Tour Down Under 2019 Stage 6 Preview: McLaren Vale -> Willunga Hill

Today’s Recap

A nervous stage throughout saw Mitchelton Scott control the early break of the day so that Impey could sprint for some bonus seconds. The plan worked well with the South African picking up 5 bonus seconds but it also meant the current race leader Bevin picked up 5 too. Things died down a little after that but with the constant threat of wind and echelons, it wasn’t quiet for too long. There were a couple of splits but nothing serious and everything re-grouped, but a crash at around 9km to go saw Bevin go down hard. Mitchelton tried to slow down the group but that only lasted for a kilometre so as the pace was already high and the sprint teams were already in full swing. The Ochre jersey did manage to make it back to the peloton and finish on the same time as everyone else and with nothing broken, he’ll only know how sore he’ll be on the bike tomorrow.

In the sprint Ewan crossed the line first but he was ultimately relegated by the commissaires for using excessive force with his head to nudge Philipsen off of Sagan’s wheel. To my non-expert sprinting perspective, it did look a little bit harsh but we’ve seen people relegated for similar things in the past so I guess it is fair.

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Philipsen consequently won the stage after Ewan’s relegation, with Sagan and Van Poppel rounding out the podium.

With the sprinter’s having had their last day to play today, everyone will be turning their attention to the last stage and GC battle that will occur tomorrow.

The Route

Nothing overly exciting to see here, it is pretty much just a carbon copy of the recent Willunga Hill stages.

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Expect to see the peloton thinned out a little on the first ascent of Willunga but I would be very surprised to see a Hail Mary attack from anyone near the top of the GC. Once over the plateau and descent, the riders will need to be wary of potential cross winds on the flat section of road before they head into the town of Willunga again. We’ve seen in the past things split up a bit here but the wind doesn’t look strong enough for that, however, you never know.

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A fairly consistent climb, the steeper slopes of Willunga come in the opening third before the gradient drops ever so slightly in the final two-thirds. At close to an 8 minute effort, the gaps aren’t normally too big but given how close the GC normally is here, they can often be decisive.

Can anyone stop the King of Willunga?

One thing to note for this year is that the wind will be blowing directly in their face for the climb, which will certainly make it more difficult for those looking to go on the attack. Although conversely, once you are out of the slip stream from the rider in front then it will be harder to make an effort.

I do think this will hinder the better climbers though, i.e. the quartet that escaped on the Corkscrew, as there will be a definite advantage of sitting in the wheels. Porte, Bennett and Woods all looked pretty solid on the Corkscrew and Poels managed to hang with them despite pulling some faces. Therefore, it would make sense if they were the main quartet contesting for the stage win come the end of the day.

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Porte always manages to ride everyone off of his wheel on this climb, he has his attack point dialled down to a fine art: a little S-bend with 1km to go. However, I don’t think that will happen this year due to the head wind, I just can’t see him dropping Woods. The other two possibly, but not Woods. The EF Education rider has a better kick than Porte and I would fancy him to beat the Aussie to the line.

I am intrigued to see what Chris Hamilton can do, he was a bit too slow to react to the accelerations on the Corkscrew but he wasn’t too far behind. A top 5 is definitely a possibility.

Does the break have a chance?

A little, but not really. Mitchelton and CCC will be more than happy to see a move get up the road to take away the bonus seconds for the day, ensuring that Impey and Bevin have a great chance to take the overall win. However, I would expect there to be enough impetus from Trek, EF, Sky and Lotto Visma to ensure that they don’t stay away – after all, if their leader is going to win the race then they need the bonus seconds.

Speaking of which…

How will the GC play out?

Things look as follows heading into the final stage:

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@ProCyclingStats

All of the riders there are within touching distance but it will take a spectacular effort for the majority of them to win. If there was no headwind on the climb, then I would say that the race was between Bevin, Impey, Porte and Woods for the GC, with Bennett and Poels also possible contenders. However, given the headwind, it will be hard for those 26 seconds behind to gain the 16 on course seconds needed to overhaul Bevin, assuming they also get the stage win.

It might be slightly more likely, if one of them is on a flyer that they can take the 9 seconds out of Impey that they would need to win, assuming that Bevin cracks because of his fall yesterday. Which would be a real shame but it is a possibility and no one will know how he copes until later on in the stage.

If Bevin hadn’t fallen this was his race to win/lose, depending on how you looked at it. He’s in sensational form at the moment and he would have been able to maintain that gap to Impey, as I think the big bonus seconds will go to a few of the more traditional climbers.

So if Bevin is well and recovered with only some flesh wounds, then he wins GC. However, if he has struggled to sleep last night and cracks later on, then Impey will double up.

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Stage Prediction

Porte is the one to beat on this climb and it wouldn’t surprise me to see him just ride away from everyone, like he normally does. However, I think the wind will hinder him and that Woods will be able to stick with him and out sprint him to the line!

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The King is dead, long live the King!

Betting

In a good position after this week so happy to have a little flutter on Woods for the stage win.

2pts WIN Woods @ 11/4 with Betway (would take 5/2 elsewhere)

3pts Hamilton to beat Pozzovivo @ 8/11 with Bet365

Thanks as always for reading! I hope you’ve enjoyed the opening week of World Tour racing? I’ll be back again for the Cadel race next weekend. Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

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Tour Down Under 2019 Stage 5 Preview: Glenelg -> Strathalbyn

Today’s Recap

Well that was a much more exciting finish than what we had on stage 3! The pace was high in the bunch on the Corkscrew but Porte, Poels, Woods and Bennett managed to gain a little advantage over the top of around 5 seconds. However, despite their best efforts, things were brought back on the descent and we had quite a large group of riders coming in for a sprint.

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Impey got his stage win, besting Bevin and Luis Leon Sanchez, with the three of them now occupying the top spots on GC. Bevin holds a 7 second lead over Impey, with LLS a further 4 behind and a group of 15 riders at 21 seconds back. All to play for on Willunga, although I think the GC battle might be between just a few, but first let’s have a look at what is in store for the riders on Saturday.

The Route

After two “GC days” the sprinters get their last chance to go for a stage win here.

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The road does roll but without any major climbs in the last 100km, it should really come down to a bunch gallop.

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Once past the 5km to go sign, the riders will head ever so slightly downhill all the way until 1.5km left – expect the speeds to be very high. Once at 1.5km to go, they’ll take quite a sharp left hand turn through a roundabout.

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Good positioning will be important but it is not essential through the turn, as the following 750m are arrow-straight so a team can fight for position and move up then. However, it will be of more importance to be leading through the following two right hand turns that come in quick succession.

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It’ll then be a 600m drag race to the finish line.

Can anything stop the inevitable bunch sprint?

One thing possibly, and is one thing that the team’s have been wary of since the start of the race when discussing this stage – the wind.

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The route travels through a few exposed areas early on in the stage, but it is once they pass through the Feed Zone in Victor Harbor that things could get interesting…

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The forecast above is for Middleton Beach and it is a similar outlook for the rest of the stage from there on in. There are some houses which will provide shelter through Victor Harbor to Goolwa, but there are also plenty of areas where there are no houses for a kilometre or so and the wind will be coming straight from the rider’s right side.

The last 36km from Goolwa to Strathalbyn will be majority tailwind, but there are some areas which will see the riders travel east more directly, with a particularly nice and exposed 5.5km section from 22km -> 16.5km to go.

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Said 5.5km exposed section

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Even closer to the line is Strathalbyn (on the image just above) is in an area completely open to the elements. Although it might not be a pure cross wind at the point, the cross tail wind could be enough to see some more splits. Either way, it is going to be a very fast and nervous final 35kms, even if it hasn’t split up by that point. The GC riders will need to be on their toes!

Interestingly, the direction of the finish straight means that the finish straight should be into a headwind – so timing of the jump and sprint becomes even more important.

Who will try to force a split?

The sprint teams will be more than happy for things to stick together and for their fast men to just fight it out at the finish so I don’t think they will be the ones driving any splits. However, given that the majority of sprinters are strong in the wind, they will probably be involved if they sense the pace increasing.

Instead, it will be the GC teams who decide if it is the right moment to try to upset the apple cart. As much as I’d like to see someone try and go early on the first passage of Willunga on Sunday, that is very unlikely to happen so instead Stage 5 presents the only opportunity for a GC shake-up before the second time up Willunga.

As for the exact teams who will try something I’m not entirely sure, but I reckon we’ll see Mitchelton have a go. Impey is in an okay position to win this race overall again but given that I think he and Bevin are on similar climbing levels just now, he needs to pick up another time bonus before Sunday. If Mitchelton are able to split it in the wind and get rid of the pure some sprinters then there is a chance Impey might be able to sneak a podium spot on the day and reduce the gap to Bevin. Even better for them, would be if they could drop some of their GC rivals completely.

Sprinters: If we get a normal bunch sprint it should be a Ewan v Viviani battle as they’ve looked the most consistent but in a headwind effort the more powerful guys like Walscheid, Bauhaus, Sagan and Van Poppel can’t be discounted.

Prediction

Race to split in the cross winds thanks to Mitchelton and a hectic finish will see some GC riders lose time. However, the Aussie team’s plan will backfire with Bevin sprinting for the victory and taking more valuable bonus seconds, putting one arm into Ochre for the end of the race.

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First properly out there preview of the year and we’re only 5 in, hey ho!

Betting

5pts on Gibbons to beat Hoelgaard @1/2 with Bet365.

Thanks as always for reading! Who do you think will win the stage? Anyway,

Those were MyTwoSpokesWorth.

Tour Down Under 2019 Stage 4 Preview: Unley -> Campbelltown

Today’s Recap

A proper damp squib of a stage in the end. I think it might have been a combination of the heat and the riders being concerned about just how difficult the stage could have been that things got a bit conservative. CCC did a great job for Bevin but he was isolated coming into the final two laps so it was surprising to see everyone ride quite conservatively after that – most were happy with a reduced bunch sprint.

So obviously after me thinking the stage would have been a lot more aggressive and completely discounting Sagan, it was the Slovak who took the stage win in an almost carbon copy of last year’s performance.

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A fast finishing Luis Leon Sanchez almost came close to pipping him but the line came too soon for the Astana man, while Impey picked up some handy bonus seconds in third.

Bevin still leads the race though going into tomorrow’s stage that features the famous Corkscrew climb. Let’s have a look at what is in store for the riders…

The Route

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There’s no point me beating about the bush here, the stage is all about the climb up Corkscrew Road and the subsequent descent off of it.

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Before the ascent starts properly, the road gradually rises for 1.2km at a lowly gradient of 1.6%, which will be enough to see some of the entry pace knocked off.

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A 2.5km climb that averages 8.9% is pretty tough at this point in the season but it is just border line enough for some of the puncheurs to hope to be able to hold on to the coat tails of the climbers. We saw that back in 2014 when Evans managed to gap the duo of Porte and Gerrans, who themselves put a bit of time into another group of riders.

The descent is incredibly fast, especially near the top, and riders can be expected to hit speeds of 80km/h. However, it does flatten out so you will need to keep pressure on the pedals to keep the momentum going as groups normally join up on the latter half. At 600m to go the riders take one final sharp turn and enter the finish straight, which is ever so slightly downhill to the line.

Another point of note is that the wind looks to be blowing from the west or south-west so the riders should have either a tail/cross-tail/cross wind, which means we should hopefully get some attacking racing. Bad news for those looking to just hold on to the bunch and wait for things to come to a sprint.

Our current race leader Paddy Bevin holds the KOM for Corkscrew Road on Strava, having completed the climb in 6’30 back in 2015. Interestingly, Mike Woods attack in 2016 that saw him and Henao reach the summit first was one second slower at 6’31.

Plenty of riders have been out to have a look at the climb in the weeks leading up to the race, with a couple of them having a go at it race pace…

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I think we might see the 6’30 mark broken this year, possibly someone going close to 6’20.

How will the race pan out?

The real question that has to be asked here is will a couple of guys, or someone, be able to drop the other riders on the Corkscrew and then hold them off to the finish? If so, then simple, the fight for the stage win will be between them and the race is over at the top of the climb.

If not, then we have the possibility of a small group sprint, or someone launching a counter attack in the closing kilometres if there is no control and cohesion at the head of the race.

I’m not too sure either way, although I’ll give a 60/40 split for those that make it over first not being seen again.

Contenders

Michael Woods.

The EF Education First rider put in quite a strong dig near the finale of stage 3 but the climb was not long enough for him to create any serious gaps and the punchy riders were able to bring him back. However, he did look lively and as a rider with previous on this climb he knows exactly what it’s about. Moreover, Woods had a great 2018 season and seems to only be getting better as a rider, especially on the steeper slopes.

Richie Porte.

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He wasn’t able to follow Woods’ attack back in 2016 and he also got dropped by a flying Evans in 2014. This isn’t Willunga and Porte doesn’t have the same amount of success here, which is weird, because it is a pretty similar climb in terms of time taken. It is slightly shorter and steeper but for someone of Porte’s short-climb prowess you would expect him to go well. He showed his face a little on stage 3 but we have no idea what his form is actually like just now. Will he try to put on a show before Willunga or is he confident of sealing the victory there?

Luis Leon Sanchez.

Clearly in some pretty good shape at the moment, Sanchez is Sagan’s tip for stage success tomorrow. The Astana man was flying at the beginning of last year and he should be able to cope with the speed on Corkscrew. He might not make it right at the head of the race, but he’ll be able to use his descending ability to catch up easily if there is no pressure on at the front. Sanchez is a master of timing a late attack but as we’ve seen on the past few stages, he isn’t too scared of getting involved in a sprint either.

Tadej Pogacar.

A little bit of a wild card here but the 2018 Tour de l’Avenir winner is the real deal – will he show that on stage 4? He was attentive and always near the front on today’s stage and he might just benefit from being a less well known rider. Furthermore, he holds a pretty competitive Strava time on the hill so it will be interesting to see if he can replicate that in the race. He’s my dark horse for the stage.

Wout Poels.

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Didn’t put his nose in the wind all of yesterday despite his team doing some of the work in the closing laps, with it instead being Elissonde who launched an attack. Poels is a climber who packs quite a fast sprint so he’d be happy to arrive in a small group. His form is a bit unknown though and he is an enigmatic rider so who knows which Wout will turn up. He could easily blow everyone away on the Corkscrew, or he could be dropped!

Then we have a group of riders in a similar mould; Bevin, Impey, Devenyns, McCarthy and Ulissi. In fact there are even a few more as well, who probably won’t drop everyone on the climb but they’ll hope to make it over close enough to get back on during the descent and fight for the win.

Prediction

An elite trio of Woods, Porte and Pogacar escape on the Corkscrew, with the Canadian winning the sprint.

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The others will trail in not too far behind but they’ll then need to come up with something inventive to win the race on Willunga.

Betting

Going a little wild here as tomorrow will more than likely be a no bet and I really like the Woods pick. Plus, a little value punt on Pogacar too.

3pts WIN Woods @ 6/1 with Betway (Would take 4/1 elsewhere)

1pt EW Pogacar @ 100/1 with Bet365 (Would take down to 40s)

Thanks as always for reading. Who do you think will win and in what manner? Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

 

Tour Down Under 2019 Stage 3 Preview: Lobethal -> Uraidla

Today’s Recap

It turned out to be yet another long and slow day in the saddle for the riders, but what can you expect in 40 degree heat. The original morning breakaway was brought back with 50km to go, and it took for a brave but ultimately fruitless move by Ladagnous to give the peloton at least a carrot to chase.

Like on the opening day the bunch kick was a messy affair, with a crash on the left hand side of the road taking out about 80% of the bunch. Only a few riders fell and none of them were seriously hurt, but everyone elses chance of competing at the finish was ruined. The majority of the sprinters made it through the split though, and it was Luis Leon Sanchez who launched an early move, hoping to catch some riders off guard. However, everyone was fairly astute to it and a powerful Bevin came from quite far back to take a convincing win.

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No one was beating him.

Ewan came close to getting on his wheel but he couldn’t match the CCC rider and resigned himself for second, with Sagan rounding out the podium.

The result now moves Bevin into the GC lead, 15 seconds ahead of the majority of his rivals. Not a bad opening two days for him but the hard work is only just beginning and he and his team will have a fight on their hands on Stage 3. Let’s take a look at what is in store for the riders.

The Route

A stage that I’ve been looking forward to since the route was announced, the peloton will be taking on a new finish circuit around Uraidla, with an apparent elevation gain of 3300m throughout the afternoon. Pretty tough for a hot race at the start of the year!

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Before they get to the circuit there are a rolling 60kms to contend with, including two very early intermediate sprint points. It will be interesting to see how it is played out but I suspect we’ll see some of the GC teams try to keep things together so that their main contenders can go for bonus seconds. Do you want to burn too many matches with what is to come though?

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The first thing that strikes me about the Uraidla circuit is it seems to be quite twisty and although a few of the turns will be able to be taken at a high-speed, there are some others that riders will have to slow down quite heavily for. This will make the climbs that follow feel just that tad bit harder but of course, the opposite effect happens when they can just roll down a hill and carry some speed onto the next rise.

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None of the climbs on the circuit are crazily hard; 1.1km at 5.2%, 400m at 5%, 1.3km at 6.5%, 500m at 8.2% and 650m at 7%. Instead, they’re more reminiscent of the hills you’ll find in Belgium and the Netherlands – short and punchy.

The two most difficult looking climbs to me are the 3rd and 4th on the circuit.

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The third is the longest climb, but it also starts with the trickiest and most dangerous entrance, as the riders will fly down a descent before having to reduce their speed rapidly to take the more than 90-degree right hand turn, shown on the image above. They’re then greeted by the steepest part of the climb right from the bottom, a 500m section at 10%. It does flatten off after that but those that are put into the red at the bottom will suffer coming over the top.

From there a descent follows which is interrupted by a short kicker before the 4th proper climb on the circuit.

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Only a short one at 500m, it once again comes off quite a tight turn but you can definitely carry some speed through the corner and propel yourself someway up the steeper opening part. Therefore, the battle for position will be crucial at this stage, especially as there is only 700m of flat/descent before the final rise and the 1.8km descent to the finish.

How will the stage pan out?

Pffft, beats me. It all depends on the mood and approach of the riders.

We could well see the day be controlled by a couple of teams and get a sprint like we normally see on the Stirling stage. However, I think that will be unlikely, I’ll eat my hat if any group sprint is over 40 riders big.

The two early intermediate sprints will set the tone of the day and we’ll probably see some fast racing from the gun – the riders have had two “easy” days before now after all. It’s what happens after the intermediate sprints and let’s say 50km to go that might shape the outcome of the day; who has someone up the road?; who is willing to chase behind?

There’s a lot of talk in the bunch about how decisive this stage could be in the GC – if they make it hard, don’t expect many to be in contact at the end of the day. Of course, if there is only a group of 30-40 riders starting the final lap together, it will be very difficult for anyone to control the race from there and we could see a splinter group or handful of riders slip away.

The weather is another factor to consider because it is still meant to be pretty hot, albeit about 5 or 6 degrees cooler than stage 2. If it is too hot, then it could make the stage a damp squib.

Hmmm, this is a tough one.

I think we’ll see a pretty aggressive race and a group slip away to fight out the finish. As to who is going to be in that group? Who knows, but having numbers in the peloton will certainly help teams. Time to throw a few darts I think!

Riders to Watch

Jay McCarthy

With all eyes on Sagan, who I think is not in peak form and might struggle here, McCarthy will be able to play a free role and go on the hunt for bonus seconds. If Sagan is going slightly better, then it gives Bora a great option to send McCarthy on the attack in the closing laps as the Aussie will beat most from a small group. This is the stage in my GC overview that I think he’ll have to take some time on the better climbers and I hope to see him active at the front.

Chris Hamilton.

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Targeting a good result here GC wise, this is a stage that Hamilton has been wary of for a little while. In an interview with @CyclingMole he suggested this could be the key stage of the race and certainly somewhere that you could take time on others, or conversely, possibly lose the Tour Down Under. Still a relatively unknown rider on the WT stage, Hamilton always performs pretty well in his home race. One year older and stronger now, I think he could surprise tomorrow. Expect an attacking race from the young Sunweb Aussie trident of Hamilton, Hindley and Storer.

Ruben Guerreiro.

The TDU last year was a breakthrough performance for the young Portuguese rider who managed to finish 10th overall while riding for Trek. In 2019 he’s switched over to Katusha and will be acting as second in command behind Nathan Haas at this race. A punchy rider, Guerreiro offers a good attacking option for the team and I would be surprised not to see him put in a dig at some point. He packs a pretty decent sprint too so he won’t be overly concerned at arriving at the line in a group of 6 or so.

Cameron Meyer.

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A lot of the peloton will be looking towards Mitchelton Scott as one of the main teams looking to keep things somewhat together for a sprint into Uraidla. They might end up doing that, but they have plenty of hitters in their team who can go on the offensive if they decide to ride an attacking race. Meyer was distraught at missing out at the Aussie Road Nats so a good result here will take his mind off that a little. He clearly has good legs though to finish on both the podium at the road race and time trial. Mitchelton say they’re all in for Impey, but will that change out on the road?

Prediction

I’m expecting a really unusual race this evening and we’ll probably see lots of different “acts” so to speak. The heat might see it become a bit of a damp squib but with what is at stake, I think we’ll see some exciting and aggressive racing in the closing 50kms – like an Ardennes classic.

Jay McCarthy to win.

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Betting

1pt EW McCarthy @ 14/1

0.25pt EW on the rest

Hamilton @ 200/1

Meyer @ 125/1

Guerreiro @ 200/1

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

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

 

Tour Down Under 2019 Stage 2 Preview: Norwood -> Angaston

Today’s Recap

We got the expected sprint finish into Adelaide and without any cross wind action, it was a pretty benign, but hot, day in the saddle for most. The break of the day formed pretty early on with 4 riders getting up the road; Lea, Zakharov, Bevin and Storer. With the first two fighting for the only KOM of the day, it was the Aussie Lea who got to pull on the jersey come the end of the stage. Zakharov swiftly left the break after that and fell back to the peloton, while there seemed to be a gentleman’s agreement between the remaining three that Bevin and Storer would both take 5 bonus seconds, with Lea grabbing 2. A very tactical move from both Bevin and Storer who might not be hot favourites to take the title, but they have certainly propelled themselves into the reckoning a bit more with those bonuses now.

Everything was back together with 30km to go and given the slight headwind, the pace in the bunch was a bit lower than expected. Consequently, it resulted in a nervous and twitchy last 5km as everyone felt fresh and wanted to be at the front – thankfully no one went down.

The sprint itself was incredibly messy, with riders and lead-outs all over the road. However, one man reigned supreme and that was Viviani. The Italian looked to be out of position with around 500m to go but he snaked his way through a gap that looked impossible to fit through and won by what was a country mile in the end.

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The early hit out from Walscheid saw the Sunweb rider hold on for second, with Mareczko producing an equally threaded sprint to somehow finish in third.

You can watch the helicopter shot of the finish above and pick out something different of note every time!

With another sprint stage looking likely tomorrow, will we see Viviani double up? Let’s have a look at what is in store for the riders.

The Route

Altered ever so slightly due to the searing, hot conditions expected, the day has been shortened to only 122km.

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Although the day is reasonably rolling, they avoid the tough Mengler’s Hill nearby so it should end in a full bunch sprint. The finish was last used in 2014 and that day a reduced group fought out for the win thanks to the passage of Mengler’s Hill. That being said, they approach the finish from a slightly different direction this year and the line is earlier than it was in 2014, I think, as that day it continued further into Angaston whereas this year it comes a little before that.

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As you can see, the run in itself is pretty straight forward with there only being one turn to note, albeit a tricky one, at around 4km to go. The main issue for the riders is that the road slowly drags uphill for those final 4km.

 

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The closing 650m averages a shade over 3%, with some 4.5% kick ups at points. Nothing crazy, but it certainly will entice some puncheurs into thinking they have a chance on a finish like this. Conversely, the majority of the sprinters will be confident enough of making it to the line.

Looking at the current weather forecast, it is set to be a slight cross-head wind for the finish, so once again, the timing of the sprint will be very important. Double that with the uphill rise and we could definitely see some guys get it completely wrong.

Sprinters

Elia Viviani.

It’s only fair to start with the Ochre jersey for tomorrow. After missing out on a chance to sprint at the People’s Choice Classic on Sunday, he more than made up for that on the opening day. Viviani should cope with the uphill finish perfectly well but his positioning might need improving as he might not be so lucky to be able to squeeze himself through some gaps this time if he’s boxed in. Nonetheless, he should start the day as favourite.

Caleb Ewan.

Oh dear, what happened to his Lotto sprint train? It was looking good for Ewan until the turn with around 1.2km to go when he just went backwards. You can see on the video above that he attempts to get up and sprint before sitting back down knowing that any good result is gone, ultimately finishing in a lowly 22nd. He won the tougher stage into Stirling last year so tomorrow does present an opportunity for him to bounce back with a good result.

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Peter Sagan.

The Bora rider never really got going on the opening day, after finding himself boxed in. Once he got a little bit of space it was too late, but his kick didn’t look overly convincing. The uphill drag should suit his capabilities well so he theoretically should be challenging for the win. I’m intrigued to see if Bora try to sprint with McCarthy though, as the bonus seconds could be crucial come the end of the race. Is it difficult enough for that though?

Max Walscheid.

The German risked it by starting his sprint early and it nearly paid off for him, had it not been for the flying Viviani he might just have won the stage. Walscheid is quite a tall and heavy rider for a pro cyclist, so I’ll be watching with interest to see how he copes on the drag to the line. It might just take too much out of him compared to his lighter competitors.

Jakub Mareczko.

A rider with 40 career wins to his name by the age of 24, yet only one of them has come in Europe, he is on the cusp of taking a step up this year with his new-found WT team. However, he is notoriously not great on any type of incline so he could possibly struggle tomorrow. Will CCC decide to go with Bevin?

Danny Van Poppel.

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Simply put, he just didn’t have the legs on the opening day, Van Poppel will hope for a better outcome on stage 2 with a finish that suits him well. Last year he absolutely blew everyone away on the tricky uphill kick in Binche and while tomorrow is nowhere near as difficult as that, the ramp does bring him closer to the pure sprinters.

Jasper Philipsen – Tried to follow Viviani through the gap but was impeded against the barriers. Although young, he seems to be quite a good “climbing sprinter” so I think he might surprise tomorrow.

Phil Bauhaus – Notoriously can’t climb a ladder. He did look quite powerful today but I think he’ll struggle to be up there at the finish.

Daryl Impey – A first chance to take some bonus seconds? Impey will relish this type of finish and like a few others, it brings him closer to the pure sprinters. He’ll be there or thereabouts.

Again, Halvorsen, McLay, Gibbons, Ballerini etc will all be fighting for the top 15 positions, and hoping to go better.

Two outsiders to watch

Patrick Bevin.

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The Kiwi showed he wasn’t here to just see what happens in the GC battle, going into the break for the day and taking some valuable bonus seconds. With Mareczko’s struggle on uphill finishes, it is possible that CCC turn their attention to Bevin who can mix it on this type of terrain. In the Tour of Britain last year he was incredibly consistent on both the tricky finishes but also the bunch kicks. The level of opposition here is a bit better but he seems to be in great shape just now so he will fancy his chances. Even snagging a podium could put him in a good spot for the rest of the week.

Heinrich Haussler.

Like Bevin, Haussler might get the nod to sprint if Bauhaus thinks he might struggle on the rise to the line. The Aussie is apparently flying just now so an uphill sprint he could get in the mix. However, he was involved in that tumble at the People’s Choice Classic and felt a little stiff after it so he might not be back to 100% yet. He is one to watch though if things get spicy.

Prediction

It’s got to be Viviani to double up, hasn’t it?

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I do think we might see a surprise rider get onto the podium though, it is just deciding who that is the issue!

Betting

Playing a couple of outsiders here and going for some EW value…

0.5pt EW Bevin @ 66/1 (With Betway – would take 40s lowest)

0.5pt EW Philipsen @ 50/1 with Bet365 and Betway.

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

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

Tour Down Under 2019 Stage 1 Preview: North Adelaide -> Port Adelaide

Welcome back everyone and a happy 2019! I hope you had a good off-season and are ready for the cycling calendar to kick off in earnest with an Aussie summer of racing. Last year saw Daryl Impey take the overall crown on count back after picking up an impressive number of bonus seconds throughout the race, edging Richie Porte into second place, with Tom-Jelte Slagter rounding out the GC podium.

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All three of those riders return this year and they will no doubt be hoping for repeat, if not better, performances.

GC Overview

Could this be the most open TDU in history?

The move of the Willunga stage to the final day means that everyone knows they need to try to take some time back before then, as no doubt Porte will take his traditional stage win there. The reintroduction of the Corkscrew climb on Stage 4 will be very important in shaping the outcome of the race and you can’t afford to have a bad day there. However, I think one of the most important stages could actually be the day before that, with the new circuit finish in Uraidla. On paper it isn’t a particularly tough parcours, with no real long climbs, but the road is pretty much up and down all day and given the forecasted temperatures – that will take a massive toll on the riders. I think that day lends itself to some very attacking riding and it gives some a good chance to take time before the two tougher finishes on Stage 4 and 6. However, there is also the chance…

Could this be the most dull TDU in history?

If Stage 3 turns out to be a controlled affair with a few teams controlling it for a reduced bunch sprint, or if we see some shortened stages due to the heat – then the race might only be decided by the gaps on Willunga or bonus seconds. Of course, you could argue that is exciting due to how close it could be but personally I’d rather see some attacking racing.

As for who might win the race? It of course depends on a few things but Impey will fancy his chances of retaining the crown if he can pick up some bonus seconds and repeat that Willunga performance. Porte on the other hand will look at the Corkscrew day as another chance to distance everyone and possibly hold off a chasing group to the line. McCarthy is another in the mould of Impey who can pick up some bonus seconds here and there, but he’ll need to be wiser on Willunga this year round and not blindly follow Porte. It was a bold move for him last year but one that didn’t pay off.

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Woods might be one to watch this week, with the Canadian having a proper breakthrough last year – he is a serious contender if climbing well and arguably the only rider who on his day I can see sticking with Porte up Willunga. Poels is similar to Woods, but who knows what condition he arrives here in. Another few to keep an eye on are Hamilton, Valgren and Bevin who I all think will feature at some point throughout this week.

I think we’ll see Jay McCarthy take home the ochre jersey come the end of the week though. He seems to be in great form at the moment with a third at the Aussie Crit championships – not exactly an event you would expect him to shine at. At the road race he unfortunately suffered from being the only Bora rider and dropped out after any chance of the win was gone. On stage 3 we’ll see him and Sagan in the front group and with the former World Champion marking moves behind, McCarthy will be able to escape in a group and fight out for the win. A result which will be enough to see him take the title later in the week!

I may as well kick off the season with a somewhat of an out there suggestion…

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Anyway, onto the opening day of racing.

The Route

A bit of a rolling day through the Adelaide hills but nothing too extreme for the riders with the afternoon most likely ending in a sprint, unless of course something crazy happens such as Bobridge’s breakaway win in 2015.

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The finish in Port Adelaide is a new one for the peloton but it is pretty straight forward and should be a simple run-in.

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With the last turn coming 1km from the line, it will be a drag race from there. It is possible for a team to control the front of the race from through that corner and not allow anyone back, but I think that will be pretty difficult as there is plenty of room for others to come by.

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Saying that, there is quite a lot of street furniture (see above) on the closing circuit which could be quite dangerous. They possibly might just barrier off one side of the road for the whole kilometre because there is a concrete verge in the middle that divides it up anyway with around 200m to go.

Often these “simple” finishes are the most dangerous because everyone is able to jostle for position so hopefully things stay upwards.

*The race organisers/jury have decided to remove the full lap around the closing circuit so they will join it at the ‘zig-zag’ part on the route profile, coming from the east. It shouldn’t really change much as the same rules will apply for the finishing straight and the bits of street furniture there.*

Weather Watch

The reason given by the organisers for not including the finish circuit tomorrow is that they expect it to be pretty windy, and the race could potentially be split up by the time the race arrives back into Adelaide. That could cause some issues, as those just joining the circuit might get in the way with those at the head of the race – it is a sensible decision to make in my opinion.

It also means that I get to talk about the potential of my favourite thing in the opening blog post of the year…

 

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However, I don’t seem to share the same outlook for strong winds that the organisers do. Although to be fair, looking at various sources Australian Bureau of Meteorology, Windfinder and WillyWeather no one has a real idea as to the severity of the wind. There does seem to be the general consensus that it picks up a little later on in the afternoon but the stronger winds seem to be coming in after the race has finished. However, the time of them has gotten earlier since I looked the other day so who really knows!

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The final 16km is the perfect terrain for cross winds though, with a 3km stretch of road past Parafield runway completely exposed and flat terrain.

Likewise, after a couple of kilometres coming through town, the riders will once again be on an exposed dual carriageway.

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That only really stops with around 3km to go when the road is sheltered by more trees and buildings. Now, I’m not saying that we will see echelons, but if they were to happen, it would be in those closing 16kms.

Either way, it is going to be a very nervy finish so hopefully everyone just stays upright!

Contenders – A Three Horse Race?

Caleb Ewan.

The Aussie got off to a blistering start with his new Lotto Soudal team, picking up the win at the People’s Choice Classic on Sunday. His squad was strong, controlling the action all afternoon, before setting him up excellently. Having brought Roger Kluge with him from Mitchelton will certainly have helped him gel into his train a lot quicker, and the German was a perfect pilot fish on Sunday. However, there is a big difference between a one hour-long crit around a course that you’re familiar with and a new finish on open roads. He is clearly in form and starts the man to beat but he’s not been properly tested yet, given the crashes that took out almost all of his competitors the other day.

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Peter Sagan.

A solid second place for Sagan on Sunday. He was typically the last rider to escape from the crash, narrowly avoiding his falling team-mate and holding on to the back of Ewan’s wheel. With Daniel Oss attacking out the front amidst the chaos, Sagan had to be content with just sitting in and not launching his sprint early. Consequently, he only really opened the taps with around 100m to go which was way too late to contest with Ewan. The gap did close a little so I do think Sagan will show some good legs this week. Furthermore, if there are cross winds and echelons in the closing kilometres, it is almost a guarantee that he will make the split.

Elia Viviani.

Unlucky to have been taken out by his own team-mate Morkov in the crash, but at least the Italian managed to get away relatively unscathed – with only a slightly sore foot being a little bit of an issue. Arriving with a strong team, Viviani will be able to rely on trusted lead-out men such as Morkov and Sabatini which will be a massive help for him. Interestingly, I don’t think they will try to control the final 5 kilometres, instead they will try to time their run to the front of the peloton perfectly so that no one else is able to come around them before the line. They don’t have some of their big name classics experts so it will be interesting to see how they cope if there are echelons – but hey, this is Deucenink-Quick Step so they should be fine.

Best of the rest.

Max Walscheid – Has a young lead-out with him so not entirely sure how well they’ll perform as a unit. Might go missing.

Phil Bauhaus – Joins a team that has quite a bit of firepower and a last man in Haussler who is going well at the moment. Could be the surprise.

Danny Van Poppel – Arrives with little support so will have to mainly go solo. He’ll be hoping for wind to make the finish more difficult.

Halvorsen, Mareczko, Philipsen and McLay are all there or thereabouts kind of riders but I think they’ll struggle to make the podium.

Prediction

Possible echelons and a swirling wind that will make timing the sprint difficult, you will need to either be a rider confident in those conditions or with a team strong enough to guide you through them. Furthermore, with the GC riders no doubt twitchy and nervous about possible splits, I think we’ll see a very messy sprint on the opening day.

So I’m going with the master of race craft and position, Peter Sagan, to find himself in the right place at the right time again, taking the win.

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Zweeler

This year the kind people at Zweeler have been nice enough to partner up with the blog, so if you want to play some fantasy games for cash (not just cycling – they have plenty of other sports to offer) then sign up using this link here.

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Doing so and playing a few games will help the blog out greatly – so thanks in advance if you do!

Betting

Was tempted to make it a no bet day but I’m going to have a little dabble on Sagan, nothing wild.

1pt WIN Sagan @ 4/1 various.

Thanks as always for reading! Hope you enjoyed the first preview of the year? Who do you think will win on the opening day and the race overall? Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

A Trivial Review of the 2018 Season: Top 5 Best/Worst #HaugheyCurse Moments

A Trivial Review of the 2018 Season: Top 5 Best/Worst #HaugheyCurse Moments

Hold up, this isn’t a preview? How do I start one of these without the classic “Today’s Recap”? I for one am at a loss…

However, I’m not at as much of a loss though as the cyclists affected by the now infamous Haughey Curse this year. If you aren’t aware and haven’t kept up with my previews this season, there have been numerous riders who I have tipped not even for greatness, but to at least put on a good show, only for them to be struck down by some misfortune; whether that be a crash, mechanical or some other bizarre incident.

The origins of the #HaugheyCurse are somewhat unknown. Some suspect it coincided with the invention of the wheel while most notable researches in the field all point to the 2016 edition of Strade Bianche and the ghastly time Salvatore Puccio had after I’d marked him down as a wildcard for the race. Ironically, the only break the Italian could catch that day was the move he found himself in with around 50km to go prior to falling foul to two punctures that saw him return to the peloton, before another mechanical completely ruined his race.

Sorry Salvatore!

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The 2018 season has been no different so what follows is a tongue-in-cheek review of the year, highlighting the #HaugheyCurse in all its, erm, glory.

A fateful fortnight in March

Cast your mind back to the beginning of the year. Almost two months of racing had past and with the riders returning from blocks in Australia or the Middle East, most were now back in Europe with a focus on the upcoming classics or stage races. Oddly enough, there had been no real ill-effects from my blog picks so far; maybe this year things were going to change? Ha!

March 11th – Stage 8 Paris Nice

Going into that afternoon I was sitting with a 40/1 ticket for Ion Izagirre to win GC at Paris Nice and the Bahrain man was only 11 seconds behind race leader Yates going into that final stage. Furthermore, my only stage punt for that day was Fuglsang who was far enough down in the GC picture to be given some wiggle room. The Dane made the morning break, if you can really call it that given the crazy tempo due to the short stage, along with a few other riders. It was a strong move that would ultimately fight it out for the day’s honours but obviously Fuglsang wouldn’t be there because the former mountain biker crashed on one of the descents. Something he hadn’t done for a long time before that day! Oh well, at least demon-descender Ion Izagirre can put some pressure on Yates on these wet descents? Well he did, and he even had a gap over the Bury man coming off the last climb. Yet inexplicably, he loses the front wheel going round a hairpin and that’s the dream shattered. Two riders you wouldn’t expect to fall on descents doing exactly that on the same day – some proper #HaugheyCurse stuff that.

March 17th – Milan Sanremo

You know when you see a rider in the shape of his life and are incredibly confident about his chances for a race? Well, that was my view of Andre Greipel before MSR this year. The Gorilla, as he is affectionately known, was climbing better than ever in the weeks leading up to the race and putting out some very strong sprint numbers. Lotto Soudal even brought a team that was fully focussed around him – no Wellens or Benoot as late attack options. It seemed they were as equally confident. Things went pear-shaped though when the German found himself on the deck in one of the early crashes. However, he’s a tough rider and a little bit of road rash wasn’t going to stop him. What was going to stop him though was a crash on the descent of the Poggio that completely wiped out any chance he had. A real shame as this was arguably his best but last chance of taking the title. I feel somewhat accountable for that…

Andre-Greipel

March 25th – Stage 7 Volta a Catalunya

I thought the #HaugheyCurse had been somewhat abated the previous day after I pulled a remarkable/ridiculous Max Schachmann win out of the bag. Things seemed to be going really well too on the traditional finish in Barcelona with the racing being as fast past and selective as I thought it would be. I had named two riders to watch for that day Jungels and Soler, both of whom were active off the front of the race in the closing laps. It is the former though who the curse affected the most. Jungels had managed to escape his breakers and push on to form a reasonable gap over them with only 1 and a bit laps to go before disaster struck and a puncture forced him to wait up, consequently slipping back to the peloton. Not the worst in terms of injuries etc, but the Quick Step rider was definitely in a winning position. Although given how the rest of their season went, they probably didn’t lose sleep over that missed chance!

The potential career defining win

Things calmed down a bit once again after that point, thankfully, but the curse was soon to come back again, albeit in a slightly different form. Now I’m including the following one just because of how bizarre that whole day was and knowing that there were several of you with the same ticket as me.

May 12th – Giro d’Italia Stage 8

A day for the break? It should have been but this was the 2018 Giro and it wasn’t like any other Giro that I can remember. Normally the trip round Italy is pretty relaxed in the sense that the GC riders are happy for teams to get up the road and contest the stage win. However, Mitchelton Scott had decided to do things differently this year and chase a load of moves down. Stage 8 seemed to be the day that they were finally happy to let things go and I managed to have Bouwman make the break of the day as one of my lottery picks. The gap increased to the peloton and it looked as if they would make it to fight out the stage win comfortably until the most peculiar series of events unfolded behind and thwarted that opportunity…

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Firstly, a bored Wellens and Hansen decided to launch an attack from the peloton, forcing them to chase, only for the Lotto Soudal duo to go and hide in a car park and rejoin the back of the pack. That saw the gap drop quite a bit but then Katusha Alpecin decided they wanted in on the action for some reason and chase at the head of the peloton. I’m a big fan of a certain #GoOnCalves but it wasn’t really the time and place for that! That saw the gap tumble even more and it was certainly within a catch-able margin, it all depended on the attitude of the GC teams. Of course, their mind was made up not moments later when the heavens opened so in the interest of safety and reverting back to their new-found Giro-type, Mitchelton upped the pace. Froome fell going uphill, riders were slipping out everywhere, a truly weird stage to watch. Poor Bouwman was the strongest of the break and tried desperately to hold on but he was caught with around 2kms to go. There is nothing more to say about that and the unusual turn events, they were obviously caused by a higher power a.k.a the #HaugheyCurse.

The season-long curse

The #HaugheyCurse likes to spread equality throughout the ranks of pro cycling so the women’s peloton don’t get away with a free pass. No rider knows this more than late comer to the sport Lucy Kennedy.

After watching the early season races in January I was super impressed with the Mitchelton rider’s climbing ability and she went on to impress many more with a 5th place in Strade which was followed by a 9th at Binda. People seemed to take her talent quite seriously then. Unfortunately for Lucy, the Curse seems to affect people when they least expect it and when the form is good. Leading into the Ardennes week, the Aussie was going to be given some chances to race aggressively in what was a strong Mitchelton line-up with Spratt and van Vleuten. However, a crash in Amstel completely scuppered that and put her out of action for a while.

Eager to return to racing, Kennedy reset her goals and switched focus to being back and firing for what was going to be a very tough Giro Rosa, a route that had some proper mountains where she could test herself against the very best (mainly her teammates). Yet, she didn’t make the mountains after crashing, albeit finishing, on stage 3 of the race, before abandoning the next morning.

I don’t think I’ve ever “cursed” a rider so much in one season and that’s why it was so nice to see that during the Worlds she did exactly what I thought might happen, delivering a climbing show and putting some of the worlds best into the hurt locker. Hopefully 2019 will be crash free!

*BONUS* The Bizarre

July 22nd – Tour de France Stage 15

A day that was definitely for the break, I had named four lottery picks for that afternoon’s action. As always when deciding on the picks I look at various factors but I more often than not like to choose more of a “fun” rider from a slightly lesser known team. The majority of the time they get beaten if they make the break but their teams are more likely to try to get someone up the road. However this time, Élie Gesbert got beaten, but in a different way than expected…

It’s safe to say that Gesbert decided to stay in the peloton that day.

The “why I named 4 riders” curse

4th August – San Sebastian

In somewhat of a brash move for my San Sebastian preview, I only named 4 riders in the whole thing who I thought had a chance of winning the race: Alaphilippe, Roglic, Landa and Bernal. So it was almost a given that with 18km to go they were all still in contention but that wouldn’t be the case for much longer…

A slight lapse of concentration from Ben King saw him swerve in the road and cause a massive pile-up, taking out 3 of the 4 picks. Nothing much that could be done, it is just one of those unlucky racing incidents.

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However, it is more than coincidental that two of the main casualties were Bernal and Landa, with Roglic also abandoning the race but with less severe injuries. On the flip side though, the only rider named to survive the crash went on to win the race so I guess there’s that!

A Classic

With the season drawing to a close and the Curse finally seeming to have stopped early for its winter break, things were looking to be on the up. The Italian one-day racing was coming thick and fast with Lombardia on the horizon and riders were honing their form for the big one.

6th October – Giro dell’Emilia 

A very active and tough edition of the race saw the peloton drastically whittled down during the local finishing circuit. Up ahead, mid-race breaker De Marchi was putting on a show but with his gap never increasing to a crazy advantage, there was always a chance those behind could catch him. Step up one of my picks for the day – Gianluca Brambilla. The Italian had looked lively after a strong end to the Vuelta and was consistently climbing near the head of the peloton on the finish climb of San Luca. On the final lap he attacked over the top of the climb, escaping on the descent with Mohoric in a bid to catch De Marchi. We were treated to some crazy descending form the duo and they had reduced the gap down to around 20 seconds – one that was certainly bridge-able on the tough San Luca climb. However, disaster struck for Brambilla just as they made their turn onto the ascent as he had suffered a puncture (probably from all of his fancy drain hopping descending). So miffed at the #HaugheyCurse and a race that he would have won, he didn’t even bother to complete the remaining 2kms and just quit the race then and there. Nothing beats a classic mechanical mishap!

So that’s the end of this year’s #HaugheyCurse review. There are definitely many more incidents that happened throughout the season but these are the ones that stood out for me/that I could remember. I wonder who will be affected next year?

It isn’t all doom and gloom though for riders mentioned in my blog though as plenty, well, a few, have actually went on to win the race or at least play a very active part in the outcome.

Special mention must go to my Flanders duo of van der Breggen and Terpstra who both managed win Ronde. See, it can be done!

So here they are doing their special “we avoided the #HaugheyCurse dance”…

 

Hope you’ve enjoyed this slightly more trivial take on the 2018 season rather than the usual “Best of” lists you see. I might, and might is the key word here, do an under rated/under the radar rides of the year at some point. Until then, thanks as always for reading.

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.