Vuelta a Andalucia 2019 Stage 4 Preview: Armilla -> Granada

Today’s Recap

Well, well Wellens!

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The current race leader clearly has benefited from those extra hours on the TT bike this winter as he blasted his way around the course: taking the win and extending his race lead. Fuglsang was a bit of a surprise as the first Astana rider home with pre-stage favourite Izagirre only managing third place at the end of the day.

The GC battle is well open heading in to tomorrow’s Queen stage so let’s have a look at what is in store for the riders…

The Route

Taking a leaf out of the Grand Tours books, the organisers have decided on a short but sharp stage tomorrow with the riders only facing 119 km from Armilla to Granada.

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With over 2500m of altitude gain packed into such a short stage, there are sure to be some GC time gaps come the end of the stage. It will certainly be an intense day in the saddle for everyone. However, with that being said, I can’t see any teams try to take it up on the first of the two difficult climbs, instead, they will probably wait until the final ascent of the day.

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The closing 40 kms sees the road start to rise up with the gradual second category climb of Alto de Guejar (6.2 km at 5.2%). Not a tricky climb, expect it to be raced at quite a tough pace with a few teams looking to thin things out before they reach the much tougher climb of Alto de Hazallanas.

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A brute, the gradients speak for themselves really! The opening 5 kms average roughly 11%, before it “flattens off” down to a measly 6.5% for the remaining part of the climb. It was used as the finish climb of stage 10 at the 2013 so try to watch that on Youtube if you can!

With over 20 km from the summit to the finish, you might think that it would be weird to see teams attack on Hazallanas but given that the majority of it is downhill – then we might just see that.

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The downhill itself will be fast, but as you can see on the image above, it is pretty technical in some sections too. Either way, it will be difficult for a chase to form here. Once off the descent there are roughly 5 kms of flat left before the finish line on the outskirts of Granada.

How will the stage pan out?

We could see quite a fierce fight to get into the breakaway but with the stage being so short, it will be easier for the GC teams to control any early attacks. As I said, I don’t think we’ll see any major action until the penultimate climb of the day where Mitchelton and Astana will come to the front of the bunch and start to turn the screw. Both of those have squads capable of tearing things apart on Hazallanas and leaving only a select group of riders out the front of the race.

From that point, it is a case of does anyone attack and try to go solo over the top of the climb, or will it be a smaller group that gets away and fights it out to the finish?

The stage reminds me a lot of the opening day of racing we had at this race back in 2017. With the peloton whittled down on the last climb of the day, a select group of riders neared the summit together, with Valverde and Contador attacking and managing to get a gap. The former actually went on to drop Contador in the first few hundred metres of the descent and he kept plying on. Things would eventually regroup though, with 6 at the head of the race coming into the closing kilometres. There were a few attacks but things were closed down and we got a very reduced sprint from GC favourites coming to the line.

I think something like that will happen tomorrow, but it possibly might be even more selective due to the tougher final climb and it being the final day where we can see a GC shake-up.

Astana Attack

The key to the stage is when and where Astana are going to attack.

With Fuglsang (+7), Izagirre (+14) and Bilbao (+28) all within half a minute of current leader Wellens, they have the options to make the race difficult for the Lotto rider. I expect the Belgian to be isolated on the final climb and despite how well he is clearly going at the moment, it is difficult to see him following the very best climbers on an ascent like this given its gradients. However, he does seem to be the form rider so who knows.

After LLS drilling it at the front, I think we might see one of the trio put in a relatively early dig on Alto de Hazallanas, forcing Wellens and the other rider in the top 10 to chase. This is where it then becomes an important time of the stage for Mitchelton because they clearly have the climbing talent to keep things in check if need be, in an attempt to give Haig a shot at the GC win. However, having messed up the opening day and with Adam Yates the other Mitchelton rider in contention, but over a minute down, all anyone else has to do is to follow Haig. If Yates was somewhat closer and on a similar time to Bilbao, that could be a really dangerous duo to attack and force others to think. Consequently, I think Mitchelton will have to decide in the morning if they try to go just solely for the stage win and race aggressively, or try to ride for a top 3 on GC with Haig – because I just can’t see the Aussie winning.

I would be very surprised if an Astana rider doesn’t win the stage tomorrow because they should have 3 of the last 7 riders on the climb. As I’ve said above, it is all about timing the attack and hoping the right rider gets away.

If someone from Astana does get away over the top, then the other two will just sit on the chasing group behind and counter attack if things get brought back as I don’t expect them all to sit there and just ride tempo to the line in a group of 8 or something. Unless of course Wellens has been well dropped, then they would do that to secure the GC win.

Prediction

As he is the smallest threat for the overall, it is arguably easiest for Bilbao to escape as he won’t be instantly marked like Fuglsang or Izagirre. It is a day of many variables though because as I’ve said just above, if Wellens is dropped by quite a distance, the trio of Astana riders could just ride tempo to ensure a Fuglsang overall victory.

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However, I’ll go for Pello to go in his “Bilbao Baggins” style adventure and take the stage win!

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Betting

 

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

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

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Vuelta a Andalucia 2019 Stage 2 Preview: Sevilla -> Torredonjimeno

Today’s Recap

Despite Astana and Bahrain’s best efforts to try to split things up a little before the final climb, we had a pretty large peloton arrive at the foot of the ascent. Movistar took it up early and things quickly thinned out, however, no one really wanted to go full gas from the bottom like they did last year. Possibly knowing just how brutal the climb they decided it was better to save something. Astana then put in a little dig on the false flat descent but it was Tim Wellens who took the corner I highlighted in the preview yesterday, exactly the same way he did back in 2018. Carrying some momentum through it and onto the steep finish, he sat in the saddle and powered away from everyone as they struggled to hold his wheel. A dominant performance and a good one to beat Astana and the illness he faced a week or so ago!

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Astana will be happy with their current position though with Fuglsang and Izagirre taking 2nd and 3rd respectively.

Disappointed with blog pick Yates, who looked as if he was being brought up by his team-mates but then lost the wheel with around one kilometre to go until the start of the climb. From there he began the ascent in about 50th place and was never going to come back after that. He might not have won against Wellens, but we’ll never know!

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

The Route

A long day in the saddle which sees the road rise steadily up; will the sprinters be able to hang on?

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With nothing overly difficult in the opening 185 km of the stage, the main battle will take place over the final 25 – 30 km.

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The only classified climb of the day crests with about 24.5 km to go and given it’s 4.6% average for just over 4 km – it isn’t exactly the toughest ascent in the world either. However, it definitely could be used to put the peloton under a little pressure, especially if those eyeing up stage victory later on want to make things more difficult. After a short descent, the riders face the final 20 km which are all ever so slightly uphill, averaging 1.5%.

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The day will be decided (obviously) in the final 5.6 km.

With an “opening” climb of 2 km at 4%, followed by 1.6 km of flat, then a 2 km climb at 3%: there are opportunities for the finesseurs of the bunch to try to nab a win.

How will the stage pan out?

With some time gaps after today’s stage and no bonus seconds on the line, it could actually be a day for the breakaway. However, I don’t think that will happen as there should be enough interest behind from teams wanting a stage win to close things down.

Will it be controlled all the way to the line though?

With no pure sprinters here as such, the likes of Trentin and Van Poppel will be hopeful of sticking with the bunch and being the fastest riders left. Yet, it will be a tough ask for teams to keep things in check as I think plenty will fancy their chances of attacking in the finale and spoiling the party. The classics riders and puncheurs will be licking their lips at the prospect of the drags in the closing 5km.

Consequently, I think we might see a small group get away near the end of the day, who battle it out for a stage win. Or even a solo rider who times their attack perfectly as everyone else looks at each other.

Riders to look out for include Prades, Gavazzi, Luis Leon Sanchez, Canola and of course the aforementioned Trentin and Van Poppel.

However, I don’t think any of them will win, instead…

Prediction

A blog favourite will be raising his hand come the end of the day and that man will be Matej Mohoric.

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I was very impressed to see Mohoric grinding his way up the climb today, slowly picking off riders ahead of him and ending up in 11th place. He’s a rider that keeps improving year on year, especially now that he is fully focussed on his cycling after finishing his studies. We saw that come to fruition last year with what was a breakthrough year and I expect him to match that this season with some very strong performances in the classics. The slightly tricky finish looks perfect for him to launch a doozy of an attack in the closing kilometres and with a bit of confusion and lack of co-operation behind it will be very difficult to bring him back. Mohoric does also have the advantage of packing a pretty handy sprint in a stage like this so he might just wait but that isn’t his nature. All or nothing for Matej!

Betting

1pt EW Mohoric @ 25/1 with Bet365

Thanks as always for reading the preview and apologies it is slightly more stumped than normal; I’m a bit under the weather and trying to write two previews a day takes a little time. It’ll probably the same tomorrow as I’m heading home for the weekend so will be spending a bit of my time travelling. Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

Vuelta a Andalucia 2019 Stage 1 Preview: Sanlúcar de Barramed -> lcalá de los Gazules

Vuelta a Andalucia 2019 Stage 1 Preview: Sanlúcar de Barramed -> lcalá de los Gazules

As I’m doing both Andalucia and Algarve previews this afternoon, no GC funny business here – straight into the opening day it is!

The Route

With no real mountains the stage looks quite simple on paper, but given the constant rolling nature of the parcours and the sting in the tail that awaits the riders: it certainly isn’t the easiest start they could have had.

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We’ll no doubt see a fight between some of the Pro Continental teams to get into the break and try to take the KOM jersey but in terms of other action for the stage, don’t expect much until the closing 10kms, with everything building to a crescendo.

Some of you may recognise the finish climb from last year’s edition of the race, with it being the finale of Stage 4, which saw Tim Wellens power away from everyone. However, the approach into the town itself this year is a little different.

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Last year it was mostly all a steady downhill until the foot slopes of the climb but as you can see on the profile above, there are a few short rolling kickers to contend with first. Nothing to worry about for the peloton as they’re all roughly 500m long and average about 5-6% but they will be taken at race pace and probably sap the legs a little as the fight for position begins.

With around 2.6km to go it is the exact same finish that we had last year so it is worthwhile to watch that again. You can find a video of the finish here, just skip along to around the 42 minute mark for those closing kilometres.

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The fight to get to the right hand turn with 1.3km to go will be very important, as the climb starts in earnest as soon as you leave the main road with immediate double-digit ramps. Consequently, being at the front of the bunch allows you to carry more speed through turn and saving you a vital bit of energy.

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The climb can really be split into three parts; with an opening 700m at 16%; before a 300m shallow descent; and the final 250m at 13% kick to the line.

Having team-mates in the opening few hundred metres is helpful and we saw Lotto Soudal utilise that tactic well last year but with it being Wellens and Landa at the head of the race with 1km still to go – this is a stage about pure power and climbing legs.

The road surface on some parts of the climb is pretty terrible too with riders having to use storm drains for a smoother ride. This again highlights that being at the front of the peloton is a pretty good idea for this climb!

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One crucial point of the climb that I picked up on last year was this slight turn off of the shallow descent. Landa led Wellens through here, but the latter carried a lot more speed and was in a better gear to power himself past the Spaniard as the road started to rise again. It looked as if Landa had to alter his pedal stroke to change gear and that ultimately cost him the stage as he couldn’t get back onto Wellens’ wheel again.

I really enjoyed the finish last year and I’m more than happy to see it return this year! Let’s have a look at who might be competing for the win and the first leader’s jersey of the race.

Contenders

Tim Wellens.

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It’s only fair to start with last year’s winner with the Lotto rider hoping to double up this time round. As seems to be tradition now, Wellens started his 2019 very strongly in the Spanish Trofeo races winning one of them, with the other two results being 2nd and 5th. He was meant to ride Etoile des Besseges but had to skip it due to a viral infection and consequently missed almost a week off the bike. However, his coach seems to think that it shouldn’t be an issue and that he’ll be ready to contest for stage wins and a good GC placing this year. We’ll have to wait and see but a fit Wellens would be a favourite for the stage once again.

Adam Yates.

With a win already under his belt this year in Valenciana, taking the day at the very tough and steep finish in Alcossebre, Yates will be relishing another opportunity on a short but steep climb here tomorrow. He normally is good on these shorter steep ramps and after a slightly disappointing 2018 where he was in his brother’s shadow, he’ll want to step up again this year. The finish tomorrow provides a great opportunity for him to get an early second win under the belt this season.

Simon Yates.

Would it be fair to say he was the breakthrough rider of the year in 2018? Although he was a strong rider before that with good GC places in the Tour and Vuelta, it was last season that he really upped his level. With the well documented cracking at the Giro, Yates bounced back with a very mature and strong ride to win the Vuelta. Like his brother, he can fly up the steep slopes when he wants to but given this is his first race of the season, I’m not sure where his form is at. On the team’s website, he says to get some racing in his legs and support Haig and his brother. Just a bluff or is he being truthful? We’ll find out tomorrow.

4/7ths of the Astana team.

One of the early form teams, the Kazakh outfit are flying at the moment and I don’t see that changing here. They have an incredibly strong group with them at this race and on their day I could feasibly see any of Sanchez, Bilbao, Izagirre or Fuglsang win tomorrow. Honestly, trying to pick who out of them will go the best is tough but I would possibly argue Bilbao as he looked the strongest on the steepest finish in Alcossebre. I imagine they will all be given a free role tomorrow in the hope that they can be near the top of the order to put the pressure on the other teams later in the week.

Dylan Teuns.

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He was my pick to surprise everyone with an attack on Alcossebre but after apparently suffering a puncture with just less than 10km to go he had wasted too much energy fighting back and couldn’t follow the best. As a rider who has contending for the win and finished on the podium at Fleche Wallonne, a 1.2km steep climb tomorrow looks perfect for him and I fully expect him to be in the mix. With Colbrelli taking the team’s first win in Oman today, the pressure is somewhat off them a little tomorrow. Will that help Teuns out?

Sergio Higuita.

I named the young Colombian as my wildcard for Alcossebre and he certainly continued to impress there. His diminutive stature and low weight should theoretically help on the steep slopes compared to those more gravitationally challenged but with the dodgy road surface tomorrow, he might actually struggle to get the power down if he’s dancing on the pedals. Nonetheless, I expect another top 10 from him with another strong performance.

Eduard Prades.

It’s weird to see Movistar with such an underwhelming GC team for a race in Spain but they do have a possible outsider for the opening stage. Prades had a breakthrough year in 2018 winning the GC in Norway and Turkey, while picking up some good stage results throughout. Already this year he’s taken his first victory with a stage win in Provence, on a day that featured a brutally steep climb before the finish. Obviously that’s different from a race actually finishing up a steep climb but he’ll be hoping to improve on his 12th place here last year.

Prediction

I think it will be a Wellens vs A Yates vs Teuns vs Astana battle, but I think the former might still be a little flat after his illness. Hmmmm, it’s got to be Adam Yates, doesn’t it?

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Teuns to come home second with Bilbao third.

Betting

2pts Win Adam Yates @ 7/2 with Bet365.

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

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

Vuelta a Andalucia 2018 Stage 3 Preview; Mancha Real › Herrera

Today’s Recap

Well that was an exciting finish!

It wasn’t as decisive GC wise as I had expected but it was a very tactical and enthralling finale with attacks off the front being slowly brought back for a counter move to go instantly. In the end though, Wout Poels timed his last attack at the perfect moment and sprung away to take stage victory and with it the GC lead.

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Sanchez and Wellens trailed home just 2 seconds down with Landa and Fuglsang another two behind them. It leaves the race interestingly poised going into the next few stages.

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

The Route

The only stage of the race that should be a guaranteed sprint.

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With that being said though, the riders will have to contend with a lot of uncategorised climbing throughout the day so it will be interesting to see who takes up the chase.

The two Cat-3s shouldn’t be of any major difficulty for the bunch unless some have really suffered during today’s ridiculously tough finish. We do get an intermediate sprint at Puente Genil with only 10kms left, but given there are no bonus seconds on offer then it’s interesting placement becomes somewhat less interesting.

The final 12km does roll a bit though which makes it a not so straightforward finish.

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The major rise in the closing section averages 3.6% for 2.4km that “crests” at just over 7km to go. It might just be enough for a team to stretch the bunch out if they hit it hard, but they’ll need to keep the pressure on over the last 7km if it is to be worthwhile.

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At just 500m to go, the peloton will be greeted with a very tight left-hand turn. Expect a massive fight to get here as you’ll need to be in the first ten riders through here if you want to contend for the stage.

Those last 500m actually kick up ever so slightly but it is more of a grind than anything else at an average of 1.9%. It will certainly give the sprinters something else to think about as you don’t want to open up too early and fade in the end.

How will the stage pan out?

As I said previously, this should be a sprint stage. But nothing is ever certain in cycling!

We saw on the opening day that some of the sprint teams didn’t really want to commit to the chase and the break almost and probably would have stayed away if it wasn’t for Astana. Now, that stage was a lot harder than this one but with a few more days racing in the legs, some of the riders might not be as keen to work at the front all day.

Sky will set their usual tempo but if no one up the road is a danger to them, then they’re not going to over-extended themselves by brining it back unnecessarily. That realistically just leaves the sprinters teams and none of them really strike me with confidence.

Modolo messed up the first stage and he is probably the class sprinter here but can we really trust EF Education First to organise a chase? This was the team that struggled to bring back a break in the Giro even when their whole squad was TTing on the front.

AG2R might chip in to chase but they’ve been in both of the breakaways so far which indicates that they might play that card again. So will Direct Energie or Wanty help then either?

I’m really starting to lean-to the possibility that the break might actually have a better chance tomorrow than originally thought.

In fact, I’m just going to talk about some break candidates because if we get a sprint then I don’t expect Modolo to make the same mistake again.

Lottery Contenders

I’ll keep this bit short and sweet as I’ll no doubt be massively wrong and we’ll end with the obvious bunch sprint.

Moreno Moser.

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Back again with my favourite Italian on Astana, he and the rest of his team-mates have done a lot of work over the opening two stages for the team’s leaders. In an interview on the Astana website, Moser says that he wants to work well for the team but also chase his own opportunity at some point in the race. We’re running out of stages so he might just go in the break tomorrow if there is a sense in the peloton of no-one wanting to commit to a chase.

Oliver Naesen.

As I’ve said above, Ag2r seem keen on sending people up the road during this race. Naesen fits the bill perfectly tomorrow of being far enough down the order not to be a threat but he’s strong enough to win from a group. With the classics season on the horizon, a nice hit-out here would be a good test of form.

Damien Gaudin.

He really “found himself” last year while riding for the Armee de Terre squad picking up three victories to his name. Starting his season this year in the Bongo at which he finished third overall, he’s been a solid domestique for his team-mates since then. He’s the type of rider who is dangerous in a breakaway as he seems to be strong in one-day races. With an explosive short turn of power (he’s not too bad at prologues) he could surprise in a sprint from the break.

Lluís Mas Bonet.

Cycling: 51th Tour of Turkey 2015/ Stage 8

Token Spaniard breakaway pick who also doubles as current KOM leader. Mas Bonet gets into the break to defend and secure the KOM title but with no chase behind he turns his attention to the stage. He packs a surprisingly decent kick and it could catch out a few. The slightly rolling finish would be good for him.

Prediction

Breakaway stays away as EF Education First fail to organise a piss up in a brewery and no one else wants to commit to the work. In fact, other sprinters teams send riders up the road and a 7 man group stays away until the end.

That man Oli Naesen warms up for the classics perfectly by taking a confidence boosting win here!

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Or we get a fairly dull day where the sprint teams decide to actually co-operate and then it is anyone’s guess. Modolo would be favourite but he’s not unbeatable.

Betting

2 of the guys not priced up but I’m just going to “waste” 1pt on some break picks.

0.25pt WIN on them all.

Naesen @ 50/1

Moser @ 300/1

Valgren @ 400/1

Van Hecke @ 400/1

All with Bet365.

Thanks as always for reading. Who do you think will win tomorrow? Will it end in a sprint or will we see the break surprise? Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

Vuelta a Andalucia 2018 GC Preview

A race that has been dominated by Alejandro Valverde in the past, he’s won 5 out of the last 6 editions, it was the same last year where he just pipped Alberto Contador to the title by one second.

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Thibaut Pinot was third at only 6 seconds back but with none of those riders here this week, we have a chance for a new winner.

First though, let’s look at what is in store for the riders over the week.

The Route

As I’ll be doing in-depth daily stage previews, this section will be a little truncated. All of the following profiles are thanks to @LasterketaBurua.

Stage 1.

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An interesting opening stage with a lot of climbing in the third quarter of the day. This could turn into a GC day but the likely outcome will be a reduced sprint of some kind.

Stage 2.

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Only the second day but we have the Queen stage of the race. At only 141km of racing the stage is short but it is filled with climbs. The finish up to Alto de Las Allandas could see some massive gaps. Those with a poor TT will have to go full gas here, it should be a great watch!

Stage 3.

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The only stage the should see a full bunch sprint but we do have a lack of quick-men here. Who will control the day?

Stage 4.

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A long day in the saddle but it is all about the final 1.5km; a short but steep ramp. Both the climbers and puncheurs will fancy it.

Stage 5.

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A TT to finish that has a 5km section of gravel that averages just over 2%. It should be one for the more traditional TT riders, but it is short enough for some surprise names to get in the mix. Will the GC title be decided on the final day?

With the stages briefly covered, let’s have a look at who might be challenging for the win at the end of the week.

But first…

The Elephant in the Room

This is Froome’s first race after his AAF was announced/leaked. Now, the decision to have him race is one that divides opinion amongst cycling fans but I’m fairly certain you will all know what side of the argument I am on. It will be interesting to see how he and Sky approach the race. Will they take it easy and hope to slip under the radar (well, as much as they can) or will they continue on as if nothing has happened?

Either way, there is no way that they can come out of this one, ahem, cleanly.

If Froome takes it easy then the accusations will fly suggesting that he needed medication to go well etc. Whereas if he goes full gas and features at the head of the race then a lot of people will take offence as to the audacity of the team considering all that is going on at the moment. They are stuck between the proverbial rock and a hard place.

It will also be interesting to see how the riders in the peloton treat him. Will he be given the same respect as before?

No doubt the Brit will still have his fans that will cheer him on. In fact, I would suggest that they’ve become even more fanatical since the AAF finding so we can expect them to be vocal no matter what.

The voices of dissent will be as vocal as the cheers this week but I just hope no-one does anything stupid out on the road to take the situation into their own hands. Cycling’s image is already being made a mockery of, we don’t need stories of piss being thrown at him etc.

Personally I don’t think Froome will feature here. He’s essentially completed an extra Grand Tour while in South Africa as they attempt to recreate the situation and find a scientific reason as to why his salbutamol levels were so high. Surely he is spent after it all? Plus, I don’t think Sky can risk the outrage if he does win until the case/investigation is over. If he does, then it is a big “fuck you” to the sport.

So with that said, I’m going to discount him for this race. Let’s have a look at who else might compete though!

(Again though, this all opinion and shouldn’t be taken as fact. Plz don’t sue. I’m poor. 😐)

Contenders

Mikel Landa.

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Starting his first race for Movistar he’ll want to get his season up and running with a good result. On paper this looks ideal for the Spanish climber. He’ll love the steep and relentless finish on Stage 2 and he should be able to put in a solid time in the time trial. In fact, he should be the class act of the race but with his form being so unknown he could well win it or come home in 20th.

Jakob Fuglsang.

A rider that we do know the form of, the Astana man has started the season well with a 3rd place on GC in Valenciana. He followed that up with a solid 6th place in Murcia at the weekend. Astana have a very strong team here and they’ll hope to have a few guys near the head of the race in the important stages. Numbers could be crucial.

Luis Leon Sanchez.

The second Astana candidate for the race win, the Spaniard has started the European season in sensational form. After returning from the Tour Down Under where he finished a respectable 8th on GC, he’s since went on to finish second behind Valverde in Valenciana and then beat him in Murcia at the weekend. A strong TTer, he should have an advantage over some competitors in that stage and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him go well on some of the steep ramps, he did well in Valenciana on similar terrain.

De La Cruz / Poels.

With Froome taking this one easy (see my reasoning above) then Sky will turn to other riders for success. I’m not sure how either of them will go here though as their crack squad in Valenciana was extremely disappointing. Was it just a slow start to the season or is no-one in form yet as they all secretly want to lead at the Tour…I think it is too tough for De La Cruz to win GC, but if Poels has upped his game since a poor Valenciana then he of course is a contender for the win. We’ll find out on stage 2 where he is at!

Steven Kruijswijk.

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After pulling out of the Giro last year the Dutchman finished the season with a 9th place in the Vuelta. A rider who never really starts the season well I am intrigued to see if that changes this season given he is hoping to go to the Tour. On his day he can climb with the best and he can produce a good time against the clock. Yet, I don’t think he’ll be up and running yet so a top 10 would be a solid result.

Ben Hermans.

With three top 10s already in 2018, the Israel Academy rider will hope for a similar, if not better, result here. Juxtaposed to Kruijswijk, Hermans is a rider who normally does start his season well. I wouldn’t have him down as one of the best climbers here but given form is important at the start of the year he could surprise just like he did on the Green Mountain last season.

Amaro Antunes.

One of my favourite riders from 2017, it was great to see his season rewarded with a step up in level to ProConti with CCC. An explosive climber he’ll like the steep ramps that we have on a couple of the stages. In this field, he will fancy his chances to go well on those days. His TT definitely needs some work but his team have improved in the discipline over the past half a year, so I’m intrigued to see if it has had a positive effect on Antunes over the winter. Another top 10 on GC like Valenciana is certainly a possibility.

Prediction

Form is King early in the year so I have to go with Luis Leon Sanchez as the winner here.

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Part of the strongest team, he and Fuglsang should be at the head of the race on the toughest stages and that will be of massive benefit to them. Sanchez has looked the strongest on the climbs in the previous races so it will take a lot for someone to drop him. Furthermore, he possesses a strong TT which could see him seal the win on the closing day.

No odds are out as of yet but I might back him depending on the price.

Thanks as always for reading! Who do you think will win the GC? I’ll be back later this evening with my stage 1 preview. Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

Ruta del Sol Stage 5 Preview; Setenil de las Bodegas -> Coín

Today’s Recap

No breakaway success and it was Coquard who took a relatively easy sprint victory in the end.

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A solid performance from Norwegian Hoelgaard saw him come home in second, but I was more impressed with the speed of Cofidis’ Hofstetter who seemed to match Coquard in the closing 150m. It’s a shame he started much further back!

Anyway, moving on to tomorrow’s final stage.

The Route

A rolling day with a tough start!

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The riders will start the day with a nice little climb to open the legs; 4.7km at 4%. We then have a descent into the valley, followed by a 5km climb at 3.5%.

If the break hasn’t gone by then, it may be up the first categorised climb that it finally disappears. The climb itself is 6.2km at 4.3% but has some steep sections, even above 10% in parts.

The next few climbs probably won’t play a big part in the race so I’m going to skip over them.

We do get a climb in the last 20km but it’s not overly difficult and I can’t see Contador trying anything here.

If it does come down to a sprint it might get a little messy in the closing kilometres as it is reasonably technical, but nothing compared to today!

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How will the race pan out?

I said a break would make it today but that never happened. I’m going to roll the dice again for tomorrow’s stage; breakaway day.

Why?

Well Movistar have no real need to hold the race together. They just need to make sure Contador doesn’t try something and with the route not being conducive for a long-range attack I cant’ see the happening. Although, with the sprint we had today, Valverde might fancy his chances in a dash to the line!

Following on from that, none of the other sprint teams will really want to contribute to the chase now, knowing that Coquard is the guy to beat here.

So to conclude;

Not motivated GC team + Weak main chase team = Breakaway!

Potential Candidates

Like normal, I’ll take a stab in the dark and highlight a few guys who might get involved. With the parcours being a lot more challenging than today, the break candidates will need to be fairly solid climbers.

Romain Sicard.

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If Direct Energie sense that they’re not going to get any help chasing the break all day, they may just send someone up the road. Sicard is by far their best climber, having previously finished 13th and 15th at the Vuelta.

Tobias Ludvigsson.

You all know by now my appreciation of him as a rider. He’s been a bit off the boil here so far and was disappointed with is TT, where he had chain problems and bad legs. I’d say finishing 9th considering all of that isn’t bad. I also couldn’t live with myself if he does get away tomorrow and I’ve not mentioned him!

Maciej Paterski.

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One of Carlton Kirby’s flames of the week, Paterski on his day is a very solid all-rounder. He took a brilliant breakaway victory on the opening stage of Catalunya back in 2015, out-sprinting Rolland and De Clerq to the line. CCC have been active this week and he could well be the guy to make the move for them tomorrow.

Vasil Kiryienka.

Bit of a curve ball this one but considering there should be no GC action, the Sky bosses might let one of their riders off the leash. He managed an OK TT on a course that didn’t suit him properly so it is hard to gauge what his form is like. He definitely shouldn’t be underestimated if he makes the move, potentially utilising his TT abilities to attack from far out.

Prediction

Break wins, whoever that may be and for old times sake I’ll go for everyone’s favourite Swede again. Tobias Ludvigsson to take the honours!

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Betting

Small stakes on break selections again (all with Bet365)….

0.25pt WIN Ludvigsson @ 250/1 (would take 150/1)

0.25pt WIN Paterski @ 80/1 (would take 66/1)

0.25pt WIN Kiryienka @

0.25pt WIN Sicard @

With those two not priced I’ll add Le Bon 300 (would take 200) and Bille 250 (would take 150)

 

Thanks for reading this week! Apologies this is slightly shorter than normal, but I’m back to work and a bit under the weather. Nonetheless, do you think the break wins? Or do we get another sprint? Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

 

 

Ruta del Sol Stage 4 Preview; La Campana -> Sevilla

Today’s Recap

In the words of Frank Schleck we were “one lousy second” off of stage victory with Valverde. Swings and roundabouts though, as the result meant he moved one second ahead of Contador into the GC lead!

But nothing should take away from a great ride from Victor Campenaerts, who was erm, the victor!

09-09-2016 Vuelta A Espana; Tappa 19 Xabia - Calp; 2016, Lotto Nl - Jumbo; Campenaerts, Victor; Calp;

I discounted him yesterday in my preview having not seen much from him this year so far and alas I was proven very wrong. He’s continued on his good form on from the back-end of last year and with a Vuelta now in his legs he looks set to have a good year.

With the next couple of stages not being too difficult for the overall contenders we shouldn’t see any changes to the GC, but you just never know. Anyway, let’s have a look at what’s in store for the riders tomorrow.

The Route

Easy -> Tough -> Easy.

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There isn’t really much to say about this stage route as the main difficulties come in the middle of the stage.

After the exciting racing of the past few days, this one definitely isn’t going to be a classic.

There are a few kick ups in the closing kilometres but they won’t have any impact on the race!

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The thing that will have an impact on the race (if it comes to a bunch sprint) is the technicality of the closing  1.5kms.

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A sharp, but fairly open left hand hairpin starts it off for the riders at 1.5km to go.

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They then progress 500m or so, passing under the flamme rouge before taking on a “kinky” roundabout. From there, it’s another few hundred metres of straight road before cutting through the greenery.

This area has a couple of turns too but they shouldn’t be too bad as they look fairly open and the final turn actually looks like it can be taken at pace.

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Once through the final turn it will be a 300m sprint to the line.

How will the stage pan out?

The pressing question is if we will actually see a bunch sprint at the end of the day or not? Compared to Algarve and even Oman, the sprint field here is very weak and that’s fair enough considering the tough parcours we have at this race. Bryan Coquard is the main attraction and he is much better than the rest of the guys here. I mean, the likes of Kreder, Capiot, Maikin, and Hofland are all solid sprinters, but they aren’t the cream of the crop. Will their teams really spend all day on the front of the peloton when there is a chance they might even lose to the likes of Valverde?!

So with that being said, I think tomorrow is a breakaway day. There are plenty of riders far enough back on time not to worry the GC teams, we might even see a large group of 10 guys get away. As to who might be in it? Your guess is as good as mine, but like usual I’ll highlight a few riders I think might try to make the morning move. There are more obvious candidates, such as Wellens, but I’m going to try to pick some riders from the “lesser” teams, assuming that they’ll be more keen to go on the attack. First up is…

Yukiya Arashiro.

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The Japanese rider doesn’t win that much but he is always a shoe-in for a breakaway at least once a race. On his day he can be a very tough rider to beat and he possesses a fairly fast kick from a reduced bunch. If a group of 5 or so riders came to the line together then he definitely would have a good chance. He probably would need the breakaway to be formed before the climbing start as he’s not as strong as he used to be in that discipline. With the team losing their GC rider today they’ll be keen to make amends in the coming stages.

Gaetan Bille.

The Belgian may not be well known but he is a fairly solid climber and all rounder. Riding for the Verandas Willems team, they’re bound to get someone up the road tomorrow and that could well be Gaetan.

Mark McNally.

After making the step up to Pro-Conti level last year, the Brit had a fairly solid year with his new team Wany Groubert picking up 2 seconds places. One of those was after being part of the breakaway at the Eneco Tour. In his race preview with @cyclingmole he seemed to air around the idea of trying to getting into a break this week. He’s not managed to make it in yet, is tomorrow that day?

Pim Ligthart.

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A rider taking a step down from World Tour to Pro-Conti this year to chase personal ambitions and get more leadership opportunities he might be given the nod to try and get in the break here. With a second place already this year in Valenciana and after putting in a solid TT today, he seems to be in decent form. Roompot won’t want to put all their eggs in a Kreder’s sprint basket and Ligthart is a great option to have up the road.

Prediction

Breakaway winner and I’ll go for Mark McNally to get his first pro victory. Why the hell not!

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Betting

0.125pt WIN on the following with Bet365;

McNally @ 100/1

Arashiro @ 200/1

Brandle @ 300/1

Ludvigsson @ 300/1

Not backing Bille (as he’s not quoted) and Ligthart’s odds are poor. Brandle and Ludvigsson both offer good alternatives.

Thanks for reading. Do you think we’ll see a breakaway win or will it come back to a group sprint? Will we maybe even see some GC action?! Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.