Vuelta a Andalucia 2018 Stage 2 Preview; Otura › La Guardia de Jaén

Today’s Recap

A bit of a quieter stage than what I expected, Astana decided to finally take up the pace making at around 50km to go. This was enough to thin the peloton down and catch the break, but we still had plenty of fast-men left to compete for the win.

In the end, Boudat just pipped a prematurely celebrating Modolo for the win. Although it has to be said, we’ve not yet seen the photo finish so I’m sure some might feel aggrieved! Ag2Rs Venturini finished in third.

DWAvYtxUQAAyIrg

With the sprinters having their chance to shine on today’s stage tomorrow will give the mountain goats an opportunity.

The Route

We’re only on the second day of racing but we’re treated to the Queen Stage of the race.

Screen Shot 2018-02-13 at 13.42.04

At only 141km in length, it is a fairly short day in the saddle for the riders but some of the climbs to pack a punch. The opening two-thirds of the stage will see the breakaway form and build up an advantage as although some of the climbs are reasonably long, they’re not steep enough for any crazy early attacks.

That might however change on the Puerto de Valdepeñas. At an average of 7.5% for 3.7km it is steep enough for a team to really up the pace and put some of the domestiques in opposition squads into difficulty. Cresting at 40km to go it is too far out for any serious move but I would expect to see a thinning of the bunch here.

The following 30km before we hit the final climb of Allanadas consist mainly of descent or climbing.

rdslAST30KMallanadas

The climbs that split up the descent aren’t too tough, but 3.3km at 5.5% and 5km at 4.2% will certainly disrupt the rhythm in the peloton. They’ll continue through the town of La Guardia de Jaén before starting the brutally steep final climb, although to be fair, the road even climbs through the town itself.

allanadabt07
Source: Altimetrias

5.5km at 9.6% is tough enough if it was a steady climb but the closing 3.3kms average close to 12%. This will be a sufferfest for most of the bunch!

If we get some tough racing earlier in the day then expect the time gaps to be massive come the end of the stage. The finish climb was last used in the 2015 edition of this race when Froome motored away from Contador and won by a resounding 29 seconds which was enough to lead the GC by 2 seconds. Behind riders lost a shed-load of time, with 10th place finisher Van den Broek coming home 1’38 down for example.

Contenders

Only the best climbers and those who are in form will be able to compete here. The result of this stage will go a long way as to shape the GC so a lot of the contender here will be the same as I mentioned in my GC preview. So I’m not going to waste your time with a massive speel about the candidates; I’ll keep it short and sweet!

Landa – If he’s in good form this is his stage to lose. Great on steep ramps he’ll want to gain as much of an advantage before the TT. His form is the unknown though.

LL Sanchez – His form is definitely known and he is flying. Normally a finish like this would be too tough for him but he seems to be in the shape of his life. It will still be difficult for him to win it, but coming home within 20 seconds is a good result.

Fuglsang – If LLS isn’t going well then no doubt the Dane will be up there for Astana as a ready replacement. In surprisingly good early season form by his standards he’ll be aiming for a top 3 at least.

Poels – Terribly disappointing in Valenciana, with a race in his legs will he go any better? On paper this is a good stage but we’ll just have to wait and see.

Antunes – He’s shown in the past to be explosive enough but can he compete on terrain like this? He might be the type of rider to benefit from not being too well-known and having a good awful TT.

Prediction

I’ll just stick with what I said in my GC preview; form is king at the moment so LLS to win.

DVs5J98X4AYPcFJ

Or we see #AFreeLanda ride away from everyone on the aptly named Allanda climb. Or He Who Must Not Be Named just takes the piss.

All of which are likely possibilities.

Betting

6pts on LLS to beat Hermans at 5/6

 

Thanks as always for reading! I’m looking forward to the end of the stage, should be a great spectacle. Who do you think will win? Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

Vuelta a Andalucia 2018 GC Preview

A race that has been dominated by Alejandro Valverde in the past, he’s won 5 out of the last 6 editions, it was the same last year where he just pipped Alberto Contador to the title by one second.

bettiniphoto_0272249_1_originali_670

 

Thibaut Pinot was third at only 6 seconds back but with none of those riders here this week, we have a chance for a new winner.

First though, let’s look at what is in store for the riders over the week.

The Route

As I’ll be doing in-depth daily stage previews, this section will be a little truncated. All of the following profiles are thanks to @LasterketaBurua.

Stage 1.

Screen Shot 2018-02-13 at 13.39.46

An interesting opening stage with a lot of climbing in the third quarter of the day. This could turn into a GC day but the likely outcome will be a reduced sprint of some kind.

Stage 2.

Screen Shot 2018-02-13 at 13.42.04

Only the second day but we have the Queen stage of the race. At only 141km of racing the stage is short but it is filled with climbs. The finish up to Alto de Las Allandas could see some massive gaps. Those with a poor TT will have to go full gas here, it should be a great watch!

Stage 3.

Screen Shot 2018-02-13 at 14.34.20

The only stage the should see a full bunch sprint but we do have a lack of quick-men here. Who will control the day?

Stage 4.

Screen Shot 2018-02-13 at 14.46.50

A long day in the saddle but it is all about the final 1.5km; a short but steep ramp. Both the climbers and puncheurs will fancy it.

Stage 5.

Screen Shot 2018-02-13 at 14.49.16

A TT to finish that has a 5km section of gravel that averages just over 2%. It should be one for the more traditional TT riders, but it is short enough for some surprise names to get in the mix. Will the GC title be decided on the final day?

With the stages briefly covered, let’s have a look at who might be challenging for the win at the end of the week.

But first…

The Elephant in the Room

This is Froome’s first race after his AAF was announced/leaked. Now, the decision to have him race is one that divides opinion amongst cycling fans but I’m fairly certain you will all know what side of the argument I am on. It will be interesting to see how he and Sky approach the race. Will they take it easy and hope to slip under the radar (well, as much as they can) or will they continue on as if nothing has happened?

Either way, there is no way that they can come out of this one, ahem, cleanly.

If Froome takes it easy then the accusations will fly suggesting that he needed medication to go well etc. Whereas if he goes full gas and features at the head of the race then a lot of people will take offence as to the audacity of the team considering all that is going on at the moment. They are stuck between the proverbial rock and a hard place.

It will also be interesting to see how the riders in the peloton treat him. Will he be given the same respect as before?

No doubt the Brit will still have his fans that will cheer him on. In fact, I would suggest that they’ve become even more fanatical since the AAF finding so we can expect them to be vocal no matter what.

The voices of dissent will be as vocal as the cheers this week but I just hope no-one does anything stupid out on the road to take the situation into their own hands. Cycling’s image is already being made a mockery of, we don’t need stories of piss being thrown at him etc.

Personally I don’t think Froome will feature here. He’s essentially completed an extra Grand Tour while in South Africa as they attempt to recreate the situation and find a scientific reason as to why his salbutamol levels were so high. Surely he is spent after it all? Plus, I don’t think Sky can risk the outrage if he does win until the case/investigation is over. If he does, then it is a big “fuck you” to the sport.

So with that said, I’m going to discount him for this race. Let’s have a look at who else might compete though!

(Again though, this all opinion and shouldn’t be taken as fact. Plz don’t sue. I’m poor. 😐)

Contenders

Mikel Landa.

article-Landa-debut-Movistar-Mallorca-5a6761684d3ed

Starting his first race for Movistar he’ll want to get his season up and running with a good result. On paper this looks ideal for the Spanish climber. He’ll love the steep and relentless finish on Stage 2 and he should be able to put in a solid time in the time trial. In fact, he should be the class act of the race but with his form being so unknown he could well win it or come home in 20th.

Jakob Fuglsang.

A rider that we do know the form of, the Astana man has started the season well with a 3rd place on GC in Valenciana. He followed that up with a solid 6th place in Murcia at the weekend. Astana have a very strong team here and they’ll hope to have a few guys near the head of the race in the important stages. Numbers could be crucial.

Luis Leon Sanchez.

The second Astana candidate for the race win, the Spaniard has started the European season in sensational form. After returning from the Tour Down Under where he finished a respectable 8th on GC, he’s since went on to finish second behind Valverde in Valenciana and then beat him in Murcia at the weekend. A strong TTer, he should have an advantage over some competitors in that stage and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him go well on some of the steep ramps, he did well in Valenciana on similar terrain.

De La Cruz / Poels.

With Froome taking this one easy (see my reasoning above) then Sky will turn to other riders for success. I’m not sure how either of them will go here though as their crack squad in Valenciana was extremely disappointing. Was it just a slow start to the season or is no-one in form yet as they all secretly want to lead at the Tour…I think it is too tough for De La Cruz to win GC, but if Poels has upped his game since a poor Valenciana then he of course is a contender for the win. We’ll find out on stage 2 where he is at!

Steven Kruijswijk.

sptdw1018_670

After pulling out of the Giro last year the Dutchman finished the season with a 9th place in the Vuelta. A rider who never really starts the season well I am intrigued to see if that changes this season given he is hoping to go to the Tour. On his day he can climb with the best and he can produce a good time against the clock. Yet, I don’t think he’ll be up and running yet so a top 10 would be a solid result.

Ben Hermans.

With three top 10s already in 2018, the Israel Academy rider will hope for a similar, if not better, result here. Juxtaposed to Kruijswijk, Hermans is a rider who normally does start his season well. I wouldn’t have him down as one of the best climbers here but given form is important at the start of the year he could surprise just like he did on the Green Mountain last season.

Amaro Antunes.

One of my favourite riders from 2017, it was great to see his season rewarded with a step up in level to ProConti with CCC. An explosive climber he’ll like the steep ramps that we have on a couple of the stages. In this field, he will fancy his chances to go well on those days. His TT definitely needs some work but his team have improved in the discipline over the past half a year, so I’m intrigued to see if it has had a positive effect on Antunes over the winter. Another top 10 on GC like Valenciana is certainly a possibility.

Prediction

Form is King early in the year so I have to go with Luis Leon Sanchez as the winner here.

DVs5J98X4AYPcFJ

Part of the strongest team, he and Fuglsang should be at the head of the race on the toughest stages and that will be of massive benefit to them. Sanchez has looked the strongest on the climbs in the previous races so it will take a lot for someone to drop him. Furthermore, he possesses a strong TT which could see him seal the win on the closing day.

No odds are out as of yet but I might back him depending on the price.

Thanks as always for reading! Who do you think will win the GC? I’ll be back later this evening with my stage 1 preview. Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

Volta ao Algarve Stage 5 Preview; Loulé -> Malhão

Today’s Recap

What an exciting sprint finish that went down to the photo. It was Greipel who came out on top ahead of Degenkolb and Groenewegen, but you could through the proverbial blanket over them all.

image

Demare finished very fast to come 4th, but he just started his sprint too far back to challenge.

Moving on to tomorrow and the last stage, with the GC title very much up for grabs.

The Route

A back loaded stage with a reasonable amount of climbing.

Print

Race leader Roglic will be happy to know that the majority of the climbs are Cat 3 ascents, but he will be concerned about the double passage of the Malhão.

The climb itself is short, but it’s steep and irregular in gradient. You can view the strava segment here.

screen-shot-2017-02-18-at-18-15-40

2.3km in length and averaging 9.5%, some reasonable time gaps can be made on it. Thibaut Pinot holds the Strava record on here, climbing it in 7 minutes and 1 second. That year, Contador beat him by 20 seconds so it’s safe to say he did it in 6 minutes 45 seconds roughly. It’s like Old Willunga Hill but ever so slightly steeper. That same kind of effort is needed to win here.

How will the stage pan out?

There is a chance the breakaway could take the win. I’m sure Roglic would be happy if the bonus seconds were taken by some riders up the road. However, I don’t think this will happen. The opening part of the stage is very easy to control so teams such as Sky and Quickstep can keep the break within their reach for the oppening 90km, slowly starting to reel them in when it gets lumpier. Therefore, I think we get some kind of GC showdown, with those at the top of the order fighting out for stage glory.

Contenders

It’s hard to look past Dan Martin for this. He was excellent on the uphill finish on stage 2, and this steeper climb suits him even more. Now with some extra leeway because of his GC placing, he won’t be marked as much by Roglic and Co. If he gets a gap, that is it over. Like I said above, I’m sure Roglic would actually be happy if Martin won, to take away some of the time bonuses.

Roglic himself could of course cap of a good week and turn it into a great one with a win here. He was the only rider to match Martin on Stage 2, and almost came round him on the line. Back in Valenciana he beat Martin on the steep finish to Llucena by 10 seconds so he seems to be able to cope well when the gradient goes up. However, one reason he may not win the stage is because he doesn’t have to go into the red and be aggressive. All he has to do is just follow wheels and hope to not get gapped by Kwiatkowski or Castroviejo.

It’s great to see Kwiatkowski back in good form and hopefully he can kick on from here looking ahead at the classics. It will be a tough ask for him to gain back the time on Roglic and a stage win is really needed to give him a chance. I’m not so confident, but one of the classiest bike riders on his day, he should never be ruled out!

sptdw183_670

Aside from the big 3, one guy who I think could upset the apple cart here is Amaro Antunes. He finished a solid 3rd on the brutal stage finish in Llucena behind Quintana and Kudus, but more importantly, ahead of Roglic and Martin. It’s important to highlight too that he finished on the same time as Pinot here last year. Way down on GC after a poor TT he has a very good chance of being let go here. It could be tough to catch him!

Sanchez, Villela and Roson could all surprise too if no one cares to follow them.

Prediction

I really want to say Antunes here, he goes so well on the steep stuff. I also think it’s incredibly hard to see past Dan Martin. Very odd for me to be leaning so heavily towards the stage favourite.

Ach, when have I ever been stopped from going for an outsider before?!

Antunes to win!

img_6741-a

Thanks for reading this week! Like I said on my Andalucia preview, apologies for these being ever so slightly shorter than normal as I’m feeling a bit under the weather. Normal service shall resume next week as I’ll be doing Omloop and KBK, the start of the season for some! Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

 

 

 

Volta ao Algarve 2017 – GC Preview

The riders are certainly spoilt for choice at this time of year for stage races to compete at! This year is the 43rd edition of the Volta ao Algarve, but this is the first time the race has been given 2.HC status. Much like it’s competitor in Spain, Algarve has a varied profile with a couple of sprint stages, 2 summit finishes and an individual time trial.

Cycling: 42nd Volta Algarve 2016 / Stage 5

 

For the past two years Geraint Thomas has won the overall, however, he won’t be returning this year to defend his title. That doesn’t mean the race is lacking in talent though and we still should see a good fight for the overall GC. First though, let’s have a look at what is in store for the riders.

The Route

Stage 1 should see an opportunity for the sprinters to fight it out for the win and the first leader’s jersey.

Print

Stage 2 and a summit finish at Alto da Fóia.

Print

This is the same finish that we had last year, on which Luis Leon Sanchez won the day. It’s not an overly difficult climb, with the steepest section coming right at the start. Don’t expect the time gaps to be too big here!

Stage 3 see an individual effort against the clock.

Print

Another copy of a stage from last year, this is a very flat TT and suits the power riders. Climbers can lose a reasonable amount of time if they’re not in good condition.

Stage 4 will give the sprinters who missed out on stage 1 another opportunity to go for the win.

Print

Stage 5 presents one last chance to shake up the GC.

Print

Contador danced away from everyone here last year but it wasn’t enough to take the title away from Thomas. Will the stage winner manage to take overall glory this time round?

GC Contenders

It would be harsh to call this a second-rate GC field compared to the likes of Oman and Andalucia but that’s close to what it is. Don’t get me wrong, we still have some great talent here and some riders who can spring a surprise but there are no Grand Tour winners on the start line.

Dan Martin arrives here as arguably the best one week stage racer. He’ll like the look of the two mountain-top finishes, especially the steeper/irregular gradients of Malhão. However, the TT could be of detriment to him but he’ll be thankful that it’s only 18km long. With some racing already in his legs, he has to start as one of the favourites for this race!

Dauphine-Libere - Stage 6

Astana come here with two potential leaders in the shape of Luis Leon Sanchez and Scarponi. The former won the opening mountain stage here last year but struggled for the rest of the race. He is capable of a top 5 in good form, and the TT should be of advantage to him. As for Scarponi, on his day he is arguably one of the best climbers in the world. However, those days seem to only come during the Giro! Nonetheless he still may surprise and get a top 5 on one of the stages.

I expect Andrey Amador to be Movistar’s GC contender here and on paper he has a decent chance. A very solid all round rider this will be one of the few times he gets leadership duties this year. My only concern is that he’s an always “kind of there” guy and not a winner, he does only have one pro win to his name after all. Could that change this week?

A rider yet to pick up their first professional victory is Tiesj Benoot. It might be a bit odd to name him as a GC contender but he did climb exceptionally well here last year and with the sparsity of the field he has a chance of a top 10. He would need a lot of luck to get a lot higher up than that. His team-mate Gallopin is also in with a chance of a good result here. Finishing 2nd on GC at Bessegès recently, he took his first ever pro TT win along the way. This indicates to me that he is in rather good shape and a top 3 is firmly within his grasp.

gettyimages_481214624_670

After arriving late to the sport, Primož Roglič certainly had a very good first year in the World Tour ranks, managing to notch up a stage win at the Giro and a 5th place on GC at this very race. This year he’ll have his sights set further up the pecking order! A disastrous opening day in Valenciana ruined any chances of a good GC there, but he recovered to pick up a 3rd place and 5th on the Queen Stage so the form clearly is there. He should gain time in the TT and it will be hard for his competitors to gain it back!

Kwiatkowski would once be the clear favourite for a race like this, in fact he won here back in 2014, but he has since gone off the boil in these types of races after joining Sky. However, he did seem in OK shape in Valenciana and due to his sheer quality you can’t rule him out going well if he’s fired up for this one.

Tony Martin could go well here like he has done in the past. There is the possiblity that he beats everyone by 30 seconds in the TT and holds on on the final stage, but I just can’t see that happening.

As for others who might get involved in the mix, I’m intrigued to see how Spilak, Guerreiro and Antunes go.

Prediction

Roglic wins his first ever GC title!

gettyimages-531580606

Gallopin to finish somewhere on the podium too.

Betting

Looks as if Algarve isn’t going to be priced up anywhere aside from SkyBet and they might not even to stage bets. Going with what I wrote in my RdS preview;

0.5pt EW Treble on Valverde/Roglic/Costa @54/1 with SkyBet.

 

Once again, thanks for reading and any feedback is greatly appreciated! Who do you think will win here? I’ll be back again tomorrow with another double header of previews, with both the first stages of the European races. Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.