Volta a la Comunitat Valenciana 2018 Stage 1 Preview; Oropesa El Mar › Peñiscola

Volta a la Comunitat Valenciana 2018 Stage 1 Preview; Oropesa El Mar › Peñiscola

GC Overview

I was originally intending on writing a full GC preview for the race but that won’t be happening now so instead, here’s a short overview.

The GC battle will come down to 2, possibly 3 stages.

Stage 2 has the potential to cause some big splits in the peloton, given how tough the final 3kms of Garbi are. However, with 30km to go from the summit to the finish, will riders want to put in a big effort?

Stage 3 sees the return of the TTT, with a 23km route to Calpe. Fast and dangerous, teams will need to take some risks if they want to stay close to the favourite on the day. BMC and Sky look like the teams to beat.

All will be decided on stage 4 with the Queen stage of the race. The riders will face a total of 7 categorised climbs throughout the day but it is the finishing 4.6km of Canteras de Cocentina that averages 8.4% that will make the difference. Depending on how aggressively the day has been raced before that point, we could see some very big gaps here. Can a rider overcome the deficit from the TTT, or will a rider hold on to their advantage?

It looks set to be a battle between Sky and Valverde, as they will inevitably have to close down any gains BMC made in the TT. Having numbers should help Sky and I expect them to try something on Stage 2 once over the climb. It also will help them on stage 4 and they could possibly send some riders on long-range attacks.

But we’re in Spain, Valverde seems lively on his return to racing and he’s in my fantasy team, so I think we’ll see El Bala on the top step come the end of the race. Hopefully!

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

The Route

Right, get the sniggers out of your system straight away, as the opening stage finishes in the town of Peñiscola.

Now that the immaturity is out-of-the-way, what can we expect on stage 1?

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@LasterketaBurua

A fairly straightforward stage with one climb in the middle to reward a breakaway rider with the KOM jersey.

There isn’t really much to this stage but it will be interesting to see if the wind plays a part as the riders head through Vinaroz and along the coast towards the finish. At the moment it looks as if it will be a cross-head wind, but at only 15km/h or so, it isn’t strong enough to create echelons. Teams will be wary though if the forecast changes and it does kick up tomorrow.

As for the final 5km, they are pan-flat but do involve a few turns and roundabouts.

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Incoming Preview by Pictures™…

The most important part of the run in will be the double-header of two 90-degree turns the riders will face in the final 2km.

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Turn #1 at roughly 1.9km to go.

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Turn #2 at roughly 1.6km to go.

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Turn #3 at roughly 1.1km to go.

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Turn #4 at roughly 1km to go.

What can we take from this then?

Well, the road after turn 1 is very narrow and the bunch will be strung out through that section. Turn 2 is slightly more forgiving and the road does open up after that for the following kilometre. This gives those behind a chance to move up if there is some hesitation at the front of the pack.

The second pair of turns are less sharp, but it is important to note that the road narrows a lot once through the final turn. It goes from 2 lanes wide, with plenty of space for parked cars on either side, to only two lanes wide and that’s it.

That continues for the following few hundred metres but the road does open up into the 2 lanes with space either side in the closing 500m.

Therefore positioning coming into the final 2km will be very important as I think it will be hard for teams to move up once through that point.

Sprinters

We don’t exactly have a plethora of sprinting talent here but that means that a couple of riders can get a confidence boosting win over this coming week.

Danny Van Poppel.

After his switch from Sky to Jumbo in the winter, the Dutch rider will be looking to impress for his new outfit. Arguably one of the fastest riders here, he’ll be able to rely on the engines of Van Emden and Van Hoecke to get him into a good position, but from there he will most likely have to follow the wheels of the better sprint trains. If he chooses correctly, then he has a good chance to take the win.

Luka Mezgec.

Mitchelton Scott could go with three options but I fancy them to go with the Slovenian over Albasini and Trentin; with that pair on lead-out duties. Kreuziger -> Bewley -> Albasini -> Trentin is arguably one of the best trains we have their and they pack a lot of power in the final two. That could be crucial in seeing Mezgec through the twisty and tight final few kilometres. Does he have the top end speed to deliver?

Sacha Modolo.

Whisper it quietly but EF Education might have the strongest sprint train here. Their whole squad will most likely get involved in the effort, apart from Rolland maybe, it will just be a case of if they go for Modolo or McLay. Both of them are fast enough in their own right, and it might just be decided on the day as to who is feeling best. I think it will be Modolo on the opening day though. The Italian had an up and down year in 2017, but he will hope his new move means he has more ups than downs this season. In theory, he should be in the best place going into the final few hundred metres, but does he have the top end speed to win?

Those are probably the fastest three guys here/have the best teams around them, but we certainly could see a surprise from some others.

Hugo Hofstetter – More of a lead-out rider, the Cofidis man will be given the go-ahead in the sprints here. Fairly fast, a second place behind Kristoff in Norway last year is testament to that, will he be able to up his game here though. We’ll see!

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Clément Venturini – Nippy little AG2R rider that reminds me a lot of Sammy Dumoulin. He’ll have the trusty services of Oli Naesen to lead him out. Could surprise.

Baptiste Planckaert – An incredible 2016 saw him make the jump from CT up to WT and he did struggle a bit last season. However, he started to find his feet towards the end of the year. Would prefer a harder route though.

Adrien Petit – Another lead-out man who gets his chance to shine. With some racing already under his belt in the Bongo, he should theoretically come here in better shape than some of his rivals. He’s not a slouch and he’ll be aiming for a top 5. Would probably prefer a harder course as well though.

Enrique Sanz – A 4th place in Palma shows there is a reasonable bit of form there for the Euskadi rider. I’m not sure about his top speed on a finish like this however.

Albert Torres – I’m a fan of the track star who occasionally rides road races for the Inteja team. His winter of track riding served him will in the Trofeo’s with two top 10 places. He has a very fast finish and he’s one I’m keeping my eye on.

Marko Kump – The Slovenian has taken a step down to PCT in a hope for more leadership opportunities. He is a weird rider in the sense that sometimes he seems incredibly fast, while other times, he’s a bit “meh”. Given this field, if he is on a strong day then at least a podium is a good possibility.

I think that’s everyone covered, although to be fair, I could almost start naming the likes of Valverde and Van Avermaet to be in the mix at this point.

One thing to consider about tomorrow’s stage though is that given the lack of a clear sprint favourite, then we might see a bit of bluffing and refusing to chase the break. There is a much better chance than normal for an opening stage that the break stays away due to no one wanting to work behind. The race really needs a GC team like Sky or Movistar to help with the pace making, otherwise we could well see the break stick.

So it is not a bad day for the pro conti and conti teams to make the move!

Prediction

We will end with a sprint and it will be Luka Mezgec who is victorious.

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Mitchelton have a very strong final 4 that should be able to take control in the closing two kilometres when it matters most. They could conceivably go for Albasini or Trentin as well, but I think Mezgec will be their chosen rider. He worked exceptionally hard for the team last year but showed he had the speed to take his own chances when given them. As an integral part of Ewan’s train, he once again might be allowed to chase personal glory before working hard for others later on in the year!

Betting

I can’t remember if we had odds last year or not so I’m just publishing this preview now anyway. There are odds available with Kirolbet in Spain, but nowhere else unfortunately. Hopefully this might change, but I’m not entirely sure if I’ll back anything anyway. Keep an eye out on my twitter if there are odds published as I’ll post any fancies there.

Thanks for reading as always though! Who do you think will win tomorrow? Will there be enough urgency in the peloton to bring it all back for a sprint, or will we see a breakaway surprise everyone and hold out? Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

 

 

Tour de Romandie 2017 Stage 2 Preview; Champéry -> Bulle

Today’s Recap

It looked for a while as if the weather was going to hold out, but it started tipping it down towards the end of the day. Which made for very grizzly conditions going up the last climb. I’m sure if that made the stage easier or not, as the peloton rode it slightly more defensively than I thought, or if the climb was too easy for any gaps to be made.

In the end, it was Albasini who took a great win (a day too late for me)! With Ulissi and Herrada rounding out the podium.

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A damp squib of a stage on the punting front but I’ll soldier on!

The Route

A “sprinters” day tomorrow in Romandie, which means that there is still a fair amount of climbing involved.

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@LasterketaBurua

You can view an interactive profile of the stage here.

There is a chance that they might move the start of tomorrow’s race off the mountain at Champéry and onto the flat valley below. Either way, it shouldn’t have a big impact on the stage.

We do have some relatively tough short climbs out on the course but they come too far from the finish to cause any stress for the sprinters so we should end with some type of bunch kick again.

As there is nothing useful in the road-book, I’ve resorted again to making a Strava profile, this time of the final 5km. You can view that link here.

I’ve went off what information I could take from the interactive profile made by the same guys behind LasterketaBurua as there is no useful information in the RB as to where turns etc are in the finale so apologies if this isn’t 100% correct. But again, I do trust them so I’m assuming it is correct!

Anyway…

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The closing 2.8km averages 2.29% all the way to the line. Not tough, but certainly a long drag! The amount of twists and turns in the closing kilometre should also add to the excitement.

However, it was the 900m lump that starts just before the 4km to go mark that caught my eye. As Strava sometimes doesn’t cope with the contouring on maps that well, especially when the road runs very close to a contour, I thought I’d check it out on Google Streetview to see if the climb was actually that steep.

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View one…
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View two…

It’s definitely a hill, that I’m sure of… 😜

As for how steep it is, I’m still undecided!

Facing up the road, it looks like quite a tough drag but then when looking parallel to the road it doesn’t seem as bad at all. We’ll just have to wait and see tomorrow I guess as to how steep it actually is. I’m holding out that it is the 900m climb at 7% that Strava promises! My instinct though is that it’s probably closer to a 4% average.

Weather

We’re set for another cold day in the saddle.

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Source: Wunderground

Thankfully the riders will be happy to see that there is only a “chance of rain” in the afternoon, but I’m sure they’re bound to get soaked at some point.

There are plenty of riders far enough down on GC to warrant a break win, but I think that’s unlikely and we’ll more than likely see some type of sprint into Bulle.

Contenders

We don’t have many proper sprinters here so a lot of them should be able to compete on this finale.

Viviani is arguably the biggest name here. He’s been climbing a lot better this year, in fact, the best I’ve seen in his whole career. Tomorrow’s finish might be right on his limit but with the Giro looming, you would expect him to be in good shape. Without a win this season, it’s a great chance for him to take victory, but I just can’t see it. Nonetheless, he does surprise occasionally with a great result.

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Albasini is a man in form and he can certainly roll over any of the hills tomorrow. The up-hill finish puts him on a similar level to the really fast guys and I would not be surprised to see him double up. At the very least, he is a safe shout for a podium

Colbrelli in theory should be the favourite for this race, but he seems to be tiring after his great start the year. If he still has some strength in his legs then he will be tough to beat.

This type of finish would have been bread and butter for JJ Lobato circa end of 2014. After switching to Jumbo, the Spaniard has failed to deliver a win for his team so far but that could be put down to the injury that plagued him at the start of the year. An 11th place in Amstel shows that some form is there, but can you put any faith in the enigmatic fast man?

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Race leader Felline will like the look of the drag towards the finish line tomorrow. Clearly in scintillating form, the Italian is taking advantage of it and looks strong in the lead. If he takes the win and 10 bonus seconds tomorrow, he might fancy his chances at winning this race overall…

What about Samuel Dumoulin? The Frenchman has had a fairly solid year but has only picked up one win so far. One of the most consistent riders on an uphill finish, he certainly has a chance if the form is there.

Van der Sande climbed well to finish 17th today but was disappointed to have missed out on getting close to the win. He is clearly going well at the moment and should be Lotto Soudal’s main charge tomorrow as Hofland seems to have fallen by the wayside. A good outsider.

Bilbao will hope to be up there again for Astana. He was close today in 6th place but with the finish being on the climb this time, I’m sure that will suit his abilities more.

Likewise, it will suit former team-mate Goncalves. A favourite of mine, the Portuguese rider has performed OK in the opening part of the season with his new team Katusha, an 11th place at Strade being his best result. Tomorrow’s finish is one that he would eat for breakfast so to say when he was with Caja Rural and I expect to see him up there fighting for the win tomorrow.

Smith, Swift and Richeze might all get involved as well.

Prediction

A tough stage to predict the winner of as firstly I’m still not 100% sure of that penultimate ramp, but it’s also difficult to tell how the peloton will approach the drag to the line.

I do think we’ll see a reduced bunch sprint in the end and I’ll go for a guy who was disappointed today to take the win tomorrow; Tosh van der Sande to step up to the plate and start fulfilling his potential!

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Betting

0.5pt EW Van der Sande @ 22/1 (would take 16s)

0.5pt EW Goncalves @ 400/1 (would take 150s)

 

Thanks as always for reading and any feedback is greatly appreciated. Who do you think will win stage 2? Tomorrow might be a triple preview day with another Romandie stage and potentially Yorkshire Stage 1 and GC, although I might miss the latter if I’m short of time. Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tour de Romandie 2017 Prologue Preview; Aigle -> Aigle

Tour de Romandie 2017 Prologue Preview; Aigle -> Aigle

GC Overview

Short of time again so there’s no full GC preview from me but here are a few quick thoughts.

The weather forecast for the week looks grim, so that certainly suits some riders more than others and wet roads could make some of the descents very treacherous. Nonetheless, it looks to be a two-horse race this between Porte and Froome.

Porte hasn’t raced in over a month since Paris Nice, where he was left bitterly disappointed after losing time in the crosswinds on the opening stages. However, he was sublime and put 21 seconds into a flying Contador on the Queen Stage. It’s the best I think I’ve seen the Australian climb and he’ll want to show well here again to gain a psychological advantage over his old team-mate.

Likewise, Froome also hasn’t raced for close to a month, with his last outing being in Catalunya where he once again was caught out in splits near the start of a stage. None of that matters though to Froome and his season starts here. Without a win this year, he’ll want to change that here and look to seal the title before going to the Dauphiné. Thomas was flying when he came back from South Africa and I expect the same from Froome this time too.

Can anyone stop them? Not really, no! However, Izagirre, Roglic, Spilak, Yates and Pantano will hope to go close and take 3rd place on the podium.

I’ll go for a Porte win. That climbing display in Paris Nice was truly impressive and he’ll just edge Froome, before the tables are turned at the Dauphiné.

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Right, let’s have a look at what’s in store for the riders on the opening day.

The Route

Short, but sharp opening prologue for the riders to tackle.

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@LasterketaBurua

You can view an interactive profile of the route here.

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With a few technical turns this prologue isn’t all about raw power, with good bike handling skills also being essential if you want to set a very fast time.

There’s not much to the terrain with it mostly being flat, but we do get a kilometre long drag of roughly 2% from 1.8km -> 2.8km. From there, the riders descend quickly before another few hundred metres at 2% before the flat run to the line.

And that’s that for the route, short and sweet like the effort!

Weather

As is often the case in Romandie, bad weather looks set to play a part in the race.

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Source: MeteoCentrale

It doesn’t look like it will be too bad tomorrow, with most of the rain supposedly falling in the evening. However, there is a chance for a few showers as we get later into the afternoon. Will some of the GC riders go out earlier hoping to avoid them?!

Contenders

A prologue like this is incredibly wide open. Getting my excuses in early! TT specialists will fancy their chances but so will sprinters and strong all rounders.

This list could be very long if I wanted it to, but since I’m in a bit of a rush and I’m not a fan of naming 20 riders, I’ll pick a select few and try to give reasons as to why they can win the stage. Several favourites will be left out but what else would you expect?!

Ion Izagirre.

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Once of the riders blessed by going out in better conditions last year, he avoided the rain which made the descent treacherous, taking the win on the opening day. There isn’t as much climbing in the prologue this year but I would argue that he’s going in much better shape than this time last year. After a very successful Ardennes week (12th was his worst finish) he seems to be bang in form and will be looking to equal last year’s performance.

Michael Albasini.

Another man who has been plagued by the Haughey Curse, I had picked him for the prologue last year at 200/1.

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He was going well too, until he came to grief on the rainy descent. This year he seems to be in equally impressive form with no worse than a 7th place in the Ardennes this week. Known as Mr Romandie, he has 6 stage wins to his name here and he should make it seven at some point this week. Will that be tomorrow?

Stefan Küng.

The second Swiss rider to make the list and a former trackie, the BMC man won the Individual Pursuit World title in 2015. This type of short course should suit him perfectly and he’ll be fired up for his home race. Not having raced since Roubaix, it will be interesting to see what his form will be like, but he has every chance when the winning margin should be small!

Fabio Felline.

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Not a known TT rider, Felline has improved at the discipline over the past year and he finished a very respectable 5th in the TT in Andalucia back at the start of the season. An explosive rider who seems to be going reasonably well, he has a good chance of upsetting the applecart.

Of course there are many others who could get involved and we might even see Porte and Froome feature at the head of the field.

Prediction

Mr Romandie to take his seventh stage win, smashing the TT and hopefully staying up-right this time!

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I think we might see the two big GC favourites get close to the podium as well.

Betting

I wouldn’t normally bet on the GC but because of the price I will;

2pts EW Porte at 9/2 with Bet365. 

He has a good chance of winning, but should podium barring any disaster. Safe in the sense that stakes are returned if he does.

Prologue picks, all with B365 as well;

Albasini 1pt EW @ 28/1

Froome 0.25pt EW @40/1

Porte 0.25pt EW @50/1

 

Thanks for reading as always, I should have a longer preview out for the first road stage. Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

La Flèche Wallonne 2017 Preview

The second of the Ardennes classics this week and we’re finally in the Ardennes! A race dominated by the famous Mur de Huy ascent and the sprint up it, the day is often won by some of the best climbers in the world.

Last year an imperious Valverde won it for the third time in a row (his 4th in total), beating Alaphilippe and Dan Martin.

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I’m not going to beat about the bush here though, this is one of my least favourite races of the year. A long afternoon waiting for one short effort up the final climb, not my idea of fun. Maybe that will change this year though after all the attacking racing we’ve had so far this Spring?

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

The Route

A shade over 200km, with most of the challenges packed into the latter half of the race.

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The road is up and down for the last 80km but more than likely it will be the final 30km that will settle the day.

With the second passage of the Huy, some teams might look to increase the pace and shed some domestiques of the main favourites, or even send attackers up the road.

It’s then around 12km until they hit the Côte d’Ereffe, cresting with only 15km remaining. At 2.1km in length and averaging only 5%, it’s not a hard climb, but I expect the pace to be high and a few riders might get dropped from the peloton.

Once over the peak, we have a quick descent and an unclassified rise before a gradual drop to the penultimate climb of the day.

The Côte de Cherave is an easier Mur, averaging just over 8% for 1.3km. Last year saw Izagirre, Jungels and Wellens attack on the climb and we could well see some similar moves this year. With its proximity to the finish, if the peloton behind is not co-operating then there is a chance that riders make it all the way to the Mur with a gap. However, they’ll need to have something left in the tank before tackling the famous climb.

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The 9.6% average gradient is a bit deceitful because we have a kilometre that averages closer to 11%, with much shallower slopes at the bottom and right at the end of the climb.

It will be a strong rider who wins tomorrow!

Weather Watch

It looks like a nice day out in the saddle for the riders, but it also looks to be a relatively windy day.

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Source; Windfinder

The above image is the forecast for a town called Maillen which is just north of the route near Yvoir (at the 63km gone mark).

It’s a similar story for the rest of the region tomorrow, with a brisk North-Easterly wind which means that it will be a head or cross-head wind for most of the day until we reach the closing circuit around Huy.

Combining the wind direction, speed and road direction then echelons are certainly a possibility but I fear there is a greater chance of it just being a block head-wind instead.

There are some exposed roads in the area though, so if the wind would turn ever so slightly, then that would be great!

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I’m just thinking wishfully again though.

How will the race pan out?

I’m really hoping that the attacking racing of the Spring continues here. The route has a lot of potential, especially the closing 15km, it just requires some teams to be risky for once. Otherwise, we’ll end up with another damp squib of a race again.

The onus is really on Movistar to do most of the work as Valverde is the man to beat on this climb, going for his 5th win and considering his form, no one else will win if the bunch comes to the foot slopes together. Barring any mechanical or other incident of course.

Therefore it’s up to other teams to make the race hard and wear down Movistar as the Spanish team here is solid, but not great. Potential race winning attacks will need to come further out than 15km to go though because they should still be able to cope with them then.

In theory, no one should help them and that’s how I would certainly play it if I was a DS of a team. Yet as we know, some teams don’t seem to think that way and I fear that Sky/QuickStep will crack and help do some work.

However, if Sky sent someone like Rosa up the road on the penultimate passage of the Huy then that would set alarm bells ringing in the Movistar camp and soften them up for the last trio of climbs. Joined by some allies from other teams, then we could have a race on our hands. It would need to be a meaningful attack though because the route isn’t tough enough to cause any damage if it’s a half-hearted effort.

With all that said though, I fear it may come down to a sprint up the Mur.

Contender(s)

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Anyone else?

Team Sky duo of Henao and Kwiatkowski should be up there. Both have finished well in the past at this race and they were strong in Amstel which will give them a lot of confidence going into tomorrow. A 1-2 punch might see them beat Valverde but Quick Step tried that last year and failed, so we could see a similar outcome again.

No Gilbert is a blow for Quick Step but they still have Dan Martin who will be in contention. He wasn’t great in Catalunya but that could turn around here, he won’t win though.

Albasini will top 10 again, possibly top 5.

Uran has looked good this season and should be up there again. His team-mate Woods should like this type of finish but his tactical ineptness lets him down at times. I guess there aren’t many tactics to a 1.3km uphill effort!

Several other GC riders/climbers will feature in and around the top 10, such as Bardet, Pantano and Costa.

As for outsiders;

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My logic still stands with Matthews for tomorrow, or at least it does in my head anyway! He seems to be going exceptionally well this year and he’s survived some steep climbs when I’ve not expected it. With the race only being 200km he should be fresh at the finish so in a 3-minute effort, why can’t he compete with the best GC riders in the World?

I’m also intrigued to see how Kudus goes. The Eritrean will benefit from the shorter race distance and I keep thinking back to how impressive he was in February on the climb to Llucena. The issue is that, that result was February and we’re now in April when riders are almost in peak condition and Kudus hasn’t shown so much recently. Nonetheless, as a proper outsider, he’s one to keep an eye on!

If we get a late attack succeed or a group of riders get away then Vakoc is my man for that situation.

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As QS’ join second best option IMO (along with Brambilla), he could be a good foil to send up the road in an attacking race. He looked incredibly strong in Brabantse, bridging the gap to Wellens and then to the leaders fairly comfortably. Peaking for this part of the season, I don’t think we’ve seen everything from him yet this week…

Prediction

An exciting/attacking race? Hopefully! But…

Cycling is a sport where 180 guys ride around on their bikes for 5 hours and in the end, Valverde wins.

Betting

I fear #HaugheyWednesdays will be coming to an end tomorrow. Some really small punts for interest but they are already a hiding to nothing and almost being marked down as a loss before the start…

0.125pt EW Matthews @ 300/1 (As I tweeted this I’m counting it, and I would maybe take the 200s still available. The 150 is a push)

0.125pt EW Kudus @ 500/1 with Betfair/PP (would take 300s lowest)

0.125pt EW Vakoc @ 250/1 with Bet365 (150/1 lowest but again, that’s at a push).

 

Thanks as always for reading and any feedback is greatly appreciated. Who do you think will win? Will it be a walk in the park for Valverde? This is the first of three previews I’ll have out today, with Women’s Fleche out next then Tour of the Alps out later, so do return for those! Although the latter may be cancelled due to the weather. Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

 

Pais Vasco 2017 Stage 2 Preview; Iruñea -> Eltziego

Today’s Recap

I have to admit, I overslept after last nights shift and only caught the last 5km! In that time we had Alaphilippe attack over the summit of the final drag, only to have a mechanical. A counter group then went with the likes of Valverde and Roche, only for it all to be brought back together for a sprint. The blog pick of Albasini was indeed on lead-out duty for Gerrans, but it was another Aussie and stage favourite Matthews who took the win. McCarthy finished in second place to give the podium a Tour Down Under feel to it!

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

The Route

Another typical rolling Basque stage.

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@LasterketaBurua

A tough climb at the start of the stage should see a strong break get up the road. However, aside from the Cat-3 climb at 60km to go there is no real other big obstacle out on course. The official profile makes the closing 30km look very testing but most of it is false flat at 1-2% or so at most. However, there is a little ramp (1.1km at 6%) that crests at roughly 6.5km to the finish.

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The run in to the line is downhill all the way from 6.5km out. It’s not too severe a descent, averaging only -3%, so it’s one for the bigger chain ring! The riders will be thankful there are no tight turns only a few sweeping bends for them to contend with.

How will the stage pan out?

We saw today that a small rise of 1.4km at 3.5% was enough to cause some urgency in the bunch so a 1.1km ramp at 6% will probably do the same tomorrow! With the run in being downhill, although not too steep, it does give any would be escapees a better chance of making it to the line.

Yet, a reduced bunch sprint is also a very likely option. It all depends on what riders attempt to get off the front of the peloton. If the attack group contains a GC threat then there will be more impetus behind to chase or a lack of co-operation in the group ahead, like we saw with Valverde’s attack today. However, if we get a few GC favourites away and enough teams then it might just stick.

It’s a tough one to call!

Late Attackers

There are your obvious choices of attackers such as Wellens and Cummings but like always, I’ll name a couple of other more unorthodox picks who might have a go.

Toms Skuijnš.

24-03-2017 Settimana Internazionale Coppi E Bartali; Tappa 02 Riccione - Sogliano Al Rubicone; 2017, Cannondale - Drapac; Skujins, Toms; Sogliano Al Rubicone;

The Latvian is in great form at the moment, taking a storming win in Coppi e Bartali towards the end of March. He followed that up with a solid 10th place in GP Indurain on Saturday. Not a GC threat and packing a fast sprint after a tough stage, he has a good chance of winning from a group of 5 or so.

Michael Valgren.

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Building some nice form for the Ardennes, the Dane has continued his racing after completing Flanders in a very credible 11th place on Sunday. That ride might be taking its toll on him but he is a bull of a rider and I think he’ll have recovered well enough by now. Like Skuijns, he packs a fairly good sprint from a reduced group. Heck, he even beat Colbrelli to 6th place in E3 recently!

Sprint?

If we do get a sprint, Matthews has shown that he is a step ahead of everyone else and he should be the clear favourite for it. The last climb will be of no challenge to him, he’ll just hope that he has team-mates to chase or if another team wants to set it up for a bunch gallop.

Who could that team be? Orica are the most likely allies as they look to set up either Gerrans or Albasini. The former obviously sprinted today so will he get the chance again tomorrow? It will be tough for them to beat Matthews though!

McCarthy, Restrepo and Swift will hope to feature too. I think the Brit will go much better than he did today and is one to keep an eye on if we do get a sprint.

Prediction

An interesting one to predict and it really is in the balance between a late attack sticking and a reduced bunch gallop. Hmmmmm.

I think it will come back together and Matthews will win again!

Betting

No value in Matthews at his price due to the risky and unpredictable nature of the finale. Of course there is value if you think it is a nailed on sprint but that bit of doubt puts me off of him. There are a few angles I still want to play though;

0.75pt EW Swift @ 20/1 with Betfair/PP (would take down to 16s)

0.25pt WIN Skuijns @ 100/1 with Bet365 (would take down to 66s)

0.25pt WIN Valgren @ 250/1 with Bet365 (would take down to 66s)

 

Thanks for reading and any feedback is appreciated as always. Who do you think will win and by what means? I’ll be back again tomorrow with a slightly longer preview! Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

 

 

 

Vuelta al Pais Vasco 2017 Stage 1 Preview; Iruñea -> Eguesibar-Sarriguren

GC Overview

No time for a full length preview so here are a few thoughts.

The race in general seems easier than previous editions, but the riders can always make it tougher through aggressive racing. The most decisive stages are the last two, stages 5 & 6. With the steep gradients of Arrate, the more lightweight, explosive climbers will look to maker their mark. Whereas the more all-round GC contenders will hope to gain time back on the TT the following today. It should be a close race!

Contador won the race last year and is clearly going well just now. He’ll fancy his chances to make it back to back wins overall!

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His main rival looks to be the flying Valverde. He was exceptional in Catalunya and has to start the race as favourite in my opinion.

Behind those two there are several riders who will be hoping to make the podium. Alaphilippe, Henao, Roglic, Yates and Spilak are just a few names to conjure with. Out of that selection, I would fancy Alaphilippe. There are no big mountain days and long 16km climbs which he hates, instead, he’ll find the short 6-7km climbs to his liking. As we saw in Paris-Nice, he packs a fairly good TT as well! Spilak is a dark horse, especially if he is on the level that he was climbing in Tirreno and if it rains, of course!

No bonus seconds for the stage winner etc tilts the importance of attacking racing to drop opponents, but also the TT is even more key.

Right, now that’s out the way, let’s have a look at what’s in store for the riders on Stage 1.

The Route

A fairly dull stage to start the race off.

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Profile once again courtesy of @LasterketaBurua

We do have a few Cat-2 climbs but they come too far from the finish to be of any consequence. The little rise of 1.4km at 3.4% which crests at just over 4km to go is interesting, but I can’t see it having a huge effect on the race. It may be the launchpad for a probing attack, though even I think it will be hard for one of them to stick! Yet, with no real sprinters in the race, it might just do…

The run in to the line is quite technical, and we have two sharp turns in the closing 2km.

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The 90-degree turn with 300m to go will ensure for a manic end to the day. You need to be in the first 5 riders out of it to have any chance of winning.

“Sprinters”

We have barely any of the top-level sprinters here this week so expect a few surprise results and things not going to plan!

Matthews probably starts as the favourite. The Aussie looked good in Paris Nice, and rode very well on the unfamiliar cobbles of Gent Wevelgem recently. Like most of the “sprinters”, he doesn’t have a great lead-out with him and will be relying on Geschke to deliver him into position.

Bennett arrives as the other sprinter who’s a cut above the rest. The Irishman took a great stage win in Paris Nice, beating some of the fastest riders in the world. He pulled out of De Panne so it will be interesting to see if he’s recovered from whatever it was that caused that. If he has, then he is certainly a big favourite for the win!

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It says a lot when you have Swift and Lobato as the next best sprinters in the peloton. Both have looked a bit “meh” as of late but if there was ever a chance for them to take a win and get some confidence back, this is it. I just wouldn’t have any confidence in them at the moment!

Then we have normal lead-out men who will be sprinters at this race, such as Van der Sande and Richeze. I would favour Richeze out of those two and he seems to have a fairly good sprint train (by this races standards) to support him. Delivering two wins in San Juan earlier in the year can he win in Spain a few months later?

Orica have a few options and they could go with either Albasini or Gerrans both of whom could contest, especially with the other rider leading out.

Heck, Valverde and Alaphilippe (if Richeze isn’t up for it) might fancy a sprint!

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Bole will fancy his chances but he’s been poor so far this year.

I’m intrigued to see what card Astana play. They obviously have blog favourite Lutsenko, who’s clearly going well just now and in a sprint like this he certainly has a chance. Although it remains to be seen how he has recovered from his crash in Gent Wevelgem and how finishing Flanders today will have affected his legs. Instead they might turn to Basque rider, and another favourite of mine, Bilbao. He’s had a quiet start to the year but he’ll want to go well in his home race. Packing a fast sprint, he might surprise!

Prediction

A real crapshoot of a stage where a late attack might stick as controlling the bunch will be tough, or we’ll get one of the craziest sprints of the season.

I think we will get a sprint, but having a good lead-out will be important and there aren’t many of them here! Orica have the best contingent of riders for that in my opinion. With Power and Plaza they have two riders who can take it up from a few kms out, letting Gerrans/Albasini sit in behind. Choosing between those two is tough, but after his second place today in La Rioja, Albasini is clearly going well. Gerrans won’t mind doing the work for him if he’s rewarded with his own chances later in the week. If the Aussie leads Albasini into the last turn, very few riders will have the strength to come past him!

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Betting

Nothing for me on GC, odds are too short on the favourites for my opinion. With stage 1 being so difficult to predict I’m having a relatively conservative, 2pt kinda day…

Albasini 1pt WIN @50/1 with Betfair/PaddyPower (would take the 33s with Bet365)

Bilbao 0.25pt EW @200/1 with Bet365 (would take 125s)

Lutsenko 0.25pt EW @125/1 with Bet365. (would take 80s)

 

Thanks for reading as always. Apologies that this is on the shorter side but there’s not that much to talk about for this stage! Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

TDF Stage 16 Preview: Moirans-en-Montagne -> Berne

Today’s Recap

I’m hoping we got an exciting stage and Pantano won it!

More than likely though, exactly the opposite of what I thought would happen, happened.

Or maybe not…

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The Route

A “flat” day with only one categorised climb. However, closer inspection of the stage profile indicates that the route is pretty undulating.

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The stage is categorised by small rises and falls. After the previous days efforts it looks like it won’t be plain sailing for the sprinters, especially if some of them suffered and just made it home.

There’s nothing else to mention about the opening of the stage apart from they enter Switzerland just after the half way mark.

The riders are greeted by the only categorised climb of the day at 26km left, the Côte de Mühleberg. It’s only 1.2km at 4.8% so it shouldn’t cause many difficulties but we may see some riders out the back here. The road then rolls its way into the finish in Berne.

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Like the rest of the stage, these final 5kms are what I would call “undulating”. Oh, and did I mention that some of the streets are cobbled? Well it’s pavé, but still!

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Streetview of the road surface. Link here.

Annoyingly, the streetview car hasn’t been down that section where the camera is facing. That’s the 250m section at 7%. The riders come up from that road and take the hairpin turn left onto the plateau (still cobbled) before the road kicks up again.

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The section of road on the bridge is actually pavé as well, with the road only returning before the roundabout and the left hand turn up the hill. The hill itself is pretty steep and is 600m at 6.5% according to the stage profile. Looking at it on streetview those figures do seem right, it does seem pretty steep in sections (View it here).

Once over the hill, the riders are greeted by the Flamme Rouge and a straight, flat road to the finish line.

How will the stage pan out?

With this being the last chance for some kind of sprint before the riders reach the Champs-Élysées, this stage will 100% see the peloton make it into Bern together. Will we 100% see a sprint at the end? I’m not so sure!

I have to say, I really like the way the final 5kms are organised. It’s a real Heinz 57 finish, there’s a bit of everything!

Going off the profile I make that final stretch before the Flamme Rouge to be roughly 1.4km long. The road rises 60 metres in that time (504m -> 564m) which gives that section as a whole an average gradient of 4.29%. Almost identical to the Cat-4 climb earlier, but I think that is too tough for some of the sprinters when the race is going full gas. If not, it’s most definitely on their limits. The saving grace for them is the kilometre of flat where their lead-outs can swiftly be reorganised.

I would expect Sagan and Matthews to be at the head of the peloton no matter what. The same can be said for EBH if he’s not on Cav guarding duties. Coquard theoretically should be there too. As for the rest of the pure sprinters, it’ll be a tough ask. Greipel and Kristoff have the best chances going on their history.

This stage ending is also conducive to a late attack. Either a slightly long-range one at 2.5km to go, or on that final ramp with 1.5km left. If someone really puts in an effort here then they could be hard to catch!

A whole host of riders might fancy making a move here such as Alaphilippe, Costa or Gallopin.

But with it finishing in Bern, you have to consider the Swiss riders and the Swiss teams (IAM & BMC) as they’ll be out to impress on the biggest stage of all on home roads.

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BMC have a great card to play in this finish with Greg Van Avermaet. As a cobbled classic specialist he should soar up the climb, plus he’s shown his great form so far this race. I remember hearing in an interview after he lost the Yellow that he would target this stage. He could be hard to beat. Or Swiss rider Schar could be let off on a long-range effort.

IAM have a few Swiss riders in their team; Frank, Elmiger and Hollenstein, but their best chance could be Holst Enger (if he’s not too tired in his first GT). Pantano would normally be good on this stage, but I’m going to discount him as I’m assuming he won today’s stage and will be tired from his efforts 😉

Local hero Cancellara will no doubt give it a go. He was poor in the TT, stating that his form wasn’t there. However, he only the other day tweeted how his legs were feeling good. A classic double bluff, or is he really not good? We’ll know on this day once he puts in an attack if he is 100%.

Special mention must go to Rast, Reichenbach and Morabito but I can’t see them doing anything here.

There is one Swiss rider who I’ve not mentioned so far. 10 MTSW points if you can guess who it is…

Prediction

Michael Albasini.

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He had an incredible Spring campaign with 7th at Fleche and 2nd at LBL. The way he ate up the cobbled climb at the end of Liege was truly impressive. I fancy him to be given free rein by Orica on this finish, especially now that Gerrans is gone. He’ll be used as their satellite rider up the road in the final 5km to mark attacks, or make them himself to force other teams to chase. Meanwhile Matthews will sit near the front of the peloton ready for the sprint, probably protected by Impey. I can see a late attack sticking here, and Albasini has the raw power on the climbs and the sprint to finish it off, if he comes to the line with others. It will be another tactical masterclass from Orica and he’ll be the benefactor.

Betting

25/1 with Bet365, 0.5pt EW. (Other places might be more generous later)

 

Like my grovelling apology on yesterday’s preview, I’m sorry if there are some errors in this. I’ve just wrote three back-to-back previews (stages 14, 15 and now 16) so I might be getting a bit sloppy and it’s now 1:45am on Saturday morning. Nonetheless, I hope we do get the exciting end to the stage that this finish deserves! Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.