Grand Prix de Wallonie 2017 Preview

I was going to wait for the World’s to do another preview but after a couple of days of not writing, I’m bored. So here we are again, with a nice race on a Wednesday in Belgium. A time and place where the stars seem to align for me…

Last year’s edition of GP Wallonie saw a reasonably sized group of 35 riders come to the foot of the final climb together. Gallopin launched his attack at 1.1km to go and with a bit of looking around behind, he built up a gap that was too much to close down. Not that Vakoc didn’t try, as the Czech rider surged up from behind and almost stole the win on the line. Jerome Baugnies of Wanty followed home in third place.

finish low

The timing of Gallopin’s attack was important but oddly enough, it was the exact same spot where his team-mate (Debuscherre) went on the offensive and won the race the previous year. Will we see the Lotto 1.1km to go attack this year?

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

The Route

Although ever so slightly different to last year’s route, it follows pretty much the same pattern with the normal climbs at the end of the race.

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The road rolls for most of the day, but it is the final 50km that things will get interesting. We have a lot of up and down before the Côte d’Ermeton. The 8kms of rolling roads before the descent to the foot of the climb average 2%. Not leg-breaking, especially compared to the recent Vuelta, but it is certainly leg-sapping!

The Ermeton itself is only a short climb; at 1.6km in length.

Ermeton

The 4.5% average is enough to see some attacks, but like a lot of the climbs around here, they are suited to the power climbers, not mountain goats.

The riders will then face almost 15kms until the bottom of the next categorised climb; Côte de Lustin.

Lustin

Longer and tougher than the Ermeton, it is much more suited to a thinning out of the peloton. Expect to see some of the stronger riders come to the fore here. They might not attack themselves, but I’m sure some team-mates will. An aggressive team can make the end of this hard!

With only 6kms or so from the top to the next climb, the riders won’t have much time to recover if they went deep with their previous effort.

Tienne_aux_Pierres_Wépion_profile

 

Tienne aux Pierres is the penultimate climb of the day and it is one of the toughest the peloton will face. At 3.2km long and averaging 5.2% it will be attacked at a fast pace and is a great platform for some riders to launch a late move.

Riders will be dropped here, but it all then depends on who is up front as to how the race unfolds from there as there is an opportunity for a regrouping on the run in to Namur.

The riders will then climb in the closing 3kms up the snaking road to the Citadelle de Namur.

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As you can see, it isn’t a crazily tough finish, with the final kilometre almost being false flat. Therefore, if you’re a better climber than some others in the group, you have to attack early. Some of the steepest ramps come at just over 1km to go; no wonder that is why Lotto Soudal have launched their attacks at that exact moment over the past two years. Both moves have been winning moves. Will someone be savvy to it this time?

Weather Watch

The race is normally a fairly attritional one, with the stronger guys coming to the fore over the closing 50km.

This could be exacerbated more than normal tomorrow due to the forecasted bad* weather…

*Depends who you ask.

Screen Shot 2017-09-12 at 17.09.47
Source: Windfinder.

The above image is the forecast for just south of Dinant, i.e. roughly 2/3rds into the race.

carte parcours 2017

The section as they head towards Dinant will be a headwind, with a little cross-head thrown in. However, there are plenty of other areas out on course where the riders will be cycling into a pure crosswind. For example, just before they come to the feed zone in Havelange you have roads such as these…

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Interesting!

Or on the road north as we head towards the Côte d’Ermeton…

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Some climbing and crosswinds you say? Very interesting!

Throw in too, the potential for some showers and we have a manic day on the bike on our hands. It might not be Le Samyn crazy, but it could be pretty close.

How will the race pan out?

Normally the race can be a relatively controlled affair, where some of the stronger teams look to reduce the peloton slowly; leaving roughly 30-40 riders somewhat in contention going into Namur itself. Other times, we see some strong attackers get away on the preceding climbs s a break and fight out the finish themselves.

However, I think the history book will be thrown out of the proverbial window tomorrow.

The conditions will cause some carnage out on the roads and we’ll have a lot of guys DNF after being distanced. In the sections where the wind comes from the side, the riders won’t have to really force to make echelons, they’ll almost happen naturally.

I imagine that the 6 World Tour teams will be well aware of that so they’ll want to be at the front. In theory they should be stronger, but a lot of the PCT and CT teams here are no mugs at cycling in bad, windy conditions.

Consequently, the nervousness in the bunch will make the echelons even more likely (not that they need to be made any more likely!)

This then leads to the next question; will a team have enough riders up the road to control things? Possibly, but the best form of defence is attack . Or so they say.

Therefore I think we’ll see a select group drive clear at some point. As to when that may be? Who knows! The peloton could be completely decimated by the wind and the lead group will form that way, or it may be done on the climbs. We could even see some escape in between the climbs!

Candidates

In a slight change to normal, I won’t go through everyone because in a race that could be all over the road; no one will be able to tell you with confidence how it will pan out.

So this list will be more of a “who to keep an eye on” kind of thing!

The Lotto Soudal triple threat of Wellens/Benoot/Gallopin. It will be interesting to see how they go tomorrow given that they have all been over in Canada racing recently; so jet lag might be a factor. Nonetheless, on paper they are arguably the strongest riders here and they will hope to use that to their advantage. Expect them to be attacking throughout the day! If it does turn wet, then Wellens will have a field day!

Montreal Grand Prix, 2015

Bakelants is another rider who’s been enjoying himself in Canada lately but this is a race where he always goes well. His record here is rather remarkable actually, having won it in 2013 and finishing in 11/2/3/5 in the other 4 years. Not bad! He doesn’t seem like the best rider in crosswinds though and that might come back to haunt him.

Gerts may not be the first name that stands out to you from the BMC line-up but “the Florist” has been building some nice form in Britain over the past week. This is the type of one day race that should suit the youngster and it might finally be the time for him to step up into a leadership role. Could his solid sprint and attacking nature see him take a great win?

Gaviria might have something to say about that. The Colombian returned to racing in Britain after a spell off the bike. He’s hit the ground running since then, picking up a stage win and a string of good placings. A deceptively good rider in tough conditions, he could be the strongest on Quick Step if the likes of Vakoc and Brambilla are suffering from jet lag.

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Van der Hoorn.

 

We’re now getting to the stage of the preview where I’m plucking slightly more obscure names out of the hat and guys that you might not have heard of yet. If you haven’t heard of the best named rider in the peloton, Taco, then you will over the next few years. The young Dutchman recently took the win at a brutally tough Schaal Seis to go with a lot of solid results in various other one day races. Can he take advantage of this purple patch?!

Peyskens.

The WB Veranclassic rider has been a consistent performer in one-day races this season, picking up several top 10s. A good climber on his day, he should be able to cope with the lumps towards the end of the race. His team always seem to go well in the tough races (Kirsch’s second at Le Samyn is an example of that) and tomorrow should be no different!

Backaert.

An eternal breakaway candidate at the Tour this year, the Wanty rider seems to have continued off from where he left of there, attacking in a lot of his subsequent races. He’s picked up a few decent results but nothing overly impressive. However, it is his early season results in Le Samyn and Omloop that have got me thinking for tomorrow. He seems to go well in tough conditions and he might just be able to slip away if some of the bigger names mark each other.

Prediction

I think tomorrow is going to be an incredible day’s viewing.

We’ll have very tough conditions that will wear down the riders but then team tactics will also play a massive part in the outcome of the race. I’ll go for someone in form and a non-WT rider to upset the apple cart again.

That man is the rider with the best first name in the peloton; Taco van der Hoorn.

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His form is great at the moment and he should be close to the front in the splits. Being more of an “unknown” will work to his advantage as the WT teams mark each other out of it. Can we get another GVK-style prediction right on what looks set to be a very similar day?!

Unfortunately, there seems to be nowhere pricing up the race, in the UK anyway. I know Kirolbet are offering odds and I assume a few Belgian bookmakers will be too. We might get something here after this! 😉

Thanks for reading as always! Cycling isn’t about the big races 100% of the time so it was nice to preview a smaller event – they often tend to be the most exciting! Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

 

 

 

Binckbank Tour 2017 Stage 7 Preview; Essen -> Geraardsbergen

Today’s Recap

A tough, miserable day in the saddle for the riders in which horrid conditions made a hard course even more challenging.

We saw the expected push on over the Saint-Roch which split up the peloton and a strong group formed at the head of the race. Things regrouped though before another, more decisive split on the next classified climb. Sagan pushed on and only Wellens was able to follow. Unfortunately for the World Champion, he suffered a puncture which completely ruined his day.

Wellens pushed on and he was soon joined by Dumoulin who bridged from the group behind. They worked well together and managed to hold of a strong chasing quintet that included Van Avermaet, Naesen, Valgren, Stuyven and Benoot.

At the finish Wellens opened up the sprint on the climb but Dumoulin would never come past him, with the Lotto Soudal rider taking the stage win.

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Whether that was because Dumoulin didn’t have the energy or didn’t want to after Wellens did a lot of the work, that’s for him to know!

Behind, Stuyven sprinted for third to keep himself somewhat in the GC fight.

Let’s have a look at what’s in store for the riders on the final day of racing.

The Route

A day that is all about the closing 50km.

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@LasterketaBurua

The first 135km of the day act as a build up for what is to come. With the wind and rain looking to have faded a bit by tomorrow, we probably won’t see any early action from the GC guys.

That could be good news for the breakaway riders.

As for the route itself, the riders will tackle the famous cobbled Muur twice, along with two passages of the Bosberg and three of the Denderoordberg.

All of the percentages and distances of the climbs are on the profile above so I don’t really want to go into too much detail about them.

There’s even an un-cobbled climb thrown in for good measure. It really is a tough parcours, especially when you consider it is all packed into the final quarter of the day!

The riders will face the final passage of the Denderoordberg at only 6km to go.

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A launchpad for a late attack?

The finish into Geraardsbergen is up a short, slightly cobbled climb; averaging just over 6% for 500m. A fitting way to end a hard day in the saddle!

How will the race pan out?

Normally a stage like this would be a GC battle where the contenders battle for bonus seconds.

However, the opening 130km are relatively easy so no selection can be made there. Consequently, there is no point of any GC teams pushing on at all. Unless of course someone high up the overall gets into the move, then Sunweb will have to keep it in check for Dumoulin.

Given their showing today and the gaps to those behind, the GC battle should be a two-horse race. Therefore, I think Dumoulin will be more than happy to let the break go to take up the bonus seconds so all he has to do is stick to the wheels of a flying Wellens.

The one variable that could change everything though is Sagan.

He was arguably the strongest rider today, bar the stage winner, and it was only an untimely mechanical that ruined his chances at going for the victory. Do we see another case of Angry Sagan tomorrow, where he gets his team to control the break and go crazy from 50km out? Possibly.

Once today’s stage had initially finished that’s what I thought would happen tomorrow. However, after thinking about it a bit more, I don’t think Sagan gets his whole team to chase to set up the stage win. Instead, if the opportunity presents itself then he’ll go for it and he will win the stage.

Yet, I think the more likely outcome is that we will see a breakaway prevail tomorrow.

So here we are again, playing…

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MyTwoPicksWorth™

Wout van Aert.

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After an untimely puncture on stage 5 took him out of contention, the cyclo-cross star lost some more time today. Was it a deliberate move, or is he just tired? I actually think it might be the former…maybe! Once he wasn’t able to follow the very best on the steep climbs, he’s conserved some energy to focus all his efforts on tomorrow. Now way out of the GC picture and no threat at all, he should be allowed the freedom to go in the early breakaway. Good on short, sharp climbs tomorrow’s profile looks great for him. It would be great to see him up the road in a World Tour race. With a fast finishing kick, he certainly has the speed to bring it home if he makes it to the finish line at the head of the race.

Tiesj Benoot.

So strong today, the Belgian appears to be feeling the benefits of “Tour legs”! He was instrumental in helping Wellens push on in the closing part of the race and acted as a very good anchor in the group that was pursuing his team-mate. Lotto may want him to stay back and help Wellens if they think their leader needs to win the stage to take GC. However, I think they’ll instead send Benoot up the road as a foil to either go for the win himself, or drop back from the break to help Wellens later on. I hope it is the former! A rider with so much potential and shown ability, it is amazing that he still hasn’t won a professional race yet. Could that be tomorrow?

Prediction

Yes.

Benoot to win!

Which only means one thing…

View this post on Instagram

Forza Tiesj Benoot! 🎉 @tiesj #ohn

A post shared by Sporza (@sporza.be) on

Betting

1pt WIN on them both;

Benoot @ 18/1

WVA @ 33/1

 

Thanks as always for reading and apologies this is a bit more abrupt than normal! Who do you think will win tomorrow and how? Will the break manage to stay away, or will the GC guys battle it out? Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

 

BinckBank Tour 2017 Stage 6 Preview; Riemst -> Houffalize

Today’s Recap

An eventful day, although not as eventful as I thought it might be!

In the end though, we had an elite group of riders escape towards the end of the stage. Some missed out originally (Keukeleire / GVA / Gilbert / Greipel) but managed to bridge across not long after.

However, there was no real co-operation in the group with around 6kms to go, resulting in a flurry of attacks.

Vanmarcke tried his luck with 1.5km to go or so but it wasn’t the best timed move. Not long after his acceleration he had to slow down for a sharp, technical turn. This gave Sagan, arguably the best bike handler in the peloton, a relatively easy chance to close him down.

Almost instantly though, Boom counter attacked and that was that. Sagan, who by this point was fed up with doing the donkey work, just sat up to let others chase. Wellens came to the front but it was too late. Boom took not only the stage win but also the GC lead as well!

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Sagan sprinted to second with Van Avermaet taking some bonus seconds in third.

It leaves the GC race still relatively wide open with the top 10 only separated by 36 seconds. Let’s have a look at what’s in store for them tomorrow.

The Route

Another rolling day in the saddle but in Liege-Bastogne-Liege country this time.

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@LasterketaBurua

At 204km, it is the longest stage of the race and it will certainly tire the riders out. The climbing today was a lot more frequent but less severe, whereas tomorrow the gradients of some of the climbs are a lot steeper, or the climbs themselves are longer.

Tomorrow does feature the longest climb of the race; aptly named Mont Rigi. However, it is more than likely too far out to be of any major significance but I live in hope we see a crazy day of racing with early attacks.

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There is a chance of rain throughout the day but whether it materialises or not is a different matter. If the heavens do open though, it could make the stage more selective.

Like I’ve mentioned above, we could see some early moves from some strong GC contenders which would be great. However, the most likely place for the first blow to be landed is the Mur de Saint Roch. Averaging 9.7% for 1.3km it is certainly long and steep enough to cause some issues for the riders.

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According to Cols Cyclisme the climb itself is actually 1.1km and averages 11.5% with a max gradient of 18%. Either way, it is steep!

As you can see in the image above, the steepest sections come right near the start which will seriously knock any speed out of the bunch and consequently make it even tougher. It acts as a great launchpad for the stronger climbers to launch a move to distance the rouleurs.

Once over the summit there is roughly 30km of racing left and it should be full gas to the finish!

The road rolls for the next 20km, featuring three climbs of note and the Golden Kilometre.

The placement of the Golden Km follows a similar pattern to today’s stage, with it just startting after the summit of the Rue Bois de Moines; a 1.2km climb at 7.2%. With the GC being decided by seconds, I’d be very surprised not to see some of the overall candidates go for the bonuses.

The following two climbs aren’t too tough, they’re more similar as to what we had today. However, after a hard days racing, they could be the perfect launchpad for a late attack.

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As for the finish, it is not overly technical, but the hairpin turn they do at roughly 350m out is quite tight.

Furthermore, that last 350m is uphill at an average of 5.7% according to the data on Strava. It should be an exciting finish!

How will the race pan out?

Beats me!

I think we’ll see something similar to what happened today, but it will be selective earlier. The big moment is the climb of Rue Saint Roch and the following few kilometres. If a strong group forms there and they work well together, that could be them away for the day.

There is a chance though that we might see a regrouping in which case another counter-attack will go.

Again though, the race all depends on Sagan.

Everyone seems scared to tow him to the line but on an uphill finish like this, some will fancy their chances. If a group of 5 gets away that involves the World Champion then I think they’ll work together and wait until later into the stage to play games, if at all. However, if we have a group similar in size to today’s stage, then the Slovak will be left with the brunt of the work. Ultimately, he’ll then allow a rider up the road once he gets fed up with their lack of co-operation.

So with that being said, I won’t name an extensive list of favourites, just two riders to cover the above situations.

MyTwoPicksWorth™

Gilbert.

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Unbelievable in the Spring, the Quick Step rider really has had a season to remember and arguably one of his best to date. However, he has gone off the boil a bit really. Well, a stage win in Suisse was his most recent win back in June. Truly appalling by his standards…After having to pull out of the Tour due to illness, he then DNF’d at San Sebastian. I think he is over that illness now though and should be a force to be reckoned with tomorrow. Missing the initial move of big favourites today wasn’t great, but the way he came across with some others indicates that the form is there. I reckon it was just some bad positioning that cost him initially. He’ll love the look of the rise to the finish and is one of the riders who I think will happily ride with Sagan until the sprint. Can he win it? If he’s back to near his spring form then certainly!

Wellens.

The strongest rider of the day in my opinion. He was the first GC rider to launch an attack and looked ever so impressive while doing it. Strong on the flat run in that followed; he covered a few of the moves (closing down a very strong Sagan) and put a probing dig in himself. Not afraid to attack and clearly in good form, I think he’ll try to go solo from around 10km out, if he’s not already tried that earlier! A former winner of this race overall, the predicted bad weather is ideal for him. He loves a bit of rain!

Prediction

I’ll go for a solo winner and Wellens to take the spoils in the rain.

Montreal Grand Prix, 2015

Betting

1pt WIN Wellens @ 9/2

1pt WIN Gilbert @ 9/1

2pts Gilbert to beat Sagan at 5/2

 

Thanks as always for reading, any feedback is greatly appreciated. Who do you think will win tomorrow and how? Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

 

 

 

 

BinckBank Tour 2017 Stage 5 Preview; Sittard-Geleen -> Sittard-Geleen

Today’s Recap

A weird stage that ended with the expected sprint, but only just. The pace was high from the gun and the peloton was strung out for the first 40km or so, with the likes of GVA attacking. In the end a trio escaped including blog pick for the day, Greipel. An odd move from him but hey ho!

The peloton brought the trio back just at the start of the final lap which saw a counter attack from Dowsett and Smith with roughly 12km left. They were brought back at around 4km or so left, and Lampaert quickly countered. It looked as if he was going to hold on for the win but he was overhauled at 150m out.

Theuns delivered his first World Tour win after a great lead-out from Stuyven.

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Kump and Merlier rounded out the podium, with a lot of the “big name” sprinters missing out.

No bonus seconds for Sagan certainly makes the title fight an interesting race. Let’s have a look at what’s in store for them tomorrow.

The Route

The GC battle begins in earnest as we travel through Amstel Gold territory.

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@LasterketaBurua

There are no overly tough climbs, but the road is constantly up or down almost all day which could tire the bunch out.

It is a stage that screams out to be attacked and I think we could see some very aggressive racing, or at least I hope!

I feel I don’t need to go over the climbs in too much detail as the great guys at Lasterketa Burua have all the lengths and gradients on the profile above.

Depending on the attitude of the teams, a strong move could feasibly escape before the half-way point of the stage. However, I think we might see our first meaningful move come the first time up the Schatsberg with just over 50km to go.

From there, who really knows what will happen!

By the looks of things, the Golden Kilometre starts just after the second summit of Schatsberg. It will certainly entice some attacks and could be the catalyst for the winning move. Conversely, a strong attack after the race regroups once we’re through the km could also be very successful.

If we do get a reasonably large group come to the line it could be manic.

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Four 90-degree turns in the final kilometre is pretty dangerous and asking for trouble!

Finishing at the Tom Dumoulin bike park, I wonder if the Dutchman will manage to take the victory?

The weather forecast isn’t looking too promising for the riders either. Well, I’m sure some of them will view it as very promising, it depends who you ask I guess.

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We’re set to get most of the rain in the morning, but there are apparently some showers around in the afternoon which will no doubt be temperamental.

It will probably be a bone dry race after all!

How the race might pan out…

Normally I’m fairly bullish with my prediction as to how the race will pan out but I really have no idea as to what will happen tomorrow. As I said above, we feasibly could see a move go at any point of the race if it contains the right riders and teams.

Most likely though we’ll see a whittling down of the pack throughout the day; which will be made quicker if the conditions are poor.

It is then a case of when the favourites launch their attacks. The issue with it all though is, that Sagan should be able to follow almost all of the moves. In any kind of reduced sprint he is obviously the favourite and gifting him 10 bonus seconds isn’t the wisest manoeuvre for anyone targeting the title.

Bora have been great so far this race, but tomorrow is the acid test. If Sagan is isolated early, he’ll have a tough day chasing every move. I do expect Pöstlberger to have a big ride. Will it be enough? I don’t think so.

Everyone’s unwillingness to work with Sagan will see a small group of 6 riders from various teams escape in the final 20km and contest the stage. It might not be the end of the GC battle though!

Here’s my best attempt at guessing who might be in that move.

Belgian Tripel

Sep Vanmarcke.

Hammer-Sep-Vanmarcke

Another year, another disappointing classics season hampered by bad luck yet again for the Cannondale man. He “won” the sprint stage of the Hammer Series at the beginning of June, but it is his results since the Belgian Championships, where he finished second, that have really impressed. In the Tour of Austria he took five top 5 places, following that up with a 4th place at Ride London. This is the type of race he can win overall, but at 33 seconds back already, he’ll need to be aggressive. Tomorrow’s rolling stage looks good for the strong man and with a relatively fast kick from a small bunch, he’ll be happy to go to the line with some riders. He just needs some luck for once and the win could be there for the taking!

Jens Keukeleire.

I’m a big fan of the Orica man, so much so I’ve come up with my own Kirby-esque nickname for him; the Keukie-monster. It was great to see him finally take a couple of wins last year after being on a 3-season drought. He’s continued that this year with a second place in Gent Wevelgem and winning the Belgian Tour overall. More importantly though, he was exceptionally strong at the recent Euro Championships; driving the peloton for a lot of the day but also attacking at the end. Like Vanmarcke, he sits roughly 30 seconds down on GC so will need to attack and I think he’ll do just that. Another rider packing a fast sprint from a small group, we could be in for an exciting finale!

Jasper Stuyven.

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Super strong in the final kilometre to help reel in Lampaert at the end of today’s stage, he will be given a free role tomorrow. Almost an ever-present rider at the front of the peloton in tough races like this, he will hope to put his power to good use. Strong enough to hold off a charging peloton, see his Kuurne win last year, he also packs a tidy sprint too. A rider who can win in a variety of ways, much like the other two, he is a big danger if he gets into the move.

Prediction

I like all three of the riders, but I’ll side with my favourite, Keukeleire to win!

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Betting

0.5pt WIN on them all;

Keukeleire @ 33/1

Stuyven @ 33/1

Vanmarcke @ 50/1

 

Thanks as always for reading! Who do you think will win tomorrow and how? Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

 

 

Scheldeprijs 2017 Preview

The “festival of sprinting” returns again this year and once again we have a whole host of fast men on the start line.

Last year the race saw Marcel Kittel just edge out Mark Cavendish, with Andre Greipel coming home third.

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We had horrible conditions last year, with rain pounding the peloton almost all afternoon. Nonetheless, the sprinters weren’t deterred and we ended with the traditional bunch sprint, although only 28 riders finished within 10 seconds of Kittel.

More of the same this year?

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

The Route

The organisers have decided to honour Tom Boonen in his last Belgian race of his career, changing the traditional route, and starting the day in his hometown of Mol. They’ll do a local lap there before heading west towards Antwerp (Schoten).

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Parcours wise the race is pretty much pan-flat, but what else would you expect in a race that’s often dubbed as the unofficial sprinter’s world championship.

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Once we reach Schoten, the riders will complete laps of the same closing circuit that we’ve had for the past few years. This does feature 1.7km of cobbles but compared to what we’ll witness on Sunday in Roubaix, they should be of no real influence in the race unless they cause an untimely puncture.

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Positioning at the end of the race will be important due to the two 90-degree turns at 1.1km and 700m to go. We saw last year Quick Step lead through this part of the course with two riders in front of Kittel and he was dropped off perfectly at around 200-150m to go.

It’s also important to be at the head of the peloton so that you can take the shorter inside line through the sweeping bend at the finish line, rather than have to go around the rider in front.

Weather

The wind didn’t have much of an impact on the race last year but it was the rain which turned the day into one of attrition.

I’m sure the riders will be happy to know that it looks to be a dry edition this year. However, I’m intrigued to see if the wind has a bigger part to play with the changed route. I say this as the riders will be travelling in mainly the same direction (west) for the majority of the day before they reach Schoten.

 

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Forecast for Retie (78km done) Source: Windfinder

The constant 20km/h NW wind looks ideal to split the race up on some of the more exposed sections, as it will be a cross or cross-head wind for the peloton. Unfortunately for us the viewers, the riders won’t be traversing anything like De Moeren, and the road isn’t as exposed as I was hoping for! Nonetheless, there are some sections where there is no tree cover and open fields so fingers crossed for some splits. It all comes down to how aggressively the teams ride the course though, they can make it tough enough for echelons or ride at a more conservative pace and keep everything together.

Sprinters

Ultimately though, the race should come down to a sprint, barring something crazy happening, it’s just a case of how big the peloton will be. Most of the sprinters tend to be good in windy conditions so they should make the splits if we do get any echelon action!

Marcel Kittel will start as the big favourite. Last year’s winner and most successful rider in the history of the race, the German looked very good at the back-end of De Panne. His win in the sprint (stage 3A) after coming from far back was truly exceptional, and the performance in the TT wasn’t bad either. He’s the rider to beat! (Unless of course they decide to work for Boonen but that is very, very unlikely.)

Aside from the fantastically haired German, there are a lot of sprinters here looking to take his crown if he falters. Although notable in his absence is Mark Cavendish.

Andre Greipel, on paper at least, looks best of the rest. The Gorilla as he is affectionately known, was just putting in the training miles in Flanders on Sunday…He made his usual daredevil attack but was eventually brought back to heel. Nonetheless he managed to bag a top 20 and arrives here in good form. More importantly for him, he arrives with an almost full strength lead-out train that can challenge the likes of Quick Step.

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Smarting after his crash in Flanders, Peter Sagan may well want to have a hit out here before going on to Roubaix this Sunday. If he does, then he is fast enough to challenge after a tough day. Yet, he sometimes goes missing in this type of race, so Bora may turn to Matteo Pelucchi instead. Although, if Sagan sometimes goes missing, Pelucchi never turns up to start off with! A team to avoid backing with any sort of confidence.

One rider who is always confident in his abilities is Nacer Bouhanni. The Frenchman had a disappointing Paris Nice and had to drop out due to illness, but since then he’s looked good. People seem to forget how fast he is at times and is certainly a rider not to give an inch to because he will certainly take a mile!

Edward Theuns has performed consistently well here on his first two appearances, placing 2nd and 4th. He arrives with the full backing of his team and they have a strong lead-out train to support him. On stage 2 of De Panne he looked fast, but appeared to struggle in stage 3A when he looked to be very well positioned. Maybe it was a case of hesitancy? Or he just didn’t have the legs and is tired after his classics campaign? We’ll have to wait and see but I’ll certainly be watching with interest. A top 3 result would not surprise me!

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Dylan Groenwegen arrives after a fairly poor race in Limburg and he’ll be hoping to go much better tomorrow. He started the year off very strongly but is without a win yet this season which might dent his confidence a bit. Nonetheless, he is very talented in a tough race and if the wind blows you would expect him to make the split. In a tired peloton, he is a danger for the win. Like Bouhanni, he is fearless and will go for any gap if you give him half a chance!

Demare has a chance but he’s went off the boil since his barnstorming start to the year.

Bonifazio goes well when you least expect it, and I expect him to go poorly tomorrow. Top 5 result incoming!

Viviani is similar, he has been poor this year but might pop up with a top 5 if he follows the right wheel.

Planckaert, Jans and McLay will be in or around the top 10.

Prediction

I expect there to be a small-ish peloton fighting it out for the win again come tomorrow afternoon. Whether that be through the race breaking up due to the wind out on course, or just becoming disengaged and disinterested in the final lap of the race.

Kittel is the favourite and should win, but keep an eye out for a flying Frenchman too!

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Betting

No value in Kittel and almost tempted with the odds on Sagan, but…;

Bouhanni 1pt EW @8/1 with Bet365. (Wouldn’t take much lower, but you might get a better price from elsewhere later on, I’m just in a rush to get this published.)

Thanks as always for reading! Who do you think will win? Will the wind play any part in the race? My Pais Vasco stage 3 preview will be out soon as well so keep an eye out for that. Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

 

Women’s Ronde van Vlaanderen 2017 Preview

Women’s Ronde van Vlaanderen 2017 Preview

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

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

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

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

The Route

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

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

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

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

Contenders

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Other riders to keep an eye out for include;

Cecchini (Canyon SRAM),

Ratto (Cylance),

Ensing (Ale)

Kopecky (Lotto)

Gillow (FDJ).

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

Prediction

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

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

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

Coverage

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

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

Competition

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

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

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

Good luck!

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

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

 

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

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

Ronde van Vlaanderen 2017 Preview

Ronde van Vlaanderen 2017 Preview

It’s time for my favourite event of the year and a special race as it marks one year of this blog! To thank you all for your continued support I’ll be doing a competition tied in with my women’s preview (that will be out tomorrow), for a chance to win one of The Handmade Cyclist’s artworks. Well, more specifically their “De Ronde” one, obviously. So yeah, make sure you return tomorrow!

Right, now that those formalities are out of the road, let’s focus on this incredible race.

Last year saw an imperious Peter Sagan just ride away from Sep Vanmarcke on the Paterberg and even with a surging Fabian Cancellara the duo could not catch the Slovak.

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Will Sagan be able to double up this year? Let’s have a look at what’s in store for the riders.

The Route

I’m not going to bore you with a massive route analysis (like I normally would), as I’m sure if you’re anything like me you’ll have read plenty about it already this week!

The route in general is pretty much more of the same that we had last year, apart from they have added the Muur at around 90km to go. Although iconic, it will more than likely be too far out for a race winning move to be made there. Instead, we might see some lesser riders attempt to get up the road before it all kicks off.

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It’s once we pass the Paterberg for the first time at around 70km to go that the race starts to kick into action and theoretically a race winning move could go from this point onwards. However, the second passage of the Paterberg, which swiftly follows the Oude Kwaremont, will desolate the peloton if it’s still together.

From there, we’ll have attacks go up the road; groups working; groups not working; solo moves; teams having wrong riders in the right move, etc etc. It all gets a bit hectic to say the least!

With only 17km to go the riders then tackle the Oude Kwaremont once again.

This is where Sagan dropped everyone from the group in front apart from Vanmarcke, likewise Cancellara dropped those behind as he motored ahead trying to catch up. The open highway that follows the Kwaremont can see a regrouping, before they tackle the final climb of the day; the last ascent of the Paterberg.

Sagan blew the wheels off of Vanmarcke here last year.

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Once over the top it’s a 13km TT between the leaders and any chasers, before the traditional finish in Oudenaarde.

Normally the weather will play a part in this race but it looks pretty benign just now so I’m going to completely skip that section!

How will the race pan out? Team tactics.

Flanders is arguably the race in which the winner is more often than not the strongest rider on the day who gets a bit of luck. The reason for this in my opinion is due to the relentless nature of the cobbles and climbs in the closing third of the race, and due to the severe length of the event itself! A strong rider can create a massive gap on the Kwaremont and Paterbeg combination and with only 13km left, it’s hard to get a concerted chance organised.

Last year you could say without doubt that Sagan and Cancellara were the strongest riders in the peloton. Sagan in a sense you could argue got lucky that Cancellara didn’t follow the attacks at 31km left, and it’s hard to say how the race would have panned out if those two arrived at the bottom of the Paterberg together.

A similar situation may occur this year between Van Avermaet and Sagan, who are one step ahead of everyone else in my opinion, and probably yours too!

The only thing that can stop them is the attitude of Quick-Step. The Belgian outfit need to ride as aggressively as they did in Dwars and E3 if they want to have a good chance of success. They need to be in every move that goes up the road, either by following every move or attacking themselves. But more on that later!

Contenders

As I’ve just mentioned above, there are two clear favourites going by the bookmakers and anyone who watches this sport!

Defending champion Peter Sagan has looked his usual exceptional self this year. His attack in Milan San Remo was incredible, as was his stage win in Fermo during the Tirreno Adriatico, but oddly enough there are some people who suggest he’s not going well. He has only won one one-day race this season so far, Kuurne Brussels Kuurne, which is pretty poor from him so they might be right…

Is he suffering from being Sagan? Yeah, I think so, but this is the one race a year where being Sagan doesn’t matter as much. If he’s feeling good, he can simply ride away from everyone on the final double ascent of the Kwaremont/Paterberg like we saw last year. The issue for him will be ensuring that he’s in contention going into that final 15km. Therefore, he’ll need to attack/follow the attacks from where he did last year. Re-watching last week’s Gent Wevelgem, he clawed back almost 8 bike lengths on his main rival Van Avermaet on the Kemmelberg. That’s Flanders winning form!

Talking about Van Avermaet, he was the number one performer of the week just gone by and is Sagan’s main challenger.

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Three one-day World Tour wins already this season, the Olympic champion is flying. He’s beaten Sagan in a sprint (Omloop); won against tough opposition in another sprint (E3); and outsmarted his opponents (Gent Wevelgem). Results wise, he is the rider to beat! He doesn’t seem to pack the same punch up the cobbled climbs as Sagan does, but he benefits tactically from not being Sagan. He seems not to have the same aura amongst the peloton and riders are more inclined to work with him.

However, I think that might change going into this weekend and he’ll struggle with being Van Avermaet. If you’re going to lose to Sagan in a sprint, you’re more than likely going to lose to Van Avermaet in a sprint as well. So why work with him more than the Slovak?

But hey, as you know if you’ve read this blog for a while, DS’ don’t seem to think as outside the box as I do!

Quick-Step have the best chance of beating the two favourites, due to the number of riders in their team that theoretically could have a chance of winning this race, sorry Keisse and Vermote! The rest, all on their day and given the right group could win. Gilbert will be their pre-race favourite and given his scintillating form, he certainly looks the rider best suited to challenge Sagan and GVA.

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He will be able to follow them for the majority of the race and that’s what I would have him do. Let him sit in for most of the race, marking those two out of it. It’s a defensive strategy, using their form rider to mark others, but that’s the teams best chance of winning.

Boonen hasn’t looked in tip-top shape but with only two races left in his career, you would expect him to go well. As much as he would love to win this, I think it might be all about for Roubaix with him. I would save him all-day, hoping he can get close on the Paterberg and that it comes back for a reduced sprint.

Therefore, QS should be attacking from around 70km left with the rest of their riders. Although Lampaert did great in Dwars for the blog, he’s just not strong enough yet on the cobbled climbs to compete here in my opinion. Like Boonen, he is more of a Roubaix kind of guy. I’m not saying he won’t try to get up the road, but he’s not their best option for that.

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So that leaves the triple header of Trentin, Stybar and Terpstra, the three riders who made the front group of around 16 in Gent Wevelgem. Trentin is probably the weakest on this terrain and his past results haven’t been that great. Yet, he’s looked very good this season so far and seems to have taken a step up on the cobbled climbs so he can’t be ruled out, especially if he goes in a move at around 50km to go that stays away until the end. Stybar and Terpstra are their aces in the pack though for long-range moves and I would suggest they both need to be up the road before GVA and Sagan make their attack. If they are, I would be confident enough in Gilbert nullifying them before we get to the last 17km and by then it might be too late to bring back.

The only issue with that is if another big team misses the move and has enough firepower to chase. Who will that team be working for?

Kristoff looks the best of the rest on current form. He’s been unlucky in the first few cobbled classics but his efforts in De Panne were exceptional. In particular, it was his TT that stood out for me. Not a discipline he favours, he lost only 2 seconds to Durbridge who himself is going very well just now. The Norwegian loves this race, having finished 15th/4th/5th/1st/4th in the past 5 years. He will be there or thereabouts at the end of the race!

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Trek have one of the strongest teams here so they will likely aid in a chase if they miss a move. Degenkolb has looked OK so far this season, but it pains me to say, that he is still missing that extra 5% after his crash last year. I can’t see him winning here unless he goes early, but I think he’ll be marked out of it in that situation. Theuns looked tired towards the end of De Panne and Stuyven has been struggling the past week or so with his form. Time for Felline to step up and make that crucial early move!

Naesen (AG2R) has performed exceptionally well over the past 6 months but this could be a tough ask for him, he’s bound to dip in form soon. Surely?!

Lotto have been awful but their saviour Benoot returns this weekend after missing Gent Wevelgem. He almost guarantees a top 10 result but needs to be attacking to get higher up the pecking order, which he might just do.

Sky have been awful the past week and I haven’t seen anything to think they’ll turn that around here. Which is always when they seem to go well!

Boasson Hagen and Thwaites have been going well, albeit quietly, the past few weeks. Like so many others, they’ll need to be up the road before the fireworks kick off behind.

Durbridge will hope to continue his good form but he seems more of a Roubaix man. The same goes for Demare.

I’d love to see Lutsenko get a top 10 placing which I think is a possibility. He’s been 22nd then 14th in the past two editions.

Vanmarcke still doesn’t look great after his injury and illness.

Prediction

I’m really stuck on the fence with this one because I don’t know if I can trust Quick Step to use the same tactics I would. If they do, the race is theirs for the taking, as long as they get some help from other teams to beat GVA and Sagan.

If not, the race is Sagan’s to lose. I know GVA is in great form but even he will fear what Sagan can do on the Paterberg. If there is a 3 second gap at the top, then it’s race over!

Hmmmmm.

Right…

I think the teams will take a similar approach to GVA as they do to Sagan and will not want to work with him 100%. Therefore, various teams will be keen to get numbers ahead before the final 20km. With Gilbert shadowing the Big 2, QS will get Terpstra and Stybar up the road, along with Felline and a few others, with maybe the likes of Oss there for BMC.

He and his team didn’t get it right in GW, but they won’t make that mistake here. Terpstra to win!

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Betting

Already have 1pt WIN on Terpstra from the other week at 25/1 (would take 22s)

Adding;

Stybar 1pt WIN @25/1 with various bookmakers (would take 22s)

Felline 0.5pt EW @ 80/1 with various bookmakers (would take 66s)

Kristoff to beat Degenkolb at 11/10 with PaddyPower (would take it at 4/6 elsewhere Betfair/Bet365). 6pts.

 

Thanks for reading as always and any feedback is greatly appreciated. Who do you think will win and how will they manage to do so? Remember to return tomorrow for my women’s preview and the competition! Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

 

 

 

Gent – Wevelgem 2017 Preview

Gent – Wevelgem 2017 Preview

The final race of our Belgian triple-header this week is upon us, and we finish with the longest outing yet; the 249km long Gent Wevelgem. Shame, as this is my favourite week of cycling in the whole calendar year!

Last year saw Peter Sagan get revenge for being bested in E3, taking a superb win ahead of Vanmarcke, Kurznetsov (who survived from the morning break) and Cancellara.

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Will we see another exciting day of racing? Let’s have a look at what’s in store for the riders.

The Route

Long day in the saddle that like most of the cobbled races, builds slowly for an eventful final 100km.

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Profile once again courtesy of @LasterketaBurua.

This is both the easiest and hardest of the 3 races. There are barely any cobbled sections in comparison to the other races, but the sheer length of the race and repeated nature of hills in the final third take their toll.

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We might see some action up the Kemmelberg first time round, but if not, the plugstreets could cause some damage.

They are pretty much loose gravel roads (for the uninitiated amongst you 😉).

There is often a lot of wind and open landscape around that area which can often lead to splits when the pressure is on.

The Kemmelberg will be the last major obstacle for the riders to tackle and its second ascent comes at around 35km to go. In fact, they approach the climb from the steeper side the second time round. The organisers decided to change it from the “easier” ascent which they tackle earlier in the race, to this tougher approach (max 23%) to make the race more open and exciting. You can see how difficult it is from the highlights of last year’s edition.

From the summit, it’s a TT effort between those who make it over ahead and the chase from behind.

Weather

The weather can often play a massive part in how the race pans out here but it certainly won’t be as bad as it was in the 2015 edition…

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Nonetheless we look to have a consistent 20km/h Easterly wind for most of the day, with some stronger gusts blowing up.

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Source: Windfinder

Now that doesn’t mean that we’re guaranteed to get crosswinds but on the open and exposed areas of road they are certainly a possibility. It may also affect the end of the race as we could have cross-head winds for most of the run in. Which will tire out both those riders ahead and the chase!

How will the race pan out?

I think once again we’ll see an attacking race and there won’t be many teams wanting to hold it together for a sprint.

As we have witnessed in the first two race this week, it is much better to have at least one rider up the road so that you can just follow the moves behind. Therefore there is a chance an early move makes it, but I think instead we’ll see one selection on the plugsteets, followed by a further selection on the final ascent of the Kemmelberg. From there, it will be a case of who’s made the front group and who’s left to chase behind.

I fancy there to be enough fire-power up the road for it not to be brought back for a sprint. Or sorry, I’ll rephrase that, there won’t be enough power and willing workers behind to bring it back for a sprint!

Contenders

Peter Sagan missed out in E3 due to being held up by a crash, but as I said in that preview, I don’t think he really cares that much for that race. Instead, he’ll do something similar to last year where he’ll now want to test his legs here, and test his legs I’m sure he will. He was the rider who put in the killer attack on the Kemmelberg last year and he will no doubt do the same this time round. He will make the front selection and he will more than likely win this race! Sagan also will have the benefit of knowing Bennett will be in the group behind to sprint, so the Slovak can leave it all out on the road up ahead.

So who can beat him?

Quick Step probably have the best chance. In Boonen and Gaviria they have two riders who will fancy their chances of beating Sagan in a sprint, but I just can’t see that happening. Instead if I was DS, I would do my upmost to try to get Stybar and Terpstra in a move with Sagan and try to work him over. Those two riders are the only one’s who can follow him on the Kemmelberg (I’m assuming Gilbert will be tired after his first two races). They can co-operate for a while with Sagan, but then take turns attacking the group at the end. Because if they hold things together for a sprint, they won’t win. Even though he didn’t win, I was still incredibly impressed with Terpstra in E3. There were a few  times he missed the front split due to crashes etc, but soon after he was up front again and looking content. He is going very, very well but is without a result yet. That could come here!

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Fresh from his victory in E3, Greg Van Avermaet will be hoping to repeat that feat here. He was exceptionally strong on Friday and there is no reason to believe that won’t continue at this race. One of the only guys who can follow Sagan and has a proven track record of beating him. Van Avermaet certainly won’t be scared to take the Slovak on in a sprint from a reduced group.

After a terrible first two races, Trek bring their A-squad to this one. Stuyven, Degenkolb, Theuns and Felline are all potential winners if they play their cards right and get a bit of luck on the day. I imagine they’ll keep either Degenkolb or Theuns as a designated sprinter, but the remaining three will be used to attack throughout the day. Stuyven popped in E3 but Felline looked strong all day and was left frustrated in the group behind. He’s my dark horse for this race.

Another rider left frustrated behind in the second group in E3 was Tony Martin. The German comes here as Katusha’s main protagonist for this race and he certainly can go well. It will be tough for him to follow the best on the Kemmelberg, but if a selection is made before that then he certainly has a chance to TT away from everyone.

Sky have their duo of Rowe and Stannard here but they were a bit disappointing in E3. Rowe looked the better of the two but he looked a far cry from his attacking self that we saw in Omloop and Kuurne earlier in the year.

Prediction

I’m being boring here, but Sagan wins. I had similar thoughts last year to this race and Sagan went on to win after a “poor” E3. Now this year’s E3 was actually poor results wise, but that was due to him being held up by a crash. If he can be bothered, no one here can beat him!

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There are a few riders though who do have a chance if things get tactical and they’ll be covered below.

Betting

Big day to end an exciting week and I’m playing up some of the Lampaert winnings before I return to a more conservative approach in the next few weeks!

Sagan 4.5pts WIN @11/4 with Betfred (Would take the widely available 5/2 though)

Terpstra 1.25pt EW @ 50/1 with Bet365/PP/BF (Would take 40s)

Felline 1.25pt EW @ 50/1 with Bet365 (Would take 40s)

Martin 1pt WIN @ 100/1 with various (Would take 80s)

 

Thanks for reading as always! Who do you think will win? Can anyone stop Sagan? Check out my women’s preview if you haven’t already. 2 out of 3 previews done for today…Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

E3 Harelbeke 2017 Preview

E3 Harelbeke 2017 Preview

E3 Harelbeke has the illustrious history of being named after a road. Don’t let its dull naming history put you off though, as this race is often heralded as a “mini Flanders” and the action normally lives up to that billing!

Last year saw Kwitakowski and Sagan attack with 30km to go and they were not to be seen again! The Pole caught Sagan napping in the sprint, taking it up early and ended up winning with relative ease.

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The recent MSR winner is not here to defend his title, but we still have a whole host of talented riders looking to take centre stage.

First though, let’s have a look at what’s in store for the them.

The Route

A day packed with hills and cobbles. My kind of race!

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Profile once again courtesy of @LasterketaBurua.

Like Dwars, the day slowly builds to a crescendo, although we do have some difficulties earlier in the stage. The first challenge of the day is the Oude Kruisberg and from there we have an obstacle every 10 kilometres or so on average.

However, the decisive point of the race will probably be between the 45km-35km to go with the triple threat of; the Kapelberg; Paterberg; and Oude Kwaremont.

If there is no made on the first two climbs, there will certainly be an explosion on the Kwaremont.

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View the Strava segment here.

The 4% average gradient on Strava doesn’t do it justice because as you can see in the image above, it’s mainly flat or false-flat for the first 600m. It then pitches up from 0.8km to 1.5km, averaging 7.9%. Remember, this is all on cobbles as well! If you’re not on a good day here then you’ll be out the back in no time.

Once over the Kwaremont the bunch will have little time for rest as they’ll soon be on the Karnemelkbeekstraat at just over 30km to go. This is where last year’s duo made their move!

From there, we only have one more hill and cobbled section so it will be a frantic chase home and run to the line in Harelbeke.

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It’s not an overly difficult run in but the twisting nature of it does give the group up ahead the advantage of often being out of sight.

Contenders

Without the defending champion here, I guess we better start with that average cyclist who finished 2nd last year…

Peter Sagan obviously comes into this race as favourite, like he does for almost every one day race he starts! His team looks fairly poor, but Postlberger looked good in Dwars so maybe he can protect Sagan for a while. However, the World Champion is used to riding races unaided. The one problem with Sagan being Sagan, is that very few riders will want to ride with him in a group that might be chasing the leaders. Therefore he will be leant on to do a lot of the work. Yet, if he’s in a similar mood to his San Remo outing then he may well just attack himself and his opposition will have to be in exceptional form to follow!

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Quick Step will be hoping to use strength in numbers to beat the Slovak and everyone else. They bring their crack squad of classics riders with them, although Lampaert will sit this one out. In Boonen, Gilbert, Stybar, Terpstra and even Trentin they have potential winner candidates. With this type of parcours though, I would have to favour Stybar and Terpstra as their best options. They both looked very strong in Dwars to attack from the 3rd to the 2nd group on the road, halting that groups progress and helping their team-mates ahead build up a lead. Stybar looked good, but I think the Dutch rider looked even better, bridging across to his team-mate relatively comfortable even though Stybar was going full gas.

Greg Van Avermaet will be hoping to repeat his Omloop victory earlier in the season tomorrow. After looking very strong in Strade, he was a bit disappointing in Tirreno and MSR. His BMC team looks strong, but I’m still not convinced by how many of them can be there at the end and offer much support. Nonetheless, as one of the best classics riders in the peloton, he certainly can’t be discounted!

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Sky bring a solid squad but it will no doubt be up to the diamond duo of Rowe and Stannard for them. Both riders are exceptional on their day but I’m sure they would have hoped for some worse weather! They each won a stage in the Herald Sun Tour but the Welshman performed much better in the opening semi-classics. Sky have not finished off the podium in the past three editions, can they make it 4-in-a-row tomorrow?

After a disappointing Dwars, Trek bring Degenkolb and Stuyven into the team. It’s good to see the German back to near his best and he certainly can contend here. My one concern is that he struggled to follow Sagan in MSR on the Poggio, maybe Paris Roubaix is more suited to him than a Flanders style course. Stuyven has looked very impressive this season so far and is certainly living up to the hype surrounding him. Having numbers near the pointy end of the race will be important for any team, but Trek should have at least two. Felline might even turn himself into a third option.

Lotto Soudal are another team that had a disappointing Dwars. They only had Wallays up the road but he wasn’t able to follow the big move when it counted. Benoot and Gallopin were left frustrated behind, with the young Belgian sprinting to 7th place. I think he’ll go a lot better tomorrow! Could he win his first professional race?

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In the three Belgian races he’s competed in so far this season, Naesen has finished in the top 10 of them all. He was terribly unlucky in Dwars with a mechanical but showed just how strong he is right now, managing to get back to the second group and sprint for 6th. With Vandenbergh by his side, they can certainly roll over a few hills and cobbles!

There are obviously lots of other riders who could have a chance, such as Vanmarcke, Durbridge and Lutsenko but I think I’ll stop the list there as I could go on for a while.

Prediction

A very tough race where numbers will once again be important. Sagan will more than likely be forced to do a lot of the work chasing others and to be honest, I don’t think he cares for winning this race. So he might just call some riders’ bluff and sit on. Conversely, he could easily just romp away from everyone!

Nonetheless, I don’t think he wins.

Instead, it will be Niki Terpstra who this time will solo away from the opposition.

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I was impressed with the way he was riding in Tirreno, and have had him shortlisted for this race (and Flanders next weekend) since then. His tandem attack with Stybar has convinced me that his form is in the right place, and I think he can make it two from two for Quick Step, and everyone will forget about their poor opening weekend in February!

Betting

Other than Terpstra there are two riders I want on my side and after Wednesday, I’m being a bit gung-ho with the stakes. The odds are shorter than Lampaert after all!

2pts WIN Terpstra @ 16/1 with Bet365 (would take 12s)

1pt WIN Naesen @ 28/1 with B365 (would take 22s)

1pt WIN Benoot @ 25/1 with B365 (would take 20s)

Prices might be better else where but I can’t be bothered looking!

Also,

1pt WIN Terpstra for Flanders @ 25/1 with various bookmakers

Thanks as always for reading and as usual any feedback is greatly appreciated. Who do you think will win E3 and how? Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

Dwars Door Vlaanderen 2017 Preview

Dwars Door Vlaanderen 2017 Preview

The 72nd edition of this race returns tomorrow and marks the start of the run up to the Tour of Flanders a week on Sunday. Dwars Door often provides exciting racing and the route is finely balanced between a small bunch sprint or a group of strong men making it to the line. Plus it’s midweek Belgian cobbled racing! Who doesn’t like midweek Belgian cobbled racing?!

Last year saw a prematurely celebrating Coquard beaten to the line by Debuscherre, with Theuns rounding out the podium.

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That was one of the larger bunch sprints for a while but still only 34 riders crossed the line in that front group. It gives you an idea of how tough and attritional this race can be!

Let’s have a look at what’s in store for the riders in 2017.

The Route

Much the same as the route we’ve had the past few years, apart from an 800m cobbled section has been added around 7km from the finish line.

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Profile once again by @LasterketaBurua.

An easy start to the day, the second half of the route is pretty challenging. There is either a hill or some cobbles to traverse roughly every 10 kilometres from 90km to go until the finish. This makes it a battle of attrition at times, and is why we often don’t see a bunch sprint into Waregem.

Several of the famous cobbled climbs are raced over here, such as; the Taiienberg; the Oude Kwaremont; and the Paterberg. It is these famous stretches of road that can tear the peloton in to bits and help a group of strong riders escape.

Once through the Varent cobbled section at roughly 23km to go, the chase could well be on from the remnants of the peloton but only if there are enough teams interested in bringing a break back and if they cooperate together.

The run in to the line is fairly simple with only a few roundabouts to negotiate.

One factor that often can play a massive part on this race is the…

Weather

The riders I’m sure, well apart from the Belgians, will be happy to know it looks as if it won’t rain during the day. Even if it does, it should only be a sprinkling! Much to the viewers disappointment.

However, it does look as if we will get reasonably strong winds. Now that’s more promising and what I like to hear!

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Forecast for Wevelgem. Source: Wunderground.

25km/h crosswinds aren’t crazily strong, but they are enough to cause splits and echelons in the peloton if the pressure is on. Here’s hoping!

 How will the race pan out?

I think we’ll see a more attacking race than we got last year and the day won’t come down to a 40 rider sprint.

The reason I say this is similar to my reasoning for an attacking MSR; so many of the puncheurs and cobbled riders seem to be in form at the moment and going very strongly. Most teams arrive with sprint and attacking options, so I think it’s very unlikely that we’ll just see them settle for a nice-group ride and a sprint to the line.

However, this all depends on the composition of the group that makes it up the road and the strong teams will need to be there. I imagine that the attack will need to contain riders from at least the following teams; Lotto Soudal, Quick Step and Trek. You can probably add Orica, FDJ and BMC to that list too!

So for the contenders I won’t be including sprinters.

Contenders

Defending champions Lotto Soudal have a strong team with them but I imagine Benoot and Roelandts will be their co-leaders. The former was unlucky with a crash earlier in the season but he is exceptionally talented and I’m sure will be looking to bounce back before the Ronde and Paris Roubaix. With a solid sprint after a tough day he has a chance of taking his first pro win, but he will need some luck. Like his younger counterpart, Roelandts’ packs a good kick and he’ll be counting on experience to pull through for him!

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Quick Step have a ridiculously strong squad with them and the race itself probably hinges on their attitude. Looking down the start list I could quite feasibly argue for most of their squad making any split in the race. From there, it’s just a case of how they play it. In the past they’ve been quite defensive (the 3 on 1 against Stannard springs to mind) but they should in my opinion approach this aggressively. Or at least I would, which probably means they won’t! Terpstra is the obvious choice to send up the road, but Gilbert and Lampaert offer good options as well. I think Stybar will be saving himself for later in the week.

Theuns will be Trek’s main card to play here, but he’ll be ably supported by Felline. Both of the riders are similar in style, but the Belgian is better on the cobbles with Felline being the better climber. Theuns has finished 2nd and 3rd here the past two years and will be hoping to go one spot higher this time round. I sure would love that as he’s in my season long fantasy team! A very capable rider, he should make the splits on the cobbled climbs and from there it’s a case of making the right moves and getting a bit lucky.

Dwars door Vlaanderen

Orica have a few riders who could challenge here if their on a good day, and in particular Durbridge and Keukeleire. I always think Durbridge is older than he is, I’m amazed he’s only 25, he’s been around for what seems an eternity! Once just a TT specialist, he has really transformed in to a great all round rider, his 6th place in Strade is testament to that. Certainly not a guy that should be given much leeway off the front of the bunch. As for Keukeleire, it was good to see him back challenging at the pointy end of a race in the Vuelta last year, after a few seasons of underperforming. With a fast sprint after a tough day, he could certainly take victory if a small group comes to the line!

A few other riders to keep an eye out on who could well go on the attack and be up there at the finish are Naesen (AG2R), Lutsenko (Astana), Backaert (Wanty), Ligthart (Roompot) and Petit (Direct Energie).

Prediction

As I’ve stated above, I think with the wind conditions we’ll get this edition, the race will be harder than last year and we won’t see a reduced bunch sprint of around 40 riders. Instead, there will be a couple of selections throughout the day and having numbers near the end of the race will be important. I can guarantee Quick Step will have numbers and if Gaviria is not in the group they won’t be waiting around for a sprint. Conversely, they may also even attack if he is in the group as they will be leant on by the other teams!

So I’m going to go for a Quick Step rider who can time trial and sprint from a very reduced group to cover both options of a late attack or sprint. Yep, that’s right, local hero Yves Lampaert to win!

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The rider from Izegem is one that I rate highly and mentioned during the earlier cobbled semi-classics. Heralded as the next big Belgian cobbled talent, he has failed to live up to the mark so far, but that might just well change tomorrow!

Betting

Difficult race to predict and one I don’t want to overly get involved with so a few bets for interest;

1pt WIN Lampaert @ 66/1 with various (would take 50s)

0.5pt EW Keukeleire @ 66/1 with various (would take 50s)

 

Thanks for reading! Who do you think will win tomorrow? Will we get a big bunch sprint, reduced sprint or a sol attack?! Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.