Tour Down Under 2018 – Stage 4 Preview; Norwood -> Uraidla

Stage 3 Recap

After a couple of questionable days, it was nice to finally get off the mark and up and running for the season!

A long hot day in the saddle for the riders (even with the shorter distance), we saw the expected bunch sprint into Victor Harbor. For most of the closing kilometre it looked as if Ewan had it in the bag but he seemed to delay his final sprint. I’m not too sure as to why, but he possibly thought it was too far out to go. That opened the door for a charging Viviani who took home a very impressive win. Bauhaus came late as well nabbing second place with Ewan eventually finishing third.

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Ewan still holds onto Ochre but even by his own admission he’ll find it tough hanging on to it after Stage 4. Let’s have a look at what is in store for the riders.

The Route

With the temperatures set to soar again I feared that they would shorten this stage; which would be particularly annoying as this was the day I was looking forward to most! However, the organisers have decided to move the start forward by 1 hour to avoid the worst of the extreme conditions. That means the stage is predicted to finish at 2pm local time, or 3:30 UK, although I have a feeling it might be closer to 4.

So, what have we got to look forward to?

Santos Tour Down Under 2018 - Stage 4
@LaFlammeRouge

The riders will face a fairly benign start to the day, with a few lumps and bumps out on the course, but this stage is all about the closing 15kms once the peloton reach the town of Rostrevor.

It starts with the 5.5km ascent of Norton Summit Road that averages 5.1% for its duration.

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It is a steady rise with a few ramps of 7%, but it very rarely differs from 4.5% -> 6% so a team can set a good tempo up it if they want to. I will be intrigued to see who takes up the challenge!

Interestingly, De Gendt holds the Strava record from when they rode the climb almost from the gun back in 2016 on Stage 4. That day De Gendt went up it in 11’06, so we could expect a roughly 10 minute time up it on this stage. Maybe. I’m never great at guessing climbing times!

Norton Summit officially crests at the 120.5km mark, or the 6.5km to go mark. However, the climbing doesn’t stop there…

Norton to Uraidla

The riders will enjoy the road flattening out over the summit and have just over 1.5km to gather their breath if they can, before the road kicks up properly on the aptly named Woods Hill Road. It’s a shame a certain Canadian isn’t here!

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It’s a very tough kicker, especially the first 2/3rds as it starts to flatten out near the top. In fact, the opening 800m average 9.9% and in the searing heat that is expected, it will feel like a lot more for some.

Once over the top of Woods Hill, the riders will be offered a little respite with a slight descent but considering the road does roll continually, they won’t be offered much time to gather their thoughts; the final 4km averages -1.25%.

The final place to make a meaningful attack is the section that I’m going to call the “Big Double Dipper”.

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Going with a lot of momentum into the steep downhill will mean a rider will be able to carry their speed out the other side of the dip and catch those behind off guard. Once they get to the second peak the road turns left and from there it is a 1km downhill all the way to the line. A 5 second gap at the Flamme Rouge should see the rider hold off any chase behind.

How will the race pan out?

Pfffft, who knows!

I imagine we’ll see a very conservative day up until Norton Summit. However, that doesn’t mean the finish won’t be explosive though. I think the heat will make Norton harder than it actually is, making it ride more like a 6.5% climb than a 5.1% climb. In theory, that should mean the elimination of the likes of Sagan, but you never really know.

I can’t see anymore than 30 riders being in the first group over the summit of Norton. From there, it really will be hard to keep control.

Woods Hill is steep enough for the stronger climbers to make some gaps if they sprint up the opening 800m but equally, it is short enough that some of the puncheurs will hope to hang on if the pace isn’t mental.

This has the hallmarks to be an incredibly exciting stage, so let’s watch it end up a damp squib…

I’m really not sure what option I favour; late solo attack, late group attack, GC guys attack on Woods Hill and stay away, small sprint. Who knows!

With having Dennis already covered for GC, I’m just going to throw a few darts with the following riders and hope they’re there or thereabouts…

The Three Darter

Rui Costa.

Flying at the start of the season last year, this type of finish looks great for the Portuguese rider. He’s been solid this week so far, but not exceptional. However, I think he must be feeling fairly good as he’s been on the hunt for bonus seconds in the earlier stages so he obviously must have one eye on GC as well. Both he and Ulissi should make it with the main selection and it will then be up to Costa to make an attack to force others to chase while Ulissi sits in for the sprint. He might drag some riders with him, but I’m sure the UAE rider would be confident from a group of 5.

Robert Gesink.

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This is the Jumbo rider’s first race back after his crash at the Tour and he’s quietly going about his business well. Throughout the first few stages he’s been very attentive at the front of the bunch during the sprint finishes, and he sits “second” behind Consonni on GC in the group of riders that have no time bonuses. The TDU seems to be a good race for the Dutchman, with solid finishes here in the past. One of the best climbers in this race on paper, he packs a surprisingly good sprint from a small group. If the race becomes very selective and we see 5-8 of the best climbers come to the line, he definitely has a chance.

Gorka Izagirre.

Another rider who always seems to go well here; he finished 2nd on the tough finish to Paracombe last year before an unfortunate fall the next day. Reunited with his brother again on Bahrain, it will be interesting to see what they can manage along with Pozzovivo. I would expect the three of them to be close to the head of the race and having numbers in the front group certainly is an advantage. Gorka could manage a late solo attack with Ion and Pozzovivo marking behind, otherwise, he packs a solid sprint from a small group.

Prediction

A small group to get away on after Norton Summit and before the kick up Woods Hill Road. From there it fragments leaving Dennis, Costa and McCarthy.

In the end, the more experienced Costa rolls the pair of them as they are too focussed on each other, taking a great win to better his start than last year!

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Maybe.

I really have no idea what will happen, which is probably a good thing!

Betting

No odds for Gesink at the moment which is a shame. He might appear later on, but I’ll go with the two riders just now;

1pt EW Costa @ 20/1

1pt EW Izagirre @ 28/1

Both Bet365.

Actually, to get around the whole Gesink situation I’m going to back him for GC

0.5pt EW Gesink @ 125/1 (FOR GC)

 

Thanks as always for reading! Who do you think will win the stage? Can someone like Sagan hold on, or will it be a lot more decisive GC wise than some people think? Am I completely wrong? Likely. Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

 

 

Tour Down Under 2018 – Stage 3 Preview; Glenelg -> Victor Harbor

Stage 2 Recap

Well, for the first time and not the last, I was way off with the prediction. I really thought Bora and Katusha would ride hard to try to set up their two GC candidates but instead it was Bahrain who made most of the pushing throughout the day. A combination of a controlled tempo up the final climb and a slight headwind deterring attacks, saw Caleb Ewan take a strong win ahead of team-mate Impey, with McCarthy third.

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The Aussie pocket rocket showing how to bounce back well after disappointment on the opening stage. It also means that he’ll be wearing the Ochre jersey going into stage 3, which is another likely to end in a sprint. Let’s have a look at what is in store for them though.

The Route

Shortened due to the extreme heat that is expected, the riders will only face one lap around Victor Harbor to finish.

Santos Tour Down Under 2018 - Stage 3
@LaFlammeRouge

Although there are a few sharp climbs out on route, they are too far out to have any effect on the outcome of the day; this stage is all about that closing 13km loop.

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Neither of the hills on the course are overly challenging for the peloton. The first one, known as McCracken Hill, is 940m long at 3.8%. While the second climb is ever so slightly longer at 1.07km and averages 4.3%. Again, not too diffuclt for these guys!

It will be interesting to see if anyone tries a late attack over the second hill considering the fast descent that follows. However, the almost 3km of flat at the end should ensure things are brought back together.

The run in itself does have a few technical aspects to it. One of the first points the riders will be racing too will be a roundabout that comes at roughly 1.2km to go. Normally they are funnelled around the left hand side of it which narrows down the road for the peloton and stretches it out.

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Team Sky did this very well last year and it left a lot of people out of position; making the expend extra energy to return to the front.

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Once through the roundabout they have 400m before a crucial right then left-hand turn combination before a sweeping run to the line.

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Last year, the top 5 finishers on the stage were all through the final left-hand turn in the top 15 places which shows how critical good positioning is to do well here.

Furthermore, it is important to note that the shortest run in to the line is on the right hand side of the road, hugging the barriers, and I’m sure we’ll see a big fight between the sprinters for that position.

GC riders will have to be wary as well because the technical but fast finish can lead to some splits in the bunch.

Sprinters – The Usual Suspects

I’ll keep this short and sweet as who wants to read basically my Stage 1 preview again?!

We have 4 riders who seem to be ever so slightly ahead of the rest, given they made up the top 4 in both the PCC and Stage 1.

Ewan – His confidence will be through the roof after his win and having taken victory here last year, he’ll certainly hope to repeat it. He’ll need a good lead-out from his team-mates as they were a bit off the pace on the opening day.

Greipel – Rolled home yesterday knowing the finish was too tough for him, but he did look miffed when the cameras lingered on him. Maybe he did actually think for a while he might make it, but eventually gave up the ghost. The power he has demonstrated in the PCC and Stage 1 can’t be underestimated and this stage should suit him. Missing a pilot fish might be of detriment to the gorilla.

Sagan – Finished fast on stage 1 and was up there again on stage 2 but he just didn’t seem to have the legs to hold off Ewan. He slowed down to let McCarthy take 3rd, so maybe that was the plan after all, but it is hard to tell!

Viviani – A quietly impressive 6th place for the Italian highlights that he certainly has some good form at the start of the season. It looked for a while as if he was going to win on the opener, but he seemed to launch his sprint too early and ran out of steam in the end. If Sabatini can deliver him later, or if he can come off the wheel of someone, he is a danger.

The Outsiders

Bauhaus – He finished very fast on the opening day but was just far too far behind the action when he needed to be near the front. I still think Sunweb are trying to figure out the lead-out but if they get it right he could be dangerous.

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Consonni – I was very impressed with the young Italian towards the end of last season as he picked up strong placings in some fairly high-profile races, while still being a neo-pro. Another who finished very fast on the opening day, he slogged his way to 16th on stage 2 which is a sign of his talent and is another who might sneak a podium.

Bennett – Bora’s second, or first option, depending on how you look at it. He was suffering from a cold before the race, but given his bitter disappointment at dropping his chain on the opening day, I’m going to take a stab in the dark and say he’s over it. As it is unrealistic that McCarthy will be getting any bonus seconds here, it will be up to the Bora management to decide who sprints. Sagan is known to be a good team-mate and I have a feeling he might let the Irishman have a go for it on stage 3. If so, given the way he finished last year then he is a serious threat for the win.

Prediction

There’s something that is drawing me to Viviani for this stage and I’m not entirely sure why. He is fast, that is for sure. QuickStep haven’t got their lead-out bang on during either the PCC or Stage 1. In the PCC they were too far back, while on Stage 1 they dropped Viviani off to early. Maybe they’ll get it just right this time?

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I think they will.

I also have a sneaking suspicion that Bennett will be up there fighting for Bora too.

Betting

2pts WIN Viviani @7/1 with Coral/Lads

1pt EW Bennett @ 25/1 with Coral/Lads

Thanks as always for reading. Who do you think will win? Will we see a new stage winner or will it be a repeat victor? Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

 

Tour Down Under 2018 – Stage 2 Preview; Unley -> Stirling

Stage 1 Recap

The race got off to a flyer with the usual sprint finish into Lyndoch. However, it wasn’t either of the two pre-stage favourites who took out the day but instead Andre Greipel delivered the win for Lotto.

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That result now means the German has won his opening UCI race of the year for the past three seasons on the trot. A pretty impressive record that!

Ewan managed to hold on for second, while a fast finishing Sagan took third. Will they all be up there competing at the end of stage 2? Let’s have a look at what is in store for them.

The Route

The riders will leave Unley from a different side than normal, facing the climb of Tea Tree Gully within the opening 15km.

Santos Tour Down Under 2018 - Stage 2
@LaFlammeRouge

From there, the road rises and falls throughout the Adelaide hills as the riders head towards Mylor which marks the second sprint point of the day but more importantly, the start of the final circuits around Stirling.

Stirling Circuit

As you can see, the course rolls a lot in the opening 11,5km, but it is just ever so slightly downhill on average in terms of gradient. Interestingly, the whole circuit apparently has 489m of elevation gain according to Strava/Veloviewer, but I’m definitely taking that with a pinch of salt; 400m seems more accurate than closer to 500m.

The key part of the day though is the 7.6km drag to the line that comes in the final third of the circuit.

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At an average of 2.4% for the duration, in theory it shouldn’t be too difficult for pro cyclists. However, this all depends on how aggressively certain teams approach the day. If it is a benign day then we could easily see some of the sprinters who were in the mix on Stage 1 up there again, if not, then it will be one for the puncheurs.

The final few hundred metres to the line are almost on a false flat, with a little kick up to the finish.

Tackling the rise 4 times could certainly sap the legs of the fast men and puncheurs, especially if we get difficult conditions. Speaking of which…

Weather Watch

It looks set to be an even hotter day for the riders than on the opening stage with it feeling like 34ºC come the end of the stage.

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Source: Accuweather

There will be a breeze in the air to hopefully help cool them down but I don’t think it will be of much help! They will be pleased to know that there will be a tailwind as they head through the Adelaide Hills towards Stirling. However, it does mean they will face the headwind on their run in to the line while on the circuit. Timing of your effort will be crucial!

Can the sprinters hang on? A quick history of sterling Stirling finishes

While the finish was not used in 2017, it has been used the majority of the editions prior to that but I’m only going to focus on 2011-2016 as a guide because that is when it became “World Tour”.

2011 – Matthews took the win in his neo-pro year, beating Greipel and Goss. Only a group of 24 finished on the same time as the winner but there were 59 in total within 13 seconds. Some splits in the final few hundred metres then. There was also a crash near the end of the stage that saw some riders caught behind. ~60 rider sprint.

2012 – Will Clarke wins solo, with Matthews beating Gerrans for second place; with the likes of Valverde, EBH, Freire and GVA all making up the top 10. 65 riders came home on the same time behind the solo winner.

2013 An aggressively raced day that saw Slagter take an exceptional win; opening up his sprint from 300m and blowing everyone off his wheel. Goss and Gilbert rounded out the podium with only 27 riders finishing in the front group.

2014 – The biggest group that Stirling has seen, with roughly 100 riders arriving together, it was Ulissi who took the win ahead of Gerrans and Evans.

2015 – Lobato put on a puncheurs masterclass to take the day, beating Impey and his own team-mate Gorka Izagirre to the line. I miss early 2015 Lobato. Anyway, only 48 were there to witness him win, less than half from the previous year.

2016 –  A wonderful win from McCarthy as he just pipped Ulissi to the win, with Dennis coming home third. It might have been a slightly different result as the likes of Gerrans and Haas crashed out, who knows though. I certainly didn’t care as I had rather aptly came in from a night out in Stirling (Scotland) to watch him win at 100/1. Good times!

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So what can we take from all of this?

It really depends on how aggressively the day is raced as to how big a bunch makes it. There is a chance if the bunch is on a go slow day that we could see ~100 guys arrive together.

However, I think we’ll see an aggressive day and a whittling down of the peloton that will mainly be driven by Katusha and Bora. Both of those teams have riders capable of winning this stage (Haas/Restrepo & McCarthy/Sagan), but also taking valuable bonus seconds in their quest to win Ochre come the end of the week. The intent was there on Stage 1 when going for the intermediates and I see it being no different for stage 2.

I think some of the sprinters might make it, but them being able to compete is another thing. Only Sagan out of the main guys has a good chance. In fact, this stage is Sagan’s for the taking, but it all depends on if he has to work for McCarthy or not.

Possible Contenders

There are the obvious guys such as Sagan, McCarthy, Haas etc. but given that I have already waffled on for a good bit and there will be plenty of others who will cover the key guys well, I’m just going to go straight to three outsiders who I think might stand a chance. Maybe…

Patrick Bevin.

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It will either be him or Gerrans that will be sprinting for BMC but I certainly would give the Kiwi a shot at it. He’s known much more as a time trial rider however he does pack a fast punch; he came from nowhere to finish second in the opening road stage of the Tour de Suisse last year. Furthermore, he finished 11th yesterday and in an interview with CyclingNews, Porte said that his team-mates will be racing to take bonus seconds away from his rivals. He’s one to keep an eye on!

Alexander Edmondson.

The newly crowned Aussie RR Champion is another who’s sprinting prowess caught my eye at the Tour de Suisse last year where he picked up two 4th places. It was his 4th place on stage 2 that was more impressive though as a breakaway duo won the stage honours ahead, he beat the likes of Swift, Felline and Ulissi in the uphill drag to the line; only being bested by Colbrelli. I have my doubts about Ewan making it in this stage, so Mitchelton might just turn to him. Or Impey.

Jasha Sütterlin.

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A name that I know one reader will like, the German is one of the two chosen “sprinters” here for Movistar with the other being Barbero. In stage 1 he was close to being in or around the top 10 but collided with the FDJ rider who eventually crashed and that cost him any chance of going for some kind of result. On Movistar’s website they said the pair will both try again on stage 2. Given the speed he showed in the PCC, I think he could be another to keep an eye on. Could the Spanish team manage another two riders on the podium in 2018?

Prediction

We’ll most likely see Sagan romp home to victory, but where is the fun in going with that? So being two previews deep into the season I’m already reverting back to type; Alexander Edmondson to win.

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Clearly in great shape now as he gears towards the Commonwealth Games, Mitchelton Scott will capitalise on the others marking each other, with Impey delivering the national champion into the perfect position for him to power home.

Betting

Happy to take some small 0.5pt EW punts on the riders I’ve listed above (all prices with Bet365)

Edmondson @ 300/1

Bevin @ 125/1

Sutterlin @ 250/1

 

Thanks as always for reading! Who do you think will win today/tonight/tomorrow? Could we see an outsider take glory or will it be the usual suspects? Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

Tour Down Under 2018 Stage 1 Preview; Port Adelaide -> Lyndoch

Tour Down Under 2018 Stage 1 Preview; Port Adelaide -> Lyndoch

The action kicks off today/tonight, depending on where you are watching it from, with the seemingly now common sprint finish into the town of Lyndoch.

Last season saw Caleb Ewan take the win ahead of Van Poppel and Bennett, with the little Aussie also winning the stage in 2016. Can he make it three in a row this time?

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

The Route

A fairly simple day with an early KOM to reward a break rider with a jersey come the end of the stage.

Santos Tour Down Under 2018 - Stage 1
@LaFlammeRouge16

There are a few rises later in the day, but nothing too severe and we should see an almost complete peloton coming into Lyndoch for the second time to compete in a bunch sprint.

The run-in to the line is fairly easy too, with the riders approaching from the south on an almost arrow-straight road. Normally I would post images of roundabouts etc here so you could get a good feel as to what might happen, but there would be no point so I guess I’ll move on!

Oh, the race does finish alongside the Jack Bobridge Track though so who will be raising their arms in ecstasy at the end of the day…

Contenders

Caleb Ewan.

His confidence might be slightly knocked after the People’s Choice Classic but I’m sure it will be more of a driving force for him, rather than something that will be of detriment. Mitchelton got their lead-out slightly wrong on Sunday and will hope to get their timing much better this time round; Impey and Edmondson have a big job to do. Ewan should be ahead of everyone else in terms of form at this time of year and he has to start as the favourite for the stage. Can anyone stop him?

Peter Sagan.

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The winner on Sunday, his rivals might be worried for the season ahead already. He is obviously in good shape just now, but it was his race craft that really made the difference in that race; he always seems to follow the right wheel and know when to jump. With Bennett apparently still recovering from illness, Sagan will be Bora’s man for the opener. He’ll have Selig to guide him into position and from there it will be up to him. Time to double up?

Andre Greipel.

It was good to see the Gorilla back in action and looking competitive in the criterium. One of the things that stood out for me on Sunday was that he put his wheels in places where he wouldn’t have when he was low on confidence, nudging Bauhaus out of a gap, he certainly has his fight back. With a solid Lotto Soudal train, he should expect to start his sprint in a good position, leaving it up to him to finish it off. He normally seems to start the season well; winning his first road race the past two years.

Phil Bauhaus.

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With Greipel being the veteran German sprinter at the race, Bauhaus is certainly one of the spearheads of the next wave. A talented rider, he took his first big win last year at the Dauphiné, beating the likes of Demare and Bouhanni. Sunweb have a lot of faith in him and they’re looking for some good results in the sprints this week. Teunissen and Arndt is a small but very potent lead-out train and they’ll look to capitalise on the work of others late on, a la Lampre style circa 2015. Keep an eye out for him this week!

Elia Viviani.

Free from the shackles of Sky and their lack of any major help in the sprints, now at Quickstep the Italian should have more support with Morkov and Sabatini. He was there or thereabouts on Sunday, finishing just off of the podium so I imagine he has some good form; he is another who normally starts the season well. One negative for him is that he does have a habit of losing the wheels at time, but given the simple run in, he should be okay.

There might be some others who get involved but I can’t see them challenging for the win.

Prediction

Opening stage of the TDU so Ewan wins, simple!

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He and the team will want to make amends for Sunday and I’m sure they’ll do just that. They have the fire power to deliver him perfectly. Knowing the finish well should mean that he times his effort perfectly, taking yet another Ochre jersey.

Betting

I won’t be backing the Aussie though as he is too short in an open course race for my liking. Instead, I’ll be chasing some EW value and potentially more with the talented young German;

1pt EW Bauhaus @25/1 with Lads and Coral. Would take 16s lowest.

 

Apolgoies for the shorter than normal preview but there isn’t much to talk about route and tactics wise. Don’t fret though, a 1000+ word-er will no doubt be out tomorrow. 😉

Thanks as always for reading though, and as always any feedback is greatly appreciated. Who do you think will win? Can anyone stop Caleb? Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

Tour Down Under 2018 – GC Preview

Tour Down Under 2018 – GC Preview

So with the women’s race now finished, it is time for the men to take centre stage over the coming week with the riders battling it out to take home Ochre. A race that has been dominated by the Australians in recent years, with the last 4 GC titles going to the home riders; expect to see some fast racing coupled with sweltering temperatures.

It might not have the best race route in the grand scheme of the cycling season but given its position as the season opener, I think most of us will take it!

Richie Porte - Willunga Hill 2017

After finally getting his hands on the GC win last year the King of Willunga (a.k.a Richie Porte) is back here to defend his crown along with a strong BMC team. In fact, the last 3 winners of the race are all riding for that outfit this year, which is very ominous for the rest of the field. However, they won’t have it all their own way and there are certainly some other riders out there who could challenge their dominance.

First, let’s have a quick look at what is in store for the riders over the six days of action.

The Route

I won’t bore you here though, as I’ll have plenty of time over the coming week to drain you with an in-depth route analysis of each stage. This will simply be more of an overview!

There are three stages that are most likely to have the biggest impact on GC, although that could change if the wind blows strongly on some of the more exposed days. We saw the women’s peloton battered by cross winds through the Barossa Valley.

Stage 2 is the first important day with the traditional finish in Stirling.

Santos Tour Down Under 2018 - Stage 2
@LaFlammeRouge16

A rolling circuit that will see the peloton whittled down, some of the stronger sprinters will be happy to see that the organisers have reduced the number of laps that they will complete. Back in 2016 when Jay McCarthy won this stage, the riders had to contest with 6 laps, but this time it will just be 4. In theory, this should make it easier and see the stage switch from a puncheurs finish to more of a strong sprinters day. However, this of course all depends on how aggressively the teams race. If the fast men of the peloton are eliminated from the group then it is a great chance for the likes of Haas and McCarthy to pick up some valuable bonus seconds in their fight for GC.

Stage 4 will see the peloton tackle a new finish here at the Tour Down Under, featuring a climb that is well-known by the local Aussies.

Santos Tour Down Under 2018 - Stage 4

Norton Summit is not a new climb for the Tour though, with it being used right at the start of Stage 4 in 2016. It took the riders roughly 11’30 to complete the climb that day but I imagine that time will be faster this year round given it’s position on the course. Once over the “summit” the riders will have 7.5km left but instead of a drop straight down, they’ll instead face a kilometre or so of false flat before an uncategorised ramp up Woods Hill Road. Could this be a launchpad for a late attack? With only 3.5km of shallow descending all the way to the line, it certainly could be.

Stage 5 will once again play host to the summit finish of Willunga Hill.

Santos Tour Down Under 2018 - Stage 5

If the GC is still close at this stage, then it will all come down to the final ascent of Willunga. Porte has owned this climb for the past four years and he’ll hope to make it five in a row this time. Will it be enough for the overall title though? From a tactics point of view, it is much easier to ride a defensive race on Willunga than attacking one, as it is a difficult climb to make massive gains on. Although lil’ Richie might have something to say about that…

GC Contenders

Given the recent form of the Australians at this race, they’ve won 6 out of the last 7 years, then it is really hard to back against them on their own turf.

Porte comes into the race as the bookmakers favourite and rightly so given his performances on Willunga the past few years. If everything is kept together on stages 2 & 4, with his opponents not gaining any bonus seconds, the race is his to lose. However, this is the least suited route to Porte for a while and I think he’ll desperately miss the Paracombe finish that we had last year. He might well win on Willunga again, but I don’t think it will be by as big a margin as he has done in previous years.

McCarthy will be waiting in the wings, hoping to capitalise on the new stage and sprint for some bonus seconds on days 2 and 4, feasibly giving himself a 20 second buffer going into Willunga. He’s a rider that I have grown fond over and one that I had backed when he took out the stage in Stirling in 2016. At the Aussie Nationals recently, he looked incredibly strong, sprinting away from the chase group in the closing few hundred metres. His trajectory in this race has been on the up as well, with a 4th in 2016 and a 3rd last year. Will he go one or two steps higher this time around?

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Haas is a rider similar to McCarthy and he too will be looking to nab some bonus seconds on stages 2 & 4. With a winter move to Katusha, the former Dimension Data rider comes here in some good form with a 5th place finish in both the road race and time trial at the Aussie Champs. An attacking rider, he will no doubt give it a go on Stage 4 in an attempt to get clear. However, I sometimes think that he is too attacking; using up a lot of his resources before it is necessary. Will that be his downfall again?

Can a non-Aussie win?

Probably not.

Some might suggest Sagan has a chance, especially after his strong showing in today’s criterium. However, he will be here for training more than anything, possibly getting involved in a few sprints but nothing more than that.

Ulissi is a very solid finisher and will no doubt again be in or around the top 5 but I can’t see him having enough form early in the year to take the win. Yet, he is the type of rider who could well prove me wrong! His team-mate Rui Costa might be another to watch, he was flying at the start of last year.

Bernal arrives here as Team Sky’s best chance on paper, the young rider is truly exceptional. His form will be unkown but as we’ve seen with Henao in the past, Colombians seem to go well here. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him go with the best on Willunga, but his lack of a sprint might let him down for the overall.

Prediction

I’ll go for none of the above to win though.

Instead, I’ll suggest that Rohan Dennis will take home another Tour Down Under title.

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The current Aussie TT champion blitzed away his opposition recently, putting over a minute into a very lean Luke Durbridge and almost two minutes into team-mate Porte, regaining his title with ease. He DNF’d the road race, but I think he was using that race as training more than anything else.

Almost have way through his “4-year GC plan”, this should be the year where he takes another step forward in that quest. He certainly looks very fit going by some of the pictures I’ve seen floating around social media over the past week. There has also been a lot of to-ing and fro-ing between himself and Porte as to who the leader of BMC will be for the week, both downplaying their own chances and talking up their team-mate. First race mind-games!

With the introduction of the interesting finish on stage 4 this year I think it is very beneficial for a team to have two possible winners in their squad and I’m sure BMC will use that to their advantage. Norton Summit looks ideal for the powerhouse and Dennis certainly has the TT engine to attack and hold a gap, especially with Porte and possibly Gerrans behind marking out any efforts to close him down.

Being in Ochre going into Willunga means BMC will be able to ride a defensive race, and who wouldn’t want the King of Willunga himself to act as a super-domsetique for you that day?! Porte should be able to keep things together and Dennis won’t lose enough time to be toppled, with Porte even nabbing the bonus seconds away from his competitors on the line.

Simple!

Betting

First race of the season so it would be rude not to have a flutter on the GC market. I tweeted it out a few days ago but…

1pt EW Dennis @ 20/1 with Coral/Ladbrokes.

Thanks as always for reading and any feedback is greatly appreciated. I hope you enjoyed my first men’s preview of the season. I’ll be back with daily stage previews of the Tour Down Under starting from tomorrow. Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

Tour de France 2017 Stage 9 Preview; Nantua -> Chambéry

Today’s Recap

A crazy stage and I only saw the last 40km!

We had a big group (of 50 riders) finally escape after a lot of racing but it was eventually whittled down to 8 after the penultimate climb.

On the last climb of the day Calmejane launched a very strong attack that managed to see him hold on for the rest of the stage, despite getting cramp in the final few kilometres.

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Doing his YMCA impression

Gesink tried to follow the Frenchman on the climb but didn’t manage it. However, he was able to hold on ahead of the GC group, finishing 2nd on the day. A very impressive sprint from Guillaume Martin saw him pick up 3rd, with all of the GC riders coming home safely.

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

The Route

Arguably the toughest stage of the whole Tour.

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The day starts on a climb which is not good news for those struggling today! Split into two separate climbs, it really is just one long slog at 11km in length and averaging 5%. The steeper sections could see some more sprightly climbers get a gap on the bunch and I expect several riders to be dropped from the gun.

Once over the summit, the road continues to rise ever so slightly for 6kms before plunging down the other side. A short Cat-3 climb breaks up the descent, but again, the road continues to climb after that.

At 50km gone the road slowly rises again but it’s at 56.5km that the start of the first HC climb of the Tour begins. The Col de la Biche is a taster for what’s to come with its average gradient of 9% for 10.5km. A brute of a climb, I imagine the riders might give it too much respect and we could see a slow pace given what they have to face afterwards…

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The Grand Colombier is shorter than Biche, but averages almost 1% more, coming in at 9.9% for 8.5km. That even includes a kilometre at 3.4%! We could see a few of the GC riders in difficulty here if they are on an off day. With there being 50km from the summit to the start of the next climb, it will be interesting to see if we get any attacks from the overall favourites.

What a climb it is as well; the Mont du Chat is arguably one of the hardest in France.

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It ripped the peloton to shreds at the Dauphiné and that was after an easier stage than what we have tomorrow. With some accumulated fatigue from today’s racing there is a good chance we’ll get some reasonably large time gaps between the GC favourites.

The riders will face a very treacherous descent and 13km of flat until the finish line in Chambéry. Will this put off some of the GC riders from attacking?

Weather Watch

After having some glorious weather conditions over the past few days there is a chance things might turn sour tomorrow.

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Source: Wunderground

The above forecast is for Culoz which comes in the long stretch of flat road between the Colombier and Chat. A nagging head-wind will make the stage feel even longer tomorrow and could certainly hinder a breakaway or any GC rider that tries to attack from far out. Furthermore, with a good chance of rain/thunderstorms at some point, the technical descent off of Mont du Chat will be made even more treacherous.

How will the stage pan out?

The tactics of tomorrow’s stage are what I would call “fluid” as whatever I write here could be completely out of the window after 10km and the race situation will constantly change throughout the day.

One thing is for certain and that is that we will see a big fight to get into the breakaway. We’ll have a mix of stage hunters who will hope that they can hold on all the way to the finish and team-mates of GC riders sent up the road to help later on.

Will we get someone deemed too dangerous for the overall make the morning move and throw a spanner in the works and ruin the party for the break?

I’m really torn as to how the stage will play out. The first part of the stage is great to rip things up, but the 50km from Colombier to Chat is a real killer for any GC rider looking to go early. Furthermore, the longer flat section after the Chat isn’t great for any solo GC rider looking to put time into a group behind. Unless of course they happen to be a great TT rider!

The headwind also isn’t great for that as any team-mate coming back to do some work will drain their resources quicker. Although the headwind isn’t ideal for a break, if the GC riders are all together behind then it becomes almost irrelevant.

It will either be on full gas for the overall contenders from the start, or it will stall until later on in the day. With the possibility of rain in the stage and knowing just how tough the Mont du Chat is, I think it will be the latter.

Therefore, I think we will see a race on two fronts with the break fighting out for stage glory and GC guys going crazy a few minutes behind them. Time to play that game again…

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Break Candidates

A mixture of luck and good legs will see the riders make the break tomorrow. It will also depend on where it goes that as to who will be up there but they will certainly have to be a good climber to do so. I’ll throw a few names into the hat as to who could be there;

Robert Kiserlovski.

A rider who probably still wishes it was 2014, he has never really matched that season since. However, there were signs at the Giro that he was in some good form. In particular on stage 18 he did a shed load of work for Zakarin. A proper outsider, if he finds his legs then he can climb with the best. Or he could just hope that somehow a group of rouleurs makes it away!

Primoz Roglic. 

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The rider I cursed as my outside shot at a top 10 and first stage victory has had some terrible luck so far. Crashing on the opening day and taking a further two tumbles yesterday, he took today’s stage relatively “easy”. His meteoric rise this year certainly hasn’t gone un-noticed within the peloton and he’ll certainly be feared if he makes the move. Possibly still not the strongest climber on the really steep stuff compared to the current GC guys, he only has to beat his breakaway companions. One thing is for certain, he will make 30 seconds on every descent!

Steve Cummings.

 

Having won a stage at the past two Tour’s you wouldn’t bet against him winning another this year. Often the guardian at the back of the peloton, just rolling along, he normally picks one or two stages and targets them. Having shown some very impressive form recently after returning from injury, winning the UK National Championships double, he should have the horsepower to compete tomorrow. The steep gradients might not be ideal for him but he is strong enough to surprise. I didn’t expect to see him gain time on Nibali etc last year on the Aspin!

Tiesj Benoot.

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The young Belgian has come on leaps and bounds this season in regards to his proficiency on the long climbs. Finishing 12th on GC at the recent Dauphiné was a stand-out performance and he’s continued that progression here, beating the likes of Chaves and Kreuziger on 5. He lost a lot of time today but I think that was a deliberate ploy so that he can get more leeway to hunt stages now. It wouldn’t be a bad stage to take your first pro win!

 

Prediction

Anything could happen and nothing that does happen will surprise me!

I think we could see the break stay away after things calm down between the Colombier and the Chat. With an easier day today, I think he’s been eyeing up a big performance tomorrow. Benoot to take his first pro win!

This also means I can share my favourite cycling related instagram video…

View this post on Instagram

Forza Tiesj Benoot! 🎉 @tiesj #ohn

A post shared by Sporza (@sporza.be) on

Betting

Already tweeted out my selections earlier.

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Still available at;

Roglic 125/1 (Unibet)

Cummings 80/1 (Bet365)

Benoot 125/1 (PP)

Kiserlovski 300/1 (Unibet)

 

Thanks as always for reading! Who do you think will win tomorrow’s crazy stage? Will the break hold on or will it be a day for the GC guys?! It should be an open day of racing! Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

 

 

 

 

Tour Down Under Stage 5 Preview; McLaren Vale -> Willunga Hill

Today’s Recap

Jack Bauer almost made it all the way but was caught within the final 5km and we did end up with a bunch gallop to the line after all. Like GroundHog Day, it was once again Ewan who took out a great sprint victory, beating Sagan and Van Poppel to the line.

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Is he unbeatable on current form? Pretty much yeah, but we’ll have to wait until Sunday to find out as tomorrow is the classic TDU GC finish up Willunga Hill.

The Route

Link to the Strava stage profile

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There’s not really much to talk about the route for this stage. The laps around McLaren Vale are very straightforward, so like every year, this day comes down to the double passage of Willunga Hill.

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A fairly steady climb, it averages 7.6% for the 2.9km with it’s steepest sections coming in the first half and it “flattening out” in the final kilometre.

On the first ascent we normally see some thinning out of the peloton and are maybe left with 30-40 riders or so coming into the final run up Willunga. The past few years has seen the leading GC teams control the climb until roughly 1km left where we normally see a full-out sprint from Porte all the way to the top.

He did the same thing in 2016 too…

Both attacks are made at 1.2km to go and amazingly he fully drops Dennis/Henao at the exact same S-bend. More of the same this year?!

How will the stage pan out?

With the commanding lead he has, Porte will be able to ride a more defensive race here than he’s used to. But will he want to? The King of Willunga could potentially make it three in a row here and with the way he soared up Paracombe on Stage 2 I wouldn’t put it past him. He’s not really giving any hints as to how he’ll race it, suggesting he can ride conservatively but if the option is there to go for the win he will. Hmmm.

You never know, he might be happy to let a break take the win and bonus seconds, but that’s very unlikely! Or at least the other teams will chase the break down to fight out for the win if BMC don’t play ball.

With the 20″ gap over his nearest rivals, Porte could just mark Chaves/Izagirre/McCarthy out of the race. Therefore, I think there is a good chance he might give a bit of leeway to those who are further behind, i.e. 30 seconds plus.

Henao was very unlucky on stage 2 with a double puncture and did remarkably well to still get up for 12th on the stage. So he clearly has very good form at the moment. Second here last year to Porte he definitely has a good chance to go one better this year!

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Woods was third here last year and like Henao currently sits 33″ behind Porte on GC. I can imagine there will be a lot of people who fancy his chances but he wasn’t overly impressive on Paracombe in my opinion. Especially in comparison to his explosive nature that he showed last year at this race. So it’s a no from me, but I am willing to be surprised and proven wrong (again)!

Ulissi sprinted to 4th on this finish in 2016 and came home in the main group on Stage 2 so clearly has some decent form. Probably not a rider who will win solo, he could win a 2 or 3 man sprint of lesser riders.

Haas seems to be riding better than ever here but this climb is on his limit so he’ll have to pull a remarkable performance out the bag to podium. As we have him for GC I’m quite happy to just leave him be for this stage.

There are a lot of other riders who could potentially pull off an early attack that goes unmarked and stays away to the end but I won’t name the entire top 20 on GC. Nobody’s got time for that! So a usual here are a couple of outsiders to keep an eye on during the coverage.

If Izagirre is struggling look to another Movistar rider, Jesus Herrada, as their man for the day. A very solid climber with a good sprint he will need to catch the others napping as he probably won’t be able to ride the likes of Chaves/Porte etc off of his wheel. Nonetheless he does have the class to finish a race off as was shown at the Dauphiné last year.

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One outside Aussie who I do like for this kind of surprise, un-marked attack is Nathan Earle. Finishing 11th on Paracombe was a great result and he certainly is flying right now. A rider who may not be as respected in terms of his climbing ability by the rest of the peloton, he is a danger if he gets an easy 15 seconds. I do expect the Uni-SA team to go a bit berserk this stage!

Prediction

I’ll go for a Sergio Henao win. He was terribly unlucky on stage 2 and will want to justify his good form with victory! Coming back from a double puncture to finish in the main bunch is no mean feat and being 33 seconds down on Porte will only be to his advantage. If he gets a 5 second gap he’ll win. Vamos!

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Or Porte decides to go for the win and creams everyone…

Betting

2.3pts WIN Sergio Henao @9/2 with Boylesports (would take 4/1)

0.1pt WIN Jesus Herrada @80/1 with Betfair (would take 66s)

0.1pt WIN Nathan Earle @150/1 with various bookmakers

Plus this “fun” H2H treble with Bet365. 0.5pt

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Thanks again for reading! Who do you think will win up Willunga? Will Richie still be the King? As usual any feedback is greatly appreciated! Anyway,

Those are My Two Spokes Worth

 

 

 

 

 

Tour Down Under Stage 4; Norwood -> Campbelltown

Today’s Recap

Not as an exciting day that I was hoping for and we ended up with a fairly drab sprint stage. Ewan once again proved that he is the man to beat here, comfortably winning over Sagan and Bonifazio. 

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From a betting perspective it was also a poor day but to give Sagan his due; he was nearly taken out in the crash so to get up for 2nd was a good result. Just not good enough for us!

Will we get a sprint again today? Let’s have a look!

The Route

Strava profile of the stage

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An up and down kind of day again with the riders pretty much climbing from kilometre zero. The pace will be on from the start as I can imagine several riders will hope to get into the breakaway.

There are some short steep climbs out on the course but again these shouldn’t be too much of an issue for the pros. The majority of the final 30km is downhill aside from two kickers; 4.7km at 2.3% (including a short descent) and 2.3km at 2.2%. So once again, nothing for these guys!

Strava profile for the last 10km

 

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However, the end of the stage could throw up a few surprises particularly in the last 3kms. Around 3km to go we have a few sections of 7% gradients which will slow the approach down. The little kicker at 1km to go is 300m at 5.3%, followed by a false flat then a 600m drag of 2.5% to the line.

Timing of the sprint will be very important here as you don’t want to burn out before the end.

I really like the end of this stage as both the puncheurs and sprinters will be convinced that they can do something here.

How will the stage pan out?

This was the stage in my GC preview that I highlighted as a potential breakaway day and I’m sticking to my guns. The reason for this is that we already have fairly decent time gaps and with Willunga looming tomorrow the GC contenders won’t want to go too deep themselves, conserving some energy for that stage.

As for the sprinters, we’ve seen how dominant Ewan is at the moment so I don’t think many teams will fancy their chances chasing down the break if he’s going to be there at the end. On his current form, he should be able to manage the ramps at the end and the closing hill looks particularly like the Vuelta stage he won in 2015.

Therefore I think we’ll see an intense fight for the break in the morning and BMC will be happy to just control the gap to maintain Porte’s GC lead and the majority of the chase work will be left to Orica.

(Or at least that’s how I’d play it if I was a DS of the other sprint and GC teams).

Breakaway Contenders

I’ll be keeping this short and sweet because as you know by now it is a complete lottery!

Lachlan Morton.

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I highlighted him on stage 2 but instead of getting his own chance he did a lot of good work for Haas. The same can be said for yesterday as he was on bottle carrying duty and rolled home 2’13 down. In an interview their DS said they were taking it easy and conserving energy for the days to come. Has Morton been given the nod to go on the attack on this stage? He certainly has the form and climbing legs to do something if he makes the move!

Luke Durbridge.

If the break is to succeed it will need Orica representation and that leaves Durbridge and Howson as the two options. Howson has been doing a lot of the work on the front so may be let off the leash. However, I think he’ll be wanting dual leadership at the Herald Sun Tour so is earning brownie points here! Therefore, Durbridge will be their man. He was the strongest at the Road Nats and has been riding well here. A real danger-man if he makes it!

Adam Hansen.

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One of the Lotto Soudal breakaway experts was up the road yesterday and I think they’ll be up there again today. Hansen stretched his legs on stage one and this type of parcours looks good for him as a strong all round rider. On home roads, he has a chance.

Obviously there are lots of other candidates who are far enough down on GC but it’s fairly redundant me naming them all I think!

Prediction

Break wins and Durbridge takes the stage spoils.

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Or we get some kind of sprint and Ewan wins again…

Betting

Not a stage to get heavily involved with and in-play looks like a good option but I’m backing my 3 break candidates pre-race;

Durbridge 0.3pt WIN @ 80/1 with Betfair/PP (Would take 66/1)

Hansen 0.1pt WIN @ 150/1 with Betfair/PP (Would take 100/1)

Morton 0.1pt WIN @ 400/1 with PP (Would take 200/1 that’s available with Unibet) He was 400/1 with Betfair before I went for my dinner but he’s disappeared from there now!

Again, look out for better prices as more bookmakers release odds later on.

Thanks again for reading! Apologies for this being slightly shorter than normal but I’m a bit more pressed for time and there’s not as much to say. As usual any feedback is greatly appreciated. See you all on Twitter later tonight! Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tour Down Under Stage 3 Preview; Glenelg -> Victor Harbor

Today’s Recap

“I think something similar is likely to happen here and unless someone puts in a massive attack the favourites may well mark each other out of the race”

That’s what I wrote in my Stage 2 preview and boy did Porte put in a massive attack! He rode everyone off his wheel and took a very impressive victory. That’s the GC over now for 1st place barring any accident or misfortune but the rest of the podium is still up for grabs on Willunga.

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From a punting perspective we had no stage winner again, but the H2H double came in to cover the day. Hopefully that will be a recurring theme this year when more often than not my outside pick doesn’t win!

Anyway, moving on to Stage 3 and what the riders can expect to face.

The Route

A little bit lumpy but it’s no stage 2!

Link to Strava profile

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The tougher climbs come too early in the stage to be of any issue so it will be the circuit around Victor Harbor that decides the day.

Strava profile of Victor Harbor Circuit

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I did say in my GC preview when highlighting this stage that the first climb was 1.7km at 2.5%. However, that goes to the second peak, which flattens the gradient out a bit and it included some false flat. Using the profile above the main bulk of the climb is actually closer to 800m at 5.25%. This still shouldn’t be too bad for the pro sprinters but it depends on how the peloton attacks it.

Again, I suggested the second climb was 1.3km at 3.7% but it is closer to 1.1km at 4.36%, with the final 300m averaging closer to 7%. Not a massive difference but that 300m section does look like a great launchpad for an attack!

Apologies for the slightly incorrect information beforehand but I didn’t have the time to make a profile of the circuit on its own until now. Anyway, something needs to be kept for these previews, right?! 😉

The run-in to the line itself is fairly technical.

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A sharp right hander at 600m or so to go, followed by another 90-degree turn in quick succession. The riders then have to traverse a roundabout at 300m to go before a slight uphill kick in the final 100m* that averages 5%. They’ll be carrying a lot of speed into the kicker but it is something to think about and makes timing your effort even more important.

*At least that’s where I think the finish is as the organisers aren’t very helpful with their route descriptions. 500m after the last turn and “The Esplanade near Albert Place” has led me to deduce that the finish line is there. Channeling my inner Sherlock!

Weather Watch

With a lot of today’s stage going along the coast there is always a chance that we could get some crosswinds. We may be left disappointed though as the wind doesn’t appear to be strong enough. However, according to the Australian Government’s Bureau of Meteorology there will be some moderate winds in and around the area.

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There is also the possibility of rain late into the stage which would certainly spice things up! But as we know, meteorologists steal a living so I guess we’ll just have to wait and see closer to the time.

How will the stage pan out?

On paper this should really be a sprint, but with the big GC gaps created yesterday there is a chance that a break might be let go and if it does then it’s anybodies guess as to who wins! BMC have no sprinter so will just control the break and only chase hard if there is a threat to Porte’s lead.

Therefore it will be over to the sprinter teams to do most of the hard work and we will most likely see Orica and Bora (it is their namesake stage) share the duties with maybe one or two riders from Sky/Trek helping out.

I’m not going to bore you by going over the sprinters in-depth again so this will be a shorter summary!

I’m concerned with Ewan on this course as he’s not the best climber and does go awry in less than ideal conditions. The Bora pairing will be fired up for this due to the sponsor naming rights, but who sprints for them? I think Sagan will be given his chance this time. Van Poppel possesses a good uphill sprint and is a danger for the win, likewise is Bonifazio, although his lack of a lead-out will let him down. This finish reminds me of the stage Theuns won at the Baloise Belgium Tour last year. He’ll be up there again but I’m going to avoid him this stage. As for the rest, Planckaert may spring a surprise in a tougher sprint.

Some of the puncheurs might even fancy their chances but I think it will be too easy for them unless we get a very hard pace around the circuit. And of course there is always that slim possibility of a late attack sticking!

Prediction

This should end up in some kind of sprint, 90% chance I reckon, with the other 10% being split between morning break and late attack succeeding.

A Bora rider will win the Bora named stage. Sagan takes his first victory in 2017.

He should be able to cope with the circuit and any prevailing weather conditions that we get. The only concern is if they choose Bennett over him, but they seem to have a good working relationship and I reckon the Irishman will let him go for it today!

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Betting

2.3pts WIN Sagan @5/1 with SkyBet (I’d take 4/1 offered elsewhere)

Just in case of a break/late attack adding two small punts;

0.1pt WIN Valgren @200/1 with Betfair/PP.

0.1pt WIN Hansen @ 150/1 with Bet365 (Would take 125/1)

No real H2H that I like so far, but if I change my mind then I’ll add them/put them on my twitter!

 

As usual, thanks for reading! Hoping we get an exciting stage today as it will be the first one I get to watch properly. Any feedback etc is greatly appreciated. Anyway,

They were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tour Down Under Stage 2 Preview; Stirling -> Paracombe

Today’s Recap

I told you it was simple! The pocket rocket Caleb Ewan wins and takes the opening Ochre jersey of the race.

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Although it wasn’t all plain sailing for the Aussie as Van Poppel and Bennett ran him very close with Ewan winning by about half a bike length. Saying that, he never looked as if he was going to be overhauled.

Unfortunately from a punting side, Theuns went a bit early and never got near the podium. He was even overhauled on the line by Planckaert which ruined the H2H double, but oh well, moving on!

Ewan has no chance of retaining Ochre after today/tonight/whatever day this is stage, so let’s have a look at what’s in store for the riders who want to win this race overall.

The Route

The Queen stage and the toughest in Tour Down Under history. The riders will be thankful that it appears if it will be a lot cooler than the searing heat of stage 1 and we might even get a small rain shower.

Here’s a link to the Strava profile

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At just over 3,300m of elevation gain over 150km,  this will be a sore one for the peloton. The laps around Stirling won’t see any major action aside from movement in the breakaway, it will just be a case of a slow increase in pace back in the peloton.

Unlike 2015, the riders approach the Paracombe ascent via a different route. Instead of the fast descent in that edition, this year they climb for the majority of it, with a few minor descents thrown in. This certainly changes how the riders will approach the finish.

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Link to the above Strava profile can be found here

The finish can be split into three sections; 4.6km at 1%; 4km at 4.1%; and 1.8km at 7.8%.

The pace will be high in Section 1 as the riders will still be carrying a lot of speed from their descent away from the Stirling circuit. I wouldn’t expect anything too crazy to happen here but this is where we will most likely see the sprinters unhitch as they look to conserve some energy. Unless of course they’ve already been dropped on the circuit!

Section 2 will see the GC teams come more to the head of the peloton. With some segments of the climb being around 8% it is certainly possible for a few riders to try to go for a long attack and get a gap. Satellite riders could be sent up the road here from teams that have two GC candidates (i.e. Gerrans/Chaves) and cause panic behind. Or those who won’t fancy their chances coming to the bottom of Paracombe with the GC group may also give it a dig.

Finally we reach the big test and with an opening 500m at 10.2% some time can be lost if you’re on a bad day. The climb does get easier afterwards and as we saw in 2015 there is a chance it can regroup. If that happens a well-timed late attack, à la Dennis, can succeed or we could get a small group sprint.

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This really is a tough stage to call which hopefully should make it a great one from a viewing perspective but it’s not so great for me just now trying to write this!

Contenders

The GC favourites for the race such as Porte, Henao, Chaves and co are all short odds with the bookmakers and you’d expect that with this being the Queen stage. However, from a racing stand point I find it quit hard to split them on this climb. We saw back in 2015 Porte give it a nudge but he was marked by Evans and Pozzovivo with no real inroads being made. I think something similar is likely to happen here and unless someone puts in a massive attack the favourites may well mark each other out of the race. Consequently, this will open it up for a “lesser” rider to take the stage. My favourite type of preview to write!

Annoyingly, it’s still not clear-cut as this could be done by an attack on Section 2 and staying away, or with a late surge on Section 3.

I guess we should start with the Aussies!

One of my outside punts for GC, Nathan Haas has already taken himself one bonus second out on the road on stage 1 so clearly he feels up to challenging for the overall title. I’m not too sure what the best approach would be for him, but with a fast sprint he could risk holding out for a re-grouping at the end of the stage. He’s looking very thin just now and can definitely surprise!

Vuelta a Burgos 2016  stage 4

Also, Haas’ team-mate Lachlan Morton could be used as a satellite rider that may well just hold on to the end. An even better climber than Haas, his performances in the Tour of Utah were very impressive last year and if he’s in similar shape I wouldn’t give him too much leeway.

Jay McCarthy is another who took bonus seconds out on the road today. A rider of similar ilk to Haas, McCarthy possesses a fast sprint (his surge on Stage 1 was very impressive) but I’d say he’s naturally a better climber than Haas. Someone who won’t be as heavily marked by the peloton, he has a big chance of taking this stage.

Chris Hamilton is here as Sunweb’s leader and is a great young Australian talent. The Hurricane as he’s affectionately known has been doing recon of this stage over this past week. Finishing 14th on GC here last year was a great result and he’ll want to step up this year. A good result on this stage will go a long way to do that!

An even younger Hamilton (Lucas) could well be another that springs a surprise. Winner of the KOM jersey at the Tour de l’Avenir and 3rd on GC at the Ras, the boy is strong! He’ll hope to use his anonymity to his advantage. I wouldn’t give him too much space, that’s for sure!

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Away from the Australians, some outsiders to look out for are Luis Leon Sanchez, Petr Vakoc and Jose Goncalves.

There are the other obvious Europeans such as Ulissi etc, but I don’t think they’ll win here. Unless of course Diego has brought his inhaler with him!

Prediction

We’ll get an Aussie victor that will continue to please the home crowds. It won’t be the obvious Gerrans or Porte but instead, it will be young Jay McCarthy. I liked what I saw from him on stage 1 in that intermediate sprint, it was a very powerful surge to overhaul Goncalves. Furthermore, he finished 12th on the stage which highlights to me that he’s being attentive and doesn’t want to lose time which in turn means that he’s going very well and really wants to challenge the GC this year. He rolled the dice at the Aussie Nats and I’m intrigued to see how he plays this one, but he certainly has the strength/speed to pull off either approach!

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I do also have fond memories of him winning at 100/1 on the Stirling stage last year which led to this post student night out tweet. Aptly in my uni-town of Stirling too…

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Betting

0.8pt EW McCarthy @ 25/1 with Betfair/PP (I’d take down to 20/1)

0.25pt EW Chris Hamilton @150/1 with Betfair/PP (I’d take down to 100/1)

0.1pt EW Morton @ 150/1 with Bet365/Ladbrokes (I’d take down to 100/1)

0.1pt EW Lucas Hamilton @250/1 with Bet365 (I’d take down to 200/1)

H2H Double; McCarthy v Gerrans and Hamilton v Meintjes @2.3/1 with Bet365. 1.5pt.

Keep an eye out later as more bookmakers price up, there might be better odds available!

 

Thanks again for reading, hopefully the stage lives up to the hype! As usual, any feedback is greatly appreciated. Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.