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.

 

 

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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.

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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.

eyserbosweg

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.

keutenberg

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.

bemelerberg

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.

 

Paris Roubaix 2018 Preview

The Hell in the North returns this weekend to round off the cobbled classics campaign for this year. Last season saw a pretty hectic race, as always is the case here, with the man of the Spring Greg Van Avermaet winning a small group sprint in the velodrome.

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A frustrated Stybar banged his handlebars as he crossed the line in second place with Langeveld taking a surprising third. Will we see a similar trio on the podium this year; it is unlikely but not impossible. Let’s have a look at what is in store.

The Route

I’m not going to waste your time here, as you will no doubt have read plenty of previews this week that go into the route in-depth with every cobbled sector analysed etc.

PR Profile

257km of mainly flat roads with plenty of cobbles, simple!

Moving on…

The Quick Step Cobble Trotters

Just how do you beat the team that has absolutely dominated the classics campaign and this season so far? That is the question that every DS will be pondering in their sleep tonight.

Luck is arguably the biggest factor in all of if it. Roubaix is a race that you need good luck, or at least not to have any bad luck if you want to compete for the win. Just take the example of Sagan last year who was in the lead of the race twice, but had mechanicals that cost him his chance to fight for the win. Or in the previous year when he was caught up behind a crash early on and never made his way back to the front due to another tumble; the one where he famously avoided a falling Cancellara.

It will be hard for anyone to beat a QS rider but if one can be isolated on their own then they have a chance. Quick Step’s strength lies with the number of riders in their squad that could conceivably win the race. We see it time and time again that they attack quite early with someone to try to force a split and get rid of the other main contender’s domestiques. It normally leaves a group of 30 guys at most that includes 5 Quick-Step guys. From there, every attack that goes will have at least one of them in it and it won’t stay away unless they are there. Ideally for Quick Step, they would want at least two in a group. Flashes of Stannard rolling three of them in Het Nieuwsblad might spring to mind here but they seem like a different beast this year, they have developed much more of a killer instinct. Some would say, they are like a Wolfpack…

The number of options they have also leaves their opposition in a constant state of: “Is this the move I should be going in? Is this the winning attack?”. A mixture of patience, timing and luck (again) then play a part in if you happen to follow the right wheel or not.

If you do happen to find yourself in the right move, then that is the hardest part of the day done. Now you just need to outfox all of the other riders up there with you!

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The Sagan Effect

A lot of the talk pre-race has been a bit of to-ing and fro-ing between Boonen and Sagan in relation to the current World Champion blaming other riders not working with him to take on Quick Step. I would have to agree with Peter on this one; everyone is too concerned about how strong he is that it makes it a bit easier for QuickStep to continue doing what they have done for the past month. I guess that everyone else in the peloton is stuck in between the proverbial rock and a hard place with who they work with or don’t.

Interestingly enough, Sagan has a fairly poor record at this race compared to his usually incredibly high standards with 6th his best result back in 2014. That’s the only time he’s finished in the top 10 here in 6 starts. Nonetheless, he can’t be ruled out tomorrow and I would not be surprised to see him go and lift the title at the end of the day. Yet, I won’t be backing him.

In a break from tradition, I’m going with a slightly different approach rather than naming every contender or hopeful. Instead, I’ll be taking the Countdown method with one from the bottom, middle and top of the order to have a further look at…

The ‘Mat Hayman’ 

A rider for this category has to be someone who has flown fairly under the radar and has to be a massive, massive longshot for the title; need a very particular set of things to happen for them to go close. Someone you’re probably wasting your money on but heck, for the 5 minutes of exciting that they make an attack with 130km to go, worth it.

Mads Würtz Schmit.

Cycling: 20th Santos Tour Down Under 2018 / Stage 5

With one Dane (Mads Pedersen) having a “breakthrough year” on the cobbles, could we see his namesake go well here? Just like Pedersen, Würtz Schmidt is a former winner of Paris Roubaix Juniors, an event he took home back in 2012. An incredibly strong rider on the flat he did a lot of work for Kittel in the recent Scheldeprijs, taking massive turns on the front but it was ultimately to no avail. It’s only his second appearance at this race at pro level (he finished 46th last year) so his potential might still be hidden. He could well fly under the radar if he’s up the road in the morning break, or he could finish in 74th!

The ‘He’s what price?!’ 

Someone in this category might be have been seen as a potential winner a few years ago, or they’ve just been a bit off form lately and not featured in the past couple of races but they might still just have a chance come Sunday. Or at least you’ve convinced yourself of that; I certainly have with the following rider.

Matteo Trentin.

Yup, he somehow falls into this bracket which I find incredibly bemusing as he’s not really been off form that much in the past month. Looking at his result from Flanders suggests he might be on the decline, but his 45th place was due to a crash which consequently meant he lost two minutes on the guys ahead and that was his race done from there. He doesn’t have a great record at this race but in the past he has mainly be used as a very strong domestique for Boonen and co. However, this year he comes into the race as Mitchelton’s leader according to the race preview on their website. Disregarding Flanders, he looked very strong and comfortable in both E3 and Gent Wevelgem. Definitely and outsider to keep an eye on throughout the afternoon. If it comes down to a small sprint in the Velodrome he will fancy his chances.

The Winner

No fancy nomenclature here. If you have kept up with my thoughts on here and my Tweets over the past month then you already know who this is…

Philippe Gilbert.

Ronde van Vlaanderen

Even though he has only raced here once, a 52nd place back in 2007, and that goes against the norm as what it takes to win here; normally a rider needs to be experienced on the cobbles to do well but there are always exceptions. Gilbert is that exception. His win in Flanders was truly incredible and this has been his main target since the start of the season as he continues on his quest to win all 5 Monuments. Over the recent cobbled races he’s played the team-mates role perfectly, marking the opposition out of the race as the rest of his squad attacked. It will be interesting to see how he and Quick Step approach the race; will he go long again like he did in Flanders? If it does come down to a small group finishing together in the Velodrome then like a few others, the Belgian will be happy with the cards he has been dealt.

So that’s that, a slightly different approach to a normal preview but I thought I would try something different as I can’t imagine you will want to read a similar post in the same structure as the countless other previews available for this race. I hope you enjoyed it nonetheless!

Betting

I’ve been aboard the Gilbert train for a while now and tweeted out that I’d placed 2pts on when he was widely available at 15/1. He was even that price until Flanders again so as much as I don’t like doing it, that’s what being marked down in my figures!

Nonetheless, I’d still back him at the following;

2pts WIN Gilbert @ 8/1 with most bookmakers. You might get better odds on the exchange if you’re patient.

1pt EW Trentin @ 80/1 with Bet365. Would take 66/1 available elsewhere, some books paying 4 places.

0.125pt EW Mads Würtz Schmidt @ 500/1 with Betway. Would take down to 350/1.

Thanks as always for reading, I’m looking forward to what should be an exciting race tomorrow. Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

Ronde van Vlaanderen 2018 Preview

My favourite race of the year and the event which saw my first blog piece back in 2016, returns this Sunday for what should be another cracking race. Last year we saw a crazy attack from Gilbert 60km from home after Boonen split the race on the Muur at 90km out. Due to a mix of an incredible ride from the Belgian champion and a crash that took out Sagan, Naesen and Van Avermaet while on the chase meant Gilbert took a dream win.

Ronde van Vlaanderen

 

Behind Van Avermaet recovered and managed to sprint for second, with Terpstra taking third after being denied any chance of doing anything all day because of his team-mate being up front!

Will we see something similarly crazy this year? First though, let’s have a look at what is in store for the riders.

The Route

This section will be a lot shorter than normal as I’m fairly sure you will have read plenty of route reviews this week so I don’t want to bore you with another.

Long and tough, pretty much!

ronde-van-vlaanderen-2018
@LasterketaBurua

Things only really start to get serious after the first 110km but from there it is a constant mixture of climbs and cobbles for the riders. As we saw last season, the race winning move could feasibly go at any point but the most likely place is on the Kwaremont/Paterberg combination. With 13kms from the top of the Paterberg to the finish line, will anyone up the road be able to hold off a coordinated chase effort?

Quick Step vs Sagan vs Everyone Else

That seems to be the narrative this year.

Quick Step have been utterly dominant in the past few races on home soil with a truly remarkable hit rate in terms of wins. At this race they bring 4 riders (Gilbert, Terpstra, Stybar and Lampaert) who could feasibly take home the crown given the right situation. It will be interesting to see how they approach it; do they take a similarly aggressive attacking outlook to last season? Having one less rider in some ways will make that more difficult as there will be less firepower behind to cover anything, but it also means that if you get 3 guys up the road, you should be able to out-number most squads. The one issue I can see in their squad is that a lot of opposition will fancy doing them over in a sprint, so for one to win, they most likely have to arrive solo.

Sagan has blown hot and cold this season so far but when he’s hot, he’s scorching! Still reeling from the crash last year, he will desperately want to make amends this season. With Oss now by his side he should have a strong rider that will last long into the race. Likewise, he’ll be hoping Burghardt can continue his good form and offer support too; he could possibly go in an earlier move as a bridge for later in the race. If Sagan’s on a good day, very few will be able to match him on the Kwaremont and Paterberg and that will worry a lot of riders. Even though he’s not been as successful this season in terms of wins, people will be wary of the “Sagan factor”. He needs to be isolated and you hope to be on the right side of his; “I’m not working” or “We’re going on an adventure” approach as he closes a gap in a kilometre. It is reading which mood he is in that is the toughest but most vital thing for everyone else in the race!

What about the rest of the peloton? We’ve seen plenty of the likes of Benoot so far this year and a lot will fancy their chances but it will come down to a combination of luck and legs whether they make the right move at the right time. Ideally you want to anticipate and follow a strong QuickStep move but you can’t follow everything unfortunately.

The Three Musketeers

Given that I could hark on for a long time about countless different riders and how they might have a chance, I’m just going to keep this fairly simple. These will be the three guys that I’ll be putting my money on at the end of the day and this is why…

Niki Terpstra.

Niki-Terpstra-e1521836454902

Backing a QuickStep rider for this race is a must and Terpstra has pretty much been a staple of my punting arsenal at Flanders for the past couple of seasons. His record here is incredibly consistent; 6th (2014), 2nd (2015), 10th (2016), 3rd (2017), not bad! On the short cobbled climbs he is one of the best in the world and his power output is sensational, for example last season he averaged 8.5 w/Kg to keep up with Van Avermaet on the Paterberg. Having already tasted personal glory twice this season he will be keen to continue the run. The performance he gave in E3 was nothing short of incredible and if he gets a gap of 15 seconds in the final 20kms it could be goodnight for an uncoordinated chase group, especially if he has a team-mate sandbagging.With the predicted showers and potential 30km/h gusts on occasions, that only increases the Dutchman’s chances: he is a poor weather expert! The one problem for Terpstra is that he doesn’t have a great sprint so he will more than likely have to come in alone if he wants to win, but 260km does strange things to the legs so you can’t count him out. The same can’t be said about my next candidate.

Greg Van Avermaet.

Conspicuous by his absence atop the winners step of a cobbled classic so far this year, GVA has had a quieter build up to this race compared to his all-conquering 2017. However, I think that is the perfect situation for him to be in right now as it means some riders will be more willing to work with him than they were last year. Well in contention for this race up until the crash in 2017, he followed that disappointment up by going on to win Roubaix. As a Belgian, this is the race he will desperately want to win though. We’ve seen glimpses of him at his best on the cobbles this year, albeit they have been brief. I think that has been part of his game plan though so that others underestimate his form; a dangerous thing to do! A brave and attacking rider at times, it will be interesting to see where he plans to make his move and how far out as he does have the luxury of a strong sprint after a tough day. Like Terpstra, he is exceptionally consistent in this race: 2nd (2014), 3rd (2015), DNF (2016) and 2nd (2017). Tell me again why he won’t be fighting for the win this year?

Oliver Naesen.

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He’s quietly gone about his business so far this classics campaign with a 4th and 6th in E3 and Gent Wevelgem respectively before an unfortuante abandon in Dwars with knee problems. However, he is on the start line for tomorrow and very confident that the issues with his knee are behind him. The only rider to be able to follow Sagan and Van Avermaet last year, he was taken out in the crash which ultimately ruined his race. From that incident he also sustained a knee injury but he went incredibly well in Roubaix the following weekend and if it wasn’t for several unfortunately timed mechanicals, he would have been competing for the win. A rider that seems to enjoy a race the longer it gets, I would expect to see him near the head of proceedings tomorrow as I’m fairly confident he is over any niggles…

Could we see back to back Belgian Champs winning Flanders?

Prediction

Nope!

After going missing in action this cobbled campaign so far, Van Avermaet will finally come up trumps with a perfectly timed peak of form.

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Competition

As Flanders marks my blog’s birthday, I’m running a competition to win a HandmadeCyclist Ronde print. Simply go over to my women’s preview (another shameless plug) that you can view here and leave a comment on the post with who you think will win the race and your Twitter @ so that I can contact you if you win!

Betting

The classics are the classics and are often tough races to call so I’m spreading my stakes around a little. With that said though, it has been a good year so far so I’m happy to be a little more frivolous!

2pts WIN Van Avermaet @ 6/1 with Unibet (would take 11/2 in most places although you can get nearly 8/1 on the exchanges!

1pt WIN Terpstra @ 10/1 with most places (you can get close to 11/1 on the exchange)

1pt EW Naesen @ 22/1 with SkyBet who are paying 4 places (would take down to 18/1).

 

Thanks as always for reading! Who do you think will win tomorrow? I’m looking forward to a good race. Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.