Innsbruck 2018 World Championships – Women’s Road Race Preview

Innsbruck 2018 World Championships – Women’s Road Race Preview

On a tricky course in Bergen last year we saw a tactical and exciting race throughout the afternoon. Going into the last lap a trio of Blaak, Cordon Ragot and Barnes were up the road and ahead of the peloton. They had quite a comfortable lead but Blaak did not fancy her sprint against the Brit if they came to the line together, quite annoying as I actually had money on Hannah, so she started to skip turns. A strong quartet of van Vleuten, van der Breggen, Garfoot and Niewiadoma managed to break clear of the peloton on the final ascent of Salmon Hill, bridging to the trio ahead. With three now at the head of the race, the Dutch decided to take turns and attacking to try to break away once the steepest part of the descent was over. Well, I say “take turns” but after van Vleuten was reeled in, Blaak managed to escape almost straight away. With no co-operation behind the race was over, with the Dutch rider coming home solo for a great win!

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Behind there was so much looking around that the group was caught be the peloton as they rounded the final corner. Garfoot was able to hold on and sprint for second while an impressive Dideriksen claimed a podium at the event for the second year in a row, having previously won it in Doha. I doubt she’ll make it three here though! Let’s have a look at what is in store for the riders throughout the afternoon.

The Route

A demanding day in the saddle that sees the riders take on three ascents of the Igls climb.

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They have to get there first though and the opening 60kms rolls before it flattens out. However, just after that marker the riders will face the Gnadenwald climb, the one that has been used in the men’s TT and the road races since. With its steep average gradient of over 9% for almost 3kms, it is tough enough that some riders can be dropped. In fact, throughout the races we have seen so far this is where an initial selection is made.

A plateau and a fast descent follows before the riders enter Innsbruck and begin the laps of the finish circuit.

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As you can see, the focal point of the course is the climb.

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A fairly consistent effort, albeit with some gradient changes between 4-7% at  times, the slope is less severe than the Gnadenwald climb the riders tackle earlier in the day. However, it is the length of the ascent and the three ascents of it that they have to do which will take its toll.

If you’ve watched any of the races so far, the descent off of the climb is arguably almost as important as the ascent.

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It is possible for a rider to lose a bit of time here if they are not as confident as their rivals. As you can see on the image above, it isn’t too technical of a descent but there are plenty of sweeping turns: it certainly is fast though. Saying that, there are some sharper turns through the town of Igls but nothing crazy. Nonetheless, being a good descender will be important.

Once the descent is finished there are just over 7kms of mostly flat roads through the streets of Innsbruck. There is a small kicker of around 500m at 5.5% that crests with just over 3.5km to go and it is the last launchpad for a rider to make a solo move. Well, unless of course they time an attack perfectly in those closing kilometres on the flat too!

Can anyone beat the Dutch?

I posed this question before the Euro road race and the answer to that question was: the Dutch.

On that day they rode strongly and in the closing 30kms always had riders on the attack off the front of the bunch, ultimately having one of their star riders, van der Breggen, in a small group. That group extended their advantage and looked like they would contend for the win but the Dutch team started to work on the front of the peloton. At the same time van der Breggen attacked from the break and only Longo Borghini could follow. The duo worked well together for a bit and still had a strong advantage but the Dutch rider eventually sat on in the closing kilometres, only for her team-mates not to win the bunch sprint behind. It was truly one of the weirdest races I’ve seen in terms of team tactics. Did the lack of race radios make a difference? AVDB wasn’t confident of sprinting to beat Rowe but surely she would have fancied her chances in a two-up gallop against Longo Borghini.

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Either way, the squad will hope for a much better result at this event. They arrive with the two pre-race favourites in van Vleuten and van der Breggen. Both were very strong in the TT on Tuesday and both will fancy their chances on this course. We saw at La Course that they are arguably the two strongest climbers in the women’s peloton, although arguments can be made for others and that riders were at different peak points. The team to support them is strong but not as strong as it could be. How long with they last into the day if the pace is on during the climbs? Theoretically it should be Brand and Ensing that are last support riders but the latter hasn’t been great this year – I think they will really miss Stultiens. It means that it will be hard for them to control the race late on, so I think they’ll adopt the old cliché: “attack is the best form of defense”

I would be very surprised to see both of the riders sit in the peloton until the final ascent, I think one will have to be used in a counter move before then. Who that is? No idea! Tactics will then be interesting in that front group, will those ahead want to work with either van der Breggen or van Vleuten knowing their pedigree? It really is a delicately poised race.

How do you beat the Dutch?

Step one is kind of laid out above, you need to isolate their leaders and hope to still have numbers in the front group. With that said, which nations can I see having numbers in a reduced/very reduced peloton going into the final few laps?

Dutch – van der Breggen, van Vleuten, Brand, van Dijk.

Australia – Spratt, Kennedy, Gillow.

Italy – Longo Borghini, Magnaldi.

USA – Hall, Guarnier, Winder, Wiles.

Spain – Merino, Garcia, Santesteban.

Canada – Kirchmann, Poidevin.

There might be a few other nations who have a couple of riders in there but those are teams that I think have the best chance of having most. Then of course there are the riders who will no doubt be there but will possibly be lacking any team support by that point such as Niewiadoma, Moolman and Uttrup.

So with step one complete and a reduced peloton, step two then involves you sending riders on the attack and forcing the Dutch to chase it down and tire out Brand/van Dijk. Of course this step can be countered by the Dutch getting involved in the attacks themselves.

Step 3 is then all about good race craft and luck. Let’s say a group of 6 get away with the majority of the “big” nations represented and with no organisation behind, they are set to stay out for the remainder of the race. The likelihood in that situation is that either van Vleuten or van der Breggen or both are there, meaning they are still in that race favourites position but now with less opposition. Maybe this plan isn’t going so well after all?

Anyway, this is where you have to be willing to lose the race.

Both willing to lose in terms of putting in an audacious attack to get rid/drop everyone before the climb, or on the foot slopes of it. Or, by sitting in and letting the Dutch rider(s) do all the work to chase any of those attacks down before you counter. Because let’s be honest, no one here is going to drop the “vans” any other way.

A Dangerous Duo

I’ve went through the two main favourites and how to possibly beat them, but who are those that have a chance? I’ll be keeping this sweet as I’ve already rambled enough so I’m limiting myself to two riders to watch. No jokers and super jokers here.

Ruth Winder.

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As alluded to above, the US have one of the best teams here in terms of strength in depths with several riders who could play a part in the day. I’ve been very impressed with Winder this season and her move across to race in Europe full-time with Sunweb. She’s picked up a win at the Giro Rosa and two stages in the recent Tour de l’Ardeche. A solid climber who might not be able to match the very best, if she is in a group of “lesser” riders, then she is a big threat. Packing a fast kick to the line, she will be happy to arrive with a group.

Amanda Spratt.

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Arguably one of the riders of the year, Spratt has been sensational this season as part of Mitchelton Scott’s climbing unit. Often working in the service of van Vleuten, she has still managed to take 5 wins this season, including a stage at the Giro Rosa where she came third overall. Now though she has to race against her team-mate so if there is anyone in the peloton who might know van Vleuten’s weaknesses, it will be Spratt. Like the US, Australia have a pretty solid climbing unit with them and I would expect Gillow and Kennedy to go deep into the race. A special shout out to the latter who after an incredibly up and down season as a first year pro arrives with something to prove. I hope we get to see Lucy set free on a climb for once this year!

The season-long prediction

Some of you may remember that back at the start of the year in my Strade Bianche blog I said one rider was going to win the Worlds this year. Who?

Katarzyna Niewiadoma

I still think she has a great chance and after her recent run of form she starts as the fourth favourite for the race according to the bookmakers. However the issue for her, and Moolman likewise, is that their team support coming into the final couple of laps will be minimal, if there is anyway. That will make it difficult for her to make the right move at the right time etc so she will need to get a little lucky. I’m not back tracking and discrediting her completely but it is harder than it would be if she was Dutch!

Prediction

I’ve led you on a merry dance only to say it has to be one of the Dutch superstars, doesn’t it? After the Euros debacle there is no way that they are losing this unless they completely mess it up again, it is just a case of choosing which “van”.

Van der Breggen proved her worth in the one-day spring classics this year and at La Course had the edge on the climbs. Whereas, van Vleuten has had an incredibly stellar season winning the Giro Rosa with ease and you could argue fatigue played a part in that slight crack in La Course.

Hmmmmmm.

I’ll go with van der Breggen.

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The Olympic champion to finally become World Champion.

Betting

Going wild, why not…

4pts WIN AVDB @ 11/4

1pt EW Spratt @ 14/1

1pt EW Winder @ 33/1

5pts Kirchmann to beat Sierra @ 6/4

I think the Canadian is in great form at the moment after the TT. She finished 17th on GC in the Giro this year so has shown to go okay on the climbs. I think Sierra is a little overrated for this race and isn’t suited to the longer ascents.

Thanks as always for reading, I hope we’re in for a great tactical race. Who do you think will win and why? Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

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GP de Plouay 2018 Preview

The last “hilly” one-day race of the year returns tomorrow, as the women’s peloton gears up towards the World Championships in Innsbruck which start in just under a month. GP de Plouay is often one of the most hotly contested races of the year, always providing some tense and tactical action. In 2017 we saw Deignan and Ferrand Prevot escape late on in the day, working together until the final few hundred metres where the strength of the Boels rider would ultimately shine through, as she took a comfortable win in the end.

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Ferrand Prevot held on for second, with Mitchelton’s Sarah Roy taking home the reduced bunch sprint for third place.

With Deignan not here this year, for obvious reasons, there is a chance we could see a new winner tomorrow. However, with Marianne Vos in her current form then we might not! Or of course Eugenia Bujak could repeat that fairly surprising 2016 win but that is a little less likely…

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

The Route

A carbon copy of last year’s route pretty much. No excuses for not knowing it!

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The riders will take on a circuit around Plouay with the focal point of the course being two climbs. The first of which, the Côte de Bois de Kerlucas, comes pretty much from the gun and will kick the action off straight away. It’s not an overly difficulty climb at an average of 5.1% for a kilometre, but expect it to be raced almost full gas every lap.

An important thing to note too is that the road is never really “flat” with it either gradually descending or rising throughout the route. Combining that with the narrow and quite often twisting roads, it is a tough race to keep control of.

The most decisive part of the route though is the final climb: the Côte de Ty Marrec.

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Again, it is not an overly difficult climb but its place on the course means that is raced very fast. With only 3.5km from the summit to the finish line, it means that if a strong group of riders escapes here and co-operates well, then there is no chance to bring them back.

That closing 3.5km is mainly made up of very gradual descent before the final couple hundred metres where the road kicks up ever so slightly to the line. If a group comes to the finish together, that slight rise makes the timing of the sprint more important.

How do you stop Vos?

The question on everyone’s lips going into this race. The Waowdeals rider is on sublime form at the moment, having won in Vargarda and followed that up by just casually winning every stage in Norway, along with the GC, obviously. It wasn’t like she struggled to win the stages too, just scraping by. Nope, quite the opposite really! On the final day of racing in Norway she closed down at least 20 small attacks by my reckoning and she still had enough of a kick to win the bunch sprint. If anyone takes her to the line tomorrow, I don’t care who it is, they lose.

It could be argued that her team is her weakness, but I expect Rowe and Rooijakkers to last quite a while into the race with their leader, especially the former. However, it is possible to isolate her with some aggressive racing. The only issue then is that any aggressive racing will most likely isolate some of the other riders.

Vos has countered this isolation in the past few races by just going on the attack herself, because why not? Whittling down a group to a much more manageable size means that she can follow almost every attack and play the numbers game better. Pulling the old “you have more chance to win now there are less of us” to her fellow escapees when really that isn’t the case.

The only way to beat her in this race is to isolate her and have numbers of your own in the front group. If that is the case, send off repeated attacks until she can’t follow or decides not to follow a group – while the other riders sit on behind her. As strong as she is, she isn’t the best TT rider over a longer distance so it would be hard for her to bring back a group of 3 or so out ahead.

The issue with this plan is that there aren’t many teams here that I could envisage having numerous riders in a front group where Vos doesn’t have a team-mate with her.

Anyway, here goes nothing (probably) and a list of three riders to keep your eye on throughout the day…

Cecilie Ludwig.

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Fast becoming a fan-favourite, the young Danish rider put in a very aggressive and impressive performance at La Course where she went solo on the penultimate climb but was ultimately caught near the top of the last ascent of the day. Equally impressive was her colourful outburst at the end of the stage which was one of the moments of the year: true passion and pride for her sport. Following on from La Course, she was one of the more attacking riders in the recent Crescent Vargarda, where she stuck to Vos’ wheel like glue. Cervélo do have Lepistö for a potential sprint but I think we’ll see Ludwig and Moolman on the attack throughout the afternoon and they arguably form one of the stronger duos to take the race to Vos.

Emilia Fahlin. 

In a little bit of a purple patch at the moment, she finished on the podium on every stage in Norway recently. Having only done this race once before back in 2017 where she finished a lowly 47th over 6 minutes down, it will take a much better performance from her this time to compete. However, like I said, she seems to be going well and it is the type of course that should in theory suit her as a strong rider. With Brennauer, Longo Borghini and Cordon-Ragot, it will be interesting to see how Wiggle play it. I would expect them to be attacking and after last week’s results, Fahlin would fancy her chances in a sprint of escapees.

Amy Pieters.

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Having her best season to date, Pieters arrives here as part of a strong Boels squad, standard. Another who has not done this event many times before (2010 and 2014 were her only participations), it will be interesting to see how she copes with the parcours. I think she’ll be perfectly fine as she has shown more than enough in the past to suggest that she can deal with 1km climbs at the gradients we have here. Moreover, I expect Boels to be incredibly attacking tomorrow afternoon and I don’t expect them to wait for a sprint. Pieters possibly could be that sprint option for them but I think they would rather put on a show and try to split things up before that. As we’ve seen in the past, Pieters is one of the best in a sprint from a small group, but will she be there?

Prediction

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Was it ever really going to be anyone else?

Coverage

You’ll be able to follow the race via some hashtags before the live coverage starts. As to what hashtags those will be, your guess is as good as mine as several teams have used different ones. It looks like “#GPPlouay” and “#Plouay” are the most used options.

Live tv coverage starts at 15’15 local time and will be available on the following channels.

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Hopefully you’ll be able to tune in at some point throughout the afternoon.

Thanks as always for reading! Who do you think will win tomorrow? Can anyone stop Vos? As always, any Retweets or shares etc are greatly appreciated. Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

Women’s European Road Race Championships Preview – Glasgow 2018

Now in its third edition as an event for the elite peloton, as it was formerly just an under 23 and junior event. Last year saw an attacking race that was mainly led by the Dutch, shock, and a strong group of three managed to escape and contest the win on what was a course really suited for a bunch sprint.

Vos proved to be the fastest, beating Bronzini to the line with a failed late attack from Zabelinskaya seeing the Russian round out the podium in third.

 

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

The Route

Very similar, if not exactly the same (I can’t remember) to the circuit that used for the Commonwealth Games back in 2014. The women will complete 9 laps for a total of ~130km.

I’ve made a profile of the circuit that you can view here. The organisation’s one is pretty useless if I’m honest.

Glasgow RR Circuit

It’s quite a surprisingly rolling course with there also being a lot of turns given the nature and layout of Glasgow streets.

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There are several small hills and drags, more notably in the middle of the course. The first one goes past the University buildings, averaging 5% for 500m before a quick descent and a 300m kicker at 8% up Great George Street.

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That’s arguably the toughest climb on the course and will be one of the places where the puncheurs will hope to put some pressure on. There are another couple of few hundred metre drags at roughly 3% or 4%.

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Last on the agenda in terms of climbing is the 400m drag (4.8% average) up Montrose St, which crests with just 3.5km left in the day. Given there is 1.5km of descent, it is really only a 2km effort on the flat that someone needs to make to stay away.

Easier said than done!

The Flying Dutchwomen

Can anyone stop the cycling powerhouse?

As I mentioned above, we witnessed the Dutch tear it apart in what was a flat course in Denmark so what can they manage to do here? I expect them to be constantly on the attack throughout the afternoon and their whole squad could realistically win. It will be interesting to see what the hierarchy will be; if they even have one at all.

Any dangerous attack that goes will have at least one Dutch rider in it but more likely there will be two or three there. This will put them at a massive tactical advantage compared to the other nations. We witnessed this at the Worlds last year when Blaak was able to attack and van der Breggen and van Vleuten marked the chase behind. I think we’ll see something very similar tomorrow and it won’t be a big sprint finish. Instead, it will either be a small group that fights it out or a solo rider will get the jump on everyone and come home alone.

What move do you follow?

This will be the question that the majority of the peloton will be asking themselves tomorrow morning. There are plenty of good sprinters here but they arrive with weak/small teams so it will be very difficult for them to control things all day. Take for example Lepistö, she is the type of rider who in form could make a reduced bunch sprint but with only two team-mates the likelihood is that she will have to attack to make the selection, rather than rely on others bringing it back. It is a mixture of good race reading ability but also a bit of luck to get yourself into that right attack. Then it is just up to your legs to finish it off!

I think we’ll see things whittled down almost immediately and the first 4 or 5 laps will see a race of attrition before the second half of the race. From that point onwards a winning move could go at any time.

The one team who has several cards to play that can almost match the Dutch are the Italians. With Bastianelli, Cecchini, Longo Borghini and Bronzini they have four riders capable of following a lot of attacks from those in orange. It will be interesting to see if they are equally as attacking as their counterparts.

A Trio to Watch

As I expect the race to be very dynamic and unpredictable I’m just going to name three riders who I think have a good chance of producing a strong result tomorrow. So apologies if you were looking for a long list here!

Elisa Longo Borghini.

Strade Bianche - Elite Women 2018

A very aggressive rider, the former Italian Champion has had a consistently solid season but has just missed out on that big win. She did win the Mediterranean Games road race, however, the opposition there wasn’t as strong as it will be tomorrow. One of the punchier riders in the peloton who seems to cope well on rolling courses, it is amazing she hasn’t won more. Maybe a change of team will do wonders for her next year? Here she gets to ride in the Italian tricolore though and they always come to these events fired up to do well. No doubt they will have a plan to either sprint with Bronzini or Bastianelli, but I think Longo Borghini will be given a free card to mark attacks and follow any move she deems dangerous. Will she finally get some luck?

Lucinda Brand.

I can’t exactly not include a Dutch rider here, can I? Brand is the hipstery pick but I really rate her chances for tomorrow. We saw in both the Giro Rosa and La Course that her climbing has improved massively on the longer ascents but it is the short punchy climbs that we tomorrow which should suit her more. If she has maintained her level of form from the start of July then she will be a big threat and a good wild card for the Dutch team to play.

Dani Rowe.

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A “home” championships will certainly motivate Rowe, who has had a very good season so far. Her change of team to WaowDeals has seen her gain some freedom at times, mainly in the UK races. Tomorrow she will probably be Team GBs leader, although Barnes will be hoping for a sprint. Rowe has shown in the past that she is capable of following the best in the World when on small climbs; her performance in Yorkshire is testament to that. An attacking rider, I would be very surprised if we didn’t see her off the front of the bunch at some point. In the right group she has every chance.

Prediction

It is nigh on impossible to stop the Dutch if they play the race right so I’ll go with Lucinda Brand to take the win, something she has deserved over the past month of racing!

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Coverage

The race will be shown live on Eurosport Player from start to finish, with the pre-race coverage starting at 12:20 UK time. I’m not too sure if it will be on elsewhere but I imagine so!

Betting

I kindly asked B365 if they would price this up before and they delivered, truly remarkable. Probably be the only time outside of Worlds I get a chance to lose some money on the women’s races so I’m going in and backing the three to watch.

No EW available though which is a shame so 1pt WIN on the following…

Brand @ 20/1

ELB @ 22/1

Rowe @ 50/1

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

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

La Course 2018 Preview

La Course 2018 Preview

After the great racing we saw on the slopes of the Izoard last year, I’m completely ignoring the shambles that was the second day of racing, La Course once again returns to the mountains this year.

In 2017 we saw Annemiek van Vleuten take a dominant win after putting three-quarters of a minute into second-placed finisher Lizzie Deignan on the ascent, with Elisa Longo Borghini rounding out the podium.

LA COURSE By Le Tour

 

It was a case of what might have been for the Brit though as she did the majority of the pace setting early on, hoping to set up team-mate Guarnier. However, she turned out to be the strongest in the Boels camp. Would she have beaten van Vleuten had she sat in the wheels? Probably not, but it would have been a lot closer!

The reigning champion is here to defend her title and after just smashing the Giro Rosa to bits, she will be very confident of doing the double. First though, let’s have a look at what awaits the riders tomorrow.

The Route

With 2500m of climbing in only 112.5km of racing, this is going to be a tough day in the saddle for the peloton. Especially when you consider that the majority of the climbing comes in the last 40kms.

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The two early climbs of Col de Bluffy and Côte de Saint-Jean-de-Sixt won’t be decisive in the outcome of the race but they might see some early attrition take place. Although I think this would be unlikely given they know what lies ahead. Instead, they might be a good place for the break to form and teams to send riders up the road so that they can work for their team leader on the two monster climbs to come.

Col de Romme and Col de la Colombière are two tough Cat-1 climbs when taken alone but given that they come back to back with only 5km of descent in between then they are going to be hellish – close to 1400m of elevation gain over 22kms.

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Taking away the 5km of descent then it is really 1400m of gain over 17km, which makes the average gradient of the climbs roughly 8.2%.

Expect to see some big gaps tomorrow!

Once over the top of the Colombière the riders will have close to 12km of descent and 2kms of mainly flat roads between them and the finish line.

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The descent itself will be fast as the average gradient for the 12km is close to -6%, with it being on a standard two-lane mountain road the riders should have plenty of room to judge their lines. There are quite a few hairpins littered throughout the descent and they mainly seem to come grouped together.

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A sharp turn with 1.5km to go could see some mishaps as the riders will be carrying a lot of speed into it but they should be able to smooth out the corner by taking it wide. Nonetheless, we saw what happened in the men’s race when the peloton had to turn back on itself. Thankfully, I don’t think we’ll see a big group of riders arrive at this point together!

The final kilometre averages 1.2% but the final 200m of the day features an 8% ramp. A nice little finish for a sprint showdown, if we get a small group of riders arriving together.

Giro Legs vs Fresh Legs

In the male side of the sport we often see the benefit of riders who have been at the Tour de France with their results in San Sebastian the following weekend after the Tour is finished. Will those from the Giro Rosa see a similar trend in results?

I’m not sure and given that there has only been today in between the Giro finishing and La Course starting, I think some might struggle. Today can almost be viewed as a traditional Grand Tour rest day apart from some of them will have to travel the almost 700km from their bases in Italy to Annecy by car. Doesn’t sound like a great rest day to me! Some will have bitten the bullet and travelled straight away after yesterday’s Giro stage in the hope of a more chilled day today. Other teams with better budgets might even have flown their riders to Geneva and got a transfer from there.

Ultimately I’m not sure how the one-day turnaround will affect the riders and I don’t think many of them will know either. It could make for some unexpected results!

I say that but there are only a handful of riders who can actually win this race.

Contenders – Giro Rosa Riders

Annemiek van Vleuten.

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A dominant display in the Giro Rosa saw her take home pink by over 4 minutes to her nearest rival, collecting 3 stage wins along the way. She comes into La Course as the red-hot favourite and you would be hard pressed to find many people thinking that this is not her race to lose. The mix of tough climbing and fast descent plays perfectly into her abilities as a rider. I would not be surprised to see her drop everyone on the Colombière and solo to the line. Have the past 10 days exertions taken a lot out of her legs though? That is the important question that we won’t find the answer to until during the stage.

Amanda Spratt.

If van Vleuten isn’t at the pointy end of the race then Mitchelton have a great second option in Spratt. The Aussie exceeded my expectations at the Giro where she finished the race third overall and managed to win a stage too. A versatile rider, the diminutive Spratt will relish the back to back climbs. If we see a tactical race unfold then she is the perfect rider to send on the attack while van Vleuten sits behind and marks everyone out of the race. Give her 30 seconds on the Colombière and she will be very hard to bring back.

Ashleigh Moolman Pasio.

Forever the bridesmaid it seems, the Cervelo rider was unfortunate to just come up against a very strong Mitchelton Scott team at the Giro. However, I think she will ultimately be happy with a second place finish overall. On the two summit finishes in the race she was the only rider able to keep remotely close to the Mitchelton riders and she suffered on Zoncolan from having to make the pace. In a race where she can draft the wheels a bit more, then she has a good chance of sticking close to them. If she takes a few risks on the descent I would fancy her chances in a small sprint finish to the line. I think that is her best chance of winning – sounds easy, right?

Brand, Guarnier, Ludwig, Merino and Santesteban are all names to throw into the hat but I think they will fall short. They are top 5/10 candidates though.

Contender – The Fresh Rider

Anna van der Breggen.

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The elephant in the room for this race, the Boels rider is one of only a few riders coming here who wasn’t at the Giro Rosa, the other notable rider being Ferrand Prevot. Van der Breggen has had another ridiculously strong season, winning 4 WWT events: Strade, Flanders, Liege and Fleche. Not a bad record! She arrives in France after taking a few weeks off of her road bike, competitively anyway, while she was instead taking part in the mountain bike world cup event in Val di Sole. That didn’t go spectacularly well for her as she finished over 8 minutes down on the winner. Nonetheless, back on the road she should be in her preferred terrain again. Her form is unknown but that hasn’t stopped her smashing it before, she won in Flanders for example after a few weeks away from racing. She is van Vleuten’s biggest challenger here.

Prediction

I’m looking forward to seeing a very intense Dutch battle on the roads tomorrow with two of the biggest names in the sport going head to head. Giro legs vs fresh legs, who will come out on top?

I’ll go Giro legs and Van Vleuten to double up!

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I think with van der Breggen not targeting the Giro, she thoroughly has her sights set on the latter part of the season so will be slightly undercooked here. I might be wrong, but she won’t be close to where van Vleuten is at the moment.

Coverage

Despite ASO’s best intentions of not really giving us any information at all for the race, aside from some barebones stuff, the race is actually going to be shown live.

It is scheduled to be shown on Eurosport 1 (here in the UK) from 9:15 to 12 (BST). Not sure what the plans are for the rest of Europe but I assume it will be the same. If you can’t watch it at that time of day then I’ll be tweeting intermittently about it as it conveniently falls on my day off from work.

Thanks as always for reading and any RTs etc are much appreciated. Who do you think will win tomorrow and why? Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

Giro Rosa 2018 Preview: The BFOG

Giro Rosa 2018 Preview: The BFOG

After a little time away from blog writing I’m back with a bang to preview the toughest women’s race on the calendar, the Giro d’Italia Internazionale Femminile a.k.a The Giro Rosa. With last year’s success of the BFOG I thought I would do something similar for this season so here is your one stop for all of the coming 10 days of action!

In 2017 we saw what was really a three-horse race established after only the second day of racing when van Vleuten, van der Breggen and Longo Borghini stole a march on the rest of the GC favourites, coming home almost 2 minutes ahead of the next group.

Van Vleuten would lose almost 2 minutes on the rather innocuous stage 4 when Boels split the bunch in the crosswinds and it would be that day that consequently cost her the chance of winning the race overall, although she would get some consolation with a second stage win in the TT. In fact, the gaps after that TT on the 5th day pretty much remained the same throughout the remaining 5 stages so it was van der Breggen who ultimately took home the crown ahead of Longo Borghini and van Vleuten rounding out the podium in third.

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With van der Breggen not here this year to defend the title, it opens up the race for a potential new winner. Can van Vleuten step up, or will we see a surprise rider take the crown?

First though, let’s look at what the riders will face over the 10 stages. Get comfortable though as this could be a long one!

The Route and Stage Contenders

The majority, if not all, of the profiles used will be from LaFlammeRouge so go and give them a follow. Otherwise, they’ll be ones that I’ve made on Strava etc.

Stage 1: Verbania -> Verbania (TTT)

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Seemingly now a tradition, the race once again starts with a team time trial, this time around the streets and suburbs of Verbania. Pretty much pan flat with only 70m of elevation gain throughout the 16km course, there is no need for a profile here! It will be a course that suits the power teams but as you can see on the map there are a few tighter corners where organisation will be key. With the women getting little chance to do a full TTT in races, we could see a couple of surprise results.

Boels smashed the opposition over a similar course in the Healthy Ageing Tour where they took 52 seconds out of second place team Virtu. They will be up against much stronger opposition here and they certainly won’t have it all their own way but they do start out as favourites. We of course have current TTT World Champions Sunweb at the race and they will no doubt want to go out and show that result was not a one-off and looking at their team, they have plenty of power houses in there to challenge Boels again. Those two outfits should finish 1-2 but there are another couple of teams who I have my eye on for a strong result.

Cervelo Bigla were my team to upset the apple cart last year but they had a disaster with them losing two riders early on due to a crash. I think they’ll return this year even stronger and their squad looks strong for this discipline, with them putting three riders inside the top 10 in their most recent TT at Bira.

Mitchelton Scott have come on leaps and bounds in the TT discipline this year and like Cervelo, they also had three riders in the top 10 of that Bira effort. They haven’t actually competed in a team-version this year so it will be interesting to see how they gel together but given they spent a day on their TT bikes together at training camp, I would be surprised if they didn’t sneak in some practice. I genuinely think they could contend for the win, the top 4 will be covered by only 15 seconds or so.

Stage 2: Ovada -> Ovada 

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One of those typical Italian rolling stages so the outcome of the day will all depend on how aggressively they opening 80km as the closing 30km are fairly easy. It should end in a sprint but again that all relies on teams having numbers to control things. The finish is a bit deceiving on the profile (shock), but the road rises ever so slightly before flattening out to the line.

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The rise is only 600m at 3.4% but it might take the sting out of the sprinters kick and open it up for some of the puncheurs to go for the stage win. Not to mention that with around 300m to go the riders have to face this roundabout.

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It will be a sketchy finish but at least the slight rise will have slowed them down to not make the roundabout too dangerous.

Three riders who to keep an eye out for here include Bastianelli, Ryan and Pieters, all of whom can cope with the short rise and pack a very fast sprint. I’ll go with the Ale rider to take the stage, the finish screams Bastianelli to me.

Stage 3: Corbetta -> Corbetta.

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There seems to be a recurring theme here in these opening few stages where the same town is hosting the start and finish, with stage 3 a roughly 30km circuit around Corbetta. With a pan-flat route, this is definitely one for the fast women of the peloton and those who missed out the previous day will want to make amends.

Wild, Hosking, Lepistö and d’Hoore are the big names here in terms of pure, flat sprinting talent so it would be a surprise not to see one of them take home the win. There are plenty of others to watch out for though including Pieters, Buurman, Bronzini, Fournier and Vos to name a few.

Nonetheless, the last turn comes with around one kilometre to go and the straight road finish will see the strongest sprinter here win – steep up the Belgian Bullet a.k.a Jolien d’Hoore.

Stage 4: Piacenza -> Piacenza

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The pattern continues onto stage 4 and we should see another sprint come the end of the day. There is a Cat-3 climb in the middle of the route to spice things up and tempt some teams to up the pace so we could see some sprinters dropped – women’s cycling is very unpredictable after all. However, I do think we’ll see a bunch sprint come the end of the day.

It is one tricky finish though, and it seems to be roundabout central: there are 6 of them in the last in closing 3km! Not entirely sure which genius thought this up and decided it was a great idea, but I guess that it is stereotypical Italian race design.

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The last roundabout comes at roughly 200m to go, so whoever comes out of that in second wheel will probably win the day. I like the look of d’Hoore‘s lead out so I’ll go for her to double up.

Stage 5: Omegna -> Omegna

Another day, another same start and finish town!

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With an uncategorised drag from the gun, we could see some riders in for a long day. The Cat-2 climb of Lesa – Fine Salita will see the first GC selection of the race. The climb can really be split into two parts with an “easier” opening section before they face the Muro di Comnago.

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The opening 3.6km average roughly 6.4% but it is the steep ramps of Comnago that will really split things up as through the town a 730m section averages 12.5%. It is going to hurt!

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It will also be spectacular though as the riders race through the narrow streets. Once over the top of the climb then there is a little plateau followed by a descent. That then leads into an uncategorised ascent which averages 4% for almost 6kms – classic Giro! A long but not very steep descent sees the riders to the final 9km of flat where a tactical battle might result in a surprise winner.

We had a similar finish to this on stage 2 last year and I thought it would be too early for a GC shake up and that we’d most likely see 12-16 riders come to the line together, or a late attack from a very reduced group. That didn’t happen though and the top 3 on GC just rode everyone off their wheels and worked well to get to the finish together. The one difference to this route is that it is that the main climb comes further out but given the follow-up climb, I think we’ll see a selective GC day. That might be a surprise to some.

It won’t be as selective as what we saw on Stage 2 in 2017 but I think there will only be a group of 8 riders who make it over the climb together – van Vleuten, Spratt, Kennedy (Mitchelton Scott), Guarnier (Boels), Niewiadoma (Canyon), Moolman Pasio (Cervelo), Stultiens (Waowdeals) and Longo Borghini (Wiggle).

Everyone will expect Mitchelton Scott to do all of the work given their numbers but instead of being shouldered with it, they will constantly attack and Spratt will eventually slip away, taking the day.

Stage 6: Sovico -> Gerola Alta.

We finally get the first point to point stage!

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Any GC gaps that were made yesterday will pale into significance after this stage. Nothing to see, aside from a more than likely hectic and fast run in to the first summit finish of the race. This day is all about that finish climb of Gerola Alta.

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A very consistent climb, riders who can maintain a steady rhythm will go well here. The race isn’t finished at the end of the strava segment above, as the riders still have another two kilometres of rolling terrain to contend with. Will we see a 2/3 rider sprint? It is hard to tell exactly what will happen as we don’t have a lot to go from in recent years, with only some of the finishes in the US and last year’s La Course to go by. I think we’ll once again see Mitchelton assert their dominance and put pressure on the other teams, hoping to crack another couple of riders and decrease their opposition.

This is Van Vleuten’s day.

Stage 7: Lanzada -> Alpe Gera di Campo Moro.

Mountain TT day!

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1122m of altitude gain in only 15.36km, meaning the climb averages 7.3% for its entirety. It is not the worst the riders will face this Giro but given it is a completely solo effort, some might find it more challenging than it is on paper. Expect some sizeable GC gaps between the favourites.

Can new climbing sensation Kennedy take her first World Tour win here?

Stage 8: San Giorgio di Perlena – Fara Vicentino -> Breganze.

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After the previous tough stages the riders have had to endure then most will be looking forward to a “rest-day” here. That means this is arguably the only stage in the whole race suited to a breakaway. Unfortunately for some, there will consequently be a big fight to get into the move and I fear quite a few riders will be dropped on the early climbs. It’s a long way to the finish but a group of them should make it home within the time limit.

The last climb of the day will be a decisive one and it is a little muro, averaging roughly 10% for a shade over a kilometre. Expect the break to be torn apart here and we’ll more than likely see a solo winner arrive into Breganze. Some of the GC contenders might even sense an opportunity to attack if one of their rivals looks to be on an off day.

As for the stage winner, names in a hat time, so I’ll go with Cecchini, Beggin and Rowe.

Stage 9: Tricesimo -> Ovaro (Monte Zoncolan).

The one everyone has been waiting for.

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Much like stage 6, there is nothing much to report until the famous last climb.

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I don’t need to describe the climb, it is just brutal, end of. Expect some big gaps here and the GC winner should be crowned.

Stage 10: Cividale del Friuli -> Cividale del Friuli

What better way to round out the race than with yet another same town start/finish. No processional stage here though!

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With a rather nasty sting in the tail, some things could still be up for grabs so the GC riders will need to be attentive and still fighting fit on the final climb of the race: San Leonardo.

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5km at 8.1% is tough enough for a shake up, especially with the steeper opening 3km that the riders will have to contend with. A descent all the way to the finish means that whoever crests the climb in first (if they’re alone) will most likely win.

Well, a few thousand words later that’s the route analysis finished, just the GC contenders to discuss, although I’ll be keeping this bit short and to the point as there are only a few riders who can win this race.

Contenders

I named 8 riders before: van Vleuten, Spratt, Kennedy (Mitchelton Scott), Guarnier (Boels), Niewiadoma (Canyon), Moolman Pasio (Cervelo), Stultiens (Waowdeals) and Longo Borghini (Wiggle) as a potential group who might escape on stage 5 and they are the riders who I will ultimately finish in the top 8 of the race.

However, I don’t think all of them have a chance of winning so unfortunately for Niewiadoma and Stultiens, their journey ends here. Likewise, even though Mitchelton have named van Vleuten and Spratt as their leaders, I think that Kennedy is the stronger climber compared to Spratt. Consequently, she also falls by the wayside.

That leaves a top 5 of van Vleuten, Kennedy, Guarnier, Moolman Pasio and Longo Borghini.

Van Vleuten.

Last year’s third placed finished, the Dutchwoman really should have won the race but it was a lapse of concentration and poor positioning that cost her on a rather innocuous stage as she lost time due to splits in the peloton caused by the wind and formation of echelons. Mitchelton bring a stupidly stacked squad with them that covers all terrain very well and van Vleuten will have a lot of support to go for a title bid this year. In 2017 we saw on the Izoard at La Course just how good she is on these mountains and I expect no different from her at this Giro.

Lucy Kennedy.

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A revelation since turning pro with Mitchelton at the start of the year, the Aussie has seriously impressed in her opening World Tour races. Unfortunately she crashed out of Amstel Gold Race while being in good shape so she hasn’t raced since then, instead focussing on recovering and getting some tough training and boy has she done that. She’s been on altitude camp with a few team-mates and has been setting some blistering times on the climbs around Livigno. Seemingly a naturally very strong climber, I am slightly concerned about her confidence after the crash. Her bike handling isn’t as great as some of the Europeans but that’s what you would expect when the majority of the bunch has grown up with aggressive and fast paced action in a peloton whereas Kennedy hasn’t. Thankfully for her, most of the mountains are at the end of the stages! I am intrigued to see how she copes in what is her first Giro but I haven’t seen any signs when she has been racing that suggest to me she will struggle. She could be the perfect 1-2 for Van Vleuten.

Elisa Longo Borghini.

Forever the bridesmaid it seems, ELB has struggled to this season a little and has failed to finish on the top step in 2018. However, this race is one of her big goals for the year and as a former winner of La Route de France she can never be discounted. Amazingly still only 26, the Wiggle rider has been already been around for a while and she should now be moving into her peak physical years. In 2017 she managed to follow van der Breggen and van Vleuten on the climbs, only losing time in the TT and TTT. Better efforts against the clock this year could see her be a real challenger for the title.

Megan Guarnier.

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With no van der Breggen in their line-up, the 2016 winner of this race arrives as Boels’ main charge for the title. Since that victory in 2016 (which was an incredible year for her overall), Guarnier has struggled to get as many wins under her belt. However, she was exceptionally consistent in 2017 and acted as a great second in command for her leaders, even finishing 4th at this event herself. It will be interesting to see how she copes with the pressure of being the only leader but her palmares at the Giro would suggest she will be perfectly fine, having came home 4th (2017), 1st (2016) and 3rd (2015) in the past three editions. I think she’ll be ready.

Ashleigh Moolman Pasio.

The Cervelo Bigla rider has been one of the most consistent this year, with her lowest finishing position in her 20 race days being 24th on stage 3 of the Bira. A truly remarkable stat. In fact, she’s only finished outside the top 10 on 4 occasions. A crash hampered her race here last season so she will no doubt be back with a hunger to succeed. I mentioned her team as dark horses for the TTT so she shouldn’t lose too much time, if any, in that discipline so it will be down to her ability on the climbs. Luckily for her, she is one of the best in the world and I think we’ll see a great race from her.

Prediction

Having numbers at the head of the race will be crucial and will play a massive part in the outcome of the race.

After last year’s disappointment I think we’ll see van Vleuten take the step up and win the title. This is the race she has been preparing for all season and she’s not here to play any games!

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Moolman and Guarnier to round out the podium.

Coverage

There were hushed mumblings that we were going to get some live coverage of the race this year but it seems that has unfortunately fallen through. Instead, there will be daily highlights on the PMG Sport facebook and Youtube page at roughly 5pm. If they are like their Italian Cup highlights then they will be well worth a watch and we should get to see most of the action with pretty much the last 20km of each day shown “live”.

As for during the race, the best way to follow it is via the #GiroRosa hashtag.

 

Thanks as always for reading, I hope you come back to this daily to see how wrong I was! If you could do me a massive favour and RT this on Twitter or share elsewhere then that would mean a great deal to me, this race deserves a lot more coverage. Who do you think is going to win overall? Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

Women’s Tour 2018 Stage 1 Preview: Framlingham › Southwold

Women’s Tour 2018 Stage 1 Preview: Framlingham › Southwold

GC Overview

The OVO Energy Women’s Tour returns this year for what is expected to be a week of fast-paced and action-packed racing, which will take place over the toughest parcours this event has had to offer to date. The crucial stage appears to be on day 2 where the riders will face a short but steep climb only a few kilometres from the finish but there are plenty of days left to mix things up from there and we should hopefully see some agressive racing.

Looking at the qualities needed to win this race, a rider has to be able to get up and over the short climbs but also pack a fast sprint as gathering bonus seconds will be important come the end of the week. Unless of course someone mimics what Niewiadoma did last year and take one of the days solo and secures the title that way. Although I’m sure the peloton will be a lot more attentive this time around!

Some names to conjure with this week include Brennauer (Wiggle High5), Vos (Waowdeals) and Van Dijk (Sunweb). Ultimately though, I think it will Blaak who will come away with victory. The World Champion has had a great 2018 so far and she has the perfect combination of sprint speed but also the ability to get over the short ramps – anyone who can go well on the Cauberg can go well here!

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

The Route

Arguably the easiest day of the race, I’m sure plenty in the peloton will be thankful of a fairly benign day in the saddle to ride themselves into the event. The peloton will take on mostly flat roads from the town of Framlingham to Southwold.

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There is only roughly 650m of elevation gain throughout the day but as you can see on the profile, there are no real hills but just some constantly rolling roads. I don’t know what the road conditions are like but if they’re anything like up here, then they will feel very heavy and the 650m might feel like a little bit more!

One Cat-3 QOM point will reward an early attacker with a jersey but given how unformulaic women’s racing seems to be at times, it could well be a rider who jumps out of a compact peloton that takes the points. If that is the case, then expect things to be kept together for the first intermediate sprint of the day and the consequent bonus seconds that are awarded with it.

A break might finally be let go after that but they won’t be given too much leeway as the sprint teams look to set things up for a bunch gallop into Southwold.

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The final 3km are fairly straight forward aside from two turns within the closing kilometre which will stretch things out a bit. They aren’t too tight but the second turn onto the home straight is quite tight so being near the front here will be crucial.

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Something else that will be crucial though is the wind. It looks as if it will be coming from the south-west throughout the day, blowing between 15km/h and 22km/h throughout the afternoon, with gusts up to 30km/h. A lot of the route is well covered but it will be interesting to see if some of the teams try to split things in the more exposed areas. It will need for the conditions to be perfect though.

More importantly though, it is something for the riders to consider in the sprint as it will pretty much be a block head wind for them so ideally you want to launch your effort later and come from further back to take advantage of the slipstream.

Sprinters

Jolien d’Hoore.

The Belgian rider arrives here without any racing since breaking her collarbone so it will be interesting to see where her for currently is. The Mitchelton Scott team that surrounds her is very strong and I’d argue that they have one of the best lead-out trains here, with Williams, Roy and Elvin able to put out a lot of power in the closing kilometres. D’Hoore has proven in the past just how fast a sprinter she is, but so far this year she has struggled to be dominant. A win here would go a long way in restoring some confidence.

Chloe Hosking.

One of the most consistent sprinters this year, Hosking has managed to take home 7 podium finishes which included 3 wins. She joked during the Spring campaign that she was the “Sagan of women’s cycling” always coming close but not taking home the result. I’m sure none of that mattered to her though when she won the Commonwealth Games in front of a home crowd. Like d’Hoore, this is her first race back since Chongming so it might take a bit to get her racing legs back but she can’t be ruled out.

Kirsten Wild.

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Having missed out on a lot of the spring campaign to focus on the track, a wise move as she won the Omnium, Scratch race and Points race at the Worlds, Wild returned to the road properly at the end of March. Since then she has gone on to win three times in only 14 race days, not a bad feat, with her most recent success being the opening day of the Tour de Yorkshire. One of the most experienced sprinters in the peloton she’ll hope to use that to her advantage, especially with the tricky conditions in mind.

Coryn Rivera.

It was always going to be hard for the American to live up to her fantastic 2017 season and it looked for a while as if her season was really struggling to get going. However, two recent stage wins in Thüringen will have lifted her confidence greatly and she will be buoyed coming into this event. Having Van Dijk to guide her in the closing kilometres will be great as the Dutchwoman is one of the best in windy conditions so Rivera will no doubt be in the perfect position. Can she deliver and keep her streak going?

Those four are arguably the stand out sprinters for me at this race but there are plenty of other good sprinters hoping to upset the apple cart…

Both the Barnes sisters might give it a go for Canyon and will be intriguing to see who the team backs on the opening day. The experience of Vos (Waowdeals) and Bronzini (Cylance) can never be discounted. Boels have a couple of options they could go for but they might try to get Blaak bonus seconds, if not then Dideriksen and Pieters are viable podium candidates. Buurman (Trek Drops), Fournier (FDJ) and Andersen (Hitec) will all be fighting for that top 10 as well.

It really is a pretty open field!

Prediction

I’ll go with Hosking to take the win, she always seems to bring her A-game here.

Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race

Coverage

We unfortunately don’t have any live pictures so it will be a case of following along on Twitter via the #OVOWT hashtag. How have I managed to make it this far without my now yearly Drake joke? Oh well, I’m sure the riders will take care of that tomorrow when they write their own headlines…Whoops.

We will get an hour-long highlights package that will be shown on ITV4 here in the UK and I’m sure a good VPN will sort anyone else watching abroad out. The highlights will be on at the following times.

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Rather oddly though, I’ll have my stage preview out for the next day out by then so just somehow skip past the header image and “today’s recap” if you want it to be kept a secret.

Velogames

For a bit of fun throughout the race I’ve made a Velogames league which you can join with this code “680890716”. No prizes on offer, just pride in beating me. Which really isn’t much of a hard task anyway.

Thanks as always for reading and I would really appreciate a RT on the timeline to spread the previews around a lot more as unfortunately, they just don’t get as much readership as the men’s previews do so any extra you can to do help would be great! Who do you think will win tomorrow, could we see an upset? Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

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.