Vuelta a España 2018 Stage 21 Preview: Alcorcón -> Madrid

Today’s Recap

It looked for a while as if Mitchelton were happy with letting the break stay away but Astana decided to up the pace with 60km remaining and things were back together over the second summit of Beixalis. Lopez had bridged to team-mates up the road but it was too early and they were pegged back by Adam Yates.

Some attacks went on the descent (Quintana) and on the Cat-3 climb (Lopez), before Simon Yates and Mas bridged from the peloton just before the top of that climb. The four worked well, aside from Quintana who had Valverde behind, and they built up a strong gap by the last climb of the day. The Movistar man dropped back to pace Valverde behind while Mas and Lopez pushed on a little, as Yates just decided to do the sensible thing and set his own pace so he didn’t go into the red. The young duo then fought out for the stage win and it was the Quick Step rider who took his maiden Grand Tour success, which meant his team’s tally moves up to a rather remarkable 64 wins for the year, so far. Must be something in the water and by looking at the following picture, it might just be too much caffeine, eh Patrick?!

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Yates crossed the line in third to seal the overall title. A result that shows a lot of his character and legs with the fact he had the mental fortitude to bounce back so quickly after his disastrous finish to the Giro earlier in the year. Congratulations to him!

He does now hold the dubious honour (at least I think he does but I’m not 100% sure) of being the first rider to win their maiden GT after returning from a doping ban. His win also makes it three British winners of the three GTs and the first time ever that they have been separate riders. Don’t think I’d be saying that when I got into the sport back in 2007!

With a few slipping and losing contact behind, it meant that Mas climbed to second overall with Lopez trailing him in third place. Both great results considering this is only Mas’ second ever GT and it is the first time Lopez has done two GTs in the year.

Anyway, there is one last day of “racing” ahead so let’s take a look, very quickly, at what lies ahead for the riders.

The Route

A little commute into Madrid that then sees some laps of a circuit.

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The circuit itself is pretty easy and I would describe it as an elongated hot dog.

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With the last dead turn coming just before the Flamme Rouge, it is possible for a team to drill it through there and power home. That’s exactly what Quick Step did last year for Trentin and I imagine it will be something very similar this time out.

Can anyone stop Viviani?

No, probably not.

Can anyone get close?

Possibly.

Sagan is looking better and at the end of a Grand Tour he always seems to produce a strong sprint. Van Poppel will have his whole team devoted to him and he does have the speed to challenge, just needs to work on the positioning. Nizzolo is a nearly man but I’d love to see him change that and win.

We do get some odd results sometimes on the last day of racing and some surprise names appear. Pull a name out of a hat for the regular 5-12 finishers as they look to upgrade to the podium.

Prediction

Quick Step to nail the lead out, bringing up number win number 65 this season for them.

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Unless of course they have already made it 65 over in Slovakia before the stage here finishes.

Betting

No bet, might have a look at H2Hs later/tomorrow, maybe not.

Thank You!

A big thanks to everyone for reading and sharing the content and joining in the conversation over the past month. That’s the third Grand Tour of the year ticked off with daily stage previews. It has been a slog at times but there have been many rewarding and fun days of racing to write about too and it turns out I’ve written roughly 78,000 – 80,000 words throughout them all. I’m amazed most of you have put up with my drivel for that long. The season isn’t over though and I’ll be back with the Worlds and end of season one-day races before you know it.

If you’ve enjoyed the previews and want to show some support then you can do so through this link : http://paypal.me/jamiehaughey/3.50

For one final time this Vuelta…

Thanks for tuning in,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

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Vuelta a España 2018 Stage 20 Preview: Andorra. Escaldes-Engordany › Coll de la Gallina. Santuario de Canolich

Today’s Recap

The stage was going almost identical to yesterday’s preview, with Movistar controlling things all day and a break never allowed clear. Once onto the final climb Quintana launched early and was followed by Kruijswijk. Blog pick Pinot then rode across the gap and made the duo up front a trio. However, that’s when things went a bit off-piste!

Yates attacked from the rest of the GC group and no one was able to follow. Carapaz did some work but he soon went pop and Quintana dropped back from what was now a front four to help pace Valverde. The Colombian then punctured not long later and things went really pear-shaped in that group. No one wanted to commit fully and some more attacks came from Kelderman and Gallopin. Eventually, Bilbao pulled for Lopez but the gap had went out over a minute by then.

The stage and possibly the GC were gone up the road and with Yates continuing to push full gas, Kruijswijk eventually popped in the closing kilometre. Pinot, who had done several turns to be fair, launched his sprint and took what was a “comfortable” stage win in the end, with Yates trailing home 5 seconds behind.

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Wasn’t exactly how I imagined it playing it out but it will do!

Kruijswijk finished in third place, only a further 8 seconds behind Yates, a result that moves him up onto the current GC podium.

Will things change again tomorrow? Let’s have a look at what is in store for the riders.

The Route

The one everyone has apparently been waiting for, but it appears Yates didn’t get the memo today!

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Over 3400m of climbing in only 98km, is it a bit overkill? Pretty much from the gun they will face the Cat-2 climb of Coll de la Comella (4.4km at 7.7%) and no doubt this will be rode at a very aggressive pace as those hoping to make the break look to escape. It wouldn’t surprise me if the break doesn’t go, unless it is a massive move, until the Coll de Beixalis (6.8km at 8.3%) which officially starts at around the 13km into the day mark.

A descent leads into some valley roads and the intermediate sprint point before yet another Cat-1 climb  of the Coll de Ordino (9.4km at 7.2%). It reaches an altitude of 1977m and it might be a place to test those who suffer at that kind of height. Then again, there are still 55kms to go and a lot of racing. Where is Froome when you need him?

Once again a long descent follows before the road rises straight away up yet another Cat-1, but this time they are repeating the Coll de Beixalis.

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Again, the climb is tough but with its distance to the finish will we see anyone go for it? A fairly long descent is followed by the most amount of valley roads the stage has to offer, albeit, they are rudely interrupted by a paltry Cat-3.

It’s then over to the big finish and the last mountain the riders will have to face this Vuelta.

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Touted as Andorra’s toughest climb, it is known for having some double-digit switchbacks near the summit. The 8.1% average gradient will be a killer after what the riders will have had to face throughout the day, but on closer inspection the final 4km are even tougher than that as they average 9.5%. After a tough day, we could see some big gaps.

The Battle for the Top 10

With Yates asserting his dominance today, he now sits with a good buffer over his nearest rivals. Furthermore, both Haig and Adam Yates looked fairly comfortable for the majority of the final climb so he should have strong domestiques with him throughout the day.

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ProCyclingStats

There is scope for movement though but I’m not too sure we’ll see a hail mary attack from the gun by any of the top 5. I would love for it to happen but it is pretty foolish. Even attacking from the second ascent of Beixalis is unwise, unless you have team-mates up the road of course, because a lot of energy can be expended on the valley roads before the summit finish. We might see someone from Uran down try to get into the morning move and it will be interesting to see how it plays out from there. If that happens, then we could see some teams come to the front and ride to protect their GC rider’s placing.

Barring any major catastrophe Yates has this race wrapped up as he was the strongest on the climb today and he has a very solid bit of mountain support too. However, I did say that coming into the final few days of the Giro so who knows…

The battle for the podium is very much on though and any of the guys from 2nd to 5th could finish on it and in any order. That should be the exciting race to watch and it will probably provide some very tactical battles!

How will the stage pan out?

No doubt we will see a big fight to get into the break and those hunting the KOM prize will most definitely feature. Given the amount of points on offer there are still several in with a chance so it will all be about race and pacing management throughout the afternoon, choosing the right move to go with etc.

Once again I think Mitchelton will be happy to let a break go up the road and take the stage win and after their collapse today, I’m not too sure Movistar will be keen to set the pace early on and instead will no doubt turn to an ambush style strategy.

So for the break to be caught it either needs Astana to go crazy, which is possible, or for there to be one of those really awkward riders in the top 15 who will sneak into the top 10 to make the move, and another team closes them down.

One thing that also lends itself to the break is that the once over the second passage of the Beixalis, the riders still have 26km to the foot slopes of the final climb. That’s probably too far out for anyone to fully commit. Furthermore, I think the race tomorrow might just be too tough and it will scare a lot of the GC riders out of trying anything early. Instead, they will wait until the final climb and by then the race might be done ahead of them.

Therefore, for one last time this race, let’s play everyone’s favourite game…

TheBreakawayLottery

Candidates

It is hard to read into today’s stage a bit. For example, there are some who finished quite strongly where it is a matter of “do they have good legs?” or “will they be cooked tomorrow?. Likewise, the opposite can be said for those who just rolled home in the grupetto: bad legs or saving themselves?

I’m going to take two from each set and see what happens. I’ll be keeping the next bit brief!

Vincenzo Nibali.

Milano-Sanremo 2018 - edizione 109 - da Milano a Sanremo (294 km)

The Shark of Messina did a lot of work on the front of the peloton during stage 15 in an effort to set up Izagirre before going in the break on stage 17. He failed to live up to expectations on that day but the super steep slopes are not really suited to him anyway. After that stage though he said he was on the up and I think he will want to give it a dig tomorrow to test where his form is at before some Italian Cup races and then the worlds.

Rudy Molard.

Back to back Groupama wins? I was impressed with how long Molard hung on with the main group today so I think his legs are there. An attacking rider, I think he will be let of the leash by Pinot to chase his own success. This season has been a bit of a breakout year for him and after wearing the red jersey already here, can he take a stage win too?

Pello Bilbao.

I was very impressed with Bilbao who hung tight and looked as strong as some of the GC candidates today. His team leader Lopez disappointed me a little because he didn’t have the legs to go earlier on the climb, otherwise he would have asked the Basque rider to do some work sooner. Possibly Astana will allow Bilbao a free role tomorrow? I pointed out before his home stage that he seems to be “doing a Poels” and timing his third week perfectly. It will be tough to beat him if he makes the break.

Michal Kwiatkowski.

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Desperate to make the break today, the Sky rider just rode home with the grupetto to save his legs for tomorrow. He seems really keen to get in a break and win a stage here. The amount of climbing throughout the afternoon could be a test for him but I think he will be fine, especially with the shorter day. He’s been saving himself the past few days for one big blow out, will it end in a win?

Prediction

Bilbao to be given freedom and fly.

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Betting

Dabble on each of the breakers.

1pt WIN on them all;

Kwiatkowski and Nibali @ 50

Bilbao @ 66

Molard @ 100

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

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

Vuelta a España 2018 Stage 19 Preview: Lleida -> Andorra. Naturlandia

Today’s Recap

Nailed on sprint day huh? The peloton severely underestimated the strength of the trio of riders up the road and what a tailwind on the run to the line can do. After becoming a duo in the final 5km, Wallays and Bystrom pushed on and co-operated well all the way until the Flamme Rouge. Things got a little bit cagey but they just had enough of an advantage for the Lotto Soudal rider to bide his time and go for the sprint, taking a famous victory.

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A super strong rider and hard-working domestique, it was nice to see him take another pro win. Bystrom got a second place out of the day while Sagan followed just on his wheels, “winning” the bunch sprint for third. I did say in yesterday’s preview that I thought Sagan might have it today so him coming home first of the group reaffirmed to me that his form is nearly there now.

So the sprinters were denied their fun today but it was mostly their own doing to be fair, will we see the GC men slip up tomorrow? Let’s have a look at what is in store for them.

The Route

A pretty easy day out, although the terrain is deceptively rolling at times, but with one big sting in the tail.

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No beating around the bush, tomorrow is all about the final climb.

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It is a long climb and is in fact one of the peaks with the most amount of ascending in this race. As you can see, the toughest ramps come in the opening 7km before it “flattens out” for the final 10km. The easier gradients to the line could see some kind of sprint between riders but that is of course assuming it is not split up earlier on.

One important aspect to note is that the finish is above 2000m and this might have an effect on the breathing of the riders. Some perform better than others at high altitude. Thankfully for those who suffer, they aren’t above 2000m for long so it shouldn’t be too much of an issue.

How will the stage pan out?

Looks as if it will be much the same pattern as previous days; where Mitchelton will be happy to let the break get up the road and take the stage win. However, unlike previous days, there will be an incentive for both Movistar and Quick Step to chase, as Valverde and Mas were on superb form the other day. Throw in Astana and Lopez to the mix and we might just see an alliance to keep a tight leash on things.

Furthermore, it is an easy stage to control tomorrow and the squads can use their rouleurs without fear of them cracking on the climbs because there aren’t really any before the summit finish.

We could see them all take the approach of just let Mitchelton do the work and tire them out but the prospect of a controllable day and bonus seconds on the line should be too much.

We’ll see a GC winner tomorrow.

Tactics

Does someone go early on the climb in a bid to regain some valuable time, hoping that there is looking around by others? We could see some inside the latter half of the top 10 go on the offensive and as they are not an immediate threat, the might be given some leeway, just like Pinot’s win earlier in the race.

Quintana and Kruijsiwjk are in the position of where they could probably attack and get away without being latched onto straight away by Yates and his team. However, if the gap starts to grow to them then some panic might set in.

Movistar are at a clear tactical advantage with having both Quintana and Valverde in the top 6 of GC but the Colombian has lacked the legs the past few week. If he has managed to turn it around then I would expect a hail mary attack from home, while Valverde can just sit in and let the race leader do the work.

Contenders

Yates.

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Up until Wednesday’s summit finish most would have said Yates has been the strongest climber in this race and I was one of them. The question we now have to ask, and so does the rest of the peloton, is: was that 8 second loss just a blip or a crack starting to appear? Tomorrow might not give a lot more away either but it could quite easily be another Prato Nevoso situation. The Brit currently lives in Andorra so no doubt he knows the roads better than most and that could be a big advantage, as is having his brother up to support him who seems to have “done a Poels” and timed his third-week peak to perfection.

Valverde.

If Valverde can get over the steeper sections earlier on in the climb then he will love the look of the profile near the finish, rating his chances of nabbing some bonus seconds highly. The Movistar man is one of those riders I mentioned above who will be thankful the climb just tips the 2000m mark as he has never been one to go too well at altitude. He looks as strong as ever though and I would be surprised to see him crack tomorrow.

Mas.

Will the young pretender prove his worth as a fully fledged contender? I think the answer to that is already “yes”, despite whatever may happen over the coming days. Touted as Contador 2.0, he has some lofty heights to live up to but Quick Step seem to be managing him very well. Like Yates, he currently resides in Andorra and says he knows the perfect place to attack. The issue for him is that he is now a marked man, unlike earlier in the race.

Lopez.

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The rider whom the higher altitude should suit the best, he will hope to go better than his slightly disappointing performance on Stage 17 after his team did a lot of the work. Nonetheless, he only lost 2 seconds to Yates and 10 to Valverde/Mas so it wasn’t too bad a result. The Colombian now sits on the tipping point of not being immediately marked so he could slip away in the closing kilometre or so. However, he is still close enough to have a watchful eye kept on. I’m sure Yates won’t want to give him 30 seconds and let him right back into it.

Kruijswijk.

The Dutchman has had a really up and down race so far but still finds himself somewhat in contention for the overall title. He’s said in the press that it will be all or nothing from him so I expect either a crazy early attack from him tomorrow or he will save all of that for Saturday. It is hard to read what type of day he will be on but if he is on a good day, then he could be tough to beat.

Pinot.

The one rider who no longer has a real chance of winning the race overall but that I fancy to go well tomorrow, the Frenchman had his jour-sans on Stage 17, now finding himself 5’31 down on GC. Yet, we saw with his exceptional performance on Lagos de Covadonga that he is more than capable of hanging with the big boys. As one of the GC riders with a fast kick, I think he has a very good chance.

Prediction

A Movistar, Astana and Quick Step alliance keeps the break in check before the climb. Quintana goes early but unfortunately for him he just doesn’t have the legs anymore this race and he is reeled back in by Adam Yates. A little bit of stalling in the main group sees Pinot attack and in a déjà vu scenario, he manages to steal a march and take the stage in an idental manner to Covadonga.

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Behind, Yates cracks a little again and Valverde gains the second place bonuses, but the Mitchelton man remains in the lead – only by a margin of 16 seconds going into the final mountain day.

Betting

No bet for now

Thanks as always for reading. Who do you think will win tomorrow? Will the break be allowed any freedom? Or will the GC teams control it? Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vuelta a España 2018 Stage 18 Preview: Ejea de los Caballeros -> Lleida

Today’s Recap

I did say that finish would be nuts and it was made even crazier by some thick fog which made it look like something out of a mythical film. Despite Euskadi Murias’ best attempt to entice some to bring the break back for the stage win, those ahead were left to fight out for the day.

It was a big slog and a group of four came through the Flamme Rouge together. Majka hit out early but faded, De La Cruz rode a consistent tempo but he lost contact with the main two. Teuns put in a strong attack but Woods stuck with him and the Canadian made one big dig to drop the BMC rider. They still had 500m to go and Teuns was slowly clawing his way back to Woods as he seemed to tie up a bit, but it was too late. The EF Education First rider takes the biggest win of his career and an emotional one too that he dedicated to his recent stillborn son.

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Behind there was some movement in the GC. Mas and Valverde were the strongest and managed to take 8 seconds from Yates, with Lopez a further two behind. Not a severe time loss for the current race leader but is a small crack starting to show? He’ll be concerned that it is very reminiscent of his Prato Nevoso performance in the Giro that saw him lose a load of time the following day. Thankfully for him, there are no climbs tomorrow for him to worry about so he can rest up. The biggest losers of the top 6 on the day were Kruijswijk and Quintana who came home 1’04 behind the Mas/Valverde duo. Not ideal but not entirely catastrophic but it means they will have to be very attacking in the last two mountain days.

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

The Route

A nice flat stage to keep the sprinters happy.

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Nothing overly exciting to talk about here with only 1000m of elevation gain over the 186kms.

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Within the last 3kms the riders will have to go through 4 roundabouts, with the last coming at the Flamme Rouge. They aren’t overly technical but do offer a good opportunity for a team to string things out.

It does rise to the finish line with the final 700m averaging 3%, making the timing of the sprint a lot more important!

Sprinters

Do you really want me to go through all of them again? I can’t imagine you do and I can’t be bothered to either…

Viviani starts as the clear favourite. His lead-out for the stage 10 win was one of the best I have seen in many years. Quick Step will expect to take control in the finale again but given the slightly more technical run-in there is a chance for teams to split up their train.

Nizzolo and Van Poppel have come close on occasion and both could be up there if Viviani has suffered the past few days. There is a chance for a “lesser” sprinter to steal a podium such as Consonni, Soto or Sarreau to name a few. Even Max “speed bump” Walscheid might actually make the finish this time!

Yet, there is only one man who I think can beat Viviani and you know what, I think he will.

Prediction

Sagan has gotten stronger as this race goes on and he desperately wants one last win in the World Champ’s jersey.

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He wants it so much, that he and the team decided to change their plans of him leaving on the second rest-day so that he could race here and get some hard training in at the same time. One of the best bike handlers in the world, he will be able to guide his way through the closing kilometres on his own. The kick up to the line in the last kilometre should benefit him and as someone who times his sprints perfectly, I think he has what it takes to topple Viviani.

Betting

No bet, maybe Sagan on the exchanges later if you can get 5/1

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

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

Vuelta a España 2018 Stage 17 Preview: Getxo -> Balcón de Bizkaia

Today’s Recap

Was it ever really in doubt? Dennis crushed the opposition to take his second stage win of the race and promptly announced he was heading home!

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His team-mate and US Champion, Rosskopf, produced his best ever performance at this level to finish with Spanish TT champion Castroviejo rounding out the podium.

As for the GC contenders, Kruijswijk (4th) and Mas (6th) produced stunning times to tame some ground back on the overall leader Yates, who himself gained on most of his rivals. Still, it leaves 6 riders within 1’34 of the Mitchelton man going into the final 4 days of racing, if we’re not counting the procession in Madrid. Yates has looked the strongest on the climbs so far but will he manage to avoid the last week crack like he suffered in the Giro? Tomorrow’s finish might certainly expose any weaknesses.

The Route

We’re in the Basque country so that means twisting, rolling roads and incredibly passionate fans!

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3500m of elevation gain throughout the day but with only one Cat-1 climb, you can get an idea of how up and down the terrain must be.

The opening Cat-3 climb of Alto de Arboleta (6.7km at 5.5%) will probably see a big fight to make the morning break but it will also start things off in the battle for the KOM jersey. Things are still very much up for grabs in that competition so it will be one to watch for over the coming days!

The route does flatten out a bit from then but a series of uncategorised hills follows the intermediate sprint point and we reach the second Cat-3 just after the feed zone. More flat follows before the final 45km of the day are constantly up and down.

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The first of the climbs in those closing 45kms the riders have to face is the Alto del Balcon de Bizkia which is 9km at 3.9%. Probably the easiest Cat-2 climb the riders will see all Vuelta but there are some steeper sections in it with a few kilometres at 7% etc, however, the closing 2.5km are at a shade over 2% in gradient.

A long descent, some of which the riders will have to make an effort on, follows and that leads pretty much into the next climb. The Alto de Santa Eufemia is a short and sharp affair that averages 6.8% for almost 3.9kms. It is a very consistent climb so should be good for those who like to ride tempo. A fast descent then brings the riders to the penultimate climb of the day: the Alto de Gontzegaraine. Officially 3.3km at 5.8%, the road actually rises gradually before then making it 7kms at 3.7%, either way, it is steepest near the end but nothing too bad for the riders to worry about. Well, not compared to what awaits them…

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The final climb can be split into two parts and they are pretty obvious what they are! The opening 3kms of it comes along the main road (that they actually descended down before) which averages roughly 6.3%.

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They then turn off the main road, onto a very narrow track and that is when the fun begins…

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My legs hurt just looking at that profile. Any words I have won’t really do it any justice and the severity of the gradients will only be made worse by the poor concrete surface the riders will have to traverse. We could see some big GC gaps here if someone isn’t feeling good.

How will the stage pan out?

Mitchelton will be happy to let a break go so it is up to the others to bring it back. The parcours is rolling and hilly but it isn’t mountainous enough to try to send your GC candidate on the attack. All of those moves should be left until Saturday in my opinion. Therefore, it is going to have to be a traditional chase of the break and set it up for the GC riders to battle for the stage. Again though, if teams want to weaken Yates’ team, why would they want to do that? Furthermore, with how strong Yates has looked on the climbs, will we really see Movistar or Astana pull all day and diminish their resources only for their leaders to lose even more time? I don’t think so. I think they will all save themselves for Saturday and try to tire Mitchelton out by letting them do the work until then.

Here we are again then…

TheBreakawayLottery

The Cursed “Cinco”

Pello Bilbao.

Basque rider number one, the Astana man seems to be slowly riding himself into form at this race and he was with the GC group for quite a while on the last summit finish. We saw at the Giro how strong he can be and the local will certainly be getting an extra boost from his home fans. With Lopez slipping down the order a little, I think we will see a change of approach from Astana and they will allow their Basque men free…

Omar Fraile.

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Astana’s second Basque rider, Fraile is now a winner at both the Giro and the Tour. Can he add the Vuelta to his palmares? I would be surprised if we don’t see either him or Bilbao up the road tomorrow and they both have the potential to finish it off. On his day, Fraile can deliver some stunning performances on the steep slopes.

Dylan Teuns.

After finding himself in the break for three days in a row last week, where he finished inside the top 5 on every occasion, the Belgian had a couple of days off after that. He did come home in 11th place today in the TT which suggests that he has recovered well. Desperately wanting a stage win, the steep slopes of the finish climb tomorrow look suited to his characteristics. No doubt we’ll see a few BMC riders up the road, they have nothing else to do!

Richard Carapaz.

#FreeRickie. Once again on the finish of Covadonga it was Carapaz who was the last standing domestique for the GC riders. Like Bilbao, he seems to be riding himself into the race after a tough Giro. He’s proven to be one of the better climbers in the peloton and I hope Movistar give him a chance to shine tomorrow before he returns to domestique duties in the coming days after that.

Michal Kwiatkowski.

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His 5th place in the TT today would suggest that he has recovered from his crash the other day. Desperately wanting a stage win, the Pole now finds himself far enough down the order to not be a threat so he should actually be able to get into a breakaway that will be given some leeway. Can he deliver?

I think I might be being bold here by not including an Euskadi Murias rider as they will probably try to get their whole team up the road. Oh well!

Prediction

Break to stay away and a Basque rider to claim victory…

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On a side note, I’m really looking forward to the KOM battle over the coming days. Tomorrow will be crucial and could give some a few extra points they want and need. On paper Saturday is the most important day but if we are expecting a big GC showdown from the gun, the main crux of points could be gained tomorrow. Come on Tommy lad!

Betting

1pt on each of the break picks.

Kwiatkwoski at 66/1

Fraile and Teuns at 80/1

Carapaz and Bilbao at 100/1

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

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

Vuelta a España 2018 Stage 16 Preview: Santillana del Mar -> Torrelavega (ITT)

Rest Day Recap

Amazingly, we had the GC teams fight out for the stage win for the second day in a row. Something must be up…

On Lagos de Covadonga it followed a similar pattern for a few kilometres after Astana had done all the pace work and it was identical almost to Stage 14: Lopez attacks, Quintana chases; Quintana attacks, Lopez chases. This happened a good few times before a decrease in pace saw the GC group almost crawling their way up the mountain. Pinot took advantage of the looking around and with his not-immediate threat to GC, he was let go. Phony attacks kept happening but now Yates and Mas were getting involved too. The on-screen graphics/timing were way off as Pinot had a much more comfortable margin than it appeared and he ended up taking the stage win by almost 30 seconds.

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Lopez eventually managed to get a bit of a gap but with Yates’ sprint for third place behind, he only gained a few seconds on his rivals in the end.

A lot has been made of Quintana, his lack of an offensive mindset and wheel sucking escapades, but to me he did nothing wrong. He put in a couple of attacks himself and closed down Lopez a few times before being on the limit. It is hard to attack when you’re on the limit and everyone else is climbing at 6.2w/Kg.  Yates then berated him for not working but I just don’t think Nairo had the legs, if so, he still wouldn’t have been hanging around then. Furthermore, Valverde did enough pulling for Quintana to sit back and rest up once he was in the red. Just sticking up for my little Colombian, that’s all!

Anyway, yesterday’s result still leaves things very much up in the air going into the final week with the top 5 on GC only separated by less than 1’30. Will we see a big change after the important TT tomorrow? Let’s have a look at what is in store for the riders.

The Route

Billed by PezCycling before the race as “fast and flat”, I would like to know what they’ve been smoking! Have they not been paying attention to the Vuelta in the past few years and know that Javier Guillén is the biggest patter merchant around?

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As with all TTs, I’ve made the whole route (as you can see above, obv) and you can view it directly on VeloViewer here.

I’m somehow missing a kilometre from the route (no idea how that has happened as I’ve followed the map perfectly) but anyway, according to the Strava/VV profile there is 547m of elevation gain and LaFlammeRouge suggest 425. Call it evens and go for 480ish? Either way, the TT is certainly not “flat”!

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The riders will be aware of this almost as soon as they leave the start ramp because they face a one kilometre climb that averages 6% pretty much straight away. A nice one to get the legs opened up on…

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After the short descent, the terrain then constantly rolls for the following 10kms, including an 800m (6% average) climb on what looks to be a very narrow road.

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Once over that climb the riders rejoin the main road and slowly start to head South. Yet, it is only 2kms later until they start to head upwards again with the following test.

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Taking place on a twisty road, the 2.1km at 5.3% will be tough on a TT bike and it will be tough for some to settle into a rhythm despite the fairly consistent gradients.

All of the above happens in just the opening 14kms. Again, I would like to remind you that some have said this is flat, ha! To be fair, the remaining 17kms of the day are much easier and will be a lot faster for the riders as it is mostly descents and flat they will have to contend with.

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That doesn’t mean there is no climb though because as soon as the riders turn onto a two-lane road and head East towards the finish they have to face a 2.2km drag that averages 3%.

With 10kms to go I can say that all the main climbs of the day are over with and they will have a descent and flat-ish run to the line because as of course given this is Spain, there are still a couple of small drags here and there.

Can anyone stop Dennis?

I asked the same question before the opening day against the clock and the answer was no. I think it is most likely the same for tomorrow. However, there are question marks over his ability to cope with the distance but a few of those poor performances have been down to bad luck; whether that be a crash or numerous mechanicals. Yet, those will still linger over him a bit.

He did reverse things a bit at the Giro when he won the 34km long TT there in the final week of the race but that was his first pro TT win in a distance that was over 20km. It was a convincing performance though and a sign that things might be changing and that his endurance has picked up.

Furthermore, it all depends on where his form is at just now. Obviously he is building towards having a good tilt at the Worlds but we haven’t seen him at the front all race. It really is an unknown.

Nonetheless, he does start as the clear favourite and it will be hard to beat him.

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But not impossible. I don’t call him the best short TT rider in the World for nothing, he has yet to show consistency over the longer distances.

Two Main Challengers?

After Kwiatkowski’s fall the other day, it looks as if the two who can challenge Dennis’ potential domination are Campenaerts and Castroviejo.

The former showed some good form when in the break last week and he is the type of TT rider who can deal with some hills so the course is good for him. Likewise the same can be said for Castroviejo who will certainly get an advantage of riding in front of his home crowd. However, he is much like Dennis in that we haven’t really seen him do anything all race so far. I think he’s been resting up and will be fine tomorrow.

Rule Of Thumb #1

For the opening TT I mentioned a rule that you have to back either a BMC, Sky, Jumbo or Sunweb rider for a time trial as they always seem to produce the best results. On that day 7 out of the top 10 were from those teams and I think we might see a similar-ish spread tomorrow. Although the longer course does give opportunities for stronger riders in other teams to shine.

Rule of Thumb #2

We’re in Spain.

Spanish riders always go well in Spain and so do Spanish teams. It is just the way it is. They just need to be a little less obvious about the moto drafting than the Italians and Aru/Ulissi at the Giro.

Rule of Thumb #3

We’re now into a third week of a Grand Tour so the GC riders often throw up some surprise results in the TT. Have a look back at the TT result last year in the Vuelta, the top 5 on that day were the top 5 riders on GC. Albeit before the start Dennis had to pull out in the morning so there wasn’t a proper TT test, aside from Froome himself being one.

Rule of Thumb #3.5

It’s after a rest day and some riders perform better after a rest day. As to why that is, well, we’ll leave that for now.

Any outsiders to go watch?

Oliveira has a good chance of delivering another solid result. He is always a consistent performer in these types of TTs.

Gallopin is riding as well as I have seen him all year and he is in my opinion one of the better GC TT riders. He has lost time over the past couple of mountain stages but he should have the power to go well in this TT and he might surprise.

Zakarin’s GC chances were ruined by a fall early into this race but he is the type of guy who can pull out a very good effort against the clock when needed.

How will the Top 5 GC riders fare?

Yates – His TT has got better and he *only* shipped 1’37 to Dennis in the Giro. Tomorrow’s slightly more rolling terrain does suit him better than that day and we have seen over the previous stages that he is the form rider here. He can have really bad days on the TT bike so you never really know with him. He will still hope to be in red after the stage.

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Valverde – The man who is most likely to overhaul Yates, Valverde has been strong throughout this race, only losing a handful of seconds on the summit finishes. Arguably a stronger rouleur than Yates, he is theoretically a better TT rider. Plus, when you account for Rules 2 through 3.5 above, then he has a good chance of getting into red. He’s finished in the Top 5 a total of 22 times in TTs throughout his career (not including nationals) and 18 of those were in Spain.

Quintana – Really needs a big turnaround as to me he just didn’t seem to have the legs the last two days, which is somewhat odd, as he looked very comfortable on La Camperona. He’s done well in TTs in Spain before but he has also struggled an awful lot in TTs. The times he has gone strongly have been when he has been climbing well. Unfortunately, I think he’ll lose a chunk of time.

Lopez – Everyone seems to think Lopez is a great GC TT rider but hot take: he’s not! Don’t worry though, I too have fallen for the 2016 Tour de Suisse performance before. I think he was helped massively that day by the rolling course and that the TT was at quite a high altitude. His performance in the Giro was dire, even though he looked like one of the stronger climbers. Will that be the same tomorrow? I think so.

Kruijswijk – Arguably the most consistent of the GC riders in an effort against the clock, the Jumbo rider should deliver a solid time that will more than likely vault him very close to Lopez and Quintana but I think it will be difficult for him to overtake them with his current deficit.

Special mention goes to Kelderman who I would be ranting and raving about had he not massively gone pop yesterday. Likewise Ion Izagirre who has lost some time too.

Prediction

I think it will be tough for anyone to topple Dennis but I’m going to put my neck on the line and say that someone will, just for the fun of it…

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The stars will align for the current Spanish champion who I think has been saving himself for this day since the start of the race almost. He might also get the advantage of some friendly motos…

Fun fact, since 2015 he currently holds a 3:1 lead over Dennis in TTs that they’ve both competed in which have been over 20km. Food for thought!

Betting

A sensible decision would be a no bet but when playing for fun, then why not…

1pt WIN Castroviejo @ 12/1 (various bookmakers)

4pts Castroviejo to beat Campenaerts @ 5/4 (WillHill)

Then it wouldn’t be a GT TT without a stupid acca…

0.5pt on this 5-fold

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Thanks as always for reading, hope you enjoyed the preview! Who do you think will win tomorrow? Can anyone stop Dennis? Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

Vuelta a España 2018 Stage 15 Preview: Ribera de Arriba -> Lagos de Covadonga

Today’s Recap

We finally got a GC fight for the stage win!

A break of 6 went away quite early on in the day without much hassle. With Kwiatkowski there, it was kept on a fairly tight leash and they never gained more than 4 minutes of an advantage. The Pole held on until the foot slopes of the final climb but there was nothing he could do about the GC riders behind.

Kruijswijk hit out early but he acted more as a proverbial dangling carrot than anything else, albeit it meant he was always up there when those from behind caught up. Quintana and Lopez looked like they were going to go wheel-to-wheel for the stage win, but with the Astana man not wanting to come to the front, Quintana eased off the pace. This happened on at least three occasions on the climb and each time it allowed those behind to come back.

It was then Yates who attacked with just over 700m to go and he never looked back. The Brit had been cannily riding the whole climb and chose to go at the perfect moment when the road had narrowed and his rivals were on their limit.

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It was enough to take the stage win despite a late charge from Lopez, who arguably looked the strongest today but was too concerned with Movistar, and the evergreen Valverde who came home in third.

Yates moves back into the red jersey after loaning it to Herrada for a couple of days. With another summit finish on the cards tomorrow will he be on the defensive or will he look to gain more time before the rest day?

The Route

Another rolling stage with only three categorised climbs before the summit finish of Lagos de Covadonga but there are plenty of uncategorised tests along the way too, so much so, that the total elevation for the stage is over 4500m.

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It’s still too early for anyone near the top of the GC to try an audacious attack from 40km out so I think the Cat-1 climb (that they do twice) of Mirador del Fito will be inconsequential despite its steep gradients.

For the GC contenders, the battle will come down to the final climb of the day: the famous Lagos de Covadonga.

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Long and pretty steep, the final 4kms are actually the easiest of the whole climb aside from the gentle opening ramp. That makes it tactically a very interesting one because if you can hold on over the very steep 7kms then you shouldn’t lose too much time. However, if things kick off early then we could see some very big time gaps.

How will the stage pan out?

It was nice to see the GC teams take control of things today but I do wonder if they were partly spurred on by Kwiatkowski ahead. Would it have been different if there was no overall “threat” up the road?

Although Mitchelton now have the race lead again, I think they will be happy to just sit back a bit and not chase too much throughout the afternoon unless it is absolutely necessary. Yates is clearly on good form but he and the team have shown a lot more maturity and tactical nous compared to the Giro earlier in the year so I think they’ll be happy to let the break go and let it come back naturally, or if other teams chase.

Who will those teams be?

Movistar and Astana are the only two I can see contributing. The former have been the major pace setters of the GC teams but given that Quintana looked a bit shaky today they might take more of a back seat. Lopez will have been kicking himself after the finish this afternoon as he certainly looked like the stage win was a possibility. Astana are the type of team who can set their minds to it and chase down the breaks, but do they want to?

Bahrain were the ones to put a lot of pace into the back-end of the stage but Izagirre fell short so I think they will look elsewhere tomorrow. You have to applaud them for trying this afternoon though!

With it being another fairly big day for the KOM competition, expect those near the top of the standings to try to make the move. De Gendt was on the attack today but I expect him to be there tomorrow, likewise Rolland, Mollema and King. As harsh it is, they need to strike now that Maté is apparently suffering from bronchitis.

I think it will be another big fight to get into the break and if the right riders are represented then it won’t come back: there just has to be no-one in it that is closer 7 or so minutes as that might concern some near the top of the order.

Time to play that game again…

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Break Candidates

Once again, I’ll try to keep this short and sweet as no one wants to hear the same thing for about the 7th time this Vuelta. Unfortunately for you, that is exactly what is happening!

Vincenzo Nibali – A nice training ride for him this afternoon as he drilled the front of the bunch in aid of Ion Izagirre. That didn’t work out for the team and I expect Nibali to be allowed a free role from now on. He looked super strong today and if he makes the break he has got to be a danger.

Richard Carapaz – Movistar love a team classification win and today they closed the gap to Bahrain thanks to it being a GC day. However, if things are to go to those up the road tomorrow then they might try to sneak someone into the attack. Carapaz has been growing steadily into this race and we all saw at the Giro just how strong he can be in the mountains.

Sepp Kuss – With Jumbo only having Kruijswijk in GC contention now, they might decide to let some of their riders up the road. Kuss has performed brilliantly on select days, keeping the pace very high on the front of the bunch before peeling off. It is his first Grand Tour so energy management will be important but if he has recovered for tomorrow, then he could be an outsider for the day.

Tiesj Benoot – I expected big things of Benoot coming into this race, namely with a possible stage win somewhere. However, he has been unfortunate with a crash and an injury to the knee but that seems to have healed a bit more over the past few days. His form was on the up before the crash so it is yet to be seen how he can go on a finish like this at the head of the race. I’m willing to be pleasantly surprised.

Prediction

Rinse and repeat prediction from yesterday: Nibali.

Milano-Sanremo 2018 - edizione 109 - da Milano a Sanremo (294 km)

Buy Me A Beer (Coffee)

Forgot to plug this going into last Sunday so here we are this time around. If you’ve enjoyed the previews over the past two weeks of racing and you’re feeling really generous then you can aid the blog writing process by buying me a coffee through the following link: https://www.paypal.me/jamiehaughey/3.50

Thank you in advance if you do!

Betting

1.75pt WIN Nibali @ 40/1

0.75pt WIN on the rest…

Carapaz @ 66/1

Benoot @ 80/1

Kuss @ 66/1

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

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.