Vuelta a Andalucia 2018 GC Preview

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

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

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

The Route

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

Stage 1.

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

Stage 2.

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

Stage 3.

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

Stage 4.

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

Stage 5.

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

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

But first…

The Elephant in the Room

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Contenders

Mikel Landa.

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

Jakob Fuglsang.

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

Luis Leon Sanchez.

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

De La Cruz / Poels.

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

Steven Kruijswijk.

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

Ben Hermans.

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

Amaro Antunes.

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

Prediction

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

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

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

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

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

De Brabantse Pijl 2017 Preview

De Brabantse Pijl 2017 Preview

With the cobbled classics now finished, the peloton’s attention now turns to the Ardennes with the “warm-up” event of De Brabantse Pijl.

However, it’s offensive to just call it a warm-up race as it is an exciting race in its own right!

Last year after some probing and strong attacks throughout the day, it all came down to a charge up the final climb from an elite group of five. Vakoc stormed up it, dropping everyone, and holding on to the line to take what was his third win of the season.

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It was a good day for me as I had Vakoc at 33/1. I’m not sure we’ll see those type of prices on him again though, but I may be wrong. You’ll just have to find out at the end of this!

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

The Route

More of the same as we saw in the 2016 edition with a route that remains mainly unchanged, although this year the race is 6km shorter.

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A relatively tough day out in the saddle with 26 climbs, some of which are cobbled. Although there is more often than not space to avoid the cobbles themselves and go up the paved section at the side!

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The climbs on the day aren’t too tough, but if they are ridden aggressively gaps certainly can be made. Almost as important is the flat section just after the summit, because riders will be on the limit. Last year the winning move was made at the 4km to go mark, right at the top of the penultimate climb.

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The Bora rider was unable to follow the five out ahead once they rounded the corner and that was race over.

I’m not going to run through all of the climbs individually, but there is a nifty website that lists all 26 of them that you can view here!

The final climb of the day, Schavei, is 500m long and averages roughly 6%.

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There is time for a regrouping once over the top, but on the contrary, riders can maintain a gap all the way to the finish line.

Will it be a reduced sprint or solo winner this year?

Well, there is one factor that could have an influence…

Weather Watch

Yep, you guessed it; more racing in Belgium and more windy conditions!

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Source: Windfinder

With a constant and fairly strong Westerly wind, the riders will face a variety of wind directions as they go through the race.  Starting mainly with a cross-headwind, before some cross winds, then a cross-tail on the run in to the closing circuit.

As a viewer this has amped up my excitement for this race even more, not so much as a preview writer though because it adds another element of unpredictability to it all. I’m sure the peloton will have a similar view with some wind-natives licking their lips at the prospect.

How will the race pan out?

Before I had looked at the forecast I thought the race would be an attacking one this year, with the peloton continuing their aggressive racing from the cobbles classics onto the lumpier events.

The wind should ensure that it is aggressive and there will be plenty of teams looking to take advantage and I think we’ll see some large splits out on the road before we reach our final circuit.

Which in turn should make the last 60km of the race even more attacking because there in theory should be less team-mates to control things.

Or at least I’m hoping so!

Contenders

Quick Step come here with two big favourites in the form of Vakoc and Gilbert. The reigning champion looked good in Catalunya, building some nice form for his assault on the Ardennes. A brute of a rider, he really comes into his own on this type of terrain and certainly has a chance to double up tomorrow. Of course in Gilbert they have a rider who is on exceptional form. He’s won this race twice in the past (2011/2014/2017?) so knows what is required here! They have some strong domestiques and I expect them to be one of the main teams to try to split things up in the wind, hoping to drop the “sprinters”.

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QS aren’t the only strong Belgian team here, Lotto Soudal also have a stacked team with them! I imagine Wellens and Benoot will be team leaders and they are a duo that can certainly challenge for the race win. The former has had a quieter part in his season recently but he looked good following the moves on the stage into San Sebastian in Pais Vasco, and I think he’ll go well this coming week. His lack of explosivity is a downfall, but he is sure to go on the attack at some point. If no one follows quickly, then he could be tough to bring back!

I was disappointed to see Benoot not picked for Paris Roubaix after he has had a terrible cobbled classics campaign due to bad luck. This type of course suits him though and he is much more explosive than his team-mate and I think he’s a dark horse for this race.

Matthews has a great chance to finally win this race after being close on several occasions. In cracking form, his 6th on the TT in Pais Vasco was incredible, he might approach this race differently than in previous years. Normally would hold off for the sprint, but this year he might have to attack as his team doesn’t look that great. However, I fear for him in the wind!

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His old team Orica have a few good options to play tomorrow. In Gerrans and Impey they have two strong riders who can follow attacks but also pack a fast sprint after a tough day. I can’t see them chasing everyone down like they did last year!

BMC have a team packed full of young talent who will be looking to impress, lead by a relative veteran compared to his team-mates; Ben Hermans. After a barnstorming start to the season, he’s went off the boil recently but will be hoping to go well in the Ardennes so he should be getting back to his best shape here. If not, keep an eye out for Vliegen as a Kirby inspired, “cheeky side bet”.

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Bahrain bring with them a team to support Gasparotto and Colbrelli. Well, when I say support they might be there for the first 100km. The two Italians can mix it up in the sprint after a tough day and both finished in the top 6 last year. Gasparotto has been disappointing this year and has recently returned from a training camp so it will be interesting to see how he goes. Conversely, Colbrelli has been going well for most of the year so you would expect him to decline in form soon, but that probably won’t happen until after Amstel. Like Matthews, I fear for both of them in the windy conditions!

I don’t think Coquard will have a chance this year.

A few other, some less well-known, names to conjure with are Haas and Sbaragli (Dimension Data), Meurisse (Wanty), Bouet (Fortuneo) and Tusveld (Roompot).

Prediction

We’ll get a hectic first half of the race before we get to the circuit and the peloton will be split in the wind. That will then make the closing laps even more aggressive than normal and luck will be as important as form, and so will having strong team-mates.

I’ll go for a rider who’s been down on luck recently, but that will change here. He’s a great punchy classics man and this route suits him perfectly, but will just have to hope Gilbert isn’t the QuickStep representative up front…

Benoot to win his first pro race!

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It also gives me a good opportunity to share my favourite cycling related Instagram post…

View this post on Instagram

Forza Tiesj Benoot! 🎉 @tiesj #ohn

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

Betting

Hoping #WinningWednesdays can continue…

1pt EW Benoot @40/1 with Bet365

0.5pt EW Vliegen @28/1 with Bet365

 

Thanks for reading as always and any feedback is greatly appreciated. Who do you think will win the race and how will they do it?! Amstel men’s and women’s previews will be next for me this weekend. Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

 

Strade Bianche 2017 Preview; Siena -> Siena

Strade Bianche 2017 Preview; Siena -> Siena

One of my favourite races of the year, hands down! It has the mix of everything really; awesome parcours; great start-list; amazing scenery; and some pretty aggressive racing.

Cancellara broke the heart of Brambilla last year, and managed to out-fox Stybar into the final corner, taking a quite excellent win.

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Cancellara is obviously not here this year, so that leaves the door open for a new victor or one of the three former winners that are here to regain their crown.

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

The Route

I’m going to make this section a lot, lot shorter than normal because there are already several previews out there with this information so I don’t want to bore you with it again!

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There you go…

Basically lots of short sharp punchy hills, although there are a couple of longer ones earlier on, interspersed with gravel sections. Rolling terrain for most of the day means there is little time to rest and the action is always on.

A tough closing 20km can see someone get away solo, but there is also the possibility that it all comes down to a sprint up to the Piazza del Campo!

One thing that may have a say in that is the…

Weather

After the brutal conditions in Samyn mid-week, I’m sure the peloton would have been hoping for something less miserable here. The fans certainly want the opposite and it looks as if the weather gods are going to appease the crowds.

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Weather in Siena (Source: Wunderground)

Nothing concrete but there is a very good chance we’ll get rain at some point during the race, which would make it even more of a spectacle. I’m sure a lot of you will remember the Giro in 2010…

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It probably won’t get as torrid as that, but even a smattering of rain could cause some issues for the riders!

Anyway, who’s got a chance of taking the crown this weekend?

Contenders

Where better to start than with the current world champion, Peter Sagan. The Slovak shredded the race to bits in Omloop last Saturday and once again was in the thick of the action on Sunday, managing to win Kuurne. He clearly is in very good form at the moment and he has gone well here in the past. My one issue with him is that he always seems to struggle on the final climb up to the Piazza so he’ll need to ride everyone off of his wheel before then. Not impossible, but I can’t see it happening. Am I being too bold discounting him?

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After me playing up his chances for Omloop, Zdenek Stybar, was left bitterly disappointed at the end of the race, visibly shaking his head as he crossed the line. That to me indicates that he knew he could and should have been a key protagonist in the outcome of the race. Held up in the crash that took out Boonen, he tried attacking later on in the race to bridge across to the lead group but couldn’t manage it. I’m sure he’ll want to bounce back this weekend in a race that suits him very well, he did win it in 2015 after all! With Brambilla and Vakoc, he has a strong support team which could very well be crucial.

Picking up the win in Omloop while still not at 100% form shows what a great cyclist Greg Van Avermaet is. The Belgian has done fairly well here in the past but hasn’t managed to win this race yet, with the closest being a second place finish to Stybar in 2015. Good on short, steep climbs and rough terrain, he has all of the characteristics to win this race. Yet, like Sagan, I just have a feeling he won’t and I’m not sure why. BMC do have a very strong team with them and an in-form Hermans could be a very useful second card to play in a tactical race.

Without Cancellara, Trek will turn to Fabio Felline as their main charge for this race. After an explosive start to his season, winning Il Laigueglia, he’s followed that up with a 5th place in the TT at Andalucia and a 4th at Omloop last weekend. This race should suit him perfectly and if he can follow the best over the gravel, he certainly has a very good chance up the punchy climb to the Piazza.

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Sky arrive here with a very solid squad; Kwiatkowski, Rosa and Puccio all have a chance of going well. The Pole seems to slowly be returning to the rider he once was before he joined Sky, finishing 2nd on GC in Algarve earlier in February. However, he still didn’t seem in tip-top shape so this race might be too early for him. On the other hand, Rosa looked very strong in Andalucia and had he not been working for others (again!), could have finished higher up himself. He seems to love one-day racing in Italy and may very well go on to win here, but he’ll need to come to the line alone! Puccio is a bit of a wild-card, but this is his home race and he always manages a fairly decent result here. Well, apart from last year when I had backed him and he had 3 mechanicals while in the front group. I won’t put the #HaugheyCurse on him this year, but I shall be watching with interest.

Benoot and Wellens will lead the charge for Lotto Soudal. Both riders are capable of winning here if they get a bit of luck, but both will need a different type of race to play out. Benoot will be the one happier waiting until the finish line whereas Wellens is much more likely to go on the attack from far out. He’s certainly a danger if given too much leeway!

I’m really intrigued by the selection that Astana bring to this race, because on paper it looks a very strong, well-rounded team. They have a former winner in the shape of Moser and a podium finisher with Gatto. Not to mention Amstel Gold runner-up Valgren, solid one-day racer and climber Sanchez, and Grand Tour winner Aru. The last of those makes his second appearance at this race after finishing 20th here way back in 2013. Often slated for his one-day racing, he’s not as bad at these types of races as he’s made out to be in my opinion, and I’m hoping to be pleasantly surprised by Aru tomorrow. The race only being 175km certainly helps him.

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FDJ arrive with a solid squad and it seems to be the same riders that are following Pinot around all year. Thibaut himself has had a good start to the season, picking up a very impressive stage win in Andalucia. Anyone who managed to beat Contador there must be going well! Making his debut in this race, he might struggle with some of the surfaces but I think his form will overcome that and he is my dark horse for the win. His team-mate Reichenbach is another good outside candidate if we get a very tactical race where the “second string” riders get sent up the road and manage to end up staying away. Like Pinot, he was also impressive in Andalucia and can’t be discounted.

Roglic, Haas, Dumoulin and Vanmarcke could all go well with a bit of luck.

Prediction

Like my women’s preview (shameless plug, view it here) I’ve had this rider in mind all week for this race. Unlike that preview though, I have had my doubts about him but that’s been purely based off of his odds being shorter than I would have liked. Nonetheless, after much deliberation I still think he’ll take the victory, capitalising on some good early season form. If we get bad conditions, that makes it even better for him. Stybar to win!

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Betting

As mentioned above, I was almost backing out of this one purely because I would have hoped for something like 10/1 on Stybar. But the more I think about it, the 6-7/1 on offer in places is still good value IMO.

Stybar 2pts WIN @7/1 with PaddyPower (would take 6/1 available elsewhere)

I tweeted these two out yesterday after prices were released but they have subsequently been shortened;

Pinot 0.25pts EW @200/1 with Bet365 (would still take 125/1 with PP or the 100/1 with William Hill)

Reichenbach 0.25pts EW @ 300/1 with Bet365 (would still take the 200/1 with PP or the 150/1 widely available)

I don’t really like any of the H2H available at the moment. Might change my mind later.

 

Once again, thanks for reading and any feedback is greatly appreciated. Who do you think will win this incredible race? I’ll be back again tomorrow with a Paris-Nice GC and Stage 1 preview so keep an eye out for them. Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.