Omloop Het Nieuwsblad 2018 Preview

Oh yes, the cobbled races are back!

Last year’s edition of the race saw an almost carbon copy of 2016 with Greg Van Avermaet beating Sagan in the uphill sprint into Gent. The reining champion returns this year hoping to make it three in a row at this race and without the current World Champion, he has a good chance of doing so.

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There are plenty of riders who will be hoping to stop him though so let’s have a look at what is in store for them at the traditional “start of the season”.

The Route

A big change from the past editions with a new finish town and a route that is reminiscent of a “mini Flanders”.

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@LasterketaBurua

The riders will face no less than 12 cobbled sectors, of which 5 are cobbled climbs; it’s a real race of attrition. To make matters worse for the riders but much better for our viewing pleasure, it is the second half of the day that is back loaded with obstacles. In total there are 16 cobble sections or hellingen to complete in the final 100km and that doesn’t include any uncategorised lumps or bumps either.

With any spring cobbled classic, the action can start anywhere along the route. However, the likely place we’ll see the favourites begin to cause a selection will be the Molenberg. The riders will tackle the 500m at 9.8% (including 300m of cobbles) climb with roughly 50kms in the day to go. From there it won’t be long until the Haaghoek and anyone in difficulty here can wave their chances of success goodbye.

Some more Hellingen follow over the next 20km before an iconic final two climbs.

At just under 20km to go the riders will tackle the famous Muur van Geraardsbergen a.k.a the Kapelmuur.

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The iconic cobbled climb is a brute and averages 6.8% for a kilometre. That might not seem like much but these are proper cobbles and with ramps of 20%, riders can explode and lose the race here. Likewise, a rider can surge away from his opposition and build up a gap, not to be seen again!

Once over the top of the ‘Muur, a fast, twisting descent follows before the final challenge of the day; the Bosberg. Shallower than the Muur, it averages 5% for roughly 1.2km but the final 800m or so are all cobbled. A perfect launchpad for a puncheur to try one last attack and distance the group that they are with.

From there, 11kms remain and the finish in Ninove awaits.

Weather Watch

It’s the start of the cobbled classics so we’re surely in for some bad weather right? Well, that’s partly correct. The riders are set to get sunny conditions all day but it will be very cold all day with a wind chill factor making it feel around freezing point. They should manage fine though, as on my commute to work the other day it was -8ºC but I guess I’m carrying some more bulk than them…

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Source: Windfinder

The above screenshot is the forecast for Aalst which is just north of the finish town of Ninove. As you can see, the riders will have a constant wind coming from the East/NorthEeast throughout the day.

It is strong enough to create some echelons if we get the right road direction and lack of tree coverage out on the route. Consequently the peloton will be on edge the whole day which might lead to faster, more nervous racing and the unfortunate likelihood of more crashes. Having numbers near the head of the race at all times will be very important.

One thing to consider though is that from roughly 30km to go onwards, the riders will face mainly a headwind/cross-headwind which could be to the detriment of a solo escapee. Unless of course everyone is battered by then and the strongest rider survives.

A Clear Favourite?

We come into the race this year without Sagan which is a shame but we do have a Sagan style rider, especially when it comes to these types of events, with Greg Van Avermaet. Having won the race the past two years and in scintillating form at the moment on the punchy stages in Oman he comes into this race as the massive bookies favourite. So much so, that according to them he has a 40% chance of winning.

His team is weaker than last year mainly due to the ahem, loss of Oss, but Roelandts should be with him long into the race. He’ll need a big performance from Küng as well because I can’t really see many others in his team staying at the head of the race when the going gets tough.

The tactics GVA adopts will be very interesting. He has the power to go with almost anyone and drop a lot of people on the climbs, but he also possesses a strong sprint so he might be happy with the headwind on the run in and sit in for a bunch gallop.

Last year during his Spring domination I mentioned that if people want to win against him, they need to treat him like Sagan in these races. Refuse to co-operate and try to work him over with numbers if he is isolated. I wonder if Van Avermaet will adopt the Sagan style and just shrug his shoulders and let people ride off; I can’t see that happening.

In conclusion, his okay-ish team and the fact he is such an overwhelming favourite means this race will be a lot more difficult for him to win than it appears on paper. Now, I wouldn’t be surprised to see him to be raising his arms come tomorrow afternoon but I’m going to be bold and suggest he doesn’t.

Van Avermaet won’t win.

 

The Harlem Cobbletrotters

Quick Step bring a ridiculously stacked squad with them. I mean, the strength in-depth they have is just stupid and they will play a big part in the outcome of the day.

Devenyns isn’t known as a cobble specialist but he has started the season in great form and that has to be taken seriously. He can climb well, pack a decent sprint and he isn’t a stranger to tough races here having won the Belgium Tour and Tour de Wallonie in the past.

Terpstra has had a quiet start to the season results wise but he’s been either working for team-mates or making audacious attacks. The latter suggests he’s going quite well at the moment and given the terrible weather conditions, his contender status goes up even further.

Gilbert started his year with a respectable third in Murcia and followed that up with an appearance in the breakaway in Algarve along with team-mate Stybar. Both riders pack a punch on the short slopes and have shown in previous years they go well in these types of races. I’m sure Phil will enjoy the return to the Muur/Bosberg combo, he dropped everyone on the latter in the 2011 Flanders but was brought back near the end.

Lampaert has been applying himself working for others so far this season and it is hard to tell where his form is at. He would probably prefer the older, slightly flatter finish but he is an ideal rider to send up the road early if QuickStep don’t want to control the race. The same can be said for Keisse although I fear he’ll be taking the “Vermote” role.

Finally we have Gaviria. He will win a cobbled race at some point in his career, it might even come on Sunday with Kuurne so I’m not too sure how he’ll approach Omloop. Nonetheless, he is punchy enough to deal with the climbs and I have a funny feeling QS will try to keep him safe with that headwind in the finale. Things might just come back together for a small bunch sprint and no-one here will beat the Colombian in a 20 rider effort.

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The Countdown Selection

As I’ve rambled for a bit already, and there will be plenty of previews that go into almost every contender possible then I’m just going to name another four here to keep an eye out for tomorrow. Taking inspiration from “Countdown” the selection is made up of one favourite, an outsider and two Wongshots.

Tim Wellens.

Arguably the form guy here, it will be good to see the Belgian rider take a proper shot at a cobbled one-day race. He was strong in the opening Spanish races but it was his performances in Andalucia that really caught my eye and I’m sure they caught yours too! Managing to follow the likes of Poels, Fuglsang, Landa etc up a tough 3km climb on the second stage really marks a step up, but he wasn’t just following, he was even one of the riders attacking. Then, he absolutely tore the race to shreds on the shorter but very punchy cobbled climb of Alcalá de los Gazules, taking the victory and ultimately the GC because of it. That type of performance should be able to transfer into a race like this and I would be very surprised not to see him right in the action at the end. Having strong team-mates like Benoot and Keukeleire will be a massive help too and it will allow Wellens time to rest in what will be a hectic day.

Daniel Oss.

Tour of Flanders

Once a loyal domestique for Van Avermaet, Oss made the switch from BMC to Bora during the winter. He’s only raced in Australia so far and if you just look at the results, then nothing stands out too much. However, it was his performance in the Great Ocean Road Race that really stood out for me. After missing a slight split on Challambra he powered back to the head of the peloton in the final 100m of the climb. Looking lean and mean, he then did a shed tonne of work for McCarthy, keeping everything together. Without Sagan, Oss will more than likely be Bora’s protected rider. Can he get one over his former team-mate?

Timo Roosen.

When talking about riders who seem to be taking a step up this year and have shown good form, then the Lotto Jumbo man has to be mentioned. Instrumental in Groenewegen’s sprint wins, he proved on the Hatta Dam that he isn’t too shabby a rider either and put out some massive power to finish third that day. He’s done ok in one-day events in the past including an 18th place at this race last year. I’m intrigued to see how he copes with the Flanders style finish and it will certainly be on his limits. However, that pesky headwind might see things come back together a bit and with the way he’s riding just now, things could go better than last year.

Filippo Ganna.

Vuelta San Juan 2018

Somewhat of an early season revelation, the UAE rider stunned everyone with a third place overall in San Juan back in January which included a very industrious 7th on the mountain finish. Post-race he said he worked really hard over winter to lose some weight, dropping almost 4kgs. Importantly though, he seems to have maintained his power though and that should help on the cobbles. As a former Paris-Roubaix U23 winner, he certainly knows how to handle them. Don’t get me wrong, he is a definite outsider but with the ambitious goal of finishing in the top 5 of a cobbled race this season, he certainly has some confidence in himself.

Prediction

That pesky head-wind really makes things difficult and there is a chance we could see a small sprint at the end. Nonetheless, I think things will still be torn up fairly early and we’ll see a very elite selection come the Muur/Bosberg combo.

I’ll go with a flying Tim Wellens to continue his sparkling start to the season and win the race.

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No one, not even Van Avermaet, will be able to match him on the Muur/Bosberg, and with some hesitation from behind and marking out by Benoot, his gap will be too big come the finish, even with the headwind.

Betting

Went a bit wild but it is the first cobbled race and I’ve been saving up those “No Bets” in Abu Dhabi for this!

2pts EW Wellens at 12/1 with most bookmakers.

1pt EW Oss at 66/1 with Bet365

0.25pt EW Roosen @ 150/1 with Various

0.25pt EW Gana @ 250/1 with Bet365.

I tweeted out those selections a few days ago (they’re the current prices though) but I’m also adding the following just incase the pesky headwind ruins things.

1pt WIN Gaviria @ 80/1 with Bet365 (Would take 50s)

Thanks as always for reading! Who do you think will win tomorrow? Personally I can’t wait and I’m just looking forward to some exciting racing. Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

 

Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race 2018 Preview

Billed as Australia’s answer to the spring classics, Cadel’s Race offers some exciting one-day action early in the season.

The past three editions have seen one solo winner (Kennaugh in 2016) with the other two editions being won via a reduced bunch sprint.

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2017’s champion, Nikias Arndt, returns for this season but can he double up tomorrow? Let’s have a look at what is in store for the riders.

The Route

After having the same final circuit in the first three editions, the organisers have decided to alter it ever so slightly. They’ve taken out the climb of Hyland Road and bypassed some other areas, meaning the circuit is cut down to 17km from the 20km or so it was previously.

Furthermore, they’ll enter the circuit before the famous Challambra climb this year, meaning that the riders will have to tackle it 4 times throughout the afternoon, not the 3 it has been in previous years.

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@LasterketaBurua

So the organisers have somehow managed to make the race both easier and more difficult at the same time.

The removal of Hyland Road means that the only meaningful place to put in an attack on the circuit is Challambra. Of course, we could see attacks go throughout the Geelong circuit but the biggest differences should be made on the climb, in theory.

Challambra

It is a tough little climb as well, with the steepest section coming right at the top. However, as it is only 1km long, some of the stronger, heavier guys in the bunch can hold on to the coat tails of the climbers. If they can maintain the power that is!

Michael Woods holds the all important Strava KOM for the segment, clocking in at 2’28 in last years race. Interestingly, that was set on the second passage of the climb when he chased down Sebastian Henao, with the third effort taking 7 seconds more.

More importantly though, the summit of Challambra this year is only 9.2km from the finish unlike the 12.2km it was in 2017. Given that the first 2.5km of that is an incredibly fast descent, then an attack over Challambra sounds more appealing than in previous years.

A chase will need to be quick to organise, if a strong, small group of riders escape.

Weather Watch

With the TDU having been effected by searingly hot conditions last week, the riders probably won’t be pleased to hear the potential 39-degrees that could be about tomorrow.

Thankfully, there is meant to be some cloud cover throughout the day, but it will still be around 35 degrees in the afternoon when the riders are finishing.

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Source: Bureau of Meteorology

How will the race pan out?

Anyone’s guess.

History would suggest that it will be a selective finale, with a possible late move or small bunch sprint to the line.

The change to the route could make it more selective, or it could see the race stick together. I really don’t have an idea as to which way it will go!

Given that Challambra is the only meaningful place to attack and distance the fast men, I hope to see some teams really step up the pace in the opening two ascents. It is quite far out at 40km to go, but it is what is needed if they are looking to make the race as difficult as possible.

If that does happen, then we could see some attacks go on the penultimate passage, and with the correct riders and teams represented, it might just well stick to the line. If a group doesn’t go on the penultimate lap, then we’ll see the riders sprint up Challambra for the final time. Can Porte make it the new Willunga?

Yet, we could quite easily see a defensive race.

Teams might be afraid to take it up on the opening laps, cruising over the first two ascents. Consequently, the faster men in the bunch will be a lot fresher going into the final two laps meaning they would be much more likely to make the finish.

It will be tough for them to follow the best on the climb, but things can easily regroup, especially if there is only a 15 second deficit to the head of the race.

Hmmm.

See the conundrum I’m in?!

Two’s Company

I’m sure if you have read/are going to read plenty of previews on this race, then the same names will crop up again and again. So instead of me boring you with the usual suspects, I’m just going to name two riders and how they might be in with a chance of a good result.

That and the fact I’m incredibly tired and running a bit behind schedule with this preview, but you didn’t have to know that!

Richie Porte.

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Yup, the King of Willunga makes the list.

I almost ruled him out of that stage in the Tour Down Under, as I thought he was a bit under the weather. Boy, I was wrong! He put on his usual masterclass but what was even more impressive was that he did it into a headwind. Clearly in great shape at the moment and wanting to make up for his crash at the Tour last year, I wouldn’t be surprised to see him give it a go tomorrow. In last year’s race he lead the peloton over Challambra for the last time, but it didn’t seem as if he was going full gas. He did however attack the group on the ascent but was eventually reeled back in. BMC will probably front as if they’re working for Gerrans but I have a feeling they’ll make it tough on the opening few laps in an effort to give Porte a shot at it. The climb of Challambra is possibly just on the short side for the Tazmanian, but a harder race beforehand will make it seem longer for his competitors. If he can get close to matching the 10.37 W/kg he managed with his stinging attack on Willunga, many will struggle to follow him if it is full gas from the bottom. After that, it will be over to him to manage his pace and TT all the way to the line. Something that definitely could happen given the shorter distance.

Ruben Guerreiro.

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The more left-field pick, the Trek rider is now into his second season in the pro ranks and I’m intrigued to see what he can do this year. A talented rider; he can climb well on the short hills, but he also packs an explosive punch. Winning the Portuguese championships against the likes of Vinhaus, Vilela and Goncalves on an uphill finish is no mean feat. Furthermore, he managed an impressive sprint to 6th place in the tough Bretagne Classics last year, highlighting good levels of endurance for such a young rider and not to mention that explosive kick once again. He’s started this season with a solid string of results Down Under, including 10th place on Willunga, which saw him finish 9th on GC. If we get a small group escaping tomorrow over the final crest of Challambra, he seems to have the speed to challenge in a group of 5-6. Importantly as well, Trek seem to have started the season flying and there will be a feel good atmosphere in the squad. Can Guerreiro continue that streak?

Prediction

Beats me!

I think we’ll see a hard tempo from far out, hoping to eliminate the faster riders who might hold on to the finish on an easier day.

BMC will set things up perfectly for Porte to fire off some rockets right at the bottom of Challambra. No one will be able to follow him and that will be that for the race.

The King of Willunga will therein be known as the King of Willunga, Ruler of Challambra and breaker of chains.

Well, actually, hopefully he won’t become that last Game of Thrones reference!

Betting

A couple of punts for interest, but I don’t want to get overly invovled…

1pt EW Guerreiro @ 33/1 (would take 25s lowest)

1pt WIN Porte @ 66/1 with PP. Although I doubt you could get 1pt on there (I can’t), so I’d happily take the 18/1 available elsewhere (I’m going to have to).

Thanks as always for reading. What do you make of my two, slightly left-field candidates for the race? Who do you think will win? Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

Il Lombardia 2017 Preview

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

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

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

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

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

The Route

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How will the race pan out?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Three Clear Favourites?

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

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

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

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

Will the three of them get the chance though?

Azure Attacks?

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

Jakob Fuglsang.

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

Pello Bilbao.

A pick based on a favourite rider?

*Pretends to be shocked*

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

Prediction

None of the above riders will win though…

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

Wout Poels.

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

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

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

Betting

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks again for reading.

Thos were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

Milano-Torino 2017 Preview

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

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

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

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

The Route

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

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

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

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

How will the race pan out?

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

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

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

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

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

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So, what will we see happen this year?

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

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

Contenders

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

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

David Gaudu.

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

Diego Rosa.

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

Primoz Roglic.

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

Pello Bilbao.

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

Sam Oomen.

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

Prediction

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

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

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

Betting

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

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

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

Tre Valli Varesine 2017 Preview

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

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

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

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Will we see a similar outcome this year?

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

The Route

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

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

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

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

TVVLap

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

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

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

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

TTV

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

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

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

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

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

How will the race pan out?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Names to look out for

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

Tom Dumoulin.

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

Steve Cummings.

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

Davide Villella.

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

Michael Valgren.

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

Marco Canola.

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

Prediction

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

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

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

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Betting

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

1pt EW Dumoulin @ 33/1

0.75pt EW Valgren @ 66/1

 

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

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

Grand Prix de Wallonie 2017 Preview

I was going to wait for the World’s to do another preview but after a couple of days of not writing, I’m bored. So here we are again, with a nice race on a Wednesday in Belgium. A time and place where the stars seem to align for me…

Last year’s edition of GP Wallonie saw a reasonably sized group of 35 riders come to the foot of the final climb together. Gallopin launched his attack at 1.1km to go and with a bit of looking around behind, he built up a gap that was too much to close down. Not that Vakoc didn’t try, as the Czech rider surged up from behind and almost stole the win on the line. Jerome Baugnies of Wanty followed home in third place.

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The timing of Gallopin’s attack was important but oddly enough, it was the exact same spot where his team-mate (Debuscherre) went on the offensive and won the race the previous year. Will we see the Lotto 1.1km to go attack this year?

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

The Route

Although ever so slightly different to last year’s route, it follows pretty much the same pattern with the normal climbs at the end of the race.

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The road rolls for most of the day, but it is the final 50km that things will get interesting. We have a lot of up and down before the Côte d’Ermeton. The 8kms of rolling roads before the descent to the foot of the climb average 2%. Not leg-breaking, especially compared to the recent Vuelta, but it is certainly leg-sapping!

The Ermeton itself is only a short climb; at 1.6km in length.

Ermeton

The 4.5% average is enough to see some attacks, but like a lot of the climbs around here, they are suited to the power climbers, not mountain goats.

The riders will then face almost 15kms until the bottom of the next categorised climb; Côte de Lustin.

Lustin

Longer and tougher than the Ermeton, it is much more suited to a thinning out of the peloton. Expect to see some of the stronger riders come to the fore here. They might not attack themselves, but I’m sure some team-mates will. An aggressive team can make the end of this hard!

With only 6kms or so from the top to the next climb, the riders won’t have much time to recover if they went deep with their previous effort.

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Tienne aux Pierres is the penultimate climb of the day and it is one of the toughest the peloton will face. At 3.2km long and averaging 5.2% it will be attacked at a fast pace and is a great platform for some riders to launch a late move.

Riders will be dropped here, but it all then depends on who is up front as to how the race unfolds from there as there is an opportunity for a regrouping on the run in to Namur.

The riders will then climb in the closing 3kms up the snaking road to the Citadelle de Namur.

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As you can see, it isn’t a crazily tough finish, with the final kilometre almost being false flat. Therefore, if you’re a better climber than some others in the group, you have to attack early. Some of the steepest ramps come at just over 1km to go; no wonder that is why Lotto Soudal have launched their attacks at that exact moment over the past two years. Both moves have been winning moves. Will someone be savvy to it this time?

Weather Watch

The race is normally a fairly attritional one, with the stronger guys coming to the fore over the closing 50km.

This could be exacerbated more than normal tomorrow due to the forecasted bad* weather…

*Depends who you ask.

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Source: Windfinder.

The above image is the forecast for just south of Dinant, i.e. roughly 2/3rds into the race.

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The section as they head towards Dinant will be a headwind, with a little cross-head thrown in. However, there are plenty of other areas out on course where the riders will be cycling into a pure crosswind. For example, just before they come to the feed zone in Havelange you have roads such as these…

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Interesting!

Or on the road north as we head towards the Côte d’Ermeton…

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Some climbing and crosswinds you say? Very interesting!

Throw in too, the potential for some showers and we have a manic day on the bike on our hands. It might not be Le Samyn crazy, but it could be pretty close.

How will the race pan out?

Normally the race can be a relatively controlled affair, where some of the stronger teams look to reduce the peloton slowly; leaving roughly 30-40 riders somewhat in contention going into Namur itself. Other times, we see some strong attackers get away on the preceding climbs s a break and fight out the finish themselves.

However, I think the history book will be thrown out of the proverbial window tomorrow.

The conditions will cause some carnage out on the roads and we’ll have a lot of guys DNF after being distanced. In the sections where the wind comes from the side, the riders won’t have to really force to make echelons, they’ll almost happen naturally.

I imagine that the 6 World Tour teams will be well aware of that so they’ll want to be at the front. In theory they should be stronger, but a lot of the PCT and CT teams here are no mugs at cycling in bad, windy conditions.

Consequently, the nervousness in the bunch will make the echelons even more likely (not that they need to be made any more likely!)

This then leads to the next question; will a team have enough riders up the road to control things? Possibly, but the best form of defence is attack . Or so they say.

Therefore I think we’ll see a select group drive clear at some point. As to when that may be? Who knows! The peloton could be completely decimated by the wind and the lead group will form that way, or it may be done on the climbs. We could even see some escape in between the climbs!

Candidates

In a slight change to normal, I won’t go through everyone because in a race that could be all over the road; no one will be able to tell you with confidence how it will pan out.

So this list will be more of a “who to keep an eye on” kind of thing!

The Lotto Soudal triple threat of Wellens/Benoot/Gallopin. It will be interesting to see how they go tomorrow given that they have all been over in Canada racing recently; so jet lag might be a factor. Nonetheless, on paper they are arguably the strongest riders here and they will hope to use that to their advantage. Expect them to be attacking throughout the day! If it does turn wet, then Wellens will have a field day!

Montreal Grand Prix, 2015

Bakelants is another rider who’s been enjoying himself in Canada lately but this is a race where he always goes well. His record here is rather remarkable actually, having won it in 2013 and finishing in 11/2/3/5 in the other 4 years. Not bad! He doesn’t seem like the best rider in crosswinds though and that might come back to haunt him.

Gerts may not be the first name that stands out to you from the BMC line-up but “the Florist” has been building some nice form in Britain over the past week. This is the type of one day race that should suit the youngster and it might finally be the time for him to step up into a leadership role. Could his solid sprint and attacking nature see him take a great win?

Gaviria might have something to say about that. The Colombian returned to racing in Britain after a spell off the bike. He’s hit the ground running since then, picking up a stage win and a string of good placings. A deceptively good rider in tough conditions, he could be the strongest on Quick Step if the likes of Vakoc and Brambilla are suffering from jet lag.

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Van der Hoorn.

 

We’re now getting to the stage of the preview where I’m plucking slightly more obscure names out of the hat and guys that you might not have heard of yet. If you haven’t heard of the best named rider in the peloton, Taco, then you will over the next few years. The young Dutchman recently took the win at a brutally tough Schaal Seis to go with a lot of solid results in various other one day races. Can he take advantage of this purple patch?!

Peyskens.

The WB Veranclassic rider has been a consistent performer in one-day races this season, picking up several top 10s. A good climber on his day, he should be able to cope with the lumps towards the end of the race. His team always seem to go well in the tough races (Kirsch’s second at Le Samyn is an example of that) and tomorrow should be no different!

Backaert.

An eternal breakaway candidate at the Tour this year, the Wanty rider seems to have continued off from where he left of there, attacking in a lot of his subsequent races. He’s picked up a few decent results but nothing overly impressive. However, it is his early season results in Le Samyn and Omloop that have got me thinking for tomorrow. He seems to go well in tough conditions and he might just be able to slip away if some of the bigger names mark each other.

Prediction

I think tomorrow is going to be an incredible day’s viewing.

We’ll have very tough conditions that will wear down the riders but then team tactics will also play a massive part in the outcome of the race. I’ll go for someone in form and a non-WT rider to upset the apple cart again.

That man is the rider with the best first name in the peloton; Taco van der Hoorn.

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His form is great at the moment and he should be close to the front in the splits. Being more of an “unknown” will work to his advantage as the WT teams mark each other out of it. Can we get another GVK-style prediction right on what looks set to be a very similar day?!

Unfortunately, there seems to be nowhere pricing up the race, in the UK anyway. I know Kirolbet are offering odds and I assume a few Belgian bookmakers will be too. We might get something here after this! 😉

Thanks for reading as always! Cycling isn’t about the big races 100% of the time so it was nice to preview a smaller event – they often tend to be the most exciting! Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

 

 

 

Ride London-Surrey Classic 2017 Preview

After spending a few years at .HC level, the race makes the step up to WT status for 2017. A decision that I’m not so sure about as with two WT races already going on at the weekend; team’s resources will be stretched to the limit and we could see some weaker teams sent here because of it. Furthermore, it takes away the opportunity for the UK Continental teams to shine. Oh well, it is what it is!

Last year saw the race come back for a relatively large bunch sprint which Tom Boonen won.

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The Aussie duo of Renshaw and Matthews followed the Belgian home to round out the podium.

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

The Route

The organisers have slightly shortened the route for this edition, removing one of the climbs that we normally have during the middle of the race.

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Rolling out from London, the riders will face fairly flat roads with only a few minor lumps before reaching the first KOM of the day; Staple Lane.

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Uncategorised in last years race, it’s not an overly tough climb mainly due to the amount of false flat that it has. However, there are a few steep ramps and some longer sections at +5%. I wouldn’t expect it to do any damage to the peloton though.

Staple Hill does kick off the “serious” section of the race where the riders will be facing climbs every 15km or so.

Next on the agenda is Leith Hill.

LeithHill KOM

A more challenging climb than Staple Hill, we could see some of the stronger climbing teams push the pace on here to try to put the sprinters into difficulty early on.

Once over the top they’ll face a long shallow descent before the first passage of Ranmore Common.

Ranmore KOM

Another short climb, the peloton will no doubt fly up it. The gradient does get steepest near the top, peaking at 16%, which does offer a great opportunity to attack. Even more so because there are a few kilometres of false-flat to continue to apply the pressure on once you’re over the summit. The riders will then complete a loop back through Dorking and complete the Ranmore climb for a second time.

With roughly 50km remaining, the riders will face the last KOM of the day; Box Hill.

BoxHill KOM

For the professional peloton it shouldn’t be too much of a challenge, but it depends how aggressive the race has been up to that point. If we’ve had some very fast racing over the previous 60km then the 3.9% average gradient might seem a little harder than it is on paper!

When off the descent, the riders will have just over 40km until the finish in London. A lot of the route is flat in general, but the road does roll quite a lot. One thing British roads are known for is being “heavy” and energy sapping. This could really be of the detriment to any group up the road if they’ve already expended a lot of energy and the peloton is chasing keenly behind. Conversely though, narrow roads make it hard for a team to organise a chase.

The finish in London itself is the same we’ve had the past few years with the sprint along the Mall.

Weather Watch

As with most races in the UK, you never know what type of weather you’ll get on the day of the event.

Looking just now, the forecast for Kingston-upon-Thames has some possible localised thunderstorms mid-afternoon.

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Source: Met Office

That could certainly make the run in for home interesting; especially with a strong tailwind helping those staying away.

However, in Dorking (where most of the climbs are near) there is no rain forecast with fairly clear skies promised for the majority of the day!

All of this can change in an instant though and I wouldn’t be surprised if the forecast is different later on this evening compared to what it is when I’m looking at it now (10:30 am).

How will the race pan out?

The past 4 editions of the race have seen a small group stay away two times, with a reduced bunch sprint deciding the winner on the other occasions.

With the race now stepped up to WT level, we could see a race where teams are more happy to control the day hoping for a sprint and to gain some crucial WT points.

The step up also means that teams are able to bring an extra rider; 7 compared to 6 the past few years. Consequently, the bigger teams have another “disposable” rider to try to control the breakaway up ahead.

Conversely though, quite a few teams bring squads where they have riders who can cover both options.

I think I’m hoping more than anything else that we’ll get an exciting, attacking race, but I fear that it could end up being a relatively dull and controlled day.

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The majority of you seem to think the same way!

Sprinters

Matthews.

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Off the back of a great Tour de France, the Aussie will arrive here looking to keep the momentum going. As one of the best climbing sprinters in the world, he might actually get his team to apply some pressure on the KOMs during the middle of the race. He’s not the fastest on a pure flat sprint like the one we have tomorrow so he needs to take advantage elsewhere. He has a solid lead-out but it’s made up of mostly sprinters so they might be a bit disorganised. His team doesn’t really have anyone that will ride tempo on the front of the peloton all day so I’m intrigued to see if they try to get someone into the break.

Greipel.

Bitterly disappointed with his performance at the Tour, he’ll be here hoping to make amends tomorrow. In this type of field he should be making it over the climbs if they’re not rode aggressively and he should be there at the finish. Is he getting past his prime and starting to decline in prowess? Unfortunately, I think so. He just doesn’t seem as fast as he used to be and that’s shown at the Giro and Tour. I wouldn’t be placing my house on him to win tomorrow!

Bennett.

After picking up a handful of podiums at the Giro but just missing out on that elusive Grand Tour win, he bounced back with two wins in Slovenia. However, he’s not raced since the Irish Road Champs over a month ago so it will be interesting to see where his form is at. A rider I rate highly, he should be able to get over the climbs in fairly good shape and will be one of the fastest guys at the finish. If he’s on form…

Viviani.

According to an interview with Doull, Team Sky are backing Viviani 100% and that the Italian is in good form. Are they that confident in him or is that a bluff? Because to be honest, I wouldn’t be confident in Viviani winning! Sky have a few cards to play if the race does become attacking, such as Kennaugh or Stannard, so maybe they’re trying to play mind games with everyone. To be fair to Viviani, he did win a couple of stages in Austria recently but the field was hardly stacked with sprinting talent; Vanmarcke came home behind him in 2nd and 3rd on those two days.

Kristoff.

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Another rider who was poor at the Tour, he did seem to grow into the race as it progressed. However, he was then involved in a crash and that put a halt to things for him. If this was Kristoff of 2014 or 2015 vintage, there would be no point in having anyone else turn up as he would have this race in the bag. Can he roll back the years tomorrow? I’m sure he’ll be doing a rain dance tonight anyway!

Aside from those guys, there are plenty of riders who could get involved in a sprint including;

Drucker – Former winner, would need some of the faster guys to be distanced. In good form at the moment, picking up a win in Wallonie.

Theuns – I’m a big fan of his and without Degenkolb here he’ll now be designated sprinter. With De Kort and Stuyven he has a strong short lead-out. Does he have the legs to compete?

Cort Nielsen – After promising so much towards the end of last year he’s been a bit “meh” so far this season. A good climbing sprinter, he’ll probably want a tough race. If he’s not there, Orica might turn to Impey.

There are others, but I don’t want to list 20% of the start list!

Breakers/Late Attackers?

There are a few names I want to throw into the proverbial hat for this section.

Naesen.

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The Belgian Champion was one of the MVPs of the Tour, working selflessly for Bardet every day. Due to how well his team-mate was going, Naesen never got a chance to shine himself but tomorrow could be that day. AG2R arrive with an attacking team, as let’s be honest, Barbier isn’t going to win the sprint. A super strong rider on the short climbs and on the flat, he should be good enough to get into the moves.

Bauer.

A rider who earned a lot of my respect during the Tour, he often found himself last man standing as support for Dan Martin. Climbing better than ever before, he tried to get into the winning break on the penultimate road stage but just missed out. Quick Step don’t bring a proper sprinter as such, although that is doing Trentin a little bit of a disservice, so they’ll be trying to animate the race as much as possible. Bauer could be the man who makes it two in a row for them!

Van Baarle.

Another rider just out of the Tour, he was also climbing well on a few of the mountain stages, helping his team-leader Uran. Much more of a classics rider, tomorrow’s route suits him quite well and he is certainly a guy who can attack in the middle part of the race. Cannondale have an aggressive team and I expect to see Van Baarle on the move at some time. Will Tour legs benefit him?

Prediction

I really hope we see an attacking and exciting race but I think there will be enough motivation behind to bring things back for a sprint.

In that situation, I’ll go for a Bennett win.

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I’ll be waiting (possibly with bated breath) for a Bauer / Naesen / Van Baarle attack though…

Betting

No real value at the top of the order and if you’re to back a sprinter it is definitely an in-play day but I might avoid that completely.

Happy to have a gamble on two of my outsiders though;

0.5pt WIN on them both at B365;

Bauer @ 200/1

Van Baarle @ 100/1

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

Those were My Two Spokes Worth