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.

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

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

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

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.

 

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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.

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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.

 

Danilith Nokere Koerse 2018 Preview

Midweek Belgian cobbled racing is back tomorrow with the return of the Nokere Koerse. Last year saw Nacer Bouhanni take the uphill sprint win in dominant fashion, beating Blythe and Stallaert.

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He’s not here to defend his title though so we could well see a new winner but let’s have a look at what is in store for the riders.

The Route

After having reduced bunch sprints in the majority of recent editions, the organisers have decided to change-up the route a little.

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@LasterketaBurua

We still have the same little kick up the Nokereberg to finish but the circuit that they used to do at the end now makes up the middle part of the race. Instead we have two longer final laps that make the race even more “cobbled” than before; meaning there are a total of 22 cobbled stretches throughout the race!

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I’ve made a profile of that circuit that you can view here.

Within the final 10kms of racing the riders will face 2900m of cobbles. The first of those is the cobbled climb of Lange Astrstraat which averages 5.6% for 480m. Possibly a place for those with a bit of a kick to launch an attack.

Only a few kilometres down the line and they’ll face the longest stretch on the course; the 1.8km long Huisepontweg.

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There’s no pavement for riders to hide on here and with the pace being pushed on at the front, I expect gaps to be made. Furthermore, not long after that section another smaller one follows as they once again head off of the main road onto these narrow cobbled farm tracks.

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The Kouterstraat is only short at 300m but the cobbles look the gnarliest that the peloton will face all day and with only 4.4km remaining once they have traversed the section it will be a fight for anyone to try to organise a chase.

We then of course finish with the slight rise up the Nokereberg (5.7% for 350m) to finish.

It looks set to be a dry day which will please many and there is only a fairly light wind of 20km/h but we could get some stronger gusts.

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It’s unlikely to cause any echelons but you never know with Belgian racing. Teams certainly like to be aggressive!

How will the race pan out?

Putting this out there now, I don’t think we’ll see a reduced bunch sprint.

The change of route  with the amount of cobbles in the closing kilometres will make it a lot more selective. We might get a very small sprint of 8 or so but I can’t see a group of many more arriving together. There are numerous points to attack in the closing 10km and not a lot of straight wide roads for a chase to get organised. In fact, the chase can really only get organised in the final 4km and it will be a tough ask to bring a motivated attack back by then.

So the following riders will be contenders based on the above assumption!

Contenders

I’m not going to make this list too exhaustive, plenty of riders could win in the right situation and circumstances so with that said 4 riders to look out for are…

Remi Cavagna.

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If a late attack sticks, a Quick Step rider will need to be represented. They don’t have any of their big stars but they still bring a very strong squad for this type of race. Cavagna recently won the Dwars door West-Vlaanderen after he was part of a successful 3-rider breakaway that held off the peloton. He’s clearly in form at the moment and is a rider that should suit these one-day Belgian races. A good time trial rider, he packs the power to get away and hold the gap. Can he go back-to-back?

Loic Vliegen.

BMC bring an attacking squad with them to this race and I expect to see them active at the head of the race throughout the day. Vliegen is another like Cavagna who is a talented youngster and I think he’ll step up another level this season with this now being his third year in the senior peloton. Plus, he completed his first Grand Tour last year which always gives a rider a boost. He has the pedigree in this field to compete on courses like this and I’m sure he’ll stick his nose in the wind at some point.

Mads Wurtz Schmidt.

Possibly not the first rider to spring to mind but the Dane seems well suited to one-day cobbled racing. He’s a strong guy with a fairly solid sprint so he could mix it in a small sprint. 2017 was a bit of a tough introduction to World Tour racing for him but he did manage a few good results in .1 races (Besseges and Kolm). Like BMC, Katusha bring an attacking squad and I don’t think they’ll settle for a sprint.

Alex Kirsch.

The only Pro-Conti rider to make my very, very short-list, he was disappointed to only finish 6th in Le Samyn. Nonetheless, coming 2nd then 6th in the last two editions of that race highlight the quality of rider that he is. I think he is sometimes too eager to go on the attack but if he bides his time tomorrow then he has a chance. That will increase even more if some of the WT riders underestimate him!

Prediction

We’ll get a fierce pace on the final circuit that will ensure we don’t have the favoured (by the bookmakers anyway) sprinters competing for the win.

Instead, a late attack by Loic Vliegen will see the BMC rider secure a great win. He’s a bit of an all-rounder which perfectly suits the closing 10 kilometres.

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Betting

We have prices here in the UK with SkyBet but Bingoal also have odds up for the Belgians. I imagine Kirolbet will follow soon. The following prices are for SkyBet though…

Given the fairly open nature of the race, I’m happy to spread quite a few points across my 4 named riders above so 0.5pt EW on them all;

Cavagna @ 28/1

Vliegen @ 75/1

Kirsch @ 75/1

Wurtz Schmidt @ 200/1

 

Thanks as always for reading! Who do you think will win tomorrow? Will it end in a sprint or will the attackers get their chance? Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

 

 

Le Samyn 2018 Preview

 

If you don’t like this race, we can’t be friends.

Last year’s edition saw a truly epic battle in absolutely brutal conditions that wore the peloton down over the laps around Dour. Only the strongest were left at the head of the race and we saw a late two-up attack hold their advantage over a small chasing group, battling it out in a sprint to the line for victory. Van Keirsbulk came out on top ahead of Kirsch, with Keisse winning the group sprint for third.

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Conditions aren’t going to be as extreme this year, although, I suppose you could argue that they will be but I’ll get to that in a bit. First, let’s have a look at what is in store for the riders tomorrow afternoon.

The Route

“If it’s not broke, don’t fix it” seems to be the attitude of the organisers this year. We have pretty much the exact same route as last year which will see the riders leave Quarengon, head north and complete a large loop before heading south and to the finish town of Dour where they will take some local laps.

Screen Shot 2018-02-26 at 10.54.49

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It’s great to see that the profiles I’m using from @LasterketaBurua are actually the official ones too, great work guys!

Although we do have some climbs early on, the bulk of the action will happen in the final 100km once we reach the circuit.

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On the profile it may look like the riders have some tough climbs to contend with, but they are more “slogs” than anything else averaging 2% or so. Definitely for the rouleurs of the peloton and not lightweight climbers.

The cobbles will wear down the riders as they have to tackle 12kms worth in only just over 70kms of racing. Not ideal for some! A good portion of the circuit is on exposed country roads which makes for exciting racing if the wind gets up…

Screen Shot 2018-02-26 at 11.19.47

You can view the interactive finish circuit profile that I made here.

The most important section of cobbles is the last; the Rue de Belle Vue. At 700m long and coming only a few kilometres from the finish, it is one of the last places for someone to launch a decisive move if they don’t want to come to the line in a group. I’m not sure what the state of the cobbles are like this year, but in last year’s race they were battered by rain and looked like this…

There’s certainly no easy place to ride on them.

As for the finish, the road drags all the way up to the line so you don’t want to launch your sprint too early and fade in the closing metres. Timing and experience counts for a lot here.

Weather Watch

With the last two editions of Samyn heavily impacted by the weather, it looks as if we will have something similar this year. However, instead of the wind and rain that we had last year; it will be dry this time around, except it will be bitterly cold instead. Oh, and of course it will still be windy!

Screen Shot 2018-02-26 at 11.32.16
Source: Windfinder

The above image is the forecast for a town called Hornu that is situated just 10km or so to the north-east of Dour.

As you can see, the riders will face freezing conditions with the temperature set not to rise above -2ºC all day. Furthermore, a constant 25km/h wind coming from the NE/E will make the day feel even colder with a “Feels like” temperature of -9ºC.

This adds a different dynamic to the race and it could arguably be even harder than the past few years when they ‘just had a bit of rain’…

The wind direction is important as well because a lot of the exposed sections (like the one I highlighted earlier) will have crosswinds which means the possibility of echelons is very high, especially if the wind is gusting at 40km/h at times. It does mean that they will face a bit of a headwind on the run home, albeit, it might be more of a cross-headwind than anything else.

I can guarantee the peloton will be battered at the end of the day and the winner will definitely have deserved it.

Contenders

With only three WT teams here, there is plenty of chance for the PCT teams to step up and take a good result, like we saw last year with the first two on the podium. However, the WT teams are normally full of quality and they’re the squads that animate the race.

Quick Step arrive with a stacked squad, as you would expect, and I’m not entirely sure who will be their leader. On their website, they suggest it will be Terpstra, Gilbert and Stybar who are the protected riders but I have a feeling the latter two will be saving themselves for bigger goals, possibly Strade on Saturday. That leaves Terpstra and another rider who I think will go well here; Senechal.

Niki Terpstra.

CYCLING GRAND PRIX DU SAMYN

A former winner of this race and an expert in bad weather conditions, the Dutchman was disappointed with his performances this weekend. He’ll be looking to bounce back and this race offers him a great opportunity to do just that. The flat parcours is ideal for him and you would be hard pressed to find anyone in the peloton that rides better in the wind than he does. If he gets a gap of around 20 seconds, he will be very difficult to bring back.

Florian Senechal.

The young Frenchman has a very good track record in this race with a 4th and 3rd place finishes in the last two editions of this race. Those results came when he was on Cofidis who albeit were strong, they’re not on the same level as QuickStep. The extra team support could be a massive benefit to him. He did miss Kuurne due to a stomach bug so it will be interesting to see if he’s recovered from that.

Alexis Gougeard.

This is exactly the type of race that the AG2R man should start to excel in at this point of his career. Originally a breakaway rider, he has developed into much more than over the past two seasons. He’s put in some very solid performances over the first few races of the year, being active in most of the races. A “strongman” of the peloton, he won’t be too concerned with the gritty weather, it should suit his nature.

Guillaume Van Keirsbulk.

Can he repeat last year’s success? It will be hard given that he will be marked more in this edition but given the right circumstance he certainly has a chance. We saw in Kuurne that he tried a dig off the front of the peloton but it didn’t really come to much. Was he simply just stretching his legs for this race?

Dimitri Claeys.

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With Senechal now at QuickStep, Claeys will be the defacto leader of Cofidis at the cobbled races. His 2017 was probably one to forget with no real result to his name but he did manage to pick up a 5th place at the Tacx Classic at the end of the year, compared to his great 2016 season where he finished 9th at Flanders. It has possibly taken him a bit of time to gel with his new team and I’m hoping to see him improve this year. He’s already clocked a lot of miles this season taking some solid results in Marseillaise and Murcia which are certainly not races he should excel in. A rider who will like the tough conditions, I’m expecting a good result tomorrow.

Lasse Norman Hansen.

He could be a bit of a wildcard for a race like this. Starting off his season very well in Australia where he took a stage win in the Herald Sun Tour he has since gone on to DNF the three races he’s competed at back in Europe. Not a great sign really! However, he is a very strong rouleur and he should be ideally suited to the terrain and conditions that we have tomorrow; he loves an aggressive race!

Pim Ligthart.

Now into his second season with Roompot after dropping down a level, it will be intriguing to see if he fulfills the leadership role he has been given. Last year he took a few good results here or there but nothing outstanding. He was 4th in Kuurne on Sunday so his confidence will be up a little and he’ll fancy his chances if we don’t get a really tough day and a group of 20 or so arrive together.

I’m not going to ramble on anymore about contenders as I could easily be here for another 2000 words if I wanted so I’ll leave it be!

Some other random names I’ll throw into the hat though are; Pardini (Team Differdange – Losch), Spengler (WB Aqua Protect), Gaudin (Direct Energie) and Goolaerts (Verandas Willems)

Race Tactics

Wait until the final circuit and for the race to blow apart unless of course we see some very keen teams take it up on the loop north.

However, the outcome will depend on the approach of QuickStep. They have the class team in the race and have many different options that could feasibly win. This isn’t a WT race so I can’t see them trying to control it all day, instead, they’ll more than likely send riders onto the attack as soon as we get to the circuit around Dour, or try to rip things up in the cross winds.

It is important for teams to mark any move by a QS rider and get their own guy up the road too. Conversely, if they are in a move without a QS rider then it will be very difficult for it to succeed unless they are the only team that has missed out, which is incredibly unlikely. Last year it was possible to outfox them and wear them down due to the team they had, but in 2018 they bring some of their crack-squad so it will be different.

Consequently, this should make for some very interesting racing throughout the day as the right riders might not be represented in the correct moves.

It takes a great deal of luck but also experience and strength to win a race like this.

Prediction

This is a tough one.

Originally I had this down as a Senechal win but given he pulled out of KBK due to sickness then I’m not sure how he’ll do. It might have been a more precautionary thing than anything else, who knows.

No doubt QuickStep will play a massive part in the outcome of the race but I can’t see many teams making it easy for them.

Hmmm, I’ll go for Alexis Gougeard to take the one-day cobbled win that seems to have been coming for a while.

Alexis-Gougeard.jpg

The race will splinter a lot on the laps around Dour both due to the harshness of the conditions but also the difficult course. Quick Step won’t have as many riders near the front of the race as they would like but given their reputation they are burdened with a lot of the work. On the final lap we have a group of 12 riders at the head of the race but an attack sees a few riders get away. They work well together until Gougeard drops them all on the Rue de Belle Vue and solos to victory.

Betting

No odds, no party!

Kirolbet have odds in Spain and I’d be backing Gougeard at 40s and LNH at the same price.

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

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…

Screen Shot 2018-02-23 at 13.59.20
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.

cadel-evans-great-ocean-road-race-2018
@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.

RichieWillunga

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.