Clásica Ciclista San Sebastian 2017 Preview

One of my favourite races of the year returns this weekend for its 37th edition. The Klasikoa marks the shift in the season from post-Tour blues to pre-Vuelta hype! An exciting Spanish one-day race that offers those a chance at glory for Ardennes style riders along with GC talents looking to prove a point after La Grand Boucle.

In 2016 we saw the latter, with Mollema taking a great solo victory.

Cycling: 36th Clasica San Sebastian 2016

He crested the final climb of the day along with Gallopin, Valverde and Rodriguez but the Trek rider decided to seize his opportunity and attack; not looking back until the finishing straight.

Given the two Spaniards discontent for each other, Gallopin was stuck with the world’s hardest negotiating job trying to get the trio to work together. In the end, he did the majority of the work but it was too late. He managed to sprint for 2nd, a slight consolation but it was a case of what could have been for the Frenchman, with Valverde following wheels into third.

Will we see something similar this year?

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

The Route

The organisers have stuck with a very similar route to what we had last year, although there seems to be a lot more climbing earlier in the day compared to 2016.

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@LasterketaBurua

However, I don’t expect the racing to get exciting until the first passage of the Jaizkibel at 127km, just over halfway through the race. Saying that, it probably won’t be until the second passage at roughly 60km to go that we will see the race liven up as this is a potential for a race winning move if the group contains the right riders and teams.

More than likely though, it will come down to the final climb of the Murgil and the descent/run to the line that follows.

Now, I wouldn’t call the climb Tontorra and I’m sure there was a similar issue last year where the organisers labelled the climb Murgil Tontorra when it should be called Murgil Bidea. That’s just me nitpicking though!

The climb itself is short but very sharp. However, its severity does depend on the source you are looking at. On the profile above it is a 1.9km long climb at 10.2% average. That’s close to the 1.7km at 10.3% that Strava suggests it is.

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The profile of which you can view here.

Yet, the organisers on their website claim it is 2.5km at a 9% average. The road does rise a little bit before the climb starts properly but to say it is that length is probably a bit generous. So I think there might be a mistake on their website!

Last year Devenyns managed the Bidea climb in 5’42 according to the Strava segment above. Watching the footage from the race, he seems to crest the summit ~18 seconds after the front 4 so that gives you an idea of the time of the ascent for the front group; 5’24.

Borderline between tipping the scales towards the pure climbers and away from those Ardennes specialists, it should produce an exciting finish.

The race doesn’t end at the summit though and we are often treated to a tactical battle on the false-flat/descent/flat run in to the line.

With no Valverde and Rodriguez here this year, we might actually see a group co-operate if they get away off the front!

Tour Legs?

A big cause of debate is how much does completing a Grand Tour help a riders legs and form. We often hear of riders saying that they feel the benefits of it the following year, but there are also short-term benefits too.

If the race isn’t too hard, then riders can carry their form over to some races the following months and we often see riders use the Vuelta as preparation for the World Championships for example.

The same can be said for the Tour and some of the races that follow at the end of July/start of August.

In fact, the last 10 editions of San Sebastian have been won by a rider who has came from the Tour.

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The table above highlights the top 3 at the last 10 editions of Klasikoa with their GC positions at the Tour in brackets. NR means that the rider did not compete at the Tour.

Looking at the table in more depth, it seems that riding the Tour is key for a good result in San Sebastian with only 6/30 of the podium places occupied by those who didn’t race La Grand Boucle. That trend seems to be even more prevalent as of late as only Meersman and Gilbert have podiumed in the last 5 years without having completed the Tour.

The average GC position of the winner for the last 10 years is 26.8 and with Romain Hardy’s Fortuneo team not competing here, we’ll round-up and go with Dani Navarro for the win…

Joking aside, it does seem that those coming from the Tour have an advantage but these “rules” can be broken!

Let’s have a look at who’ll be in the mix come the end of the race.

Contenders

Mollema.

One of the first four riders to crest the climb and eventual race winner, he returns back this year to defend his title. Having taken his first ever Tour win a few weeks ago he will be buoyed with confidence. Being able to take it “easy” during some of the stages should mean that he is fresher here than he was last year, where he seemed to be dead on his feet by the end of the race. Maybe that will have the opposite effect than what was expected?

Gallopin.

Second place last year, the Frenchman has a very impressive record at this race and it seems to suit him very well. I thought the climb might have been on his limit last year but it is proof that the race suits those who can put out a lot of watts for a short period of time! After his crash in the opening TT he was really attacking in the second half of the Tour, getting into the breakaway every few days. He’s a good candidate for another top 5 result. Team-mate Benoot could also be in the mix.

Kwiatkowski.

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So close to a win in the final TT of the Tour, Kwiatkowski was arguably the best domestique of the whole race. The length and quality of turns he did on the front of the race was incredible. Interestingly though, he lost the majority of his time during the TT on the short climb. So I’m beginning to wonder if he was lost some of his explosivity in exchange for more endurance. Will he be able to follow the best tomorrow?

Landa.

If Kwiatkowski isn’t there, then you would expect Landa to be there or thereabouts. He was incredible for the majority of the Tour but he did seem to tire at the end. Is doing the Giro and Tour finally taking a toll on his legs? I wouldn’t be surprised to see him ride everyone off his wheel tomorrow, or blow up early. I’m leaning towards the latter happening.

Uran.

The Colombian rode the Tour of his life to finish second overall, notching up a stage win along the way. He is clearly in scintillating form but how much has that race taken out of him? This season he seemed to be transforming into more of a one-day racer and he goes well on courses like this; he really should have won Lombardia at the end of last year. He has shown in the past few weeks he has the power to follow the best on the climbs and the speed to finish it off, can he do it again tomorrow?

Barguil.

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The rider who was the focal point of one of my favourite photos from the whole Tour arrives here as Sunweb’s leader, or does he? Dumoulin might have a say in that! Nonetheless, Barguil was incredible over the past three weeks; two stage wins, the KOM jersey and a top 10 on GC. In that final week of the race, he was putting out climbing numbers only the top guys on the overall standings could match. If he has kept that form up, then he should be in the front group on the final climb. Like Uran, he also packs a handy sprint from a small group. This looks like his best opportunity in a while to take a one-day race win!

Van Avermaet.

Bookmaker’s favourite, he is another rider with a good history at this race. He famously crashed into a motorbike while attacking away from everyone in 2015, while last year he couldn’t follow the best on the climb. Fairly disappointing at the Tour, I think we might see a repeat of last year’s performance from him. The same can be said for another rider of a similar build, Gilbert. I think it’s too early after his illness at the Tour for him to go well.

Yates.

Hoping to repeat his brother’s success, the White Jersey winner will come into the race with some pressure on his shoulders. His team tried to set the race up for him last season but he couldn’t follow the pace on the climb, probably because he didn’t have the Tour in his legs! This year he has, but he did look a little bit jaded towards the end of the race. Is he going to do a Mollema though?

There are a handful of possible outsiders who could go well such as Roglic or even Lammertink (Maurits).

As for those who weren’t at the Tour, they’ll find it hard to compete. Nonetheless, I think we could see Lopez, Dumoulin and possibly Fraile be in or around the top 10.

Prediction

Tour legs will shine through so I’ll go for one of the form riders of the race, it is just a case of who…

I have two in mind, either Barguil or Uran.

Hmmmm.

Given his better sprint, I’ll go for Uran to take the win, he is flying just now and a result here will top off a great July for him!

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Betting

I wouldn’t normally go EW on the two of them at their current odds but given that both could sprint for second or third behind a solo winner then I think it is worth it.

1pt EW on them both;

Uran @ 16/1 with Boyles (paying 4 places) would take 14/1 elsewhere

Barguil @ 20/1 with Ladbrokes/Coral

 

Thanks as always for reading, who do you think will win tomorrow? Will we see a small sprint to the line or will a solo rider take the day? Anyway,

They were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

 

 

 

Tour de France 2017 Stage 17 Preview; La Mure -> Serre-Chevalier

Today’s Recap

A day where I had 99% of the stage planned out to perfection, it’s just a shame about the final 1%!

The action was on from the start as riders tried to jump away and we had several strong moves that looked as if they could stick. However, with Matthews attacking, Quick Step were keen to chase it down, even having Dan Martin as the man following the Aussie’s moves. In hindsight though, it was a terrible idea. Kittel blew up on the climb and that was his day done and as several of his team-mates waited to pace him back, Martin was left exposed at the end of the stage.

Speaking of which, we had echelons in the closing 15km. Naesen did an incredible job to bring Bardet to the front group as they were initially distanced. The Frenchman was even quoted post-race saying that “Naesen saved my life”.

Dan Martin and Meintjes were less fortunate though and both ended up shipping 51 seconds, with Contador losing 1’33.

Matthews took the stage with a strong sprint win, beating a fast finishing Boasson Hagen and Degenkolb.

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A deserved victory for the Sunweb rider after his team did the majority of the work all day; I’m sure their DS will be pleased! The result now moves him closer to Kittel in the Green Jersey competition, only 29 points behind the German.

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

The Route

The day that in my GC preview I heralded as arguably the Queen stage.

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Starting off fairly tamely, the riders will face a shallow descent before 10km of uncategorised rising roads before the first official climb of the day begins. At only 5.1km and averaging 6.7% it’s not too difficult an opening test and I’d be very surprised if we saw some GC movement here. Well, there is one rider I think might give it a go but I’ll get to that later. What could be more interesting though is if Matthews makes the split, which I think he has a very good chance at doing.

Once over the top of the climb, the riders will descend into the valley where we have the intermediate sprint point of the day. If Matthews is capable of winning that, then he reduces the gap to Kittel in the Green Jersey competition to only 9 points.

That would certainly spice things up for the following stages!

Soon after the sprint point the riders will face the first of two HC climbs on the day; the Col de la Croix Fer. The paltry average of 5.2% is quite deceptive as the climb goes up in steps, with several kilometres above 9% but also false-flat or descending kilometres. However, it is too far out to be of any major issue and will more than likely be a place where some riders get shed out of the back, rather than anyone go off the front.

The riders will have just over 40km from the summit of the Croix Fer until they hit the foot slopes of the climbs that will shape the day; the double-header of Télégraphe and Colombier.

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I don’t really need to go into detail about those climbs too much, the graphic above tells you enough! One thing is for sure, I think the Télégraphe is harshly categorised as a Cat-1 as it certainly could be an HC climb.

The steep closing ramps combined with high altitude of the Galibier provide the perfect launchpad for an attack from the GC favourites.

Will they be able to make it stick on the run in? It depends on who they are/who is behind and if they are co-operating. The descent averages -4% for the final 28km but it is a lot steeper at the start and flattens off a bit in the final 6kms.

Could we see a reduced sprint contest the stage?

How will the stage pan out?

With the first half of the stage not being conducive to a big GC hit-out there is a chance that a big breakaway forms on the Cat-2 climb and builds up a massive advantage. It of course depends on who makes that move as to how big the gap will be, while also depending on the attitude of Sky. Will they want to chase the stage win?

Having conducted a Twitter poll, the most popular selection is a break win but the verdict is split, with there being no majority. Another hung vote!

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I’m really unsure as to how I think it will go as well. On one hand, I really fancy the break to get a big lead over the first two climbs and that be that. Yet, I have a nagging suspicion that we could see a GC battle as people attempt to put Froome under pressure.

Right…

We’ll see a strong break go with representatives from a lot of teams up there but Sky will outfox them all by letting the break get too far ahead so that having team-mates up the road will become redundant.

Therefore, we’ll see the break fight out for the stage.

(Maybe).

B is for Breakaway and…

Bakelants.

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A rider who as impressed me in the past few Grand Tours that he has been in, the Belgian has been active so far this race, making the breakaway on a few occasions. AG2R will want men up the road for both the team classification but also for the possibility to help Bardet later but if his advantage is too big then Bakelants might be given the nod to go for the win. He’s the right mix of strong climber but far enough back on GC not to be a real threat. Compared to some of the purest climbers he might struggle, but in the final week of a Grand Tour you always get some shock results.

Buchmann.

0161 Manny on the map? Well, the German has been a bit off the radar so far this race after his very impressive display at the Dauphiné. An attacking rider, I’m surprised not to have seen him in more breakaways. Instead, he seems to have tried to follow the GC guys as long as possible before fading away. On his day though, I think he could contend for a stage and no doubt Bora will be looking to infiltrate any move, with Buchmann being their best hope for a result.

Of course there are plenty of other riders who could feature tomorrow, depending on what type of stage we get.

Barguil will no doubt be attacking off the front chasing mountain points and securing that title, along with another stage win.

I also have a feeling that Contador might try something but he’ll struggle to win the day as the finish isn’t great for him. He would have to drop everyone on the final climb, which is certainly possible if he has re-found his climbing legs from somewhere.

There then is of course the chance that the GC teams do actually close things down and we get a showdown between the favourites on the Galibier.

Prediction

I’ll go for Buchmann to take the win from the break, sprinting from a small selection that regrouped on the descent.

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Betting

0.25pt EW on both of the selections;

Bakelants @ 250/1

Buchmann @ 125/1

Tomorrow is definitely a day for in-play though once the race situation has settled, hence why I’ve only spread 1pt across a couple of longshots.

 

Thanks as always for reading. Who do you think will win tomorrow? Will it be the break, or will the GC riders come out to play? Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

 

 

 

 

Liège-Bastogne-Liège 2017 Preview

La Doyenne or “the Old Lady” for the Anglicised among you, returns on Sunday for its 103rd edition!

Normally a very attritional race in its own right, last year’s race had the added dimension of truly awful weather with snow and rain throughout the day. In the end it was Wout Poels who took the victory from a small group that had escaped on the penultimate climb and stayed away until the end, sealing Sky’s first Monument win. Albasini and Rui Costa rounded out the podium.

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Poels isn’t here this year to defend his crown so it opens the door for a new winner, or one of the previous champions to step up to the mantle again.

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

The Route

258km of rolling road through the Ardennes awaits the peloton.

 

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Don’t let the fact that there are only 10 categorised climbs on course fool you, this is a tough and attritional race where the road is up and down a lot throughout the day.

The first 160km will serve as a warm-up for the riders and we’ll see our usual relatively large break go composed mainly of the Pro-Conti teams with a handful of World Tour representatives in their for good measure.

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Credit: Velorooms

Once we get to 90km to go, the climbs start in earnest, beginning with the Côte de Pont. But it’s the Col du Rosier which could be the site of the first potentially race winning attack I think. At 4.4km in length it is the longest ascent of the race and averaging 5.9% it is steep enough to gain some distance with a strong attack.

From there they tackle a descent before the Maquisard. However, it is probably the final three climbs that this race is famous for.

The Côte de la Redoute comes at roughly 40km to go.

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Short and steep, it’s one that might entice the punchy riders into a move depending on the race situation.

Next up after that is the Roche-aux-Faucons, with the Côte de Saint-Nicolas coming at under 10km to the finish line.

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There’s little time for the race to regroup once over the summit as they descend before starting the approach into Ans.

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The closing climb up to the finish line averages 5.3% for the 1.5km so isn’t overly difficult but at the end of a tough day riders will still need something left in the tank to cope with it.

How will the race pan out?

I think our aggressive Spring racing will continue here and we’ll see a similar race to Amstel. Plenty of teams have several options in their ranks and I would be very surprised to see them all happily wait for the final climb like they do in Fleche.

So we could well see some relatively serious attacks come on the Rosier. Who makes it and what teams are represented will then shape the rest of the race.

If we get strong enough riders from Movistar/Sky/BMC/Orica/Quick Step then it stays away in my opinion. Well, that is of course if they continue to work hard while out in front and everyone co-operates. Although we did see that the front group managed to stay ahead at Amstel even with JJ Rojas sandbagging them.

From there it’s just about being not only one of the strongest riders but one of the most tactically astute.

Or of course, it could all come back together and we get an aggressive final couple of climbs like we had in last year’s edition.

Contenders

With it being such an open race there is no clear favourite in my opinion, but Valverde is most definitely the closest to one that we have. Imperious on the Huy midweek, he seems to get better with age which is ridiculous when you consider his already illustrious career. In Amstel his Movistar team was caught out and probably would have preferred a different rider up the road. I’m sure they won’t make the same mistake twice but their team still doesn’t look that great. Having already won this race 3 times, he knows what it takes and it wouldn’t surprise me to see him on the top step of the podium again come Sunday afternoon!

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Team Sky in theory pose the biggest threat to the Spaniard as they have the great 1-2 punch of Kwiatkowski and Henao (Sergio), heck, you could even through Rosa into that mix too. This race looks best suited to the former world champion though. He’s really regained his footing as one of the best one-day racers in the world this year. With a monument win already under his belt this season he could well go on to make it two!

Dan Martin is QuickSteps leader for this race and rightly so. A former winner here, this is one of his favourite races in the calendar and he always seems to find himself at the pointy end of the day. Finishing 2nd to Valverde (again) on Wednesday, he’ll be hoping to go one better this Sunday. Yet, I have my eye on one of his team-mates and there is certainly some fantasy-league bias to this one; Petr Vakoc. With no Gilbert or Alaphilippe the Czech rider is co-leader elect and has all the abilities to go well on Sunday in my opinion. The way he easily bridged across to Wellens in Brabantse shows how well he is going because Wellens isn’t exactly short of form at the moment. He was unlucky to have suffered a mechanical at a bad time in Amstel and I get the feeling that we haven’t seen the last of him over this past week…

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BMC will have two leaders in this race who aren’t clear favourites according to the bookmakers, although I’m unsure as to why one of them isn’t. Those two riders are of course Teuns and Van Avermaet! The former was excellent in La Fleche, taking a great third place. It’s nice to see him living up to the lofty expectations that were put on him after his breakthrough performance in the 2014 Tour of Britain. He certainly has a good opportunity on Sunday to repeat that result. However, it’s his team-mate GVA that interests me more. According to the bookmakers he’s a relative outsider and I just can’t get my head around why! Yes, he was only 12th place in Amstel and looked jaded chasing the front group, but that’s because he was the rider shouldered with most of the workload. The climbs here aren’t too tough and the Olympic Champion has a very, very good chance of taking his second monument of the year.

I expect an attacking race from Orica as they have plenty of good climbers in their team. Likewise the same can be said for Cannondale and Astana. Yet, I just don’t see any of their riders winning this race.

I would love to see Haas go better than his 4th in Amstel for Dimension Data, but he was struggling with illness in Fleche. Maybe it was just a small bug and he’s managed to turn it around?

Izagirre is dangerous for Bahrain, so too are the UAE duo of Costa and Ulissi. I think the Italian will have a really good race here as he prepares for the Giro.

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He impressed me a lot in Pais Vasco, especially his 8th place in the TT. Since then he was in the second group in Amstel and finished in 10th place in Fleche. Not bad form!

Bardet and Barguil will hope to top 10, but this is me just filling up some words and naming some more names as I’ve already suggested my winner…

Prediction

Greg Van Avermaet to show that Amstel was just a blip and he rounds out one of the best spring classics seasons of all time with a fine victory in Liege!

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Betting

Set my stalls out with this tweet earlier this week and again this morning;

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I’ll be marking him down as 200/1 with 0.5pt EW on. He’s into 150/1 now with most places and I still think there’s value to be had with that, especially if you can get the 4 places available.

I went a bit heavy-handed on Vakoc thinking I’d only have two picks and that would be it, but I’m going to have three now so the stakes have risen. It is the last monument for a while though so YOLO as the kids these days say…

0.5pt EW Vakoc @ 200/1

1pt EW Ulissi @ 66/1 with Bet365 (take the 50/1 and 4 places available elsewhere)

2pts EW GVA @ 22/1 with Coral who’re paying 4 places. (would take 20s)

 

Thanks as always for reading and any feedback is greatly appreciated like normal. Who do you think will win La Doyenne? Will we see an attacking race or will it come down to a relatively large group heading towards Liege? I’ll be back again with my Liege Femmes preview so please return for that! Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

Vuelta Ciclista a Andalucia (Ruta del Sol) 2017 – GC Preview

Last year we saw an exciting race where it looked as if Tejay Van Garderen was going to win his first European Stage race and break that duck. However, Valverde absolutely blew everyone away on the final day of racing and won the GC title by almost 30 seconds! With Van Garderen and Mollema rounding out the podium.

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Valverde is back again this year: looking to make it 5 wins in 6 years, but can he do it? Let’s have a look at what is in store for the riders.

The Route

Stage 1 and the organisers have decided to start off with a nice “rolling” day.

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Tough start to the race, with an interesting climb at the end of the day. Should be a great watch, with a lot of potential outcomes!

Stage 2 and another rolling day, but this time with a mountain top finish.

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A tough 5km climb with some steep sections in it and a kilometre or so of false-flat at the end. Solo winner or a sprint between the climbers?

Stage 3 and a short individual TT.

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An interesting profile once again, we are in Spain after all! A nice climb for the riders to open their legs before a long shallow descent, another slight rise, followed with a steeper descent and a kick up to the line. Will the specialists or GC riders prevail here?

Stage 4.

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Finally a stage for the sprinters or will the breakaway have their say? Word of warning, it is a very technical finish!

Stage 5.

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Another day for the fast men? No doubt we’ll get a strong breakaway with that tough start!

GC Contenders

The greatest GT rider of his generation is here, Alberto Contador, and this race marks his first outing for new team Trek Segafredo. He had a fairly solid season last year, winning Pais Vasco and Burgos GC but solid is all I can really say about it. In comparison to his lofty expectations and performances in the past, it was almost a disappointment! Will the change of team and a new (possibly better) working environment revitalise him? With only one mountain top finish he’ll have to be on good form to get a race winning gap as I imagine he’ll lose a bit of time on the TT.

Team Sky arrive with a very strong squad with Poels, Landa and Rosa all potentially being leaders of the team. The latter pair haven’t done any racing so far this year so their form is a bit unknown but Poels finished 4th on GC at Valenciana. He had an off day on stage 2, but was fairly strong on stage 4. He was flying at the start of last year and this could be his only GC chance this season. I expect a good performance from him!

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The man with the secret to eternal youth, Alejandro Valverde, is back to defend the title he won last year. A commanding win in Almeria on Saturday he clearly is in great shape already at the start of the season. He’ll hope to be close on the time trial and smoke everyone up the mountain top finish. Certainly not out of the question!

Former Movistar rider Ion Izaggire will be looking to beat his old suitors here. Over the past couple of seasons he has grown into a great one-week stage racer and will hope to be in or around the podium places here. His strong TT abilities will be key to that. Sixth place on his first race back, he seems to be going ok but there is a big difference between a 5-stage race and a one-day effort.

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FDJ are another team with a couple of options here. Pinot was way off the pace in Valenciana but that was due to him being ill. We saw last year just how good he can be in these types of week-long stage races, so he can’t be discounted if back in reasonable nick. With him, he has two lieutenants who both could achieve a top 10 on GC if luck goes their way, in the form of Reichenbach and Ludvigsson. I do have a soft spot for the Swede and it won’t be the last time I’ll be mentioning him this year!

Uran, Barguil and even Wellens are others to keep an eye out for.

Prediction

In the form that he’s in just now, El Bala wins the race comfortably and another race/number is added to his already incredibly tally!

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Betting

Only SkyBet have the race priced up so far and have Valverde just ahead of Contador. Bet365 will be offering odds for the race, but only tomorrow…

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I doubt they’ll be offering anything spectacularly different price wise though. So that being said

0.5pt EW on a Valverde/Costa/Roglic (giving away my Algarve preview here) treble at 54.45/1 with  Skybet. I wouldn’t normally go EW on this but I think they should all podium so it covers the stake in that case.

 

Thanks for reading, as usual any feedback is greatly appreciated. How do you think the race will pan out; can anyone beat Valverde and Contador? Anyway,

Thos were My Two Spokes Worth.

La Vuelta a España 2016 GC Preview

La Vuelta a España 2016 GC Preview

Jeez, this year has went fast and the third and final Grand Tour is upon us! Arguably the most exciting of the Grand Tours, the Vuelta always offers exciting and unexpected racing, throwing up a few surprises here and there.

Last year saw Tom Dumoulin take centre stage as a GC prospect and it looked for a while that he was going to take the leaders jersey all the way to Madrid. However, his well-documented and massive capitulation on the penultimate stage saw him slip from first to 6th on GC. Fabio Aru took a well-planned win, with Rodriguez and Majka rounding out the podium.

As I’m doing daily previews for the stages, I won’t focus on the route here at all. You just need to know that it’s a typical Vuelta route: tough!

Previous Winner Patterns?

The Vuelta start-list is always full of riders who are at different parts of their own personal seasons. Some will be coming here from the Tour, hoping to continue the good form that they had then or if they were misfiring there, try to prove the doubters wrong here. Others come to Spain after a block of training, or doing some of the smaller preparation races, having possibly done the Giro earlier in the year.

Traditionally the Vuelta is the key preparation race for the Worlds. But considering the very tough nature of the race this year, and the sprinter friendly World Champs course most have decided against it.

It’s therefore hard to gauge just where everyone is at. Which is great from a viewing perspective, not from a preview/prediction perspective!

Is there are a clear pattern from previous winners or those in the top 10? Hmmm, let’s have a look.

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The table above shows the top 10 on GC at the Vuelta, and if they completed another GT in the same year. In brackets is the finishing position at that Grand Tour.

A quick glance and it seems obvious that the winner will be someone who hasn’t completed a GT in that year, with 2015 being a bit of an irregularity. Everything seems to point towards an Alberto Contador win here. However, a more in depth analysis shows that the other years results are actually a bit more odd.

In 2014, both Froome and Contador crashed out of the Tour and used the good legs that they would have had to smash the opposition here. Especially El Pistolero who won by over a minute. Would they have done as well if they’d finished the Tour? It’s hard to say.

2013 and Horner. One of those surprises that I mentioned earlier!

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Swiftly moving on…

2012 saw Contador win after his return from his back-dated drugs ban that saw him miss the Tour that year. Would he have been competing for the win here even if he was at the Tour? Quite possibly, he always seems to go well in Spain, but again, it’s hard to know!

Finally, 2011 had the another unexpected winner Juan Jose Cobo, followed by Tour DNF Wiggins in second. This was the race where Froome came to the fore as a potential GC candidate, with a real mix bag of a top 10.

What can we take from this? There’s an equal split (15 each) for those finishing the Giro or Tour getting a top 10 at the Vuelta. With those not completing a GT earlier in the year taking up the remaining 20 spaces.

If you narrow it down to the top 5 the split is; Giro (7), Tour (11), Neither (7). So when it comes to the business end, it seems that doing the Tour is the best route into the Vuelta. Although looking at the finishing positions of the riders, doing well at the Tour isn’t always the best. Interestingly, those who finish around 20-30th go equally as well, if not better than those on the podium at the Tour. In fact, making the top-3 at the Giro seems to be a more consistent path to the top of the pile at the Vuelta.

All of this of course, is discredited if you are a certain Alejandro Valverde, who’s done both this year!

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Who are the riders to watch then?

As you can probably guess from my yabbering on above, I’m finding this one particularly hard to nail down. There are so many variables regarding riders form etc, that makes this the toughest Grand Tour to predict!

And with almost 750 words wrote up to this point, I really don’t want to keep you here for the same again so I’ll keep this next part short(ish) and maybe sweet. With a sentence or so for each challenger.

Splitting the riders into the categories above (Giro/Tour/Neither) here are those who could make a mark at this years Vuelta.

Giro

Chaves – The runner up at the Giro is a favourite rider of mine and he made his “breakthrough” performance here last year. He’ll be aiming for a podium spot that looks possible.

Kruisjwijk – For so long it looked like he was set to win the Giro before his crash. He’ll be back to prove that wasn’t a one off. If he climbs like he did at the Giro, the others will be worried.

Atapuma – 9th at the Giro, he will probably be 3rd choice for BMC but can’t be discounted. Another top 10 is possible.

Scarponi – arguably the best climber at the Giro this year, he will probably be working for Lopez but the veteran will be up there on all of the mountain top finishes.

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Brambilla – Bit of an outsider but he rode excellently at the Giro. A top 10 would be a great result!

Tour

Froome – The Tour winner will look to do the double here. If he’s performing like he was in France then it is very possible. A downside for him is his weaker team.

Quintana – Third for him ended up being a good result, he seemed to be struggling through the whole race. If he’s got over his illness/whatever was wrong then he will be a force to be reckoned with.

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Valverde – Mr Consistent has done both GTs so far, winning this well be a step too far for him. A top 10 would be a fantastic achievement for him!

Meintjes – The peloton ticket-collector, I really like his style of riding. However, I think it will be too much for him to go well here, he’s too young to do back-to-back GTs.

Barguil – Never really got going at the Tour. His two professional wins came at the 2013 Vuelta. Another stage win here would be good.

Van Garderen – Struggled in France and BMC are supposedly working for Sanchez. He’ll still be protected and has the pedigree to compete if he’s refound his form.

Neither

Contador – The favourite for the race, he comes here after winning in Burgos. He isn’t as good as he used to be, but he always goes well in Spain. His team is weak, a big hinderance to him.

Yates – Someone I’ve not seen mentioned much, if Adam can, then so can Simon! Might be supporting Chaves, but it’s more beneficial having two riders in contention than just one.

Sanchez – Supposedly leading BMC, I don’t know why. I guess a top 10 is good enough for them.

Lopez – The young Astana rider is the real deal, winner of the Tour de Suisse. However, this is his first GT and I think it will be too much for him. A stage win or the KOM jersey should be his goal in my opinion.

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Carthy – A great talent, but he’s fully aware that his first Grand Tour is a learning experience. Not sure what to expect from him, a stage win would be great!

There are others too that I haven’t mentioned, such as Talanksy and Gesink, but I don’t think they’ll be up to much. I would like to see Dombrowski go well.

Prediction

Did I mention already that this is a tough race to predict and that I’m struggling? 😉

So here goes…

Despite suggesting that those who podium at the Tour don’t always go well here, and that those coming from the Giro and no GTs have a much better chance.

Quintana will put his “poor” Tour behind him and take the win here. It’s amazing to think that he struggled all the way around France, yet still had enough quality to finish on the podium. He is one of the most naturally talented Grand Tour riders! I hope for him more than anything, that he has recovered to go well and prove any doubters wrong. He has the strongest team here to support him, which as we saw with Froome at the Tour, is vital. I hope to be shouting “QUINTANA, QUINTANA, QUINTANA!” several times this month!

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Sorry Nairo, I’ve just put the #HaugheyCurse on you 😦

Betting

I don’t do GC betting week 1 of a GT. Almost tempted by an EW play on Yates at 100/1 but I’m sticking to my rules!

 

Thanks again for reading! Hope you enjoyed the preview, who do you think wins the most unpredictable race of the year? We should be in for some exciting racing over the next 3 weeks, I can’t wait! Any feedback as usual is greatly appreciated.

I was intending on doing a points & KOM preview but I don’t think I’ll have the time. Instead, I’ll share any thoughts on Twitter so give me a follow on there @JamieHaughey. Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

 

TDF Stage 15 Preview: Bourg-en-Bresse -> Culoz

Today’s Recap

Something happened and someone won a bike race.

I’m writing these previews (this one and stage 16) in advance and probably won’t be doing a daily recap. Just a heads up!

The Route

Oh my, what a route! A brutally tough day all packed in to 159km of racing.

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An awful lot of climbing metres, both categorised and uncategorised. 2 x Cat-3s, 1 x Cat-2, 2x Cat-1s, 1x Cat-HC.

The riders start on an uncategorised climb, followed by undulating roads before reaching the Cat-1, Col du Berthiand which is 6km at 8.1%. That is not how I like my eggs in the morning. If the pace is high here, which it might be if the break hasn’t formed, then we could be saying bye to the sprinters for the day.

A slight descent followed by an uncategorised 8km (roughly) drag. Looks to me to be about a 2.75% going off the scale. Again followed by a descent that leads us into our second categorised climb of the day the Col du Sappel. Being 8.8km in length with an average gradient of only 5.6% the riders will welcome it. I expect the breakaway will have formed by here so the peloton should be on a go slow to let any team-mates who were dropped back into the bunch. Looking at you Rowe and Stannard!

Once they make the crest there is a fast descent before they start climbing again. This time it’s the Cat-3 Col de Pisseloup. With a relatively shallow gradient (5.8% over 4.9km), it could be an aptly named climb for a nature break!

The stage then approaches the Intermediate Sprint point within the valley. We might see Sagan in the break and taking the points here, that would not surprise me! Almost straight after the sprint point the road starts climbing again and we have another relatively easy climb. The Col de la Rochette tops out at 1113m, with the climb itself being 5.1km in length and a 5.4% average gradient. Easiest climb of the day!

Again, the race descends and ascends in the valley before the HC climb of the Grand Colombier is tackled. This climb combines steepish gradients with a long distance to travel, coming in at 12.8km averaging 6.8%. After what has come before it, this will sting some legs. If we did have a regrouping of the peloton before, the race will really be on here. The sprinters will go out the back and that will be them for the day, a battle of survival to make the time cut. The climb is very irregular which suits some riders more than others, there are steep 14% sections, but false flats too. It will be hard for the riders to get into a proper rhythm.

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They then have a long descent and a ride through the finish line before tackling the Grand Colombier again, but this time it’s the Laces edition. Pretty much there will be a load of hairpin bends and the climb will look very picturesque. Doubt it will have anything on the Lacets de Montvernier though! This passage is shorter (8.6km) but steeper (averaging 7.6%). I expect there to be GC time gaps here, some riders might go pop.

There is a chance for them to regroup on the descent and flat to the finish line and we might see 5 GC guys come home together.

How will the stage pan out?

I think this stage 100% is a breakaway day. Sky/Froome have a comfortable lead over all the other contenders so can ride a more conservative and defensive race. Like I said above, they’ll be happy to let a break go (if there’s no one dangerous) so that the likes of Rowe and Stannard can make it back and do the majority of the work in the opening 2/3rds of the stage. They won’t be too bothered about the stage/bonus seconds going to the break so I think once again we’ll see a battle on two fronts.

Like usual I’ll name 3 potential riders who could win from a break.

Jarlinson Pantano.

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The Colombian took a great win at the Tour de Suisse and this stage looks ideal for him. He’s not any threat on GC so will be given the freedom. Furthermore, he’s put in a few probing attacks from the peloton on some of the mountain finishes, showing good intent. More importantly, he has a very good turn of speed from a reduced group so he can win from a sprint or solo.

Wout Poels.

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One of Sky’s key men in the second half of a GT, he could be sent up the road to mark satellite riders from rival teams. If the break gets a big advantage like I think it well, he definitely has the credentials to win from it. I don’t think anyone will be able to climb better than him, the question will be can they match him?

Jan Bakelants.

14-02-2016 La Mediterraneenne; Tappa 04 Bordighera; 2016, Ag2r La Mondiale; Bakelandts, Jan; Bordighera;

The Belgian has had a solid year so far, picking up a win way back in his first race of the season. Since then he’s plodded along so to say, but placed a rather unassuming 17th on GC at the Dauphiné. A very good result for him. He’s not featured personally so far this Tour but has done a lot of work for Bardet. Also, he recently became a father on the day of stage 11. He hasn’t been in the break yet but a stage like this would suit him and possibly act as a satellite rider for Bardet, although as I’ve said numerous times I think the break makes it. I’m not sure how long he’ll stay in the race, he may even leave on the next rest day. It would be some way to go out with a stage win!

Prediction

The break makes it, with Pantano coming home the winner. We get another race on two fronts with Froome being comfortable all day. He’ll come to the line with another two riders; Mollema and Yates. With the other GC riders splintered behind!

Betting

No idea of the odds as I’m writing this, I’ll be backing my three break selections. No wild stakes, but I’ll be favouring Pantano.

Hope you enjoyed the blog, there is a good chance I won’t see it until tomorrow but any feedback is great as usual. I’m also writing the stage 16 preview in advance just after this. I thought Monday was the rest day but it’s not. Annoying because there is no way I’ll manage to do anything on Sunday hungover and without a laptop. Also apologies if there are any mistakes in this, it’s currently half 12 on Friday night/Saturday morning and I still have Stage 16 to do. Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

TDF Stage 7 Preview: l’Isle-Jourdain -> Lac de Payolle

Today’s Recap

Not been a great start to the Tour prediction wise as Cav excellently sprints out of Kittel’s slipstream to take the win. His third of the race so far! He really has turned a leaf this Tour.

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Etixx never really got a train organised at all which was very disappointing. They made a hurried effort at around 2km to go, but it meant Kittel had to expend unnecessary energy to get to the front. Then he hit the front too early which was to the delight of all the other sprinters, especially Cavendish who came out from behind him in the final 100m. A nod must go to Dan McLay who sprinted superbly to 3rd place. If the finish was another 50m down the road he could have climbed further up the podium! Anyway, onto tomorrow’s stage.

The Route

Flat(ish) then a big ol’ hill.

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A flat opening 50km of the stage will undoubtedly result in a very fast pace within the peloton as riders try to get into the break of the day. The road then goes through several rises and falls in terrain before we reach the first categorised climb of the day, the Cat 4 Côte de Capvern. A long but fairly shallow climb at 7.7km in length but with inly a 3.1% average gradient. Well, that’s according to the official statistics. As you can see on the profile above the road actually rises before and after the classification. This actually makes the average gradient even shallower (2.3%) but the road rises up for around 16km. We could see those struggling with injury here. It’ll be a hard day for them thereafter!

We actually get the Intermediate Sprint before the road starts climbing up towards the final climb of the day. Sagan will be hoping to take as many points here as possible. He’ll want to keep Cavendish in close quarters.

Soon after we are onto the first Cat-1 climb of the race, the Col d’Aspin.

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A long climb that starts off fairly easy, its toughest section comes in the middle with a kilometre at 9.5%. Not the toughest of climbs but this will be the first shake up of the GC. Anyone on an off day could lose a fair chunk of time tomorrow.

The descent itself isn’t too technical, however there are some switch backs right at the end.

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The road then kicks up again to the finish line, under 3% average for the final couple of kms.

How will the stage pan out?

Normally I’d be all over the idea that a break makes it this stage and it seems that a few of you agree.

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Massive sample size. Reliable.

However, I think there are several circumstances that will ensure it doesn’t.

  1. It’s the first mountain stage and although it doesn’t finish atop the mountain, I expect Sky to keep to tradition and test out their GC rivals.
  2. Along with Sky testing out their rivals, Movistar will be keen to impose themselves too. Froome got a bit caught off guard at the end of stage Stage 5. They’ll see if they can do the same here.
  3. Time bonuses. Maybe not crucial at the end of the Tour but they certainly do help
  4. The most important reason for me. Contador. The Spaniard has looked shaky since his fall and the other GC teams have to go in for the kill here. If they don’t take advantage of him now, he’ll make their race a nightmare later on.
  5. The descent off the climb is short, it will be hard for any riders dropped to make up time (unlike stage 8) so any gaps made will probably stick.

Therefore, I think we get some kind of GC shake up. Maybe not substantial, but there will be some time gaps.

So the two main options for me are a GC bunch sprint, or a well-timed late attack. I’ll go through both of these possibilities.

This stage looks tailor-made for Valverde.

Vuelta Spagna 2015

He should be able to cope with the climb and will be the fastest of the GC men left at the end. Will he get given some freedom by Quintana? I think so.

Will Julian Alaphilippe make it over the climb? He was struggling over the smaller climbs on stage 5. I don’t think he’ll make it here. If he does, then he will definitely be a danger-man in the sprint. Likewise, so will his team-mate Dan Martin. I think the Irishman is more likely to make it to the finish. He has a finishing sprint that will worry Valverde and we’ve seen in other races that he’s not scared to attack.

Who else could contest a GC sprint? Well Rodriguez came from nowhere on stage 5. He’s someone who could definitely get involved. Bardet, Barguil, Kelderman & Yates all have a decent turn of speed.

For a late attacker the rider will need to be able to make it over the climb with the GC group and then attack on either the descent or on the uphill drag towards the finish. So they’ll need to be either a) a good descender b) or someone who’s not deemed an overall GC threat.

Someone along the likes of Rolland fits that briefing perfectly. An attacking rider, he won’t be afraid of failing. The main GC guys won’t be too concerned about him for the overall and he could well steal a march on them. Meintjes could also be the type of rider that gets away. He won’t be respected as much in regards to the overall jersey so a perfectly timed move could see him get away.

Team mates will be important in the finale to mark and close down the attacks. Team mates will also be useful to attack themselves. Quintana, Froome and Pinot were the only contenders to have riders left with them at the end of stage 5. I would love if Pinot’s team-mate, Sebastien Reichenbach, was given the freedom to get away and take a historic win.

The weather may also play its part on tomorrow’s stage with thunderstorms and rain forecast throughout the day. This could nullify the stage in the sense that the GC riders don’t want to risk it, or could easily do the opposite where they try to put pressure on the other riders. Who knows?!

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Weather forecast for Arreau (just before the start of Col d’Aspin)

Prediction

As stated above, I don’t think a break makes it tomorrow. They have more of a chance the following stage. So it’s really a decision on if we get a late attack stick, or some kind of GC sprint. Either way, it will be a strong climber who wins the stage. I like Rolland’s attacking style and he has the right set of attributes/credentials to get away from the main bunch. The stage is set for him to take his third Tour stage!

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Betting

Rolland 0.6pt EW @66/1 with PaddyPower (if you can bet there) they’re paying 5 places. Would take down to 50/1.

Kelderman 0.3pt EW @66/1 with Coral or Skybet (both 4 places). Again, would take 50/1.

Reichenbach 0.1pt EW @250/1 with Bet365. Would take 200/1 available with Sky too.

 

Hope you enjoyed my thoughts on tomorrow’s stage. How do you think it will pan out? It’s a very interesting one to try to call! I’m just optimistic and want an exciting stage. Any feedback is more than welcome. Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

 

 

 

 

Tour de France – White Jersey preview

Tour de France – White Jersey preview

The competition for the baby-faced riders of the Tour de France, the White Jersey adopts the same approach as the Yellow Jersey but with the only condition being that the riders have to be 25 or under at the start of the calendar year.

It’s a breeding ground for future Grand Tour stars (although some of them are already well established). With the likes of Quintana (2015 and 2013), Pinot (2014), Tejay van Garderen (2011) and Andy Schleck (2010) all having won it recently.

Who qualifies this year?

Warren Barguil.

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National and bookies favourite, Warren Barguil comes into this race after a stellar performance at the Tour de Suisse where he finished 3rd on GC. However, I fear going that deep and performing that well at that race will have a negative effect on his aspirations here. The TDS was a lot more gruelling than the other preparation race (the Dauphiné) which is where all of the main stars went.

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I’m not sure he’ll have enough left over in the final week.

Adam Yates.

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Second favourite for the Jersey, Yates has performed well over week-long stage races recently, finishing 7th at the Dauphiné. However, his forte seems to be the lumpy one day classics. As I said in my KOM preview, Orica come to this race without GC ambitions and will be on the hunt for stages. This will be the same for Yates, therefore, I can’t see him winning this jersey.

Louis Meintjes.

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A Carlton Kirby favourite, the South African has had a pretty poor season so far. However, things seem to be on the upward trajectory after finishing 9th on GC at the Dauphiné. A great climber on his day he finished 10th on GC at the Vuelta last year after having to withdraw from the Tour. He’ll have learnt a lot from those races, both physically and mentally and will benefit from it this year. With normal GC rider Rui Costa going for stage wins, I think Meintjes will be given the all clear to go for the classification. He has a very good chance in my opinion.

Wilco Kelderman.

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Kelderman has for a while been touted as the next big thing in Dutch cycling, being a potential challenger for the Tour in the future. He’ll like the amount of TT-ing in this race and that puts him at a big advantage over his competitors. However, after looking strong at the opening of the TdS he faded quite badly towards the end of the race. Maybe saving something for here? With Gesink out of the squad he should be their main GC hope, but Lotto insist that he will have a Carte Blanche. Too many times in the past I’ve been let down/disappointed by his performance. I can’t see that changing here.

Julian Alaphilippe.

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If Meintjes was a favourite of Kirby’s, I can’t put into words how much he loves Alaphilippe! I might set up a ticker each stage to see how many times he’s mentioned. Anyway, the Frenchman has had a very good middle part of the season after an illness/injury plagued first part. He won the Tour of California convincingly and managed 6th on GC at the Dauphiné. Winning the White Jersey along the way. Like others on the list though. I think he’ll be given more of a free role in the team, hunting stages. I’m not sure if he’ll stay in contention for the White Jersey here.

Best of the Rest

Argentinian Eduardo Sepulveda could give the jersey a tilt, but I don’t think he has enough quality over the three weeks. Lawson Craddock has had a very consistent season so far and could definitely step up here. However, I think he’ll have to do some team-work for Pierre Rolland and will lose time that way. Patrick Konrad, Jan Polanc and Natnael Berhane all qualify and have an outside chance but I can’t see it personally.

One outsider who I would like to highlight is former German champion, Emanuel Buchmann.

Tour de France 2015

The Bora rider has had an underwhelming season so far, plodding along, picking up top 10s and 20s here and there. However, for some strange reason I think he’ll go well here. Like others I’ve mentioned, doing the Tour last year will have taught him a few things. He actually managed to finish third on one of the mountain stages, behind Majka and Dan Martin. He is definitely talented!

Prediction

I don’t think the two main favourites will live up to the expectations and little Louis will win! He might even manage a top 10 on GC along the way.

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Betting

Louis Meintjes – .9pt WIN @ 5/1 at various

Emanuel Buchmann 0.1pt WIN @ 50/1 various

 

Hope you enjoyed my thoughts on the white jersey. Apologies if this is shorter than normal! Mainly because there isn’t much to say and I’m away at my graduation so I’m short of time. Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.