La Flèche Wallonne Féminine 2018 Preview

Last year’s edition of the race saw a dominant Boels Dolmans once again top the podium at the end of the day with a late-attack from van der Breggen before the Mur de Huy saw her hold on to the line rather comfortably: taking what was her second win of the week and third win in a row at this race. Valverde who?

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Deignan completed the 1-2 for Boels (a recurring theme during this week last year) with Niewiadoma coming home third after she was the rider who split the field on the penultimate climb of the day.

Will we see a similar outcome this year? Let’s take a look at what is in store for the riders.

The Route

The organiser’s have decided to change the route ever so slightly from last year with the finishing circuit being completed twice, rather than once, which means the removal of the Amay and Villers-le-Bouillet.

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@LaFlammeRouge16

It means the women will have to face 6 categorised climbs inside the final 50kms of the race. The Côte d’Ereffe (1.7km at 6.4%) and Côte de Cherave (1.4km at 7.6%) act as a “warm-up” for the big finale atop the Mur de Huy.

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The road just gets going up as the riders continue, with brutally steep gradients of 19% in some places. Whoever comes out on top here will have deserved it!

How will the race pan out?

Well, unlike the men’s race we might actually see (well, we won’t actually see them but more on that later) some attacks from far out and not just a sprint up the Huy. Last year Moolman attempted a long-range effort with an attack on the Villers-le-Bouillet, ultimately holding off the bunch on the first passage of the Huy, but she was soon brought to heel. However, the winning move of the day was formed on the Cherave where Niewiadoma put in a brutal attack that only van der Breggen could initially follow before Deignan caught back up just near the top. Moolman was close behind but she paid for her earlier efforts.

I’m hoping something similar happens this year, especially with lots of teams having a few options who could feasibly win the race. We saw this happen in Amstel when the “second-tier leaders” got up the road and with enough teams represented, they were never going to be brought back.

Van der Breggen is dominant in this race and even when the peloton arrives at the foot of the climb together, she is almost impossible to beat. They need to try to isolate her but given the strength of Boels that will be difficult. However, the climbs here are harder than they were in Amstel so the other teams do have a chance.

After missing out in Amstel, I think it will actually be the favourites who will be pushing the pace early.

Contender

Wielrensters in actie tijdens Waalse Pijl

In all seriousness, I’m struggling to think of a situation where van der Breggen doesn’t have a really good chance of winning this race. We saw in Amstel that Boels have plenty of riders to fill the void left by Deignan and the Olympic Champion is on some sensational form at the moment. She is the current Queen of this climb (Vos is not the same as she was a few years ago) so a rider will have to carry an advantage onto the foot slopes to beat her.

Best of the rest?

Niewiadoma is the obvious challenger to van der Breggen and she should be there to seize her opportunity should the Boels rider falter. In her last three attempts at this race Niewiadoma has finished 5th, 4th and 3rd: so 2nd this year? She’s been lively so far this season and will no doubt animate the finale again this time round, can she finish it off though?

Van Vleuten was disappointed after Amstel not to be able to test her legs as she said she felt very good at the moment. Her performances in the second part of last season would suggest that she is capable of going well on a climb like the Huy. In 2017 she was best of the rest from the reduced peloton, finishing in 4th place, while back in 2015 she was 12 seconds down on AVDB. Not having Kennedy there will be a big loss for Mitchelton, she would have had the ability on the climbs to potentially attack early and force others to chase. Spratt will have a lot of work to do.

Moolman might just be the dark horse for the day. This is a climb that the South African admits she loves and she is incredibly consistent here: 5th (2012), 3rd (2013), 5th (2014), 4th (2015), DNF (2016) and 6th (2017). Despite not having won this year, I have been very impressed with how well she has ridden, she just needs to time her attack correctly this edition.

Longo Borghini returned to action at Amstel Gold after missing some races due to illness. A classy bike rider and climber, if she has fully recovered and is back to racing fit then she can compete here. Last year she missed the race but she has finished on the podium here twice in the past so knows what it takes to compete at the pointy end. A lot of her season so far has been derailed by bad luck so it would be nice to see something go her way for once!

Those are the four riders who I can see challenging AVDB for the title but of course others might get involved in a tactical race where attacks come early and no one follows; Ferrand Prevot (Canyon), Guarnier (Boels), Ensing (Ale), Stultiens (Waowdeals) and Gillow (FDJ) spring to mind.

Prediction

It is hard to look past a van der Breggen win but I’m going to do exactly that…

Ashleigh Moolman to take home the crown!

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I have been very impressed with the slight climber who has gone well in every race she has competed in so far this year, including a strong 4th place in Flanders – a race which doesn’t really suit her. Fleche Wallonne does suit her and I think she has the form to go toe-to-toe with anyone on the Huy. Her early part of the season has been built around this race and week, skipping the Commonwealth Games to be here, and I think we’ll see that decision justified.

Coverage.

We’re not getting a live stream, great job ASO.

Every WWT race has managed to at least have half an hour of the race live streamed but for some reason the arguably biggest cycling race organisation, with over £40million profit in 2017, can’t manage to get it together. Go figure.

Heck, 1.1 level race Omloop Hageland had the whole race covered. So it is clearly not money motivated but I’m struggling to think of a reason/excuse for the ASO not to cover the race. But then again, what else should I expect from an organisation that loves a glamourised criterium: original La Course and Madrid Challenge are prime examples of that.

Aaaaaand that’s me now on a blacklist.

Personally I think the UCI should introduce some regulation that if you want a race to be WWT level, there needs to be a live stream available. How can they expect the sport to grow if no one is able to watch it, apart from being roadside?

Anyway, to follow the race it will have to be via Twitter and the “#FWWomen” hashtag. I also recommend following @richiesteege and @petervdveen who tend to have the best updates from the ground.

Thanks as always for reading; who do you think is going to win tomorrow? Will we see an upset or will the Queen of the Mur win again? Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

Women’s Amstel Gold Race 2018 Preview

The race is back for its second edition as part of the Women’s World Tour and like the men’s counterpart, it kicks off the Women’s Ardennes Week.

In 2017 we had an aggressive race almost from the gun but it wasn’t the climbs that split the race. Instead, strong winds caused echelons on the flatter sections between the hills, before they did their own damage. The penultimate ascent of the Cauberg saw Deignan, Niewiadoma and Longo Borghini escape but due to everyone not putting in their fair share of work and a massive chase from Van Dijk saw the gap reduced before the Bemlerberg. Van Vleuten, van der Breggen and Rivera attacked on the climb and managed to bridge to the trio up ahead. From there the outcome was almost inevitable as numbers for Boels played their part; van der Breggen attacked solo and she was not seen again by the others until the podium ceremony.

Cycling: 4th Amstel Gold Race 2017 / Women

Behind, Deignan made it a 1-2 for Boels after winning the sprint with Niewiadoma and Van Vleuten inseparable in the photo finish so they oddly shared third place.

Will we see a similarly attacking race this year? First, let’s have a look at what is in store for the riders.

The Route

Pretty much the same as last year and in fact, it is 3kms shorter at only 118km, making it one of the shortest races in the UCI WWT calendar. Hopefully it should entice some attacking racing!

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@LasterketaBurua

17 climbs littered throughout 118km will test everyone in the peloton, but it is the main circuit of Geulhemmerberg (1.2km at 4.6%), Bemelerberg (900m at 4.5%) and Cauberg (800m at 6.5%) that will see the decisive action as the riders face a full 3 laps.

The women’s race sticks to a more traditional Amstel route, with the Cauberg coming just before the finish.

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The famous climb has its steepest ramps in the opening 400m as that section averages 9.5%. This is where the more explosive riders and better climbers will hope to drop anyone that is trying to cling on for a sprint. That is if we see a big group arrive at the foot slopes…

The van der Breggen factor

So often we here about the Sagan factor when talking about the men’s races (I myself am guilty of that – see my preview for Amstel) but little is made of just how good the Boels rider actually is. Last year she survived the #HaugheyCurse and took home a famous Ardennes triple and this season she has started with a bang winning Strade Bianche and the Tour of Flanders in dominant fashion. On a hilly course like this there are very few who can match her if it comes down to the final climbs. She also possesses a very strong time trial which allows her to attack from a distance and hold off a bunch.

All of the other teams and riders will be very wary of her but what can they do to stop her? Well, one thing is already going their way with Deignan not racing this season which means that van der Breggen will have a much tougher task in the finale. Boels still have a strong team with Guarnier, Pieters and Canuel hopefully going far into the day.

However, if the other teams start making some serious attacks from a good bit out, then Boels might not have the firepower to keep it all together. I hope we see some of the co-leaders / second in line riders give it a dig from 30km out to shake things up a bit. Nonetheless, given how imperious van der Breggen has been, she still has to start as favourite for the race. Who will she be up fighting against for the title though?

Contenders

Katarzyna Niewiadoma.

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She couldn’t break the Boels dominance last year but three podium places in a row throughout the week highlights just how good she is at this type of terrain. So far this season she has been slowly building form, taking aim at this week, but also managing to win Trofeo Binda along the way. An exciting rider to watch, she lit the blue touch-paper last season and I expect to see her and her Canyon team ride aggressively again – they are super strong. With Ferrand Prevot by her side, they could form a formidable duo, only if the latter has fully recovered from her crash in Flanders.

Annemiek van Vleuten.

A true warrior, she also went down in Flanders but continued on with a dislocated shoulder before sprinting to third place. This race is important to her due to it being on home roads and she possesses all of the attributes to go well here. Mitchelton bring a very strong squad in support of van Vleuten with Spratt and Kennedy both very capable climbers themselves. They are one of the teams that I hope animate the race in the closing hour of racing as any three of the riders mentioned could potentially win the race in the right circumstance.

Elisa Longo Borghini.

The Italian champion has had a solid start to the year but compared to previous season’s she will be rather disappointed. She’s missed a few previous races due to illness but arrives at this race feeling much better apparently. An almost ever-present rider in these types of races she will want to be near the front tomorrow. One thing I admire about her is her never say die attitude and that she is always willing to work with whatever group she finds herself in. It will be hard for her to win but she’ll be helped by super-domestique Cordon Ragot deep into the race, who might even get a chance herself in a tactical finish.

Ashleigh Moolman Pasio.

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This is what the South African’s early season has been geared towards but to say she has just been finding form at the other races would be an insult! Her lowest finishing position out of her 8 race days so far is 8th, not bad. A great climber who also can produce a very strong sprint, a lot of her contenders will be worried about bringing her to the line. Her team isn’t the best and a lot of the workload will lie with Ludwig in the closing stages but given the form Moolman is in then she can’t be discounted no matter what.

Some others to look out for include Stultiens (Waowdeals), Gillow (FDJ), Ensing (Ale), Van Dijk (Sunweb) and Riabchenko (Doltcini).

Prediction

I think we’ll see a tactical race and having numbers in the front groups on the road will be very important. However, I think we’ll see a small group of 4 or 5 escape with Van Vleuten winning a sprint to the line after her team-mate Kennedy does a lot of the pulling at the head of the race in the closing kilometres.

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Coverage

The final 45 minutes of the race will be streamed on Eurosport Player and via various different broadcasters throughout the world so have a check of your local listings to find more.

Before the live stream starts though you can follow the race via the hashtag #AGRWomen or #AGR18 or just #AGR… I’m not a fan of organisers that can’t decide on one hashtag for their events!

Thanks for reading as always. Who do you think is going to win? Will it be one of the usual suspects or could we see a surprise? Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

 

Women’s Ronde van Vlaanderen 2018 Preview

Women’s Ronde van Vlaanderen 2018 Preview

Celebrating its 15th edition this year, the Ronde returns this weekend and we’re set for some great racing. In 2017 we saw one of the biggest group finishes for a long time at the race with Coryn Rivera winning the sprint, narrowly pipping Gracie Elvin and Chantal Blaak.

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For a while it seemed as if that wasn’t going to be the outcome though as a strong group of 4 escaped that included Longo Borghini, Van Vleuten, Niewiadoma and Van der Breggen. However, the latter was told by team management not to take a turn as they wanted to set up Blaak. A move that potentially cost them the win! Will we see something similar this year? First though, let’s have a look at what is in store for the riders over the course of the day.

The Route

Shorter than in 2017, the riders will have to face 11 climbs and 5 cobbled sections over the 151km.

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@LasterketaBurua

As you can see it is a fairly intensive route with a lot of obstacles spread throughout the day. They are somewhat spread out but the majority are bulked between either 60km-90km or 110km – 140km. Expect a thinning out of the peloton, especially as we hit the first grouping of obstacles. This is where we could see some early attacks from squads where they send riders up the road so they don’t have to work in the pack behind. That section finishes with the famous Muur.

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Not overly steep at only 6.8% for 1km, it is the fact that the steepest section near the top is on the roughest cobblestones. The riders will really have to grind their way up it and we could see some surprising gaps in the field if the pace is on at the head of affairs.

The riders will then have almost 20kms to “catch their breath” (I use that term loosely as I imagine the racing will be on) before they hit the final 5 climbs of the day. The Pottelberg (1.3km at 6.5%) and Kanarieberg (1.05km at 9%) are both asphalt and give the more traditional climbers a chance to get rid of some of the classics specialists.

At just under 30km to go the riders will face the Kruisberg-Hotond. It averages 5% for 2.5kms but it is the opening cobbled section that is the steepest before it eases out on asphalt afterwards. Considering the length of the climb and what has come before, some might find themselves in difficulty.

Finally, the riders will hit one of the most famous 1-2s in region, with the Oude Kwaremont swiftly followed by the Paterberg.

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Similar to the Kruisberg, it is the length (2.2km at 4.2%) that can be the downfall of riders on the Kwaremont. Not to mention, the steepest section comes on cobble in the opening half, and this is where we normally see an acceleration from the strongest riders. They have to continue the momentum though as the road continues to drag all the way to the top. Once over the summit, a fast descent on twisting, narrow roads means no time for recovery before the final climb of the day.

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Short but incredibly steep (13.7% for 380m), big gaps can be made here in a very short space of time. If a selection hasn’t been made on the Kwaremont, it certainly will here!

12kms of mainly flat roads then await the riders before they finish on the outskirts of Oudenaarde.

Team Tactics

With so many strong teams here this year, it is a really difficult race to figure out. Here’s an extensive list as to who might feature in different situations;

Sunweb – Rivera / Van Dijk / Mackaij

Boels – Blaak / Van der Breggen / Majerus

Mitchelton – D’Hoore / Van Vleuten / Elvin

Cervelo – Lepistö / Moolman

Canyon – Barnes / Niewiadoma / Ferrand Prevot / Cecchini

Wiggle – Cordon Ragot / Wild / Brennauer

Ale – Bastianelli / Hosking / Ensing

Waowdeals – Vos / Koster

Just to name a few…

No doubt we’ll see some early action as teams try to get their riders up the road and a group containing the majority of stronger squads could feasibly stay away after the Muur. Or, we see a race of attrition that only leaves the strongest at the head of the race after the Kwaremont/Paterberg combination and they fight it out at the end of proceedings.

Personally, I don’t think we’ll see a sprint as big as last year.

So if I was a DS, I’d make sure I had a rider in every threatening group that went up the road; easier said than done!

From whatever group (early or late attack) comes to the line we could see a small sprint, or an attack might see a solo rider take the spoils.

Contenders

Given I’ve named about half the peloton above, I’ll only pick a handful here to talk about!

Chantal Blaak.

The World Champion has started her season on stellar form with a 4th in Strade and a second in Binda. In Gent Wevelgem she worked for team-mate Pieters so I imagine that the roles will be reversed at this race. Tough enough to get over the climbs in a good position, she will be a danger in a sprint so not many will want to bring her to the line. I don’t think she could make it with the head of the race so her best chance is to attack early and wait for people to come from behind.

Anna van der Breggen.

Had her chance at going for the title taken away by team orders last year but given her seriously impressive performance in Strade, she surely will be given free rein this season. Much more than just an exceptional climber, the Boels rider is a master on almost all terrain. With the Ardennes classics just around the corner, she’ll be getting close to her peak again so a good hit out on Sunday to blow the cobwebs away will do a world of good!

Ellen Van Dijk.

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I was one race out from predicting a Van Dijk solo win but she did what she does best on Wednesday, taking out a great win in Dwars. Able to keep up with the best on the climbs that day, the Kwaremont/Paterberg combination might be a bit of a stretch for her. Nonetheless, she will be full of confidence and will race with nothing to lose. That makes her a danger! With their team, I expect to see Sunweb attacking throughout the day and we might just see Van Dijk slip away again.

Gracie Elvin.

The Australian has no qualms about it, this is the race she wants to win. Slowly building up her form throughout the classics with the aim of going well here, she will desperately want to go one better than last season. A bit like Blaak, Elvin can climb well but she won’t be able to follow the more traditional names on the slopes, albeit she is a power climber. However, if she manages to pre-empt any moves from behind by being up the road then I would fancy her to cling on over the Kwaremont and Paterberg, even if she starts with only a 10 second advantage. With a good sprint after a hard day, the smaller the group the better for the Mitchelton rider.

Pauline Ferrand Prevot.

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Canyon arrive here with a stupidly strong team. Niewiadoma is apparently the leader but with their strength in depth, I imagine they’ll see how things develop out on the road. Ferrand Prevot was strong in Binda and played a good team-mates role, disrupting the chase behind to let Niewiadoma extend her lead. Given her punchy nature and abilities on all types of terrain, this should be an event that suits. We didn’t see the best of her in 2017, but she is coming in to her own again this year. A good result here will go a long way to restoring her confidence even more!

Ashleigh Moolman.

The slight South African climber has had a good start to the year, in fact it’s been rather exceptional as she has managed to finish in the top 10 in every race/stage so far! Last year she missed the orignal move and tried to bridge on the Kwaremont but she just didn’t make it and burnt a few of her matches. However, this year she looks stronger already and I think she could make a similar split. In a group of climbers coming to the line, I’d back her in a sprint.

Marianne Vos.

A steady return to racing by her standards with only a 3rd/5th/12th so far…It is a race she has done well at in the past, winning the event back in 2013, but she has not competed here since then. However, given who she is and what she can do on a bike, Vos can never be discounted. It was her performance in Binda that will worry her rivals for this race because if she can match them on the climbs there, she should be able to do similar here. With more riders on her level now, will they fear her any less?

Prediction

Pffft, it is a tough one!

I don’t think Boels will make the same mistake they made last year and Anna van der Breggen will manage to take home the spoils with an attack on the Kwaremont/Paterberg that will drop everyone before she rides solo to the finish. Very similar to her win in Strade!

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Coverage 

The race is being shown live on the ES Player from roughly 12:30 UK time. It should be shown via other channels as well so check with your regions broadcaster!

Before then you’ll be able to use #RVVWomen to follow all the action on Twitter.

Competition

Flanders weekend marks the “blogs birthday” so to thank you all for your continued support I’m going to give away a copy of The Handmade Cyclist’s Ronde print. To be in with a chance of winning it just leave a comment on this post with who you think is going to win the race, along with your Twitter handle, e.g. “Anna van der Breggen @JamieHaughey”. If we get multiple correct entries then they’ll enter the sorting hat (random.org) and someone will be granted as the winner. If no one gets the prediction correct, then it will go to second place and so on. Good luck!

Thanks as always for reading! Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

 

 

Women’s Strade Bianche 2018 Preview

The first round of the Women’s World Tour is upon is and we’re set for a cracking race. Now in its 4th edition, we’ve had some brutal races in the past and I expect that to be no different this year.

2017 saw home-favourite Elisa Longo Borghini take a stunning victory as she outmanoeuvred Kasia Niewiadoma coming into the Piazza del Campo, with Lizzie Deignan taking third.

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It wasn’t easy for the trio even though they were the strongest on the day as their refusal to co-operate saw Brand and Gillow launch audacious late counter attacks. They were caught on the climb up to the Piazza in what was a gripping end to a great race and allowed for the spectacular picture above!

Will we see more of the same this year? Let’s take a look at what is in store for the riders.

The Route

Longer than 2017, the riders will face just over 30kms worth of gravel along the 136km route.

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The longest section they will traverse comes at around the half-way point in the race and this will be the place where the field starts to split up. I would imagine one or two teams will come to the front and push the pace on, reducing the group down to 50 or so riders.

From there it will be tough to control and we might see a counter attack and a new breakaway form but things will be brought to heel once we enter the closing stages.

 

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The two gravel sections in the closing 20km are where ELB and co did the damage last year. After the first segment we did get a bit of a regrouping but it was just before the final Strade and once again the stronger riders made a difference there. As I mentioned above, it was only due to their lack of co-operation on the rolling 12kms that remained which resulted in Brand and Gillow coming from behind and straight over the top. If they had worked together then those dropped would have had no chance of getting back.

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The climb into Siena is brutally steep but at only 500m the puncheurs can hang on with the proper climbers. It is important to be near the front at the crest though because positioning is vital thereafter.

As we saw last year leading through the narrow streets combined with good bike positioning means you can effectively block off anyone from passing, thus securing the win. It’s a tactically shrewd move but one that everyone should be aware of by now. Therefore the “real” finish line is with 200m to go!

Weather Watch

Given the surprising amount of snow that Italy has received over the past week, I’m sure the riders will be glad to know that it will be “just” rain on Saturday.

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Source: Windfinder

Although the women look set to have the slightly better conditions with more rainfall expected later on in the day, they are more likely to be on the brunt of stronger winds. Making it six or half a dozen really!

Either way, whoever wins come the end of the race will certainly deserve it.

Contenders

Elisa Longo Borghini.

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The defending champion arrives here after a solid outing in Omloop where she was on the attack. A great climber and one-day racer, she is one of the many women who seem to have been around for a while but she is still only 26. Those years of experience started to shine through last year with the win in Strade and good performances elsewhere such as a second at the Giro Rosa. I think she’ll find it difficult to double up but given her consistency here (3rd, 4th, 1st) then I would struggle to argue against her going close. With Audrey Cordon-Ragot as a team-mate she has a someone who can go deep into the race with her and even act as an attacker to force other teams to chase.

Katarzyna Niewiadoma.

With a stage-race already under her belt, the Canyon SRAM rider should be a little bit ahead of her rivals here in terms of racing miles. At that race she finished a fairly modest 7th but it was her performances on the climbs that impressed most, with only Moolman (who’s also here) being able to stick with her. Niewiadoma is another rider who is incredibly consistent at this race having finished 6th/2nd/2nd, she will be looking to finally get one-step higher this year. One massive advantage she will have compared to previous attempts is the strength of her team. Canyon should have both Cecchini and Ferrand Prevot in or around the top 10 at this race which means that they should be able to control it due to the numbers they have. Then again, this is Strade and it will be absolutely horrendous out on the roads so “control” might not be the word! I wonder how essential PFP’s cyclocross and mountain bike experience will be.

Megan Guarnier.

The winner of the inaugural edition back in 2015, the American lines up here for her first race of the season. After an exceptional 2016 last year seemed like somewhat of a step back in terms of results, with only two wins to her name. She was exceptionally consistent but given the fighter she is I imagine that she will want to return to those previous levels this season. A strong climber with a fast sprint she has every chance of a win if she has the form. Boels also have the very luxury second option of the Queen of the Ardennes; Anna van der Breggen. She’s finished 5th on both occasions that she has raced here, but with the aim of peaking for the Ardennes again, will she have enough in the locker for a good result this year? Deignan is on one of the start lists that I have looked at but she is not in the official preview on the Boels website so she may or may not be here too! It certainly adds another dynamic if she is.

Ashleigh Moolman.

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As already mentioned above, Moolman has some good racing in her legs at Setmana last week. Interestingly, she never finished outside the top 10 on any of the stages and managed to take home second on GC. There is clearly some form there! This is a race she has done in the past with a 4th place in 2015 but she was only capable of 18th last year. It should suit her punchy characteristics and given she has been involved in a few sprints, her power figures must be good for the short and sharp efforts. Such a classy rider, could she be described as a dark horse for this race?

Amanda Spratt.

With Garfoot no longer on the team and Van Vleuten competing in Apeldoorn the mantle of leading Mitchelton Scott is left with “Spratty”. Having won the Women’s Tour Down Under she has returned to racing in Europe in an attacking mood, having been off the front of both the Belgian races last weekend. Just missing out on the key move last year she finished strongly to come home in 8th place. She’s certainly capable of improving on that this season and a top 5 is possible. I’m intrigued to see how team-mate Kennedy goes in these conditions.

Janneke Ensing.

Full of confidence after winning Le Samyn des Dames on Tuesday the Ale Cipollini rider will be hoping to improve on a 13th place last year. She’s a solid climber although she isn’t up there with the best in the discipline. However, theoretically she should love the grim conditions that are forecast for Saturday given her background in speed skating. With an attacking attitude, she might be able to sneak away from the “major contenders” and just surprise everyone by holding on.

Shara Gillow.

The second Australian in the list, she had to unfortunately cut short her racing time Down Under due to a crash. However, she returned at Setmana and finished a very respectable 8th on GC. Apparently attacking to bridge the gap to the leaders on the opening stage, she was closed down by their team-mates. Her form must be good and she is always a consistent performer in the hilly one-day races. I expect a top 10 and anything near the top of the order wouldn’t surprise me too much but it would be difficult to win as she is not the punchiest!

One other name that I want to throw out there (mainly because she is in my season-long fantasy team) is Pauliena Rooijakers.

Pauliena

I can’t imagine many of you will have heard of the WaowDeals rider but she is the former Dutch and European Beachrace champion. After competing in that discipline full time in past few years this season her focus will be more on the road. A capable climber on her day she won the Queen Stage of the Tour Cycliste Féminin International de l’Ardèche last year, along with a few notable top 10’s in hilly one-day races. Her background in beach racing should see her at home on the Strade and I’m quietly hoping for a good result; a top 10 would be an incredible achievement.

Prediction

Form, team, parcours and race history all point to one rider; Katarzyna Niewiadoma.

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She is a truly incredible bike rider with a string of great results and it is amazing to think she is still only 23! Punchy enough to cope with the accelerations on the climbs, I have a feeling we didn’t see her go 100% in Setmana and she was holding something back for this race. The one big advantage she has compared to last year is the strength of her team which will be a big help; she shouldn’t have to chase every attack herself. On the sprint up to the Piazza no one will be able to follow her and she’ll take a great win.

I’m not someone to make outlandish, season-long claims…wait, no, I am, but I think she will be World Champion this year. No pressure Kasia!

Coverage

Much like last year, I think we’re going to be able to watch the final 45 minutes of the race live on Eurosport player. I’m not 100% sure at the moment as it doesn’t specify on the schedule but that seems to be the case. It will more than likely be without commentary though so I’ll pester your Twitter timelines with updates instead!

Thanks as always for reading! I’m certainly looking forward to the Women’s World Tour starting again with this incredible race. Who do you think will win on Saturday? Will we see an upset? I don’t normally beg for anything but if you could please retweet the preview to share it around then that would be greatly appreciated; my women’s previews unfortunately don’t seem to get the same coverage as the men’s do. Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

Women’s Herald Sun Tour 2018 Preview

Women’s Herald Sun Tour 2018 Preview

Originally I wasn’t intending on writing a preview for this race, but then I thought it would be rude not to cap off the Aussie summer of racing with another blog piece. Plus, it keeps me on track with my new years resolution of writing more about women’s racing.

2018 will be the first year of the Herald Sun Tour in the women’s peloton. Calling it a “Tour” might be a bit farfetched though, as we only have two days worth of racing, but at least it is something I guess!

Anyway, let’s have a look at what is in store for the riders over the next two days.

The Route

Stage 1.

On paper the more decisive of the two days; the peloton will tackle the longest and arguably toughest climbs that they will have faced over their fortnight of racing in Australia.

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@LasterketaBurua

The opening 50km or so will see the riders attack some fairly flat terrain, with a few sparing rises in the road. It is possible that we’ll see a conventional breakaway form on this stage, which is something that doesn’t often happen in women’s racing, but the parcours is certainly suited to it.

Old Warburton Road (4.4km at 4.5%) marks the first test for the riders, but given it only crests halfway through the stage, I can’t see anything crazy happen here.

Instead, the real racing will start once they pass through the finish line in Healesville for the first time, with the pace ramping up and riders jockeying for road position. Why?

Well, the climb of Myers Creek Road starts not long after the passage of the line.

MyersCreek

It is not the steepest of climbs, but given its length, it is probably as close to Alpine as you’re going to get in the region. The average of 5.8% will wear down the peloton and I’m sure we’ll start to see gaps appear, possibly just after the 2km mark where the road pitches up to 9-10% for a few hundred metres.

I’m really intrigued to see how the teams approach this climb. Will we see some early attacks, forcing other riders to chase?

This exact route was used in the first stage of the men’s race back in 2016; which saw Froome and Kennaugh attack on the climb, opening up a 20 second or so gap.

Once over the top, they managed to hold off the pursuing bunch as the road descends almost all the way back into Healesville.

Will we see something similar tomorrow?

Stage 2.

If there aren’t significant gaps on the opening day, then it will all come down to the short, pan-flat TT the following day.

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At only 1.6km in length it is more of a prologue than a normal TT, in fact, the same course will be used as the men’s prologue later in the day. Does that make it an epilogue for the women then? I’m calling it an epilogue.

It will all be over in a flash, but some technical corners will create gaps, along with the pure power sections.

Will the leader from the previous day have enough of a lead to hold on?

Contenders

The list of contenders all depends on how aggressively the opening day is raced. We should see the race blown to bits on Myers Creek but there is the slight chance that things stay more compact than expected, especially if we have a headwind on the climb.

Furthermore, if there is a lack of co-operation up the road, then riders who have been dropped on the climb can make it back on the long run in back to Healesville. If that is the case, then look out for the podium to look very similar to what we saw in Cadel’s Race, with Hosking, Elvin and Bronzini all looking very sharp at the moment.

Nonetheless, it looks set to be a race for the climbers.

Katrin Garfoot.

Garfoot

Arguably the strongest rider on the climbs in both of the races so far (TDU and Cadel’s  Race), Garfoot will love the look of Mylers Creek. The average gradient should suit her characteristics very well, allowing her to set a solid tempo, trying to ride everyone off her wheel. Given her TT prowess, she has the potential to maintain a gap of 20 seconds once over the top if there are only a few riders behind her. The same can be said for the “epilogue” the following day where you would expect the veteran rider to shine. Ably supported by a strong Aussie selection, she has to start the race as favourite.

Annemiek van Vleuten.

Along with getting to show her climbing legs, this race will be the first time the newly crown TT world champion will get to wear her rainbow stripes. I am intrigued to see how she goes on the longer, shallow climb of Mylers Creek as she seemed to struggle on the steep slopes of Challambra on Saturday. Packing a good sprint from a reduced group, she has a good chance if 5 riders come to the line. Bonus seconds could be crucial in shaping the GC. Well, at least I think there are bonus seconds?!

Lucy Kennedy.

This race is possibly the reason as to why the Mitchelton rider was left out of Cadel’s Race on Saturday, which kind of makes my dismay in the previous preview look a bit stupid now! The climb of Mylers Creek is well suited to the rangy Australian and it will be interesting to see how she goes against Garfoot on this type of ascent. Admitting she can’t sprint, then she’ll more than likely have to arrive alone to win. But if Mitchelton play the numbers game well, then there is every chance she can do so.

Sabrina Stultiens.

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One of the stand-out performers on Saturday, much to the surprise of Phil Liggett. However, any knowledgeable cycling fan would know that Stultiens has a lot of class and showed great promise back in 2014/15 when breaking onto the scene. 2016 was a write off for her due to a long-term knee injury that plagued her, which meant 2017 was a year where she had to re-find her feet but I think she’ll come good this year. Marianne Vos wanted her on WaowDeals which speaks a lot about the type of rider Stultiens is! She is a rider to watch out for and one that shouldn’t be given a lot of leeway.

Audrey Cordon.

The French rider is known as a good time trial rider but she can also climb well too. The fairly shallow gradients of Myers will suit her style and rhythm and she’ll hope to be near the front of the bunch when things start to split up. Sprinting to 4th on Saturday, she has a good turn of speed from a small group and might surprise a few people if we get a 5-8 rider gallop to the line.

McIlroy, Brown and Malseed are other names to look out for if we get some chaotic and fast paced racing on Myers.

Prediction

I’m still really torn as to how this one will play out. Myers is long enough to create some gaps but the fairly shallow gradient does allow for some of the “less-climby” types to hold on.

Nonetheless, I think we’ll see the Korda-Mentha team and Mitchelton Scott attempt to rip it up from the bottom, dropping the likes of Hosking etc.

We’ll be left with a select group including the 5 main contenders I’ve mentioned above. Team tactics will play a part with Mitchelton Scott constantly attacking and counter-attacking, trying to get away.

Kennedy will get away, but she’ll be followed by Cordon and Stultiens, as van Vleuten and Garfoot mark each other out behind.

The trio work together well, but Cordon eventually rolls them in the sprint taking home the opening stage. The bonus seconds (if there are any) and her strong TT, will be good enough to see her take home the overall crown.

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Allez Audrey!

Coverage

There is no live coverage of the race but there will be highlights on SBS which I’m sure will be available at some point.

Thanks as always for reading! Who do you think will win? Will Mylers be as explosive and decisive as I think, or will some of the sprinters hold on? Anyway,

Those have been My Two Spokes Worth.

 

 

 

 

Women’s Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race 2018 Preview

2018 marks the third edition of the Women’s Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race (CEGORR) as a UCI event, with the riders set to face the famous Challambra Crescent climb for the first time.

Both of the races have been won by Mitchelton Scott (formerly Orica), with Amanda Spratt taking home the spoils in the inaugural race in 2016 and team-mate Annemiek van Vleuten winning last year. Will the Australian outfit manage to make it a three-peat, or will we see someone else assert their dominance?

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First, let’s take a look at what is in store for the riders.

The Route

At only 113km long, it isn’t exactly the longest race the women will face all season but given the Australian heat, some of the Europeans will be very happy about that. The obvious main change from last year is the addition of the famous local ascent; the Challambra Crescent climb.

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@LasterketaBurua

The opening 80km will act as almost a warm-up for the riders, but it will be the final 35km where we could see a potential race winning move go.

The first place we might see shakeout is at 30km to go where the riders will be greeted by a small drag in the road. Fairly innocuous, averaging only 3.1% for 2.1km, it will be interesting to see how the riders attack it. Furthermore, as it is placed on a fairly open stretch of road, the wind direction and strength will also add another factor that has to be considered.

Once over the top of that climb, the riders will have to contend with almost 10km of flat/slightly descending roads before the quick double climb into Ceres.

Climb to Ceres

The first ramp is only 500m long but it averages 4.6%. A stinging attack here could certainly line out the bunch before a fast descent and the second, longer part of the climb begins. At 1.8km in distance and averaging 4.4%, it is tough enough for some of the stronger riders in the race to create some gaps. Who will be brave enough to go all in 16km from the finish?

If gaps are made, then they should be held or even extended with the short flat section before the road plummets all the way down for the next 4kms as they approach Challambra.

There is a little 300m kicker (6%) which will disrupt their rhythm 600m or so before the start of Challambra itself.

Challambra

Not an easy climb as you can see, with it going up in various ramps. Not ideal for those who like to keep a steady pace. If a few riders attack this hard then we will no doubt see some fairly large time gaps at the top of it. We saw the 6.8% gradient of Mengler’s Hill do some damage in the Tour Down Under and although Challambra is shorter, I think we’ll see a similar outcome due to the steepness.

From there, the road mainly heads downwards for the remaining 9km, albeit there is one last kick up and a chance for a climber to try to distance someone. That comes just after they cross the small bridge with the 800m section averaging 4%.

If we don’t have a solo rider in the lead by then, it will all come down to team tactics and a potential reduced bunch sprint along the Geelong harbour.

How will the race pan out?

With the tricky final 35km, I expect to see a very tactical race with lots of attacks and counter-attacks throughout the closing hour of racing.

We could feasibly see the winning move go at any time, but the likelihood is that it will come on the climb to Ceres or the ascent of Challambra Crescent.

As stated above, the weather conditions will play a part in the outcome of the race. Thankfully, the initial heat wave that was predicted won’t be as prominent, with a “cool” 30 degrees forecast.

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Source: Bureau of Meteorology

The direction of the wind is important, and a southeasterly wind means cross-tail for the majority of the run in to Geelong. Consequently the racing will be fast but also dangerous, as a cross-tailwind tends to cause some mild panic in the bunch as they are pushed along. It might not be “cross” enough for some echelons, but who knows!

One thing is for certain, it should increase the willingness of attackers compared to if it was a headwind.

Garfoot vs Mitchelton Scott – Part 2

After their great battle during the women’s Tour Down Under, Katrin Garfoot will hope to get one over her old team this time round.

She was arguably the strongest rider in that race, but got worked over by the numbers that Mitchelton Scott had close to her on GC. That is less likely to happen here due to it being a one-day race, but the same principles do still apply, apart from there is one thing missing; Kennedy.

Mitchelton arrive with Spratt and van Vleuten as leaders, but they don’t have the third prong that they had in the TDU, and that will make it harder for them here. I’m confused as to why Kennedy isn’t racing, her results at this race over the past few years have been solid and with the introduction of Challambra, the course should suit her even more. At the TDU, she was the only rider who managed to hold onto Garfoot’s wheel on the summit finish and that will be missed massively here. Illness is the only reason I can think of as to why she is not starting!

The change to Challambra suits a flying Garfoot, who climbed impeccably during the TDU. Others will know this and will need to go beforehand. However, I think they’ll find it hard to shake her off, but it can be done.

Spratt lost 8 seconds to Garfoot on Mengler’s Hill, with van Vleuten losing 15. I am intrigued to see what they’ll do during the race to wear down their former team-mate.

Can anyone else compete against those three? On paper no, but races aren’t won on paper! We could see a tactical stalemate between Garfoot and Mitchelton, which allows for some others to take a somewhat surprise victory.

Other Riders to Watch

Lauren Stephens – The Cylance rider was runner-up in the TDU and is evidently on some good form. She’s probably not the best climber here but her strength lies against the clock. If she is able to get a gap while others sit up and argue behind as to whom is going to chase, then she might be very difficult to bring back!

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Grace Brown –  After a strong showing at the nationals where she picked up a third place, the Holden Gusto rider continued that on with a solid 5th place overall in the TDU. A bit of an unkown quantity, she might benefit from the bigger riders looking at each other. Another top 10 is on the cards, but she might just go a bit better…

Linda Villumsen – You would get short odds on the New Zealand rider launching a solo attack at some point during this race! She is a good climber, but not great, so will struggle up Challambra against the pure mountain goats. However, she does have a big engine so if she gets a gap she will be hard to chase down, especially with a disorganised effort. Can the former world TT champion outsmart 2017’s winner?

A few more names to keep an eye out for are Cordon, McIlroy and Anderson.

Prediction

I just can’t see anyone other than Garfoot winning this!

Garfoot

The Uni-SA team is strong enough to keep the race together until we get to the final few climbs. From there, Garfoot should be able to track any moves from the Mitchelton pairing or any of the other contenders. Once onto Challambra, she’ll fly, and leave everyone in her wake!

Consequently leaving Mitchelton ruing not letting Kennedy race as she is the only one who could possibly follow on Challambra. (I’m not bitter at all given she’s in my season long fantasy team, although I can’t imagine you can tell…)

Coverage

The race will be streamed live on 7plus here  from 10am local time (11pm UK time on Friday/tonight). The feed itself might be geo-restricted, but I’m sure some helpful people will sort it out and there will be other streams available online no doubt.

Thanks as always for reading though! Who do you think will win? Can anyone stop the flying Garfoot? Will we see a surprise winner this year? Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth

 

Santos Women’s Tour Down Under 2018 Preview

Santos Women’s Tour Down Under 2018 Preview

It’s been a while but it is nice to be back! I hope you enjoyed your off-season and are as ready for the 2018 racing calendar to begin as I am. This year I’ve set myself the resolution to write more women’s previews so what better way to start than with the first race of the season; the Santos Women’s Tour Down Under?!

Now into its third year I am pleased to say that the race has stepped up to 2.1 level and will have the most challenging parcours to date in this edition. Which is good, as the past two years have seen a few criteriums thrown into the mix. This time we only have one!

With both of the previous winners; Garfoot (2016) and Spratt (2017) here, will we see a familiar face atop the podium come the end of the race or will there be a new champion?

First though, let’s have a look at what’s in store for the riders over the coming 4 stages.

The Route

New year but not a new me, so I once again want to shout-out @LasterketaBurua who made the profiles that I’ll be using here. Go give them a follow on Twitter!

Stage 1.

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The riders will complete a rolling circuit that starts and finishes in the town of Gumeracha. It’s not an incredibly difficult route, but it does include the steep climb of Mount Torrens that averages 7.6% for 700m. Furthermore, it does include a few uncategorised ramps just before and after Lobethal so keeping with tradition I’ve made a Strava/Veloviewer profile of that segment.

WTDU S1

On paper it is not too difficult but given that it will be the first race-day in the past few months for a lot of the Northern Hemisphere riders then I think we could actually see some splits if it is ridden at a fast pace. We could see some of the drags used as a launchpad for a late attack from a group of riders before the descent all the way to the finish line.

If we get a sprint, this should be Hosking’s for the taking. For a late attacker, I’ll go with Spratt.

Stage 2.

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If Hosking did win stage 1, then it is very unlikely she’ll be holding onto the jersey after stage 2 unless something crazy happens.

With the Whispering Wall (1.1km at 5.9%) being climbed twice earlier in the day it will sap the riders legs a little before their attention turns to the main challenge of the stage with the ascent of Mengler’s Hill.

Menglers Hill

At roughly 7% for 2km this is what is classed as a “proper climb” in the area. Due to it only being 2km, the gaps won’t be massive but I expect it to be attacked at a crazy pace. This is the stage that will most likely decide the GC.

I have my eyes on Lucy Kennedy for this stage. She was climbing well in the national champs road race and the pure uphill finish could suit her well. Watch this space.

Stage 3.

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If the GC battle is still close after Stage 2 then the final few kilometres of the longest will decide it. The road undulates a lot in the second half of the day but it all comes down to the quick back-to-back climbs of Comet Mine and Hahndorf.

WTDU S3 Fin

The finish is a tougher version of what we saw on day 1, but this time there is also a climb to contend with at the end again.

I imagine we’ll see some big digs from the ladies close on GC between the 1-2.25km mark on the profile above as it averages 5.8% over that period with ramps over 10%. This is where they will hope to make their mark and put others into difficulty before the 1.75km of descent and the final 450m of uphill.

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Once over the top the riders will carry some speed down the descent and bike handling will be key as they make this awkward left-turn to start the final climb. Will the winner on the day win the race as a whole?!

If Van Vleuten is in good shape then this stage looks ideal for her.

Stage 4.

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The race concludes with the traditional criterium around Adelaide. Not much else to say here, but expect a fast race and a sprint at the end.

Hosking to once again show her strength but she won’t have it easy with Bronzini and Edmondson sure to offer some stiff opposition.

The GC Battle

One of the things that I like about this race is how dynamic it can be and we often see aggressive racing rewarded. With two, possibly three, stages to shape the GC this year there is a chance things could become more structured. However I don’t think that will be the case and well once again see an attacking start to the season.

There are two teams that are head and shoulders above the rest in terms of strength and depth in regards to their selection; Mitchelton-Scott and the UniSA team.

The Mitchelton-Scott team have three possible GC candidates in their midst with Spratt, Van Vleuten and Kennedy.

Spratt obviously won this race in 2017 and will be hoping to make it back-to-back victories this year round. She was impressive in the National Champs, doing a lot of the work on the front of the pack and eventually picking up 4th place. She’s an attacking rider who can certainly climb well. However, she is much more of a one-day racer than a pure climber, so I’m intrigued to see how she copes on Mengler’s.

Van Vleuten bounced back from an injury fraught 2016 to have her best-ever season last year. On paper, she is by far the strongest rider here and the course looks ideal for her. I’m not sure where her form will be at the moment, but considering that she has been in the Southern hemisphere since the middle of November, I’m going to take a stab in the dark and say she is acclimatised and will be going well.

That just leaves my dark-horse for the race; Kennedy. The 29-year-old Australian is technically a neo-pro with this being her first full season in the professional ranks. In 2017 she had a breakthrough year with some good results in the National Champs before securing a spot on the High5DreamTeam through a scholarship. This allowed her to have a taste of European racing and she didn’t disappoint, taking a maiden victory in the Tour de l’Ardeche while on her way to securing the GC title. Clearly a very talented latecomer to the sport, I’m intrigued to see what she can do this year. Climbing well in the nationals this year, she eventually faded to 9th but I think she’ll be there or thereabouts come the end of this race. Keep an eye out for her!

Kennedy

The Uni-SA team resembles something similar to that of World’s team selection, but their main two contenders for this race will most likely be Garfoot and Gillow.

Garfoot won the first version of this race back in 2016 and will hope to get one over her former team-mates at Mitchelton. Deciding to leave the team at the end of last season to focus more on her family but also the Commonwealth Games, she absolutely crushed the field in the TT last week. Clearly in excellent shape, she has a great chance of winning this race again.

Gillow performed below her expectations in the TT but was much better in the road race, helping team-mate Kitchen to a strong second place. Another good climber, she and Garfoot will have to alternate attacks, hoping to break the will of Michelton. Although saying that, Gillow isn’t the most explosive rider in the pack so she’ll need to churn a massive gear to put everyone else into difficulty.

Other contenders to look out for during the race are Cordon (WiggleHigh5), Stephens (Cylance), Stultiens (WaowDeals), Wiles (TrekDrops) and the retiring Taylor who is riding one of her last races as a professional for domestic team Holden.

Prediction

Michelton-Scott to play the numbers game well and it will be one of last season’s best cyclists Annemiek van Vleuten who will take the win.

Annemiek-van-Vleuten-Orica-Scott-2017-La-Course-by-Le-Tour-de-France-Col-dIzoard-pic-ASO

Having been out training in New Zealand from the start of December I think she’ll be firing on all cylinders here. No-one will be able to match her on the climb of Mengler’s Hill and she’ll be able to follow on the other tricky stages. She has said on Twitter that she is here to work hard for the team but I’m not buying it!

Garfoot will come second with Kennedy rounding out the podium.

Thanks as always for reading and any feedback is appreciated as usual, I might be a bit rusty after all! Who do you think will win the race? Will Michelton win it for a third year in a row or will we get a surprise? Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.