La Classica delle foglie morte: Il Lombardia 2018 Preview

La Classica delle foglie morte: Il Lombardia 2018 Preview

The last monument of the year is upon us and the now almost year-round cycling season is winding down, albeit there are still some races left after tomorrow’s affair. However, il Lombaria marks the traditional end of the season and so this will be the last preview of the year. Before starting it properly though, I’ll get the soppy stuff out the road first…

Thank you for returning continuously throughout the year to read the posts and interacting with me on Twitter etc, it really helps to keep me motivated through the months where I’m churning out a preview a day or more! I’m proud to see the blog grow even more this year and thanks for being a part of that – I hope I’ve been able to deliver good and entertaining content, well, at least for most of the time.*

*We’ll just ignore the processional final GT stages…

I’m not sure what the off-season will bring, maybe some rider interviews but let’s be honest, who is really wanting to be interviewed here rather than one of the bigger sites so that is probably a no go. I’ll try to get some opinion pieces out or rider profiles for “ones to watch” or anything really. We’ll see how bored I get during the cold and dark winter months in Scotland!

I never thought at the start of the year I’d manage to get two pieces published in Cycling Weekly and once again that is down to you for sharing and engaging with the content on here/Twitter. Not bad for someone who is a “clueless” cycling blogger – shout out Mr Wong.

But yeah, cheers and enjoy the off-season.

Here goes nothing for one last time this year…


 

In 2017 we were treated to a tough and tactical race but it was a day that was really ever going to be won by one rider – Vincenzo Nibali.

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The Italian was one of the strongest riders on the climbs and only Pinot could match him, but it was on the descents where he proved his worth. He delivered a trademark masterclass and took 15 seconds off of the Frenchman on the penultimate climb’s descent before skipping up the final climb and riding solo to the finish. Behind, Pinot was caught by a group and thanks to some more dare-devil descending, Alaphilippe took second place – a sign of things to come for this year. The Pinot group then sprinted for the final podium spot and it was Moscon who took the spoils.

Will we see a similar outcome this year? Let’s take a look at what awaits the riders.

The Route

An almost carbon copy of the 2017 route, the only major difference is that the San Fermo climb has been removed due to a threat of landslides.

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At 241km and with almost 4000m of elevation gain, it is no easy day out in the saddle. It is even more difficult though when you consider the majority of the climbing comes in the closing 70kms. First up is the famous Madonna del Ghisallo climb (9.1km at 5.2%) and we can expect to see a thinning out process here and possibly some early probing attacks by second and third tier riders from the top teams.

Any rider who is in difficulty this early on won’t have much time to rest though as they will soon face the toughest climb of the day; the Colma di Sormano.

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At 7kms in length it averages a leg breaking 8.9% in gradient. That is hard either way you look at it, but it is the final 1.9km of the climb that averages close to 16% which is the real killer.

If a team really pushes on in the bunch, not many will be left in with a chance once the peloton is over the top. Back in 2015 we had around 20 riders who made it over together, with a few more getting back on in the descent and flat roads as they headed towards Civilgio. Those 15kms are pretty important because it is yet another place where teams with numbers can launch an attack and if there is only a group of 20 up ahead, a counter attack of 5-6 riders could easily gain a minute or so quickly before Civiglio.

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Anyone that went out the back door on the Sormano but managed to get back to the peloton, will unfortunately meet their maker for the second time in the race here. Steep and persistent is the best way to describe it, the climb will wear the riders down and only the strongest will be left at the head of the race. As a tough penultimate climb, it acts as the perfect launchpad. Will anyone manage to break free?

It is not only the climb that you can attack on but the technical descent provides a good place to distance rivals – as we saw last year with Nibali v Pinot. Thankfully it looks as if it will be dry tomorrow but the descent is still tricky nonetheless.

They descend all the way, albeit the gradients are less severe as they enter Como, before hitting the “new” climb of Monte Olimpino.

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Ignore the sudden rise at the start of the profile above as they go under the bridge and the contours on the map happen to be right beside there so it messes with it a bit. The climb is a lot more gradual but the 5.2% for 1.7km is enough for someone to launch a late attack – especially with what has come before. The route down the other side is almost a mirror image before a final 1.5km of flat sees the riders to the finish.

Will someone arrive solo or will we see a small group sprint?

How will the race pan out?

Last year saw a thinning of the peloton over the Ghisallo and Sormano climbs before the pace was really upped on the Civiglio by FDJ. I would expect something similar this year but with Olimpino being considerably easier than the San Fermo, we could have action earlier because it will be harder to create a gap on that last climb.

If that is the case, then it will be tougher to control those 15kms of flat between Sormano and Civiglio because few riders will have many, if any, domestiques left. Consequently, that could open it up for a cluster of “second string” riders to get away and if the majority of the main favourites have a team-mate there, then it could be the move of the day.

However, this is the last monument of the year and a big goal for many in this part of the season so I can’t really see it happening. It should be fought out between the favourites, it is just a case of who makes the move and when. Proceedings will be extremely thinned out on Civiglio and we could see some attack on either the climb or the descent – those without a good sprint will certainly want to shake their rivals off there.

If not, things will get very tactical in the closing 6 kilometres and we might get a bit of a surprise victor, albeit, from a group of favourites.

The Great Eight

There are only eight guys who I think can win this race.

Alejandro Valverde.

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The evergreen World Champion arrives at this race as main favourite because he can do pretty much everything but the main reason is that if things come together for a reduced bunch sprint, it will be very difficult for anyone to beat him. After doing a lot of media duty post-Innsbruck, he’s used Emilia and Milano Torino as good training and to get the race speed back in the legs with the main goal always being Sunday. He looked very comfortable in MT before cracking a little on the final climb and finishing third. Was it a real crack though? Or was it more a case of him being happy with his training for the day and riding home? Knowing Valverde, I think the latter.

Michael Woods.

After taking a great win at the Vuelta, the Canadian was a bit of a surprise package at the Worlds where he ultimately took the bronze medal. Arguably, he looked one of the strongest on the climb but cramped up at the finish. Since then he looked comfortable in Emilia with a 4th place finish but then disappointed with the same result in Tre Valli after his team-mate Uran did all the work for him. Woods has really developed this season in the tougher one-day races – can he take that big win?

Rigoberto Uran.

Like Woods, he skipped Milano Torino as he was more than happy enough with his form in the other two races. The way he skipped away from the bunch on both of those days was quite remarkable and I think he will have a big say in the outcome of the day tomorrow. He’s finished 3rd three times here before and will desperately want to go better. One of the few guys who might actually fancy his chances against Valverde in a sprint.

Thibaut Pinot.

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A spectacular climbing display in Milano Torino saw him take the title of a one-day race, something he has been desperately chasing this Autumn. He’s arguably been the most consistent rider of this final third of the season and has certainly looked a different beast compared to the early part of the year. Being able to rely on Gaudu and Reichenbach deep into the race will be important but I’m not sure either will be there when it really gets going so Pinot will have to do it on his own.

Romain Bardet.

Apparently working for Alaphilippe at the Worlds, finishing second to Valverde in the end wasn’t a bad result. Like most on this list, he was up there in Emilia and came home with the main group in Tre Valli. One of the better descenders in the peloton, Bardet may opt to attack on the downhill of Civiglio and hope to get a gap. A gutsy rider, expect to see him on the move at some point. A big ride from Gallopin tomorrow could be a great help.

Vincenzo Nibali.

Winner on this route two times before, can he make it three? After an unfortunate incident at the Tour forced him to abandon, he has been trying to chase a good level of form ever since. Content with his performances in Emilia and TVV, I think that form is coming. Nibali is known to pull one out of the bag and there won’t be anyone in the peloton who knows this finale better than him. Having a strong team around him should help and I’d expect to see Pozzovivo and Izagirre with him for most of the day.

Primoz Roglic.

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Is it possible to have two “breakthrough” years in a row? Because Roglic has certainly done that in my opinion. On paper this a route and race that is perfect for him: some tough climbs and gnarly descents. However, the Slovenian has still yet to prove himself as a one-day racer, although he has won plenty of stages that are reminiscent of tomorrow. His result at the Worlds will have been a disappointment but there is nothing he could do about the crash and the consequent chase/energy loss because of it. Since then his performances in the two Italian one-day races have been good and I think he’ll be there or thereabouts tomorrow.

Egan Bernal.

The wild card for tomorrow given his recent return after injury but you can never discount a talent like Bernal. Aged just 20 he finished in 17th place here which was a truly stunning result so he does have previous on this parcours. He’s been involved in a lot of the Italian races just so that he can regain the racing rhythm back into his legs and a 10th place in Milano Torino suggests he’s heading in the right direction. Is it too little too late though?

Prediction

Team mates will be incredibly important at the end and there are two guys on the list above from the same time. I think this is Rigoberto Uran’s time to finally get further up that podium. Vamos!

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Betting

I don’t just want to cover Uran though and I’m backing another two of the eight. End of the season so let’s have some fun:

2pts WIN Uran @ 12/1 (would take 10s)

2pts WIN Nibali @ 16/1 (would take 14s available with most)

2pts WIN Roglic @ 20/1 (would take 16s)

Thanks as always for reading! Who do you think will win tomorrow? Anyway, for the last time this season,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

 

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Tour de France 2018 GC Preview

Tour de France 2018 GC Preview

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

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

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

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

Anyway, onto the contenders and pretenders…

The Favourite 

Chris Froome.

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

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

The Waiting for Froome to falter-ers

Richie Porte.

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

Romain Bardet. 

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

Nairo Quintana.

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

The Podium Outsiders

Right, shorter musings from now on.

Vincenzo Nibali.

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

Rigoberto Uran.

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

Alejandro Valverde.

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

Adam Yates. 

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

Jakob Fuglsang.

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

Top 10 Fillers

Ilnur Zakarin.

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

Geraint Thomas.

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

Bob Jungels.

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

Daniel Martin.

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

Steven Kruijswijk.

See Jungels.

Bauke Mollema.

See Kruijswijk.

The Pretenders

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

Primoz Roglic.

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

Tom Dumoulin.

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

Mikel Landa.

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

Egan Bernal.

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

Prediction

Probably Froome, innit.

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

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Allez Romain!

Betting

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

Vuelta a España 2017 Preview – The BFOG

Vuelta a España 2017 Preview – The BFOG

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

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

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

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

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

The Route – What You Need To Know

To some it up in a word: tough.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Ouch. Ouch indeed!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

GC Contenders and Pretenders

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

Chris Froome.

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

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

Vincenzo Nibali.

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

Alberto Contador.

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

Fabio Aru.

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

Miguel Angel Lopez.

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

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

Ilnur Zakarin.

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

Yates / Yates / Chaves.

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

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

Prediction

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

King of the Mountains

article-Calendario-2017-Omar-Fraile-5857a6ed0bdb1

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

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

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

As for points distribution, it is as follows:

Screen Shot 2017-08-17 at 15.04.22

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

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

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

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

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

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

How will the KOM race pan out?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Merhawi Kudus.

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

Jetse Bol (2.0).

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

Larry Warbasse.

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

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

Points Classification

Vuelta a Espana - Stage 21

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

Screen Shot 2017-08-17 at 16.11.40

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

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

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

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

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

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

Julian-Alaphilippe-time-trial

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

Vuelta Picks

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

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

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

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

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

Think you can beat me and take my money?!

*Hint – the answer is probably yes*

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

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

Spreadsheet above^^^

Betting

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

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

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

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

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

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

As for the Points jersey, it’s simple.

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

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

 

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

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tour de France 2017 Stage 13 Preview; Saint-Girons -> Foix

Today’s Recap

A break formed relatively quickly, only after 20km of so or racing but they were never given more than 6:30 of an advantage from a Sky led peloton.

With the move caught on the Peyresourde, it looked as if we were going to see some GC fireworks before the top but the group whittled down to around 10 and that was it. No one else was dropped and the riders found themselves approaching the final 500m together.

Bennett launched an attack but was brought back easily by Landa, before Bardet and Aru sprung up the inside. Froome wasn’t able to follow and the Frenchman held on for a great victory.

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Uran did well to get up for second while the Italian National Champion took third and moves into yellow for tomorrow’s stage.

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

The Route

Arguably the most talked about stage of this year’s whole Tour. Taking a page out of what we’ve seen at the Giro and Vuelta recently, tomorrow’s route is short and sharp.

 

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We have three Cat-1 climbs packed into 100km of racing which should surely lead to a fast pace from the gun! With that being said, there are 25.5km of false-flat before we hit the Col de Latrape for the hopeful escapees to try to get up the road.

Latrape isn’t a long climb (at only 5.6km) but averaging 7.3% it is fairly steep and will act as a nice warm-up for what’s to come. I wonder if we’ll see any early attacks on the climb? A short descent follows which isn’t too technical, before the toughest climb of the day.

The Col d’Agnes comes in at 10km long, averaging 8.2%.

stage-13-col-d-agnes

It’s actually hardest right at the bottom, with the opening 3kms averaging 9.2%. Nice and explosive! From there it gets “easier” but if a team takes it up or a GC rider attacks early, there is a good chance the race gets blown to bits. Given the short nature of the stage, that looks like a strong possibility!

Once over the top we have a long descent (almost 20km) before the next climb. The descent itself starts off very technical and we could see AG2R attack here like on Stage 9. It does ease off later on but the damage could already be done.

The Mur de Pérguère averages 7.9% for 9.3km but that doesn’t really tell the whole story…

stage-13-mur-de-peguere

I did wonder why it was given the honour of being called “Mur” but it made sense once I saw the profile. The opening 6kms of the climb are fairly straightforward compared to what the riders have faced earlier in the day, only averaging 5.55%. However, it is the final 3.3km that will really test the riders legs – averaging a very painful ~12.5%!

The riders will then descend pretty much all the way to the finish, although it does get flatter in the last 10km and is more of a shallow descent. Will we see a solo rider come to the line or it will be a reduced sprint to the line?

stage-13-5km

With a technical run-in, I certainly hope it’s the former!

How will the stage pan out?

It should be a GC stage but you can never be 100% sure. I thought the GC teams would let the break get away today, with one eye on tomorrow’s stage but Sky almost double-bluffed everyone and closed it down.

We’ve seen at the Giro and Vuelta that these type of stages are very explosive and entice aggressive racing from the GC contenders. No doubt some of the teams will try to get lieutenants up the road to hopefully help later on, but considering everyone will be trying to do that, then it could be hard! It might be another day where a 40-rider “break” goes but never gets more than 2 minutes or so.

The issue is that with no climb right at the start, and no summit finish, some of the GC riders might not fancy their chances. I guess they’ll hope that the battle to get into the break is so fierce that they’ll be within touching distance on the first climb.

It is Bastille Day so no doubt we’ll see numerous French riders try their hand throughout the day. Whether that be those looking to get in the break and hopefully win the stage that way, or someone like Bardet who will hope for a big GC fight.

We’ve not had a French winner on Bastille Day though since David Moncoutié back in 2005 though!

Like Natalie Imbruglia, I’m Torn.

Do the other GC teams sense enough of a weakness in the Sky came to try to isolate Froome, taking advantage of his “bad legs” that he had today. It will be a tough stage for Astana to control so no doubt they’ll be happy to see the break go. However, I think AG2R/QS/Orica will all want the race controlled.

Bardet is obviously on stellar form at the moment and will be wanting to go as well as he can while he’s flying. I imagine they’ll place a few riders in the break but he will attack on the middle climb of the day, hoping to bridge to them. The same can be said for Yates and Orica who always seem to get their tactics right on days like these.

Candidates

As I’ve waffled on already and may need to rush this a bit before work, I’ll just list two riders and how they might win tomorrow.

Louis Meintjes.

Louis-Meintjes-UAE-Team-Emirates-2017-pic-Sirotti

After suffering on stages 5 and 9, the South African coped a lot better today (finishing 5th on the stage) and like a few others seems to be getting better just now. At almost 5 minutes down on the overall, he’s not an immediate threat for the big guns and could be given some leeway to attack from a reduced group that might be heading to the finish together. There is also a chance that he could sneak himself into an early breakaway and take the stage from there. Finishing 3rd on the very attacking final stage at the Dauphiné there is a chance he repeats that feat here, if not going better.

Mikel Landa.

He looked ominously strong today. Like, just ridiculously strong, it barely looked like he was breathing going up the final climb. I was more out of breath watching the stage than he was riding it! He could have closed Bennett down much quicker but almost had to rein himself in not to put Froome in the red. After pulling at the front and moving over to the side to let his leader attack, he still had enough in the tank to get back up to speed and finish 4th. Not bad considering the head-start he gave everyone else! Although it is unlikely as Sky tend to take the approach of “all for their leader”, I would be getting Landa to attack tomorrow if I was DS. If Froome isn’t great just now, it is much better to have two riders close to the top of the GC going into latter part of the race so they can play the numbers game. He is the one rider I can see attacking everyone on the final climb and holding on to the finish. Will Sky be willing to let him do that? Probably not, but you never know. Will Landa listen to them either way? That’s also debatable.

Prediction

In an act of defiance that turns out to be a great race strategy for Sky, the mercurial Spaniard takes the win.

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Froome recovers from today’s efforts and manages to mark everyone else out of chasing, allowing Landa a good time gap to put him back into overall contention.

Betting

1pt WIN Landa @ 33/1 (various bookmakers)

0.5pt EW Meintjes @ 125/1 Coral/Ladbrokes (who are paying 4 places)

 

Thanks as always for reading and apologies the “contenders” section is shorter than normal! Who do you think will win? Will we finally see a French rider win on Bastille day? Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

 

 

 

 

Tour de France 2017 – GC Preview

Tour de France 2017 – GC Preview

Well, here we are again. Just over half-way through the season and La Grand Boucle is upon us. The race that your non-cycling friends know about and are somewhat interested in. It’s also the one where you most likely have to explain why Chris Froome isn’t competing in a sprint (we’ll just gloss over stage 11 from last year) or why the peloton have let a group of riders 12 minutes up the road. Firstly though, you will have to explain what a “peloton” is!

Speaking of Froome, the Brit is here to defend his crown and looking to win his fourth title. However, he’ll have to look over his shoulder a lot more this year as there are certainly a few contenders who could knock him from his pedestal…

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Let’s have a quick look at what’s in store for the riders over the next 3 weeks.

The Route

I’m not going to mince my words here, this year’s Tour route is arguably one of the dullest in recent memory. Several long flat sprint stages and only three mountain top finishes, eugh!

However, I’m hoping (probably in vain) that the ASO have pulled a blinder and that the less challenging route will lead to some more aggressive racing. We have seen in the past that ridiculously tough stages often lead to a boring day as too many riders are scared to go too early and run out of steam by the end of the stage.

The opening day’s TT will see some time gaps between the GC favourites but they shouldn’t be too significant, although they could be around 30 seconds or so.

Stage 5 plays host to the first summit finish of the race: La Planche des Belles Filles.

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Having been a stage finish in 2012 and 2014 a lot of the riders will know what to expect. Without any major difficulties in the first two-thirds of the stage it should all come down to the final climb. At 5.9km long and averaging 8.5%, it is tough enough to create some gaps. However, I don’t expect them to be too big between the GC favourites. Will someone who’s lost time in the TT manage to sneak away?

We then have a couple of sprints stages followed by a mountainous double-header before the first rest-day. Stage 8 kind of finishes atop a mountain at Station des Rousses but with 8km from the summit of the climb to the finish line we can’t really call it that! Stage 9 has a flat finish but there are several tough climbs out on the course. Most notably the last climb of the day; the Mont du Chat.

tour-de-france-2017-stage-9-1495792377

The toughest climb in France according to some, it played a pivotal part in the recent Dauphiné. While the climb is exceptionally hard, the descent off of it is very technical and it is also a place where riders can attack to try to make some time. They’ll have to hope for a lack of co-operation behind as the 13km to the finish line will seem to take an eternity! With a rest day to come, the riders certainly won’t be holding anything back.

Another two sprint stages will give them time to recover before the second summit finish of the race on stage 12.

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One of the longest stages in the race, it is back loaded with climbing. It could be one of the more exciting stages because depending on the composition of the GC, we could see some early attacks on the Porte de Balès as there are no flat roads for the riders to contend with from kilometre 172.

The organisers have decided to juxtapose the longest mountain stage with the shortest one the following day.

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Seemingly wanting to take a leaf out of the Giro and Vuelta with their explosive/crazy days, I don’t think they’ve managed it. On paper anyway.

First of all, the key to these stages is to finish on a mountain, not have 30km of descending/flat after the summit. Secondly, you have a climb from the gun to try to entice GC men into a very early move and catch those out who’ve not warmed up correctly. The three climbs on the stage are tough enough to cause some chaos, don’t get me wrong, but I can’t help but think if they’d made the stage start or finish on a climb it would be a whole lot better. I hope the riders make the most of it though and produce a very attacking day. For that we need Contador and the Movistar duo to be in contention still at this point.

The GC riders then have 4 days off (including a rest day)  heading into the final week of the Tour. Traditionally packed with mountains, this year’s race is a bit “meh”. Stage 17 is arguably the Queen Stage in my opinion, although it finishes with a descent.

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The Col du Télégraphe / Col du Galibier combination is crazy. Taking the climb as a whole from the foot slopes of the Télégraphe it is ~35km at 5.5%. That’s tough on its own but when you consider the Galibier crests at 2642m then it makes it a whole different ball game. If riders blow up and struggle at altitude, they really could lose a lot of time here. Once over the crest, the riders will descend almost all the way to the finish (28km at -4% avg), although the last 3km are relatively flat. It means we could see a small group come to the line, but I don’t see that happening as I expect the climb and the descent that follows to be tough enough to create gaps.

The following day plays host to the final mountain stage and a summit finish on the Col d’Izoard.

tour-de-france-2017-stage-18-1495792571

 

There’s nothing much to say about this stage really, it is all about the final climb. A last huzzah for the mountain goats to move up on GC before losing time in the TT two days later. Will a rider further down the order be given leeway to take a memorable victory, or will the riders at the top of the GC standings show no mercy and further stamp their dominance on the race?

As for the final GC stage, we have a TT around Marseille on the penultimate day of racing. I’m sure the riders will love the transfer from the South of France all the way to Paris…

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Anyway, the TT is almost pan-flat apart from one short but very steep climb. I knew I recognised the climb from somewhere and it turns out it was used in the final stage of La Provence earlier in the season. However, that day they approached it from the “easier” south side. At the Tour it will be the much harder approach. Sticking out like a sore thumb on the profile, it will certainly hamper the rhythm of the pure TT specialists. Can the climbers gain enough time on those 1.2kms to negate the other 21?

Once the stage is finished we’ll know our GC winner, before we finish with the traditional lap-circuit around the Champs-Élysées on the final day.

GC Battle As A Whole

I’m intrigued to see how the race pans out given the easier parcours compared to previous editions. Fewer mountain top finishes and fewer TT kms, I think the ASO have tried to make the route as anti-Froome as possible and make it a more open race.

In theory, they’ve done that well. There should be smaller time gaps in the TTs due to their shorter nature, although both are pan-flat almost and should suit the specialists. The lack of mountain top finishes should see the climbers closer together because there are less stages where they can drop their rivals and put massive amounts of time into them.

However, the race can definitely favour those willing to take risks. Several of the stages finish with descents off of mountains and I think we’ll see those descents being of almost equal importance to the climbs themselves. Technical descents could see riders lose 20-30 seconds if they’re nervous and if we get bad weather, time gaps could be exacerbated even more. We saw Froome attempting to drop Porte at the recent Dauphiné when coming off the Mont du Chat and I think we’ll see similar moves throughout the race, from riders in or around the top 10.

In trying to make it anti-Froome though, the organisers are playing a risky game because they’ve made it very pro-Sky. If Froome performs like he has in previous seasons and takes Yellow early (on stage 5), then Sky have the strength to be able to control the race for the majority of stages.

GC Contenders

As I’ve already ranted and rambled for a long time, I’ll keep this section “relatively” short. I imagine you will already know a lot about the favourites etc anyway…

Chris Froome.

chris froome wins 2016 tour de france

The 3-time champion is gunning for his 4th title but he seems to have lost his way this season. Is he on the decline or playing a masterful bluff? He has looked a shadow of his former self lately and most concerningly for him: he’s failed to take a win so far this season. In his past triumphant Tour years he’s managed 5 (2016) / 5 (2015) / 9 (2013) wins (including GC titles) before the start of the race. I think he’s on the decline, but has he realised that and focussed fully on preparing for this race and only this race? Possibly. However, I think it will be hard for him to retain his title but I won’t be surprised if he did! He does have the advantage of having the strongest overall team.

Richie Porte.

Froome’s former team-mate is his biggest threat. The Australian has been on fire this season, winning or challenging for almost every race he’s entered. As I’ve said before, give him a race of 15 minute climbs and you’ll be hard pressed to find someone in the world who can beat him (maybe Dumoulin). There used to be question marks over his ability on the long climbs but he seems to have stepped up in that respect again this season with some big performances. He’ll gain time on his rivals in the TT and more than likely will do on the climbs.

Is he unbeatable? No.

We saw at the Dauphiné that his team is pretty weak and they’ll struggle to protect him in the mountains throughout the race. It’s not so much stages such as the one that finishes on the Izoard that he’ll have problems with. Drop him off at the bottom and he’ll do the rest himself. It’s the days where we have several mountains in quick succession and I am concerned for him on Stage 13.

Nonetheless though, he is the rider to beat this season and that should be no different here.

Nairo Quintana.

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After failing to win the Giro, the Colombian comes here looking for redemption. I have to admit I do have a soft spot for him, although that’s the case for a lot of Colombians, must be something to do with the coffee! I admire a rider that can have a “poor” Tour last year and finish third, while similarly have a terrible Giro this year according to some and finish second. I wish I was that good at something while simultaneously being “rubbish”.

Quintana did look under-cooked at the Giro and I think he had half an eye on the Tour at the time, but like a lot of us, he underestimated how strong Dumoulin was going to be. We could well have been talking about the possibility of him doing the Giro-Tour double.

The route isn’t great for him with a lack of summit finishes, but if he can stay in contention for the final week then he has a great chance to take time on the Galibier and Izoard.

I am concerned though about his level of fatigue though as this is set to be his 4th straight Grand Tour. Maybe he’s got some tips from Adam Hansen?

Alberto Contador.

The most succesful active Grand Tour rider in the peloton, his season has been built around winning the Tour de France. He’s had a string of second places on GC this season, cruelly missing out on Paris-Nice and Andalucia wins by a cumulative margin of 3 seconds. He will no doubt animate the race and it is good to see him enjoying his racing more than when he was at Tinkoff, but I still think he’s past his prime and I can’t see him contending for the win. The same can’t be said for the next rider…

Alejandro Valverde.

Mr Evergreen (not the Green Bullet) as I have decided to call him, has had an astonishing season for a 37-year-old. He’s picked up 3 GC wins this season so far, but they’ve all came in Spain. Finishing 9th at the recent Dauphiné after a month and a half out of racing wasn’t a bad result and he’ll be hoping to have progressed in form since then. This year’s Tour route looks ideal for him and it is crucial for Movistar’s chances to have both him and Quintana in contention going into the last week. He will be close to the podium, but I think he’ll suffer in the final week as he has one eye on the Vuelta where he’ll be outright leader of the team.

Fabio Aru.

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The newly crowned Italian champion has been flying as of late and he will be Astana’s main rider here. According to their press release Fuglsang will be co-leader but I expect he’ll eventually fall by the wayside. However, like Movistar, Astana can benefit massively from having two riders close on GC. They put on an attacking masterclass at the Dauphiné and I expect something similar here. Aru looks back to his 2015 best and after missing the Giro he’ll be wanting to make amends. A podium finish is well within his capabilities and with some luck, he could possibly go a bit better!*

* I am a bit biased though as he is in my season long fantasy team. Think I’ve been brainwashed as well by my neighbours personalised number plate that ends in ARU.

Romain Bardet.

After his spectacular second place last year, the French rider will be hoping for a repeat performance this season. He’s had a relatively quiet season but has been slowly peaking for this race. He’ll love the lack of TT kms (although he’ll still lose plenty of time) and the descents will be to his liking as well. I just don’t think he’ll be up there competing again, and the pressure of being the big French hope might get to him.

Dan Martin.

Another rider who will benefit from the fewer TT kms, he will be looking to improve on his 9th place last year. The route does suit the attacking Irishman who will no doubt squirrel off the front on some stages. His fast sprint could see him pick up some bonus seconds. A dark horse for the podium, I think he’ll fall short.

Esteban Chaves.

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The Smiling Assassin is a rider I’m sure a lot of fans have a soft spot for. Making his Tour debut this year, he returned to racing at the Dauphiné after almost 4 months out with a knee problem. Considering his performances in the Giro and Vuelta last year, if he came into this race fully fit then people would be talking up his chances for the podium Right now he has a question mark beside him, but I think he could surprise again.

If not, team-mate Simon Yates could be Orica’s GC hope. An attacking rider, he will no doubt launch himself off the front on the penultimate climb of a stage, looking to gain time before the final summit. He finished a very respectable 6th at the Vuelta last year but it was a pretty lacklustre field and I’m still not convinced he’s a fully fledged GC rider in a Grand Tour.

Rafal Majka will lead the charge for Bora who look to be trying to win every jersey possible at the race. A quality rider, don’t expect him to see him attacking out of the bunch too much, he’ll just be there in the background, almost anonymously. Free from the shackles of working for another rider, he could well find himself in the top 5 of another GT.

Louis Meintjes a.k.a the ticket collector, will no doubt be seen at the back of the mountain train every time the road goes uphill. A gutsy rider who will hang on for a top 10 at least by the end of the race, I think he might possibly sneak even further up the pecking order.

Ion Izagirre gets his first shot at riding a Grand Tour as leader. A super domestique for Valverde and Quintana in the past, he’s been solid this season but hasn’t set the scene alight. Will he perform consistently throughout the race to be there at the pointy-end come the final week?

Right, I think that’s everyone…

(Yes, I’ve missed out Uran but that’s because I don’t think he’ll be there).

As for an outsider to finish in the top 10, I like the look of Primoz Roglic.

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The Slovenian has upped his game this season and has turned himself into a fully fledged GC rider. An excellent TTer who can also climb well, the lack of mountain top finishes this year will really suit him as the really long climbs are his undoing. The guy can descend as well, rather apt considering his downhill skiing background, which will be very handy during this race.

Watching him fly down the descent during the final TT at Romandie was a thing of beauty. He managed to put 26 seconds into Porte over 11km of descending/flat, it was crazy! It is only his second Grand Tour so there is a chance he’ll be left wanting come the end, but I think he’ll be there fighting for a top 10.

Prediction

Porte will finally shake that “3-week consistency” monkey off his back and take the overall win to continue an unbelievable season!

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With Aru coming second and Quintana third.

Betting

I’m not a huge fan of betting on GC, but I am tempted with something on Aru EW, but I think I’ll wait until after he loses time in the opening TT!

As for now though, I’ve got 2pts on Roglic Top 10 @ 3/1 with Betfred (would take 11/4 that’s available elsewhere)

 

Thanks as always for reading and any feedback as usual is greatly appreciated. Who do you think will win the Tour overall? Will we see any surprises? Or will it be the usual suspects competing for victory? I’ll be back tomorrow with my look at the Green Jersey battle and I promise it will be a lot shorter! Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

Critérium du Dauphiné 2017 Stage 6 Preview; Villars-les-Dombes -> La Motte-Servolex

Today’s Recap

I have to admit that I didn’t see today’s stage so this section will be brief…

The peloton finally decided to work together to catch the break, although from reading online reports it was in the balance for a while. Nonetheless, everything came down to a large bunch sprint and it was the blog’s pick for stage 3 who came good; Phil Bauhaus. A couple of days late but it’s good to see the young German taking his first (of many?) World Tour win.

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Démare continued his good run of form with a second place, with Coquard rounding out the podium.

The attention now switches to the GC riders and climbers of the peloton as we come to the business end of this race tomorrow. Let’s have a look at what’s in store for the riders.

The Route

A relatively easy day out in the saddle to start off with before the riders have to tackle one of the hardest climbs in France!

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We could see a tough fight to get into the morning break along the flatlands at the start of the stage, or it could go from the gun. It’s one of those days! The first test for the peloton will be the Cat-3 Côte de Corlier but it won’t really have any impact on the stage. The road then rolls a bit, going through the feed-zone before the peloton can stretch their climbing legs/get warmed up again on the Côte de Jongieux. At 3.3km long and averaging 5% it’s not tough. However, considering there are only 5.5km from the summit to the bottom of Mont du Chat, then I expect it to be attacked at a fast pace as the GC riders look to position themselves before the monster of a climb. Speaking of which…

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It starts off with an “easy” kilometre of 7.5%, before never dipping below 9% for the rest of the climb. My legs hurt just looking at the profile!

We have max gradients of 15%, but I think it will be the 6th and 7th kilometres where the damage will be done. For those two kilometres it averages 12% and a lot of time can be made here if you’re stronger than your rivals, before it “eases” back down to 9.5% in the final kilometre of the climb.

Once over the top the riders will plunge down the other side on a descent that starts off quite technical, before getting easier around 2/3rds down the climb. The final few kilometres are almost pan flat as we head into the finish town.

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Will this scupper the chances of a solo rider taking the win?

If we do get a small group arriving together at the finish, taking the quicker inside line will be important!

How will the race pan out?

There is a chance the breakaway wins, but I think that’s unlikely considering the GC teams will be fighting for position a lot during the day. Furthermore, with bonus seconds on the line, they will want to give themselves as big a chance as possible of beating Porte in the overall.

Therefore, we’ll see a big GC battle on Mont du Chat with all the favourites coming to the fore!

Contenders

Valverde – On a stage with a descent almost all the way to the finish line but with a flat final 2km, the imperious Spaniard probably has to start as favourite. If he can hold onto the better climbers, he could potentially drop them on the descent or at least out-sprint them at the finish. Saying that, the way Valverde has been climbing this year, it would not surprise me to see him attack everyone on the climb. A strong TT is an indication that he is still in very good form just now!

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Contador – Similar to Valverde, El Pistolero delivered a better than expected TT which highlights that he is going well despite saying that he isn’t too bothered about how he does at the Dauphiné. It’s almost guaranteed that he will attack on the climb, but will it be enough for him to get away? If not, he’ll have to play it cannily as they approach the line as he doesn’t have the best sprint…

Froome – Relatively disappointing in the TT, the Brit has had a “poor” season by his standards so far. Maybe he didn’t want to give it his all in the TT, bluff a bit and not take any risks? But on a course that wasn’t too technical, I think that the power just wasn’t there. I could be wrong though and he could well turn it around. I think he doesn’t care for this race too much and it’s all about the Tour for him!

Porte – GC rider of the season, he blitzed everyone on a relatively flat TT so for him, the power is clearly there. Ridiculously impressive on short 15 minute climbs, I’m intrigued to see if he can sustain the Watts per Kg for a longer effort. He managed that in Paris-Nice and with the way he is riding just now, I can see him doing it again.

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@ammattipyoraily

Obviously those who struggled in the TT might have a chance of stage glory due to being further down on GC and not an immediate threat.

Bardet – A demon descender the Frenchman will not hold anything back on the downhill sections. He’s also not afraid to attack on the uphill and I think we’ll see him try to go early.

Martin, Yates and Aru could also find themself in a similar position!

Prediction

Originally I thought this stage would be great for someone like Bardet. My mind then switched to Valverde. But the more I think about it, the more I think we’ll see Porte ride away from everyone on Mont du Chat and cement his winning position in this race. He has been truly incredible this season, his power output has been amazing. He just needs to stay upright on the descent because I think we could see him crest the summit of the climb with a 30 second advantage.

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Betting

2pts WIN Porte @ 11/2 with Bet365

Thanks as always for reading! Who do you think will win tomorrow? Will a “lesser” GC rider manage to escape or will it be ont of the leading contenders? Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

 

 

Critérium du Dauphiné 2017 Stage 1 Preview; Saint-Étienne -> Saint-Étienne

GC Overview

No stand-alone GC preview from me but it looks set to be a showdown between Porte and Froome. The former won their battle in Romandie, looking imperious. However, the Dauphinè is Froome (and Sky’s) race. They’ve taken the title in 5 out of the last 6 editions and I’m sure the Brit will be here to put down a marker before the Tour.

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The TT should suit both of those guys and with the amount of climbing on offer, then they both should end up on the podium.

However, there is the potential that they could be caught out on the tough stages at the end of the race, particularly the explosive 115km Stage 8 test. We saw that in 2014 when Talansky went on a raid to win the overall. The Cannondale rider looked good in California, is a repeat performance on the cards?

Of course, we have several other contenders such as Valverde, Contador, Bardet, YatesMartin and Chaves (if he’s recovered from his injury) who might spring a surprise and catch the big-two napping on that last day.

Nonetheless, I’ll be boring/safe (delete as appropriate), this is Froome’s Duaphiné to lose. The parcours suits him very well and he seems to go better on the longer climbs in comparison to his former team-mate.

He needs a commanding performance, otherwise the Australian will go into the Tour buoyant and as a very, very serious title contender, if not the favourite!

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

The Route

A tough, tricky and very interesting route to start the race off.

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Lots of small climbs throughout the day but particularly in the circuit on the outskirts of Saint-Étienne which will no doubt shape the race.

I don’t envisage any of the early climbs being attacked aggressively enough for the sprinters to lose contact, so I’ll just skip them! However, they will no doubt stretch the legs of the riders for what is to come.

Instead, I’ll focus on the final 44km and the “interesting” finale.

According to the roadbook, the Côte de Rochetaillée is 3.4km at 5.4%. However, that doesn’t really tell the whole story, so out of interest I made a Strava profile of the final circuit that you can view here.

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They make the climb to be 3.8km at 5.8%. Either way, it’s not what I would call short and not what I would call extremely easy!

Moreover, the little lump/prelude of a climb is roughly 2.5km at 3.5%. It means for the final 44kms the peloton will be climbing for approximately 18km of them, totalling 1350m of elevation gain (~450 per lap according to Strava).

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The majority of the descent towards the line is fairly straightforward and the riders will be thankful to get a few looks at it. However, there is a pair of tight 90-degree right-hand turns just after the Flamme Rouge which could cause some issues.

Positioning will be very important.

The road even rises ever so slightly to the line, but it’s minimal!

How will the stage pan out?

This is a really exciting stage on paper because it is so tough to call.

Will the sprinters make it? Will the punchier riders fight it out? Will we see a late attack stick? Or none of the above?

I’ll stick my neck on the line and suggest that it will actually be a relatively selective bunch that comes to the line, maybe 30-40 riders. A few of the GC teams with fast riders who aren’t as strong in a TT might want to gain a few bonus seconds tomorrow!

My reasoning for this is that tomorrow’s stage reminds me an awful lot of the Barcelona circuit (Stage 7) we had at the Volta Catalunya earlier in the year. On that day they admittedly did many more laps (8 compared to 3), but the climb was actually easier (only 2.2km at 5.1%).

That stage ended with a front group of only 16 riders, but I imagine tomorrow might be just over double in size.

Therefore, that means I’m ruling out the majority of the sprinters, with possibly only Boasson Hagen and Colbrelli making it. Even then though I’m not too sure!

Contenders

Valverde is obviously the first name to spring to mind for a finish like this. He won the stage in Catalunya and has been his usual imperious self this season! Having not raced for a while his form is a bit unknown, but the Spaniard always turns up at the big races. Taking a few bonus seconds here could set him in good stead for an assault on the GC title.

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Kwiatkowski could be the Spaniards biggest challenger. Another rider who has not raced for a while, the former World Champion seems to have returned to his glory days this season having already won Strade Bianche and Milan San Remo. In Pais Vasco he was competing in the flatter reduced sprints and he certainly packs the speed to go well tomorrow.

Ulissi is a rider who on paper would relish this type of finish. Yet, with so many others, it is tough to know where his form currently is! I would not be surprised to see him in the top 5.

Gallopin should like the punchy circuit and with his fast kick he could be another rider challenging for a podium place.

There is one outsider who I would like to mention.

Dan Martin.

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He’s no slouch in a sprint from GC contenders and if we do get a properly reduced group like I think we will then he could sneak a podium place. Will he be given the chance if some of his team-mates make it? Hopefully!

Prediction

A tougher day than some might predict, but Valverde will continue his incredible 2017 with another win!

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With Dan Martin not too far behind him!

Betting

I think the 25/1 on Valverde looks massive value at the moment, it is a shame that I’ve just realised that Bet365 are offering win only ;

SkyBet are offering EW places though so bet with them if you can. I’m not too fussed with having to take Valverde straight up as I’m not allowed more than 0.5pt on with them Sky, so 365 it is for Valverde.

As for Martin, he is “EW value” so only bet if you can get him EW!

2pts WIN Valverde @ 25/1 with Bet365 (same price with SkyBet)

0.5pt EW Dan Martin @ 150/1 with SkyBet.

 

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

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.