Milano-Torino 2018 Preview

Another day, another Italian race and this time it is the oldest one-day event in the country: Milano Torino.

Last season saw a barnstorming Rigoberto Uran take the win after attacking quite early on the final climb of the day and holding on to the finish.

Cycling: 98th Milano - Torino 2017

A fast finishing Adam Yates could only manage second with Aru, who attacked even earlier than Uran, rounding out the podium. Will the Colombian manage to make it two in a row this year and three for his nation? Let’s have a look at what is in store for the riders tomorrow.

The Route

Fans of the old adage “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”, the organisers have once again came up with a pretty similar route this year. There is a slight change in the middle of the day with a few more hills and an extra 14kms of riding to boot.

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Nonetheless, it should all come down to the final 30kms and the two ascents of Superga.

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On the first effort the riders will complete only 4.29km of the climb, making it ever so slightly steeper than when the climb is taken as a whole. Well, when I say that, the average gradient is 9.137% for that part of the climb. Compared to the 9.081% for the ascent as a whole then there isn’t much difference, I’m just being pedantic!

That’s about it for the route, nothing too exciting but the riders do make the race.

How will the day pan out?

The race tends to be very formulaic until we get to the first ascent of the Superga: a breakaway makes it up the road and is then controlled by the teams of the favourites and of those without a rider in the move. Fairly standard procedure.

However, we then have a few potential outcomes as to what could happen from there.

Given that the first passage crests with just under 20km to go, then it is very feasible that a counter attack launched here could make it all the way to the line. Of course, for it to succeed then many of the favourites’ teams would need to be represented. If not, there will probably be enough firepower behind to bring it back, but it will have a lasting impact as to how the race is controlled from there.

In 2016, we saw Kennaugh hold on from the original break until the flat 5km section that bridges the descent and the climb. Once he was caught, the impetus went from the peloton and a splinter group made it off of the front. As the majority of teams were represented, there was very little cohesion behind (although there was little up ahead too to be fair), the front group managed to gain a reasonable time gap. Our top two on the day ended up being from that selection and there is a possibility something like that happens again this year; where the “second in command” riders get up the road while the favourites stay behind and mark each other out.

Of course, the final option is that everything is held together until the final climb and that the best rider on the day wins. That’s what happened back in 2015 when Diego Rosa took off at 2.6km to go and was never seen again. To make that win even better, he managed to make the move in front of his own fan club!

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Similarly, it is the same option/race outcome that we had last year when Uran won.

So how will it pan out this year?

I’m not entirely sure, both the splinter group getting away or a main contender showdown are almost equally likely in my opinion. What is interesting is that we have a few of the big names for Saturday deciding to skip this race; Nibali, Uran, Woods, Bardet and Roglic to name a few. Will that make their teams ride more aggressively? Will other squads try to seize the opportunity and hold things together knowing some of the better guys aren’t here. We saw today that Pinot is in great form at the moment and Valverde was there where he needed to be too. A win for either of them would be great but I’m sure they’ll be confident enough of there form and might just have one eye on Saturday. Consequently, that tips it ever so slightly in favour of a splinter group getting away and fighting it out for the win so that’s the option I’ll go with.

Four to Watch

Like with my preview for Tre Valli Varesine, I’m just going to highlight some guys to keep an eye out for throughout the day and who will hopefully be active, even if they don’t win.

Tiesj Benoot.

After what seems like an injury plagued second half to the season, Benoot has performed well in the two one-day races he has completed since the Vuelta. He had a poor day at the Worlds but showed that there is still form there with a good 6th place in Paris Tours. A possible “what could have been day” had he not punctured and have to chase back on. Arriving at this race as co-leader with Wellens, I would expect them to animate the race on the first ascent of Superga. Despite his original career trajectory as a one-day Classics rider, Benoot has shown so far this season that he can more than handle his own on the climbs too. Will this be another “breakthrough” ride in that sense?

Diego Rosa.

Milan - Turin

A former winner of this race and with his fan club no doubt at the 2.6km to go mark (see above), the Sky rider will be motivated for this one tomorrow. However, the issue lies with the fact his form hasn’t exactly been sparkling as of late. He looked a bit lacklustre in Tre Valli and struggled to close a gap to the head of the race but he seems fairly positive in his latest Instagram post so who knows. One thing he has going for him is before that great win in 2015, his form was arguably equally as uninspiring so who knows. I’d expect him to go on that attack at some point but will he have enough to take the win? Probably not.

Gianluca Brambilla.

Oh so close to a great result in Emilia before he fell foul of the #HaugheyCurse and punctured at the bottom of the San Luca climb. Brambilla was so enraged at that he didn’t even bother to finish the race and if I’m honest, I don’t blame him – the win was his for the taking. Returning to racing today in TVV, he looked solid and finished in the chase group behind our winner, sprinting to 10th place. I would like to see him go on the attack early because I don’t think he has the legs to win it from the peloton, unless there is some looking around, but he seems in great shape just now and I wouldn’t underestimate him.

Jan Hirt.

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Now where did I put my overused “Hirt locker” joke? Astana arrive here with a strong squad that on paper has several options, with Fuglsang and Lopez as the arguable leaders. However, Hirt is a very good card to play and the Czech rider came out of the Vuelta with some decent shape; finishing a very respectable 17th at the Worlds. He’s not had many chances to chase his own results in what is his first year with the world tour outfit but he showed in 2017 just what he can do on the steep slopes. I think he is a danger man. Just waiting for that inevitable DNF now…

Prediction

A tactical race where a lot of the main players want to keep their powder dry for Saturday, allowing for a group to escape clear before the final ascent and fight out for the win. I’ll go with a lively Brambilla to make it two from two for Trek.

Gianluca-Brambilla-1

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

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

 

Tour de France 2017 Stage 9 Preview; Nantua -> Chambéry

Today’s Recap

A crazy stage and I only saw the last 40km!

We had a big group (of 50 riders) finally escape after a lot of racing but it was eventually whittled down to 8 after the penultimate climb.

On the last climb of the day Calmejane launched a very strong attack that managed to see him hold on for the rest of the stage, despite getting cramp in the final few kilometres.

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Doing his YMCA impression

Gesink tried to follow the Frenchman on the climb but didn’t manage it. However, he was able to hold on ahead of the GC group, finishing 2nd on the day. A very impressive sprint from Guillaume Martin saw him pick up 3rd, with all of the GC riders coming home safely.

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

The Route

Arguably the toughest stage of the whole Tour.

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The day starts on a climb which is not good news for those struggling today! Split into two separate climbs, it really is just one long slog at 11km in length and averaging 5%. The steeper sections could see some more sprightly climbers get a gap on the bunch and I expect several riders to be dropped from the gun.

Once over the summit, the road continues to rise ever so slightly for 6kms before plunging down the other side. A short Cat-3 climb breaks up the descent, but again, the road continues to climb after that.

At 50km gone the road slowly rises again but it’s at 56.5km that the start of the first HC climb of the Tour begins. The Col de la Biche is a taster for what’s to come with its average gradient of 9% for 10.5km. A brute of a climb, I imagine the riders might give it too much respect and we could see a slow pace given what they have to face afterwards…

stage-9-colombier

The Grand Colombier is shorter than Biche, but averages almost 1% more, coming in at 9.9% for 8.5km. That even includes a kilometre at 3.4%! We could see a few of the GC riders in difficulty here if they are on an off day. With there being 50km from the summit to the start of the next climb, it will be interesting to see if we get any attacks from the overall favourites.

What a climb it is as well; the Mont du Chat is arguably one of the hardest in France.

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It ripped the peloton to shreds at the Dauphiné and that was after an easier stage than what we have tomorrow. With some accumulated fatigue from today’s racing there is a good chance we’ll get some reasonably large time gaps between the GC favourites.

The riders will face a very treacherous descent and 13km of flat until the finish line in Chambéry. Will this put off some of the GC riders from attacking?

Weather Watch

After having some glorious weather conditions over the past few days there is a chance things might turn sour tomorrow.

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Source: Wunderground

The above forecast is for Culoz which comes in the long stretch of flat road between the Colombier and Chat. A nagging head-wind will make the stage feel even longer tomorrow and could certainly hinder a breakaway or any GC rider that tries to attack from far out. Furthermore, with a good chance of rain/thunderstorms at some point, the technical descent off of Mont du Chat will be made even more treacherous.

How will the stage pan out?

The tactics of tomorrow’s stage are what I would call “fluid” as whatever I write here could be completely out of the window after 10km and the race situation will constantly change throughout the day.

One thing is for certain and that is that we will see a big fight to get into the breakaway. We’ll have a mix of stage hunters who will hope that they can hold on all the way to the finish and team-mates of GC riders sent up the road to help later on.

Will we get someone deemed too dangerous for the overall make the morning move and throw a spanner in the works and ruin the party for the break?

I’m really torn as to how the stage will play out. The first part of the stage is great to rip things up, but the 50km from Colombier to Chat is a real killer for any GC rider looking to go early. Furthermore, the longer flat section after the Chat isn’t great for any solo GC rider looking to put time into a group behind. Unless of course they happen to be a great TT rider!

The headwind also isn’t great for that as any team-mate coming back to do some work will drain their resources quicker. Although the headwind isn’t ideal for a break, if the GC riders are all together behind then it becomes almost irrelevant.

It will either be on full gas for the overall contenders from the start, or it will stall until later on in the day. With the possibility of rain in the stage and knowing just how tough the Mont du Chat is, I think it will be the latter.

Therefore, I think we will see a race on two fronts with the break fighting out for stage glory and GC guys going crazy a few minutes behind them. Time to play that game again…

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Break Candidates

A mixture of luck and good legs will see the riders make the break tomorrow. It will also depend on where it goes that as to who will be up there but they will certainly have to be a good climber to do so. I’ll throw a few names into the hat as to who could be there;

Robert Kiserlovski.

A rider who probably still wishes it was 2014, he has never really matched that season since. However, there were signs at the Giro that he was in some good form. In particular on stage 18 he did a shed load of work for Zakarin. A proper outsider, if he finds his legs then he can climb with the best. Or he could just hope that somehow a group of rouleurs makes it away!

Primoz Roglic. 

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The rider I cursed as my outside shot at a top 10 and first stage victory has had some terrible luck so far. Crashing on the opening day and taking a further two tumbles yesterday, he took today’s stage relatively “easy”. His meteoric rise this year certainly hasn’t gone un-noticed within the peloton and he’ll certainly be feared if he makes the move. Possibly still not the strongest climber on the really steep stuff compared to the current GC guys, he only has to beat his breakaway companions. One thing is for certain, he will make 30 seconds on every descent!

Steve Cummings.

 

Having won a stage at the past two Tour’s you wouldn’t bet against him winning another this year. Often the guardian at the back of the peloton, just rolling along, he normally picks one or two stages and targets them. Having shown some very impressive form recently after returning from injury, winning the UK National Championships double, he should have the horsepower to compete tomorrow. The steep gradients might not be ideal for him but he is strong enough to surprise. I didn’t expect to see him gain time on Nibali etc last year on the Aspin!

Tiesj Benoot.

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The young Belgian has come on leaps and bounds this season in regards to his proficiency on the long climbs. Finishing 12th on GC at the recent Dauphiné was a stand-out performance and he’s continued that progression here, beating the likes of Chaves and Kreuziger on 5. He lost a lot of time today but I think that was a deliberate ploy so that he can get more leeway to hunt stages now. It wouldn’t be a bad stage to take your first pro win!

 

Prediction

Anything could happen and nothing that does happen will surprise me!

I think we could see the break stay away after things calm down between the Colombier and the Chat. With an easier day today, I think he’s been eyeing up a big performance tomorrow. Benoot to take his first pro win!

This also means I can share my favourite cycling related instagram video…

View this post on Instagram

Forza Tiesj Benoot! 🎉 @tiesj #ohn

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

Betting

Already tweeted out my selections earlier.

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Still available at;

Roglic 125/1 (Unibet)

Cummings 80/1 (Bet365)

Benoot 125/1 (PP)

Kiserlovski 300/1 (Unibet)

 

Thanks as always for reading! Who do you think will win tomorrow’s crazy stage? Will the break hold on or will it be a day for the GC guys?! It should be an open day of racing! 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.

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

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.