Volta ao Algarve Stage 5 Preview; Loulé -> Malhão

Today’s Recap

What an exciting sprint finish that went down to the photo. It was Greipel who came out on top ahead of Degenkolb and Groenewegen, but you could through the proverbial blanket over them all.

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Demare finished very fast to come 4th, but he just started his sprint too far back to challenge.

Moving on to tomorrow and the last stage, with the GC title very much up for grabs.

The Route

A back loaded stage with a reasonable amount of climbing.

Print

Race leader Roglic will be happy to know that the majority of the climbs are Cat 3 ascents, but he will be concerned about the double passage of the Malhão.

The climb itself is short, but it’s steep and irregular in gradient. You can view the strava segment here.

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2.3km in length and averaging 9.5%, some reasonable time gaps can be made on it. Thibaut Pinot holds the Strava record on here, climbing it in 7 minutes and 1 second. That year, Contador beat him by 20 seconds so it’s safe to say he did it in 6 minutes 45 seconds roughly. It’s like Old Willunga Hill but ever so slightly steeper. That same kind of effort is needed to win here.

How will the stage pan out?

There is a chance the breakaway could take the win. I’m sure Roglic would be happy if the bonus seconds were taken by some riders up the road. However, I don’t think this will happen. The opening part of the stage is very easy to control so teams such as Sky and Quickstep can keep the break within their reach for the oppening 90km, slowly starting to reel them in when it gets lumpier. Therefore, I think we get some kind of GC showdown, with those at the top of the order fighting out for stage glory.

Contenders

It’s hard to look past Dan Martin for this. He was excellent on the uphill finish on stage 2, and this steeper climb suits him even more. Now with some extra leeway because of his GC placing, he won’t be marked as much by Roglic and Co. If he gets a gap, that is it over. Like I said above, I’m sure Roglic would actually be happy if Martin won, to take away some of the time bonuses.

Roglic himself could of course cap of a good week and turn it into a great one with a win here. He was the only rider to match Martin on Stage 2, and almost came round him on the line. Back in Valenciana he beat Martin on the steep finish to Llucena by 10 seconds so he seems to be able to cope well when the gradient goes up. However, one reason he may not win the stage is because he doesn’t have to go into the red and be aggressive. All he has to do is just follow wheels and hope to not get gapped by Kwiatkowski or Castroviejo.

It’s great to see Kwiatkowski back in good form and hopefully he can kick on from here looking ahead at the classics. It will be a tough ask for him to gain back the time on Roglic and a stage win is really needed to give him a chance. I’m not so confident, but one of the classiest bike riders on his day, he should never be ruled out!

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Aside from the big 3, one guy who I think could upset the apple cart here is Amaro Antunes. He finished a solid 3rd on the brutal stage finish in Llucena behind Quintana and Kudus, but more importantly, ahead of Roglic and Martin. It’s important to highlight too that he finished on the same time as Pinot here last year. Way down on GC after a poor TT he has a very good chance of being let go here. It could be tough to catch him!

Sanchez, Villela and Roson could all surprise too if no one cares to follow them.

Prediction

I really want to say Antunes here, he goes so well on the steep stuff. I also think it’s incredibly hard to see past Dan Martin. Very odd for me to be leaning so heavily towards the stage favourite.

Ach, when have I ever been stopped from going for an outsider before?!

Antunes to win!

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Thanks for reading this week! Like I said on my Andalucia preview, apologies for these being ever so slightly shorter than normal as I’m feeling a bit under the weather. Normal service shall resume next week as I’ll be doing Omloop and KBK, the start of the season for some! Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

 

 

 

Volta ao Algarve Stage 4 Preview; Almodôvar -> Tavira

Today’s Recap

I did say Tony Martin wouldn’t win, but it wasn’t Roglic who came home in first. Instead, it was Castroviejo who produced an excellent display in his fancy new European Champions jersey.

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(I don’t have a picture of that yet so this will do!)

GC wise, Roglic now takes the yellow jersey and is 22 seconds ahead of Kwiatkowski and 36 ahead of Castroviejo going into the final 2 stages. Let’s have a look at what’s in store for the riders tomorrow.

The Route

Longest stage of the race and a bit of an undulating course but with a relatively flat finish.

Print

There are no real major obstacles out on course so if the bunch wants to keep this one together for a sprint they should be able to.

There is some pesky road furniture in the final 3km though!

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First of all they have to contend with a roundabout just inside 3km from home. Fortunately, it appears to be relatively wide and they travel straight on so it shouldn’t be too much of an issue.

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Next, they’ll take a left at a roundabout with approximately 1.3km to go.

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Again, this shouldn’t be too bad but it is fairly tight. The race will definitely be strung out coming out of it.

From there it is under the Flamme Rouge and on to the next obstacle; another roundabout. This time though it seems much trickier, with the roundabout being more of a stretched out oval shape, making the turn a lot sharper and sudden.

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They aren’t out of the woods just yet though as they still have to tackle one final corner at 400m to go.

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Quite sharp, isn’t it?!

Hopefully they’ve improved the road surface around the inside of the corner, otherwise there might be some carnage.

Once round the corner, it will be a straight dash to the line!

Sprint Contenders

We’ll have similar riders that were involved on stage 1.

Can anyone beat the man who I forgot to mention for that stage; Fernando Gaviria? The Colombian was very impressive like he almost always seems to be. In Richeze he has a great lead-out man and the pair seem to have great chemistry out on the road. A worthy favourite.

Greipel was disappointed after his second on stage 1. He just didn’t seem to have the speed to match Gaviria on that day. With a very strong lead-out here, there is a good chance that he will be positioned better this time round and then we might get an interesting sprint. However, as I mentioned in my stage 1 preview, he can go missing if things get messy but he is a fighter so I’m sure he’ll be there or thereabouts.

Another rider who is a fighter is Bouhanni. He did well to get up for third place on the first stage, considering he had a fairly poor Valenciana in which he crashed. Fully fit now, he won’t want to go much longer without a win this season.

Groenewegen has promised a lot this season so far, but has failed to stand on the top step of the podium. The team still seems to be getting his lead-out sorted, they were awful on stage 1 and it was remarkable that the Dutchman was placed anywhere near the front. I’m not so sure if they’ll get that lucky again.

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After selecting him for stage 1, Demare managed to get a bit lost and his lead-out split in two, on that day. I expect them to not make the same mistake again. The team was very well-drilled in Besseges and the Frenchman himself is in great form; he finished 6th in the TT today! Not making the podium will be a disappointment.

Cavendish seemed to be leading out Boasson Hagen on stage 1, sitting up with around 150m to go. I’m not sure what the plan was there; maybe Cavendish wasn’t well or they were trying to get EBH into the best possible GC position? With EBH nowhere near now, I think Cav might give it a nudge tomorrow.

Arguably Degenkolhas the best train here on paper. He didn’t take advantage of it on stage 1, as they seemed unsure of their best order. Have they managed to correct that for here?

Prediction

They messed up on stage 1 and his result in today’s TT clearly show that he’s going very, very well at the moment…

Demare to win!

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Thanks as always for reading. Who do you think takes this sprint fest? Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

Volta ao Algarve Stage 3 Preview; Sagres -> Sagres

Today’s Recap

Dan Martin fulfilled his favourite status with a very impressive win on the slopes of Fóia.

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Primoz Roglic did well to follow the Irishman and nearly pipped him on the line. It was also nice to see Kwiatkowski back to some kind of form with a third place.

Tomorrow’s stage will also go a long way to shape the GC. Let’s take a look…

The Route

TT time!

Print

The start of the course is more technical than the rest, as the riders will have to negotiate several roundabouts in and around the centre of Sagres itself.

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The final 2/3rds of the course are on a more traditional “out and back” route, running along the coast line. With the road being mainly straight and few sharp turns, this section is where the powerful riders can make up a lot of time.

Will the wind play any part?

From the early weather forecast it doesn’t look like it, but that can easily change over night.

Contenders

Tony Martin will start as the clear favourite and that’s only fair considering he is the current World Champion. The Panzerwagen has started this season off much better than his 2016 campaign; it took him 67 race days (not including TTTs or nationals) to take his first win then, it only took one this year! Clearly he is on some decent form but he does seem to go missing at times in comparison to his old self and has his improved climbing hindered his TT? Nonetheless, he is the guy everyone will be gunning for!

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He won’t have it all his on way though and there are several riders who might challenge here.

The current European Champion, Castroviejo, had a very consistent and solid 2016, picking up a 4th at the Olympics and 3rd at the Worlds. He wasn’t overly spectacular here last year, only managing 6th place. His form this year looks better though, and he finished in the top 20 on the tough climbing stage to Llucena in Valenciana and was in the top 10 today. Certainly not someone to discount.

Luis Leon Sanchez was going well until he crashed in this very TT last year. Not as good as he used to be in this discipline, on his day he can still certainly put in a shift. He’ll be hoping to top 5 and take some time on his GC rivals but he wasn’t as good today as I was expecting. Will be tough for him to win.

Roglic will fancy his chances tomorrow after today’s performance. The completely flat TT might not suit him perfectly, but that didn’t exactly stop him at the Giro last year. Brimming with confidence at the moment he has a big chance of getting one step higher on the podium than he did today.

I, like I imagine most people, was very pleased to see Kwiatkowski back up there and fighting today. Tomorrow’s TT is somewhere that if back to his best he could perform very well and is capable of winning. I don’t think he’s firing on all cylinders just yet, but he certainly is a dark horse for a podium placing.

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Some time-trial specialists who aren’t GC contenders also have a very good chance to take the stage win.

Alex Dowsett was on the attack, testing his legs in Dubai earlier in the month. He looked quietly good there out in the break and will love this type of stage. Seventh here last year, I think he looks better just now than then. Going out early, he might be in the hot-seat for a while!

His team-mate, Nelson Oliveira, finished just ahead of him on that day last year. The Portuguese rider will relish riding in front of a home crowd and this flat power course well suit him. He’s a proper brute of a rider when in the right mood. Will he turn up?

Cannondale duo Phinney and Mullen might also stretch their legs. The latter was particularly impressive at the Worlds last year and this type of out and back course is ideal for him.

I’m intrigued to see how Moser goes. He finished 3rd at the Euro TT Championships last year, beating the likes of Oliveira and Roglic. With only 3 race days in the legs so far, it might be too early for him but a top 10 would be a good result from him.

Prediction

Roglic looked sensational today, he crushes the TT on his current form.

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Two Movistar riders to round out the podium; Oliveira and Castroviejo. Tony Martin to disappoint!

Unfortunately, it’s unlikely we’ll get any odds. Spanish bookmaker Kirol seem to be the only firm consistently pricing up the race.

Thanks again for reading and as usual any feedback is greatly appreciated. Who do you think will win the stage? Am I being too bold by discounting Martin? Andalucia preview will be out later this evening. Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth

 

 

 

Volta ao Algarve Stage 2 Preview; Lagao -> Alto a Fóia

Today’s Recap

What a sprint from Gaviria, the boy is fast! (Not that we didn’t know that already!)

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He managed to hold off Bouhanni and Greipel with the German being his main challenger. Greipel got close to him but never looked as if he had the speed and power to get round the Colombian, who now moves into the leader’s jersey. Unfortunately for him, there’s no chance he’ll be able to hold onto it tomorrow as we head uphill. Let’s take a look at what’s in store for the riders.

The Route

A stage that is all about the closing 20km.

Print

At 3.7km in length and averaging a tad over 8%, the Alto da Pomba will weaken the legs and probably see the sprinters unhitch from the peloton. From there, we have some valley roads before the summit finish.

Fóia isn’t an overly challenging climb. Going off what I can see on Strava (not on the profile above), it is 7.7km long averaging 5.9%. There are some ramps above 10% but conversely we get a couple of false flats and shallow descents. In fact, the toughest section is probably the final 200m where it averages close to 9%.

Last year saw the top 21 coming home in under 25 seconds behind the winner on that day: Luis Leon Sanchez. With the likes of Stybar and Tony Martin being in that front selection you get the idea of who can make it to the top at the head of the race.

With there being bonus seconds on offer, there will be no chance for the break tomorrow and it will be over to the climbers and strongmen to fight it out.

Contenders

Guess we better start with last year’s winner; Luis Leon Sanchez. The Spaniard already has some racing in his legs this season already, finishing a solid 16th on GC at the Tour Down Under. Before his great win last year however, he did have even more racing than he has this time, taking part in Valenciana. He could well go on to repeat the victory tomorrow but I don’t fancy his chances as much this time round! Astana have a handful of options (Scarponi, Moser and Bilbao) and I imagine it will be down to form as to who gets leadership.

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I do think that the rider who came third that day has a good chance though. Primoz Roglic was very impressive in Valenciana after a poor first day, managing a 3rd and 5th place on the two tougher stages. He can climb well and in seemingly better form than he was last year, he has to start as one of the favourites for the win tomorrow.

Dan Martin has to do something on this stage if he wants to have any chance of overall glory. He certainly won’t get dropped on the climb and his punchy finish should be of an advantage to him. However, his favourite status may see him have to follow a lot of attacks which could tire him out. Nonetheless he probably is the favourite on paper!

Lotto have their two-pronged attack in the shape of Benoot and Gallopin. They both finished around 15 seconds back on Sanchez last year but seem to be climbing better this year in comparison. If we get a sprint from 5 riders or so then they’ll be tough to get rid of!

The rest of the GC guys I mentioned will be there or thereabouts too, i.e. the likes of Tony Martin, Kwiatkowski, Guerreiro and Spilak.

There are a couple of riders who won’t have a chance on GC that may fancy their chances here too though…

As I’ve mentioned in the route analysis above, the final climb isn’t overly difficult and there is a chance a strong rider will hold on.

Edvald Boasson Hagen had a cracking start to the season last year; winning a stage in Qatar (should have been the overall too if it were not for a mechanical) and two stages in Oman, plus a 10th place on the Green Mountain. The climb is possibly on his limits but the less severe gradient will be great news for him. With Cav seemingly working for him today on the sprint stage, I think the team must have a lot of confidence in where is form is just now. Certainly a dark horse!

Carlos Barbero may not be a household name yet but the 25-year old Movistar certainly has some talent. With a lot of racing in his legs already this season he should be coping well with the pace in the peloton. He’s a bit of an unusual rider to place as he can climb quite well, winning the tough Philly Classic for example, but he also has a decent turn of speed – Very much a poor man’s Valverde. If he turns out to be half as good as El Bala, then he should have a good career at Movistar. This climb tomorrow, like Boasson Hagen, will be on his limits but from a small 5-10 man sprint he has a chance!

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Regular readers of the blog during the Vuelta will know of a certain Portuguese rider who I have a slight soft spot; Jose Goncalves. He may be here as a support rider for Tony Martin but this type of finish looks perfect for him and I would love to see him get given the opportunity to play his own cards in the finale.

Prediction

I can’t see the top 20 being split by more than 30 seconds and it could come down to a small sprint to the line from some of the better climbers. I’ll go with a man who’s in form and will enjoy the shallower gradients…

Tony Gallopin to take the stage win!

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Betting

Skybet priced up today’s stage this morning, so it might be the same case with them tomorrow morning. Keep an eye out though!

 

Thanks for reading as usual, any feedback is greatly appreciated! Who do you think will win? Fancy an outsider? I should have my Andalucia preview out by 9pm GMT at the latest. See you all then! Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

Volta ao Algarve Stage 1 Preview; Albufeira -> Lagos

The Route

Fairly straight forward day that should end in a bunch gallop.

Print

With a lot of the big sprinters here, there should be no problem in maintaining the breakaway all day, so this stage will all come down to the closing kilometres.

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Positioning within the final 2kms as the riders have a couple of roundabouts to traverse.

The first they come to at roughly 1.4km to go isn’t too bad, it’s more of a sweeping left hand turn.

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However, there is some potentially dangerous road furniture just through the bend.

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Hopefully they have the road dividers down (if they can) or at the very least well marked and marshalled. Either way, the riders will went to switch from the left hand side of the road to the right for the next roundabout.

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As you can see above, going left takes a lot longer and will severely ruin any chances that team has.

They then pass under the flamme rouge when going over the bridge, before taking one final left at a roundabout. screen-shot-2017-02-14-at-18-07-52

Again, it’s a fairly tight turn so positioning into it will be key!

From there, it’s a straight final 800m but with a little kick up to the line to make things interesting.

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That final 200m averages 3% which doesn’t properly change the dynamic of the sprint as the riders will still be approaching it at very high speeds. However, once again, positioning and timing is made more key because of it. You don’t want to be left on the front at 200 to go as that’s probably just too far in a sprint like that. Coming out of the wheels at 150-100m left would be ideal!

Sprint Contenders

We’re treated with a start studded sprinting line-up here in Algarve this year so instead of rambling on like normal, I’m going to try and keep this brief(ish).

Degenkolb arrives confident after picking up a stage win in Dubai and sprinting solidly on the properly flat stages. He has a very strong lead-out, but I’m more intrigued than anything to see what order they ride in. The slight up-hill kick to the line suits him perfectly.

Cavendish arrives here disappointed after a poor Dubai Tour. A disappointed and angry Cav normally means a fast one! This finish isn’t ideal for him though.

Groenewegen will have been disappointed not to have taken a win in Dubai after performing very well. A real all-round sprinter, he’ll like the look of this finish!

Démare comes here in a  buoyant mood after a good showing in Bessèges. I really like the look of his sprint train, which is odd for an FDJ line-up. He’s definitely a danger man

Greipel took his seemingly annual start of the season win in Spain and will want to test his legs against better opposition here. He’ll want his team to boss the closing couple of kilometres as I can see him going missing otherwise in what is potentially a chaotic finale.

Bouhanni on the other hand will relish the chaos. His lead-out train looks a bit lacklustre so he’ll have to fight for wheels. But hey, when has that ever stopped him before!

Barbero, Wippert and Planckaert may all get in or around the top 10 but aren’t good enough to challenge for the win.

Prediction

I think this rider is going to have a very good year and taking some big scalps here will be a good way to start that. Allez Arnaud!

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Thanks again for reading! Apologies that this is slightly shorter than normal, my time management was a bit off for this one and there isn’t much to discuss really either. If you’ve not already seen it, then my Andalucia preview is up on the site too. I’ll be back again tomorrow with another double preview, although it will probably be Algarve out first. Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.