Grand Prix Cycliste la Marseillaise 2019 Preview

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

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

The Route

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

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

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

How will the race pan out?

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

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

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

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

Contenders

Sam Dumoulin.

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

Marc Sarreau.

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

Arthur Vichot.

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

Tom Van Asbroeck.

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

Amaury Capiot.

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

Baptiste Planckaert.

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

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

Prediction

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

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

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

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

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Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race 2019 Preview

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

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

The Route

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How will the race pan out?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Four to Watch

Darly Impey.

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

Danny van Poppel.

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

Dylan van Baarle.

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

Gregor Mühlberger.

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

Prediction

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

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Betting

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

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

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

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

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

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

 

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.

Clásica de San Sebastián 2018 Preview

After almost a week of no previews I’m back again to look ahead at everyone’s favourite post-Tour race, the Clásica de San Sebastián. In 2017 we saw the peloton slimmed down a little over the days early climbs but the race winning move once again went on the last ascent of the day.

Landa, Gallopin and Mollema were strongest on the final climb, but with Kwiatkowski and Dumoulin chasing fiercely behind combined with some gamesmanship from Landa it meant we then had 5 coming together on the run in to San Sebastian. A few attacks were neutralised so things ultimately ended in a sprint, with favourite Kwiatkowski taking the win ahead of Gallopin and Mollema.

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With Kwiatkowski not here to defend his title, will we see a new winner come the fore? First though, let’s have a look at what is in store for the riders tomorrow.

The Route

Pretty much a carbon copy of 2017, but with a few kilometres trimmed from the opening part of the route.

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However, I don’t expect the racing to get exciting until the first passage of the Jaizkibel at 127km, just over halfway through the race. Saying that, it probably won’t be until the second passage at roughly 60km to go that we will see the race liven up as this is a potential for a race winning move if the group contains the right riders and teams.

More than likely though, it will come down to the final climb of the Murgil and the descent/run to the line that follows.

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Officially the climb is 2.8km at 7.6% but the main crux of the ascent is 10.3% for 1.7km. That includes several steep ramps of above 20%!

Interestingly, Kwiatkowski holds the Strava KOM for the climb with a time of 5’36 but he actually crossed the top a few seconds behind the Landa group so realistically a time of 5’30 should see someone in the front group. That was a bit slower than the previous year when the first riders over the top did it in ~5’25, but the tougher parcours earlier in the day might have taken some spring out of their legs.

With the effort only being for a relatively short time, it is a finely balaned race between the puncheurs and climbers. Will the scales tip in a certain direction this year?

The race doesn’t end at the summit of the climb though as almost 8km of descent and flat await the riders: often leading to a tactical battle if we have a group come together.

Tour Legs?

This is actually one of my favourite races to preview every year because I look forward to including my terribly formatted but awfully insightful table…

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The table is quite simple really (after all, I made it) and it shows the Top 3 from the past yeras in San Sebastian with their finishing position at the Tour in brackets. Where it says “NR” that means the rider was a “non runner” and didn’t take part in the Tour that year. See, easy.

What can we take from it though?

Well the past 11 winners of San Sebastian have all finished the Tour and there has only been 6 occasions since 2007 that someone not riding the Tour has managed to finish on the podium. If we’re just looking at the past 5 seasons, then it is only Gilbert (who finished 2nd in 2015) that has managed to podium while not riding the Tour.

I think the numbers make it fairly clear: to go well here, you have had to have ridden the Tour!

Some slightly more trivial stats now…

The average finishing position at the Tour of the winner at San Sebastian is 29.5. Unfortunately, neither Adam Yates (29th) or Lilian Calmejane (30th) are riding here this year. While the average for the podium position is 31.5: time for Robert Gesink to shine!

Contenders

All joking aside, this is a very difficult race to compete for if you haven’t been at the Tour and you have to be a special rider to get close with a lack of racing, like Dumoulin did last year. So I’ve managed to narrow my list down and to be honest, it is pretty much exactly how the bookmakers have priced it up! There are 4 riders who I think have a big chance of taking the win and they are as follows…

Julian Alaphilippe.

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In sparkling form at the Tour, a five-minute or so climb on steep gradients like we have tomorrow should be the Frenchman’s bread and butter. No one could really follow his quick accelerations from the breakaways but he will be against a stronger and more consistent set of opponents here. Nonetheless, everyone will be scared of what he might do, the question is, will he have recovered from his post-Tour celebrations? If so, he has to start as the outright favourite.

Dan Martin.

Finishing 8th on GC and picking up one stage win along the way was a good result for the UAE rider, although he could possibly have been a little higher up had it not been for bad luck on a few occasions. He looked strong in the final week and was climbing very well on the day Quintana won and managing to follow the pace in the last mountain stage. Another that the parcours should suit well, he’s a fairly solid performer at this race and you would think the tough finish climb is ideal.

Egan Bernal.

Can he really be called the “revelation of the Tour”, as anyone who has followed cycling the past few years knows just how talented he is? Finishing 15th in your first Tour is a pretty crazy result though but it is even crazier when you consider if he avoided the 16 minute loss in the Roubaix stage then he could have well finished inside the top 10! One of the 5 or 6 strongest guys in the final few stages, there were a few times he had to stop and pace Froome back to the group. Given the chance to lead here, I think he’ll step up and put on a show but will it be enough?

Primoz Roglic.

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It looked as if he was on track to secure his first GT podium before he unfortunately had his “jour sans” in one of his favoured disciplines on the last day of meaningful action, causing him to slip to 4th on GC. If he has recovered from that bad day then the steep finish climb and fast descent looks great for him. We all saw just how good he is at going downhill with his stage win in the Tour.

There are some other names who might go close or be outside podium candidates but it will be tough for them to win.

Mollema – Consistent record here as he has finished in the top 10 on all of his 6 apperances, including a win in 2016. He looked ok in the Tour but not as strong as he did before that win or even before last year’s podium.

GVA – Probably could have won this race had he not been taken out by a motorbike, Van Avermaet looked back to his 2016 vintage in the Tour. That means he should be very close to the best on the climb and if there is a lull in their efforts up front he could bridge across on the descent. He’s a danger.

Fraile – Bit of a joker as he’s DNF’d both of his appearances so far but if he finds that Stage 14 winning kick then he is a dark horse.

Soler – In homage to CyclingQuotes Soler is my “super joker” for the race. Fresh out of the Tour he finished a respectable 9th in the TT so might be carrying a bit of form. He could be an early attacker for Landa that might just stick.

Prediction

Time for one of the strongest climbers in the Tour to step up with his new-found freedom. Egan Bernal to win!

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I can’t see anyone dropping him on the climb and if anything, he will be the one doing the dropping. He’s then a handy descender with a deceptively good kick from a small group too.

Betting

1pt EW Bernal @ 22/1 with Ladbrokes/Coral (would take/I’m having to take the 12/1 available elsewhere)

Also, 0.5pt WIN on the Bernal/Bauhaus (Poland S1) win at 109/1 with Bet365. Kind of giving away my Poland preview here…

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

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

Amstel Gold Race 2018 Preview

A week of racing in the Ardennes kicks off with a race that is not in the Ardennes and sponsored by some average Dutch beer; it can only mean it is Amstel Gold time!

Last season the organisers decided to switch things up and move away from the traditional Cauberg finish in a hope to liven up the racing. Their plan worked rather well and with what was the year of the long attack, we saw the winning move get away with 35km to go. A group of 7 riders with the majority of stronger teams represented worked well enough to ensure it would be they who were fighting out for the title. On the last climb of the day Kwiatkowski and Gilbert attacked, managing to shake off their break compatriots, before they worked well together until the final sprint to the line. The Belgian champion was too strong but the result was fairly easy in the end as the Sky rider seemed to open up his sprint too early.

16-04-2017 Amstel Gold Race; 2017, Quick - Step Floors; 2017, Team Sky; Gilbert, Philippe; Kwiatkowski, Michal; Valkenburg;

I guess you can take the Cauberg out as the final climb but that doesn’t stop Gilbert from winning Amstel!

Behind, Albasini took home third place with a comfortable sprint win ahead of the remnants of the breakaway.

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

The Route

An almost identical route to last year but the organisers have made one slight change to hopefully keep the excitement right until the end of the day.

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@LasterketaBurua

As was the case last season, the opening 200km will act mainly to sap the strength of the riders legs before the racing really begins in the last 60kms. The most critical part of the day will be the 4 climbs the riders tackle in quick succession; Kruisberg, Eyserbosweg, Fromberg and Keutenberg.

The Kruisberg is a reasonably long climb for the area at a total distance of 1.8km with an average of 4.8%. Not overly steep, it should be tackled at a pretty fast pace but it does beg for the puncheurs in the race to attack. Almost immediately after cresting the Kruisberg the riders descend and being climbing the Eyserbosweg.

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The climb (900m at 9.3%) has a sting in the tail with its steepest gradients coming in the final few hundred metres. The perfect place for a strong rider to attack and get a gap.

A slightly longer descent follows before the Fromberg (1.6km at 3.6%), then rinse and repeat with another section of downhill which precedes the climb of the Keutenberg.

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1.2km at at 5.9% doesn’t tell the whole story as you can see on the profile, the opening 400m averages over 12.5%. Ouch!

Given that all these climbs are traversed over a roughly 10km stretch, it should theoretically see the race explode like it did last year. It will then be a case of: Who’s ahead and who’s left to chase?

The race isn’t over though as the riders will still have to face the famous Cauberg (800m at 6.5%) and the Geulhemmerberg (1.2km at 4.6%) before the final climb of the day: the Bemelerberg.

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A fairly easy ascent if taken on its own, after 250km of racing the 900m climb at 4.5% might just see a rider sneak clear if they launch a strong enough attack.

Unlike last year, the organisers have changed the run-in from the Bemelerberg to the finish line, opting for narrower roads in the hope to disrupt a chase and entice attacking racing.

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As you can see, it descends before kicking back up at almost exactly the same gradient until the Flamme Rouge. That final uncategorised rise averages 1.7% for almost 1.5kms. Nothing too crazy, but it could be the place for a last-ditch attack from some.

How will the race pan out?

Amstel used to be a bit of a dull race with most teams and riders waiting for the sprint up the Cauberg and one kilometre flat run in to the line. However, things changed last year with the altered route and we had an attacking race that was delicately poised for a while before it eventually tipped in favour of those up ahead. Will we see something similar this year?

It is hard to draw on any course form given we’ve only had the one edition of this new route but I think we will see an attacking race again and that is because the current world champion, Peter Sagan, is here.

We’ve seen countless times that on terrain similar to this he should be able to make the finish with the main group. His win in Roubaix was incredible so it is fair to say that he is in pretty good form. If the peloton arrives as a reduced bunch at the finish, no one beats him. Well, maybe only one or two have a chance but after a tough day out, not even Valverde can beat Sagan in a sprint. The other teams and riders will know this, so therefore to increase their chances they have to go on the attack early and hope to get into a breakaway that sticks. Unless of course Sagan makes the move himself, then it should be fun!

So with that said, I think it will be someone from a break that goes with roughly 35km left who wins the race. As to who, there are numerous names and potential contenders but I could be here all day going through permutations and nobody’s got time for that.

Therefore, here’s a short list of four to keep an eye on throughout the afternoon.

The not so famous four

Rui Costa.

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After an exceptional start to 2017, the Portuguese rider has not managed to live up to the same heights so far this year with only a few top 10s to his name so far. He was hampered by illness in Paris Nice but bounced back with a fairly solid showing in Itzulia where he finished 12th on GC. Not spectacular but not bad. The Ardennes Classics are his playground normally though as he heads into this week with confidence and good morale. I don’t think we’ll see him wait around until the finish and he’ll go on the attack at some point, UAE will ride an attacking race in general, it just depends if he makes the right move or not. If it comes down to a small group sprint of 8 or so riders then Costa will fancy his chances.

Jay McCarthy.

Another who will like the hand he has been dealt with if he makes it into a small group sprinting for the line. McCarthy is the perfect tactical ploy to send up the road so that Sagan gets a “free” ride behind. I expect Bora to go on the offensive so that they don’t get shouldered with the work back in the peloton. I’m a big fan of McCarthy’s and it is good to see him develop each year. This season he took a big win at Cadel’s Race before taking a commanding sprint victory in the recent Itzulia. My concern is if he can match the best on the climbs, but given their fairly short and punchy nature then he should be able to.

Søren Kragh Andersen.

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The young Dane has had a pretty disappointing season so far results wise but like a few others, it has been plagued by illness and injury. However, he seems to be on the mend and he arrives at this race as second in command to Matthews, with Sunweb stating that they have a few cards to play throughout the race with Andersen being one of them. A very punchy rider who should be able to cope on these short climbs it will be interesting to see how he approaches the day and if like McCarthy, he gets the nod to go on the attack while Matthews waits behind. A very talented rider, he is not one to underestimate.

Alexis Vuillermoz.

Ag2R bring an attacking squad with them to this race as the parcours doesn’t suit anyone on their team 100%. Expect to see Vuillermoz, Naesen, Dillier and Bakelants be attentive at the front and aggressive throughout the day. On paper the route looks best for Vuillermoz as he should be able to cope with the climbs the best. In Itzulia he made a few forays into the break but nothing too exciting to note, however, he will be peaking for this week (like a lot of people) so should not be discounted. I hope we get to see his trademark goldfish breathing style at the head of the race!

Prediction

An escape to stay away like last year and I’ll go with Jay McCarthy to get the win.

 

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I’ve seen enough of a progression from the young Aussie to have him as a strong contender for this race, he just needs team tactics to go his way!

Betting

1pt EW McCarthy @ 66/1 (Would take 40/1)

1pt EW Costa @ 66/1 (Would take 40/1)

0.5pt EW Vuillermoz @ 150/1 (Would take 100/1)

0.5pt EW Kragh Andersen @ 200/1 (Would take 150/1)

All with Bet365.

Thanks as always for reading! Who do you think is going to win on Sunday? Will we see an aggressive race again or will it all come down to a sprint? Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.