending on the race situation.

How will the race pan out?

A very unpredictable race to call, it all depends on the attitude of the teams.

Last year the front group would have stayed away properly from the peloton had there been more co-operation, but with constant attacks and no one wanting to work fully, they just managed to hold on from the chase behind. In fact, it was only the race winner McCarthy who “stayed away” with Viviani coming through for second.

There are three possible ways the teams can approach the race: put the pressure on in the early laps and hope to split things up there; save it all for the final ascent of Challambra and try to get a group away; try to hold things together for their sprinter. Last year’s result will give the likes of Viviani confidence that they can make it back to the peloton but he’ll need some team mates with him to pace things and for those up ahead to not work together again – both of which are strong possibilities.

Looking at the teams who might want a larger sprint we only really have Deceuninck for Viviani, UAE for Philipsen and Lotto Soudal for Ewan: although I’m not too sure the latter two will make the finish. As for those wanting a reduced bunch sprint we have Mitchelton (Impey), Dimension Data (Gibbons), Lotto Visma (Van Poppel), Astana (Ballerini) and Bora (McCarthy). The rest of the teams will be looking to break things up early on, or on the final passage of Challambra so that a select group can stay away.

Up until a couple of days ago I was confident that things would be controlled here and that it would come down to a reasonable sized bunch gallop to the line. However, I’m not entirely sure of that now. Last year we had a few teams willing to help set the pace and control the breakaway but given the form of the riders, I can only really see Mitchelton and Deceuninck taking an active role to try to keep things together. We might have the likes of Visma and Dimension Data chip in but the majority of the work will be left to the aforementioned teams. Instead, I think we’ll see an attacking race because as stated, the form of Viviani and even more so Impey,  no one will really want to bring them to the line. The cooler temperature compared to last year could also entice some earlier attacks as the riders won’t be afraid of blowing up in sweltering conditions.

Saying all of that, some teams need to take things up before the last climb because although I think they can drop Viviani there and make sure he doesn’t come back, there is no chance Impey gets dropped there. The only way to beat him then is to have numbers to attack or to be confident in your fast man who has made the front group.

It would be interesting to see the reaction of Mitchelton if a strong move attacked on the penultimate ascent of Challambra – would they try to get someone in it or commit to a chase?

Four to Watch

Darly Impey.

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The rightful favourite for the race, Impey once again seems to find himself in great condition during the Aussie summer of cycling. I’m still not entirely sure if he would have won the TDU had Bevin not crashed on the penultimate day but given that he still managed to come home third on Willunga – he’s not going badly either. Mitchelton Scott will be 100% focused on controlling this race for him and I think they’ll try their best to keep things together until that final climb of Challambra. Dion Smith does offer the Aussie squad a plausible second option to play though. Getting a team-mate over the top with Impey will be crucial as they can just ride tempo and hope to keep things together for the sprint. With his current form though, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Impey going on the attack himself if he senses things are slowing down and a group coming up from behind. Everyone will have their eyes on him, but can he deliver under the pressure?

Danny van Poppel.

A switch of focus to the tougher sprints and classics for Van Poppel this year, he tested out his form in the TDU with a strong performance in Uraidla and a day in the break for the Willunga stage. We saw at the Vuelta last year, which was quickly followed up by Binche, that Van Poppel can handle the 2 minute power climb efforts very well and this race has been a target of his while in Australia. Lotto Visma has a team capable of keeping things together and with the likes of Bennett and Gesink they should have a couple of guys in the front group to work for the Dutchman. I think he’ll make the front split or not be too far off so that he can come back on the descent but he might suffer from the same fate as Impey – where no one will want to work with him and his team because of his far superior sprint. Ideally for both Van Poppel and Impey is that their teams have a couple of guys in the front split and they decide to share the work load, but will that be the case?

Dylan van Baarle.

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The first of my wildcard picks, I was impressed with van Baarle’s performance in the TDU and he seemed to be climbing very well. A rider for the classics, the 1km ascent of Challambra shouldn’t see him gapped too much by the proper climbers and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him right near the front. Sky don’t really arrive with a sprinter as such so I expect them to be one of the main driving forces for an aggressive race, pinging attacks off the front on every lap. As the Dutch TT champion, van Baarle has a good engine and if he gets a gap in the closing 5km it could be tough for a disorganised group to bring him back. Packing a decent sprint, he wouldn’t mind arriving at the line with a group of riders who escaped early on.

Gregor Mühlberger.

A blog favourite, it was good to see a few coming of age performances from the Bora rider in 2018 including a strong win in the Binck Bank Tour. With the defending champion on their team you might expect them to be working for McCarthy but with the Aussie suffering from a slight chest infection during the TDU, he might not have fully recovered for here. Mühlberger offers a solid option as he should be there or thereabouts on the climb and he might manage to slip away unmarked. He’s a longshot, but we’ve seen crazier things happen!

Prediction

Despite the best efforts from teams to break away in the closing two laps, things are controlled by Mitchelton and Lotto Visma and we get a select sprint of around 15 riders, with no Viviani and van Poppel powers home to take the win.

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Betting

3pts WIN Impey @ 5/1 with Ladbrokes/Coral (Would take 4/1)

2pts WIN Van Poppel @ 9/1 with SkyBet/Ladbrokes/Coral (Would take the 7/1)

1pt EW Van Baarle @ 50/1 with various bookmakers

0.5pt EW Muhlberger @ 200/1 with Bet365 (would take 150/1 elsewhere)

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

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

 

Women’s Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race 2019 Preview

In 2018 we saw the 3rd running of this event for the women and the first time it was a 1.1 level race, meaning a slightly more international field. An unpredictable race to call, in the three editions we’ve had a different race outcome every time; with 2016 being a solo win, 2017 a 5 rider sprint and 2018 a 20-strong bunch gallop.

It was Chloe Hosking who surprised many last year by making it over the Challambra Crescent climb with what remained of the peloton, before taking the win with relative ease after a dominant sprint.

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Gracie Elvin came away with second after her Mitchelton Scott team had done a lot to control things in those final 5 kilometres, while the now retired Giorgia Bronzini rounded out the podium in third.

Will Hosking be able to double up this year? First, let’s take a look at what is in store for the riders.

The Route

It seems the organisers are a fan of the “if it’s not broke, don’t fix it” analogy as we have the exact same route as last year.

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At just over 113km long, it isn’t exactly the longest race the women will face all season but given the Australian heat, some of the Europeans will be very happy about that. Saying that, it is meant to be slightly cooler over the weekend at only 27℃.

The opening 80km will act as almost a warm-up for the riders, but it will be the final 35km where we could see a potential race winning move go. The first place we might see shakeout is at 30km to go where the riders will be greeted by a small drag in the road. Fairly innocuous, averaging only 3.1% for 2.1km, it will be interesting to see how the riders attack it. Furthermore, as it is placed on a fairly open stretch of road, the wind direction and strength will also add another factor that has to be considered. Once over the top of that climb, the riders will have to contend with almost 10km of flat/slightly descending roads before the quick double climb into Ceres.

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Waste not want not, reusing last year’s images!

The first ramp is only 500m long but it averages 4.6%. A stinging attack here could certainly line out the bunch before a fast descent and the second, longer part of the climb begins. At 1.8km in distance and averaging 4.4%, it is tough enough for some of the stronger riders in the race to create some gaps. Who will be brave enough to go all in 16km from the finish?

If gaps are made, then they should be held or even extended with the short flat section before the road plummets all the way down for the next 4 kms as they approach Challambra.

There is a little 300m kicker (6%) which will disrupt their rhythm 600m or so before the start of Challambra itself.

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Not an easy climb as you can see, with it going up in various ramps. Not ideal for those who like to keep a steady pace and if a few riders attack this hard then we will no doubt see some fairly large time gaps at the top of it. From there, the road mainly heads downwards for the remaining 9km, albeit there is one last kick up and a chance for a climber to try to distance someone. That comes just after they cross the small bridge with the 800m section averaging 4%, but they do carry a lot of speed onto the rise from the descent so its impact is negated a little.

It is then a final few kilometres along the Geelong waterside before the dash to the line.

How will the race pan out?

As I’ve mentioned above, this is a very unpredictable race with three different outcomes since the first running of it. Was the sprint last year indicative of it what is to come with the upping of the races’ level, or was it more of an anomaly? I think more of the latter because if Stultiens, van Vleuten and Garfoot co-operated together there was a very good chance that they would have stayed away to the finish line. In fact, there was no chance they would have been caught.

Mitchelton Scott arrive here as the team to beat and they will want to make the race aggressive because they know from last year that Hosking can make the finish and they won’t want to risk bringing it down to a bunch gallop if they don’t have to. Obviously, everyone will be looking at them to make the race but they have a strong enough squad to put the other teams into difficulty. I think we’ll see them try to string things out and reduce the size of the group before they get to Challambra, but some of that will depend on if the wind is in their face or not – there’s no point going full gas into a block head wind. Looking at the forecast just now, it appears that there will be a slight tail wind on the run in past Ceres and into Geelong, so I’m expecting some attacks on the earlier rises and the race to be split there.

Having several riders in the front group will be important so the stronger teams will be at an advantage. If we do see splits before Challambra, this is who I expect to be up there in numbers:

Mitchelton – Spratt, Kennedy, Brown and Williams

Trek – Winder, Wiles and Longo Borghini

Tibco – Jackson and Stephens

I can’t see many other teams having a lot of riders at the head of the race and consequently it will be more difficult for them to win, especially if the teams with numerous riders are constantly pinging attacks off the front of the bunch. For the likes of Neylan, Moolman and Doebel-Hicock, it will be all about timing your effort and going with the right move.

Of course, there is a chance the race hasn’t fully split up by Challambra but it most definitely will by the top of that climb.

Prediction

There’s no point me even prolonging this much longer, I saw enough at the TDU to know who wins this – Amanda Spratt.

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Her level on Mengler’s Hill was just phenomenal and no one will be able to match her on Challambra, with team-mate Kennedy possibly her biggest rival. I think we’ll see Spratt cross the top of the climb with a 15 second gap on her competitors which will only be extended by them all being completely in the red on the flat few hundred metre section before the descent starts. With a couple of team-mates behind sand-bagging any attempted chase, she won’t be seen again until the finish.

Things will regroup behind though and we’ll see another 20 or so rider sprint to the line, with Hosking beating Lepistö for the final podium spots.

Coverage

We’ll get to see the race live and in full I think, with Channel 7 in Australia showing it on free to air television. I’m not too sure if it will be streamed online anywhere (Facebook etc, like the Crit was) or if you will need a VPN to access it. However, there will no doubt be a slightly less than legal stream of it somewhere so I’ll tweet it out when I find it.

Thanks as always for reading! Who do you think is going to win and in what manner? Will it be a return to winning ways here for Mitchelton Scott or will someone upset the party? Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

 

Tour Down Under 2019 Stage 6 Preview: McLaren Vale -> Willunga Hill

Today’s Recap

A nervous stage throughout saw Mitchelton Scott control the early break of the day so that Impey could sprint for some bonus seconds. The plan worked well with the South African picking up 5 bonus seconds but it also meant the current race leader Bevin picked up 5 too. Things died down a little after that but with the constant threat of wind and echelons, it wasn’t quiet for too long. There were a couple of splits but nothing serious and everything re-grouped, but a crash at around 9km to go saw Bevin go down hard. Mitchelton tried to slow down the group but that only lasted for a kilometre so as the pace was already high and the sprint teams were already in full swing. The Ochre jersey did manage to make it back to the peloton and finish on the same time as everyone else and with nothing broken, he’ll only know how sore he’ll be on the bike tomorrow.

In the sprint Ewan crossed the line first but he was ultimately relegated by the commissaires for using excessive force with his head to nudge Philipsen off of Sagan’s wheel. To my non-expert sprinting perspective, it did look a little bit harsh but we’ve seen people relegated for similar things in the past so I guess it is fair.

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Philipsen consequently won the stage after Ewan’s relegation, with Sagan and Van Poppel rounding out the podium.

With the sprinter’s having had their last day to play today, everyone will be turning their attention to the last stage and GC battle that will occur tomorrow.

The Route

Nothing overly exciting to see here, it is pretty much just a carbon copy of the recent Willunga Hill stages.

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Expect to see the peloton thinned out a little on the first ascent of Willunga but I would be very surprised to see a Hail Mary attack from anyone near the top of the GC. Once over the plateau and descent, the riders will need to be wary of potential cross winds on the flat section of road before they head into the town of Willunga again. We’ve seen in the past things split up a bit here but the wind doesn’t look strong enough for that, however, you never know.

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A fairly consistent climb, the steeper slopes of Willunga come in the opening third before the gradient drops ever so slightly in the final two-thirds. At close to an 8 minute effort, the gaps aren’t normally too big but given how close the GC normally is here, they can often be decisive.

Can anyone stop the King of Willunga?

One thing to note for this year is that the wind will be blowing directly in their face for the climb, which will certainly make it more difficult for those looking to go on the attack. Although conversely, once you are out of the slip stream from the rider in front then it will be harder to make an effort.

I do think this will hinder the better climbers though, i.e. the quartet that escaped on the Corkscrew, as there will be a definite advantage of sitting in the wheels. Porte, Bennett and Woods all looked pretty solid on the Corkscrew and Poels managed to hang with them despite pulling some faces. Therefore, it would make sense if they were the main quartet contesting for the stage win come the end of the day.

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Porte always manages to ride everyone off of his wheel on this climb, he has his attack point dialled down to a fine art: a little S-bend with 1km to go. However, I don’t think that will happen this year due to the head wind, I just can’t see him dropping Woods. The other two possibly, but not Woods. The EF Education rider has a better kick than Porte and I would fancy him to beat the Aussie to the line.

I am intrigued to see what Chris Hamilton can do, he was a bit too slow to react to the accelerations on the Corkscrew but he wasn’t too far behind. A top 5 is definitely a possibility.

Does the break have a chance?

A little, but not really. Mitchelton and CCC will be more than happy to see a move get up the road to take away the bonus seconds for the day, ensuring that Impey and Bevin have a great chance to take the overall win. However, I would expect there to be enough impetus from Trek, EF, Sky and Lotto Visma to ensure that they don’t stay away – after all, if their leader is going to win the race then they need the bonus seconds.

Speaking of which…

How will the GC play out?

Things look as follows heading into the final stage:

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@ProCyclingStats

All of the riders there are within touching distance but it will take a spectacular effort for the majority of them to win. If there was no headwind on the climb, then I would say that the race was between Bevin, Impey, Porte and Woods for the GC, with Bennett and Poels also possible contenders. However, given the headwind, it will be hard for those 26 seconds behind to gain the 16 on course seconds needed to overhaul Bevin, assuming they also get the stage win.

It might be slightly more likely, if one of them is on a flyer that they can take the 9 seconds out of Impey that they would need to win, assuming that Bevin cracks because of his fall yesterday. Which would be a real shame but it is a possibility and no one will know how he copes until later on in the stage.

If Bevin hadn’t fallen this was his race to win/lose, depending on how you looked at it. He’s in sensational form at the moment and he would have been able to maintain that gap to Impey, as I think the big bonus seconds will go to a few of the more traditional climbers.

So if Bevin is well and recovered with only some flesh wounds, then he wins GC. However, if he has struggled to sleep last night and cracks later on, then Impey will double up.

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Stage Prediction

Porte is the one to beat on this climb and it wouldn’t surprise me to see him just ride away from everyone, like he normally does. However, I think the wind will hinder him and that Woods will be able to stick with him and out sprint him to the line!

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The King is dead, long live the King!

Betting

In a good position after this week so happy to have a little flutter on Woods for the stage win.

2pts WIN Woods @ 11/4 with Betway (would take 5/2 elsewhere)

3pts Hamilton to beat Pozzovivo @ 8/11 with Bet365

Thanks as always for reading! I hope you’ve enjoyed the opening week of World Tour racing? I’ll be back again for the Cadel race next weekend. Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

Tour Down Under 2019 Stage 5 Preview: Glenelg -> Strathalbyn

Today’s Recap

Well that was a much more exciting finish than what we had on stage 3! The pace was high in the bunch on the Corkscrew but Porte, Poels, Woods and Bennett managed to gain a little advantage over the top of around 5 seconds. However, despite their best efforts, things were brought back on the descent and we had quite a large group of riders coming in for a sprint.

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Impey got his stage win, besting Bevin and Luis Leon Sanchez, with the three of them now occupying the top spots on GC. Bevin holds a 7 second lead over Impey, with LLS a further 4 behind and a group of 15 riders at 21 seconds back. All to play for on Willunga, although I think the GC battle might be between just a few, but first let’s have a look at what is in store for the riders on Saturday.

The Route

After two “GC days” the sprinters get their last chance to go for a stage win here.

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The road does roll but without any major climbs in the last 100km, it should really come down to a bunch gallop.

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Once past the 5km to go sign, the riders will head ever so slightly downhill all the way until 1.5km left – expect the speeds to be very high. Once at 1.5km to go, they’ll take quite a sharp left hand turn through a roundabout.

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Good positioning will be important but it is not essential through the turn, as the following 750m are arrow-straight so a team can fight for position and move up then. However, it will be of more importance to be leading through the following two right hand turns that come in quick succession.

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It’ll then be a 600m drag race to the finish line.

Can anything stop the inevitable bunch sprint?

One thing possibly, and is one thing that the team’s have been wary of since the start of the race when discussing this stage – the wind.

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The route travels through a few exposed areas early on in the stage, but it is once they pass through the Feed Zone in Victor Harbor that things could get interesting…

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The forecast above is for Middleton Beach and it is a similar outlook for the rest of the stage from there on in. There are some houses which will provide shelter through Victor Harbor to Goolwa, but there are also plenty of areas where there are no houses for a kilometre or so and the wind will be coming straight from the rider’s right side.

The last 36km from Goolwa to Strathalbyn will be majority tailwind, but there are some areas which will see the riders travel east more directly, with a particularly nice and exposed 5.5km section from 22km -> 16.5km to go.

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Said 5.5km exposed section

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Even closer to the line is Strathalbyn (on the image just above) is in an area completely open to the elements. Although it might not be a pure cross wind at the point, the cross tail wind could be enough to see some more splits. Either way, it is going to be a very fast and nervous final 35kms, even if it hasn’t split up by that point. The GC riders will need to be on their toes!

Interestingly, the direction of the finish straight means that the finish straight should be into a headwind – so timing of the jump and sprint becomes even more important.

Who will try to force a split?

The sprint teams will be more than happy for things to stick together and for their fast men to just fight it out at the finish so I don’t think they will be the ones driving any splits. However, given that the majority of sprinters are strong in the wind, they will probably be involved if they sense the pace increasing.

Instead, it will be the GC teams who decide if it is the right moment to try to upset the apple cart. As much as I’d like to see someone try and go early on the first passage of Willunga on Sunday, that is very unlikely to happen so instead Stage 5 presents the only opportunity for a GC shake-up before the second time up Willunga.

As for the exact teams who will try something I’m not entirely sure, but I reckon we’ll see Mitchelton have a go. Impey is in an okay position to win this race overall again but given that I think he and Bevin are on similar climbing levels just now, he needs to pick up another time bonus before Sunday. If Mitchelton are able to split it in the wind and get rid of the pure some sprinters then there is a chance Impey might be able to sneak a podium spot on the day and reduce the gap to Bevin. Even better for them, would be if they could drop some of their GC rivals completely.

Sprinters: If we get a normal bunch sprint it should be a Ewan v Viviani battle as they’ve looked the most consistent but in a headwind effort the more powerful guys like Walscheid, Bauhaus, Sagan and Van Poppel can’t be discounted.

Prediction

Race to split in the cross winds thanks to Mitchelton and a hectic finish will see some GC riders lose time. However, the Aussie team’s plan will backfire with Bevin sprinting for the victory and taking more valuable bonus seconds, putting one arm into Ochre for the end of the race.

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First properly out there preview of the year and we’re only 5 in, hey ho!

Betting

5pts on Gibbons to beat Hoelgaard @1/2 with Bet365.

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

Those were MyTwoSpokesWorth.

Tour Down Under 2019 Stage 4 Preview: Unley -> Campbelltown

Today’s Recap

A proper damp squib of a stage in the end. I think it might have been a combination of the heat and the riders being concerned about just how difficult the stage could have been that things got a bit conservative. CCC did a great job for Bevin but he was isolated coming into the final two laps so it was surprising to see everyone ride quite conservatively after that – most were happy with a reduced bunch sprint.

So obviously after me thinking the stage would have been a lot more aggressive and completely discounting Sagan, it was the Slovak who took the stage win in an almost carbon copy of last year’s performance.

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A fast finishing Luis Leon Sanchez almost came close to pipping him but the line came too soon for the Astana man, while Impey picked up some handy bonus seconds in third.

Bevin still leads the race though going into tomorrow’s stage that features the famous Corkscrew climb. Let’s have a look at what is in store for the riders…

The Route

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There’s no point me beating about the bush here, the stage is all about the climb up Corkscrew Road and the subsequent descent off of it.

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Before the ascent starts properly, the road gradually rises for 1.2km at a lowly gradient of 1.6%, which will be enough to see some of the entry pace knocked off.

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A 2.5km climb that averages 8.9% is pretty tough at this point in the season but it is just border line enough for some of the puncheurs to hope to be able to hold on to the coat tails of the climbers. We saw that back in 2014 when Evans managed to gap the duo of Porte and Gerrans, who themselves put a bit of time into another group of riders.

The descent is incredibly fast, especially near the top, and riders can be expected to hit speeds of 80km/h. However, it does flatten out so you will need to keep pressure on the pedals to keep the momentum going as groups normally join up on the latter half. At 600m to go the riders take one final sharp turn and enter the finish straight, which is ever so slightly downhill to the line.

Another point of note is that the wind looks to be blowing from the west or south-west so the riders should have either a tail/cross-tail/cross wind, which means we should hopefully get some attacking racing. Bad news for those looking to just hold on to the bunch and wait for things to come to a sprint.

Our current race leader Paddy Bevin holds the KOM for Corkscrew Road on Strava, having completed the climb in 6’30 back in 2015. Interestingly, Mike Woods attack in 2016 that saw him and Henao reach the summit first was one second slower at 6’31.

Plenty of riders have been out to have a look at the climb in the weeks leading up to the race, with a couple of them having a go at it race pace…

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I think we might see the 6’30 mark broken this year, possibly someone going close to 6’20.

How will the race pan out?

The real question that has to be asked here is will a couple of guys, or someone, be able to drop the other riders on the Corkscrew and then hold them off to the finish? If so, then simple, the fight for the stage win will be between them and the race is over at the top of the climb.

If not, then we have the possibility of a small group sprint, or someone launching a counter attack in the closing kilometres if there is no control and cohesion at the head of the race.

I’m not too sure either way, although I’ll give a 60/40 split for those that make it over first not being seen again.

Contenders

Michael Woods.

The EF Education First rider put in quite a strong dig near the finale of stage 3 but the climb was not long enough for him to create any serious gaps and the punchy riders were able to bring him back. However, he did look lively and as a rider with previous on this climb he knows exactly what it’s about. Moreover, Woods had a great 2018 season and seems to only be getting better as a rider, especially on the steeper slopes.

Richie Porte.

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He wasn’t able to follow Woods’ attack back in 2016 and he also got dropped by a flying Evans in 2014. This isn’t Willunga and Porte doesn’t have the same amount of success here, which is weird, because it is a pretty similar climb in terms of time taken. It is slightly shorter and steeper but for someone of Porte’s short-climb prowess you would expect him to go well. He showed his face a little on stage 3 but we have no idea what his form is actually like just now. Will he try to put on a show before Willunga or is he confident of sealing the victory there?

Luis Leon Sanchez.

Clearly in some pretty good shape at the moment, Sanchez is Sagan’s tip for stage success tomorrow. The Astana man was flying at the beginning of last year and he should be able to cope with the speed on Corkscrew. He might not make it right at the head of the race, but he’ll be able to use his descending ability to catch up easily if there is no pressure on at the front. Sanchez is a master of timing a late attack but as we’ve seen on the past few stages, he isn’t too scared of getting involved in a sprint either.

Tadej Pogacar.

A little bit of a wild card here but the 2018 Tour de l’Avenir winner is the real deal – will he show that on stage 4? He was attentive and always near the front on today’s stage and he might just benefit from being a less well known rider. Furthermore, he holds a pretty competitive Strava time on the hill so it will be interesting to see if he can replicate that in the race. He’s my dark horse for the stage.

Wout Poels.

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Didn’t put his nose in the wind all of yesterday despite his team doing some of the work in the closing laps, with it instead being Elissonde who launched an attack. Poels is a climber who packs quite a fast sprint so he’d be happy to arrive in a small group. His form is a bit unknown though and he is an enigmatic rider so who knows which Wout will turn up. He could easily blow everyone away on the Corkscrew, or he could be dropped!

Then we have a group of riders in a similar mould; Bevin, Impey, Devenyns, McCarthy and Ulissi. In fact there are even a few more as well, who probably won’t drop everyone on the climb but they’ll hope to make it over close enough to get back on during the descent and fight for the win.

Prediction

An elite trio of Woods, Porte and Pogacar escape on the Corkscrew, with the Canadian winning the sprint.

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The others will trail in not too far behind but they’ll then need to come up with something inventive to win the race on Willunga.

Betting

Going a little wild here as tomorrow will more than likely be a no bet and I really like the Woods pick. Plus, a little value punt on Pogacar too.

3pts WIN Woods @ 6/1 with Betway (Would take 4/1 elsewhere)

1pt EW Pogacar @ 100/1 with Bet365 (Would take down to 40s)

Thanks as always for reading. Who do you think will win and in what manner? Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.