Women’s Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race 2019 Preview

In 2018 we saw the 3rd running of this event for the women and the first time it was a 1.1 level race, meaning a slightly more international field. An unpredictable race to call, in the three editions we’ve had a different race outcome every time; with 2016 being a solo win, 2017 a 5 rider sprint and 2018 a 20-strong bunch gallop.

It was Chloe Hosking who surprised many last year by making it over the Challambra Crescent climb with what remained of the peloton, before taking the win with relative ease after a dominant sprint.

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Gracie Elvin came away with second after her Mitchelton Scott team had done a lot to control things in those final 5 kilometres, while the now retired Giorgia Bronzini rounded out the podium in third.

Will Hosking be able to double up this year? First, let’s take a look at what is in store for the riders.

The Route

It seems the organisers are a fan of the “if it’s not broke, don’t fix it” analogy as we have the exact same route as last year.

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At just over 113km long, it isn’t exactly the longest race the women will face all season but given the Australian heat, some of the Europeans will be very happy about that. Saying that, it is meant to be slightly cooler over the weekend at only 27℃.

The opening 80km will act as almost a warm-up for the riders, but it will be the final 35km where we could see a potential race winning move go. The first place we might see shakeout is at 30km to go where the riders will be greeted by a small drag in the road. Fairly innocuous, averaging only 3.1% for 2.1km, it will be interesting to see how the riders attack it. Furthermore, as it is placed on a fairly open stretch of road, the wind direction and strength will also add another factor that has to be considered. Once over the top of that climb, the riders will have to contend with almost 10km of flat/slightly descending roads before the quick double climb into Ceres.

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Waste not want not, reusing last year’s images!

The first ramp is only 500m long but it averages 4.6%. A stinging attack here could certainly line out the bunch before a fast descent and the second, longer part of the climb begins. At 1.8km in distance and averaging 4.4%, it is tough enough for some of the stronger riders in the race to create some gaps. Who will be brave enough to go all in 16km from the finish?

If gaps are made, then they should be held or even extended with the short flat section before the road plummets all the way down for the next 4 kms as they approach Challambra.

There is a little 300m kicker (6%) which will disrupt their rhythm 600m or so before the start of Challambra itself.

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Not an easy climb as you can see, with it going up in various ramps. Not ideal for those who like to keep a steady pace and if a few riders attack this hard then we will no doubt see some fairly large time gaps at the top of it. From there, the road mainly heads downwards for the remaining 9km, albeit there is one last kick up and a chance for a climber to try to distance someone. That comes just after they cross the small bridge with the 800m section averaging 4%, but they do carry a lot of speed onto the rise from the descent so its impact is negated a little.

It is then a final few kilometres along the Geelong waterside before the dash to the line.

How will the race pan out?

As I’ve mentioned above, this is a very unpredictable race with three different outcomes since the first running of it. Was the sprint last year indicative of it what is to come with the upping of the races’ level, or was it more of an anomaly? I think more of the latter because if Stultiens, van Vleuten and Garfoot co-operated together there was a very good chance that they would have stayed away to the finish line. In fact, there was no chance they would have been caught.

Mitchelton Scott arrive here as the team to beat and they will want to make the race aggressive because they know from last year that Hosking can make the finish and they won’t want to risk bringing it down to a bunch gallop if they don’t have to. Obviously, everyone will be looking at them to make the race but they have a strong enough squad to put the other teams into difficulty. I think we’ll see them try to string things out and reduce the size of the group before they get to Challambra, but some of that will depend on if the wind is in their face or not – there’s no point going full gas into a block head wind. Looking at the forecast just now, it appears that there will be a slight tail wind on the run in past Ceres and into Geelong, so I’m expecting some attacks on the earlier rises and the race to be split there.

Having several riders in the front group will be important so the stronger teams will be at an advantage. If we do see splits before Challambra, this is who I expect to be up there in numbers:

Mitchelton – Spratt, Kennedy, Brown and Williams

Trek – Winder, Wiles and Longo Borghini

Tibco – Jackson and Stephens

I can’t see many other teams having a lot of riders at the head of the race and consequently it will be more difficult for them to win, especially if the teams with numerous riders are constantly pinging attacks off the front of the bunch. For the likes of Neylan, Moolman and Doebel-Hicock, it will be all about timing your effort and going with the right move.

Of course, there is a chance the race hasn’t fully split up by Challambra but it most definitely will by the top of that climb.

Prediction

There’s no point me even prolonging this much longer, I saw enough at the TDU to know who wins this – Amanda Spratt.

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Her level on Mengler’s Hill was just phenomenal and no one will be able to match her on Challambra, with team-mate Kennedy possibly her biggest rival. I think we’ll see Spratt cross the top of the climb with a 15 second gap on her competitors which will only be extended by them all being completely in the red on the flat few hundred metre section before the descent starts. With a couple of team-mates behind sand-bagging any attempted chase, she won’t be seen again until the finish.

Things will regroup behind though and we’ll see another 20 or so rider sprint to the line, with Hosking beating Lepistö for the final podium spots.

Coverage

We’ll get to see the race live and in full I think, with Channel 7 in Australia showing it on free to air television. I’m not too sure if it will be streamed online anywhere (Facebook etc, like the Crit was) or if you will need a VPN to access it. However, there will no doubt be a slightly less than legal stream of it somewhere so I’ll tweet it out when I find it.

Thanks as always for reading! Who do you think is going to win and in what manner? Will it be a return to winning ways here for Mitchelton Scott or will someone upset the party? Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

 

La Course 2018 Preview

La Course 2018 Preview

After the great racing we saw on the slopes of the Izoard last year, I’m completely ignoring the shambles that was the second day of racing, La Course once again returns to the mountains this year.

In 2017 we saw Annemiek van Vleuten take a dominant win after putting three-quarters of a minute into second-placed finisher Lizzie Deignan on the ascent, with Elisa Longo Borghini rounding out the podium.

LA COURSE By Le Tour

 

It was a case of what might have been for the Brit though as she did the majority of the pace setting early on, hoping to set up team-mate Guarnier. However, she turned out to be the strongest in the Boels camp. Would she have beaten van Vleuten had she sat in the wheels? Probably not, but it would have been a lot closer!

The reigning champion is here to defend her title and after just smashing the Giro Rosa to bits, she will be very confident of doing the double. First though, let’s have a look at what awaits the riders tomorrow.

The Route

With 2500m of climbing in only 112.5km of racing, this is going to be a tough day in the saddle for the peloton. Especially when you consider that the majority of the climbing comes in the last 40kms.

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The two early climbs of Col de Bluffy and Côte de Saint-Jean-de-Sixt won’t be decisive in the outcome of the race but they might see some early attrition take place. Although I think this would be unlikely given they know what lies ahead. Instead, they might be a good place for the break to form and teams to send riders up the road so that they can work for their team leader on the two monster climbs to come.

Col de Romme and Col de la Colombière are two tough Cat-1 climbs when taken alone but given that they come back to back with only 5km of descent in between then they are going to be hellish – close to 1400m of elevation gain over 22kms.

Romme : Colombiere

Taking away the 5km of descent then it is really 1400m of gain over 17km, which makes the average gradient of the climbs roughly 8.2%.

Expect to see some big gaps tomorrow!

Once over the top of the Colombière the riders will have close to 12km of descent and 2kms of mainly flat roads between them and the finish line.

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The descent itself will be fast as the average gradient for the 12km is close to -6%, with it being on a standard two-lane mountain road the riders should have plenty of room to judge their lines. There are quite a few hairpins littered throughout the descent and they mainly seem to come grouped together.

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A sharp turn with 1.5km to go could see some mishaps as the riders will be carrying a lot of speed into it but they should be able to smooth out the corner by taking it wide. Nonetheless, we saw what happened in the men’s race when the peloton had to turn back on itself. Thankfully, I don’t think we’ll see a big group of riders arrive at this point together!

The final kilometre averages 1.2% but the final 200m of the day features an 8% ramp. A nice little finish for a sprint showdown, if we get a small group of riders arriving together.

Giro Legs vs Fresh Legs

In the male side of the sport we often see the benefit of riders who have been at the Tour de France with their results in San Sebastian the following weekend after the Tour is finished. Will those from the Giro Rosa see a similar trend in results?

I’m not sure and given that there has only been today in between the Giro finishing and La Course starting, I think some might struggle. Today can almost be viewed as a traditional Grand Tour rest day apart from some of them will have to travel the almost 700km from their bases in Italy to Annecy by car. Doesn’t sound like a great rest day to me! Some will have bitten the bullet and travelled straight away after yesterday’s Giro stage in the hope of a more chilled day today. Other teams with better budgets might even have flown their riders to Geneva and got a transfer from there.

Ultimately I’m not sure how the one-day turnaround will affect the riders and I don’t think many of them will know either. It could make for some unexpected results!

I say that but there are only a handful of riders who can actually win this race.

Contenders – Giro Rosa Riders

Annemiek van Vleuten.

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A dominant display in the Giro Rosa saw her take home pink by over 4 minutes to her nearest rival, collecting 3 stage wins along the way. She comes into La Course as the red-hot favourite and you would be hard pressed to find many people thinking that this is not her race to lose. The mix of tough climbing and fast descent plays perfectly into her abilities as a rider. I would not be surprised to see her drop everyone on the Colombière and solo to the line. Have the past 10 days exertions taken a lot out of her legs though? That is the important question that we won’t find the answer to until during the stage.

Amanda Spratt.

If van Vleuten isn’t at the pointy end of the race then Mitchelton have a great second option in Spratt. The Aussie exceeded my expectations at the Giro where she finished the race third overall and managed to win a stage too. A versatile rider, the diminutive Spratt will relish the back to back climbs. If we see a tactical race unfold then she is the perfect rider to send on the attack while van Vleuten sits behind and marks everyone out of the race. Give her 30 seconds on the Colombière and she will be very hard to bring back.

Ashleigh Moolman Pasio.

Forever the bridesmaid it seems, the Cervelo rider was unfortunate to just come up against a very strong Mitchelton Scott team at the Giro. However, I think she will ultimately be happy with a second place finish overall. On the two summit finishes in the race she was the only rider able to keep remotely close to the Mitchelton riders and she suffered on Zoncolan from having to make the pace. In a race where she can draft the wheels a bit more, then she has a good chance of sticking close to them. If she takes a few risks on the descent I would fancy her chances in a small sprint finish to the line. I think that is her best chance of winning – sounds easy, right?

Brand, Guarnier, Ludwig, Merino and Santesteban are all names to throw into the hat but I think they will fall short. They are top 5/10 candidates though.

Contender – The Fresh Rider

Anna van der Breggen.

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The elephant in the room for this race, the Boels rider is one of only a few riders coming here who wasn’t at the Giro Rosa, the other notable rider being Ferrand Prevot. Van der Breggen has had another ridiculously strong season, winning 4 WWT events: Strade, Flanders, Liege and Fleche. Not a bad record! She arrives in France after taking a few weeks off of her road bike, competitively anyway, while she was instead taking part in the mountain bike world cup event in Val di Sole. That didn’t go spectacularly well for her as she finished over 8 minutes down on the winner. Nonetheless, back on the road she should be in her preferred terrain again. Her form is unknown but that hasn’t stopped her smashing it before, she won in Flanders for example after a few weeks away from racing. She is van Vleuten’s biggest challenger here.

Prediction

I’m looking forward to seeing a very intense Dutch battle on the roads tomorrow with two of the biggest names in the sport going head to head. Giro legs vs fresh legs, who will come out on top?

I’ll go Giro legs and Van Vleuten to double up!

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I think with van der Breggen not targeting the Giro, she thoroughly has her sights set on the latter part of the season so will be slightly undercooked here. I might be wrong, but she won’t be close to where van Vleuten is at the moment.

Coverage

Despite ASO’s best intentions of not really giving us any information at all for the race, aside from some barebones stuff, the race is actually going to be shown live.

It is scheduled to be shown on Eurosport 1 (here in the UK) from 9:15 to 12 (BST). Not sure what the plans are for the rest of Europe but I assume it will be the same. If you can’t watch it at that time of day then I’ll be tweeting intermittently about it as it conveniently falls on my day off from work.

Thanks as always for reading and any RTs etc are much appreciated. Who do you think will win tomorrow and why? Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

Women’s Strade Bianche 2018 Preview

The first round of the Women’s World Tour is upon is and we’re set for a cracking race. Now in its 4th edition, we’ve had some brutal races in the past and I expect that to be no different this year.

2017 saw home-favourite Elisa Longo Borghini take a stunning victory as she outmanoeuvred Kasia Niewiadoma coming into the Piazza del Campo, with Lizzie Deignan taking third.

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It wasn’t easy for the trio even though they were the strongest on the day as their refusal to co-operate saw Brand and Gillow launch audacious late counter attacks. They were caught on the climb up to the Piazza in what was a gripping end to a great race and allowed for the spectacular picture above!

Will we see more of the same this year? Let’s take a look at what is in store for the riders.

The Route

Longer than 2017, the riders will face just over 30kms worth of gravel along the 136km route.

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The longest section they will traverse comes at around the half-way point in the race and this will be the place where the field starts to split up. I would imagine one or two teams will come to the front and push the pace on, reducing the group down to 50 or so riders.

From there it will be tough to control and we might see a counter attack and a new breakaway form but things will be brought to heel once we enter the closing stages.

 

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The two gravel sections in the closing 20km are where ELB and co did the damage last year. After the first segment we did get a bit of a regrouping but it was just before the final Strade and once again the stronger riders made a difference there. As I mentioned above, it was only due to their lack of co-operation on the rolling 12kms that remained which resulted in Brand and Gillow coming from behind and straight over the top. If they had worked together then those dropped would have had no chance of getting back.

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The climb into Siena is brutally steep but at only 500m the puncheurs can hang on with the proper climbers. It is important to be near the front at the crest though because positioning is vital thereafter.

As we saw last year leading through the narrow streets combined with good bike positioning means you can effectively block off anyone from passing, thus securing the win. It’s a tactically shrewd move but one that everyone should be aware of by now. Therefore the “real” finish line is with 200m to go!

Weather Watch

Given the surprising amount of snow that Italy has received over the past week, I’m sure the riders will be glad to know that it will be “just” rain on Saturday.

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Source: Windfinder

Although the women look set to have the slightly better conditions with more rainfall expected later on in the day, they are more likely to be on the brunt of stronger winds. Making it six or half a dozen really!

Either way, whoever wins come the end of the race will certainly deserve it.

Contenders

Elisa Longo Borghini.

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The defending champion arrives here after a solid outing in Omloop where she was on the attack. A great climber and one-day racer, she is one of the many women who seem to have been around for a while but she is still only 26. Those years of experience started to shine through last year with the win in Strade and good performances elsewhere such as a second at the Giro Rosa. I think she’ll find it difficult to double up but given her consistency here (3rd, 4th, 1st) then I would struggle to argue against her going close. With Audrey Cordon-Ragot as a team-mate she has a someone who can go deep into the race with her and even act as an attacker to force other teams to chase.

Katarzyna Niewiadoma.

With a stage-race already under her belt, the Canyon SRAM rider should be a little bit ahead of her rivals here in terms of racing miles. At that race she finished a fairly modest 7th but it was her performances on the climbs that impressed most, with only Moolman (who’s also here) being able to stick with her. Niewiadoma is another rider who is incredibly consistent at this race having finished 6th/2nd/2nd, she will be looking to finally get one-step higher this year. One massive advantage she will have compared to previous attempts is the strength of her team. Canyon should have both Cecchini and Ferrand Prevot in or around the top 10 at this race which means that they should be able to control it due to the numbers they have. Then again, this is Strade and it will be absolutely horrendous out on the roads so “control” might not be the word! I wonder how essential PFP’s cyclocross and mountain bike experience will be.

Megan Guarnier.

The winner of the inaugural edition back in 2015, the American lines up here for her first race of the season. After an exceptional 2016 last year seemed like somewhat of a step back in terms of results, with only two wins to her name. She was exceptionally consistent but given the fighter she is I imagine that she will want to return to those previous levels this season. A strong climber with a fast sprint she has every chance of a win if she has the form. Boels also have the very luxury second option of the Queen of the Ardennes; Anna van der Breggen. She’s finished 5th on both occasions that she has raced here, but with the aim of peaking for the Ardennes again, will she have enough in the locker for a good result this year? Deignan is on one of the start lists that I have looked at but she is not in the official preview on the Boels website so she may or may not be here too! It certainly adds another dynamic if she is.

Ashleigh Moolman.

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As already mentioned above, Moolman has some good racing in her legs at Setmana last week. Interestingly, she never finished outside the top 10 on any of the stages and managed to take home second on GC. There is clearly some form there! This is a race she has done in the past with a 4th place in 2015 but she was only capable of 18th last year. It should suit her punchy characteristics and given she has been involved in a few sprints, her power figures must be good for the short and sharp efforts. Such a classy rider, could she be described as a dark horse for this race?

Amanda Spratt.

With Garfoot no longer on the team and Van Vleuten competing in Apeldoorn the mantle of leading Mitchelton Scott is left with “Spratty”. Having won the Women’s Tour Down Under she has returned to racing in Europe in an attacking mood, having been off the front of both the Belgian races last weekend. Just missing out on the key move last year she finished strongly to come home in 8th place. She’s certainly capable of improving on that this season and a top 5 is possible. I’m intrigued to see how team-mate Kennedy goes in these conditions.

Janneke Ensing.

Full of confidence after winning Le Samyn des Dames on Tuesday the Ale Cipollini rider will be hoping to improve on a 13th place last year. She’s a solid climber although she isn’t up there with the best in the discipline. However, theoretically she should love the grim conditions that are forecast for Saturday given her background in speed skating. With an attacking attitude, she might be able to sneak away from the “major contenders” and just surprise everyone by holding on.

Shara Gillow.

The second Australian in the list, she had to unfortunately cut short her racing time Down Under due to a crash. However, she returned at Setmana and finished a very respectable 8th on GC. Apparently attacking to bridge the gap to the leaders on the opening stage, she was closed down by their team-mates. Her form must be good and she is always a consistent performer in the hilly one-day races. I expect a top 10 and anything near the top of the order wouldn’t surprise me too much but it would be difficult to win as she is not the punchiest!

One other name that I want to throw out there (mainly because she is in my season-long fantasy team) is Pauliena Rooijakers.

Pauliena

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

Prediction

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

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

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

Coverage

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

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

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

Women’s Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race 2018 Preview

2018 marks the third edition of the Women’s Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race (CEGORR) as a UCI event, with the riders set to face the famous Challambra Crescent climb for the first time.

Both of the races have been won by Mitchelton Scott (formerly Orica), with Amanda Spratt taking home the spoils in the inaugural race in 2016 and team-mate Annemiek van Vleuten winning last year. Will the Australian outfit manage to make it a three-peat, or will we see someone else assert their dominance?

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First, let’s take a look at what is in store for the riders.

The Route

At only 113km long, it isn’t exactly the longest race the women will face all season but given the Australian heat, some of the Europeans will be very happy about that. The obvious main change from last year is the addition of the famous local ascent; the Challambra Crescent climb.

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@LasterketaBurua

The opening 80km will act as almost a warm-up for the riders, but it will be the final 35km where we could see a potential race winning move go.

The first place we might see shakeout is at 30km to go where the riders will be greeted by a small drag in the road. Fairly innocuous, averaging only 3.1% for 2.1km, it will be interesting to see how the riders attack it. Furthermore, as it is placed on a fairly open stretch of road, the wind direction and strength will also add another factor that has to be considered.

Once over the top of that climb, the riders will have to contend with almost 10km of flat/slightly descending roads before the quick double climb into Ceres.

Climb to Ceres

The first ramp is only 500m long but it averages 4.6%. A stinging attack here could certainly line out the bunch before a fast descent and the second, longer part of the climb begins. At 1.8km in distance and averaging 4.4%, it is tough enough for some of the stronger riders in the race to create some gaps. Who will be brave enough to go all in 16km from the finish?

If gaps are made, then they should be held or even extended with the short flat section before the road plummets all the way down for the next 4kms as they approach Challambra.

There is a little 300m kicker (6%) which will disrupt their rhythm 600m or so before the start of Challambra itself.

Challambra

Not an easy climb as you can see, with it going up in various ramps. Not ideal for those who like to keep a steady pace. If a few riders attack this hard then we will no doubt see some fairly large time gaps at the top of it. We saw the 6.8% gradient of Mengler’s Hill do some damage in the Tour Down Under and although Challambra is shorter, I think we’ll see a similar outcome due to the steepness.

From there, the road mainly heads downwards for the remaining 9km, albeit there is one last kick up and a chance for a climber to try to distance someone. That comes just after they cross the small bridge with the 800m section averaging 4%.

If we don’t have a solo rider in the lead by then, it will all come down to team tactics and a potential reduced bunch sprint along the Geelong harbour.

How will the race pan out?

With the tricky final 35km, I expect to see a very tactical race with lots of attacks and counter-attacks throughout the closing hour of racing.

We could feasibly see the winning move go at any time, but the likelihood is that it will come on the climb to Ceres or the ascent of Challambra Crescent.

As stated above, the weather conditions will play a part in the outcome of the race. Thankfully, the initial heat wave that was predicted won’t be as prominent, with a “cool” 30 degrees forecast.

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Source: Bureau of Meteorology

The direction of the wind is important, and a southeasterly wind means cross-tail for the majority of the run in to Geelong. Consequently the racing will be fast but also dangerous, as a cross-tailwind tends to cause some mild panic in the bunch as they are pushed along. It might not be “cross” enough for some echelons, but who knows!

One thing is for certain, it should increase the willingness of attackers compared to if it was a headwind.

Garfoot vs Mitchelton Scott – Part 2

After their great battle during the women’s Tour Down Under, Katrin Garfoot will hope to get one over her old team this time round.

She was arguably the strongest rider in that race, but got worked over by the numbers that Mitchelton Scott had close to her on GC. That is less likely to happen here due to it being a one-day race, but the same principles do still apply, apart from there is one thing missing; Kennedy.

Mitchelton arrive with Spratt and van Vleuten as leaders, but they don’t have the third prong that they had in the TDU, and that will make it harder for them here. I’m confused as to why Kennedy isn’t racing, her results at this race over the past few years have been solid and with the introduction of Challambra, the course should suit her even more. At the TDU, she was the only rider who managed to hold onto Garfoot’s wheel on the summit finish and that will be missed massively here. Illness is the only reason I can think of as to why she is not starting!

The change to Challambra suits a flying Garfoot, who climbed impeccably during the TDU. Others will know this and will need to go beforehand. However, I think they’ll find it hard to shake her off, but it can be done.

Spratt lost 8 seconds to Garfoot on Mengler’s Hill, with van Vleuten losing 15. I am intrigued to see what they’ll do during the race to wear down their former team-mate.

Can anyone else compete against those three? On paper no, but races aren’t won on paper! We could see a tactical stalemate between Garfoot and Mitchelton, which allows for some others to take a somewhat surprise victory.

Other Riders to Watch

Lauren Stephens – The Cylance rider was runner-up in the TDU and is evidently on some good form. She’s probably not the best climber here but her strength lies against the clock. If she is able to get a gap while others sit up and argue behind as to whom is going to chase, then she might be very difficult to bring back!

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Grace Brown –  After a strong showing at the nationals where she picked up a third place, the Holden Gusto rider continued that on with a solid 5th place overall in the TDU. A bit of an unkown quantity, she might benefit from the bigger riders looking at each other. Another top 10 is on the cards, but she might just go a bit better…

Linda Villumsen – You would get short odds on the New Zealand rider launching a solo attack at some point during this race! She is a good climber, but not great, so will struggle up Challambra against the pure mountain goats. However, she does have a big engine so if she gets a gap she will be hard to chase down, especially with a disorganised effort. Can the former world TT champion outsmart 2017’s winner?

A few more names to keep an eye out for are Cordon, McIlroy and Anderson.

Prediction

I just can’t see anyone other than Garfoot winning this!

Garfoot

The Uni-SA team is strong enough to keep the race together until we get to the final few climbs. From there, Garfoot should be able to track any moves from the Mitchelton pairing or any of the other contenders. Once onto Challambra, she’ll fly, and leave everyone in her wake!

Consequently leaving Mitchelton ruing not letting Kennedy race as she is the only one who could possibly follow on Challambra. (I’m not bitter at all given she’s in my season long fantasy team, although I can’t imagine you can tell…)

Coverage

The race will be streamed live on 7plus here  from 10am local time (11pm UK time on Friday/tonight). The feed itself might be geo-restricted, but I’m sure some helpful people will sort it out and there will be other streams available online no doubt.

Thanks as always for reading though! Who do you think will win? Can anyone stop the flying Garfoot? Will we see a surprise winner this year? Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth

 

La Course 2017 Preview

This edition of La Course is a special one for me as  it marks a year of writing women’s previews! Last year saw a sprint finish in Paris, with Hosking taking the win, somehow managing to avoid the now famous #HaugheyCurse. Maybe it was beginners luck?!

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After 3 years with a glorified criterium on the Champs-Élysées, the ASO have decided to mix things up this year with a move away from Paris, instead heading into the mountains with a change of format.

I’m pleased to see things get mixed up and for the race to provide an opportunity for different riders to shine on “the biggest stage in World cycling”. Yet, I can’t help but feel somewhat let down.

Obviously, I don’t know the intricacies of the financial aspect surrounding organising the race but given the infrastructure will be there for the men, how difficult is it for the women to have at least a 5-day stage race that coincides with the Tour? Heck, if organisers are worried about difference in speeds and the potential issues that might cause then let the women do 75% of the stage for example, and start them earlier. With the limit on the length of stages by the UCI (155km I think) we would still be treated to some very exciting racing throughout the final week and it would be a much better showcase for the sport than what we’re getting.

I also feel that the new format is a bit “gimmicky” and trivialises the women’s side of the sport a bit. If it is for only one year then that’s OK, but if it becomes a regular occurrence then I think it is more of a step sideways rather than a step forwards.

Let’s have a look at what’s getting me all worked up anyway!

The Format

La Course this year will be split into two “stages” with the first being a mountain top finish on the mythical Col d’Izoard. I say “stages” as it is not a stage race in the traditional sense, and it’s important to point that out but I’ll get into that in more detail later on.

Stage 1.

CARTE

The riders will head south from the start in Briançon, following the same opening 30km of the men’s race, before they cut across the valley and head towards Izoard.

PROFIL (1)

From the halfway point in the race (it is a paltry 67.5km long stage after all which is pretty insulting), the road rises ever so slightly almost all the way home. For example, the section between La Chapelue and Ariveux is 7.5km at just over 4%.

The categorised climb of the Col d’Izoard itself starts a couple of kilometres before Ariveux.

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At 14.1km with an average gradient of 7.3% it is a brute, but is also fair to say that the first half of the climb starts off relatively “easy”. Well, when you look at the rest of it the climb that is!

The opening 7km average only 5.6%, whereas the second half is a much more painful sounding 9%. You better hold something back for the end of the day, that’s for sure.

Whoever wins on the day will certainly have deserved it!

Now, this is where things get weird / ever so slightly confusing / gimmicky.

The opening stage is the only one that counts towards UCI standings, with the winner being awarded 120 points, the same amount as they would in any other UCI World Tour race. So for the riders, the opening day is the only one that really matters to them in that sense.

Except, the racing doesn’t end after the first day though…

Stage 2.

The first oddity is that there is essentially a rest day between the finish on Izoard and the following race day in Marseille.

PROFIL (2)

The top 20 finishers on the previous stage (although this can apparently change depending on time gaps) will roll out on the same TT course that the men will be going around later that day.

However, instead of it being like a normal TT where the riders go out in reverse order GC wise, it will be whoever finishes at the head of the race on Izoard that leaves the start ramp first. The following 19 riders will then set off, chasing the leader, at the same time gap that they finished behind them on the mountain stage during the previous day of racing.

The “gimmicky” idea continues as the riders will all be on normal road-bikes (no TT machines allowed) and they will be allowed to draft and work with opposition riders or any team-mates that they may have.

This presents a conundrum for the riders going out early. Do they go full gas and replicate a TT effort, knowing they have a big enough gap to hold off any chasers. Or if their lead is minimal, do they sit up and wait?

We could end up seeing a bunch sprint in the velodrome if things get really tactical!

How will the “race” pan out?

Getting my poor prediction disclaimer in early but we hardly ever see the women compete on mountains such as the Izoard so I don’t think anyone has a real idea as to how well the riders will go.

At the recent Giro Rosa the defining GC climb of the race was 5.3km long at 7.6%. I guess the closest we’ve had to the Izoard is the climb of Daggett Summit in the Tour of California which was 12.6km at 6.1%.

With the day only being 67km long, I think the break will find it hard to get away but I’m sure there will be a lot of teams who will try. If they get riders up the road then they’ll be a great help to their team-mates later on.

However, I think we’ll see a race of attrition where riders go out of the back, rather than off the front.

The on the “TT” I have no idea! Will all depend on the gaps after Izoard but I think we could see the winner of that day hold on for the title too.

Contenders

Van Vleuten.

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After her stellar performance at the Giro Rosa, a race which she could really have won, the Orica Scott rider will be coming here full of confidence. Arguably the in-form rider in the peloton she will certainly be hard to drop. Not the purest of climbers, more of a great all-rounder, I’m intrigued to see how she copes on a really long ascent. At the Giro she was the rider pushing the pace during the GC-day I mentioned above so it will be interesting to see how she approaches tomorrow. With a strong Spratt in her team, she will be able to rely on having someone for a long way up the climb which could be crucial.

Guarnier.

Having had a quiet season by her standards, especially when considering her barnstroming 2016, the American showed signs of promise at the recent Giro. Working well for her team-leader she managed to finish 4th on GC, winning the final stage along the way. Possibly now riding into form, she is Boels best candidate for a race like this and having the help of Canuel and Deignan could be crucial.

Longo Borghini.

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The Italian champion finished second on GC at the Giro behind van der Breggen but never really looked like beating the Dutchwoman all race. However, with VDB not here, the race is certainly open for other riders to step up. Not a pure climber, she could struggle on the long climb but as one of the best riders in the women’s peloton then she will certainly be close to the head of the bunch. Lichtenberg will also be at the head of the race for Wiggle, with the German pure-climber really liking this type of ascent. Can they form a strong attacking duo?

Moolman.

Withdrawing from the Giro due illness wasn’t ideal for the Cervélo rider, especially considering she was flying before the race and could have been a proper GC player. A very strong climber, her mind will be fully focussed on this race and proving what could have been at the Giro. With Uttrup Ludwig on her team, she is another rider who could take advantage of a strong team-mate. I think she has a big chance!

Niewiadoma.

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One of the riders of the season, she has top-10’d in pretty much every race that she’s entered so far. At only 22 years old, it is scary to think what she’ll be able to do in the future. I’m not sure how she’ll cope on a long climb like this as the punchier 3-4km climbs seem to be her speciality but you never know!

Some outsiders to keep an eye on to possibly break into the top 10 are;

Gillow (FDJ), Nosková (Bepink), Ensing (Alé) and Nilsson (BTC).

I think the Izoard stage will become a Moolman v Van Vleuten show-down. With the Giro in her legs, VV will tire and leave the “fresher” Moolman to take victory!

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As for who wins the TT/chase malarkey, then that depends on time gaps from the Izoard. Van Vleuten was flying in the TT at the Giro so I reckon she could catch Moolman and then win in a 2-up sprint!

So Moolman and Van Vleuten both win something, but who wins “La Course”? That depends on your interpretation whether you’re the UCI or the ASO!

Coverage

All of the racing should be shown live by broadcasters throughout so check with your local provider. I’m pretty sure it is being shown pan-Europe on the Eurosport Player.

Hopefully the racing lives up to the billing tomorrow. I’m not too fussed about what we’ll see on Saturday though, but that’s just my opinion.

Who do you think will win? Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

 

 

Giro Rosa 2017 Preview – The BFOG

Giro Rosa 2017 Preview – The BFOG

The only “Grand Tour” in the women’s peloton the Giro Rosa starts again this Friday for its 28th edition with a stacked peloton looking to make their mark on the race.

Last year’s GC was won by Boels’ Megan Guarnier, with team-mate Stevens coming home second and van der Breggen in third.

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Will we see a similar sort of dominance from the Dutch-team, who now of course have van der Breggen on board as well, or will some other riders be fighting for the overall victory?

First though, let’s have a look at what the riders will faced with over the coming 10 days.

The Route

All of the profiles used here are courtesy of @LasterketaBurua, so go and give them a follow on Twitter!

The questionable, poor quality route maps will be from the organisers website that I’ve screen shot. To be fair, the race is run on a shoe-string budget. Anyway…

Stage 1.

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A pan-flat late afternoon team time trial over 11km will set the early GC order. A discipline that is rarely practiced in the women’s peloton we could see some surprising time gaps.

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With there being little in the way of technical difficulties, this TTT will all be about pure power. Although it is important to note that they pass over a causeway and the wind might play a part in the outcome depending on their start times. Looking at early forecasts it’s supposed to be a 16kmph cross headwind when the first team starts at 16:45, but it is meant to increase to around 18kmph by the time the final team leaves the start house. Furthermore, there is a higher chance of rain for the later starters. It could be a dicey opening day.

As far as stage contenders go though, Boels will no doubt start as the favourites. The current TTT World Champions are bringing a very strong team to the race and they’ve won the only TTT of the year so far at the Healthy Ageing Tour. However, they won’t have it all their own way with Canyon, Cervélo and possibly even Orica challenging for the win.

I particularly like the look of the Cérvelo team. They have a lot of strong time trial riders and will wan to put Moolman at an early advantage on GC over their opposition. I expect them to be Boels’ closest rivals.

Stage 2.

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A tease of a stage, it’s a relatively straight forward day until we get to the one categorised climb of the day. The road rises very gradually from around 30kms in all the way until the foot slopes of the Forcella di pala Barzana at 93km. At 5.3km long and averaging 7.6% it is a tough climb and I’ll be interested to see how the peloton approaches it. There are still 24km to go from the summit, of which 12km are descent.

I think we’ll see a selection on the climb. How select? That I’m unsure of. It looks tough enough for the best climbers to properly drop everyone, but will they feel confident going solo to the line with ~10km to the line left once they reach the bottom?

Therefore, I think we’ll get a group of 10 riders or so crest the climb together. From there, it will be a case of numbers/luck/timing as to if we see a small bunch sprint or a successful late attack stick. Van Vleuten and van der Breggen are two ideal candidates to win from this situation, both are great climbers and they both have fast sprints.

A lesser known rider to watch out for though is Arlenis Sierra. I have to admit, before this season I didn’t know much about he Cuban rider, but she has impressed me a lot so far this year. Second at Trofeo Binda and third on GC in California, she packs a great sprint and might just pick up her first World Tour win this week!

Stages 3 & 4.

Both are days for the sprinters so I thought I’d club them together.

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Stage 3 is the more rolling of the two, with some short and steep climbs out on course. However, there is enough time for the sprint teams to bring everything back together after the Poggio.

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Stage 4 is about as pan-flat as you can get – a definite sprint!

So who will contend on these days?

The Belgian Bullet (Jolien d’Hoore) will arrive here confident after her victory on the final day of the Women’s Tour. I think she’s one of the fastest pure sprinters in the peloton and with Bronzini as lead-out rider, they will form a formidable pairing. The latter might even sprint on a few of the days.

Kirsten Wild might have something to say about the above statement though. The Dutch powerhouse is ever-present at the pointy end of sprint stages finishing on the podium 7 times so far this season, winning 3 times.

Canyon have the choice between Barnes and Guarischi. The former obviously had an, ahem, barnstorming Women’s Tour and she’ll probably be their go to on the tougher days like stage 3. Whereas, Guarischi, a former winner at the Giro Rosa prefers things a lot flatter so she might be given the nod for stage 4. Either way, the team will be disappointed not to make the podium.

Chloe Hosking will be hoping to take a couple of wins for her Italian trade team Alé Cipollini who she has just signed a new contract for. After a great 2016, she’s really continued her upwards trajectory and is now much more than a good flat stage sprinter. She can manage the climbs well too, as was highlighted by her win in the Women’s Tour when she came home first in a peloton of only 45 riders.

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Coryn Rivera was the sensation of the Spring, winning Binda and Flanders. Although that’s probably unfair as since the start of March she hasn’t finished outside the top 10 in any race/stage she’s competed in. A truly remarkable record! She hasn’t raced much such California but recently came second at the US National Championships. I expect her to get a few top 3s this week and possibly win a stage. Even the difficult stage 2 could be on her radar.

Lotta Lepistö made her return to racing at the Finnish national championships recently, managing to secure both the road and TT title. Having won Gent-Wevelgem in a sprint against the likes of d’Hoore and Rivera earlier in the year, she is no slouch either! Like a few others, I think she might be targeting a few of the harder days in the saddle.

Boels have a number of sprint options; newly crowned Dutch Champion Chantal Blaak, newly crowned UK Champion Lizzie Deignan, or current World Champion Amelie Dideriksen. Not a bad list that! I’m not sure based on pure speed if any of them are the best sprinter here but they will certainly benefit from the strongest lead-out.

As for others who could be in the top 10 on sprint stages, look out for Moberg (Hitec), Confalonieri (Lesnworld), Fidanza (Astana), Huang (Servetto) and Scandolara (WM3).

Stage 5.

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After a few days unlikely to cause a GC shake-up, stage 5 certainly will.

Out of interest and in TT tradition, I’ve actually made a Strava profile of the TT that you can view here.

A tough ITT of 13km, with the routes main focal points being two climbs. It is one of those typical Giro stages that doesn’t look too bad on the profile until you delve a little deeper.

The first climb of Santa Lucia is 1.2km long and averages 10%. Ouch! The road then continues to rise at 4% for the next kilometre or so before we get a flattening out and a descent.

Once the riders pass the 10km to go mark the road rises almost all the way to the finish with a notable 300m section at 20%! The preceding 1.8kms averages around 5.5% which will make the seep ramp even tougher.

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The image the riders will be faced with. Notice the 20% ramp sign at the side of the road.

It does turn into false flat for the final few hundred metres so the riders will need to keep something in reserve for one final push, and not blow up too early.

I’m intrigued to see if riders will use their TT bikes at all or just stick to road bikes with bars on. I would certainly be looking to take the latter option!

As for who could win this stage, newly crowned Italian TT Champ Longo Borghini has a great chance. She was 4 seconds off the win in last year’s TT and this route seems to suit her even more. A strong showing here will cement her GC challenge.

She won’t have it all her own way as usual suspects van Vleuten, Moolman and van der Breggen.

Stage 6.

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A lap circuit without any real difficulties. There is one 1.4km climb (averaging 3.7%) that the riders will tackle once on each of their four laps. Normally this would be a day for the sprinters but with the summit of the last climb coming 4km from the top, it will certainly entice late attacks from the bunch. The sprinters really shouldn’t be dropped from the peloton, it is more a case of people escaping off the front. A technical descent could see a small group maintain their lead and fight it out for the win.

If that’s the case, look for opportunists such as Cecchini, Spratt and Brand.

However, if we do get a sprint win I’ll go for Hosking. She should be able to cope with the climb easily and her team is capable of monitoring attacks etc.

Stage 7.

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A classic breakaway day, with the race starting on a climb it will ensure only strong riders get into the move. Will anyone close on GC try to sneak away? I doubt it, but there is a chance they might throw a spanner into the works.

There is a possibility that sprint teams might try to bring it back but it is another one of the stages where there is a lot of uncategorised climbs out on the course. Therefore, I think they’ll be happy to keep their powder dry.

It’s hard to tell who’ll be far enough back to be given some freedom but I’ll go for young Italian talent Sofia Beggin to take the win. A rider to look out for the future, she’s already produced some good performances this season with a 12th place in Strade and a 5th at the recent Italian Road Nats so there is clearly some form there. Furthermore, she’s the Madcon mash-up inspired pun (Beggin, Beggin you) team-name for my Velogames squad, so I have to include her in this at some point!

Another name that could be there though is Sheyla Gutiérrez. In her second season with Cylance the newly crowned Spanish champion will want to show her stripes off in an aggressive manner this Giro. Having won Le Samyn from a break earlier in the year, she is also a good candidate for a stage like this.

Stage 8.

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The Queen Stage of the race? Yes, in terms of climbing. However, the gradients of the climbs aren’t too hard, with them barely touching over 5%. Therefore it will be difficult for the pure climbers to make their mark on the stage.

However, with that being said, I still think we’ll see a selection on the day with the overall contenders going clear. I say this because of how long the climbs are, if a tough pace is set at the bottom then riders will be slowly churned out of the back of the peloton. We might see a group of 10-20 riders crest the Cuccaro Vetere together. From there it will be a mix of being strong and lucky to make the winning counter-move that is bound to follow. Can Niewiadoma repeat her win in the Women’s Tour?

Stage 9.

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A fairly tough opening half to the stage, the riders will do a lot of climbing which could allow the break to get a large gap. However, as this is the last chance for the sprinters I expect co-operation from all the teams to bring back the escape and we’ll have a bunch sprint in Polla.

With a straightforward closing circuit, I’ll go for a d’Hoore win here.

Stage 10.

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The final stage of the Giro sees the riders take on a circuit around Torre del Greco with a little trip (around a third) up Mount Vesuvius. The lap circuit isn’t too difficult, there are a few short climbs but nothing too serious. However, one of the major difficulties they’ll face is this ridiculously narrow street…

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Hopefully they’re well strung out as they enter it, if not, I fear we could see some crashes.

The stage will be decided on Vesuvius and it could well go to a breakaway or one of the GC contenders. The climb itself averages roughly 6% for 5.2km but the closing 1.2km average 9.5%. It is certainly steep enough for the best climbers to create gaps.

The riders will then face a fast and technical descent (passing through that narrow street at ~3km to go) all the way to the finish line.

Will the rider who wins the stage win the overall title too?

GC Contenders

I guess I better start with the defending champion Megan Guarnier. She’s been a shadow of the rider she was last season and given recent form, it is hard to say she will be competing here. However, this may have been her main target all season and she is potentially quietly peaking to go well here. Yet, I can’t see it happening for her unfortunately.

Waiting in the wings though will be team-mate van der Breggen. After a slow start to the year, she went on to win a famous Ardennes triple with some truly incredible performances. Following on from that she was instrumental in helping Deignan win the Tour of Yorkshire, before going on to win the GC in California. This route suits the Olympic Champion down to the ground and given her achievements she has to start as the favourite. However, her results haven’t been that great recently so maybe she is on a mid-season lull before peaking again for the end of the year?

Cycling: 4th Amstel Gold Race 2017 / Women

Moolman will no doubt be challenging for the overall win this year. After struggling with an injury that hampered her early Spring season, she shook that off by the time the Ardennes classics came around. Finishing in the top 10 in each race was a sign she was returning to her spectacular best. Since then she’s been in great form, notching up three victories. Has she managed to keep that form up?

Longo Borghini comes to this race in a confident mood having won both national championship events. Suffering from illness earlier in the year, she missed some events and form for some of the key races in the calendar. However, he lighter schedule in theory should see her come here fresher than her opposition. Still only relatively young at 25 years old, she’s improving each and every year and I think she has a great chance of overall victory here.

Speaking of young riders, recent Women’s Tour winner Niewiadoma will be here looking to continue her incredible 2017. The WWT leader has been anything but exceptional this year, finishing in the top 10 in almost every race she’s entered! She only seems to race the big events and no doubt she’ll be looking to make it back-to-back GC wins at WT level. The TTT and ITT could hinder her chances but she can more than make up for it on her own on the climbs. I’ll be watching with interest!

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Van Vleuten is another rider in stellar form. The Orica star has a strong team here to support her, with Garfoot and Spratt expected to last the distance on a lot of the climbs. Maybe not as strong as some of the other women on the long climbs, she’ll be looking to attack at the end of stages where there are short ramps that act as launchpads. The Dutch TT champ will be looking to put in a good time in the individual effort and sees where that leaves her for the rest of the week.

I can’t really see anyone else challenging for the win but there are some outsiders who will be fighting for a top 5/10 and with a bit of luck, even better!

Sierra is an unkown quantity for this type of race. She really stepped up at the Tour of California finishing third on GC there. I’m not sure how she’ll cope with a longer stage race but a good performance here isn’t unlikely. If she manages another top 10, a move to a “bigger” WT team for next year could be on the cards.

Gillow comes here with a good chance of a top 10. A very consistent rider, the Aussie will be at the pointy end in most stages. If you watched any of the Women’s Tour, you’ll know she was off the front attacking in the final two stages, honing some form for this race.

Prediction

I think not being on form for some of the Spring will be a blessing in disguise for Longo Borghini and she’ll take the crown here. She will lose some time in the opening TTT, but I think she has enough quality both on the climbs and the ITT to over-turn that.

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Niewiadoma and Moolman to round out the podium, with the Boels riders shockingly falling by the wayside!

Coverage

Unfortunately there is no live tv coverage of the race, but there will be daily highlights on RAI.

You should be able to access them via VPN I think but give Pam (@motorcycleMTNS) a follow on Twitter as she will no doubt have all the links or will record them and upload them to her Youtube channel.

Futhermore, we should expect highlights on the UCI Youtube Channel and the Giro Rosa has a YT Channel itself so we might see stuff there too.

During the stages themselves it will be a case of following on Twitter via the #GiroRosa hashtag. I would recommend following @richiesteege though (the Boels mechanic) who is one of the best sources for information during the race.

Velogames

As the betting industry is in the dark ages and never offers odds on the races, I guess they’re just copying the coverage we get (I’ll stop before I get myself in trouble)…

I’ve set up a Velogames league for you all to join so that you can have an interest following the race.

Use the code “27002603” to join. I look forward to you all beating me 😳.

 

Thanks as always for reading and any feedback is greatly appreciated like normal! I don’t usually beg for RTs etc on Twitter but if you can do to raise awareness of this exciting race that’s run on a shoe-string, then that would be fantastic. Also, from a selfish point of view too, I’d like this to reach as many people as possible. I’ve not wrote 3200 words for nothing! It is after all the most comprehensive Giro Rosa guide on the internet 😉.

I shall be back tomorrow for the Tour with my stage 1 preview. Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

Women’s Ronde van Vlaanderen 2017 Preview

Women’s Ronde van Vlaanderen 2017 Preview

On the same day as the men’s event, the women’s Ronde may be 100km shorter but that doesn’t make it any less exciting!

Last year saw the race split up on the Kwaremont and Paterberg, and like most races in the spring of 2016, was dominated by Boels Dolmans. They had 4 riders in the front group of 10, and in the end it was Deignan (then Armitstead) and Johansson who gapped the rest on the run in. They duked it out for the sprint and it was Deignan who just pipped the Swede on the line, taking a great win!

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Blaak won the sprint behind (ahead of team-mate Guarnier), to give Boels a 1-3-4-6 on the day!

Will the Dutch super team have it all their way this year? Let’s have a look at what’s in store for the riders.

The Route

An “easy” opening 50km that only contains three cobble sections, before we get an action packed section of several hills and cobbled climbs.

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That section is rounded off by the Muur at 60km to go. Although there isn’t any major obstacle for the following 20km almost, the famous climb might play more of a decisive role than it will in the men’s race!

The race finishes off with the same Kwaremont and Paterberg double and it surely will see some action as the stronger climbers and classics riders try to make their mark before the 13km to the finish line.

Will we see a reduced sprint or a solo rider make into Oudenaarde alone?

Contenders

This is quite a tough race to predict as the balance between climbers and strong one-day racers is very fine. Also, this year of women’s racing has been the most open in recent years, with no repeat winners or even riders from the same teams in the World Tour!

Elisa Longo Borghini has been in exceptional form so far this year, winning Strade and finishing in the top 10 on two other occasions in the World Tour and currently leads the standings. She’s won this race in the past and is clearly suited to the terrain, coming 4th/4th/1st/5th in the recent 4 editions of the race. Not bad eh! You would expect her to be there or thereabouts again come the end of the race tomorrow.

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She won’t be the only card Wiggle High 5 have though, as they can also rely on Belgian one-day expert, Jolien d’Hoore. More of a sprinter than climber, that doesn’t take anything away from her ability to crush the short, cobbled climbs in this race. If the race is taken at a bit more of a mundane pace or there is a regrouping late on then she has a chance. However, with the chaotic day I can see playing out, unfortunately she might have to settle with sprinter for a top 10 from the third group.

Boels once again arrive with a very strong team to support last year’s winner Deignan. Or will they? Forced to miss Gent Wevelgem due to illness, i don’t think she’ll be back to 100% yet for this race and if she’s not at full fitness, she won’t win. They do have numerous other cards to play but Van der Breggen and Blaak look the best options. The European champion has had a slow start to the season but with her trying to peak more for the Ardennes, you would expect her to be going well just now. Blaak on the other hand has had a very good, consistent start to her season. Third here last year, she has a good chance of repeating that this time round.

In form Lotta Lepsito arrives with her Cervelo Bigla team. She is clearly climbing and riding better than ever, but this will be a completely different test for her. Like d’Hoore, it will be too fast up the climbs for her to cope, but if we do get a slowing of the pace and a bigger regrouping, she certainly would have a chance in the sprint.

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Instead, I would be looking towards team-mates Moolman and Uttrup Ludwig for a course like this.

Team Sunweb arrive here with options to animate this race like they have down in others over the past month or so. Van Dijk is bound to try a solo attack from far out and she is probably one of the only women in the peloton who could pull it off! In Rivera they have a fast finisher who is climbing the best I’ve ever seen from her and she certainly can’t be discounted. I would have her as more of a favourite than d’Hoore and Lepisto for example. Then in Brand, Kirchmann and Mackaij they have great options to pepper the front of the race with attacks or cover the moves of dangerous opponents. If this was at the start of March then I’d have Brand as one of the favourites for the race, but after doing a season of cyclocross during the winter, her form seems to have waned a bit.

Niewiadoma will lead the charge for WM3 who are missing Marianne Vos. It will be hard for the Polish rider to win with a lack of team support in the closing kilometres of the race but she will certainly feature in the top 10. Her best chance is to infiltrate a small group of 4 or 5 that escapes on the Kwaremont/Paterberg or even on the flat run in to the finish.

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Orica arrive with a good team, but they’re not as strong as they’ve been in the past few weeks. I imagine that Spratt and Van Vleuten will be co-leaders and they certainly have a chance if both of them make the front group. If not, the sole rider will be in a similar situation to Niewiadoma, where you have to be on a good day, but also get lucky.

Other riders to keep an eye out for include;

Cecchini (Canyon SRAM),

Ratto (Cylance),

Ensing (Ale)

Kopecky (Lotto)

Gillow (FDJ).

The latter on that list has a very good chance if she’s climbing as well as she was in Strade!

Prediction

The race will be determined by the tactics and numbers of Boels and Sunweb.

After a relatively poor season so far, by their standards, I fancy Boels to get it right this race. They’re likely to have more numbers in the front group than any other team and they’ll use it to their advantage. I’ll hedge my bets a bit and go for a Chantal Blaak win!

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She has the abilities to attack from far out and hold the gap to the line, or as we saw last year, she has a great sprint from a reduced group.

Coverage

We’ll get similar coverage to last year, where you can watch an unrestricted live stream of the race here. Or on the Flanders Classics facebook page.

Let’s just hope the quality is better than the 144p stream we had in 2016!

Competition

As I mentioned in the men’s preview, as a thanks for your continued support and to celebrate one year of blogging, I’ll be giving away one of the Handmade Cyclist’s pieces of artwork. More specifically, the Ronde one, duh!

All you have to do to be in with a chance of winning is comment on this post with who you think the winner of the Women’s RVV will be and make sure to leave your Twitter handle as this is how I’ll be contacting the winners.

If no one predicts the winner then it will go to second place and so on. Likewise, if we get more than one person who gets it correct, I’ll put the Twitter handles into a list on random.org and randomise three times to get our winner.

Good luck!

If you’re struggling to find the place to leave a comment, it should be at the end of this post and look like below

Screen Shot 2017-04-01 at 18.54.47

*Also, depending on how the men’s race goes, I might be in a buoyant enough mood to upgrade it to a framed version!*

 

Thanks once again for reading and as always, any feedback is greatly appreciated. Next for the blog will be daily Pais Vasco previews (starting tomorrow), although I’m not sure if I’ll have enough time to do a full GC one. That might just be an after thought at the end of the stage 1 preview. Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.