Tour de France 2018 GC Preview

Tour de France 2018 GC Preview

In 2017 we saw a rather dominant Chris Froome win by ‘only’ 54 seconds ahead of Rigoberto Uran with Romain Bardet edging Landa by one second to round out the GC podium.

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I say ‘only’ above as it was actually Froome’s smallest winning margin in all 4 of his victories so far, but he never looked in that much trouble throughout the three weeks. Obviously it was a measured effort so that he could go on to win the Vuelta later in the year, then the Giro this year. Can he make it an incredible 5th Tour win and 4th GT win in a row?

No fancy business here because as I’ll be doing daily stage previews I’m just ducking any route analysis here and just jumping straight into the favourites. I would recommend this preview from Road.cc though as they cover each stage in concise paragraphs. Much better than my ramblings!

I’m also going to be blunt with some riders as I don’t really rate their overall chances. Also you’ll have read many previews by now and if I’m honest, I can’t really bothered to rehash what others have said.

Anyway, onto the contenders and pretenders…

The Favourite 

Chris Froome.

Despite what your opinion is (I’m sure you all know mine by now) on the whole salbutamol case, the bottom line is that Froome is cleared and is here to race. Nothing like a bit of pre-Tour drama though with ASO apparently going to ban him before UCI/WADA announcing the following day that his case was dropped. More drama than Love Island!

At the Giro Froome was seemingly way off the pace but two remarkable days on the bike, Zoncolan and Stage 19, saw him claw back an almost 3 minute deficit to Dumoulin with some more left in the bag. With an extra week between the Giro and Tour, he should have recovered reasonably well. His team is super strong, as you would expect, and he will have a lot of support on the flat and in the mountains. It will be interesting to see how he can handle the cobbled stage – it will certainly bring back bad memories from crashing out in 2014. No doubt he starts as the favourite and will gain time in the efforts against the clock but can we really expect a rider to win four Grand Tours in a row? I hope not, for the sake of the sport.

The Waiting for Froome to falter-ers

Richie Porte.

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Can Richie survive a Grand Tour without a bad day? That is the million dollar question. If he does, then he will play a massive role in the outcome of this race. Arguably the best rider on a 15 minute climb in the World, he will hope to display some of that trademark out of the saddle “sprint-climbing” in this race. At the Tour de Suisse he was strong and took home that race but I get the sense that he still wasn’t at 100%, there is still room for improvement from him. Compared to what he has been used to in the past couple of seasons this looks like his strongest BMC support team. They have all terrain covered to shepherd Porte around France and he should be able to rely on Van Garderen and Caruso deep into many of the mountain days. I started off this season thinking that Porte would win the race and although my mind has been slightly changed, he still starts as one to beat if he stays on his bike.

Romain Bardet. 

The AG2R man has finished on the podium the past two years and will be hoping for a similar result this year, if not better. A third in the recent Dauphiné was a good and highlights that his form is heading in the right direction but that he has not peaked too soon. In last year’s edition of the race I loved the way AG2R attacked Sky in the mountains and they bring an even stronger squad with them this time out. He shouldn’t lose a crazy amount of time in the TTT as a result but I do have a slight worry for him on the cobbled stage. Then again, who of the GC contenders will truly be comfortable then? A big day is needed from Naesen! In the mountains he (alongside Porte) is one of the few riders I am confident can actually challenge Froome. With a few stages ending in descents from climbs, he will be in his element and certainly put pressure on the other GC contenders.

Nairo Quintana.

Is the Colombian back to his climbing best? It looks like it after his strong showing in the Tour de Suisse and he was particularly impressive holding off the group of GC contenders on the shallow drag before the final steeper ramps of Arosa. He forms a very strong attacking trident with Valverde and Landa and I’m really looking forward to see how they approach the race. I just hope that at least two of them are in contention after the cobbled stage. We saw in 2015 just how strong Nairo can be in the final week of the race in the high mountains and the rest of his challengers will be concerned if he is within 2 minutes going into the closing stages. No doubt we’ll certainly see some enthusiastic Colombian fans at the side of the road!

The Podium Outsiders

Right, shorter musings from now on.

Vincenzo Nibali.

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Winner of the Tour when the race last visited the cobbles, the Bahrain rider has had a pretty average year so far. However, he knows how to peak for a race and he can never be discounted. With a strong team to support him, we will probably see him on the attack as he will no doubt have to claw some time back after the TTT.

Rigoberto Uran.

A surprising second place last year, I think it will be hard for the Colombian to repeat the feat this time around. He found some race sharpness in Slovenia recently but I just don’t think he has enough to do it. Then again, no one really mentioned him last year and look what happened.

Alejandro Valverde.

Mr Evergreen, Valverde has been incredibly strong this season so far, having won the GC of every stage race he has competed in. It was scary how easy things were for him in the recent La Route d’Occitanie, using the attacks of Elissonde and Navarro as training – deliberately letting gaps grow so he could close them down. He’s another that will probably be chasing time after the TTT but I look forward to his venture onto the cobbles – he didn’t do too badly in Dwars this year.

Adam Yates. 

Have Mitchelton learnt from his brother’s epic collapse at the Giro? In strong form after his second in the Dauphine (the gap to Porte would have only be a handful of seconds if it was not for the TTT), he will be able to rely on a well-rounded squad focussed solely on him. Can he handle the pressure?

Jakob Fuglsang.

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If there was ever a year when Fuglsang could seriously challenge for a podium spot then this would be it. He has a solid team built around him that should be able to support him on most terrain. Back in 2014 he was the one doing the majority of the work when Nibali gained a load of time on the cobbles so no doubt he’ll be licking his lips at that stage. We saw in the Tour de Suisse that he was stronger than Porte on the last day of climbing and he followed that up with a blistering TT. Has he managed to hold form?

Top 10 Fillers

Ilnur Zakarin.

The Katusha man is one of those riders that could really fall into a couple of categories in this preview. I fear he’ll lose some time in the TT and given his poor bike handling the cobbles will be an issue too. However, we saw in the Vuelta last year that he was one of the best climbers in the last week. It all depends on the opening 9 days though.

Geraint Thomas.

Team Sky Plan B but when has a Team Sky Plan B ever actually won a race? I certainly can’t recall a time. Needs Froome to drop out within the opening 9 days for him to get a dedicated team around him. Will he wait for his captain on the cobbles as theoretically he should be one of the strongest GC riders. It will be interesting to see how it plays out within the team.

Bob Jungels.

I rate him as a rider but I feel he’s just going to be a “he’s there” kind of rider this Tour. Top 10 would be a good result.

Daniel Martin.

Terrible team means he will lose a lot of time in the TTT and he will lose a lot of time on the cobbles too. Stage hunting later in the race would be a good idea if he just doesn’t want to ride for a top 10.

Steven Kruijswijk.

See Jungels.

Bauke Mollema.

See Kruijswijk.

The Pretenders

Riders that won’t top 10 despite a lot of people thinking they will. Ready to eat my hat here.

Primoz Roglic.

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He seems to be everyone’s favourite wildcard for the race but I just can’t see it. Having won both Itzulia and Romandie he then returned to racing recently and took the crown at his home tour. Unproven and untested, I think he will once again go for stage wins and focus on contending for the GC in a GT next year.

Tom Dumoulin.

The Sunweb rider has never done two GTs back to back while going for GC. After the brutally tough Giro I think he will fall short here and instead focus on going for some stage wins. The way that Sunweb approached this race to me seemed that Kelderman was going to be their GC candidate with Dumoulin acting as a decoy to deflect attention but unfortunately Kelderman crashed and can’t take the start.

Mikel Landa.

The boldest of the three riders listed here, I just can’t get behind the Landa train. I think something will go wrong for him on one of the days and with the two more established Movistar riders possibly getting a little extra support, Landa will lose his hopes on the cobbles. If he is in contact though I would love to see Rogue Landa again.

Egan Bernal.

Exceptional talent but he’ll fall into line, a.k.a behind Thomas and Poels. We might see something similar to Moscon at the Vuelta where he is exceptional for a while but due to his age he won’t be consistent.

Prediction

Probably Froome, innit.

But after resigning myself to that fate at the Giro I’m going to predict a more fairytale result here and go with Bardet to take home the first French win in a long time.

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Allez Romain!

Betting

Three pre-Tour bets for me, all that I’ve tweeted out over the past couple of weeks.

2pts EW Bardet @ 18/1 for GC (he’s actually out to 20/1 with Betfair Sportsbook but I would take the 16/1 widely available elswhere)

1.5pt Valverde Top 3 at 7/1 (available at Bet365 and Will Hill)

1pt EW Demare Points Classification at 20/1 (with Coral/Lads)

I had set aside 10pts for outright market bets but this is not the year to bet on KOM pre race but I might fancy something during the race.

Let’s just hope for a better Tour than Giro punting wise, I’ll be sticking to my favourite rule: 2pts a day keeps the debt collector away!

Thanks for reading as always and hope you enjoyed the preview. Who do you think will go on to win the race overall? Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

Vuelta a España 2017 Preview – The BFOG

Vuelta a España 2017 Preview – The BFOG

In a slight change-up to previous races where I’ve rolled out separate previews for the various jerseys, this year I’m going to include GC/Sprint/KOM all in one, in a Giro Rosa style BFOG.

Last year’s Vuelta saw some very aggressive racing with Quintana beating Froome by 1’23, with Chaves finishing in 3rd.

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Most of the time Quintana had over Froome was gained on a crazy stage 15 and I hope we see some similar tactics deployed this year.

I’ll be disappointed if my favourite Grand Tour of the year is a let down.

Over the coming three weeks expect some bold tactics, super steep finishes, messy sprints, random breakaway days and some surprising results!

The Route – What You Need To Know

To some it up in a word: tough.

Again, as I’ll be doing daily stage previews then I won’t be going over the route in massive detail here, just the key stages. Although this is the Vuelta, so any stage can almost become a key stage…

The opening day sees a TTT around Nîmes (yes, we start in France) which should set the GC order for the following few days. Thankfully, at only 13km long, the time gaps between the overall contenders shouldn’t be too big at the end of the day.

It is not long before we’ll get a rough idea of who has some early climbing form as Stage 3 features two Cat-1 climbs and a Cat-2 all within 158km. With a slightly technical downhill run I don’t expect to see any of the GC favourites try to attack 100%, maybe an aggressive top 20 candidate can escape to take the spoils?

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Stage 5 offers us our first hill-top finish with the Cat-3 climb of Ermita Santa Lucía. It doesn’t sound much, but remember that this is a SPANISH Cat-3 climb; 3.7km at 8.58% with max gradients of around 15-20%. It’s a shame Reijnen isn’t here so he can get Spained…

We then have a couple of rolling days that give the sprinters or opportunists a chance at stage glory.

The weekend before the first rest day sees two stages that both have Cat-1 climbs in the closing 10kms of the race.

Stage 8 will have riders summit the brutally steep Alto Xorret de Catí. Officially 5kms at 9%, the crux of the climb is more 4km at 11%! From there, they will then face a short but steep descent into town for the finish.

vuelta-a-espana-2017-stage-9-cumbre-del-sol-1484252526Stage 9 finishes atop the Alto de Puig Llorença which is another short but steep climb, averaging 8.8% for 4.1km. It certainly seems the organisers designed a route hoping that Valverde would be here! With a rest-day to come, expect the GC contenders to be full gas here and we could see some surprising time gaps.

After the rest day we should see a break survive on Stage 10, but the following day is the most challenging one so far with back-to-back Cat-1 climbs.

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Climbing or descending from pretty much 60km out, this could be a fairly brutal day in the saddle. With the finish above 2000m, we might see a GC favourite suffer from the altitude. One thing is for sure, this Vuelta isn’t a race you can ease yourself into for week 3!

Another couple of “who knows what these stages could turn into” days follow, before we get out first Especial finish of the race on Stage 14.

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Once again the riders are pretty much climbing for the last 25km of the race with the Cat-1 before the Esp finish. However, the two can be combined to form the climb below.

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It’s not a crazy average gradient at only 5.3%, but the 23km could see some weary legs by the top. Not great then when the toughest 3kms come within the final 5km! Someone could go pop. With a “flat” finish though, a small 5 rider sprint could be likely.

Either way, it will certainly stretch the riders legs for what is to come the following day.

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This is the type of Vuelta stage I love as a spectator. Pretty sure the riders might not think the same. Pure madness!

It finishes with a Cat-1 then Especial climb, but like a few of the stages here, they can be pretty much rolled into one.

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Ouch. Ouch indeed!

With the last rest-day to follow, expect the riders to leave everything out on the road.

After their day to recuperate and recover, the riders will be faced with a decisive 40km TT. It does climb and roll a little bit but it is certainly an effort that should suit a specialist. This stage will scare a lot of the pure climbers who will be gunning for a good GC position.

The GC days continue to come as Stage 17 finishes atop the now viral Alto de los Machucos.

Who knows what the GC composition will look like before the stage, and who knows what it will look like after! Those who lost time on the TT the day before hand will certainly be hoping to bounce back with a good performance.

Stage 18 finishes on one of those classic Vuelta Cat-3s; 2.3km at 8.3%. I wouldn’t expect any major splits between the GC guys but you just never know…It could be a day for the break, likewise is stage 19. Although a few teams might control it and hope for a sprint.

The last huzzah GC wise comes on Stage 20 where the riders will finish atop the mythical Angliru.

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Four categorised climbs in a 119km stage, including the three major ones in the last 50km. A very Vuelta-y stage to finish the Vuelta GC battle with!

Any sprinters that we have left will then fight it out for stage honours in Madrid on the final day. Although considering we don’t have many here already, could a late attack succeed?

GC Contenders and Pretenders

With the defending champion Quintana finally deciding to have a Grand Tour off after doing 4 in a row, we could well see a new winner this September. I’ll have a look at some of the contenders and outsiders for the title below, some in much more depth than others!

Chris Froome.

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This years Tour winner is gunning for a famous Tour/Vuelta double. He has tried to pull off the feat in the past but this year could be his best shot, given the 40km worth of individual time trialing. Starting as the bookies favourite, his form is massively unknown going into this race. In fact, he hasn’t made an appearance at any UCI event since the end of the Tour, instead, opting to earn a couple of extra quid with some post Tour crits. Not ideal preparation in my opinion for a race where you need to be on good form in the first week!

One of the things he does have going for him though is that he won the Tour not looking his best. In previous editions he has cruised the Tour but never had just enough left to win the Vuelta, so maybe that was in the back of his mind going into that race. Or is he on the decline in general? I thought the latter before the Tour, but I’m not so sure now. His team is strong, not as good as his TDF hit squad, but bloody close to it! He is still the rider to beat once the dust has settled.

Vincenzo Nibali.

Arguably Froome’s biggest contender for the crown, the Italian is a much more rounded Grand Tour rider than the Brit, showing consistency across all three of the races. I mean he has won them all! He finished third at this years Giro, a result I’m sure he’ll be disappointed with but it wasn’t a bad performance and he did beat some good riders. Traditionally, Nibali doesn’t show much form before a Grand Tour but that seems to have changed this season. A solid 9th place in Poland, where he looked fairly skinny, was good for him and he will no doubt be gunning for no less than the win here. The only issue is that his team is fairly weak, with the missing Izagirre a big blow. I can’t see him winning the race, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he does in the end.

Alberto Contador.

I said at the Tour last year he was past his best and his performance this year highlighted that even more. I’m sure he’ll go on a few hail mary attacks which could see him move up the standings. Will it be enough for a podium? Probably not. But a stage win and a top 10 is very much achievable.

Fabio Aru.

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Another rider who comes straight here with no other racing in his legs after La Grand Boucle. A former winner of this race, as more of a pure climber some of the very tough stages should suit him well. However, the long 40km TT could be his downfall in his overall title bid. I have no idea where his form is at, considering he was apparently struggling with bronchitis at the end of the Tour. He could be great, or he could be awful! Being near the top on GC is helpful, especially when Astana have another potential GC card to play…

Miguel Angel Lopez.

My outsider/dark-horse/whatever you want to call it for the podium and possibly even more. Which now inevitably means he is going to fall by the wayside after picking up an illness on stage 4.

The young Colombian is a super talented, all-round GC star of the future. He can climb very well, but he is also a deceptively good TTer for someone of his stature. It is a tough ask to see him compete at the pointy end of the race in what will be the first Grand Tour that he should hopefully complete. Nonetheless, I think he has the pedigree to do just so. Having been raced lightly this year after spending the first 6 months of the season sidelined due to injury, he should have plenty of juice left in the tank to go well here. He warmed up with a good showing in Burgos recently, winning the final stage. Coping well with the heat there is a promising sign for what will no doubt be a scorching Vuelta. Can Superman fly?!

Ilnur Zakarin.

After Froome, the Russian is arguably the best TT rider of the GC contenders here. He’s an attacking rider and in a race that is known for its crazy moments, he might just prosper. I’m still not 100% sold on his ability to climb with the best, especially at altitude but you just never know. He’ll be hoping for at least a top 5!

Yates / Yates / Chaves.

Thought I’d just combine Orica’s three-pronged attack into one here! Out of the Yates brothers, I imagine it would be Adam who will be going for the higher GC placing, but that doesn’t mean Simon can be discounted completely. However, Chaves should be their main charge. The only issue with that is the Colombian has struggled with injuries this season and took a big knock to his mental confidence after one of his friends tragically died back in Colombia while he was riding at the Tour. I’m sure his form will be a lot better at the Vuelta as that was the plan during the Tour anyway, to get up to race speed for this event. If he is firing on all cylinders, he could be a danger. The only issue for all three of them is the massive 40km of TT, it is by far their worst discipline and they could all lose bucketloads of time. Which should make for an exciting few mountain stages if they have to chase the race…

I feel like I have already named a load of riders but the list of quality top 10 contenders could continue for a while yet! Other guys we have here include but not limited to; Bardet, Jungels, Kruijswijk, Poels, Pozzovivo, Majka and Kelderman.

Prediction

Froome is the guy to beat but Sky are never as convincing at the Vuelta compared to their dominance at the Tour and there is a chance the Brit could be isolated on a few occasions. We saw in France that he didn’t seem to be at his best and he can’t chase everyone down when it is just the group of GC favourites. If Froome is to win, he needs a massive race from Poels.

I just can’t help shake the feeling that some of the teams will look to isolate him at some point, like the famous Stage 15 from last year. Will they succeed?

 

Hmmm, I don’t know. Surely Sky will be more alert this year…

Froome probably wins the race but you’ll read that a lot this week so I’ll go for young pretender turned young contender Miguel Angel Lopez to pull off a shock result!

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I’m really looking forward to the double act with Aru over the coming weeks.

Watch out for the Shark though, he’s lurking ready to strike.

King of the Mountains

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Unlike the Tour, the Vuelta’s KOM competition is much more traditional in the sense that climbs at the start of the stage are weighted equally compared to those at the end. None of this final climb double points nonsense!

Given the amount of summit finishes at the Vuelta you would think that a GC rider has a good chance of taking the jersey. However, there are bound to be several breakaway days during the race which makes it difficult for someone high up on the overall to challenge. In fact, you have to go back to 2007 when a proper GC guy won the jersey.

Omar Fraile has won the jersey the past two years; can he make it three in a row?

As for points distribution, it is as follows:

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Thanks to Velorooms/@Searchhhh for whom I tea leafed the table from.

Overall, there are 315 mountain points available, with 91 of those coming at the end of stages. You can therefore see how it is tough for the GC favourites to compete.

However, unlike recent years, there are no nailed on breakaway days that garner a lot of points. Instead, we have 6 stages where there are between 15-25 points available during the stage, not including the finish climb, and they are Stages 3/5/12/17/19/20.

You would expect the break to take the majority, if not all of the points on those days. However, there are a few mountain top finishes where the break could stay away until the end as well.

Stage 14 is an example of that where we finish with an Especial climb, meaning that a rider could potentially take 28 points if they win the stage.

The following days action is similar too if the break manages to stay away and take the stage/Cima Alberto Fernández, totalling 40 points if they can do that.

How will the KOM race pan out?

It is tough to name a favourite for a competition such as this given the huge amount of variables. At the Tour, Barguil lost a lot of time in some of the early stages so that he was given the freedom to hunt KOM points later in the race. Whether that was intentional or not, I’m not too sure. Equally, Landa turned to the KOM jersey once he was out of GC contention at the Giro.

However, the difference between those two races and the Vuelta is that a lot of the KOM points were back loaded towards the end of the Grand Tour. Here, they’re much more evenly spread out.

In fact, on stage 3 (25pts) and stage 5 (21 pts) a rider can put their name into the mix with a strong early lead in the competition. If you look at the past couple of seasons the highest winning points total has been 82 by Fraile in 2016.

Therefore, a rider could take 43 points (not including the Cat-3 summit finish on stage 5) and be in a very commanding position at the end of the first week. I wonder if we’ll see some riders roll home at the back of the pack on Stage 2 to get some freedom the next day….

A poor TTT could set things up nicely to allow a rider the freedom to go into those moves. It’s also important to consider that the Pro-Conti teams will be gagging to get away in breaks for TV exposure, so a rider from their roster could be the one to take up the charge.

So with all that said, I’m going to suggest three names who might be there or thereabouts in the competition. Or probably not…

Merhawi Kudus.

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I’m a big fan of the talented Eritrean rider, he’s really taken a step up this season in terms of performance. A traditional mountain goat, he should be able to cope with a lot of the steep ramps and rises that the Vuelta has to offer. Now, Fraile is the most likely candidate on the Dimension Data squad to chase the KOM jersey, but there is a chance that the Spaniard might want to go for stage wins and leave the KOM hunting to someone else in the team; Kudus might be that man.

Jetse Bol (2.0).

The new and improved climbing Jetse Bol has found his passion for racing again with Colombian Wild Card team Manzana Postobon. They are guaranteed to lose a lot of time on the opening day TTT and will no doubt be chasing the breaks from therein. Given his sublime performance at the recent Vuelta Burgos, Bol seems to be in rather good shape at the moment. A jersey win for the Pro-Conti team would be incredible and the Dutchman might just be the guy to deliver it for them.

Larry Warbasse.

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There would be something poetic about Captain America taking the KOM jersey at the Vuelta. It was at this race last year that Warbasse gained a lot of my respect, so much so that I think he was the most heavily featured rider in my previews! He couldn’t manage a breakaway win but impressed enough to gain a contract with Aqua Blue for this season. I think it is fair to say he has delivered for them, taking their first ever win. Not bad considering it was at WorldTour level! Another team who are bound to be on the attack throughout the race Warbasse is their best climber and I would be surprised not to see them go for the jersey; they’ve done so in a lot of smaller races throughout the season so why not here too.

You know what, Warbasse is my KOM winner for this race!

Points Classification

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Much like the KOM jersey, the Vuelta keeps things simple for the points classification and does away with the hassle of stage categorisations etc. Instead, riders will be given the same points for winning one of the sprint stages or the mountain top finish up the Angliru.

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Again, the table is tea leafed from the same sources as above!

Therefore, it is very rare that a sprinter wins this jersey. It will be even harder this year given the parcours and the lack of proper sprint stages. Consequently, it will be a rider who can compete on multiple types of finishes that will win the jersey.

Valverde has dominated this competition and it is clear to see why. Packing a fast sprint, he can pick up a few points on the flatter stages but his climbing ability allows him to challenge for stage wins on the tougher days.

We could see a GC winner take the crown by being consistent on all of the mountain top finishes but I think we might see a few breakaways deny them the opportunity of competing for points.

Unlike the KOM competition, I only have one rider in mind for this competition.

A guy who is very much built-in the ilk of Valverde, albeit he is not as good a GC rider. Yet.

Julian-Alaphilippe-time-trial

There are several stage finishes that seem to suit the explosive French climber down to the ground. He’s had to miss both the Ardennes and the Tour for various reasons which would have been a massive disappointment for him. Nonetheless, I’m sure that means he’ll turn up here ready to perform well. On his return to racing in Burgos he was good, not great, more promising than anything else. With the cobwebs blown out now, I think he’s in for a big race. If he is performing to his Paris Nice level, then the Points jersey is his to lose!

Vuelta Picks

After continuing on from initial success, we had the highest numbers ever play the Tour Picks game back in July and I’m hoping to entice you to join Vuelta Picks for this coming month.

The premise of the game is simple; pick a separate rider for every stage, with their position on the day counting as your points. With the lowest cumulative score at the end of the Vuelta winning the prize pool.

However, one bad day does not mean that you’re completely out of it, with a prize on offer for the most stage wins too. In fact, at the Tour there were enough participants to introduce a KOM prize (lowest accumulated score over certain stages).

It’s also a good way for you to laugh at my awful, or terribly unfortunate picks. Picking an ill Sam Bennett on stage 2 of the Giro didn’t really go well for me…

I’ll also be adding a little segment at the end of each day’s blog section to cover; a “safe” pick, a risky pick (wongshot) and a deliberate Lanterne Rouge pick. Just to add a bit of spice to the game!

Think you can beat me and take my money?!

*Hint – the answer is probably yes*

Then follow the Cycling Picks Twitter handle @cycling_picks and simply put your name into the spreadsheet if you wish to play!

https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/14U89El-B7h05tRgB5Lw8ml9pkF5v0ROvxH96-dk3w7o/edit#gid=0

Spreadsheet above^^^

Betting

Not a fan of betting ante-post on GC riders normally, but I’ll gladly back Lopez as an EW bet for this race.

Outright – 2pts Lopez EW @ 25/1 with Lads/Coral. (would take 20/1 lowest)

As for the KOM competition, I’m spraying some small stakes around on the riders I’ve mentioned above. Nothing too crazy.

0.75pt EW Warbasse @ 50/1 with various (Wouldn’t take any lower)

0.5pt EW Kudus @ 150/1 with Betfred (would take 100/1 lowest)

0.25pt EW Bol @ 300/1 with Betfred (would take 250/1 lowest)

As for the Points jersey, it’s simple.

2.5pts WIN Alaphilippe @ 6/1 with Lads/Coral.

I think I’ll leave it at that for the pre-race bets.

 

Thanks as always for reading and any feedback is greatly appreciated! Who do you think will win the various competitions? I hope we’re in for an exciting 3 weeks of racing and I’m optimistic that we will be! Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Giro d’Italia 2017 Stage 18 Preview; Moena -> Ortisei

Today’s Recap

Just like buses…

After waiting almost two years for a World Tour win, Cannondale got their second in one week with Pierre Rolland taking a fine stage victory today!

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He was not only the strongest in the break but also the tactically most astute, attacking the big group at the perfect time. With a disorganised chase behind, the Frenchman had enough time to sit up and properly celebrate his win.

Costa won the “bunch” sprint for second with Izagirre third.

All the GC contenders rode home safely, keeping their powder dry for tomorrow. Let’s tae a look at what’s in store for them.

The Route

A short but very sharp stage!

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At only 137km the riders will be in for a fast day in the saddle, albeit with five categorised climbs to contend with.

The road rises steadily from the gun (14.1km at 1.7%) before the peloton will tackle the first climb of the day. The Passo Pordoi is a fairly steady climb, averaging 6.7% for 11.85 kilometres.

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The same can be said for the following Cat-2 climb of Passo Valparola which averages a shade over 6.4% for almost 13km.

The riders then descend again before tackling the third climb of the day. However, by then a break will have been formed and it’s not difficult enough for the GC riders so I’m just going to gloss over it!

On the long descent that follows, the road does rise back up briefly for the Cat-3 climb and it could cause some issues with a peak gradient of 15%.

However, the stage should come down to the Cat-1 climb of Pontives and the run in to the line that follows it.

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At only 9.3km, it is not the longest climb the peloton will face, but after a stage that is constantly up and down it certainly won’t be easy. Averaging 6.8%, it is the final 3km which could cause some splits as it averages a more stinging 9.3%. This is where we could see some attacks from the GC favourites and those on a bad day might crack and go backwards.

Once over the summit, the riders won’t be at the finish line just yet and will have to contend with another 4km of rising road.

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A tough drag, riders struggling over the KOM could really struggle here as false-flats after a big effort can be a massive challenge. The road pitches up to 13% with 450m to go and any riders looking to avoid a sprint to the line will no doubt attack here.

How will the stage pan out?

With it being such a short day, it will be hard for a breakaway to build up much of a lead. Particularly when considering the way that Bahrain Merida have been riding over the past few stages. They set a fierce pace in the peloton over the first two climbs today and I expect them to do the same tomorrow.

Consequently, it will be another chance for the GC riders to go for stage glory on the day!

Contenders

It’s tough to see past those who were near the pointy end on Stage 16.

Nibali –  Obviously won that stage and is riding himself into form in the final week of a grand tour and in classic week-three Nibali style, he looks like he can follow anyone. On the steepest section of the closing climb, only Quintana was able to stick with the Shark and he will be hoping for something similar on the steep ramps towards the top of Pontives. Will the shark take a second bite out of the GC lead?

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Quintana – Supposedly still not at 100% after his crash, the Colombian looked relatively comfortable following Nibali but lost some time on the descent. He’ll be happy the stage ends with only a little descent! My only issue with him is that the finish isn’t ideal for him with the few kilometres of false flat after the steepest parts of the main climb. He’ll struggle to maintain any gap there.

Zakarin – Will be very glad that the stage ends on the top of a mountain after he lost over 30 seconds on the descent during stage 16. He’s always willing to attack (not always at the correct times morally), so he is sure to give it another go tomorrow.

Pozzovivo – It was nice to see him at the head of the race again but like Quintana, his light frame isn’t ideal for tomorrow’s finish. He’ll no doubt give it a go off the front though if he senses an opportunity.

Landa – Although not a GC candidate as such, the Sky rider was very strong on Stage 16 and it was only his naivety/poor cornering that allowed Nibali to win. Not being a GC threat, he will hope to be given some leeway.

As for the riders in the second group on Stage 16, I like Yates the best for a finish like this.

Prediction

However, I’ll go for none of the above.

Instead, I think current Maglia Rosa Tom Dumoulin will take another stage win.

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His nature break was clearly a freak occurrence because he climbed the Umbrailpass in an almost identical time to his rivals. That’s very impressive considering he rode most of it on his own while others were paced for a lot of the way! Taking tomorrow’s final climb on it’s own, it looks very similar to the finale into Oropa that Dumoulin won. After no one waited for him on Stage 16, I think he won’t be holding anything back and will want to re-stamp his authority on this race.

Betting

I was going to go EW on him, but his price has fallen from 18/1 to 12/1 when I’ve been finishing this off so the EW value has diminished a bit. So I think with that in mind I’ll just go;

2pts WIN Dumoulin @ 12/1 (with Bet365).

 

Thanks as always for reading and any feedback is greatly appreciated! Who do you think will win tomorrow? Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

Giro d’Italia 2017 Stage 11 Preview; Firenze -> Bagno di Romagna

Today’s Recap

Wow!

I wrote Dumoulin off, thinking that with his improved climbing and poor recent TTs he might struggle a bit more here. I guess that was me just over thinking things and being even more eccentric than normal and in hindsight, I don’t really know why I did it!? I’m blaming being tired from work…

Nonetheless, it was a phenomenal performance from the Dutchman, he absolutely crushed the competition today!

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Only Thomas and Jungels could get within a minute of him.

It leaves Dumoulin with a commanding 2’23 lead over his nearest competitor, Quintana, on GC. Will that mean fireworks for the rest of the race?

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

The Route

A demanding stage with 4 categorised climbs over only 161km.

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Once the flag drops the riders have 15km of flat before they start climbing the Passo Della Consuma: 16.7km at 5.8%. Not the toughest start to a stage but not exactly easy, there are some steeper ramps involved within the climb itself.

Over the summit, the riders will the be descending or climbing for the rest of the day!

Next on the menu is the Cat-2 Passo Della Calla. Another long climb at 17.6km (if you take it from the TV where the road starts to rise), averaging 4.8%. Again, the first few kilometres lessen the average gradient and the final 2/3rds of the ascent is closer to a 6% gradient.

A long descent follows before the penultimate climb of the day, the Passo del Carnaio.

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11.5km long and averaging only 4.5% in gradient, it again doesn’t appear too difficult on paper. However, irregular climbs seem to be popular in this part of Italy and this one is no different, featuring 4km at 8.2%. Will any team try to split the race up on these steeper sections?

A sharp descent follows before the long climb of Monte Fumailo.

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A 23km long drag that averaging 3.7%, that gets steeper towards the top. The last 3kms before the summit clock in at 8.6%, with a peak gradient of 12% at the very last. A perfect launchpad before the descent that follows?

Aside from another short rise in the road half-way down the descent, the road falls all the way until 2.5km to go.

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Those final few kilometres are false flat all the way to the finish, but will we see a solo rider come to the line or will a small group contest the win?

How will the stage pan out?

Before today’s TT if I had to say what would happen then I’d say that it is a breakaway stage, no surprises there then!

However, with the massive gap Dumoulin already has, and with the prospect of him gaining another minute and a half on Quintana and co in the final time trial, meaning he has a theoretical 4 minute buffer, surely teams can’t wait until the last week? If they do leave it until those stages there is a chance they might run out of time and Dumoulin won’t crack. Plus, who knows what is going to happen with the weather and we might get an alteration to a stage etc!

Losing Kelderman is huge for Dumoulin and he will have to rely heavily on Haga and Ten Dam now. Are they good enough to control the peloton on a relatively tough day? I’m not so sure.

Some of the teams will need to go crazy on the opening climb of the day to try and isolate Dumoulin as much as possible, and continue on from there for the rest of the stage. If they do, then there is a chance that he could be left on his own on the final climb.

I wonder if there will be a few Directeur Sportifs on the phone to each other this evening?

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Contenders

I’m going to go with the assumption that we do get some aggressive riding from the outset and that there are only really GC guys left at the end of the stage. I’m also not going to name everyone as we could be here a while otherwise! So I’ll just throw a few names into the proverbial hat.

Geraint Thomas – I just can’t leave the Welshman out after his performance today, he was exceptional. Bouncing back from the horrible crash on Stage 9, he looked in fine form and now sits just outside the top 10 on GC. In a post stage interview he still put off the idea of him finishing on the podium, instead insisting on just attempting to win a stage. However, I think that was more to deflect attention away from himself and I’m sure those at Sky will still believe on him ending in the top 3. He should be able to cope with the climbs tomorrow given how good he has looked all season and is far enough down to not be immediately marked by those at the top of the order.

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Adam Yates – Another rider who was taken out on Stage 9, he produced a fairly good time trial today by his standards. The form is clearly there and like Thomas he could benefit from not being an immediate threat for the overall. In the past we have seen Orica try audacious tactics in Grand Tours and I’m hoping they try something again tomorrow. A fearless descender he has the ability to attack over the top and hold on to the finish. Furthermore, he’s not exactly slow for a GC rider so could feature in a very reduced sprint to the line!

Rui Costa – I’m progressively making my way down the GC standings here, with the Portuguese rider finding himself over 8 minutes behind Dumoulin. Supposedly he was never here for GC anyway, but his position will now give him more freedom. An attacking rider who likes to target a stage, tomorrow’s finish reminds me a lot of the stage into Gap he won at the Tour in 2013. Will we see a repeat of that performance?

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The #Wongshot

After many requests, the Wongshot returns for tomorrow’s stage. As it is a fairly unpredictable stage and anything could really happen, it is an ideal day to give it another go. Clement won’t be included in the list today, because you only get “Wongshot” after all…

So today’s rider is…

Dylan Teuns.

Not a bad breakaway candidate if things go that way tomorrow. With Van Garderen struggling on the overall and it looking as if he’ll only go backwards, BMC will now probably turn their attention to chasing stages. Teuns is a solid climber, his third place at Fleche is testament to that, and if he makes the right move he has ever chance. A punchy rider, he could win a small group sprint to the line from the break!

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Prediction

GC teams to go wild in an attempt to isolate Dumoulin, but it will be hard to drop him. Nonetheless, it will create opportunities for someone to attack and I think Yates will prosper out of the situation. Let’s just hope no inflatable Flamme Rouge sign gets in the road again!

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Betting

1pt WIN on;

Yates @ 33/1

Thomas @ 33/1 

Both with Bet365 and I’d take 25/1 lowest.

 

Thanks as always for reading and as usual any feedback is greatly appreciated. How do you think the stage will pan out tomorrow? Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

Fight for the Maglia Rosa – Giro d’Italia 2017 GC Preview

Fight for the Maglia Rosa – Giro d’Italia 2017 GC Preview

With the Spring Classics now finished the peloton moves into the next phase of the season, starting with the Giro d’Italia. Arguably my favourite Grand Tour out of the three, the race celebrates its 100th edition this year with a spectacular route.

Last year’s race saw a dogged Nibali win the overall on the penultimate stage, with Chaves in second and ever-green Valverde rounding out the podium.

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Would he have won if Kruijswijk hadn’t famously crashed? I guess we’ll never know, but no doubt the Dutchman will want to make amends this year.

The Route

As I’ll be doing daily stage previews, this section won’t be that extensive at all!

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Stage 1 will should see a sprinter take the leaders jersey, but they will be hard fought to hold onto it the following day where an opportunist might seize his chance.

Stage 4 could see an early GC shake up before we get a few more sprint/opportunist stages. We’re then treated to the big mountain top finish at Blockhaus on stage 9.

A rest day follows, but so does the first TT of the race and no doubt Dumoulin will be hoping to take over the leader’s jersey here. Over the next few days there are more rolling, testing routes before the final rest day.

It all kicks off in the final week though with one of the wackiest routes I’ve seen; the amount of climbing is crazy!

However, it may all even come down to the final TT into Milan as it is certainly long enough for there to be large time gaps.

So…

Contenders

Nairo Quintana.

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Where else to start than with the clear favourite? The Colombian had a “poor” Tour last year but still managed to finish on the podium and he followed that up by winning the Vuelta at the end of the year. So far this season he has shown impeccable form in the stage races he has taken part in, we’ll just not mention the shadow boxing at Abu Dhabi. In his last build-up race (Vuelta Asturias) and his first since a long period in Colombia, he managed to take a stage win but couldn’t take the overall title. In fact, on the two main climbing days he was unable to drop the eventual winner Raul Alarcon. I guess he doesn’t want to peak too early if he’s going to do the Giro-Tour double!

Thibaut Pinot.

After talking him up for Tour success last season, he failed miserably after falling ill and losing all form. Dare I say that he looks as good as he did before that Tour? So far this season he’s beaten Contador on a mountain top finish and he was never outside the top 5 on any stage at the recent Tour of the Alps. An improved time trial rider the Frenchman really has a great chance at the podium and without the pressure of a home crowd we might see him thrive.

Tom Dumoulin.

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The Sunweb rider has had a fairly light race schedule so far and has spent a lot of time recently at altitude camp with some of his team-mates. He made his return to racing at Liege and finished a respectable 22nd place. The Giro is his main focus this year and with the number of TT kilometres he has a very good chance of going well. Yet, his TT ability is regressing as he becomes more of a Grand Tour contender, which is quite refreshing to see actually. I still have reservations about his abilities to cope in the high mountains and the final week might be a step too far for him I think.

Steven Kruijswijk.

Would he have won last year’s race if he had not crashed? I guess we’ll never know, but he certainly looked comfortable up until that moment. Another rider who’s season is based around this race, the Jumbo rider got a scare in Yorkshire last week after being involved in the crash on stage 1. Luckily, it seems to be nothing serious but withdraw before the final stage just to make sure. He’s a solid TT rider and will hope to use that to his advantage.

Geraint Thomas.

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The first of two Sky riders on the list, Thomas has really taken another step forward this season in his quest for Grand Tour success. Forever the loyal second in command to Froome at the Tour, he will have his own chance to go for glory at the Giro. Fifth on GC at Tirreno after the mess that was Sky’s TTT was a hint at what was to come and he looked imperious in the recent Tour of the Alps, taking overall victory. I have said for a while (at least since my Trentino preview) that he will go well at this race and I have seen nothing to make me think otherwise! A podium finish is on the cards.

Mikel Landa.

Thomas’ biggest threat could come from within his own team, but the two riders have shown that they have a good working relationship and compliment each other well. Landa for a while has failed to live up to his lofty expectations but he looked ominously strong in the Alps, doing a massive amount of work in support of Thomas. Could Sky get two riders on the podium in Milan?!

Vincenzo Nibali.

The defending champion has had a fairly good early season by his standards but arrives at the Giro as a relative outsider in my opinion. His team is a lot weaker now at Bahrain than compared to when he was at Astana last season, although Pellizotti and Siutsou did look strong in Croatia but that was against lesser opposition. Nibali will want to be in Pink after the Etna stage so that he is in the race lead going into his hometown. Can he hold that peak for the remaining two weeks of the race? I doubt it, but he does always seem to surge again after the last rest day!

Adam Yates.

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Another rider who’s had a relatively light race schedule this year, I have been impressed with his form whenever he has been active. Without an overly strong team, he’ll have to do a lot of the work himself but with a 4th place at the Tour already on his palmarès there’s no reason why he can’t replicate that result here.

Ilnur Zakarin.

Fighting for podium honours last year until he crashed out on Stage 19, Zakarin has been a bit “hit or miss” so far this season. He looked strong on the Queen Stage in Abu Dhabi but was lacklustre in Romandie. A top 10 is certainly on the cards, but I can’t see him breaking the top 5 this time round.

Bauke Mollema.

An ever-present rider in the top 10 at the Tour, this will be his first time riding the Giro as leader. He was in scintillating form at the start of the season but he has went off the boil a bit since. Nonetheless, you can’t write the dogged Dutchman off due to his consistency in the big races and he should be in contention going into the final week.

Tejay van Garderen.

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The final rider on the list, I’m not sure I would have included him if he didn’t look somewhat promising in Romandie. He managed the second fastest time up the Leysin climb on the penultimate stage of that race behind his team-mate Porte. The following day he produced a very solid time trial which will give him a lot of hope considering the amount of TT miles in this Giro. However, he still seems to always have one bad day and I can’t help but think that will happen again to him this year.

As for the likes of Jungels, Formolo and Dennis, they’ll be in or around the top 10 but nothing higher.

Prediction

It’s got to be Nairo, doesn’t it?!

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However, I do think he will susceptible to losing time in the opening couple of weeks and this is where his rivals will need to make ground before the Colombian smashes the last week.

I’ll go with Pinot and Thomas to round out the podium.

Betting

No bet.

I personally have Thomas at 25/1 EW but he’s no longer value at the price available.

 

Thanks as always for reading and any feedback is greatly appreciated. Who do you think will win? Can anyone stop Quintana? I shall be back again tomorrow with my stage 1 preview! Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

Volta Catalunya 2017 Stage 5 Preview; Valls -> Lo Port (Tortosa)

Today’s Recap

The opening 50km was chalked off due to bad weather so we had a shortened stage. There were some probing attacks on the final climb but it did end up coming down to a sprint. Nacer Bouhanni managed to haul himself over the rise and duly won the stage with ease!

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Stage one winner Cimolai finished second this time, with Impey rounding out the podium. Let’s have a look at what’s in store for the riders tomorrow.

The Route

Flat -> hill -> smaller hill -> BIG hill.

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Source: @LasterketaBurua

A relatively easy day out in the saddle apart from the final 20km. Even the Cat-2 climb is simple in comparison to some of the other climbs we get in this region. The only reason it’s probably categorised so highly is due to its length, with an average gradient of 2.8% it is certainly not steep!

Tomorrow is all about the final climb.

If you take into account the build up to the official start of the ascent it is actually 13.3km long at 7%. However, the official profile would lead you to believe that the climb is only 8.4km at 8.8% average.

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A very tough end to the day and we could and more than likely will see some large gaps between some of the GC riders. Although we could see a case of riders marking each other out of it, but I fully expect some of the teams to attack it hard from the bottom (Sky, Movistar & Trek) leaving a select group of favourites near the front. From there, not only who’s the strongest on the day, but team tactics will also be important.

Will they be fighting for the win though?

How will the stage pan out?

Normally this would be a GC day 100% of the time but last year we saw a break make it all the way to the line. Could that happen again?

Probably not.

There will be enough interest behind to chase for bonus seconds that any break will be nullified. Or at least you would imagine so!

I’m intrigued to see if having team-mates will be of any benefit to the riders here. The finishing climb is a lot like Terminillo (that we saw in Tirreno recently) so it could be a case of strongest on the day wins. However, if a team has a few good climbers they can always send one up the road and sit back to mark attacks from behind, a la Contador and Mollema in Abu Dhabi. Equally, we could easily just see a big battle between the favourites, which is what I think is most likely to happen.

Contenders

If we do get a massive GC blowout, there are only 4 riders who can win this stage in my opinion.

Alberto Contador.

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El Pistolero was incredibly unlucky in Paris Nice, giving it his all but falling short once again. On the final stage he looked very strong but that was on climbs where the average gradient was around 6%, not the 8% we’ll see here. Contador does sometimes struggle on the steeper stuff, but if he’s still going as he did in PN, it will be hard to beat him!

Alejandro Valverde.

Returning from his illness that caused him to miss PN, he returned with a bang to win stage 3 on Wednesday. That day suited him ideally but tomorrow might be a little long for him. Yet, I keep thinking of his ridiculous long rang attack up Penas Blanacas in Ruta del Sol last year, and that something similar might be on the cards here. He’ll be hoping to emulate what Quintana did on Terminillo and take the GC lead, if not, get very close to it before the next few stages.

Speaking of the Terminillo…

Geraint Thomas.

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The Welshman was able to match Quintana almost blow for blow up the final climb, but the Colombian was just too good for him in the end. That result will have given Thomas the confidence that he can climb with the best in the world. As I said in my Tirreno GC preview, I think he’ll podium or get very close to in the Giro, so another big result here will set him in good stead. Froome may feature but he still doesn’t seem up to speed.

Adam Yates.

He was a very credible third on the Terminillo stage behind Quintana and Thomas. Even more credible when you think he DNF’d the next day after withdrawing due to illness. On the climb to La Molina he looked comfortable and should go well tomorrow on the steep stuff he seems to love. I wouldn’t discount him!

Prediction

I think we’ll see the four I’ve listed get a gap but there will be the usual unwillingness to work, particularly between Contador and Valverde. This will leave it open for the two Brits to attack and due to Thomas being the closest rider on GC, he’ll be left to do the majority of the work. Yates will then attack him in the final 500m, using his more explosive nature to take the stage victory!

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Will it go to plan?

Betting

1pt EW Yates @ 12/1 with B365 (would take 10s)

 

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

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

 

Tirreno Adriatico 2017 Stage 4 Preview; Montalto di Castro ->Terminillo

Today’s Recap

A hectic finish that was tough but maybe not as tough as I imagined. I have to apologise as I thought it was a slightly different finish to that of last year but it was exactly the same, doing too many previews for my own good! Or that’s my excuse anyway. 😉

Anyway, it was Peter Sagan who took a dominate sprint win, ahead of Viviani and Debuscherre.

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It was a really, really weird top 10 as a crash behind took out or at least severely hindered some of the favourites for the day.

Nonetheless, let’s have a look ahead at what the riders can expect tomorrow.

The Route

A tough GC day and an ascent of the famous Terminillo.

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The opening part of the stage really acts as a prelude, this is all about the final climb.

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It’s a very similar climb to the one we’ll see in Paris Nice but is made harder in my opinion by the irregularity of it. Most of the climb is close to 8%, but there are a few kilometres that are roughly 4% and this lowers the average gradient quite a bit. The top of the climb does “flatten out” so if riders arrive together we might see some kind of sprint, but I can’t see that happening.

Weather Watch

Oh boy, looks a bit nippy out there!

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Weather forecast for Terminillo (Source: Accuweather)

That real feel of -5°C looks like a real killer. Especially when you consider the strong winds forecast and the finish tomorrow looks horrible. The wind will more than likely be a cross-head for most of the climb so it might nullify some of the attacking we could see, which would be a real shame. Conversely though, once you lose the wheel it will be hard to get back on!

How will the stage pan out?

There is a chance we could see the breakaway go all the way. This will only happen if the riders in the peloton are fearful of what might happen on the Terminillo and they don’t want to chase all day.

However, I do think we will see some type of GC battle on the Terminillo. There in theory should be enough firepower and motivation behind to close down the break and set up the overall contenders to battle it out for bonus seconds and more!

Contenders

Nairo Quintana has to start as the clear favourite. After being marked out of the competition in Abu Dhabi he’ll be here to exact revenge. Movistar brought a crack TTT squad with them to put him in the best possible GC position going into this stage and they’ll expect him to deliver. He won a truly epic stage in the snow at this race back in 2015 and a repeat of that feat is more than on the cards!

Who can challenge him?

Honestly, no one in my opinion. Everyone else will more than likely be fighting for second place unless there is some crazy tactical battle or Nairo pops.

Geraint Thomas looked very strong on his way to the win on stage 2. This climb is a completely different beast but given his immediate lack of a GC threat he is a rider who could squirrel away from the bunch. As I said in my overall preview for this race, I think he’s going very well at the moment and is a genuine threat for a podium in the Giro. A good result tomorrow would go a long way to solidifying that thought.

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Of course, his Team Sky team-mates Landa or Rosa may also profit from the awful TTT and be given some freedom. They both have the abilities to do well here and are naturally better climbers than Thomas. If one of them manages to get a 30 second gap on Terminillo they could be tough to bring back.

Thibaut Pinot, much like his wine namesake, prefers the temperature cooler. He often seems to struggle when things get toasty, so a day in the cold, wet break of Strade Bianche will have set him up nicely for this stage. He is clearly going well in this early part of the season. Anyone who beat Contador in Valenciana is going strongly!

Vincenzo Nibali normally copes well in awful conditions but his own personal condition is a bit unknown. He’s gone better at the start of this year than he has done in the past, but does that mean that he is capable of finishing on the podium here?

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BMC will be looking to hold onto the GC lead with Tejay Van Garderen but it will be tough. The American had a difficult Abu Dhabi, struggling with illness, but has arrived here as their GC leader. He seems to struggle in poor conditions at times and I fear that may be the same outcome for him tomorrow.

The rider who finished second to Quintana in 2015 on this stage is here again. Bauke Mollema will have been disappointed with his team’s TTT but a good performance here puts him back in contention for the overall podium. He’s a real slogger, so to say, and will certainly give it his all.

Tom Dumoulin appears to have started this season in great form and I’m sure he’ll be up there again tomorrow but it’s just the length of the climb that worries me with him.

Fabio Aru has been relatively attentive at the front of the bunch in the past two finishes, not wanting to lose any time in splits. He’s started his season solidly with a third and eighth GC placings in his first two stage races. His time trial on the final stage will most certainly let him down, so he needs to make the most of his good climbing legs tomorrow, if he has them!

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Adam Yates will want to try to replicate what his brother managed today in Paris Nice. Finishing 7th in 2015, two years stronger now and a 4th place finisher at the Tour, he certainly has a chance of getting a better result this time round. His win in Industria last Sunday certainly was very impressive!

Rui Costa is the form rider of the season so far, but I think a good result here will be a step too far. Yet again though, after a poor TTT like many others, he has a chance of being gifted a bit of freedom.

Rafal Majka is another who could be gifted some freedom. The Polish rider is one of the more under-appreciated climbers in the peloton and this long slog looks as if it will suit him!

Prediction

The GC field in this edition is a lot stronger than when Quintana last won here in 2015. However, barring some kind of miracle I feel we might get the same result. Do I believe in miracles? No, but I do believe in outsiders and crazy things happening! Team Sky to profit from having three strong guys but not considered GC threats, yet. I’ll give Rosa another chance!

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Or Quintana just wins by 30 seconds…

Betting

Rosa 1pt EW @ 25/1 with Bet365.

You might get better as more places price up later on but I don’t have the time to be waiting around!

Thanks for reading and any feedback is greatly appreciated! Who do you think will win? Can anyone stop Nairo? Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

 

Tirreno-Adriatico 2017 GC Preview

Tirreno-Adriatico 2017 GC Preview

The second stage race of the week and before the madness of the first few days in Paris Nice, it was the one I was looking forward to more!

Last year we saw the bad weather really hit this race hard and the mountain top finish on stage 5 was cancelled. This meant we had a really weird-looking top 10 for a week-long stage race and it was Greg van Avermaet who took the overall win, one second ahead of Peter Sagan.

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I can’t imagine we’ll get the same controversial outcome this year as the weather seems to be much better this time round.

Let’s see what’s in store for the riders over the coming week.

The Route

Like always, this will be a brief run through as I’ll be doing daily stage previews!

Stage 1.

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A pan flat 22.7km team time trial should open up some GC gaps and set the racing up nicely for the coming week.

Stage 2.

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A long day in the saddle for the riders with a tough finale. Looks to be one for the strong puncheurs!

Stage 3.

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A rolling day that should end in a sprint. The last 1.5km does average 3.5% though!

Stage 4.

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With the TTT setting the GC order, this stage will shake things up, that’s for sure with the very tough finish up Terminillo. On a bad day here and you can lose a lot of time.

Stage 5.

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Arguably a tougher day due to the relentless up and down nature of the second half of the stage. Will we see a team go crazy, à la Giro 2015 – Astana vintage?

Stage 6.

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Another rolling day with a little kicker near the finish. Will it be a bunch sprint, or will we see a morning break or late attack succeed?

Stage 7.

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Another pan flat time trial, this time of the individual variety. Will the GC be close enough for movement in the overall standings?

GC Contenders

Where else to start than with the best climber in the peloton, Nairo Quintana. The Colombian looked insanely strong in Valenciana but was marked out of the race brilliantly by Contador in Abu Dhabi. The Movistar squad looks geared towards giving him the best possible start in the TTT and with Moreno and Amador he should have some good support in the mountains. The Terminillo stage is perfect for him, but like others, I think his lack of one-day racing might let him down on Stage 5. He’ll really need his team to be strong then. It could well come down to the final day TT!

Thibaut Pinot will be hoping to build on his good showings in Andalucia and Strade with a real tilt at the GC here. His team produced one of the surprises of the season last year in the opening TTT, highlighting the change in attitude from the squad towards the time trialling discipline. They should perform well once again there and Pinot should be near the front in the mountain stages. Does he have enough to win?

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Tom Dumoulin will relish the pan-flat individual time trial and his Sunweb team looks OK for the TTT. The Dutchman has been in good shape at the start of this season, performing well on Saturday in Strade Bianche. He did well to finish 5th, considering the great form that those in front of him are in. The length and steepness of Terminillo could be a struggle for him, it’s right on his limits, but he will enjoy the climb being fairly regular in gradient. With a solid sprint on him too, we could see him challenging for bonus seconds on a couple of the punchy stages. If he’s within 30 seconds on the final day he’ll fancy his chances!

Last year Vincenzo Nibali was left bitterly disappointed after the cancellation of the Queen stage. He’s back again this year, looking for vindication possibly? Starting the year much better than he normally would, I’m intrigued to see how well he goes here in respect to his Giro preparation. A solid TTT will set him nicely for the week.

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Team Sky arrive with a ridiculously stacked team but I imagine Landa and Thomas will be co-leaders, on paper at least. The Spaniard looked strong in Andalucia, doing a lot of work for the team but still managing to finish off stages relatively high up in the standings. Whereas Thomas has not raced since the Tour Down Under, but has instead been away training with Froome in South Africa. It’s yet to be seen how that will have affected him, but wanting to be co-leader with real ambitions at the Giro, he will need a good performance soon. If not here, then possibly in Trentino. On a slight side note, I think he’ll go very well in the Giro! A third rider may well be up on GC for Sky too – Rosa. Like Landa, the Italian did a lot of the donkey work in Andalucia but still finished the race in a high GC position. Having three riders close on GC during stages 4 and 5 will give Sky a massive tactical advantage and he could well be the one benefiting from it. His TT is weak, but with the stage being short he shouldn’t lose more than 45 seconds.

Rui Costa has been the form rider in this early part of the season and he certainly can’t be discounted because of it. However, the finish to Terminillo isn’t his cup of tea at all, the climb is far too long for him in my opinion. He’s also bound to lose time in both of the TTs, so I can’t see him taking another victory here, or even a podium. I am prepared to eat my words though.

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Van Garderen was ill in Abu Dhabi so failed to produce anything noteworthy there. He’s bound to have a good performance in the TTT but can he hold onto that for the rest of the race. No. I don’t think so.

Aru has had a good start to the season by his standards. The Astana team are worried about the TTT so they’ve drafted in some strong riders to support him and I think they’ll put in a fairly good effort and not lose as much time as might be expected. He will enjoy the stage to Terminillo but the ITT will be a struggle. A podium result would be good.

A winner this weekend just gone, Yates will be hoping of putting in a solid performance here at this race. Orica bring a strong team of flat riders, mainly in support of Ewan so they should put in a decent TTT effort. The Brit will enjoy the stage to Fermo but the ITT could be where he ships a lot of time.

Mollema is a dangerous outsider for this race. He’s another who’s started the season very well and will hope to get some leeway as the favourites mark each other. Trek are going well in the TTs this year so he’ll hope to be put in a good position. He’s not one to be discounted.

Majka, Roglic and Uran could all surprise but it will take that, a surprise, for them to win this race in my opinion.

Prediction 

The GC here really comes down to how much time Quintana can take on Terminillo. There is a chance he might get marked out of the race, as he did in Abu Dhabi, but is anyone in good enough form to be able to follow him as easily as Contador did?

As I’m really struggling to nail this one down, I’m going to revert to type and go with a bit of an outsider, with some hopefully sound logic!

I really think having numbers up on GC  will be very important for a team, especially considering how manic the stage to Fermo could be. We don’t have the Astana of 2015 here, but we do have two of their riders in one squad; Team Sky. The Terminillo stage should see them have three riders within a minute of the lead and I expect them to go wild the following day. Diego Rosa looks like the ideal candidate to benefit from this, as Landa and Thomas mark those behind. The Italian loves one day racing and the type of terrain we get in this race seems to suit him perfectly. He’ll just need a good margin before the final stage!

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Betting

0.5pt EW Rosa @66/1 with Ladbrokes. (Would take down to 50/1)

 

Thanks for reading as per! This will be the first of three previews out tonight so keep an eye out for the others. I intend to have Tirreno Stage 1 out next but like always, that will depend on what gets priced up/and when by the bookmakers. They both might be out at the same time. Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

Clásica de San Sebastián

Clásica de San Sebastián

A great semi-classic style race positioned the weekend after the Tour, San Sebastián often provides very exciting racing.

2015’s edition was won by Adam Yates, after a strong attack on the final climb. He crested it with a slender margin of around 3 seconds, and due to a combination of strength from the Brit and a disorganised chase behind, he increased his lead and managed to win by 15 seconds at the finish.

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Adam looking puzzled crossing the line.

Yates himself looked confused as he crossed the line. Which resulted in us the viewers being confused/humoured at his bemusement. This was partly due to a fault with the aeroplane that was meant to be transmitting the pictures, so the live feed only returned as Yates powered away near the top of the climb. What wasn’t captured on TV but last year’s race is now infamous for, is Greg Van Avermaet’s collision with a motorcycle.

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Yates didn’t know it at the time that GVA had been taken out, hence the reason for his disbelief at the end hearing that he’d won!

Let’s look at this years edition.

The Route

The profile of the race is very similar to that of previous editions. In fact, it’s almost identical to last year’s profile but with one slight difference.

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The route profile is correct, just the last climb has been misnamed

Instead of going up the Tontorra, the riders climb up Murgil Bidea instead. This change in final climb doesn’t really affect the race, it just increases its length ever so slightly because of the change in route.

The climbs of the Jaizkibel and Arkale will sap the legs within the peloton early on, but the race really is all about the final climb, as this is where most successful moves are made.

The final climb is still incredibly tough. As usual, I’ve made a profile on Strava for it that you can view directly here.

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Profile of Murgil Bidea.

Including part of the run-in and false flat after the official summit, smooths out the climb ever so slightly, making it 2.2km long with an average gradient of 8.9%. Taking out these sections makes the climb 1.5km at 10.4%, with ramps of around 20%. Steep and difficult either way!

Previous Winners – Is there a pattern?

Over the past 10 editions (2006-2015) only one of the winners has not raced at the Tour. That man was Xavier Florencio way back in 2006. All the rest have been on a merry jaunt around France.

Interestingly enough, all the winners from 2007 onwards have finished the TDF, all in the top 75 on GC too.

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Average GC position is 28.4 – Shame Wout Poels isn’t here!

Going off of recent history, it seems that to be a winner at San Sebastian, you must have performed well in France. Therefore, it is paramount to consider those who’ve just came from the Tour.

Non-Tour riders?

There is obviously always a chance that the pattern from the last nine years can be broken this time round. There are a few riders coming in from other races or blocks of training who have the abilities and credentials to challenge here. It all just depends if they are back to race condition yet or not.

Candidates

In a slight change from the normal lay-out, I’m going to go through the teams/riders who have a chance of going well here. Naming more riders than I would usually! Still, some teams won’t be mentioned, because let’s be honest, no-one from Cofidis is winning here…

(those who’ve been at the Tour are in bold and I’ll be going through in Startlist order, max 2 riders per team)

Orica – Adam Yates & Simon Yates. The defending champion was in great form at the Tour and has every chance of winning again. He floats up hills and the gradients here are to his liking. Meanwhile, his brother returned from his doping suspension with a win on Monday and will want to remind everyone what he can do on the big stage.

Cycling: 35th Clasica Ciclista San Sebastian 2015

Tinkoff – Kreuziger. Had a good Tour but it will be tough for him to win here. He’s not a good enough climber to escape alone on the final climb and doesn’t have the required sprint from a bunch. The only way he can win is if a group crests together, and he attacks on the descent and hopes that the chase behind is disorganised.

Movistar – Valverde. They’ll be all in for Alejandro. There’s a chance one of the Izagirre’s might be used as a ploy to get the other teams to chase but AV is their main option. Mr Consistent can win from about any situation. He’s rightly the favourite.

BMC- GVA & Gilbert. The could have been winner from last year will be here to right the wrongs. Van Avermaet was climbing exceptionally at the Tour and is in great shape just now, he’ll be disappointed if he doesn’t win. Phil Gil had a poor classics campaign due to injury. He’s not been his best this year but has shown glimpses of form. You can never rule out the former winner and World Champ.

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Sky – Landa & Nieve. I’m being rather controversial here, but I think the two Basque riders will be the team’s leaders over Kwiatkowski and Roche. Landa slowly re-found himself during the Tour and he seemed to be in good shape by the end of it. Earlier in the year he excelled on a steep finish at Trentino, very similar to the final climb we have here. Don’t forget he finished 6th here back in 2013. Nieve has finished 4th here on two occasions, can he make the step onto the podium? Quite possibly! He rode very well in support of Froome over the past month. After doing the Giro and Tour, does he have anything left in reserve? I think so.

Etixx – Martin. It’s all about Panda Power for Etixx. The Irishman achieved his best ever Tour GC result this year. An always attacking rider, you can be sure that he’ll try to make a move off the front at some point. Furthermore, as was shown in Lombardia (2014), he is great at timing a move from a small group and he packs a good sprint. With all that being said, I can’t see him finishing on the podium. Brambilla may be let off the hook but he’s not raced enough recently for me to like his chances.

Katusha – JRod. Another team with one clear leader, Rodriguez really got his season back on track at the Tour after having a poor start to the year. With the announcement that he’s retiring at the end of the year, he’ll give it his all here and potentially take a few more risks than normal.

Lampre – Ulissi. He was climbing exceptionally at the Giro but has been a bit off the boil since then. With the explosive kick required and fast sprint from a group he will be a serious danger-man. Can he be the non-Tour rider to break that 9 year duck?

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Trek – Mollema & Felline. The Dutchman has a great record, finishing in the Top 10 in all of the previous 4 editions. However, he looked spent by the end of the Tour. I’m not sure if he’ll have recovered fully but he can’t be ruled out. Felline finished the recent Tour de Pologne 2nd on GC, a great result. He is a rider for a while who has promised so much in these type of races. I think this is too early for him (look out for him at the Vuelta) and the final climb is on his limit. I’m ready to be surprised though!

Lotto Soudal – Gallopin & Wellens. Another former winner lining up here, Gallopin had a poor TDF by his standards. Especially after a good showing at the French national championships. I’m not sure why that was, but if he’s back to his best then he can definitely challenge here. Wellens on the other hand seems to be on great form just now, storming to the overall victory in Poland just over a week ago. We’re sure to see an attack (probably poorly timed) from him at some point.

AG2R – Vuillermoz. Was building form nicely at the Tour and is a rider I like a lot. He can handle the steep inclines but will probably need to come to the finish alone as he doesn’t have a great flat sprint.

IAM – Pantano. Arguably the revelation of this years TDF, Pantano has all the attributes to go well here. His weakness is probably actually his climbing and I’m not too sure how he goes on very steep gradients. However, he will still be better than most in that respect! He’ll be able to fly down the hill and he has a fast sprint on him too so he can challenge from a group.

Aside from these riders, I can’t see anyone else winning. In fact, I’d narrow it down to A Yates, Valverde, GVA, JRod, Landa, Nieve & Pantano as the most likely candidates. All riders who have been at the Tour!

Prediction

In tradition of the blog I’ll go for one of the outsiders.

I think Sky’s numerical advantage will play a massive part in the finale, whether that’s marking moves on the climb/descent or doing the “old 1-2” themselves. I favour Landa out of the two in that situation. We’ve seen him cope well with steep inclines (Trentino this year and Aia last year) and as a potential Grand Tour winner he has the pedigree and capabilities to win here. Unlike some of the others (Yates & Valverde) he didn’t have to go deep on every stage in France, so will have saved some energy because of that. The team will be on a high after the Tour and want to continue that good run. Therefore, I think we get the poetic Basque region winner that the fans and locals will adore!

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Betting

Just backing Landa for this, the majority of the favourites are too short to back convincingly and I think Landa offers some value. The bookies seem to have the race priced well.

0.5pt EW @ 50/1 with Betfair. (I’d take 40/1 if you can’t get 50/1)

If I see any H2Hs that I like I’ll add them on my Twitter.

 

Thanks for reading and making it this far on this longer than normal preview! Any feedback is very much appreciated as usual. I should have a preview out for Ride London too so keep an eye out for that. Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.