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 Gent – Wevelgem 2018 Preview

Women’s Gent – Wevelgem 2018 Preview

Now into its third year as a feature of the Women’s World Tour, Gent Wevelgem returns this Sunday for its 5th edition overall. Last year saw a tough battle but a race which ultimately ended in a reduced bunch sprint.

Lepistö just won the sprint, pipping D’Hoore and Rivera in a very tight photo finish.

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Will we see the same riders come to the fore this year? Let’s have a look at what is in store for them over the day’s racing.

The Route

An almost identical parcours to last year except this season’s edition will be 3kms shorter.

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@LasterketaBurua

The riders will face a fairly flat 50kms to start off with as they roll out of Ypres and I imagine there will be a bit of  a fight to get into the morning breakaway. No team will want a repeat of De Panne where they missed the move and had to chase all day. If a reasonably large break goes expect most teams to make it, however, I think we’ll only see 5 riders or so let up the road this time.

After the 50km the riders will soon hit the Baneberg. The road does rise before the climb officially begins but the majority of the climbing takes place over 300m where the gradient averages 10%. Short but sweet!

There won’t be much time to rest as the peloton’s attention will be on getting in a good position on the narrow roads before the climb of the Kemmelberg.

Kemmel

The road rises gradually as the riders leave the town of Kemmel but it really starts to ramp as they make a right turn, coincidentally just as the cobbles begin! We didn’t see any major attacks here, it was more just an increase of pace that saw those ahead grind away from the opposition.

Once over the top a fast and technical descent follows before they climb almost straight away again.

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The Monteberg is the last place for the climbers to make a difference on the circuit with the slope’s 7.3% average gradient for a kilometre. It is short enough though that the stronger puncheurs and rouleurs in the peloton will be able to grind their way up it near the front of the bunch.

From there it will be 30kms before the riders face the same trio of climbs again but during that time they’ll have to traverse 4kms worth of Ploegstreet. It’s not somewhere you can win the race but as the old cliché goes, you can certainly lose it here.

The Baneberg, Kemmelberg and Monteberg combination are once again faced; with 33kms from the top of the last climb to the finish.

Weather Watch

A race that is often either split by strong winds or testing conditions that wear down the riders, it looks as if it might be a fairly benign day in the saddle tomorrow.

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Source: Windfinder

With a bit of a breeze coming from the north the run home from Ypres to Wevelgem will mean that there is a slight cross-wind but nothing too substantial.

Given the conditions, it looks as if a reduced bunch sprint will be the most likely outcome, unless we see a strong group escape on the Kemmelberg with the majority of the teams represented.

Sprinters

Jolien D’Hoore.

The Belgian Bullet won De Panne with a very strong sprint and she seems to be settling into her new team well. Mitchelton bring a quality selection with them to this race which is Van Vleuten’s first after her foray onto the track. The majority of their team are strong enough to make it over the Kemmelberg in contact, or close to the peloton and they’ll be able to help pull things back at the end. With Elvin as a lead-out rider, she has a very capable sprinter in that role but will the new duo manage to work well?

Chloe Hosking.

She’s been so close throughout this season so far but has failed to take a win again. It looked as if that duck was going to end in De Panne but she got blocked in ever so slightly which cost her. Ale worked excellently in that race to support her and bring the race back for a sprint and I think we’ll see them do the same tomorrow. The win is coming, it is just a matter of when.

Coryn Rivera.

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Sunweb’s pocket rocket has struggled to match her barnstorming start to the year last season but that’s almost understandable! Another rider that arrives with a strong team around her, she’ll want to go better than her 14th in De Panne. Caught out in the wind that day, the easier conditions should suit and I expect a better performance.

Lotta Lepistö.

Didn’t race De Panne as she was still recovering from a crash earlier in the year but she returns for this race wanting to repeat last season’s feat. Both 2016 and 2017 have been breakthrough years in a sense as she started to win a lot more races and featuring in more finishes. However, I’m unsure where she will be tomorrow in terms of fitness. Wouldn’t be surprised to see her win as she is one of the best sprinters in the world after a tough day but I just can’t see it happening.

Marianne Vos.

The current European Champion didn’t start De Panne either but she comes to this race in good form still, with a 3rd place in Alfredo Binda. That performance particularly impressed me as I thought it would be too soon after the cyclocross season for her to be competing over hillier terrain. The climbs tomorrow shouldn’t be a problem and we all know how strong she is after a long day in the saddle.

Chantal Blaak.

It’s amazing what having the Rainbow Jersey can do for a rider! Blaak had a great 2017, obviously winning the World Champs, but she has started 2018 meaning business. Winning the sprint for second in Binda highlights her current form level and she should be at the front of the race no matter what tomorrow. With PietersDideriksen and Majerus her lead-out sounds exceptionally strong. Is she going to get rid of the rainbow curse early in the year?

Alexis Ryan.

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This year’s early season revelation, she took her first win in Westerveld and quickly followed that up with her first World Tour podium. In De Panne she was caught up in a crash and had to fight back hard to rejoin the peloton which meant her sprint was lacking. If she stays on her bike here then she will be a threat as she has a properly strong kick.

Kirsten Wild.

I nearly didn’t mention the Dutch rider as I forgot she had moved to Wiggle in the Winter! She’s just come off a very successful period on the track and has only managed one road race so far this year. Therefore I think she might miss a bit of sharpness, but as a quality bike rider she can’t be discounted.

Others to look out for include Bronzini (Cylance), Siggaard (Virtu), Confalonieri (Valcar), Andersen (Hitec) and Fournier (FDJ).

Prediction

We’ll see a lot of action on the climbs but it will ultimately come back together for a sprint. After being so close this year already, Chloe Hosking will finally cross the line first. She just needs to ensure she can actually manage a clean and full sprint!

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Coverage

Another World Tour race and we get more TV coverage, something must be up as this is highly unusual. It’s a good unusual though! It will be available on lots of different providers, such as Eurosport or VRT, from 12:45pm GMT.

Thanks as always for reading! Who do you think will win tomorrow? Will it come down to a sprint or will we see a strong group get away? Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

 

 

Women’s Driedaagse De Panne-Koksijde 2018 Preview

Women’s Driedaagse De Panne-Koksijde 2018 Preview

The 3-day race that is now a one-day race gets a women’s edition. De Panne arrives in the Women’s World Tour calendar for the first time and on paper it should give the sprinters a good chance at success.

Let’s have a look at what is exactly in store for them tomorrow.

The Route

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A day by the coast awaits the riders along a pretty much pan-flat course.

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@LasterketaBurua

It’s a shame that there is only one section of cobbles for the riders to tackle and given that they come pretty early, I can’t see them playing any major part in the outcome of the day.

At just over 15km long the final circuit takes in both the towns of De Panne and Koksijde along with some of the other surrounding areas.

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There’s not much else of note about the route!

So a sprint finish then? Well…

Weather Watch

It just so happens that De Panne passes through one of my favourite areas in cycling; De Moeren. An area famed for flat land, open fields and strong winds. That can only mean one thing; echelons!

Of course though, that requires the wind to play ball and going by the forecast it certainly seems like it will tomorrow.

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Source: Windfinder

A strong and consistent wind throughout the day coming from the West, the riders will have to be alert on their way from Brugge to De Panne as the road constantly twists and turns. Being unattentive at the wrong moment could see you suddenly spat out the back as the race gets battered by a strong crosswind and you’re too far down the pack to deal with it.

Just before we reach the circuit for the first time, the riders will cycle through one of my favourite regions in cycling; De Moeren.

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Almost 3km of dead-straight, wide-open Belgian farmland. Given the wind conditions it is not a case of if the race will split here, it is by how badly will it split? Some riders will see their chances of a good result on the day gone here.

Once onto the circuit the wind will come at the riders from different directions depending on where they are on the course and they do get some protection from buildings etc. However, there are still two locations that are fairly open that can cause splits in the wind.

The 1km section of Noordhoekstraat that heads South (which ends with roughly 6.8km to go) is one possible place. However, once they turn right and continue West they will face a strong headwind which might cause things to slow down. Nonetheless, if everyone is on their last reserves by then it will only be the strongest riders at the head of the race so chasing it down will be tough.

The second section is also 1km long (Langgeleedstraat) but more importantly, it ends with only 3kms of the day left and the riders will have almost another kilometre of tailwind to gather their breath afterwards.

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Narrow and exposed roads can only mean one thing, right?

There will be a bit of a cross-head wind as they enter the final 2kms but by then I expect the damage to be done.

I’ll be shocked if we see a big bunch sprint tomorrow, I’m expecting 20 riders or less and to be honest, it will be closer to 10 I think. Which then means a late attack from a strong rider might stick too, it just depends on who is represented at the head of the race in the closing sections!

Contenders

As is always the case with women’s cycling, the organisers can’t seem to keep an up-to-date start list so I might miss some riders out here that actually are racing, or I might mention someone who isn’t here!

Amy Pieters.

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Fresh off the back of a win in Ronde van Drenthe, she’ll arrive here as Boels’ leader for the race. As a Dutch rider, it goes without saying that she is strong in tricky conditions like this and she’ll hope to make any split that goes. A good sprinter after a tough day, many people will not want to take her to the line. Majerus will no doubt be in an attacking mood as well and she’s another to keep an eye on.

Gracie Elvin.

The Australian is maturing into one of the better classics riders in the peloton and she forms part of a strong Mitchelton Scott team at this event. In Ronde van Drenthe she worked tirelessly to try to set up her team-mates but also managed to spend some time attacking off the head of the bunch. With her form on the up, she will want a good result here. Mitchelton have the luxury of also having D’Hoore among their ranks who is also an incredible one-day Belgian racer, not to mention they’ll both have the help of Allen, Crooks, Williams and Spratt; a strong outfit! I’d be surprised not to see them featured at the pointy end tomorrow.

Floortje Mackaij.

Like Mitchelton, Sunweb have an embarrassment of riches here at this race and it’s hard to know who their leader might be and I imagine they’ll just play it as it comes tomorrow. Mackaij has had a strong start to the year finishing in the top 10 of her last four races, including a win in Westhoek. She’s a tenacious Dutch rider who is at home in bad conditions but she also packs a good sprint from a reduced group. Of course Sunweb also have Rivera who will be their go-to if she’s there in the finale and then they also have Brand and Van Dijk too. The latter normally goes very well in this type of race and she recently won Hageland solo; will we see something similar tomorrow?

Lotta Lepistö.

A name that would be at the front of this race more often or not, it is hard to know where her form is at the moment due to a DNF in Drenthe. She started the season off slowly in Setmana, only picking up a 2nd place on one of the stages. She could win it or could come 80th!

Janneke Ensing.

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I have to include the winner of Le Samyn in this list! Ensing was super strong that day in some tough conditions and no doubt she will be looking forward to something similar tomorrow. Alé bring a fairly solid outfit and I would expect the likes of Hosking, Knetemann and Bastianelli to go deep into the race with the former obviously hoping to take a sprint victory after being so close so far this season.

Other names to conjure with include Cordon (Wiggle), Cromwell (Canyon), Andersen (Hitec), Koster (Waowdeals), De Jong (Experza).

Prediction

The race will be blown to bits, quite literally, in the wind tomorrow and there is no way that I can see the predicted bunch sprint that you would assume just if you had looked at the profile.

Mitchelton and Sunweb have the strongest teams here and they’ll hope to use numbers to their advantage and I would be surprised not to see them actively near the front. Given the windy conditions that are forecast, it will be very difficult to hold things together in the final laps of the circuit around De Panne.

It just screams Van Dijk solo attack/win to me!

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Coverage

The latter part of the race will be shown on Belgian TV and on the Eurosport Player which is great news! You’ll able to follow on twitter via #UCIWWT and #Driedaagse before then.

Thanks as always for reading! Who do you think will win tomorrow? Will we see a sprint in the end or will the weather wreak havoc over the peloton? Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

 

Trofeo Alfredo Binda 2018 Preview

The women’s World Tour returns this weekend for its third and oldest event on the calendar; the Trofeo Binda. Last year’s edition of the race saw somewhat of a surprise result as a reasonably large group of 25 riders came to the line to contest the sprint finish. No one was able to match American pocket-rocket Coryn Rivera though as she took a dominant victory with a delighted Arlenis Sierra in second and Cecilie Ludwig rounding out the podium.

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Will we see something similar this year or will the race revert back to type and be one for the attackers? Let’s have a look at what is in store for the riders on Sunday.

The Route

Exactly the same as last year!

It is a tough parcours though with the road going either up or down for the majority of the day; there’s no real respite for the riders.

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@LasterketaBurua

The opening part of the day will act as a leg sapper but the main focus of the afternoon is to do with the circuit around Cittiglio itself.

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You can view the finish circuit profile that I have made here.

As you can see, the circuit is dominated by two main climbs. The first of which is only 1km long but the Sciareda does average 6.4%.

Sciareda

Punchy enough in some sections for a stinging attack, the climb will more likely be used to wear down other riders in the peloton but it is possible for a strong group to form here and not be brought back. Especially if the majority of the big teams are present.

A short descent follows, the riders will then have a couple of kilometres of flat before the main climb on the circuit starts.

On the profile of the circuit above you can see an incredibly steep section before it flattens out. That’s just an issue with Strava and the road there isn’t that steep. It goes uphill, but not at that severity!

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You can almost flatten out the sharpness of the gradient and extend the drag into the flatter green section, therefore I’m unsure as to how accurate the gradient at the top right of the image is. However, it is a lot more accurate for the second half of the climb and the double-digit gradients there are real and offer the better climbers a perfect launchpad. Expect to see a thinning out of the bunch on this climb over the laps.

Once over the crest there is still a reasonably long way to the finish but just over 5kms of it is made up of descent. However, the gradients are fairly shallow so the riders will still have to work.

The final 3km roll a little and the run to the finish line is slightly uphill so the timing of any sprint is very important.

Weather Watch

The bad conditions in Italy are set to continue.

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Source: Meteo.it

Rain, rain and more rain around Cittiglio this weekend. In an interview on her team’s website Elisa Longo Borghini expects it to be exceptionally tough and conditions similar to her win back in 2013.

The wet roads will make the descents more treacherous and it will make the race even more attritional. Consequently, I definitely don’t think we’ll get a sprint like we had last year. Maybe a small group of 5 or 6 might arrive together but not 25!

Contenders

Megan Guarnier.

Can the American continue Boels’ unbeaten start to the season? She’s only raced at Strade so far, finishing quite a bit behind the favourites but with it being such a tough race, it is hard to tell where her form is at. Having finished 2nd here before, this is a parcours that should theoretically suit her. 2017 wasn’t a great year compared to her vintage 2016 but given that Deignan will not be racing in 2018, the pressure will be on Guarnier to try to rekindle that form. If not her, then World Champion Chantal Blaak might have a chance. She excelled in the bad weather in Strade finishing a very good 4th place. If the pace isn’t too electric then she might be able to hold onto the better climbers and either wait in for the sprint or launch an attack in the finale.

Katarzyna Niewiadoma.

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She only managed second in Strade after having the heavy expectations of this blog on her shoulders. An exceptionally talented rider, it is hard not to imagine her near the front come Sunday. Canyon SRAM arrive with a strong team here to support her that includes Cecchini and Ferrand-Prevot. The former might not be up there with the best climbers in the peloton but she is not too far away in one-day races like this where the longest ascent is under 3kms. PFP is just back after taking a second place in the Mountain Bike World Cup in South Africa; a race she could have won if not for a mechanical. Her form is clearly better than in Strade where after the race she said she felt a bit ill and empty. The question mark with her though is how will the travelling affect the racing? If she’s fit and not jet-lagged then Canyon have a great chance of winning given the number of riders they have who could feasibly contend; even Hannah Barnes might fancy her chances.

Ashleigh Moolman.

Involved in the main chase group in Strade until a crash saw her drop out of contention for a high placing, she’ll be hoping to go better here.  Her early season form is good and on paper she really should be one of the riders going for victory here. One of the big advantages that she has over some of her competitors is that she has a good sprint from a reduced group. Expect to see her and Cecilie Ludwig alternate attacks.

Amanda Spratt.

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The Mitchelton Scott rider had a good hit-out in Strade but she was just unable to follow the best. The Aussie team’s European base is nearby so they will know this area well and should be very attentive on what are almost local roads. The length of the climbs are good for Spratt as they aren’t as punchy but they’re more gradual in nature. One thing that I admire about her are her bike handling skills and she won’t be afraid to go on the attack on the descent, I’m just still not 100% confident in her ability to follow the best on the slopes. However, her team-mate Lucy Kennedy might be able to do just that. In Strade she managed to finish in 5th place (ahead of Spratt) after doing the majority of the work in the chasing group. In fact, she could have finished 4th had she read the preview and known to take the inside line around the last corner; although to be fair she looked dead on her cleats as she crossed the line. Longer climbs here should suit and I’m hoping for another surprising result.

Elisa Longo Borghini.

A mechanical at the worst possible moment ruined ELB’s chances of going for back-to-back Strade wins. I think she went into the red trying to desperately chase back van der Breggen which then ultimately cost her a second place on the climb to Siena. A rider that is fairly local to the region, she will arguably know the roads better than most here which will be a big advantage in the testing conditions forecast. One of the best climbers in the women’s peloton, it would be a surprise to see her dropped when the road is going up. The question will be if she arrives alone or in a group with others. Given her sprint, she probably needs to solo home. After a horrid Strade for Audrey Cordon-Ragot which saw a crash derail her chances at a good personal result or to be there to help ELB, she arrives at this race in good shape according to her team mates. A rider that I admire a lot, she has plugged away as a super domestique for a while but she seems to be getting more freedom as a leader this season. She packs a deceptive sprint and could be quite dangerous in a group of 6 or so.

Coryn Rivera.

It would be hard to dismiss the current champion but can she make it two in a row? With no Van Dijk her squad is missing a massive engine so the rest of the team will have to step up to protect her. She’s a good climber who packs a solid sprint but with the more attritional race I’m expecting this season, I just can’t see her managing to repeat the feat.

Others to look out for include; Ensing (Ale), Rowe (Waowdeals), Sierra (Astana), Gillow (FDJ) and González (Movistar).

Prediction

An attritional race with a much reduced bunch due to the rain. Expect to see team’s use their second options to attack and force other squads to chase; we might even get a move like that stick.

However, I think it will be brought back going into the final lap and Elisa Longo Borghini will ride away from everyone on the climb and solo to victory. She looked good in Strade and will want to make up for the “what if?”.

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The Italian tricolore needs to win an Italian race, right?!

Coverage

Good news as this year it looks as if we’ll get some coverage of the race live on Eurosport, although it looks as if it will only be the Player. Hopefully the transmission of pictures will be more consistent than last year! I’m not sure if there will be comms for the race though so we might have a similar raw-feed like we did at Strade. Some suggested then that I could Periscope the race and try my hand at commentary which I could do if more people will interested? Although I am visiting old uni pals on Saturday and intend on going out so I might not be back home in time for the racing. If I am, it certainly could make it more interesting!

Thanks as always for reading! Who do you think will win on Sunday? Will we see an attritional race or will it come down to a select bunch sprint? If you would be so kind as to RT this blog then I’ll be forever grateful. 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.

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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 Individual Time Trial World Championships Preview – Bergen 2017

After the somewhat of a shock win from Sunweb on Sunday in the team effort, our focus now turns to the individual race against the clock and riders are back to riding for their country, not trade teams!

The power course in 2016 saw Amber Neben of the USA take a surprise win, beating Van Dijk and Garfoot into the silver and bronze medal positions respectively.

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The 42 year-old is here to defend her title but there are plenty of others looking to take it from her. First though, let’s have a look at what is in store for the riders.

The Route

The women will complete just one “long lap” around Bergen, which is quite disappointing if I’m honest. Especially when you consider that the U23 men completed a “long” and “short” lap for their event today!

Anyway, as per usual I’ve made a Strava/Veloviewer profile of the route that you can view here.

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A fairly flat and not overly technical opening 5.6km will allow the power riders in the peloton to open up the taps and hopefully get into a rhythm. However, after that they will then face the toughest part of the course where that “rhythm” might get thrown out of the window!

Rolling Section Women's TT

Lots of small drags and fast descents for the riders to tackle, the term “rollercoaster route” describes this section perfectly. Averaging 2.7% for the 4.4km it isn’t too tough and the more traditional TTers would hope not to lose too much. Well, that is until we get to the climb that has put to bed some of the contenders chances over the past few days of action.

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A short but very sharp climb, it is important to pace it and not go too deep. The lighter riders will hope to make up some time here but given its length, they won’t be able to make up much. If only the women finish on Mount Floyen too!

The reason pacing is important, is because the riders still have more than half of their ride to complete.

That closing 11kms actually average -1% so it can be a place for riders to gain a lot of time if they nail the descents and put the power down on the flat. We saw this in the women’s TTT with Sunweb gaining roughly 15 seconds on Boels over that section. Can Van Dijk do it again?!

Weather Watch

Over the past few days it has hardly rained. We had a smattering during the women’s junior TT earlier but in the city that is apparently one of the wettest in the world it has been a lot less than expected.

However, that might change tomorrow.

Saying that different forecasts have different outlooks. You can’t trust meteorologists these days!

So I’ll go off of Yr.no (A Norwegian site) which hopefully should be the most accurate*…

*famous last words.

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Source : YR.no

It seems that we’re in for another sprinkling of rain in the afternoon, which in theory should affect those late on in the order.

Speaking of which, Lauren Stephens is first down the ramp at 15:35 local time, with defending champion Neben off last at 16:54.

You can view the full start list and times here.

Contenders

I’m really not sure what to make of this race tomorrow. We have a whole host of riders who in theory could compete on this course, but it all depends on their form!

Lauren Stephens.

First down the ramp, the American will no doubt set the fastest time early on but it could be one that might stand a while. She’s been very impressive so far this season, taking 3 wins to her name, including two-time trials. Possibly benefiting from better weather, can the strong all-rounder shock the peloton?

Anna van der Breggen.

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The rider who could potentially knock Stephens off that early hot-seat, the Dutchwoman has had a great season; winning a famous Ardennes Triple. Her efforts against the clock have been solid, but she’s failed to win a TT. The course tomorrow suits her as a strong all-rounder but I think she might prefer a few more hills.

We’ll then have to wait a bit for riders to challenge the times of the two above. There will be some who might come close but I can’t see anyone beating them for almost another hour…

Annemiek van Vleuten.

The bookmaker’s favourite for this race “Vleuty” has been incredibly strong this season, bouncing back form her horror crash in Rio last year. Everything she’s touched recently has turned to gold pretty much, it has been a truly remarkable effort. She will arrive her full of confidence after beating Van Dijk in the recent Boels Rental Tour and she has every chance to do that again. My one doubt about her is that as she has been so strong for a large percentage of the year, is she starting to tire now, while others have managed their peaks a lot better?

Ellen Van Dijk.

The third Dutch rider/potential winner on the start list, she was instrumental in helping Sunweb to the TTT title on Sunday. A powerhouse on the bike, the course looks almost ideal for her. She is one of the last riders down the start ramp so she’ll be hoping any rain holds off until after she has finished, but she will be up there fighting either way. I imagine she will be satisfied with nothing less than Rainbow at the end of the day.

Amber Neben.

Last year’s somewhat of a shock winner, we could well be in for another surprise again. I personally don’t know much about her as I only started following the women’s side of the sport a few years ago, but she apparently can put out some serious watts. At 42 years old though, surely this is a step too far? Then again, winning your first Worlds at 41 kind of negates that a bit…

Olga Zabelinskaya.

10-08-2016 Giochi Olimpici Cronometro Elite Donne; 2016, Russia; Zabelinskaia, Olga; Rio De Janeiro;

A strong TT rider with a “dubious” racing history, she always seems to go fairly well at the big events. Her form this season has been poor though and she disappointed at the Euro Champs. However, given her ability to surprise then who knows what we’ll get from her tomorrow!

Katrin Garfoot.

Not too far off the pace last year, where she somewhat avoided the Haughey Curse and managed to take third; she will obviously be hoping to go better this time round. Like Van Dijk, this course looks great for the naturalised Aussie who can manage on the climbs but also put the power down on the flat. She has been slowly building some form and a third place during the Tour of Norway is promising. Watch out for her!

Others to look out for to be in and around the top 10 include Villumsen, Brennauer, and Duyck.

Prediction

Hmmm, I’m still really torn on this one.

The course suits a rider who can climb fairly well but is strong enough on the flat to put the power down. Before the Championships started I had this down as van Vleuten’s to win, but after watching the opening few days of racing I’m not so sure. In fact, I’ve changed my mind and I think Van Dijk has the best chance for the Dutch team.

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The European Champion to add a World title to her collection!

Watch out for Garfoot though, I think she could sneak a podium place and possibly even better…

Betting

The 7/2 available for Van Dijk to win is very tempting but I’m still not overly convinced. So to take out any “shocks” we might see, I think that the 2/1 to beat Van Vleuten offers some value.

I’m also tempted to back the Garfoot to beat Villumsen H2H at 5/4 as on this course I would have the Aussie as favourite.

I also think Garfoot is way overpriced as an outside podium contender at 22/1. As a rider who turned pro late (back in 2014) she’s since gone on and finished 11th/4th/3rd over the past three World TT competitions. Not bad. I think she’ll be close again tomorrow and has to be backed at the price.

So with all that said (including some of me talking through my logic) my punts are as follows –

3pts Van Dijk to beat van Vleuten @ 2/1 (would take 13/8)

5pts Garfoot to beat Villumsen @ 5/4 (would take at 10/11)

1pt EW Garfoot to win @ 22/1 (would back down to 14/1)

 

Thanks as always for reading and any feedback is greatly appreciated. Who do you think will win tomorrow? I think we’ll be in for an exciting and close afternoon of TT action. Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

 

Team Time Trial World Championships – Bergen 2017 Preview

Team Time Trial World Championships – Bergen 2017 Preview

We’re at that sad time of the year again where the World Championships begin and the season starts to draw to a close. The opening event as per usual, is the “art form” of the team time trial.

In 2016 we saw QuickStep (then Ettix) power their way around the pan-flat course in Doha amid some searing heat to beat BMC and Orica. A slight surprise given BMC’s dominance in the event throughout the year leading up to the World Champs.

As for the women, Boels continued their incredibly impressive season by blitzing the opposition, beating Canyon by 48 seconds and Cervelo by a shade under 2 minutes. Not bad!

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

The Route

Both the men and women will compete over the same course which is fantastic for me, as I don’t have to do double the work for nothing, or just pointlessly repeat myself which would bore you!

https://veloviewer.com/routes/10581357/embedAs is tradition nowadays, I’ve made my own profile for the route that you can hopefully see embedded above…

If not, you can view the interactive version here.

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“Appears flat-ish but surprisingly hilly” is how I would describe the route. There are no real severe gradients in the course apart from a few small climbs, but according to the Strava/Veloviewer data there is over 1100m of elevation gain.

I’m going to throw that slightly out of the window though as the app does get a bit confused when tracking through tunnels and over bridges etc, but it won’t be too far off. My estimate would be ~900m of elevation gain; which is still quite a lot for a TTT.

The first test the riders will face is a 1.2km climb at 4.8% that comes just after 3.5km into the day. Not ideal for “easing yourself into it”! The route then rises and falls constantly for the following 7kms as we head towards the second longest suspension bridge in Norway. A poor man’s Forth Road Bridge if you ask me…

Anyway, the first slightly anomaly on the profile comes just after that. The riders do go up a steep ramp, but it is not as sudden as it initially seems. Instead, it is more of a gradual rise through the tunnel, before flattening out.

Yet more undulating terrain follows before the riders face the toughest task of the day.

Averaging 5.4% for 2.2km isn’t crazy, but that includes the more shallow build up in the overall total. The main bulk of the climbing is actually done over 1.1km…

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It’s a bit more difficult than the 1.4km at 7.2% that is suggested on the official profile.

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The steepness of the slopes could certainly ruin the cohesion in a team and potentially ruin their chances at they head into the final section of the race.

Once over the climb, the riders will have some more rolling roads to contend with but they are mainly in their favour now, with the parcours descending ever so slightly all the way into Bergen.

Men’s Race

The usual teams arrive here with strong aspirations in this event so let’s start with the reigning champions.

Quick Step.

They bring a very solid all round squad with them here and they’ll once again be challenging for the title. It will be interesting to see what order they rotate in and who they intend to drop as the race progresses. I imagine Vermote probably won’t be there at the finish line! With all that said, I just can’t see them winning it this year.

BMC. 

The dominant force in TTTs for so long, they’re undefeated this season. Yet, this route is arguably the least favourable that they will have faced all year. With them in Bergen they do have a lot of strong guys who are more than competent climbers such as van Garderen and Dennis, and I wouldn’t be surprised if they did win. Yet, looking at their squad, you just don’t get the same “fear factor” that was there in previous years. They are beatable.

Sunweb.

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Somewhat of a surprise package that took third place at the Vuelta this year; they’ve made some steady progress throughout the season. In fact, I’d go as far to argue that they have been one of, if not, the best performing teams in 2017. I really like the look of their squad that they bring here and it is very well-balanced. Dumoulin will obviously be heavily relied on but their not exactly short of talent to back him up. Watch out for them!

Team Sky.

I wonder if Moscon can just drag the other 5 around with him? With the way he was riding in the last week of the Vuelta, it wouldn’t surprise me! Not exceptional in the discipline recently, Sky are more likely to be remembered for their exploding wheels at Tirreno this season compared to any of their on the bike TTT performances. However, their squad is stacked with strong riders who can handle this terrain. If there is ever a TTT WC Sky could win, this is it.

I can’t really see past any of those 4 squads winning. Orica should be fighting it out for a top 5 with Jumbo, with Movistar not too far behind.

Women’s Race.

Boels.

There you go, there’s your preview…

Joking aside, the Dutch outfit should have this one in the bag to make it back-to-back titles. They lost some of their TT prowess at the end of last year with Van Dijk moving to Sunweb and Stevens retiring. To replace them they did recruit van der Breggen and Pieters; not a bad swap! The rolling course could cause some difficulties but given everyone in their line-up is a solid climber, then it shouldn’t be too stressful for them. It will take some bad luck for them not to retain their crown, or a crazily strong ride from some opposition teams!

Cervelo.

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The up-and-coming TTT team in the women’s peloton, they are Boels’ nearest challengers in my opinion. At the recent Vargarda TTT they finished only 13 seconds behind the Dutch outfit over a similar distance. The route tomorrow is hillier, which probably doesn’t favour their squad as a whole. Nonetheless, with the likes of Ludwig, Moolman and Lepistö, they certainly have some firepower in their ranks!

Canyon.

The “old guard” of women’s TTT racing. In previous incarnations they were almost unstoppable in this event, but they have since lost their ways. The squad that they bring with them here gives me a similar feeling to QuickStep. They are strong, don’t get me wrong, but I just don’t see them having enough to challenge Boels and in fact, I think they’ll cede their silver place to Cervelo this year.

Sunweb and Veloconcept will be battling it out for 4th, hoping that another team has a bad day so that they can win a medal!

Fantasy Games

There are a couple of fantasy games for the World Champs that I’m going to plug.

First of all is the return of Cycling Picks/Rainbow Picks, which will be free to play this time around. That doesn’t mean there isn’t any prizes though, as the lovely people @handmadecyclist are offering one of their WC mugs for the winner!

Follow Jason (Cycling_Picks) to get involved, or simply enter your name on the spreadsheet that can be found here. All rules etc are viewable on the sheet etc, or if you’re still unsure how it works, get in contact with Jason!

Secondly, @InsidePeloton96 is going to be running a World Champs “Fantasy Fives” that I’m sure he’ll be releasing over the coming days which you should also get involved with. I say that, as I had to curate the price list for the women’s side of the game. You might find a few bargains hidden in there…

Prediction

Boels and Sky win. Simple!

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I wonder if we can parody Mr Blue Sky, a.k.a Mr Boels Sky?

Sunweb and BMC to make up the podium, with Cervelo and Canyon doing the same in the women’s race.

Betting

Nothing really excites me for the outright markets, so I’ve went for a H2H 5-fold for some entertainment over the afternoon.

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The odds have now shortened quite a bit since yesterday evening, but I’d still back it at the 9.45/1 available. 1.5pt WIN.

 

Thanks as always for reading the preview! Who do you think is going to win the TTTs? Will we see a shock result? The next preview I’ll be releasing is the Women’s ITT so please return for that. Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.