Tour Down Under 2019 Stage 3 Preview: Lobethal -> Uraidla

Today’s Recap

It turned out to be yet another long and slow day in the saddle for the riders, but what can you expect in 40 degree heat. The original morning breakaway was brought back with 50km to go, and it took for a brave but ultimately fruitless move by Ladagnous to give the peloton at least a carrot to chase.

Like on the opening day the bunch kick was a messy affair, with a crash on the left hand side of the road taking out about 80% of the bunch. Only a few riders fell and none of them were seriously hurt, but everyone elses chance of competing at the finish was ruined. The majority of the sprinters made it through the split though, and it was Luis Leon Sanchez who launched an early move, hoping to catch some riders off guard. However, everyone was fairly astute to it and a powerful Bevin came from quite far back to take a convincing win.

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No one was beating him.

Ewan came close to getting on his wheel but he couldn’t match the CCC rider and resigned himself for second, with Sagan rounding out the podium.

The result now moves Bevin into the GC lead, 15 seconds ahead of the majority of his rivals. Not a bad opening two days for him but the hard work is only just beginning and he and his team will have a fight on their hands on Stage 3. Let’s take a look at what is in store for the riders.

The Route

A stage that I’ve been looking forward to since the route was announced, the peloton will be taking on a new finish circuit around Uraidla, with an apparent elevation gain of 3300m throughout the afternoon. Pretty tough for a hot race at the start of the year!

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Before they get to the circuit there are a rolling 60kms to contend with, including two very early intermediate sprint points. It will be interesting to see how it is played out but I suspect we’ll see some of the GC teams try to keep things together so that their main contenders can go for bonus seconds. Do you want to burn too many matches with what is to come though?

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The first thing that strikes me about the Uraidla circuit is it seems to be quite twisty and although a few of the turns will be able to be taken at a high-speed, there are some others that riders will have to slow down quite heavily for. This will make the climbs that follow feel just that tad bit harder but of course, the opposite effect happens when they can just roll down a hill and carry some speed onto the next rise.

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None of the climbs on the circuit are crazily hard; 1.1km at 5.2%, 400m at 5%, 1.3km at 6.5%, 500m at 8.2% and 650m at 7%. Instead, they’re more reminiscent of the hills you’ll find in Belgium and the Netherlands – short and punchy.

The two most difficult looking climbs to me are the 3rd and 4th on the circuit.

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The third is the longest climb, but it also starts with the trickiest and most dangerous entrance, as the riders will fly down a descent before having to reduce their speed rapidly to take the more than 90-degree right hand turn, shown on the image above. They’re then greeted by the steepest part of the climb right from the bottom, a 500m section at 10%. It does flatten off after that but those that are put into the red at the bottom will suffer coming over the top.

From there a descent follows which is interrupted by a short kicker before the 4th proper climb on the circuit.

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Only a short one at 500m, it once again comes off quite a tight turn but you can definitely carry some speed through the corner and propel yourself someway up the steeper opening part. Therefore, the battle for position will be crucial at this stage, especially as there is only 700m of flat/descent before the final rise and the 1.8km descent to the finish.

How will the stage pan out?

Pffft, beats me. It all depends on the mood and approach of the riders.

We could well see the day be controlled by a couple of teams and get a sprint like we normally see on the Stirling stage. However, I think that will be unlikely, I’ll eat my hat if any group sprint is over 40 riders big.

The two early intermediate sprints will set the tone of the day and we’ll probably see some fast racing from the gun – the riders have had two “easy” days before now after all. It’s what happens after the intermediate sprints and let’s say 50km to go that might shape the outcome of the day; who has someone up the road?; who is willing to chase behind?

There’s a lot of talk in the bunch about how decisive this stage could be in the GC – if they make it hard, don’t expect many to be in contact at the end of the day. Of course, if there is only a group of 30-40 riders starting the final lap together, it will be very difficult for anyone to control the race from there and we could see a splinter group or handful of riders slip away.

The weather is another factor to consider because it is still meant to be pretty hot, albeit about 5 or 6 degrees cooler than stage 2. If it is too hot, then it could make the stage a damp squib.

Hmmm, this is a tough one.

I think we’ll see a pretty aggressive race and a group slip away to fight out the finish. As to who is going to be in that group? Who knows, but having numbers in the peloton will certainly help teams. Time to throw a few darts I think!

Riders to Watch

Jay McCarthy

With all eyes on Sagan, who I think is not in peak form and might struggle here, McCarthy will be able to play a free role and go on the hunt for bonus seconds. If Sagan is going slightly better, then it gives Bora a great option to send McCarthy on the attack in the closing laps as the Aussie will beat most from a small group. This is the stage in my GC overview that I think he’ll have to take some time on the better climbers and I hope to see him active at the front.

Chris Hamilton.

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Targeting a good result here GC wise, this is a stage that Hamilton has been wary of for a little while. In an interview with @CyclingMole he suggested this could be the key stage of the race and certainly somewhere that you could take time on others, or conversely, possibly lose the Tour Down Under. Still a relatively unknown rider on the WT stage, Hamilton always performs pretty well in his home race. One year older and stronger now, I think he could surprise tomorrow. Expect an attacking race from the young Sunweb Aussie trident of Hamilton, Hindley and Storer.

Ruben Guerreiro.

The TDU last year was a breakthrough performance for the young Portuguese rider who managed to finish 10th overall while riding for Trek. In 2019 he’s switched over to Katusha and will be acting as second in command behind Nathan Haas at this race. A punchy rider, Guerreiro offers a good attacking option for the team and I would be surprised not to see him put in a dig at some point. He packs a pretty decent sprint too so he won’t be overly concerned at arriving at the line in a group of 6 or so.

Cameron Meyer.

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A lot of the peloton will be looking towards Mitchelton Scott as one of the main teams looking to keep things somewhat together for a sprint into Uraidla. They might end up doing that, but they have plenty of hitters in their team who can go on the offensive if they decide to ride an attacking race. Meyer was distraught at missing out at the Aussie Road Nats so a good result here will take his mind off that a little. He clearly has good legs though to finish on both the podium at the road race and time trial. Mitchelton say they’re all in for Impey, but will that change out on the road?

Prediction

I’m expecting a really unusual race this evening and we’ll probably see lots of different “acts” so to speak. The heat might see it become a bit of a damp squib but with what is at stake, I think we’ll see some exciting and aggressive racing in the closing 50kms – like an Ardennes classic.

Jay McCarthy to win.

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Betting

1pt EW McCarthy @ 14/1

0.25pt EW on the rest

Hamilton @ 200/1

Meyer @ 125/1

Guerreiro @ 200/1

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

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

 

Tour Down Under 2019 Stage 2 Preview: Norwood -> Angaston

Today’s Recap

We got the expected sprint finish into Adelaide and without any cross wind action, it was a pretty benign, but hot, day in the saddle for most. The break of the day formed pretty early on with 4 riders getting up the road; Lea, Zakharov, Bevin and Storer. With the first two fighting for the only KOM of the day, it was the Aussie Lea who got to pull on the jersey come the end of the stage. Zakharov swiftly left the break after that and fell back to the peloton, while there seemed to be a gentleman’s agreement between the remaining three that Bevin and Storer would both take 5 bonus seconds, with Lea grabbing 2. A very tactical move from both Bevin and Storer who might not be hot favourites to take the title, but they have certainly propelled themselves into the reckoning a bit more with those bonuses now.

Everything was back together with 30km to go and given the slight headwind, the pace in the bunch was a bit lower than expected. Consequently, it resulted in a nervous and twitchy last 5km as everyone felt fresh and wanted to be at the front – thankfully no one went down.

The sprint itself was incredibly messy, with riders and lead-outs all over the road. However, one man reigned supreme and that was Viviani. The Italian looked to be out of position with around 500m to go but he snaked his way through a gap that looked impossible to fit through and won by what was a country mile in the end.

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The early hit out from Walscheid saw the Sunweb rider hold on for second, with Mareczko producing an equally threaded sprint to somehow finish in third.

You can watch the helicopter shot of the finish above and pick out something different of note every time!

With another sprint stage looking likely tomorrow, will we see Viviani double up? Let’s have a look at what is in store for the riders.

The Route

Altered ever so slightly due to the searing, hot conditions expected, the day has been shortened to only 122km.

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Although the day is reasonably rolling, they avoid the tough Mengler’s Hill nearby so it should end in a full bunch sprint. The finish was last used in 2014 and that day a reduced group fought out for the win thanks to the passage of Mengler’s Hill. That being said, they approach the finish from a slightly different direction this year and the line is earlier than it was in 2014, I think, as that day it continued further into Angaston whereas this year it comes a little before that.

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As you can see, the run in itself is pretty straight forward with there only being one turn to note, albeit a tricky one, at around 4km to go. The main issue for the riders is that the road slowly drags uphill for those final 4km.

 

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The closing 650m averages a shade over 3%, with some 4.5% kick ups at points. Nothing crazy, but it certainly will entice some puncheurs into thinking they have a chance on a finish like this. Conversely, the majority of the sprinters will be confident enough of making it to the line.

Looking at the current weather forecast, it is set to be a slight cross-head wind for the finish, so once again, the timing of the sprint will be very important. Double that with the uphill rise and we could definitely see some guys get it completely wrong.

Sprinters

Elia Viviani.

It’s only fair to start with the Ochre jersey for tomorrow. After missing out on a chance to sprint at the People’s Choice Classic on Sunday, he more than made up for that on the opening day. Viviani should cope with the uphill finish perfectly well but his positioning might need improving as he might not be so lucky to be able to squeeze himself through some gaps this time if he’s boxed in. Nonetheless, he should start the day as favourite.

Caleb Ewan.

Oh dear, what happened to his Lotto sprint train? It was looking good for Ewan until the turn with around 1.2km to go when he just went backwards. You can see on the video above that he attempts to get up and sprint before sitting back down knowing that any good result is gone, ultimately finishing in a lowly 22nd. He won the tougher stage into Stirling last year so tomorrow does present an opportunity for him to bounce back with a good result.

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Peter Sagan.

The Bora rider never really got going on the opening day, after finding himself boxed in. Once he got a little bit of space it was too late, but his kick didn’t look overly convincing. The uphill drag should suit his capabilities well so he theoretically should be challenging for the win. I’m intrigued to see if Bora try to sprint with McCarthy though, as the bonus seconds could be crucial come the end of the race. Is it difficult enough for that though?

Max Walscheid.

The German risked it by starting his sprint early and it nearly paid off for him, had it not been for the flying Viviani he might just have won the stage. Walscheid is quite a tall and heavy rider for a pro cyclist, so I’ll be watching with interest to see how he copes on the drag to the line. It might just take too much out of him compared to his lighter competitors.

Jakub Mareczko.

A rider with 40 career wins to his name by the age of 24, yet only one of them has come in Europe, he is on the cusp of taking a step up this year with his new-found WT team. However, he is notoriously not great on any type of incline so he could possibly struggle tomorrow. Will CCC decide to go with Bevin?

Danny Van Poppel.

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Simply put, he just didn’t have the legs on the opening day, Van Poppel will hope for a better outcome on stage 2 with a finish that suits him well. Last year he absolutely blew everyone away on the tricky uphill kick in Binche and while tomorrow is nowhere near as difficult as that, the ramp does bring him closer to the pure sprinters.

Jasper Philipsen – Tried to follow Viviani through the gap but was impeded against the barriers. Although young, he seems to be quite a good “climbing sprinter” so I think he might surprise tomorrow.

Phil Bauhaus – Notoriously can’t climb a ladder. He did look quite powerful today but I think he’ll struggle to be up there at the finish.

Daryl Impey – A first chance to take some bonus seconds? Impey will relish this type of finish and like a few others, it brings him closer to the pure sprinters. He’ll be there or thereabouts.

Again, Halvorsen, McLay, Gibbons, Ballerini etc will all be fighting for the top 15 positions, and hoping to go better.

Two outsiders to watch

Patrick Bevin.

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The Kiwi showed he wasn’t here to just see what happens in the GC battle, going into the break for the day and taking some valuable bonus seconds. With Mareczko’s struggle on uphill finishes, it is possible that CCC turn their attention to Bevin who can mix it on this type of terrain. In the Tour of Britain last year he was incredibly consistent on both the tricky finishes but also the bunch kicks. The level of opposition here is a bit better but he seems to be in great shape just now so he will fancy his chances. Even snagging a podium could put him in a good spot for the rest of the week.

Heinrich Haussler.

Like Bevin, Haussler might get the nod to sprint if Bauhaus thinks he might struggle on the rise to the line. The Aussie is apparently flying just now so an uphill sprint he could get in the mix. However, he was involved in that tumble at the People’s Choice Classic and felt a little stiff after it so he might not be back to 100% yet. He is one to watch though if things get spicy.

Prediction

It’s got to be Viviani to double up, hasn’t it?

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I do think we might see a surprise rider get onto the podium though, it is just deciding who that is the issue!

Betting

Playing a couple of outsiders here and going for some EW value…

0.5pt EW Bevin @ 66/1 (With Betway – would take 40s lowest)

0.5pt EW Philipsen @ 50/1 with Bet365 and Betway.

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

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

Tour Down Under 2019 Stage 1 Preview: North Adelaide -> Port Adelaide

Welcome back everyone and a happy 2019! I hope you had a good off-season and are ready for the cycling calendar to kick off in earnest with an Aussie summer of racing. Last year saw Daryl Impey take the overall crown on count back after picking up an impressive number of bonus seconds throughout the race, edging Richie Porte into second place, with Tom-Jelte Slagter rounding out the GC podium.

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All three of those riders return this year and they will no doubt be hoping for repeat, if not better, performances.

GC Overview

Could this be the most open TDU in history?

The move of the Willunga stage to the final day means that everyone knows they need to try to take some time back before then, as no doubt Porte will take his traditional stage win there. The reintroduction of the Corkscrew climb on Stage 4 will be very important in shaping the outcome of the race and you can’t afford to have a bad day there. However, I think one of the most important stages could actually be the day before that, with the new circuit finish in Uraidla. On paper it isn’t a particularly tough parcours, with no real long climbs, but the road is pretty much up and down all day and given the forecasted temperatures – that will take a massive toll on the riders. I think that day lends itself to some very attacking riding and it gives some a good chance to take time before the two tougher finishes on Stage 4 and 6. However, there is also the chance…

Could this be the most dull TDU in history?

If Stage 3 turns out to be a controlled affair with a few teams controlling it for a reduced bunch sprint, or if we see some shortened stages due to the heat – then the race might only be decided by the gaps on Willunga or bonus seconds. Of course, you could argue that is exciting due to how close it could be but personally I’d rather see some attacking racing.

As for who might win the race? It of course depends on a few things but Impey will fancy his chances of retaining the crown if he can pick up some bonus seconds and repeat that Willunga performance. Porte on the other hand will look at the Corkscrew day as another chance to distance everyone and possibly hold off a chasing group to the line. McCarthy is another in the mould of Impey who can pick up some bonus seconds here and there, but he’ll need to be wiser on Willunga this year round and not blindly follow Porte. It was a bold move for him last year but one that didn’t pay off.

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Woods might be one to watch this week, with the Canadian having a proper breakthrough last year – he is a serious contender if climbing well and arguably the only rider who on his day I can see sticking with Porte up Willunga. Poels is similar to Woods, but who knows what condition he arrives here in. Another few to keep an eye on are Hamilton, Valgren and Bevin who I all think will feature at some point throughout this week.

I think we’ll see Jay McCarthy take home the ochre jersey come the end of the week though. He seems to be in great form at the moment with a third at the Aussie Crit championships – not exactly an event you would expect him to shine at. At the road race he unfortunately suffered from being the only Bora rider and dropped out after any chance of the win was gone. On stage 3 we’ll see him and Sagan in the front group and with the former World Champion marking moves behind, McCarthy will be able to escape in a group and fight out for the win. A result which will be enough to see him take the title later in the week!

I may as well kick off the season with a somewhat of an out there suggestion…

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Anyway, onto the opening day of racing.

The Route

A bit of a rolling day through the Adelaide hills but nothing too extreme for the riders with the afternoon most likely ending in a sprint, unless of course something crazy happens such as Bobridge’s breakaway win in 2015.

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The finish in Port Adelaide is a new one for the peloton but it is pretty straight forward and should be a simple run-in.

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With the last turn coming 1km from the line, it will be a drag race from there. It is possible for a team to control the front of the race from through that corner and not allow anyone back, but I think that will be pretty difficult as there is plenty of room for others to come by.

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Saying that, there is quite a lot of street furniture (see above) on the closing circuit which could be quite dangerous. They possibly might just barrier off one side of the road for the whole kilometre because there is a concrete verge in the middle that divides it up anyway with around 200m to go.

Often these “simple” finishes are the most dangerous because everyone is able to jostle for position so hopefully things stay upwards.

*The race organisers/jury have decided to remove the full lap around the closing circuit so they will join it at the ‘zig-zag’ part on the route profile, coming from the east. It shouldn’t really change much as the same rules will apply for the finishing straight and the bits of street furniture there.*

Weather Watch

The reason given by the organisers for not including the finish circuit tomorrow is that they expect it to be pretty windy, and the race could potentially be split up by the time the race arrives back into Adelaide. That could cause some issues, as those just joining the circuit might get in the way with those at the head of the race – it is a sensible decision to make in my opinion.

It also means that I get to talk about the potential of my favourite thing in the opening blog post of the year…

 

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However, I don’t seem to share the same outlook for strong winds that the organisers do. Although to be fair, looking at various sources Australian Bureau of Meteorology, Windfinder and WillyWeather no one has a real idea as to the severity of the wind. There does seem to be the general consensus that it picks up a little later on in the afternoon but the stronger winds seem to be coming in after the race has finished. However, the time of them has gotten earlier since I looked the other day so who really knows!

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The final 16km is the perfect terrain for cross winds though, with a 3km stretch of road past Parafield runway completely exposed and flat terrain.

Likewise, after a couple of kilometres coming through town, the riders will once again be on an exposed dual carriageway.

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That only really stops with around 3km to go when the road is sheltered by more trees and buildings. Now, I’m not saying that we will see echelons, but if they were to happen, it would be in those closing 16kms.

Either way, it is going to be a very nervy finish so hopefully everyone just stays upright!

Contenders – A Three Horse Race?

Caleb Ewan.

The Aussie got off to a blistering start with his new Lotto Soudal team, picking up the win at the People’s Choice Classic on Sunday. His squad was strong, controlling the action all afternoon, before setting him up excellently. Having brought Roger Kluge with him from Mitchelton will certainly have helped him gel into his train a lot quicker, and the German was a perfect pilot fish on Sunday. However, there is a big difference between a one hour-long crit around a course that you’re familiar with and a new finish on open roads. He is clearly in form and starts the man to beat but he’s not been properly tested yet, given the crashes that took out almost all of his competitors the other day.

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Peter Sagan.

A solid second place for Sagan on Sunday. He was typically the last rider to escape from the crash, narrowly avoiding his falling team-mate and holding on to the back of Ewan’s wheel. With Daniel Oss attacking out the front amidst the chaos, Sagan had to be content with just sitting in and not launching his sprint early. Consequently, he only really opened the taps with around 100m to go which was way too late to contest with Ewan. The gap did close a little so I do think Sagan will show some good legs this week. Furthermore, if there are cross winds and echelons in the closing kilometres, it is almost a guarantee that he will make the split.

Elia Viviani.

Unlucky to have been taken out by his own team-mate Morkov in the crash, but at least the Italian managed to get away relatively unscathed – with only a slightly sore foot being a little bit of an issue. Arriving with a strong team, Viviani will be able to rely on trusted lead-out men such as Morkov and Sabatini which will be a massive help for him. Interestingly, I don’t think they will try to control the final 5 kilometres, instead they will try to time their run to the front of the peloton perfectly so that no one else is able to come around them before the line. They don’t have some of their big name classics experts so it will be interesting to see how they cope if there are echelons – but hey, this is Deucenink-Quick Step so they should be fine.

Best of the rest.

Max Walscheid – Has a young lead-out with him so not entirely sure how well they’ll perform as a unit. Might go missing.

Phil Bauhaus – Joins a team that has quite a bit of firepower and a last man in Haussler who is going well at the moment. Could be the surprise.

Danny Van Poppel – Arrives with little support so will have to mainly go solo. He’ll be hoping for wind to make the finish more difficult.

Halvorsen, Mareczko, Philipsen and McLay are all there or thereabouts kind of riders but I think they’ll struggle to make the podium.

Prediction

Possible echelons and a swirling wind that will make timing the sprint difficult, you will need to either be a rider confident in those conditions or with a team strong enough to guide you through them. Furthermore, with the GC riders no doubt twitchy and nervous about possible splits, I think we’ll see a very messy sprint on the opening day.

So I’m going with the master of race craft and position, Peter Sagan, to find himself in the right place at the right time again, taking the win.

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Zweeler

This year the kind people at Zweeler have been nice enough to partner up with the blog, so if you want to play some fantasy games for cash (not just cycling – they have plenty of other sports to offer) then sign up using this link here.

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Doing so and playing a few games will help the blog out greatly – so thanks in advance if you do!

Betting

Was tempted to make it a no bet day but I’m going to have a little dabble on Sagan, nothing wild.

1pt WIN Sagan @ 4/1 various.

Thanks as always for reading! Hope you enjoyed the first preview of the year? Who do you think will win on the opening day and the race overall? Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

A Trivial Review of the 2018 Season: Top 5 Best/Worst #HaugheyCurse Moments

A Trivial Review of the 2018 Season: Top 5 Best/Worst #HaugheyCurse Moments

Hold up, this isn’t a preview? How do I start one of these without the classic “Today’s Recap”? I for one am at a loss…

However, I’m not at as much of a loss though as the cyclists affected by the now infamous Haughey Curse this year. If you aren’t aware and haven’t kept up with my previews this season, there have been numerous riders who I have tipped not even for greatness, but to at least put on a good show, only for them to be struck down by some misfortune; whether that be a crash, mechanical or some other bizarre incident.

The origins of the #HaugheyCurse are somewhat unknown. Some suspect it coincided with the invention of the wheel while most notable researches in the field all point to the 2016 edition of Strade Bianche and the ghastly time Salvatore Puccio had after I’d marked him down as a wildcard for the race. Ironically, the only break the Italian could catch that day was the move he found himself in with around 50km to go prior to falling foul to two punctures that saw him return to the peloton, before another mechanical completely ruined his race.

Sorry Salvatore!

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The 2018 season has been no different so what follows is a tongue-in-cheek review of the year, highlighting the #HaugheyCurse in all its, erm, glory.

A fateful fortnight in March

Cast your mind back to the beginning of the year. Almost two months of racing had past and with the riders returning from blocks in Australia or the Middle East, most were now back in Europe with a focus on the upcoming classics or stage races. Oddly enough, there had been no real ill-effects from my blog picks so far; maybe this year things were going to change? Ha!

March 11th – Stage 8 Paris Nice

Going into that afternoon I was sitting with a 40/1 ticket for Ion Izagirre to win GC at Paris Nice and the Bahrain man was only 11 seconds behind race leader Yates going into that final stage. Furthermore, my only stage punt for that day was Fuglsang who was far enough down in the GC picture to be given some wiggle room. The Dane made the morning break, if you can really call it that given the crazy tempo due to the short stage, along with a few other riders. It was a strong move that would ultimately fight it out for the day’s honours but obviously Fuglsang wouldn’t be there because the former mountain biker crashed on one of the descents. Something he hadn’t done for a long time before that day! Oh well, at least demon-descender Ion Izagirre can put some pressure on Yates on these wet descents? Well he did, and he even had a gap over the Bury man coming off the last climb. Yet inexplicably, he loses the front wheel going round a hairpin and that’s the dream shattered. Two riders you wouldn’t expect to fall on descents doing exactly that on the same day – some proper #HaugheyCurse stuff that.

March 17th – Milan Sanremo

You know when you see a rider in the shape of his life and are incredibly confident about his chances for a race? Well, that was my view of Andre Greipel before MSR this year. The Gorilla, as he is affectionately known, was climbing better than ever in the weeks leading up to the race and putting out some very strong sprint numbers. Lotto Soudal even brought a team that was fully focussed around him – no Wellens or Benoot as late attack options. It seemed they were as equally confident. Things went pear-shaped though when the German found himself on the deck in one of the early crashes. However, he’s a tough rider and a little bit of road rash wasn’t going to stop him. What was going to stop him though was a crash on the descent of the Poggio that completely wiped out any chance he had. A real shame as this was arguably his best but last chance of taking the title. I feel somewhat accountable for that…

Andre-Greipel

March 25th – Stage 7 Volta a Catalunya

I thought the #HaugheyCurse had been somewhat abated the previous day after I pulled a remarkable/ridiculous Max Schachmann win out of the bag. Things seemed to be going really well too on the traditional finish in Barcelona with the racing being as fast past and selective as I thought it would be. I had named two riders to watch for that day Jungels and Soler, both of whom were active off the front of the race in the closing laps. It is the former though who the curse affected the most. Jungels had managed to escape his breakers and push on to form a reasonable gap over them with only 1 and a bit laps to go before disaster struck and a puncture forced him to wait up, consequently slipping back to the peloton. Not the worst in terms of injuries etc, but the Quick Step rider was definitely in a winning position. Although given how the rest of their season went, they probably didn’t lose sleep over that missed chance!

The potential career defining win

Things calmed down a bit once again after that point, thankfully, but the curse was soon to come back again, albeit in a slightly different form. Now I’m including the following one just because of how bizarre that whole day was and knowing that there were several of you with the same ticket as me.

May 12th – Giro d’Italia Stage 8

A day for the break? It should have been but this was the 2018 Giro and it wasn’t like any other Giro that I can remember. Normally the trip round Italy is pretty relaxed in the sense that the GC riders are happy for teams to get up the road and contest the stage win. However, Mitchelton Scott had decided to do things differently this year and chase a load of moves down. Stage 8 seemed to be the day that they were finally happy to let things go and I managed to have Bouwman make the break of the day as one of my lottery picks. The gap increased to the peloton and it looked as if they would make it to fight out the stage win comfortably until the most peculiar series of events unfolded behind and thwarted that opportunity…

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Firstly, a bored Wellens and Hansen decided to launch an attack from the peloton, forcing them to chase, only for the Lotto Soudal duo to go and hide in a car park and rejoin the back of the pack. That saw the gap drop quite a bit but then Katusha Alpecin decided they wanted in on the action for some reason and chase at the head of the peloton. I’m a big fan of a certain #GoOnCalves but it wasn’t really the time and place for that! That saw the gap tumble even more and it was certainly within a catch-able margin, it all depended on the attitude of the GC teams. Of course, their mind was made up not moments later when the heavens opened so in the interest of safety and reverting back to their new-found Giro-type, Mitchelton upped the pace. Froome fell going uphill, riders were slipping out everywhere, a truly weird stage to watch. Poor Bouwman was the strongest of the break and tried desperately to hold on but he was caught with around 2kms to go. There is nothing more to say about that and the unusual turn events, they were obviously caused by a higher power a.k.a the #HaugheyCurse.

The season-long curse

The #HaugheyCurse likes to spread equality throughout the ranks of pro cycling so the women’s peloton don’t get away with a free pass. No rider knows this more than late comer to the sport Lucy Kennedy.

After watching the early season races in January I was super impressed with the Mitchelton rider’s climbing ability and she went on to impress many more with a 5th place in Strade which was followed by a 9th at Binda. People seemed to take her talent quite seriously then. Unfortunately for Lucy, the Curse seems to affect people when they least expect it and when the form is good. Leading into the Ardennes week, the Aussie was going to be given some chances to race aggressively in what was a strong Mitchelton line-up with Spratt and van Vleuten. However, a crash in Amstel completely scuppered that and put her out of action for a while.

Eager to return to racing, Kennedy reset her goals and switched focus to being back and firing for what was going to be a very tough Giro Rosa, a route that had some proper mountains where she could test herself against the very best (mainly her teammates). Yet, she didn’t make the mountains after crashing, albeit finishing, on stage 3 of the race, before abandoning the next morning.

I don’t think I’ve ever “cursed” a rider so much in one season and that’s why it was so nice to see that during the Worlds she did exactly what I thought might happen, delivering a climbing show and putting some of the worlds best into the hurt locker. Hopefully 2019 will be crash free!

*BONUS* The Bizarre

July 22nd – Tour de France Stage 15

A day that was definitely for the break, I had named four lottery picks for that afternoon’s action. As always when deciding on the picks I look at various factors but I more often than not like to choose more of a “fun” rider from a slightly lesser known team. The majority of the time they get beaten if they make the break but their teams are more likely to try to get someone up the road. However this time, Élie Gesbert got beaten, but in a different way than expected…

It’s safe to say that Gesbert decided to stay in the peloton that day.

The “why I named 4 riders” curse

4th August – San Sebastian

In somewhat of a brash move for my San Sebastian preview, I only named 4 riders in the whole thing who I thought had a chance of winning the race: Alaphilippe, Roglic, Landa and Bernal. So it was almost a given that with 18km to go they were all still in contention but that wouldn’t be the case for much longer…

A slight lapse of concentration from Ben King saw him swerve in the road and cause a massive pile-up, taking out 3 of the 4 picks. Nothing much that could be done, it is just one of those unlucky racing incidents.

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However, it is more than coincidental that two of the main casualties were Bernal and Landa, with Roglic also abandoning the race but with less severe injuries. On the flip side though, the only rider named to survive the crash went on to win the race so I guess there’s that!

A Classic

With the season drawing to a close and the Curse finally seeming to have stopped early for its winter break, things were looking to be on the up. The Italian one-day racing was coming thick and fast with Lombardia on the horizon and riders were honing their form for the big one.

6th October – Giro dell’Emilia 

A very active and tough edition of the race saw the peloton drastically whittled down during the local finishing circuit. Up ahead, mid-race breaker De Marchi was putting on a show but with his gap never increasing to a crazy advantage, there was always a chance those behind could catch him. Step up one of my picks for the day – Gianluca Brambilla. The Italian had looked lively after a strong end to the Vuelta and was consistently climbing near the head of the peloton on the finish climb of San Luca. On the final lap he attacked over the top of the climb, escaping on the descent with Mohoric in a bid to catch De Marchi. We were treated to some crazy descending form the duo and they had reduced the gap down to around 20 seconds – one that was certainly bridge-able on the tough San Luca climb. However, disaster struck for Brambilla just as they made their turn onto the ascent as he had suffered a puncture (probably from all of his fancy drain hopping descending). So miffed at the #HaugheyCurse and a race that he would have won, he didn’t even bother to complete the remaining 2kms and just quit the race then and there. Nothing beats a classic mechanical mishap!

So that’s the end of this year’s #HaugheyCurse review. There are definitely many more incidents that happened throughout the season but these are the ones that stood out for me/that I could remember. I wonder who will be affected next year?

It isn’t all doom and gloom though for riders mentioned in my blog though as plenty, well, a few, have actually went on to win the race or at least play a very active part in the outcome.

Special mention must go to my Flanders duo of van der Breggen and Terpstra who both managed win Ronde. See, it can be done!

So here they are doing their special “we avoided the #HaugheyCurse dance”…

 

Hope you’ve enjoyed this slightly more trivial take on the 2018 season rather than the usual “Best of” lists you see. I might, and might is the key word here, do an under rated/under the radar rides of the year at some point. Until then, thanks as always for reading.

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

La Classica delle foglie morte: Il Lombardia 2018 Preview

La Classica delle foglie morte: Il Lombardia 2018 Preview

The last monument of the year is upon us and the now almost year-round cycling season is winding down, albeit there are still some races left after tomorrow’s affair. However, il Lombaria marks the traditional end of the season and so this will be the last preview of the year. Before starting it properly though, I’ll get the soppy stuff out the road first…

Thank you for returning continuously throughout the year to read the posts and interacting with me on Twitter etc, it really helps to keep me motivated through the months where I’m churning out a preview a day or more! I’m proud to see the blog grow even more this year and thanks for being a part of that – I hope I’ve been able to deliver good and entertaining content, well, at least for most of the time.*

*We’ll just ignore the processional final GT stages…

I’m not sure what the off-season will bring, maybe some rider interviews but let’s be honest, who is really wanting to be interviewed here rather than one of the bigger sites so that is probably a no go. I’ll try to get some opinion pieces out or rider profiles for “ones to watch” or anything really. We’ll see how bored I get during the cold and dark winter months in Scotland!

I never thought at the start of the year I’d manage to get two pieces published in Cycling Weekly and once again that is down to you for sharing and engaging with the content on here/Twitter. Not bad for someone who is a “clueless” cycling blogger – shout out Mr Wong.

But yeah, cheers and enjoy the off-season.

Here goes nothing for one last time this year…


 

In 2017 we were treated to a tough and tactical race but it was a day that was really ever going to be won by one rider – Vincenzo Nibali.

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The Italian was one of the strongest riders on the climbs and only Pinot could match him, but it was on the descents where he proved his worth. He delivered a trademark masterclass and took 15 seconds off of the Frenchman on the penultimate climb’s descent before skipping up the final climb and riding solo to the finish. Behind, Pinot was caught by a group and thanks to some more dare-devil descending, Alaphilippe took second place – a sign of things to come for this year. The Pinot group then sprinted for the final podium spot and it was Moscon who took the spoils.

Will we see a similar outcome this year? Let’s take a look at what awaits the riders.

The Route

An almost carbon copy of the 2017 route, the only major difference is that the San Fermo climb has been removed due to a threat of landslides.

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At 241km and with almost 4000m of elevation gain, it is no easy day out in the saddle. It is even more difficult though when you consider the majority of the climbing comes in the closing 70kms. First up is the famous Madonna del Ghisallo climb (9.1km at 5.2%) and we can expect to 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 really pushes on in the bunch, not many will be left in with a chance once the peloton is 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 they headed towards Civilgio. Those 15kms are pretty important because it is yet another place where teams with numbers can launch an attack and if there is only a group of 20 up ahead, a counter attack of 5-6 riders could easily gain a minute or so quickly before Civiglio.

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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?

It is not only the climb that you can attack on but the technical descent provides a good place to distance rivals – as we saw last year with Nibali v Pinot. Thankfully it looks as if it will be dry tomorrow but the descent is still tricky nonetheless.

They descend all the way, albeit the gradients are less severe as they enter Como, before hitting the “new” climb of Monte Olimpino.

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Ignore the sudden rise at the start of the profile above as they go under the bridge and the contours on the map happen to be right beside there so it messes with it a bit. The climb is a lot more gradual but the 5.2% for 1.7km is enough for someone to launch a late attack – especially with what has come before. The route down the other side is almost a mirror image before a final 1.5km of flat sees the riders to the finish.

Will someone arrive solo or will we see a small group sprint?

How will the race pan out?

Last year saw a thinning of the peloton over the Ghisallo and Sormano climbs before the pace was really upped on the Civiglio by FDJ. I would expect something similar this year but with Olimpino being considerably easier than the San Fermo, we could have action earlier because it will be harder to create a gap on that last climb.

If that is the case, then it will be tougher to control those 15kms of flat between Sormano and Civiglio because few riders will have many, if any, domestiques left. Consequently, that could open it up for a cluster of “second string” riders to get away and if the majority of the main favourites have a team-mate there, then it could be the move of the day.

However, this is the last monument of the year and a big goal for many in this part of the season so I can’t really see it happening. It should be fought out between the favourites, it is just a case of who makes the move and when. Proceedings will be extremely thinned out on Civiglio and we could see some attack on either the climb or the descent – those without a good sprint will certainly want to shake their rivals off there.

If not, things will get very tactical in the closing 6 kilometres and we might get a bit of a surprise victor, albeit, from a group of favourites.

The Great Eight

There are only eight guys who I think can win this race.

Alejandro Valverde.

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The evergreen World Champion arrives at this race as main favourite because he can do pretty much everything but the main reason is that if things come together for a reduced bunch sprint, it will be very difficult for anyone to beat him. After doing a lot of media duty post-Innsbruck, he’s used Emilia and Milano Torino as good training and to get the race speed back in the legs with the main goal always being Sunday. He looked very comfortable in MT before cracking a little on the final climb and finishing third. Was it a real crack though? Or was it more a case of him being happy with his training for the day and riding home? Knowing Valverde, I think the latter.

Michael Woods.

After taking a great win at the Vuelta, the Canadian was a bit of a surprise package at the Worlds where he ultimately took the bronze medal. Arguably, he looked one of the strongest on the climb but cramped up at the finish. Since then he looked comfortable in Emilia with a 4th place finish but then disappointed with the same result in Tre Valli after his team-mate Uran did all the work for him. Woods has really developed this season in the tougher one-day races – can he take that big win?

Rigoberto Uran.

Like Woods, he skipped Milano Torino as he was more than happy enough with his form in the other two races. The way he skipped away from the bunch on both of those days was quite remarkable and I think he will have a big say in the outcome of the day tomorrow. He’s finished 3rd three times here before and will desperately want to go better. One of the few guys who might actually fancy his chances against Valverde in a sprint.

Thibaut Pinot.

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A spectacular climbing display in Milano Torino saw him take the title of a one-day race, something he has been desperately chasing this Autumn. He’s arguably been the most consistent rider of this final third of the season and has certainly looked a different beast compared to the early part of the year. Being able to rely on Gaudu and Reichenbach deep into the race will be important but I’m not sure either will be there when it really gets going so Pinot will have to do it on his own.

Romain Bardet.

Apparently working for Alaphilippe at the Worlds, finishing second to Valverde in the end wasn’t a bad result. Like most on this list, he was up there in Emilia and came home with the main group in Tre Valli. One of the better descenders in the peloton, Bardet may opt to attack on the downhill of Civiglio and hope to get a gap. A gutsy rider, expect to see him on the move at some point. A big ride from Gallopin tomorrow could be a great help.

Vincenzo Nibali.

Winner on this route two times before, can he make it three? After an unfortunate incident at the Tour forced him to abandon, he has been trying to chase a good level of form ever since. Content with his performances in Emilia and TVV, I think that form is coming. Nibali is known to pull one out of the bag and there won’t be anyone in the peloton who knows this finale better than him. Having a strong team around him should help and I’d expect to see Pozzovivo and Izagirre with him for most of the day.

Primoz Roglic.

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Is it possible to have two “breakthrough” years in a row? Because Roglic has certainly done that in my opinion. On paper this a route and race that is perfect for him: some tough climbs and gnarly descents. However, the Slovenian has still yet to prove himself as a one-day racer, although he has won plenty of stages that are reminiscent of tomorrow. His result at the Worlds will have been a disappointment but there is nothing he could do about the crash and the consequent chase/energy loss because of it. Since then his performances in the two Italian one-day races have been good and I think he’ll be there or thereabouts tomorrow.

Egan Bernal.

The wild card for tomorrow given his recent return after injury but you can never discount a talent like Bernal. Aged just 20 he finished in 17th place here which was a truly stunning result so he does have previous on this parcours. He’s been involved in a lot of the Italian races just so that he can regain the racing rhythm back into his legs and a 10th place in Milano Torino suggests he’s heading in the right direction. Is it too little too late though?

Prediction

Team mates will be incredibly important at the end and there are two guys on the list above from the same time. I think this is Rigoberto Uran’s time to finally get further up that podium. Vamos!

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Betting

I don’t just want to cover Uran though and I’m backing another two of the eight. End of the season so let’s have some fun:

2pts WIN Uran @ 12/1 (would take 10s)

2pts WIN Nibali @ 16/1 (would take 14s available with most)

2pts WIN Roglic @ 20/1 (would take 16s)

Thanks as always for reading! Who do you think will win tomorrow? Anyway, for the last time this season,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

 

Milano-Torino 2018 Preview

Another day, another Italian race and this time it is the oldest one-day event in the country: Milano Torino.

Last season saw a barnstorming Rigoberto Uran take the win after attacking quite early on the final climb of the day and holding on to the finish.

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A fast finishing Adam Yates could only manage second with Aru, who attacked even earlier than Uran, rounding out the podium. Will the Colombian manage to make it two in a row this year and three for his nation? Let’s have a look at what is in store for the riders tomorrow.

The Route

Fans of the old adage “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”, the organisers have once again came up with a pretty similar route this year. There is a slight change in the middle of the day with a few more hills and an extra 14kms of riding to boot.

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Nonetheless, it should all come down to the final 30kms and the two ascents of Superga.

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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!

That’s about it for the route, nothing too exciting but the riders do make the race.

How will the day 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 the move. 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.

In 2016, 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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Similarly, it is the same option/race outcome that we had last year when Uran won.

So how will it pan out this year?

I’m not entirely sure, both the splinter group getting away or a main contender showdown are almost equally likely in my opinion. What is interesting is that we have a few of the big names for Saturday deciding to skip this race; Nibali, Uran, Woods, Bardet and Roglic to name a few. Will that make their teams ride more aggressively? Will other squads try to seize the opportunity and hold things together knowing some of the better guys aren’t here. We saw today that Pinot is in great form at the moment and Valverde was there where he needed to be too. A win for either of them would be great but I’m sure they’ll be confident enough of there form and might just have one eye on Saturday. Consequently, that tips it ever so slightly in favour of a splinter group getting away and fighting it out for the win so that’s the option I’ll go with.

Four to Watch

Like with my preview for Tre Valli Varesine, I’m just going to highlight some guys to keep an eye out for throughout the day and who will hopefully be active, even if they don’t win.

Tiesj Benoot.

After what seems like an injury plagued second half to the season, Benoot has performed well in the two one-day races he has completed since the Vuelta. He had a poor day at the Worlds but showed that there is still form there with a good 6th place in Paris Tours. A possible “what could have been day” had he not punctured and have to chase back on. Arriving at this race as co-leader with Wellens, I would expect them to animate the race on the first ascent of Superga. Despite his original career trajectory as a one-day Classics rider, Benoot has shown so far this season that he can more than handle his own on the climbs too. Will this be another “breakthrough” ride in that sense?

Diego Rosa.

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A former winner of this race and with his fan club no doubt at the 2.6km to go mark (see above), the Sky rider will be motivated for this one tomorrow. However, the issue lies with the fact his form hasn’t exactly been sparkling as of late. He looked a bit lacklustre in Tre Valli and struggled to close a gap to the head of the race but he seems fairly positive in his latest Instagram post so who knows. One thing he has going for him is before that great win in 2015, his form was arguably equally as uninspiring so who knows. I’d expect him to go on that attack at some point but will he have enough to take the win? Probably not.

Gianluca Brambilla.

Oh so close to a great result in Emilia before he fell foul of the #HaugheyCurse and punctured at the bottom of the San Luca climb. Brambilla was so enraged at that he didn’t even bother to finish the race and if I’m honest, I don’t blame him – the win was his for the taking. Returning to racing today in TVV, he looked solid and finished in the chase group behind our winner, sprinting to 10th place. I would like to see him go on the attack early because I don’t think he has the legs to win it from the peloton, unless there is some looking around, but he seems in great shape just now and I wouldn’t underestimate him.

Jan Hirt.

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Now where did I put my overused “Hirt locker” joke? Astana arrive here with a strong squad that on paper has several options, with Fuglsang and Lopez as the arguable leaders. However, Hirt is a very good card to play and the Czech rider came out of the Vuelta with some decent shape; finishing a very respectable 17th at the Worlds. He’s not had many chances to chase his own results in what is his first year with the world tour outfit but he showed in 2017 just what he can do on the steep slopes. I think he is a danger man. Just waiting for that inevitable DNF now…

Prediction

A tactical race where a lot of the main players want to keep their powder dry for Saturday, allowing for a group to escape clear before the final ascent and fight out for the win. I’ll go with a lively Brambilla to make it two from two for Trek.

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

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

Tre Valli Varesine 2018 Preview: Saronno -> Varese

After the back-to-back Italian races at the weekend, a lot of the same riders who featured in those events will have had one or two days of rest before they take to the start line tomorrow for the 98th edition of Tre Valli Varesine.

In 2017 we had a pretty selective finish once Bahrain attacked the final rise to the line, with Geniez taking a rather surprising win after beating Pinot and Nibali in the sprint.

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Will we see a similarly close finish tomorrow? Let’s have a look at what is in store for the riders.

The Route

After sticking with the same circuit around Varese for recent editions, the organisers have decided to mix things up a bit this year and alter it somewhat.

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After leaving Saronno the riders will tackle 80kms of rolling terrain, before they enter Varese and start the traditional circuit.

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Just tea-leafing the above image from last year’s preview but shout out to @LasterketaBurua for making the original. As you can see, the circuit is almost constantly up and down with very little flat roads which makes it hard to control at times. The climbs on the traditional circuit aren’t too tough but it is the repetitive nature and very little respite that makes it a deceivingly hard day out.

The riders will complete the above circuit 6 times before they start the new “long circuit” which makes up a shade over 40km given the 2 laps.

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The opening climb that they face on the circuit is the same Via Montello climb that has been tackled throughout the day. Depending on which way you look at the ascent, it can either be taken as 1.6km at 5.5% or 1km at 7%. Either way, it is clear that the second half of the ascent is the toughest part and some riders could find themselves in difficulty here.

A quick descent is interrupted by a small plateau before the road continues to head down towards the Lake. Roughly 2kms of flat land awaits the riders and it could well be a place where a lot of looking around happens before things start to kick back up again.

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The next 4.94kms average 4.1% but as you can see on the image above, the road is very narrow for the most part and will be difficult to control, especially with how winding it is.

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That average of 4.1% for almost 5kms doesn’t sound too bad but looking at the profile for it, you can see it can be split into three parts.

An opening 1.7km at 7.2% which contains several steep ramps of above 15%. Ignore that slightly downhill bit near the top of the climb because after viewing it on Street view, I can rest assure you that there is no downhill!

Next on the list is 1.1km of flat/ever so slight descent. Nothing too exciting but it could be a place to launch an attack with everyone on the limit from the previous steep ramps.

Finally, the road then goes up in steps for the following 2kms (4.9% average), with a handful of few hundred metre drags at 7/8% which are quickly back-ended with a few hundred metres of flat before another drag. Rinse and repeat.

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There is a ridiculously narrow street (see above) that leads onto a 15% kicker with around 400m of the climb to go.

Once over the top it is 4.5km of a mainly flat, albeit ever so slightly downhill, run to the line. With that run in taking place on a mostly straight main road, will any would be attackers be able to resist a potential chase from behind?

Team Tactics

Tre Valli is often a very tactical race where teams have numerous options to play and it looks as if tomorrow will be no different, despite the change in course. In theory, the easy final 4.5km does make a reduced bunch sprint at the end of the day a more favourable outcome than it was when they used the “traditional circuit” only. However, the almost 5km climb at 4.1% which has parts that are much harder than those figures suggest will split things up no doubt. It is more likely to split things up in my opinion than the finish climb in previous editions. Yet of course, we could see some teams hold back and commit fully to a sprint finish and save their riders to chase back in the final 4.5km. I don’t think that will happen though and it is wise to try to get riders up the road.

When do you attack though?

Leaving it until the final lap and that last climb will ensure that it is more of the traditional GC riders and strong puncheurs that are competing for the win. However, teams can play the numbers game and send people up the road earlier in the lap, or even on the penultimate circuit.

There are plenty of opportunities to create a gap and if enough of the “right teams” are represented then it could stay away until the finish.

Riders to Watch

As always for a pretty unpredictable race I could have around 20 guys down here and still not name the winner so I’ll do what I normally do and just name a handful for you to keep an eye on over the course of the afternoon. They might not necessarily win the day, but hopefully they put on a show.

Peter Kennaugh.

Criterium du Dauphine 2018

After having a tough first half of his season due to various reasons, it was nice to see him take a win in the GP Cerami back in the tail end of July. However, it was his performance in the recent World Championships that really impressed me. On that day he delivered a solid team job, working on the front of the bunch hoping to set up Yates but the Mitchelton man didn’t have the legs. After recovering a little, Kennaugh then launched his own attack but because of the work done earlier, he couldn’t stick with the flying Valgren. Arriving here with more confidence because of that, the testing course should suit him and given its unpredictable nature, it just teases an attack from the former British champion.

Davide Villella.

Having rode two Grand Tours this year working for others, the Italian on the Astana team now arrives at “his time” in the season. Last year he produced a very strong string of results in the Italian Autumn one day races and I expect that to be no different this season. He started it off with a 12th in Emilia but the parcours here looks much more suited to his characteristics and I would expect him to feature at the pointy end. As someone who is possibly under rated by some of his opposition, he might just benefit from that and solo away in the closing kilometres.

Mattia Cattaneo.

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After an incredibly consistent 2017, the former Baby Giro winner has failed to live up to that potential this year. However, some solid results over the past few Italian races suggest that his form is on the up. He was on the attack in Emilia which was ultimately fruitless but at least the intentions were good. A lively rider, he could just be one to surprise.

Giovanni Visconti.

Arriving here as Bahrain’s second option isn’t exactly a bad thing for the veteran Italian. He always seems to come good at this time of year and a tricky course like this will no doubt see him on the attack at some point. Possibly lacking the punch he used to have in previous years, it would still be unwise to underestimate him. One good thing about being on the attack with Visconti is that he will work and it means that a strong Bahrain team will be staying put behind. Is it even a “surprise” result if he wins?

Prediction

A very cagey race gets blown apart on the first passage of the “long circuit” and we see a strong group get clear with the majority of the big teams represented. With all of the main favourites looking at each other behind the group stays away and Villella takes a landmark win.

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Thanks as always for reading. Who do you think will win tomorrow? Will we see a tactical race? Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

Innsbruck 2018 World Championships: Men’s Road Race Preview

Innsbruck 2018 World Championships: Men’s Road Race Preview

After an exciting week of racing, the elite men have a lot to live up to tomorrow!

In 2017 we saw a tactical race but one that came down to a bunch sprint in the end, despite numerous attacks in the closing lap. So the best rider in that situation, Sagan, took what was his third title in a row, just edging out home favourite Kristoff.

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Matthews completed the podium in third place.

Sagan is going for 4 wins in a row but given the tough parcours awaiting him tomorrow it looks unlikely but you can never discount the Slovakian. Let’s have a look at what is in store for them.

The Route

A long day out in the saddle at a shade over 261kms but combined with 5000m of elevation gain according to LaFlammeRouge, it will also be a brutally tough one.

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To start off with the peloton faces 60kms of flat, albeit slightly rolling roads before they make it to the Gnadenwald climb, which will be familiar to those who did the time trial earlier in the week. download (40)

Very steep in the opening 2.5km, averaging roughly 10%, it has been used so far this week as a climb to thin down the bunch, but with just under 200km to go once over the top then I can’t see that being the case this time.

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The riders then move on to complete 6 full laps of the main circuit, and once more up the Igls climb for good measure.

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The climb isn’t too tough when taken on its own but as we have seen throughout this week, that if teams come to the front and put the pace on then it can cause some damage. Seven ascents of it will certainly take its toll!

The descent might also play a part in the day.

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It is very fast and the best going downhill can cause some issues for those that are less competent and confident. There are a few technical bends within Igls for example but nothing too crazy but it is a road that you can string some corners together nicely.

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After the last ascent of the Igls climb, the riders don’t complete the normal circuit, taking a detour to the much talked about “Hell” climb. At 11.5% for 2.8km it is a brutally steep ascent to be taking on at this point in the day and it will be one that will strike fear into many. It is *only* 3kms long though so it will tempt the puncheurs but will they be there to fight it out?

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The descent off of the climb is technical and will suit a solo rider well, before they return to the riverside and the familiar final 2.5kms that we’ve seen over the past few days.

How will the race pan out?

Beats me.

The usual rule of thumb for the Worlds is that the U23s and elite ment follow a similar pattern but that was thrown out the window a little last year. Plus, with the addition of the Hell climb in only the men’s race, we might see some teams wait until then, just like in a Fleche Wallone for example.

However, I do think the course is challenging enough before then for some serious attacks to go clear on the penultimate or last ascent of the Igls climb. There are several teams here with solid second options, or main riders in a nation that might not be classed as one of the favourites, so they have an opportunity to go early and anticipate any action later. Although I’m sure they would be happy if there was no action later!

Like I said in my preview for the women’s race, you have to be willing to lose the race to win it. Given how strong the likes of Valverde and Alaphilippe should be on the final climb, I think we might see quite a few riders plan to go early.

If the majority of the big nations, i.e. Spain, France, Italy, GB and Belgium, have a rider in a late attack there is a good chance that it stays away. That is the option that I’m going with for the following!

Four Hell-raisers

Basically my four riders to watch that aren’t any of the clear and obvious favourites, although one of them kind of is…

Jakob Fuglsang.

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Cast your mind back to Rio 2016 where Fuglsang finished second after a tough day out in the saddle. On that day he was one of the strongest and almost pulled van Avermaet across to Majka when chasing the Pole. So far this year he has produced some very strong and consistent results but has only picked up one win. His race schedule after the Tour has been pretty light and he’s focussed mainly on recovering from that race and building slowly for here. In the Canadian races he did some good training on the attack and doing work for team-mates. Has he timed that peak well?

Rafal Majka.

Rio rider number two, Majka came very close to winning the race but was caught in the final couple of kilometres and had to settle for bronze. In the recent Vuelta he looked to be strong in the final couple of stages and was on the attack in others, honing his form. Looking back, it is interesting to see that he made the break on both of the really steep summit finishes, stages 13 and 17. Getting some practice in for the Hell climb? It will be interesting to see how him and Kwiatkowski approach the race but I expect one of them to attack early and go from there. He’s not one to be underestimated.

Adam Yates.

I mentioned during the final week of the Vuelta that his form seemed to be on the up and he seems to provide a good second option for the British team, with the other obviously being his brother. A former winner of San Sebastian, a race that many say is a good form indicator for this course, he is a rider a lot of people will be wary of. Compared to Simon, Adam is the Yates with a better track record in the “classic” one-day races. Will this be of an advantage?

Tim Wellens.

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It’s pretty much blasphemous to have a short list of riders for a Worlds, even if they are outsiders, and not include a Belgian! The lowland nation has had a good championships so far and they will be looking to go out with a bang tomorrow. On paper they might not have stand-out riders for a route like this but Wellens, Benoot and Teuns could all go deep into the race. I expect them to be one of the most aggressive teams and they will look to animate the final 50kms. Wellens has had a great year and continues to develop into a very strong all round rider who can handle any terrain. He was flying at the start of the season before his form took a little dip but he seems to be on the way back up again. It would certainly be a dangerous tactic to give him any freedom.

Prediction

A lot of the main favourites to wait it out until the Hell climb but by then the race will be too far ahead.

Adam Yates to win after attacking on the penultimate ascent of Igls and forming a strong group that stays away before he drops them all on that now famous climb.

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Betting

I already have Yates from during the Vuelta but I’d still back him now, treating myself points wise after a very good women’s race today.

2pts WIN Yates @ 14/1 with various

1pt EW Majka @ 50/1 with SkyBet, Coral etc (would take 33s)

1pt EW Fuglsang @ 50/1 with various

1pt EW Wellens @ 50/1 with Skybet, Coral etc (would take 33s)

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

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

Innsbruck 2018 World Championships – Women’s Road Race Preview

Innsbruck 2018 World Championships – Women’s Road Race Preview

On a tricky course in Bergen last year we saw a tactical and exciting race throughout the afternoon. Going into the last lap a trio of Blaak, Cordon Ragot and Barnes were up the road and ahead of the peloton. They had quite a comfortable lead but Blaak did not fancy her sprint against the Brit if they came to the line together, quite annoying as I actually had money on Hannah, so she started to skip turns. A strong quartet of van Vleuten, van der Breggen, Garfoot and Niewiadoma managed to break clear of the peloton on the final ascent of Salmon Hill, bridging to the trio ahead. With three now at the head of the race, the Dutch decided to take turns and attacking to try to break away once the steepest part of the descent was over. Well, I say “take turns” but after van Vleuten was reeled in, Blaak managed to escape almost straight away. With no co-operation behind the race was over, with the Dutch rider coming home solo for a great win!

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Behind there was so much looking around that the group was caught be the peloton as they rounded the final corner. Garfoot was able to hold on and sprint for second while an impressive Dideriksen claimed a podium at the event for the second year in a row, having previously won it in Doha. I doubt she’ll make it three here though! Let’s have a look at what is in store for the riders throughout the afternoon.

The Route

A demanding day in the saddle that sees the riders take on three ascents of the Igls climb.

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They have to get there first though and the opening 60kms rolls before it flattens out. However, just after that marker the riders will face the Gnadenwald climb, the one that has been used in the men’s TT and the road races since. With its steep average gradient of over 9% for almost 3kms, it is tough enough that some riders can be dropped. In fact, throughout the races we have seen so far this is where an initial selection is made.

A plateau and a fast descent follows before the riders enter Innsbruck and begin the laps of the finish circuit.

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As you can see, the focal point of the course is the climb.

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A fairly consistent effort, albeit with some gradient changes between 4-7% at  times, the slope is less severe than the Gnadenwald climb the riders tackle earlier in the day. However, it is the length of the ascent and the three ascents of it that they have to do which will take its toll.

If you’ve watched any of the races so far, the descent off of the climb is arguably almost as important as the ascent.

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It is possible for a rider to lose a bit of time here if they are not as confident as their rivals. As you can see on the image above, it isn’t too technical of a descent but there are plenty of sweeping turns: it certainly is fast though. Saying that, there are some sharper turns through the town of Igls but nothing crazy. Nonetheless, being a good descender will be important.

Once the descent is finished there are just over 7kms of mostly flat roads through the streets of Innsbruck. There is a small kicker of around 500m at 5.5% that crests with just over 3.5km to go and it is the last launchpad for a rider to make a solo move. Well, unless of course they time an attack perfectly in those closing kilometres on the flat too!

Can anyone beat the Dutch?

I posed this question before the Euro road race and the answer to that question was: the Dutch.

On that day they rode strongly and in the closing 30kms always had riders on the attack off the front of the bunch, ultimately having one of their star riders, van der Breggen, in a small group. That group extended their advantage and looked like they would contend for the win but the Dutch team started to work on the front of the peloton. At the same time van der Breggen attacked from the break and only Longo Borghini could follow. The duo worked well together for a bit and still had a strong advantage but the Dutch rider eventually sat on in the closing kilometres, only for her team-mates not to win the bunch sprint behind. It was truly one of the weirdest races I’ve seen in terms of team tactics. Did the lack of race radios make a difference? AVDB wasn’t confident of sprinting to beat Rowe but surely she would have fancied her chances in a two-up gallop against Longo Borghini.

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Either way, the squad will hope for a much better result at this event. They arrive with the two pre-race favourites in van Vleuten and van der Breggen. Both were very strong in the TT on Tuesday and both will fancy their chances on this course. We saw at La Course that they are arguably the two strongest climbers in the women’s peloton, although arguments can be made for others and that riders were at different peak points. The team to support them is strong but not as strong as it could be. How long with they last into the day if the pace is on during the climbs? Theoretically it should be Brand and Ensing that are last support riders but the latter hasn’t been great this year – I think they will really miss Stultiens. It means that it will be hard for them to control the race late on, so I think they’ll adopt the old cliché: “attack is the best form of defense”

I would be very surprised to see both of the riders sit in the peloton until the final ascent, I think one will have to be used in a counter move before then. Who that is? No idea! Tactics will then be interesting in that front group, will those ahead want to work with either van der Breggen or van Vleuten knowing their pedigree? It really is a delicately poised race.

How do you beat the Dutch?

Step one is kind of laid out above, you need to isolate their leaders and hope to still have numbers in the front group. With that said, which nations can I see having numbers in a reduced/very reduced peloton going into the final few laps?

Dutch – van der Breggen, van Vleuten, Brand, van Dijk.

Australia – Spratt, Kennedy, Gillow.

Italy – Longo Borghini, Magnaldi.

USA – Hall, Guarnier, Winder, Wiles.

Spain – Merino, Garcia, Santesteban.

Canada – Kirchmann, Poidevin.

There might be a few other nations who have a couple of riders in there but those are teams that I think have the best chance of having most. Then of course there are the riders who will no doubt be there but will possibly be lacking any team support by that point such as Niewiadoma, Moolman and Uttrup.

So with step one complete and a reduced peloton, step two then involves you sending riders on the attack and forcing the Dutch to chase it down and tire out Brand/van Dijk. Of course this step can be countered by the Dutch getting involved in the attacks themselves.

Step 3 is then all about good race craft and luck. Let’s say a group of 6 get away with the majority of the “big” nations represented and with no organisation behind, they are set to stay out for the remainder of the race. The likelihood in that situation is that either van Vleuten or van der Breggen or both are there, meaning they are still in that race favourites position but now with less opposition. Maybe this plan isn’t going so well after all?

Anyway, this is where you have to be willing to lose the race.

Both willing to lose in terms of putting in an audacious attack to get rid/drop everyone before the climb, or on the foot slopes of it. Or, by sitting in and letting the Dutch rider(s) do all the work to chase any of those attacks down before you counter. Because let’s be honest, no one here is going to drop the “vans” any other way.

A Dangerous Duo

I’ve went through the two main favourites and how to possibly beat them, but who are those that have a chance? I’ll be keeping this sweet as I’ve already rambled enough so I’m limiting myself to two riders to watch. No jokers and super jokers here.

Ruth Winder.

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As alluded to above, the US have one of the best teams here in terms of strength in depths with several riders who could play a part in the day. I’ve been very impressed with Winder this season and her move across to race in Europe full-time with Sunweb. She’s picked up a win at the Giro Rosa and two stages in the recent Tour de l’Ardeche. A solid climber who might not be able to match the very best, if she is in a group of “lesser” riders, then she is a big threat. Packing a fast kick to the line, she will be happy to arrive with a group.

Amanda Spratt.

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Arguably one of the riders of the year, Spratt has been sensational this season as part of Mitchelton Scott’s climbing unit. Often working in the service of van Vleuten, she has still managed to take 5 wins this season, including a stage at the Giro Rosa where she came third overall. Now though she has to race against her team-mate so if there is anyone in the peloton who might know van Vleuten’s weaknesses, it will be Spratt. Like the US, Australia have a pretty solid climbing unit with them and I would expect Gillow and Kennedy to go deep into the race. A special shout out to the latter who after an incredibly up and down season as a first year pro arrives with something to prove. I hope we get to see Lucy set free on a climb for once this year!

The season-long prediction

Some of you may remember that back at the start of the year in my Strade Bianche blog I said one rider was going to win the Worlds this year. Who?

Katarzyna Niewiadoma

I still think she has a great chance and after her recent run of form she starts as the fourth favourite for the race according to the bookmakers. However the issue for her, and Moolman likewise, is that their team support coming into the final couple of laps will be minimal, if there is anyway. That will make it difficult for her to make the right move at the right time etc so she will need to get a little lucky. I’m not back tracking and discrediting her completely but it is harder than it would be if she was Dutch!

Prediction

I’ve led you on a merry dance only to say it has to be one of the Dutch superstars, doesn’t it? After the Euros debacle there is no way that they are losing this unless they completely mess it up again, it is just a case of choosing which “van”.

Van der Breggen proved her worth in the one-day spring classics this year and at La Course had the edge on the climbs. Whereas, van Vleuten has had an incredibly stellar season winning the Giro Rosa with ease and you could argue fatigue played a part in that slight crack in La Course.

Hmmmmmm.

I’ll go with van der Breggen.

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The Olympic champion to finally become World Champion.

Betting

Going wild, why not…

4pts WIN AVDB @ 11/4

1pt EW Spratt @ 14/1

1pt EW Winder @ 33/1

5pts Kirchmann to beat Sierra @ 6/4

I think the Canadian is in great form at the moment after the TT. She finished 17th on GC in the Giro this year so has shown to go okay on the climbs. I think Sierra is a little overrated for this race and isn’t suited to the longer ascents.

Thanks as always for reading, I hope we’re in for a great tactical race. Who do you think will win and why? Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

Innsbruck 2018 World Championships – Men’s ITT Preview

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

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

The Route

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

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

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

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

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

Catchy sub-title that, isn’t it?

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

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

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

The Distance Factor

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

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

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

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

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

The infamous Rule of Thumb

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

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

Dennis vs Dumoulin

 

The battle we’ve all been waiting for.

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

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

Can anyone beat them? 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Prediction

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

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

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

Betting

Do I want to back him heavily though?

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

1pt EW Jungels @ 25/1

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

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

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

5pts on at 5/4 with WillHill

 

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

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.