Vuelta a Andalucia 2019 Stage 1 Preview: Sanlúcar de Barramed -> lcalá de los Gazules

Vuelta a Andalucia 2019 Stage 1 Preview: Sanlúcar de Barramed -> lcalá de los Gazules

As I’m doing both Andalucia and Algarve previews this afternoon, no GC funny business here – straight into the opening day it is!

The Route

With no real mountains the stage looks quite simple on paper, but given the constant rolling nature of the parcours and the sting in the tail that awaits the riders: it certainly isn’t the easiest start they could have had.

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We’ll no doubt see a fight between some of the Pro Continental teams to get into the break and try to take the KOM jersey but in terms of other action for the stage, don’t expect much until the closing 10kms, with everything building to a crescendo.

Some of you may recognise the finish climb from last year’s edition of the race, with it being the finale of Stage 4, which saw Tim Wellens power away from everyone. However, the approach into the town itself this year is a little different.

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Last year it was mostly all a steady downhill until the foot slopes of the climb but as you can see on the profile above, there are a few short rolling kickers to contend with first. Nothing to worry about for the peloton as they’re all roughly 500m long and average about 5-6% but they will be taken at race pace and probably sap the legs a little as the fight for position begins.

With around 2.6km to go it is the exact same finish that we had last year so it is worthwhile to watch that again. You can find a video of the finish here, just skip along to around the 42 minute mark for those closing kilometres.

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The fight to get to the right hand turn with 1.3km to go will be very important, as the climb starts in earnest as soon as you leave the main road with immediate double-digit ramps. Consequently, being at the front of the bunch allows you to carry more speed through turn and saving you a vital bit of energy.

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The climb can really be split into three parts; with an opening 700m at 16%; before a 300m shallow descent; and the final 250m at 13% kick to the line.

Having team-mates in the opening few hundred metres is helpful and we saw Lotto Soudal utilise that tactic well last year but with it being Wellens and Landa at the head of the race with 1km still to go – this is a stage about pure power and climbing legs.

The road surface on some parts of the climb is pretty terrible too with riders having to use storm drains for a smoother ride. This again highlights that being at the front of the peloton is a pretty good idea for this climb!

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One crucial point of the climb that I picked up on last year was this slight turn off of the shallow descent. Landa led Wellens through here, but the latter carried a lot more speed and was in a better gear to power himself past the Spaniard as the road started to rise again. It looked as if Landa had to alter his pedal stroke to change gear and that ultimately cost him the stage as he couldn’t get back onto Wellens’ wheel again.

I really enjoyed the finish last year and I’m more than happy to see it return this year! Let’s have a look at who might be competing for the win and the first leader’s jersey of the race.

Contenders

Tim Wellens.

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It’s only fair to start with last year’s winner with the Lotto rider hoping to double up this time round. As seems to be tradition now, Wellens started his 2019 very strongly in the Spanish Trofeo races winning one of them, with the other two results being 2nd and 5th. He was meant to ride Etoile des Besseges but had to skip it due to a viral infection and consequently missed almost a week off the bike. However, his coach seems to think that it shouldn’t be an issue and that he’ll be ready to contest for stage wins and a good GC placing this year. We’ll have to wait and see but a fit Wellens would be a favourite for the stage once again.

Adam Yates.

With a win already under his belt this year in Valenciana, taking the day at the very tough and steep finish in Alcossebre, Yates will be relishing another opportunity on a short but steep climb here tomorrow. He normally is good on these shorter steep ramps and after a slightly disappointing 2018 where he was in his brother’s shadow, he’ll want to step up again this year. The finish tomorrow provides a great opportunity for him to get an early second win under the belt this season.

Simon Yates.

Would it be fair to say he was the breakthrough rider of the year in 2018? Although he was a strong rider before that with good GC places in the Tour and Vuelta, it was last season that he really upped his level. With the well documented cracking at the Giro, Yates bounced back with a very mature and strong ride to win the Vuelta. Like his brother, he can fly up the steep slopes when he wants to but given this is his first race of the season, I’m not sure where his form is at. On the team’s website, he says to get some racing in his legs and support Haig and his brother. Just a bluff or is he being truthful? We’ll find out tomorrow.

4/7ths of the Astana team.

One of the early form teams, the Kazakh outfit are flying at the moment and I don’t see that changing here. They have an incredibly strong group with them at this race and on their day I could feasibly see any of Sanchez, Bilbao, Izagirre or Fuglsang win tomorrow. Honestly, trying to pick who out of them will go the best is tough but I would possibly argue Bilbao as he looked the strongest on the steepest finish in Alcossebre. I imagine they will all be given a free role tomorrow in the hope that they can be near the top of the order to put the pressure on the other teams later in the week.

Dylan Teuns.

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He was my pick to surprise everyone with an attack on Alcossebre but after apparently suffering a puncture with just less than 10km to go he had wasted too much energy fighting back and couldn’t follow the best. As a rider who has contending for the win and finished on the podium at Fleche Wallonne, a 1.2km steep climb tomorrow looks perfect for him and I fully expect him to be in the mix. With Colbrelli taking the team’s first win in Oman today, the pressure is somewhat off them a little tomorrow. Will that help Teuns out?

Sergio Higuita.

I named the young Colombian as my wildcard for Alcossebre and he certainly continued to impress there. His diminutive stature and low weight should theoretically help on the steep slopes compared to those more gravitationally challenged but with the dodgy road surface tomorrow, he might actually struggle to get the power down if he’s dancing on the pedals. Nonetheless, I expect another top 10 from him with another strong performance.

Eduard Prades.

It’s weird to see Movistar with such an underwhelming GC team for a race in Spain but they do have a possible outsider for the opening stage. Prades had a breakthrough year in 2018 winning the GC in Norway and Turkey, while picking up some good stage results throughout. Already this year he’s taken his first victory with a stage win in Provence, on a day that featured a brutally steep climb before the finish. Obviously that’s different from a race actually finishing up a steep climb but he’ll be hoping to improve on his 12th place here last year.

Prediction

I think it will be a Wellens vs A Yates vs Teuns vs Astana battle, but I think the former might still be a little flat after his illness. Hmmmm, it’s got to be Adam Yates, doesn’t it?

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Teuns to come home second with Bilbao third.

Betting

2pts Win Adam Yates @ 7/2 with Bet365.

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

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

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Trofeo Laigueglia 2019 Preview

Now a yearly staple for my blog, the Italian Cup starts this weekend with the 56th edition of Trofeo Laigueglia on Sunday. A tricky race for this early in the season given the punchy climb on the closing circuit, it is often a race decided by a reduced bunch sprint or a solo rider escaping over one of the climbs and arriving at the finish ahead of the rest. In 2018 we saw a rather electric attack from Moreno Moser on the penultimate climb, which completely blew everyone else away. By the end the Astana man, riding for the Italian national team on the day, finished with a 43 second buffer over the remnants of the peloton: the biggest winning margin in recent years.

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Moser arrives here to defend his title and looking to complete a hat-trick of wins at this race. First though, let’s have a look at what is in store for the riders.

The Route

Identical to 2018’s parcours, the organisers obviously liked the one extra lap around the closing circuit that they added last year.

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The early climbs of the Paravenna (6.6km at 5.9%) and Testico (8.47km at 3.7%) won’t be decisive but they’ll certainly sap the legs of the peloton. I’m thankful for the figures on the profile above as trying to find the length/gradients of the latter climb was a real ball-ache last year…

Moving swiftly on, the crux of the race is the circuit that we have around Laigueglia itself.

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The toughest part on the course is the climb of Colla Micheri and that is the point at which Moser launched his winning attack last year, with Felline doing the exact same before going on to win in 2017.

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Averaging almost 8% for 2kms it will be attacked at a ferocious speed. Not long enough for a pure climber to make a difference, it certainly suits a puncheur that can hold a good amount of power for the 5 minutes it takes to get up it. Last year showed that the differences can be much greater on the final time up the ascent because of the extra lap and the more tired legs because of it. With the final 500m being the most important part and the area where the most hurt can be put on.

A fast descent follows before a few kilometres of flat and a final little kick up Capo Mele. It’s not a tough climb averaging only 3.5% for 1.9km but there are a few steeper ramps that can act as a launchpad if riders are stalling and looking at each other; just like Andrea Fedi did in 2016 before going on to win the race.

Once over the crest of Mele, the riders only have 2kms left of shallow descent and a flat run in to the finish.

Contenders

Despite the race being .HC in category, we only have two World Tour teams at the start of the race. Although to be fair, that is an improvement on last year’s one! Consequently, it could potentially be an open race that is difficult to control but I think we’ll see things kept in relative check until the closing couple of laps as some of the Italian Pro Conti teams will more than happily share the pace making.

Marco Canola.

On the team of the defending champion, I think Canola offers Nippo their best chance of taking the race. A consistent rider after his return to the European peloton, his 2018 failed to live up to the incredible 2017 he had, although several top 10s and podium places to his name so it wasn’t too bad a year; it was just a win that eluded him. He can climb well on the short slopes and with his fast sprint, he is a good candidate for this type of parcours. Having already got some racing in his legs over in Valenciana, he’ll be wanting to put that to good use tomorrow.

Anthony Roux.

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The current French champion will most likely be Groupama’s man for the day but without any racing for him so far this year, it is hard to know where his form is at. Last season was re-breakthrough (if I can call it that) year for the 31-year-old with him managing to take three victories and some other strong results including an impressive 3rd place in San Sebastian. If he is close to a similar level like he was on that day, then he should be in the mix here. I’m just not too sure if he will be.

Benoît Cosnefroy.

The 2017 U23 World Champion had a solid neo-pro year with AG2R in 2018, with the highlight being a 3rd place in his last race of the season at Paris Tours. Spending the opening part of the season in Australia saw the Frenchman get some racing in his legs, where he picked up an 11th place finish in Cadel’s race. A bit of a punchy all-rounder, he theoretically should be able to go well here and I imagine he’ll lead the AG2R squad.

Fabio Felline and his Trek buddies.

Winner in 2017, the Italian will once again ride for the national team and as a “squad” they are looking for their third win in a row at this race. With a mix of youth and experience in the team to help him, Felline will be confident of being at the pointy end of things come the finale. His 2018 wasn’t as strong as his 2017, but he did seem to finish the year off well and pick up a few good results. This season he’s already been racing in Spain and France, with a 9th place finish overall in Bessèges. One of the massive advantages that Felline has is the strength of his team, with both Ciccone and Brambilla potential winners of this race as well. With all three of them riding for trade-team Trek Segafredo, they should be able to communicate and work well together on the day. Whether that admitting your legs aren’t good, or bouncing attacks off of each other. I would be very surprised if we didn’t see one of them on the podium.

The whole of Androni, basically.

Looking at the teams, Androni have the most amount of riders who I think could win this race with Gavazzi, Cattaneo, Busato and Montaguti all potential candidates. Without any real fast climbing-sprinters at the race, I think Gavazzi would be the team’s best shot at winning in a reduced gallop to the line. However, I do expect them to be one of the teams to animate the race so they might try to avoid that outcome if possible, with maybe Cattaneo or Montaguti riding solo to the line.

Giovanni Visconti.

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In the twilight of his career, Visconti switched teams in the winter and returned to his former PCT outfit now known as Neri Sottoli, in the search for some more personal success and to help the younger Italian riders. On paper, this is a parcours that is made for the Italian with the short punchy climbs suiting his characteristics. He made a slow start in Argentina but now back on home soil he is a threat and one that most of his opposition will have an eye on.

Given the large amount of Continental teams here, there are a few riders who could pull out a surprise performance. Others to watch include Paolo Totò of Sangemini who was second here last year; Marco Tizza of Amore & Vita; plus youngster Andrea Bagioli (Team Colpack) who I think will be a star of the future.

Prediction

Looking at the strength of their team, I would be surprised not to see the Italian Trek conglomeration make it three wins in a row and I’ll go with Felline to be that man.

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

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

Volta a la Comunitat Valenciana 2019 Stage 5 Preview: Paterna -> Valencia

Today’s Recap

Despite Silvan Dillier’s best efforts, the remnants of the morning break was caught on the slopes of the final climb and we had a showdown between the GC riders for the stage win. Adam Yates set tempo on the front of the bunch in the closing 2 kms, initially looking to work for his team-mate Haig, but with the Australian losing contact it was Yates who attacked going into the final 300m. Izagirre tried to follow but couldn’t match the acceleration, while Valverde came round the Astana man to try to close the gap. It was too little too late for the World Champion with Yates holding on for the stage win.

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Valverde took second place while Bilbao came over the top of his team-mate to round out the podium on the day. The result was enough however for Izagirre to take over the race lead with Valverde and Bilbao 2nd and 3rd respectively. With that unlikely to change barring accident or mishap, Izagirre has one hand on his first GC win since the Tour of Poland back in 2015.

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

The Route

A flat and unusually short route for the final day, there is nothing really exciting to talk about at all…

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It is meant to be quite windy tomorrow but given the city circuit in Valencia, there is no threat of things splitting up because of it.

There are a number of roundabouts on the circuit but thankfully most of them come earlier on in the lap, so it shouldn’t affect the run-in. The last of the roundabouts is at 1.4km to go, but as you can see on the next image, it isn’t a really tight turn.

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There are two sweeping right hand turns in the closing 700m, with the last of which teeing the riders up for a 300m straight to the finish. Depending on what part of the road they have blocked off for that final turn, it might be a slightly harsher bend but we’ll have to wait and see. It shouldn’t be too bad either way but being in the first 6 wheels coming out if it will be very important.

Prediction

If I’m honest, I can’t really be bothered to go through all the sprinters again, enjoying watching the rugby too much this afternoon.

Looking at the field and on a stage like this then it really is hard to see past Groenewegen. There are no hills or obstacles to stop him this time and his team has the best lead-out.

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He’s a class above in terms of sprinting and the only rider who I think might have the top-end speed to match him is Bouhanni, but even then I think he’ll be just shy if it is a clean sprint.

Was tempted to put the house on Groenewegen but it is a no bet for me tomorrow, ending the race early punting wise after a few close calls but ultimately a rubbish week!

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

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

 

 

Volta a la Comuntiat Valenciana 2019 Stage 4 Preview: Vila-Real -> Alcala-Alcossebre

Today’s Recap

An exciting final 20 km that saw quite a few teams interested in pushing the pace on at the front of the peloton once the break was caught. There were attacks from the likes of Hermans, De Marchi and Oliveira but everything was brought back coming in to the last 2 km.  With the pace being drilled at the front by Haig and Mohoric, there was no chance for a lull in the action and a counter-attack like I thought might happen and instead we got a sprint to the line from a bunch of 40 riders.

With it strung out through the tricky chicane at 200m to go, it was Luis Leon Sanchez who opened up the sprint first, but Greg van Avermaet came almost immediately off of his wheel and around the Astana man. Matteo Trentin tried to do the same to Van Avermaet but he just didn’t have the legs to match the Olympic champion, with CCC taking their first win of the season.

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Yesterday’s stage winner did come home in second place with Sanchez rounding out the podium. There were no gaps between the first 29 riders so no cheap time gained/lost by the favourites for the race overall, so let’s have a look at what is in store for them tomorrow.

The Route

The stage that will decide the GC, the riders will face over 3200m of climbing throughout the day, with a very tricky summit finish.

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Although there are plenty of climbs early on, there is nothing that will worry the GC contenders. Once again, this will be a stage that comes down to the closing ascent, there’s no chance of anything exciting happening before then.

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Compared to this afternoon’s very consistent final climbs, the final ascent tomorrow is horribly inconsistent as you can see. It always seems to be up or down, with the gradients changing throughout. Consequently, it definitely suits a more punchy climber rather than one who prefers to sit in the saddle and ride tempo.

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The ominous warning for the steep gradients that are to come!

Oddly enough, it took until I started going through the climb on street view until I properly recognised it from a poorly paved bit of road (sad, I know), but it is the same finish that was used on Stage 5 of the 2017 Vuelta.

That day was taken by the break, but in the fight between the GC riders a group of 4 managed to distance themselves from the other contenders. Time gaps weren’t massive but it is important to remember that was at the Vuelta where almost everyone as at 100% form and fitness, whereas, there certainly won’t be that same level tomorrow.

Whether that means we’ll see bigger time gaps or the opposite, I’m unsure and we’ll only find out during the race.

How will the race pan out?

It could very well be a day for the breakaway. We saw today that Dimension Data were happy to keep the race under check, but they didn’t extend themselves too much, hoping to get some help from the other teams. Tomorrow they will know that it is unlikely Boasson Hagen will be able to keep the jersey come the end of the stage, so they might be a little less keen to chase all day. Therefore, the onus will fall on the stronger GC teams who are confident of trying to set up their rider.

Astana no doubt will take up the mantle again and they’ve certainly been the most active team on the front of the peloton this race. Movistar will more than likely chip in too, but they have been quite coy with their willingness to work so far; they might try to bluff it. UAE and Bahrain are two teams that could work as they have contenders for the stage win but again, it just depends on their approach. If a group of 6 or so riders get away who are no threat for the GC, then there is a chance that they stay away all day because with the lack of bonus seconds, there is not as much impetus to bring them back.

However, I think we’ll see plenty teams co-operate to shut things down as the incentive of getting an early season win under the belt is enough of a carrot. Peloton takes the stage 80% of the time.

Contenders

Alejandro Valverde.

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With no bonus seconds on the line, Valverde will need to distance Ion Izagirre by 9 seconds which will be no easy feat. Everyone will be looking at the world champion as this short climb is perfectly suited to his characteristics, but he’ll need to attack somewhat early as just winning the stage alone might not be enough to take the GC. A cool character, don’t expect Valverde to crack under pressure and if he is being forced to chase down attacks by his competitors then he’ll just sit up; he’s won plenty of races and will no doubt win plenty more, to not be overly bothered by missing out here. Starts as the big favourite on paper but it will be difficult for him to win because of that.

Dan Martin.

Like Valverde, Martin will be looking forward to this climb. He flew up the ascent in the TT and has been lively since then, today sticking to the world champion’s wheel like glue. A genuine contender and one that will worry Valverde, Martin packs the short climb speed and kick to seriously challenge for the stage win. A lot of his wins in the past have come on climbs similar to this and with the way UAE have started the year, they could well go on to make it a 4th victory already.

Dylan Teuns.

Rinse and repeat for the above two, Teuns will be licking his lips at this finish. Last season he built on his strong 2017 and we’re now seeing a rider who seems to be living up to that original hype when he broke onto the scene. A master on steep ascents, the constant changing nature of the climb will suit his punchy and attacking nature. Sitting only 3 seconds behind Izagirre on GC, he’ll be incredibly motivated to get a result.

Ion Izagirre.

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The “virtual” race leader in essence, I was very impressed with his opening TT – clearly he is going well. Not traditionally known for his punchy ability on the short climbs like we have tomorrow, it will be interesting to see how he copes. The one advantage for him as that Astana have a very strong team with them and they should be able to control the race. I am intrigued to see what role Bilbao takes on; whether he attacks and forces others to follow, or if he just sets a tempo that means no one can attack. I think it will be hard for Izagirre to win the stage as there will be a lot of pressure on him as the GC leader in waiting, and everyone will look to him and his team do close anything down on the climb.

Sergio Higuita.

A real outsider, but I fully expect to see an attack from the young Colombian tomorrow. With his build of a traditional mountain goat, he should be able to float up the steeper parts of the climb and given that he is over a minute down on GC; he might just be able to slip away unmarked. I’ve not seen him race much before but his results in the Trofeo’s followed up by his 6th place have been enough to warrant my attention. He’s certainly one to watch.

Prediction

No breakaway win and we get a GC battle on the final slope. I think this is the time for Dylan Teuns to take another step up in his career by taking the stage win against the strong opposition we have here, and with it the GC title.

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Betting

1.5pt WIN Teuns @ 12/1

0.5pt WIN Higuita @ 33/1

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

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

Volta a la Comunitat Valenciana 2019 Stage 3 Preview: Quart de Poblet -> Chera

Today’s Recap

The early break was caught on the final climb of the day, with Astana and Mitchelton Scott drilling the pace at the front of the bunch in the hope to distance some sprinters. Their plan worked with Groenewegen dropping off the back of the peloton, trailing them by roughly 30 seconds at the summit. His whole Jumbo Visma team dropped back to help pace him back to the bunch and things calmed down a little with around 15 km to go. However, that only lasted for a little while and things quickly sped up going into the last 5 km of the day. There was a big fight for position and it looked like Team Sky had got their timing perfect going into the final and decisive roundabout with 300m to go, but a burst of speed from Sondre Holst Enger saw Bouhanni and Trentin follow the Israel Academy rider, beating the Sky train into the corner. Trentin elbowed his way past Bouhanni so that he led coming out of it, and that would be our 1-2 on the day, with the Frenchman running out of road in his attempt to come around the current European Champion.

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Swift recovered his sprint a little and rewarded his team’s efforts by rounding out the podium in third.

With a punchy route on the cards tomorrow, it will be unlikely we’ll see any of the guys who were in the top 10 today up there again until the final stage. So let’s have a look at what is in store for the riders on stage 3.

The Route

A saw-toothed profile with 3200m of climbing throughout the day, the organisers have managed to find the fairly challenging day in the saddle without having the riders traverse any mountains.

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Despite the categorised and uncategorised climbs early on, the stage will more than likely be decided by the last 20km.

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The opening climb isn’t too tough, averaging a very consistent 5.7% gradient for 4.16 km. Without any steep ramps it will be hard for anyone to make gaps here, instead, we’ll more than likely see a battle of attrition with riders going out the back and not the front.

A quick descent follows before the longer but more shallow, last climb of the day.

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Again, it is not an overly difficult climb so the proper mountain goats will find it difficult to make much of a difference, while the puncheurs will be licking their lips in the hope of hanging on. Once over the summit, there are still a tricky 2.5km to navigate before the finish line.

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As you can see, those final 2.5 km are along quite a twisty and narrow single-track road. It is possible that if someone or a small group of people get a gap then they could be difficult to bring back because it will be difficult to organise a chase on that road and in the short time frame they will have.

The final 500m are uphill at an average gradient of 6%, which should make it ideal for the puncheurs. Also in typical Spanish fashion, like today, the finish isn’t exactly easy either…

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Having to make a quick left then right, I’m sure the riders will be glad that it is somewhat uphill as this would be complete chaos otherwise. Once again, given that there is 100m or less coming out of the final turn, it is imperative to be at the head of the race coming into that chicane. In fact, I’ll say whoever leads into the chicane will win the stage. Take note any pros/teams who happen to be reading this…

How will the stage pan out?

If this stage was after what we’re getting on Saturday, this could well have been a day for the breakaway but given the minimal gaps on GC, aside from a few riders, things should be kept together. Looking at the design of the stage, it seems as if the Spanish organisers had their new World Champion in mind as they’ve built a course that is tailor-made for him. I think that everyone else in the peloton will know that too so there will be a lot of pressure on the Movistar team to keep it together.

The selectiveness of the race all depends on how aggressive the closing 20kms of the race are ridden. If we see a couple of strong teams come and set a relentless pace on the two climbs, then we might have a group of 30-40 riders reaching that 2.5km to go banner within relative contact with each other. We could even see a smaller group but I don’t think the gradients are tough enough for it to be incredibly selective, then again, it is early season so who knows.

Do the puncheurs make it? If the climbs are taken at a steadier pace then there is a good chance that the likes of Boasson Hagen, Van Avermaet and even Trentin could make the finale.

With no bonus seconds on offer at the line, a GC rider will need to create a gap here to gain some time on their rivals. It will be difficult for one of the main contenders to get away but a team having options will certainly help, and maybe their “second tier” rider might manage to slip under the radar on the tough to control finish.

In fact, that’s exactly what I expect to happen: a late attack in those closing 2.5 kms from one or a group of riders, that then sticks to the finish. So who could we see try to slip away?

A trio to watch

Rui Costa.

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Often one to start his season strongly, the former World Champion produced a good TT result by his standards on the opening day of racing here. With a lot of eyes on his team-mate Martin, Costa has the ability to fly under the radar and attack in the closing kilometres. An aggressive racer when he senses an opportunity, I expect UAE to give him free rein tomorrow to go for the stage win and see what happens. He failed to take a win last year which is unlike him, so can he capitalise on some good early season form?

Pello Bilbao.

Astana have both the blessing and the curse of having a number of riders who this finish could suit, given different scenarios. It will be interesting to see who they work for but I assume they will want to give their two highest placed GC riders the best chance of winning the race overall going into the decisive stage 4. With Izagirre effectively in the race lead (as EBH won’t last on stage 4), Astana could play the card of just following some attacks tomorrow with Bilbao and see if they stick. The Basque rider has a good punchy finish on him and is clearly in decent shape at the moment with his strong opening TT.

Jesus Herrada.

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Having already tasted victory this season so far with his win at the Trofeo Ses Salines, Herrada will be hoping to double up tomorrow. The Spaniard certainly seems to enjoy the opening part of the season as he was absolutely flying at this stage last year and appears to be in similar shape this time round. As a rider from Cofidis, there is a bit of a stigma that he won’t be an immediate threat so he might not be chased down immediately. Not an ideal thing to do when he’s in good form as he will be very difficult to bring back on a punchy finish.

Prediction

Small group escape in the closing 2.5 km and we see Pello Bilbao (a classic blog favourite) take the win. Potentially setting up a good tilt at the overall title.

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Betting

No odds out yet but will tweet anything that tickles my fancy once we get them.

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

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

 

 

 

Volta a la Comunitat Valenciana 2019 Stage 2 Preview: Alicante -> Alicante

Today’s Recap

Well that was an enjoyable TT course to watch, with a whole mix of riders involved at the top of the order. It was Edvald Boasson Hagen who took  home the win though, with Dimension Data making most of their new BMC TT bikes and the Norwegian’s solid block of winter training.

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Izagirre caused a little bit of an upset with a second place, showing that maybe the Astana bikes aren’t that bad in the right hands. While former TT World Champion Tony Martin rounded out the podium for his new team Jumbo Visma.

There was quite the mix of traditional TT riders, puncheurs and GC riders in the top 20 so we’re all set up for an exciting race over the coming week. First though, let’s look at what the riders will face on the road tomorrow.

The Route

A rolling day in the saddle awaits the riders as they face just over 2400m of elevation gain throughout the stage.

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None of the climbs on the route are particularly difficult but given the constant up and down nature of the terrain, teams will have to be alert at all times. The final climb of the day is a fairly consistent drag, with the percentages staying at roughly 5% throughout.

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With it cresting at 42km to go, things should come down to a sprint to the line, albeit with a possibly reduced group. Last year we saw Valverde, Fuglsang and LL Sanchez attack on the final climb, on a stage similar to tomorrow, but with longer to go to the finish and a less severe final ascent to tackle, I can’t see that happening this time.

So the stage should be decided in the final 5km and in typical Spanish racing fashion, it isn’t 100% straight forward…

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From 4.5 km to 3.5 km to go, the riders face a kilometre long drag that averages 3.4% before a descent that almost mimics the length and gradient of the climb. A short 500m (3.4% again) rise follows that sees the riders taken to the 1.5 km to go banner and another dip down. One final kicker (300m at 2.6%) takes them to about 400m to go, where you would expect a straight run to the line. Well…

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The riders will carry a lot of speed from the previous downhill onto the slight drag because it is straightforward and down a wide boulevard, so that rise will be negated somewhat. I expect a big fight to get into this roundabout first, as coming out of it there are only 200m left, almost enough for your sprinter to go full gas from; they only need a little turn coming out of the roundabout.

Sprinters

Will they all make it to the line? That all depends on how aggressively they early part of the race is attacked by the peloton and if there are a few teams that want to try to drop some of the more traditional sprinters, namely Dylan Groenewegen. It is possible, but it will take a lot of effort so I think they should more than likely all make it.

Dylan Groenewegen.

One of the best sprinters in the world last year, Groenewegen will look to hit the ground running this season. Jumbo Visma bring a strong squad to support him, with new recruit Teunissen most likely slotting in as the last man in the train. We saw today in the TT that Van Emden and Martin are strong at the moment so they should be able to try to line things out in the closing kilometres. There will be a lot of pressure on them to do so and I think we’ll see plenty of teams try to come over the top of them late on, hoping to get to the roundabout first. Saying that, Jumbo honed their skills and became one of the best “late lead-outs” in the business, only appearing at the front in the last 2km so it will be interesting to see their approach tomorrow. Groenewegen is the man to beat, but he’s certainly not unbeatable.

Alexander Kristoff.

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With Fernando Gaviria having already taken two wins to his name in Argentina, the pressure is both on and off Krisotff here. The Norwegian is said to want to shift his focus towards the classics a little bit more, but still be involved in the bunch sprints when he can. Tomorrow is a good test for him against a solid field and the slightly rolling finale should suit his strengths. For a while I didn’t think he had the top-end speed that he used to but on the final stage of the Tour last year he showed he can still mix it with the best in a flat stage.

Nacer Bouhanni.

Contract year for the fighting Frenchman and I’m expecting a good year from him. In 2018 we saw a tough teething phase for him with new management at Cofidis but by the end of the season he seemed to be coming around to their approach more, taking a much-needed win at the Vuelta. Traditionally one of the better climbing sprinters, Bouhanni should be there at the finish. His Cofidis lead-out isn’t incredible but with Claeys and Vanbilsen as the two in front of him, they could arrive late and time it right. He’s definitely one to watch.

Giacomo Nizzolo.

Can Dimension Data make it two from two? The mood in the team camp will be buoyant so there will be a lot less pressure on Nizzolo for tomorrow. The Italian had an OK 2018 but nothing extraordinary, it was good to see him just competing at the pointy end of races after his injury plagued 2017. A rider capable of a very fast sprint on his day, he’ll be able to rely on the current race leader in the lead-out, unless of course the plan is for EBH to go and double up, but I can’t see that happening as it should be for Nizzolo.

Sonny Colbrelli.

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One of the sprinters that should happily make it over the climbs, Colbrelli delivered a very strong TT this afternoon by his standards, coming home in 19th. Although the team will want to do well in the overall with Teuns, they have a squad here that can help out Colbrelli massively tomorrow and I think they are the one team that can challenge Jumbo with their sprint train speed. With Tratnik, Mohoric and Garcia they certainly have some firepower to put the Italian into position. Does he have the sprint speed to take the win?

Matteo Trentin.

The current European Champion had a pretty poor debut year with Mitchelton Scott in 2018 but that was mainly due to an injury (caused by the #HaugheyCurse) that saw him miss a lot of the season. He obviously came back to take a well fought win in Glasgow and going by his solid TT result today, his form seems to be there too. Not a team with a lot of sprint support, he will have to rely heavily on Mezgec and his own positioning but he could well surprise.

Of course there are others that could well be in the mix and we have a good field here of solid sprinters: Cort, Boudat, Lobato, Roelandts, Enger, Noppe and Lawless will all hope to try to make the top 10.

Prediction

All the pressure will be on Groenewegen and on that tricky run in I think we’ll see some chaos due to the big fight for position. One man in this field loves those types of finish so I’ll go with Nacer Bouhanni to get his season started in the best way possible.

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There might be a slight bit of #PFCL5 bias coming in to this as he’s in my season long fantasy team…

Betting

Nothing wild as it is quite a tricky stage…

1pt WIN Bouhanni @ 13/2 with Betway

Should hopefully get odds elsewhere later as SkyBet and Ladbrokes/Coral eventually had the race priced yesterday too.

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

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

 

Volta a la Comunitat Valenciana 2019 Stage 1 Preview: Orihuela -> Orihuela (ITT)

European stage racing starts this Wednesday with the Volta a la Comunitat Valenciana in Spain and the Etoile de Bessèges in France. Both races attract a solid line up of teams but given that it is early in the year, form is often difficult to figure out so we could see a surprise result. Or of course, Valverde just wins like he did last year.

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GC Overview

With a route tailor-made for him and a bonus second system in place, it does look hard for anyone to topple the reigning champion. The opening day TT will see some time gaps but they shouldn’t be too significant given the short nature of the race against the clock. Saying that, a climber who has started the season a little slowly could see the race already slip away from them if they don’t hit the ground running. Stage 2 could be a surprise GC day but it is more than likely going to be a reduced bunch sprint, with stage 3 the first day we should see some kind of selection and an uphill sprint finish that looks perfect for Valverde. The overall will be decided on the penultimate day of racing though with a tricky climb out of the town of Alcossebre where the better climbers will hope to come to the fore and steal the race title.

Valverde starts as the obvious favourite but there are certainly some strong teams here with multiple options that could put the World Champion under pressure. Firstly, we have an Astana trio of Izagirre, Sanchez and Bilbao who all should be there or thereabouts with the tough to control stage 3 a day where they will hope to utilise those numbers with aggressive racing. Likewise, UAE (Martin and Costa), Mitchelton (Yates and Haig) and Sky (Thomas and De La Cruz) have a couple of options to ensure that this isn’t a walk in the park for Valverde.

However, like night follows day, Valverde wins his “home” stage race again.

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

The Route

An almost pan flat 10.2km individual time trial awaits the riders but they need to be wary as it does have a sting in the tail.

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The route can really be split into three sections. First, we have the largest section which comprises of the opening 7.8km and is a pure test of power.

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There are a few roundabouts on course through that section but they are few and far between, with the majority of the corners being able to be taken at full speed. This is where the stronger and more traditional TT riders will hope to build up an advantage.

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Next is a shorter section which has quite a few roundabouts and tight corners to traverse, so good technique and line choice here will be important. As the cliché goes, you probably can’t win the stage here but you can certainly lose it.

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Finally we have the closing 700m and a climb to the line. The strava/veloviewer profile that I made for the whole stage above is quite deceptive as there is no “descent” in the final climb. Instead, it is more of a false flat than anything else, so this Strava segment is a much better indicator of what it actually looks like.

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The riders will face some “cobbles” as they leave the town and onto the hill but it would be offensive to the Spring Classics to call them anything serious, more like slightly bumpy paved stones.

The steep gradients will be a bit awkward on a TT rig but nothing the riders haven’t dealt with before. At 600m it is short enough for the traditional TT riders to fancy their chances of powering up it, but it is also at a length where the climbers/puncheurs will hope to gain back some time.

I really like this TT course because there will be quite a few in the bunch that will fancy their chances due to the varied parcours.

Contenders

Tony Martin.

After a pretty disappointing two years at Katusha, by his normal standards, the German made a switch of teams in the off-season to Jumbo Visma. I for one am really looking forward to seeing what he can do this year on the Bianchi bike, as Jumbo have their TT rigs properly dialled in. A 10km TT that is mostly about pure power with a short climb at the end would be perfect for Martin of 2014/2015 but have his legs waned in recent years? We’ll just have to wait and see.

Geraint Thomas.

Last year’s Tour winner arrives here early in the season but with his main goal to try to retain his crown in France this summer, will he be at a high enough level to challenge? On paper this course is ideal for him and Team Sky are one of the top TT teams around so no doubt he’ll put in a pretty solid time but I think this will be more of a training race for him. He had a festive off-season by the looks of it with some photos of him appearing a little podgy compared to the skeletal standards of most GT contenders. Since then he has seemed to lose a some weight so he could well hit the ground running but I just can’t see it.

David De La Cruz.

Conversely, I think it will be Sky’s Spaniard that will be the best finisher for their team tomorrow. A solid debut season for the outfit last year saw De La Cruz take home the TT win in Andalucia as well as the final stage in Paris Nice. Going to the Vuelta as co-leader for the team, he will have been disappointed with the final outcome and hope to hit the ground running. His results in efforts against the clock last year were fairly consistent with him being in or around the top 15 for the majority of them. Tactically for Sky it will be useful for them to have two riders near the head of the race before we head to the more mountainous stages so I expect a good result.

Alejandro Valverde.

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Although the race isn’t technically a “home” race for the current World road champion, the opening stage in Orihuela is only a 20km cycle from his home in Murcia, so the Movistar man will want to do well here. In fact, on a training ride recently he did some reconnaissance of the final ramp so he is most definitely preparing well and taking it seriously. Normally you wouldn’t consider Valverde for a traditional TT but given the short nature, he always starts the season well, that kicker at the end, plus some friendly Spanish motos: he has a very good chance of taking the stage and holding the GC jersey throughout the race.

Nelson Oliveira.

Likewise, his Movistar team-mate will no doubt be looking forward to this hit out as well, with Oliveira starting the season well over in Mallorca; doing some good work for his squad and managing to bag a 6th place in Trofeo de Tramuntana. Still only 29, he’s very consistent in efforts against the clock with a 15th place finish being his worst result in 2018. My one concern about him is that he doesn’t win too much and he’s never tasted victory in a TT aside from his national championships. Is this the year he finally breaks that duck?

Ion Izagirre.

From one dud of a TT bike to another, Izagirre will hope that his legs can do the talking rather than the bike. Astana arrive here with a very strong squad to challenge for the overall so they need as many of them as possible to be near the top of the standings after tomorrow. Izagirre looks the most likely to challenge for the stage as he has the best TT out of the lot of them. Saying that, he wasn’t as strong last year as he had been in previous seasons so it will be interesting to see what he can pull off tomorrow.

There are a couple of Katusha riders who I’m looking forward to seeing how they fare: Tanfield and Goncalves. The former will get his first chance to show his mettle in a TT for his new WT team, while the latter on occasion has produced a great TT and the short but punchy climb should suit his characteristics. I don’t think either of them will win, but they should turn in decent performances. Van Emden is also another one who should do well but given that his climbing ability is pretty abysmal, he might lose quite a bit of time on that final rise. Tratnik steps up to the WT this year as well but how will he fare on that Merida bike? He’s one to watch for a top 10 anyway. Finally, I have my eyes on the young Portuguese rider João Rodrigues who rides for W52 and their new-found Pro Conti license. If this was La Grandissima he would be a shoe-in for a good result but it’s not, so we’ll see how he goes.

Prediction

Tony to roll back the clock? Sky to keep up that great TT record? Valverde to smash his “local” 10km? Nope, I’ll go with the Oliveira to get his first pro TT win narrative!

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After a good hit out in Mallorca, I think he’s ready to start his season proper with a bang. I’ll go for De La Cruz to finish second with Valverde in an ominous third.

Zweeler

Once again I’ll plug the blog sponsor Zweeler and their fantasy sports games. For Valenciana they have a competition open for the race, with the top 23 finishers (there are 200 teams entered already) guaranteeing themselves a return on their entrance fee. You can sign up to play it via this link here (which helps the blog out a little).

If you fancy yourself as more of a long-term prospector of cycling talent, their “1st period” game starts with Valenciana too. For that you have to pick a total of 30 riders from 6 different categories, with points being scored right through from Valenciana to the Tour of California. Due to the amount of entrants for the game so far the total prize pool has increased from €1500 to €1900, with the overall winner guaranteed a cool €350 from their €7 entry fee. If that tickles your particulars, then you can sign up to that via this link!

Betting

As for tomorrow’s stage, I’m going to keep it simple-ish as TTs early in the season can often be a bit tricky.

2pts WIN Oliveira @ 6/1 (With Betway)

1pt WIN De La Cruz @ 16/1 (With SkyBet)

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

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.