Innsbruck 2018 World Championships – Women’s ITT Preview

Last year saw clear favourite for the day Annemiek van Vleuten take home the rainbow jersey for the first time in her career with a strong performance but one that might not have been as dominant as some expected. Nonetheless, she got the job done and returns this year once again as the rider to beat.

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Compatriot Anna van der Breggen won the silver medal while Australia’s Katrin Garfoot took home bronze in her last World Championships. Both came home within 20 seconds of Van Vleuten and van der Breggen will be desperate to finally get one over her this year. First though, let’s have a look at what is in store for the riders throughout the afternoon.

The Route

A rolling course but how much it “rolls” depends on what resource you consult. According to the organisers there are 262m of total ascent over the 27.8km whereas with the Strava/Veloviewer profile I made has it at 396m. Bit of a discrepancy there!

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Given how much Strava over exaggerates some of the tiny little changes in altitude, I would have to agree that it will be closer to the official profile – maybe around 300m at most.

Either way, you can view the interactive VV profile here.

The route can really be split into two parts with the first 15km very straight forward aside from a couple of small bumps and rises before the more challenging second half.

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As witnessed in the men’s U23 this afternoon though, it isn’t that challenging compared to what it could have been, with the riders able to hold a lot of speed coming off of the descents. In fact, some riders hit 100km/h in sections so you can effectively nullify some of the rises by carrying enough speed. Therefore, having the right gearing will be important and it will be interesting to see what approaches the riders take.

Weather conditions look set to be similar-ish all day, although the wind might get slightly stronger later on, albeit by only 1km/h or so. That means over 3km of headwind before the crossing the river and turning left, with the majority of the rest of the course being aided by a slight cross/tail wind.

You can view the start list/times here.

Can anyone stop van Vleuten?

The reigning champion skipped the trade team event on Sunday so that she could be fully focussed and rested for tomorrow, and given her results in the individual events this year, who can blame her. In 2018 she has taken to the start for 4 TTs (not counting prologues or epilogues, see the TDU), with the Dutch woman winning 3 of them. In fact, the only race she didn’t win was her national championship where she finished 4th and behind the other three compatriots that are going to be here competing too.

In an interview with CyclingNews van Vleuten explains that she came into the season with three intended peaks. One smaller peak during the Spring Classics before a bigger peak for the Giro and then the Worlds. It is safe to say that the peak for the Giro was certainly “bigger”! She blew away the competition in that race and followed it up with my favourite finish to a race of the year, when she pipped van der Breggen in the closing 100m of La Course. I don’t think it is possible for her to be in even better shape than she was at the Giro, but if she arrives here in a similar vein of form then she is rightly the favourite.

The course tomorrow isn’t bad for her, but I think she would have preferred the climbs to be more challenging than they are, so she can really make a difference compared to some of the more traditional power TT riders.

Nonetheless, she has a big say in the outcome of the day and it will require her to be at less than 100% and for one of the other riders to be flying for her to lose.

It was all…Oranje?

We could feasibly see an all Dutch top 4 tomorrow.

Ellen van Dijk.

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The current and back-to-back European Champion will arrive here wanting to redeem herself after what was a disappointing 5th place in last year’s edition. The Sunweb rider is one of the most powerful in the women’s peloton and the mix of flat and rolling hills looks very good for her. She actually goes out quite early on in the day in what is a strong group of riders around that time. Guess that’s what happens when numerous nations have more than one person here!

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Said group of strong riders

Lucinda Brand.

The first Dutch rider down the ramp has the luxury of being the 5th rider out on the course. 2018 has been her best season to date and she has really developed as a rider, moving away from being just a strong one-day contender, into a much better climber. Her form doesn’t seem to be great at the moment though and I think she might struggle for a good result here: a top 10 would be solid.

Anna van der Breggen.

Arguably one of my favourite female cyclists so I am a bit biased but a lot has been made of her “poor season” in 2018. It says a lot that then considering she has won 5 races this year and numerous podium places. In the Spring she was untouchable and the only thing that stopped another Ardennes Triple happening was team tactics at Amstel. She has failed to win since Durango in May though and I think that has effected her a little bit. In TTs this season she has won 1 out of 4, finishing 2nd twice and third the other time. The course here looks great for her and she’s been slowly riding herself into form at the Boels Ladies Tour. If there is one rider who I think has a chance of beating van Vleuten, it is her.

Fight for the podium

If we’re to make the assumption that at least one, if not two of the podium spots will be secured by the Dutch, heck, even all three could as I’ve alluded to above, who is going to be the nearest challengers?

Amber Neben.

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A surprise winner of the 2016 edition, she was pretty atrocious by her lofty standards in 2017. A wax on wax off kind of rider though, she appears to be smashing it so far this year having won all 4 of the time trials she has entered. Maybe this is a wax on year?

Lisa Brennauer.

Disappointing in the European Championships, some of that can be attributed to her going deep on the track at the same competition. During the TTT event she looked to be the main driving force behind Wiggle’s strong time so there is definitely some form there. A bit hit or miss on road TTs, the 2014-champion can’t be ruled out on a rolling course.

Trixi Worrack.

Like her German compatriot, she seemed to be one of the main driving forces behind her teams sensational TTT win on Sunday. I’d have to say the course isn’t ideal for her but she did surprise and come third at the Euros so we could see something similar tomorrow.

Some outsiders to keep an eye on for finishing in or around the top 5 include; Thomas, Uttrup Ludwig and Cordon.

Prediction

For the TTTs I thought they were both two-horse races and in the end it was the third favourite who ended up winning. Tomorrow looks like a one-horse race but with a few riders who are ready to pounce. It will be incredibly tough to beat van Vleuten but I think it might actually happen and we’ll see van der Breggen take the win!

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I think she has timed her peak perfectly for this week and if she is at a similar level to her Spring campaign where she just rode away from everyone – the course will be a piece of cake for her.

Van Vleuten to come second with Neben rounding out the podium in third.

Betting

Another race that I can lose some money on!

Win only markets for the race and given that AVV is still the favourite, I don’t want to go wild with them.

1.5pt WIN AVDB @ 5/1 (Bet365/Ladbrokes)

Some H2H do entice me though.

4pts WIN van der Breggen to beat Van Dijk @ 3/4 (Unibet)

2pts WIN Neben to beat Van Dijk @ 7/2 (B365) – the price is just too big for a wax on year

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

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

Women’s TTT World Championship 2018 Preview

In Bergen last year we were treated to somewhat of a shock with Sunweb taking home the title but looking at results throughout the year, it was a result that was certainly on the cards.

Cycling: 90th Road World Championships 2017 / TTT Women Elite

They had the advantage of arriving with a string of podium places in TTT events but with Boels Dolmans still the massive favourites after their successes in previous years. The Dutch outfit could only manage second though, coming home 12 seconds behind Sunweb, with Cervélo Bigla rounding out the podium.

Will Sunweb be able to double up in what is the last event for trade teams in the foreseeable future? Let’s have a look at what is in store for the riders.

The Route

The longest edition yet (at 54km) since the event’s reconception back in 2012, the organiser’s have somehow managed to make as much of a pan flat course as you can in this area.

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With only roughly 150m of elevation gain throughout the course, this one is all about pure power.

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There are a few roundabouts out on course which might disrupt the rhythm, nothing too crazy though. As you can see on the image above, there is a tight turn with around 1.6km to go but that is about it as tough as it gets all morning.

A two-horse race?

On paper the best teams here are Sunweb and Boels.

The former are obviously reigning champions and this is a discipline that they have focussed on a lot over the past year. In 2018 they’ve won three TTTs: at the Giro, Tour of Norway and the recent Madrid Challenge. They did however lose the longest TTT effort of the year though and the traditional World Champs warm-up, Crescent Vargarda, shipping 16 seconds to Boels. Yet, they can argue that they were missing their big TT powerhouse that day in Van Dijk. Is the inclusion of the Dutchwoman here enough for them to claw back that gap?

Boels were the traditional go-to TTT squad in recent times but lost they lost their crown last year. This season they have fallen a little flat again with the Healthy Ageing Tour and then the recent Vargarda their only wins in the discipline. The latter result there is the most important though as it is the course most like the Worlds and it was a race that they sent a carbon copy of their squad that they have at Innsbruck to. Can they regain the title and take the crown for one last time?

One interesting point to note for the two main teams is that they are both going to include their strong Dutch TT rider in their race squads. Given that the women’s individual event is only two days after on Tuesday, it might mess with their preparation for that event. Conversely though, it could be a good way to blow the cobwebs off and open up the legs.

The reason I mention it though is that ITT favourite van Vleuten is not riding the event for Mitchelton Scott, a big blow for the Aussie outfit but one that is kind of understandable. Back in the Giro Rosa I tipped them for a very good TTT effort and they just missed out to Sunweb by one second on that day. Consequently, they could have been the dark horses for tomorrow but with some more recent injuries plaguing the team, I think they will fall short.

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Canyon SRAM could be there or thereabouts in the fight for the podium and they bring a solid squad with them here, included in their midst is 4x TTT champion Worrack. The original TTT GOATs, can they rekindle that form? I’m not too sure, they are a pretty hit or miss team at times so who knows.

Wiggle High 5 will be riding their last event as a team and they bring arguably their strongest squad ever to Innsbruck. With a good mix of strong individual TT riders and rouleurs, they will have their sights set on a podium. They have struggled a lot this year in the discipline but a second place to Subweb’s “A-team” in Madrid is a sign that things might finally have clicked.

Prediction

A day with two different battles; one for the win and one for the final podium spot.

Given the results we have had so far this year it should be very close between Boels and Sunweb. The former obviously have the advantage of winning Vargarda by a 16 second margin but the latter have Van Dijk to add into the mix now. Will that equal enough of a turnaround? I don’t think so.

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Boels to win by a very small margin, maybe 5 seconds or so, with Sunweb trailing them home in second place.

The battle for third will be hotly contested by Mitchelton, Canyon and Wiggle but I actually fancy the team that is folding to pull one last result out of the bag, so Wiggle to come in third.

Coverage

The women’s event starts early on Sunday morning, with coverage on from 9:10 to 11:30 (UK Time). You should be able to watch it on your regular cycling provider or via the UCI Youtube channel.

Betting

For only the third time this season I get to curse my picks with actual money this time!

As it is so tight for the win I can’t be backing Boels at their current price although a double with the men’s TT winner might be a good idea. However, I do like the value you can get for a Wiggle podium so I’m going with that.

2pts Wiggle Top 3 at 9/2. (Bet365)

Thanks as always for reading! Who do you think will win the two-horse race on Sunday? Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth

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.

 

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.

Romme : Colombiere

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.

 

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.

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!

Spar Omloop van het Hageland 2018 women

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!

SecondClimb

 

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.

Pauliena

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

Prediction

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

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

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

Coverage

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

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

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.