Dwars door Vlaanderen 2018 Preview

The cobbled action continues with some mid-week Belgian racing in Flanders as Dwars door Vlaanderen marks the final race before De Ronde this weekend.

Last year’s edition saw a strong Quick Step team control the race with Gilbert launching the attack that ultimately led to the winning move from 76km out on the Berendries. The group was slowly whittled down to 4 riders; Gilbert, Lampaert, Durbridge and Lutsenko. Quick Step played the old 1-2 perfectly with the Belgian Champion attacking first followed by Lampaert attacking just after he was caught. The local rider managed to stay away and take the biggest win in his career!

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Behind, Gilbert sprinted home for second with Lutsenko showing promise of what was to come later in the year in third. Unfortunately for Durbridge he finished in 4th place after doing a lot of the work to try to bring back the winner on the day. He’ll hope for better this year!

It was a great day for the blog too as the race almost went exactly to plan (which is strange) and Yves brought home the 66/1 winner. More of the same exciting racing this year? I hope so! Let’s have a look at what is in store for the riders.

The Route

After a fairly hard parcours in 2017, the organisers have made this edition easier given its new position in the calendar just 4 days before the “big event”. That doesn’t mean the racing will be boring though and lots of riders will fancy their chances at a good result.

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@LasterketaBurua

Fewer climbs, fewer cobbles and a slightly shorter distance. Nonetheless, the riders will have to face 12 bergs and 5 sectors of cobbles throughout the day so it isn’t exactly an easy route, just easier than last year.

The main focal point of the race is the Knokteberg which the riders will cover three times throughout the day.

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1.1km long at 8% it is punchy enough that the strongest riders can attack it at a fierce pace and complete the climb in roughly 2’40. On narrow roads, positioning is vital because if the pace does increase you don’t want to be too far back as it will be a struggle to make up the ground.

It’s at the second passage of this climb I think we’ll see some action because it crests with roughly 65km to go. From that point, it is less than 10kms until we hit the busiest part of the race in terms of “obstacles” with Kortekeer (1km at 6.6%), Steenbekdries (a 600m climb at 3.4% that is part of a 2.1km long section of cobbles) and the Taaienberg (890m at 7.1%).

That is the most challenging part of the route as there is no room for rest so if a few teams decide to go wild then it could be goodbye to those at the back of the bunch.

10kms after the Taainberg comes the Kruisberg which is a 1.8km (4.8%) climb. However, it is not just a simple flat road between the two climbs as the parcours rolls a bit and doesn’t give anyone who has went into the red on the Taainberg much time to recover.

At the 147km mark the riders will face the Knokteberg for the last time and is the last place a puncheur can make any massive difference.

With 34km remaining all the obstacles aren’t over though but they aren’t as difficult as what they have faced so far. Nonetheless, climbs such as the Holstraat or Nokereberg could still prove decisive. Especially the latter as it comes 10kms to go and is swiftly followed by the final set of cobbles.

Will it be a solo rider, small group, or large group arriving into Waregem? Well, one factor might play a big part in that…

Weather Watch

It might now officially be Spring, but that doesn’t mean the weather is getting any better.

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Source: Windfinder

 

 

 

 

 

 

The image above is the forecast for Waregem and as you can see it is to be rain, rain and more rain! The riders might get some respite from the wind as it is only meant to pick up in the evening, but that could easily change overnight and they might have to face some windy conditions earlier into the race.

Either way, it looks set to be a tough day out for most although I’m sure the locals will enjoy it.

How will the race pan out?

At a glance, the easier parcours would make it seem that a sprint is much more likely. With the major obstacles completed by 30km to go there is enough time for teams to band together and bring anyone up the road back. However, the terrible weather forecast almost negates this as riders will be more drained than they normally would after a race of this length and some guys just simply hate racing in the rain.

So a 50/50 chance in some ways and a lot of teams seem to be covering both options by bringing a sprinter along with more traditional cobbled classics riders.

Yet, I think we will see something similar to last season where the race is ripped up early in the day.  If the stronger riders attack the 105km -> 135km section then they should have enough of a gap to ensure that the sprinters struggle over the last 50km and don’t have the resources to bring it back in the end.

A strong team is important as having a rider up the road means you don’t have to chase and you’re able to sit on and just follow any attacks. Quick Step done this brilliantly for Terpstra’s win but tried a different approach in Gent that backfired a little. They don’t have as strong a team as normal but with Lampaert, Terpstra and Stybar then those three should expect to be at the head of the race when things get tough.

BMC and Trek will also to have a few riders present in any major attack.

It looks set to be a very intriguing and tactical race!

Ones To Watch

This list won’t be exhaustive as I’m only selecting a handful of riders who I think might have a chance.

Guillaume Van Keirsbulk.

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Did someone say a wet and potentially windy day in Belgium? The Wanty rider has slowly rode his way into some form this year and he made the front group on Sunday before ultimately finishing outside the top 20. A fan of grizzly conditions the rain won’t put him off and it will possibly see him ride even stronger! With the possibility that some riders might have one eye on De Ronde, it opens up the possibilty for a PCT level rider to score a good result in a WT one-day race. I expect to see him attacking at some point!

Edward Theuns.

Bitterly disappointed to have missed the first group on Sunday after being too far back on the Kemmel, he comes into this race seeking a much better result. He was 2nd here in 2015 when then team-mate Wallays won. It’s a route that he apparently likes the look of so it would be a surprise not see him feature. With Boonen retired, Theuns appears to be the rider who loves to rip it up the Taainberg; more of the same tomorrow?

Luke Durbridge.

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Another who was disappointed with his performance in Gent, he had a mechanical/crash which saw his race ruined. His form is on the up though, after returning from an injury in the Aussie Nationals. Brutally strong on his day he has slowly developed over the past few seasons into a reliable cobble rider. In an interview on his team’s website he says he wants to be aggressive and go better than last year. He just needs some luck!

Zdenek Stybar.

He’s had a fairly quiet start to the cobbled races, doing a great job for his team-mates by marking riders in groups behind or pulling on the front but he’s not been prominent himself. Despite that though, he does have two top 10s to his name so the form is there, just not the big result. However, this could be his race to shine; he can cope with the short steep climbs and the cobbles are no issue to him. The weather also won’t bother the former cyclo-cross star. I’m intrigued to see how QuickStep play it, but I think Stybar will be their guy, maybe…

Wout Van Aert.

The youngster has been somewhat of a revelation this year on the road, although i use the term “somewhat” loosley as he had a good 2017 and even the least interested cyclo-cross fan knows that he oozes talent. Strade was a super impressive performance and marked his ability to compete with the best in a WT race. He made the front group with what seemed ease in E3 so tomorrow shouldn’t be too hard for him. In fact the shorter distance is ideal and he’ll go to sleep tonight doing a rain dance!

Stefan Küng.

One of the riders who might benefit from his team captain not wanting to take any risks before Sunday, Küng was impressive in E3 last week. In fact, he seems to have progressed up another level this year with strong showings in Strade and the final stage of Algarve. He came home in the main group behind the front 4 last season so knows what is required in this race. With his strong TT prowess he might be able to slip away from a group and hold an advantage all the way to the line.

Heinrich Haussler.

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The Australian has bounced back from a terrible 2017 that was plighted by injury with some strong showings in his 12 race days so far this year. Another who suffered misfortune in Gent Wevelgem, he punctured before the Kemmelberg and expended too much energy to play any part in the finale. Yet, he was happy with his race and where he is at form wise. With the weather that is forecast, I can’t help but think about his win back in the 2009 Tour de France; can he pull of something special again?

Prediction

No way this ends in a big group sprint, it will be too cold and wet for that!

It will be a tactical race that could be won or lost at anytime. Originally I had this down as a Stybar win, but the more I think about it, I really like Wout Van Aert’s chances. The distance, parcours and weather conditions are great for him and this presents an excellent opportunity to take his first win at this level!

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Or, Valverde just continues his incredible season…

Betting

1pt EW Van Aert @ 33/1 with Bet365 (Would take 20/1, even 18/1 at a push)

1pt EW Stybar @ 20/1 with SkyBet (Would take 15/1)

0.5pt EW Durbridge @ 100/1 with Bet365 (Would take 66/1)

 

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

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

 

De Brabantse Pijl 2017 Preview

De Brabantse Pijl 2017 Preview

With the cobbled classics now finished, the peloton’s attention now turns to the Ardennes with the “warm-up” event of De Brabantse Pijl.

However, it’s offensive to just call it a warm-up race as it is an exciting race in its own right!

Last year after some probing and strong attacks throughout the day, it all came down to a charge up the final climb from an elite group of five. Vakoc stormed up it, dropping everyone, and holding on to the line to take what was his third win of the season.

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It was a good day for me as I had Vakoc at 33/1. I’m not sure we’ll see those type of prices on him again though, but I may be wrong. You’ll just have to find out at the end of this!

Let’s have a look at what’s in store for the riders this year.

The Route

More of the same as we saw in the 2016 edition with a route that remains mainly unchanged, although this year the race is 6km shorter.

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A relatively tough day out in the saddle with 26 climbs, some of which are cobbled. Although there is more often than not space to avoid the cobbles themselves and go up the paved section at the side!

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The climbs on the day aren’t too tough, but if they are ridden aggressively gaps certainly can be made. Almost as important is the flat section just after the summit, because riders will be on the limit. Last year the winning move was made at the 4km to go mark, right at the top of the penultimate climb.

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The Bora rider was unable to follow the five out ahead once they rounded the corner and that was race over.

I’m not going to run through all of the climbs individually, but there is a nifty website that lists all 26 of them that you can view here!

The final climb of the day, Schavei, is 500m long and averages roughly 6%.

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There is time for a regrouping once over the top, but on the contrary, riders can maintain a gap all the way to the finish line.

Will it be a reduced sprint or solo winner this year?

Well, there is one factor that could have an influence…

Weather Watch

Yep, you guessed it; more racing in Belgium and more windy conditions!

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Source: Windfinder

With a constant and fairly strong Westerly wind, the riders will face a variety of wind directions as they go through the race.  Starting mainly with a cross-headwind, before some cross winds, then a cross-tail on the run in to the closing circuit.

As a viewer this has amped up my excitement for this race even more, not so much as a preview writer though because it adds another element of unpredictability to it all. I’m sure the peloton will have a similar view with some wind-natives licking their lips at the prospect.

How will the race pan out?

Before I had looked at the forecast I thought the race would be an attacking one this year, with the peloton continuing their aggressive racing from the cobbles classics onto the lumpier events.

The wind should ensure that it is aggressive and there will be plenty of teams looking to take advantage and I think we’ll see some large splits out on the road before we reach our final circuit.

Which in turn should make the last 60km of the race even more attacking because there in theory should be less team-mates to control things.

Or at least I’m hoping so!

Contenders

Quick Step come here with two big favourites in the form of Vakoc and Gilbert. The reigning champion looked good in Catalunya, building some nice form for his assault on the Ardennes. A brute of a rider, he really comes into his own on this type of terrain and certainly has a chance to double up tomorrow. Of course in Gilbert they have a rider who is on exceptional form. He’s won this race twice in the past (2011/2014/2017?) so knows what is required here! They have some strong domestiques and I expect them to be one of the main teams to try to split things up in the wind, hoping to drop the “sprinters”.

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QS aren’t the only strong Belgian team here, Lotto Soudal also have a stacked team with them! I imagine Wellens and Benoot will be team leaders and they are a duo that can certainly challenge for the race win. The former has had a quieter part in his season recently but he looked good following the moves on the stage into San Sebastian in Pais Vasco, and I think he’ll go well this coming week. His lack of explosivity is a downfall, but he is sure to go on the attack at some point. If no one follows quickly, then he could be tough to bring back!

I was disappointed to see Benoot not picked for Paris Roubaix after he has had a terrible cobbled classics campaign due to bad luck. This type of course suits him though and he is much more explosive than his team-mate and I think he’s a dark horse for this race.

Matthews has a great chance to finally win this race after being close on several occasions. In cracking form, his 6th on the TT in Pais Vasco was incredible, he might approach this race differently than in previous years. Normally would hold off for the sprint, but this year he might have to attack as his team doesn’t look that great. However, I fear for him in the wind!

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His old team Orica have a few good options to play tomorrow. In Gerrans and Impey they have two strong riders who can follow attacks but also pack a fast sprint after a tough day. I can’t see them chasing everyone down like they did last year!

BMC have a team packed full of young talent who will be looking to impress, lead by a relative veteran compared to his team-mates; Ben Hermans. After a barnstorming start to the season, he’s went off the boil recently but will be hoping to go well in the Ardennes so he should be getting back to his best shape here. If not, keep an eye out for Vliegen as a Kirby inspired, “cheeky side bet”.

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Bahrain bring with them a team to support Gasparotto and Colbrelli. Well, when I say support they might be there for the first 100km. The two Italians can mix it up in the sprint after a tough day and both finished in the top 6 last year. Gasparotto has been disappointing this year and has recently returned from a training camp so it will be interesting to see how he goes. Conversely, Colbrelli has been going well for most of the year so you would expect him to decline in form soon, but that probably won’t happen until after Amstel. Like Matthews, I fear for both of them in the windy conditions!

I don’t think Coquard will have a chance this year.

A few other, some less well-known, names to conjure with are Haas and Sbaragli (Dimension Data), Meurisse (Wanty), Bouet (Fortuneo) and Tusveld (Roompot).

Prediction

We’ll get a hectic first half of the race before we get to the circuit and the peloton will be split in the wind. That will then make the closing laps even more aggressive than normal and luck will be as important as form, and so will having strong team-mates.

I’ll go for a rider who’s been down on luck recently, but that will change here. He’s a great punchy classics man and this route suits him perfectly, but will just have to hope Gilbert isn’t the QuickStep representative up front…

Benoot to win his first pro race!

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It also gives me a good opportunity to share my favourite cycling related Instagram post…

View this post on Instagram

Forza Tiesj Benoot! 🎉 @tiesj #ohn

A post shared by Sporza (@sporza.be) on

Betting

Hoping #WinningWednesdays can continue…

1pt EW Benoot @40/1 with Bet365

0.5pt EW Vliegen @28/1 with Bet365

 

Thanks for reading as always and any feedback is greatly appreciated. Who do you think will win the race and how will they do it?! Amstel men’s and women’s previews will be next for me this weekend. Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

 

Paris Roubaix 2017 Preview

Paris Roubaix 2017 Preview

The “Hell in the North” and self-titled “Queen of the Classics” (I’d like to argue about that – it’s no Flanders!) returns this weekend for its 115th edition this weekend. I mean it’s still a cobbled monument, so I’m not going to complain!

Last year’s race saw Mat Hayman take a rather incredible, fairytale victory which I’m sure you’ve already read a lot about this week.

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Can he upset all odds and repeat the feat, or will we get another fairytale with a Boonen win?

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

The Route

You know the score by now; 257km including 29 sectors (55km) of pave. Again, I’m not going to bore you with a massive route analysis (like normal), there are plenty of those floating around this week anyway!

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The first 150km will sap the legs and I wouldn’t expect too much attacking early on, but you never know after the past few cobbles races we’ve had.

It will be interesting to see who makes the “early” break. I say early, as last year it took over 70km for something to finally go!

The Arenberg will more than likely kick off the action in the peloton and from there anything and everything could happen throughout the afternoon.

A race of attrition and team tactics follows with the notable Carrefour de l’Arbre coming only 15km from the finish line. Will things all still be together then? Will a rider have gone solo? Or will we see a small group?

After that, they have 3 more sections but nothing too tricky on the run in to the famous Roubaix velodrome.

How will the race pan out?

Your guess is as good as mine!

The riders will be happy that the weather is good and there seems to be no wind, but that normally leads to a very fast race from the gun. That coincides with the approach we’ve seen teams take in the cobbled races this year; attacking from further out and trying to split the race up early.

Having a number of strong riders in a squad is important so that someone is always up front, following the moves, meaning that team-mates behind can rest-up.

I think we’ll once again see an attacking race here and it might not be the favourites for the race who come away with the victory.

Contenders

All the pre-race coverage is about Boonen, with this being the last professional race of his career. He hopes to bow out with a win and become the most successful rider at Paris Roubaix of all time!

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I’m going to be very controversial here and say that I don’t care for a Boonen win that much, indifferent is what I would call it. I’m not sure if that’s because I only started following the sport in 2008 and properly started paying attention to all the races in 2010 or so. I can understand the hype around him; he’s going well just now and looked strong in Flanders and Schelderprijs. But I think people are getting too emotional with how much they are hyping him up. He’s been talked up so much that he is now pretty much joint favourite and if I’m honest, I’ve not seen enough from him this year for that to be justified. Benefiting from being on the strongest team, he may well go on to win, which would certainly make for a great story. However, in the words of Simon Cowell…

its a no

Quick Step do have several other riders who can win this race, such as Terpstra, Stybar and Lampaert. The former I have banged on for pretty much all of this month and if it wasn’t for QS supposedly working for Boonen 100%, I’d be all over Terpstra like a rash again. If there is one rider who won’t follow team-orders though, it is the Dutchman. He clawed back the gap on the Paterberg to a fallen GVA convincingly in Flanders, taking around 30 seconds out of Gilbert on that climb. He is clearly going exceptionally well. A former winner of the race, I would not be surprised to see him attacking at some point, and he might solo to victory again!

Sagan was left bitterly disappointed after Flanders, but that’s the risk you take for riding close to the barriers. He looked bashed up at the time but seemed to be going OK in his Scheldeprijs training ride. Often underperforming in this race (his best result is 6th in 2014), I think he finds the easier parcours harder to create gaps on. Furthermore, there is a good chance he will once again be marked out of the race and unlike Flanders, he doesn’t have the tough cobbled climbs to just ride away from everyone. It’s hard to write off the World Champion, but I’m putting my neck on the line and doing just that!

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Greg Van Avermaet starts as my favourite for this race. He’s the form rider of the year so far and if not for the crash in Flanders, he had a great chance of winning that too. Even with that unfortunate moment, he managed to get himself up quickly and still sprint for second place. A rider who can win a small sprint but also isn’t afraid to attack, he has a great chance of winning. I wonder if teams will now show him the same type of respect/fear as they do Sagan? They should, if not, it could be game over for them!

Oliver Naesen has carried on his incredible trajectory to the top of cobbled classic racing. Following on from a strong season last year, he has been even better this year! He seemed to be able to cope with Sagan and GVA in Flanders but unfortunately was taken down in that crash. Sustaining an injury to his knee, he worked hard in Scheldeprijs to test it out and things seem to be OK. Like his training partner Van Avermaet, the Belgian isn’t afraid to attack and I think he will benefit from still be underrated within the peloton.

Aside from those guys, some other names to conjure with are Kristoff, Stannard and Demare, who have all shown good form at points throughout the year. They won’t be the favourites, but can’t be discounted.

There are two proper outsiders (triple figures with the bookmakers) that I’d like to mention.

First up is Edward Theuns. I imagine he’ll be one of the riders given the role of following early attacks, allowing his team-leader Degenkolb to rest behind. Yet, as I said in my Flanders preview, I still think the German is missing that 5% and doesn’t look as good as he did when he won here in 2015. Theuns is capable enough to step-up and with a bit of luck he has a chance, packing a fast sprint after a tough day. I really do hope he is given free rein tomorrow and the Trek DS doesn’t put all their eggs in a Degenkolb shaped basket!

Dwars door Vlaanderen

The other is Dylan Groenewegen. Possibly not the first name to spring to the forefront of your thoughts, this will be the youngster’s first Paris Roubaix. He is someone who I think can go really well in this type of race in the future! Much more than a fast sprinter, he can cope with a hard day in the saddle and with the route being flat, it should suit his characteristics. Like Theuns, with a bit of luck and being in the right move, he could be up there at the end of the day.

Prediction

As I’ve said above, Greg Van Avermaet is my favourite on paper, but this race isn’t won on paper and I think teams will finally approach him the same way that they do with Sagan. That will leave it open to a “lesser” rider, although it’s offensive to call him that after the season he’s had. Oliver Naesen will complete his classics transformation and take an incredible victory!

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Betting

1pt EW Naesen @25/1 with PP/Betfair (paying 4 places – would take down to 20s)

1pt WIN Terpstra @16/1 with various (wouldn’t take less)

The two bets I mentioned yesterday;

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

0.25pt EW Groenewegen @250/1 (would take 150/1)

One H2H;

5pts Arndt to beat Laporte at 1/1 with Bet365. (Would take 4/6 lowest)

The German is a very solid one-day racer and finished reasonably well in Flanders. Not so sure about the Frenchman’s credentials on this terrain.

 

Thanks for reading as always and any feedback is greatly appreciated (especially some RTs on Twitter 😉). Who do you think will win the race and how will they do it?! I’m looking forward to what should be a good day’s racing. Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

Women’s Ronde van Vlaanderen 2017 Preview

Women’s Ronde van Vlaanderen 2017 Preview

On the same day as the men’s event, the women’s Ronde may be 100km shorter but that doesn’t make it any less exciting!

Last year saw the race split up on the Kwaremont and Paterberg, and like most races in the spring of 2016, was dominated by Boels Dolmans. They had 4 riders in the front group of 10, and in the end it was Deignan (then Armitstead) and Johansson who gapped the rest on the run in. They duked it out for the sprint and it was Deignan who just pipped the Swede on the line, taking a great win!

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Blaak won the sprint behind (ahead of team-mate Guarnier), to give Boels a 1-3-4-6 on the day!

Will the Dutch super team have it all their way this year? Let’s have a look at what’s in store for the riders.

The Route

An “easy” opening 50km that only contains three cobble sections, before we get an action packed section of several hills and cobbled climbs.

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That section is rounded off by the Muur at 60km to go. Although there isn’t any major obstacle for the following 20km almost, the famous climb might play more of a decisive role than it will in the men’s race!

The race finishes off with the same Kwaremont and Paterberg double and it surely will see some action as the stronger climbers and classics riders try to make their mark before the 13km to the finish line.

Will we see a reduced sprint or a solo rider make into Oudenaarde alone?

Contenders

This is quite a tough race to predict as the balance between climbers and strong one-day racers is very fine. Also, this year of women’s racing has been the most open in recent years, with no repeat winners or even riders from the same teams in the World Tour!

Elisa Longo Borghini has been in exceptional form so far this year, winning Strade and finishing in the top 10 on two other occasions in the World Tour and currently leads the standings. She’s won this race in the past and is clearly suited to the terrain, coming 4th/4th/1st/5th in the recent 4 editions of the race. Not bad eh! You would expect her to be there or thereabouts again come the end of the race tomorrow.

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She won’t be the only card Wiggle High 5 have though, as they can also rely on Belgian one-day expert, Jolien d’Hoore. More of a sprinter than climber, that doesn’t take anything away from her ability to crush the short, cobbled climbs in this race. If the race is taken at a bit more of a mundane pace or there is a regrouping late on then she has a chance. However, with the chaotic day I can see playing out, unfortunately she might have to settle with sprinter for a top 10 from the third group.

Boels once again arrive with a very strong team to support last year’s winner Deignan. Or will they? Forced to miss Gent Wevelgem due to illness, i don’t think she’ll be back to 100% yet for this race and if she’s not at full fitness, she won’t win. They do have numerous other cards to play but Van der Breggen and Blaak look the best options. The European champion has had a slow start to the season but with her trying to peak more for the Ardennes, you would expect her to be going well just now. Blaak on the other hand has had a very good, consistent start to her season. Third here last year, she has a good chance of repeating that this time round.

In form Lotta Lepsito arrives with her Cervelo Bigla team. She is clearly climbing and riding better than ever, but this will be a completely different test for her. Like d’Hoore, it will be too fast up the climbs for her to cope, but if we do get a slowing of the pace and a bigger regrouping, she certainly would have a chance in the sprint.

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Instead, I would be looking towards team-mates Moolman and Uttrup Ludwig for a course like this.

Team Sunweb arrive here with options to animate this race like they have down in others over the past month or so. Van Dijk is bound to try a solo attack from far out and she is probably one of the only women in the peloton who could pull it off! In Rivera they have a fast finisher who is climbing the best I’ve ever seen from her and she certainly can’t be discounted. I would have her as more of a favourite than d’Hoore and Lepisto for example. Then in Brand, Kirchmann and Mackaij they have great options to pepper the front of the race with attacks or cover the moves of dangerous opponents. If this was at the start of March then I’d have Brand as one of the favourites for the race, but after doing a season of cyclocross during the winter, her form seems to have waned a bit.

Niewiadoma will lead the charge for WM3 who are missing Marianne Vos. It will be hard for the Polish rider to win with a lack of team support in the closing kilometres of the race but she will certainly feature in the top 10. Her best chance is to infiltrate a small group of 4 or 5 that escapes on the Kwaremont/Paterberg or even on the flat run in to the finish.

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Orica arrive with a good team, but they’re not as strong as they’ve been in the past few weeks. I imagine that Spratt and Van Vleuten will be co-leaders and they certainly have a chance if both of them make the front group. If not, the sole rider will be in a similar situation to Niewiadoma, where you have to be on a good day, but also get lucky.

Other riders to keep an eye out for include;

Cecchini (Canyon SRAM),

Ratto (Cylance),

Ensing (Ale)

Kopecky (Lotto)

Gillow (FDJ).

The latter on that list has a very good chance if she’s climbing as well as she was in Strade!

Prediction

The race will be determined by the tactics and numbers of Boels and Sunweb.

After a relatively poor season so far, by their standards, I fancy Boels to get it right this race. They’re likely to have more numbers in the front group than any other team and they’ll use it to their advantage. I’ll hedge my bets a bit and go for a Chantal Blaak win!

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She has the abilities to attack from far out and hold the gap to the line, or as we saw last year, she has a great sprint from a reduced group.

Coverage

We’ll get similar coverage to last year, where you can watch an unrestricted live stream of the race here. Or on the Flanders Classics facebook page.

Let’s just hope the quality is better than the 144p stream we had in 2016!

Competition

As I mentioned in the men’s preview, as a thanks for your continued support and to celebrate one year of blogging, I’ll be giving away one of the Handmade Cyclist’s pieces of artwork. More specifically, the Ronde one, duh!

All you have to do to be in with a chance of winning is comment on this post with who you think the winner of the Women’s RVV will be and make sure to leave your Twitter handle as this is how I’ll be contacting the winners.

If no one predicts the winner then it will go to second place and so on. Likewise, if we get more than one person who gets it correct, I’ll put the Twitter handles into a list on random.org and randomise three times to get our winner.

Good luck!

If you’re struggling to find the place to leave a comment, it should be at the end of this post and look like below

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*Also, depending on how the men’s race goes, I might be in a buoyant enough mood to upgrade it to a framed version!*

 

Thanks once again for reading and as always, any feedback is greatly appreciated. Next for the blog will be daily Pais Vasco previews (starting tomorrow), although I’m not sure if I’ll have enough time to do a full GC one. That might just be an after thought at the end of the stage 1 preview. Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

Ronde van Vlaanderen 2017 Preview

Ronde van Vlaanderen 2017 Preview

It’s time for my favourite event of the year and a special race as it marks one year of this blog! To thank you all for your continued support I’ll be doing a competition tied in with my women’s preview (that will be out tomorrow), for a chance to win one of The Handmade Cyclist’s artworks. Well, more specifically their “De Ronde” one, obviously. So yeah, make sure you return tomorrow!

Right, now that those formalities are out of the road, let’s focus on this incredible race.

Last year saw an imperious Peter Sagan just ride away from Sep Vanmarcke on the Paterberg and even with a surging Fabian Cancellara the duo could not catch the Slovak.

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Will Sagan be able to double up this year? Let’s have a look at what’s in store for the riders.

The Route

I’m not going to bore you with a massive route analysis (like I normally would), as I’m sure if you’re anything like me you’ll have read plenty about it already this week!

The route in general is pretty much more of the same that we had last year, apart from they have added the Muur at around 90km to go. Although iconic, it will more than likely be too far out for a race winning move to be made there. Instead, we might see some lesser riders attempt to get up the road before it all kicks off.

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It’s once we pass the Paterberg for the first time at around 70km to go that the race starts to kick into action and theoretically a race winning move could go from this point onwards. However, the second passage of the Paterberg, which swiftly follows the Oude Kwaremont, will desolate the peloton if it’s still together.

From there, we’ll have attacks go up the road; groups working; groups not working; solo moves; teams having wrong riders in the right move, etc etc. It all gets a bit hectic to say the least!

With only 17km to go the riders then tackle the Oude Kwaremont once again.

This is where Sagan dropped everyone from the group in front apart from Vanmarcke, likewise Cancellara dropped those behind as he motored ahead trying to catch up. The open highway that follows the Kwaremont can see a regrouping, before they tackle the final climb of the day; the last ascent of the Paterberg.

Sagan blew the wheels off of Vanmarcke here last year.

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Once over the top it’s a 13km TT between the leaders and any chasers, before the traditional finish in Oudenaarde.

Normally the weather will play a part in this race but it looks pretty benign just now so I’m going to completely skip that section!

How will the race pan out? Team tactics.

Flanders is arguably the race in which the winner is more often than not the strongest rider on the day who gets a bit of luck. The reason for this in my opinion is due to the relentless nature of the cobbles and climbs in the closing third of the race, and due to the severe length of the event itself! A strong rider can create a massive gap on the Kwaremont and Paterbeg combination and with only 13km left, it’s hard to get a concerted chance organised.

Last year you could say without doubt that Sagan and Cancellara were the strongest riders in the peloton. Sagan in a sense you could argue got lucky that Cancellara didn’t follow the attacks at 31km left, and it’s hard to say how the race would have panned out if those two arrived at the bottom of the Paterberg together.

A similar situation may occur this year between Van Avermaet and Sagan, who are one step ahead of everyone else in my opinion, and probably yours too!

The only thing that can stop them is the attitude of Quick-Step. The Belgian outfit need to ride as aggressively as they did in Dwars and E3 if they want to have a good chance of success. They need to be in every move that goes up the road, either by following every move or attacking themselves. But more on that later!

Contenders

As I’ve just mentioned above, there are two clear favourites going by the bookmakers and anyone who watches this sport!

Defending champion Peter Sagan has looked his usual exceptional self this year. His attack in Milan San Remo was incredible, as was his stage win in Fermo during the Tirreno Adriatico, but oddly enough there are some people who suggest he’s not going well. He has only won one one-day race this season so far, Kuurne Brussels Kuurne, which is pretty poor from him so they might be right…

Is he suffering from being Sagan? Yeah, I think so, but this is the one race a year where being Sagan doesn’t matter as much. If he’s feeling good, he can simply ride away from everyone on the final double ascent of the Kwaremont/Paterberg like we saw last year. The issue for him will be ensuring that he’s in contention going into that final 15km. Therefore, he’ll need to attack/follow the attacks from where he did last year. Re-watching last week’s Gent Wevelgem, he clawed back almost 8 bike lengths on his main rival Van Avermaet on the Kemmelberg. That’s Flanders winning form!

Talking about Van Avermaet, he was the number one performer of the week just gone by and is Sagan’s main challenger.

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Three one-day World Tour wins already this season, the Olympic champion is flying. He’s beaten Sagan in a sprint (Omloop); won against tough opposition in another sprint (E3); and outsmarted his opponents (Gent Wevelgem). Results wise, he is the rider to beat! He doesn’t seem to pack the same punch up the cobbled climbs as Sagan does, but he benefits tactically from not being Sagan. He seems not to have the same aura amongst the peloton and riders are more inclined to work with him.

However, I think that might change going into this weekend and he’ll struggle with being Van Avermaet. If you’re going to lose to Sagan in a sprint, you’re more than likely going to lose to Van Avermaet in a sprint as well. So why work with him more than the Slovak?

But hey, as you know if you’ve read this blog for a while, DS’ don’t seem to think as outside the box as I do!

Quick-Step have the best chance of beating the two favourites, due to the number of riders in their team that theoretically could have a chance of winning this race, sorry Keisse and Vermote! The rest, all on their day and given the right group could win. Gilbert will be their pre-race favourite and given his scintillating form, he certainly looks the rider best suited to challenge Sagan and GVA.

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He will be able to follow them for the majority of the race and that’s what I would have him do. Let him sit in for most of the race, marking those two out of it. It’s a defensive strategy, using their form rider to mark others, but that’s the teams best chance of winning.

Boonen hasn’t looked in tip-top shape but with only two races left in his career, you would expect him to go well. As much as he would love to win this, I think it might be all about for Roubaix with him. I would save him all-day, hoping he can get close on the Paterberg and that it comes back for a reduced sprint.

Therefore, QS should be attacking from around 70km left with the rest of their riders. Although Lampaert did great in Dwars for the blog, he’s just not strong enough yet on the cobbled climbs to compete here in my opinion. Like Boonen, he is more of a Roubaix kind of guy. I’m not saying he won’t try to get up the road, but he’s not their best option for that.

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So that leaves the triple header of Trentin, Stybar and Terpstra, the three riders who made the front group of around 16 in Gent Wevelgem. Trentin is probably the weakest on this terrain and his past results haven’t been that great. Yet, he’s looked very good this season so far and seems to have taken a step up on the cobbled climbs so he can’t be ruled out, especially if he goes in a move at around 50km to go that stays away until the end. Stybar and Terpstra are their aces in the pack though for long-range moves and I would suggest they both need to be up the road before GVA and Sagan make their attack. If they are, I would be confident enough in Gilbert nullifying them before we get to the last 17km and by then it might be too late to bring back.

The only issue with that is if another big team misses the move and has enough firepower to chase. Who will that team be working for?

Kristoff looks the best of the rest on current form. He’s been unlucky in the first few cobbled classics but his efforts in De Panne were exceptional. In particular, it was his TT that stood out for me. Not a discipline he favours, he lost only 2 seconds to Durbridge who himself is going very well just now. The Norwegian loves this race, having finished 15th/4th/5th/1st/4th in the past 5 years. He will be there or thereabouts at the end of the race!

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Trek have one of the strongest teams here so they will likely aid in a chase if they miss a move. Degenkolb has looked OK so far this season, but it pains me to say, that he is still missing that extra 5% after his crash last year. I can’t see him winning here unless he goes early, but I think he’ll be marked out of it in that situation. Theuns looked tired towards the end of De Panne and Stuyven has been struggling the past week or so with his form. Time for Felline to step up and make that crucial early move!

Naesen (AG2R) has performed exceptionally well over the past 6 months but this could be a tough ask for him, he’s bound to dip in form soon. Surely?!

Lotto have been awful but their saviour Benoot returns this weekend after missing Gent Wevelgem. He almost guarantees a top 10 result but needs to be attacking to get higher up the pecking order, which he might just do.

Sky have been awful the past week and I haven’t seen anything to think they’ll turn that around here. Which is always when they seem to go well!

Boasson Hagen and Thwaites have been going well, albeit quietly, the past few weeks. Like so many others, they’ll need to be up the road before the fireworks kick off behind.

Durbridge will hope to continue his good form but he seems more of a Roubaix man. The same goes for Demare.

I’d love to see Lutsenko get a top 10 placing which I think is a possibility. He’s been 22nd then 14th in the past two editions.

Vanmarcke still doesn’t look great after his injury and illness.

Prediction

I’m really stuck on the fence with this one because I don’t know if I can trust Quick Step to use the same tactics I would. If they do, the race is theirs for the taking, as long as they get some help from other teams to beat GVA and Sagan.

If not, the race is Sagan’s to lose. I know GVA is in great form but even he will fear what Sagan can do on the Paterberg. If there is a 3 second gap at the top, then it’s race over!

Hmmmmm.

Right…

I think the teams will take a similar approach to GVA as they do to Sagan and will not want to work with him 100%. Therefore, various teams will be keen to get numbers ahead before the final 20km. With Gilbert shadowing the Big 2, QS will get Terpstra and Stybar up the road, along with Felline and a few others, with maybe the likes of Oss there for BMC.

He and his team didn’t get it right in GW, but they won’t make that mistake here. Terpstra to win!

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Betting

Already have 1pt WIN on Terpstra from the other week at 25/1 (would take 22s)

Adding;

Stybar 1pt WIN @25/1 with various bookmakers (would take 22s)

Felline 0.5pt EW @ 80/1 with various bookmakers (would take 66s)

Kristoff to beat Degenkolb at 11/10 with PaddyPower (would take it at 4/6 elsewhere Betfair/Bet365). 6pts.

 

Thanks for reading as always and any feedback is greatly appreciated. Who do you think will win and how will they manage to do so? Remember to return tomorrow for my women’s preview and the competition! Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

 

 

 

Gent – Wevelgem 2017 Preview

Gent – Wevelgem 2017 Preview

The final race of our Belgian triple-header this week is upon us, and we finish with the longest outing yet; the 249km long Gent Wevelgem. Shame, as this is my favourite week of cycling in the whole calendar year!

Last year saw Peter Sagan get revenge for being bested in E3, taking a superb win ahead of Vanmarcke, Kurznetsov (who survived from the morning break) and Cancellara.

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Will we see another exciting day of racing? Let’s have a look at what’s in store for the riders.

The Route

Long day in the saddle that like most of the cobbled races, builds slowly for an eventful final 100km.

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Profile once again courtesy of @LasterketaBurua.

This is both the easiest and hardest of the 3 races. There are barely any cobbled sections in comparison to the other races, but the sheer length of the race and repeated nature of hills in the final third take their toll.

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We might see some action up the Kemmelberg first time round, but if not, the plugstreets could cause some damage.

They are pretty much loose gravel roads (for the uninitiated amongst you 😉).

There is often a lot of wind and open landscape around that area which can often lead to splits when the pressure is on.

The Kemmelberg will be the last major obstacle for the riders to tackle and its second ascent comes at around 35km to go. In fact, they approach the climb from the steeper side the second time round. The organisers decided to change it from the “easier” ascent which they tackle earlier in the race, to this tougher approach (max 23%) to make the race more open and exciting. You can see how difficult it is from the highlights of last year’s edition.

From the summit, it’s a TT effort between those who make it over ahead and the chase from behind.

Weather

The weather can often play a massive part in how the race pans out here but it certainly won’t be as bad as it was in the 2015 edition…

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Nonetheless we look to have a consistent 20km/h Easterly wind for most of the day, with some stronger gusts blowing up.

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Source: Windfinder

Now that doesn’t mean that we’re guaranteed to get crosswinds but on the open and exposed areas of road they are certainly a possibility. It may also affect the end of the race as we could have cross-head winds for most of the run in. Which will tire out both those riders ahead and the chase!

How will the race pan out?

I think once again we’ll see an attacking race and there won’t be many teams wanting to hold it together for a sprint.

As we have witnessed in the first two race this week, it is much better to have at least one rider up the road so that you can just follow the moves behind. Therefore there is a chance an early move makes it, but I think instead we’ll see one selection on the plugsteets, followed by a further selection on the final ascent of the Kemmelberg. From there, it will be a case of who’s made the front group and who’s left to chase behind.

I fancy there to be enough fire-power up the road for it not to be brought back for a sprint. Or sorry, I’ll rephrase that, there won’t be enough power and willing workers behind to bring it back for a sprint!

Contenders

Peter Sagan missed out in E3 due to being held up by a crash, but as I said in that preview, I don’t think he really cares that much for that race. Instead, he’ll do something similar to last year where he’ll now want to test his legs here, and test his legs I’m sure he will. He was the rider who put in the killer attack on the Kemmelberg last year and he will no doubt do the same this time round. He will make the front selection and he will more than likely win this race! Sagan also will have the benefit of knowing Bennett will be in the group behind to sprint, so the Slovak can leave it all out on the road up ahead.

So who can beat him?

Quick Step probably have the best chance. In Boonen and Gaviria they have two riders who will fancy their chances of beating Sagan in a sprint, but I just can’t see that happening. Instead if I was DS, I would do my upmost to try to get Stybar and Terpstra in a move with Sagan and try to work him over. Those two riders are the only one’s who can follow him on the Kemmelberg (I’m assuming Gilbert will be tired after his first two races). They can co-operate for a while with Sagan, but then take turns attacking the group at the end. Because if they hold things together for a sprint, they won’t win. Even though he didn’t win, I was still incredibly impressed with Terpstra in E3. There were a few  times he missed the front split due to crashes etc, but soon after he was up front again and looking content. He is going very, very well but is without a result yet. That could come here!

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Fresh from his victory in E3, Greg Van Avermaet will be hoping to repeat that feat here. He was exceptionally strong on Friday and there is no reason to believe that won’t continue at this race. One of the only guys who can follow Sagan and has a proven track record of beating him. Van Avermaet certainly won’t be scared to take the Slovak on in a sprint from a reduced group.

After a terrible first two races, Trek bring their A-squad to this one. Stuyven, Degenkolb, Theuns and Felline are all potential winners if they play their cards right and get a bit of luck on the day. I imagine they’ll keep either Degenkolb or Theuns as a designated sprinter, but the remaining three will be used to attack throughout the day. Stuyven popped in E3 but Felline looked strong all day and was left frustrated in the group behind. He’s my dark horse for this race.

Another rider left frustrated behind in the second group in E3 was Tony Martin. The German comes here as Katusha’s main protagonist for this race and he certainly can go well. It will be tough for him to follow the best on the Kemmelberg, but if a selection is made before that then he certainly has a chance to TT away from everyone.

Sky have their duo of Rowe and Stannard here but they were a bit disappointing in E3. Rowe looked the better of the two but he looked a far cry from his attacking self that we saw in Omloop and Kuurne earlier in the year.

Prediction

I’m being boring here, but Sagan wins. I had similar thoughts last year to this race and Sagan went on to win after a “poor” E3. Now this year’s E3 was actually poor results wise, but that was due to him being held up by a crash. If he can be bothered, no one here can beat him!

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There are a few riders though who do have a chance if things get tactical and they’ll be covered below.

Betting

Big day to end an exciting week and I’m playing up some of the Lampaert winnings before I return to a more conservative approach in the next few weeks!

Sagan 4.5pts WIN @11/4 with Betfred (Would take the widely available 5/2 though)

Terpstra 1.25pt EW @ 50/1 with Bet365/PP/BF (Would take 40s)

Felline 1.25pt EW @ 50/1 with Bet365 (Would take 40s)

Martin 1pt WIN @ 100/1 with various (Would take 80s)

 

Thanks for reading as always! Who do you think will win? Can anyone stop Sagan? Check out my women’s preview if you haven’t already. 2 out of 3 previews done for today…Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

Dwars Door Vlaanderen 2017 Preview

Dwars Door Vlaanderen 2017 Preview

The 72nd edition of this race returns tomorrow and marks the start of the run up to the Tour of Flanders a week on Sunday. Dwars Door often provides exciting racing and the route is finely balanced between a small bunch sprint or a group of strong men making it to the line. Plus it’s midweek Belgian cobbled racing! Who doesn’t like midweek Belgian cobbled racing?!

Last year saw a prematurely celebrating Coquard beaten to the line by Debuscherre, with Theuns rounding out the podium.

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That was one of the larger bunch sprints for a while but still only 34 riders crossed the line in that front group. It gives you an idea of how tough and attritional this race can be!

Let’s have a look at what’s in store for the riders in 2017.

The Route

Much the same as the route we’ve had the past few years, apart from an 800m cobbled section has been added around 7km from the finish line.

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Profile once again by @LasterketaBurua.

An easy start to the day, the second half of the route is pretty challenging. There is either a hill or some cobbles to traverse roughly every 10 kilometres from 90km to go until the finish. This makes it a battle of attrition at times, and is why we often don’t see a bunch sprint into Waregem.

Several of the famous cobbled climbs are raced over here, such as; the Taiienberg; the Oude Kwaremont; and the Paterberg. It is these famous stretches of road that can tear the peloton in to bits and help a group of strong riders escape.

Once through the Varent cobbled section at roughly 23km to go, the chase could well be on from the remnants of the peloton but only if there are enough teams interested in bringing a break back and if they cooperate together.

The run in to the line is fairly simple with only a few roundabouts to negotiate.

One factor that often can play a massive part on this race is the…

Weather

The riders I’m sure, well apart from the Belgians, will be happy to know it looks as if it won’t rain during the day. Even if it does, it should only be a sprinkling! Much to the viewers disappointment.

However, it does look as if we will get reasonably strong winds. Now that’s more promising and what I like to hear!

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Forecast for Wevelgem. Source: Wunderground.

25km/h crosswinds aren’t crazily strong, but they are enough to cause splits and echelons in the peloton if the pressure is on. Here’s hoping!

 How will the race pan out?

I think we’ll see a more attacking race than we got last year and the day won’t come down to a 40 rider sprint.

The reason I say this is similar to my reasoning for an attacking MSR; so many of the puncheurs and cobbled riders seem to be in form at the moment and going very strongly. Most teams arrive with sprint and attacking options, so I think it’s very unlikely that we’ll just see them settle for a nice-group ride and a sprint to the line.

However, this all depends on the composition of the group that makes it up the road and the strong teams will need to be there. I imagine that the attack will need to contain riders from at least the following teams; Lotto Soudal, Quick Step and Trek. You can probably add Orica, FDJ and BMC to that list too!

So for the contenders I won’t be including sprinters.

Contenders

Defending champions Lotto Soudal have a strong team with them but I imagine Benoot and Roelandts will be their co-leaders. The former was unlucky with a crash earlier in the season but he is exceptionally talented and I’m sure will be looking to bounce back before the Ronde and Paris Roubaix. With a solid sprint after a tough day he has a chance of taking his first pro win, but he will need some luck. Like his younger counterpart, Roelandts’ packs a good kick and he’ll be counting on experience to pull through for him!

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Quick Step have a ridiculously strong squad with them and the race itself probably hinges on their attitude. Looking down the start list I could quite feasibly argue for most of their squad making any split in the race. From there, it’s just a case of how they play it. In the past they’ve been quite defensive (the 3 on 1 against Stannard springs to mind) but they should in my opinion approach this aggressively. Or at least I would, which probably means they won’t! Terpstra is the obvious choice to send up the road, but Gilbert and Lampaert offer good options as well. I think Stybar will be saving himself for later in the week.

Theuns will be Trek’s main card to play here, but he’ll be ably supported by Felline. Both of the riders are similar in style, but the Belgian is better on the cobbles with Felline being the better climber. Theuns has finished 2nd and 3rd here the past two years and will be hoping to go one spot higher this time round. I sure would love that as he’s in my season long fantasy team! A very capable rider, he should make the splits on the cobbled climbs and from there it’s a case of making the right moves and getting a bit lucky.

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Orica have a few riders who could challenge here if their on a good day, and in particular Durbridge and Keukeleire. I always think Durbridge is older than he is, I’m amazed he’s only 25, he’s been around for what seems an eternity! Once just a TT specialist, he has really transformed in to a great all round rider, his 6th place in Strade is testament to that. Certainly not a guy that should be given much leeway off the front of the bunch. As for Keukeleire, it was good to see him back challenging at the pointy end of a race in the Vuelta last year, after a few seasons of underperforming. With a fast sprint after a tough day, he could certainly take victory if a small group comes to the line!

A few other riders to keep an eye out on who could well go on the attack and be up there at the finish are Naesen (AG2R), Lutsenko (Astana), Backaert (Wanty), Ligthart (Roompot) and Petit (Direct Energie).

Prediction

As I’ve stated above, I think with the wind conditions we’ll get this edition, the race will be harder than last year and we won’t see a reduced bunch sprint of around 40 riders. Instead, there will be a couple of selections throughout the day and having numbers near the end of the race will be important. I can guarantee Quick Step will have numbers and if Gaviria is not in the group they won’t be waiting around for a sprint. Conversely, they may also even attack if he is in the group as they will be leant on by the other teams!

So I’m going to go for a Quick Step rider who can time trial and sprint from a very reduced group to cover both options of a late attack or sprint. Yep, that’s right, local hero Yves Lampaert to win!

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The rider from Izegem is one that I rate highly and mentioned during the earlier cobbled semi-classics. Heralded as the next big Belgian cobbled talent, he has failed to live up to the mark so far, but that might just well change tomorrow!

Betting

Difficult race to predict and one I don’t want to overly get involved with so a few bets for interest;

1pt WIN Lampaert @ 66/1 with various (would take 50s)

0.5pt EW Keukeleire @ 66/1 with various (would take 50s)

 

Thanks for reading! Who do you think will win tomorrow? Will we get a big bunch sprint, reduced sprint or a sol attack?! Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

GP Le Samyn 2017 Preview; Quaregnon -> Dour

GP Le Samyn 2017 Preview; Quaregnon -> Dour

The racing in Belgium continues this Wednesday with GP Le Samyn. Unlike the Ardennes races we’ll see in this area later in the year, Samyn is much more like its Flandrien counterparts, with tough cobbles and testing conditions.

Last year’s edition was one of the most brutal yet (highly recommend you watching it if you missed it), with only 28 riders finishing! Strong winds and rain battered the peloton into submission from the off and only the toughest survived. It was bad weather expert Niki Terpstra who came away with the win, attacking the small group left at the front with around 14km to go.

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Scott Thwaites was the only rider who could follow Terpstra initially but he was dropped when the Dutchman attacked again. Nonetheless, he held on for a spirited second place and it was Florian Sénéchal who won a three-up sprint to complete the podium.

Will we see a similarly selective race this year? Let’s have a look at what’s in store for the riders.

The Route

A race split into two parts with the first section featuring some hills before the cobbles start in the second part of the race.

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The closing circuit is a tough one, featuring no less than 16 cobbled sections; 4 per lap of the circuit.

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Credit again to @LasterketaBurua for the profile.

This is where the race normally starts to shell riders out the back as the pace increases; 12km of cobbles in 100km of racing isn’t ideal for some!

Depending on how the race is unfolding, the final section of cobbles “Rue de Belle Vue” at roughly 2km from the finish could be decisive for one last shake-up. The finish itself isn’t overly technical but does drag up to the line so not opening up the sprint too early is very important.

However, the race may not come down to a sprint at all and it all really depends on one factor…

The Weather

After last years mud-bath the riders will be hoping for something a bit calmer this year, well, maybe some Belgians won’t be! And it looks as if the Belgians will be happy, as the finish town of Dour seems to be living up to its name.

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Dour weather forecast (Source: Wunderground)

So it looks as if we’re going to get some wet cobbles and relatively horrible conditions. Not as bad as last year but still pretty grim.

Looking at the wind speed and direction (source – Windfinder) for just north of Dour in a town called Hornu it looks as if we’re going to get a constant 25km/h wind all day with some strong gusts.

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The direction differs slightly from the first forecast source, but the point remains the same, it looks good for echelons!

Combining the strong winds, rain and cold conditions, I for one am going to be happy watching the riders battle it out from the comfort of my living room.

Who’s going to be at the head of the race though?

Contenders

With the change of the calendar this year, we only have 3 World Tour teams competing compared to 7 last season. However, that should not diminish the excitement as the Pro Conti and Continental teams will more than make up for it with some attacking racing and we’ll get to watch some unfamiliar names duke it out. Nonetheless, I’ll start my run through with the WT guys.

Quick Step don’t bring the defending champion with them but they do have a relatively strong line-up but there’s no superstar name. Bauer, Keisse or Devenyns may be their best bet at achieving back to back wins. The New Zealander was incredibly strong at the start of the year and I’m intrigued to see if he can carry that on here. He did some great domestique work in Abu Dhabi and that may be a downfall for him here; the fact that he was there and has to travel back. Therefore, Keisse and Devenyns look their most likely options. On this type of relatively flat, rouleurs terrain, I would have to favour Keisse out of the two. He has a good sprint from a small bunch and certainly has the abilities to hold off a chase if he gets a gap out in front!

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Lotto Soudal arrive with former winner Boeckmans, but he still seems to be struggling to return to the rider he once was before his crash in the 2015 Vuelta. Instead, I imagine they’ll turn to De Buyst and Van Der Sande as their protected riders for the race. Both are fast sprinters after a tough day so if the race comes down to a reduced bunch sprint they have a chance. Van Der Sande is also an attacking rider so I imagine he’ll be present whatever race situation we get.

*Debuscherre has been added to their squad typically now that I’ve just finished writing this. On paper he should be there at the end, but he had crashed in Omloop and failed to start Kuurne. I don’t think he’ll be going full gas here.

Without their star-rider Boom, Lotto Jumbo come here with quite a weak team. I would guess that Van Emden and Wynants will be their leaders but I can’t really see them doing much. Well, saying that, Van Emden does have the TT prowess to be able to make his way to the finish solo but that will be tough for him to do considering he doesn’t seem in great form at the moment. Maybe new signing Van Hoecke can do something?!

Cofidis actually look like they are sending one of the strongest teams here. They have two very good options in Claeys and Sénéchal. The former had a breakthrough 2016, picking up a stage in Wallonie and finishing a very impressive 9th at Flanders. If he is in a similar vein of form then he is one to watch. Likewise, Sénéchal could well have won this race last year. He was exceptionally strong on the day, closing down almost every attack single handedly. It was those efforts that cost him in the end, as he didn’t have enough left in the tank to close down Terpstra when he made his move. With a bit more guile about him this time round, he has the class to beat this field. He is a Junior Roubaix winner after all!

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Florian Vachon will most likely be Fortuneo’s best hope here. Third at Tro Bro Leon last year highlights that he doesn’t mind the rough stuff, although he hasn’t really got going so far this year.

After a disappointing Omloop, he was held up in the big crash, Pim Ligthart will be hoping to go better at this race. The Roompot rider must fancy his chances in this quality of field and he certainly won’t mind the bad weather. A strong cobbles rider with a fast sprint from a reduced bunch, I’m hoping to see him turn his week around here. Roompot also have Asselman as another potential candidate if the race is tough, or Kreder if we get a big bunch sprint. Although I can’t see that happening!

Dupont and Kruopis are the bigger names on the Verandas team. However, they’ve been poor so far this season and I can’t see them competing here, instead, Duijn is their best bet to finish top 10.

Sport Vlaanderen have a good outside candidate in the form of Van Lerberghe. The Belgian rider is a great talent and like most of his compatriots he’s at home on this type of surface. A similar rider to Edward Theuns, Van Lerberghe is capable of sprinting fast but is also comfortable attacking in tough conditions. With team-mate Sprengers, they’ll form a tough duo!

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In-form Frederik Backaert arrives here as Wanty’s leader for this race. Fresh off the back of an 11th place finish at Omloop, he’ll be brimming with confidence! I think he would have preferred some climbs closer to the finish but he certainly can’t be discounted. I really like the look of Wanty’s team as a whole and they really should feature at the pointy end of race tomorrow. Van Keirsbulk is a rider I’ll be watching with interest. The former QuickStep man was for a while touted as the next big cobbles rider, but he failed to live up to the hype. There were stories floating about that he got too happy in his surroundings at QS so this transfer to Wanty looks like a move to reinvigorate his career. Finishing 21st in Omloop hints at a return to a career that might have been!

The final Pro-Conti team here, WB Veranclassic, have a former winner (2014) in their midst; Maximme Vantomme. However, I think they’ll look to Ista as their man here but I don’t expect too much from him. A top 10 would be a good result! They do have a favourite of mine, Roy Jans, but he normally struggles in tough conditions.

Considering I’ve already wrote a short novella for this preview, I’m just going to highlight some names to look out for from a few of the Continental teams, rather than doing anything in-depth.

Armée de Terre: Gaudin and Tronet.

Roubaix: Pouilly.

AGO: Arimont.

Pauwels: Van Dingenen.

Tarteletto: Ruijgh.

Prediction

I think we’ll see a tough and fairly selective race tomorrow. Maybe not as tough as last year’s edition but the race will still be blown to bits. Therefore I fancy a rider who can handle bad conditions very well but also has the abilities to solo to the line. I alluded to him in the section above, but I think Van Keirsbulk is on the road to redemption so to speak and a win here will kickstart that!

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Betting

No UK odds as of yet which is disappointing. I’m sure we got something last year! Belgian bookmaker Bingoal has some up.

I’d be tempted with Van Keirsbulk Win at 25, and top 3 at 7.

Also Keisse win at 80 and top 3 at 16.

*UPDATE – SkyBet have Prices; 0.25pt EW on both of them at 50/1*

Hopefully the UK bookies get their act together and there’s something out later or tomorrow morning.
Nonetheless thanks for reading and as always, any feedback is greatly appreciated! Who do you think will win tomorrow? Will it be a selective race? My next blog post will be the Women’s Strade Bianche which I’m very much looking forward to! Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

Kuurne – Bruxelles – Kuurne 2017 Preview

Kuurne – Bruxelles – Kuurne 2017 Preview

This will be short and sweet today as I need to get two previews ready before work. Apologies!

The second part of our opening weekend double header is Kuurne – Bruxelles – Kuurne, or KBK for short!

With Omloop traditionally being the harder race, where those hoping to feature in the likes of Flanders and Roubaix later in the year want to test their legs, KBK tends to be more of a race for the sprinters.

However, Jasper Stuyven upset the applecart last year, taking a magnificent solo victory after a tough race.

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Will we get another surpise this year, or will the sprinters come out to play? Let’s have a look at the route first of all.

The Route

Rolling parcours to start off with but a flat run-in to the line.

Once again credit must go to @LasterketaBurua who made the following profile.

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We do make the iconic ascent of the Oude Kwaremont but there is a good chance that it will be too early to make a difference.

It does twist and turn before the finish on the local laps, like almost everywhere in this part of the world, but it’s nothing crazy! There is a sharp turn with around 650m to go and this will see a fight for position in the bunch but the riders should traverse it ok.

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Overall, the parcours of the race isn’t too tough, but that all depends on the attitude of the peloton and the weather…

Weather Forecast

Similar conditions to today, but there is ever so slightly more chance of rain.

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Like today, it looks as if we could get some crosswind sections out on the course with a SSW wind.

It is possible to make the going tough!

How will the race pan out?

Aside from last year, this race is traditionally a sprinters race. Yet, with the change of the UCI Calendar this year, there are a lot of sprinters away in Abu Dhabi just now; so are we going to see the same impetus to keep this together for a bunch sprint?

Today in Omloop we had a lot of crashes with the likes of Boonen and Kristoff involved. As I’m writing this, it’s not been confirmed how serious these crashes were but if those two aren’t in tip-top shape then the sprint field is lacking some strong contenders.

If Quick Step lose their main guy for a sprint, and with them being relatively poor today, I’m sure they’ll be attacking tomorrow. They won’t want to have a quiet opening weekend in the Belgian classics so I expect them to be aggressive. Likewise, this could possibly be said for the likes of Sky and Trek who would have been disappointed with the outcome from today. They will both have sprint options, but would also be welcome to the possibility of a reduced group of strongmen getting away.

I still think it will end in a sprint, I weigh it about 60:40.

Nonetheless, like for my Omloop preview I’ll throw a few names into the hat for a breakaway win and this list certainly won’t be exhaustive.

Would be attackers…

Ian Stannard.

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Sky will be kicking themselves after today. They looked in a fantastic position, having 3 riders in the front bunch of about 20 that had regrouped after the Taaienberg. After that they fell asleep as our podium from today just rode of the front, along with a few others and that was that. They do have Van Poppel who certainly could be up there in a sprint but I imagine we’ll see some aggressive action at the front from them. Stannard looks the ideal candidate after a relatively quiet finish to his race today so he should be fairly fresh. An ox of a rider who seems in good form, his diesel engine will be of great advantage to any escape!

Yves Lampaert.

The very talented, often overlooked, young Belgian might get a bit of leeway tomorrow if Boonen isn’t feeling 100%. In fact, Lampaert in his junior days was often compared to Boonen himself! As I’ve said above, I think QuickStep play this very aggressively tomorrow and Lampaert might just be given the nod in a “lesser” race. A strong time trialist, cobbled rider and packing a good punch after a tough day, Yves is certainly not one to be discounted if he makes the selection!

See, not exhaustive at all 😉

 

Sprinters

I’m not going to run through all of the riders for this situation either, but there are two that I like.

Arnaud Demare. (Again)

I liked him for today and he finished reasonably high up, he just lost too much time on the Taaienberg and that was it for the day. Whether the time was lost because he was held behind the crash or not, I’m not sure! My reasons for liking him for tomorrow’s race are similar to that of today; he’s fast, on great form and loves the cobbles. He has previous form too at this race!

Magnus Cort.

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The Orica rider is fast becoming a very good semi-classics rider. He was up there today in the second group on the road for a lot of the race, eventually finishing in 16th place. No slouch either, he would probably prefer a hard race to knock the stuffing out of some of his opposition’s legs. Clearly on good early season form, picking up two wins already, he is a force to be reckoned with!

Prediction

I think this will come back together for some type of sprint at the end. How big though? I’m not sure, but Demare will be there anyway to take the win!

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If we do get some kind of attacker, I’ll go for Lampaert as my cheeky side-bet. (As Kirby would say).

Betting

My H2H confidence has been shook after today, so I’ll be avoiding them tomorrow.

0.75pt EW Demare @ 16/1 (Bet365)

0.5pt EW Cort @ 25/1 (Sky)

0.3pt WIN Stannard @66/1 (Bet365)

0.2pt WIN Lampaert @100 (Various)

 

Thanks for reading like always! How do you think tomorrow’s race will pan out? Hoping for some exciting action again. Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth

 

 

 

 

Omloop Het Nieuwsblad 2017 Preview

Omloop Het Nieuwsblad 2017 Preview

The start of the season for many fans and probably some riders to boot! The peloton makes its return to the Belgian cobbles for the beginning of the Classics season, kicking off with Omloop Het Nieuwsblad.

Last year saw a group of favourites (Van Avermaet, Rowe, Benoot and Sagan) attack on the Taaienberg with 57.4km to go and long story short, they managed to hold off the chasing bunch with some strong work and co-operation. A special mention must go to morning breakee Alexis Gougeard who drove the front of the break in the closing kilometres ensuring they didn’t get caught when the others started playing games . We then saw an ever so slight uphill sprint to the line and it was Van Avermaet who took the glory!

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The Route

The riders will tackle an almost identical route that we see back in 2016 with the only change being the traditional return of the Molenberg as the final climb.

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Credit to @RickyFilips95  for the above profile, it’s much better than the official one the organisers provide IMO.

The race will follow a normal pattern of an early break escaping up the road before the pace is slowly ramped up over the opening hills and cobbled sections.

Things really get serious on Kruisberg before we often see the first big attacks from the main contenders on the Taaienberg at roughly 55km to go.

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As you can imagine from looking at the profile, the biggest gaps are made on the steep bottom section. It’s interesting to note that Sagan always seems to “struggle” up that part, but then power his way over the flatter second half.

We then have a lot of climbs/cobbles/cobbled climbs in succession over the next 10km, five to be exact. If the lead group really put the hammer down over this section, they can really extend their lead. Likewise, it is the place where those behind may try to jump across the gap.

The final cobbled climb of the race, the Molenberg, comes at just over 40km to go.

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At only 300m long (averaging 8%), it’s not ridiculously tough but gaps can still be made here. Once over the top, the riders have to traverse 3 more cobbled sections and a fairly flat run home. There are some technical sections as they pass through towns and are on small, twisty roads, but that’s what you would expect in this region!

After the success of last year’s finish, the organisers have decided to stick with the slight up hill drag.

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Not the Mur, but it still requires the riders to have some punch left after a long day in the saddle!

So that’s the route covered, but it’s not the only variable that can have an impact on the race. The weather often plays its part here.

Weather Forecast

It doesn’t look as bad as was initially predicted which is a shame for us sitting watching from the warmth of our homes. In fact, there are probably several riders who would have wanted a lot of rain and wind!

With rain looking unlikely apart from a few scattered showers, it will be the wind that may cause some issues for the riders.

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The above forecast is taken from Zottegem, which is roughly in the middle of the route. As you can see, a 20 km/h SSW wind is expected. This could cause some echelons, particularly with the twisting nature of the route where the riders will have to change road position.

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The wind seems to be even stronger as we get closer to Gent. It will be a fast chase home!

Contenders

I’m going to do this differently than normal, structuring this more as I would on a breakaway day where I highlight some riders and talk about them in-depth. The reason for not going through the whole start list is that;

1. Plenty of others will do that so I don’t want to repeat and;

2. Most importantly, I could easily see myself write close to 3,000 words on the nuances and intricacies of favourites/half favourites/no hopers etc and…

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So apologies if I don’t name someone you were hoping for! Right, enough of me beating around the bush…

Zdenek Stybar.

You can’t have a cobbled classic without naming at least one Quick Step rider. Their team for this race is just stupidly strong and you could make arguments for at least 6 of their riders to win this race. Sorry Keisse and Vermote! That strength in-depth can be both a positive and negative as they should in theory always be represented at the front (we’ll just gloss over last year…or the year before that…). Yet, you’re never entirely sure who they’re riding for on the day! Stybar himself has often been the bridesmaid, used as the anchor on a chasing group behind.

The Czech rider is exceptional on cobbles due to his cyclo-cross background and he always seems to be at the pointy end of a race on this terrain. He’s been quiet this season so far but I have been impressed with the glimpses that we have seen of him. Particularly the Mapei-style attack that he was the main driving force behind at the Volta ao Algarve.

He clearly has some good form! Stybar isn’t a slouch either in an uphill sprint so will fancy his chances if it comes down to a select group at the line, like we saw last year. The only issue might be if Van Avermaet and Sagan are there, or my next pick…

Arnaud Démare.

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I’ve talked him up a lot on the blog the past few weeks, but that’s with good reason; he seems to be in scintillating form and has been unlucky not to have notched up a few extra wins by now.

Still only young, the Frenchman has had a very good career so far and is someone who I think is under-rated for what he has achieved. Winning some World Tour races this year will certainly help to change people’s minds!

A sprinter who’s at home on the cobbles and short climbs, he’s finished 10th here twice in the past (2014 and 2015), he just needs some luck to go his way.

Now, I’m not sure if he’ll be able to follow the very best over the likes of the Taaienberg, but he is certainly capable of being in a second group that rejoins the head of the race if those ahead stall at any point.

In an uphill sprint after a tough day he is certainly a big threat.

A repeat of the Binche result from last year wouldn’t go amiss!

Looking at a couple of riders further down the betting order, i.e. proper outsiders, there are a couple I’d like to highlight.

Dylan Van Baarle.

Cycling: 100th Tour of Flanders 2016

Finishing a very credible 6th in Flanders last year after attacking early on in the day, he will be Vanmarcke’s right-hand man here. A real powerful rider who can get over the lumps and bumps, he could well be used as a ploy, attacking off the front of the bunch while Vanmarcke follows the moves behind. Only having competed in one race so far this year on the road, he has been doing a lot of track racing so it will be interesting to see how he copes in a race like this. Will that explosiveness carry over?

Pim Ligthart.

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At a point in his career where he felt like he wanted more leadership opportunities, Lightart has taken the step down from World Tour to Pro Continental to ride for the Roompot team. This is the type of race where he should be given those leadership opportunities. Picking up a second place on a stage in Valenciana highlights his fairly good climbing form, so he should be able to cope with the hills here. Ligthart also possesses a fairly fast sprint so he could win from a small bunch gallop too. Although he will need a lot of luck to go his way!

Prediction

I’m really torn between my two main picks here but I think I’ll go with Stybar as the winner!

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We’ll get a group of around 10 riders escape on the Taainberg, but they’ll slow a little initially, allowing another 10 guys to join from behind. With some co-operation in the group they’ll build up enough of an advantage over the rest of the peloton. From here, we’ll see some attacks in the final 10km. Everyone will be looking at Terpstra as the obvious choice from QS, but instead it will be Stybar who makes the move. He gets joined by a few others (maybe 5 of them in total) and with enough representatives from the group behind involved, they stay away to the end. Stybar then powers away on the final sprint, taking an excellent win!

Betting

0.75pt EW Stybar @25/1 with various bookmakers (I’d take 22/1, even 20/1).

0.75pt EW Demare @33/1 with various bookmakers (would take 28/1)

0.125pt EW Ligthart @ 150/1 with Bet365/Betfair/PP

0.125pt EW Van Baarle @ 125/1 with Bet365.

H2H wise I like the following two;

Ligthart > Kragh Andersen at 5/6 with Bet365. 4.5pts.

I tweeted this one out yesterday when it was at evens and I still like it at the price it is just now, I’d even take it at 4/6, or 1/2 at a stretch. I’m confused as to why it is priced the way it is. Yes, Kragh Andersen took a good win in Oman, but he has no history what so all in these types of races, whereas Ligthart does. I can’t see Andersen dropping Ligthart on any of the climbs, and it should be Ligthart doing the dropping on the cobbles. I like it so much I’m increasing my stake to 4.5pts (from the 3 I initially put on).

Stybar > Boom at 1/2 with William Hill. 2pts.

I think it’s clear to see my love for Stybar with what I’ve written above. Boom has often promised so much on this type of terrain but he’s failed to deliver in the past. The Dutchman did have a good TT in Algarve but I just don’t think he has the quality to match Stybar here. Boom’s performance is still enough to put me off going crazy on this one.

 

Thanks for reading if you managed to get this far and apologies again for not doing a full breakdown of the start list; you can see how much I managed to write for just 4 guys, imagine 20! Any RTs/Shares/any type of feedback is greatly appreciated as always. Who do you think will win? I’m just looking forward to a good race! Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.