Omloop Het Nieuwsblad 2019 Preview

The cycling season “begins” for many this weekend with the cobbled classics and Omloop Het Nieuwsblad returning this Saturday. Last year’s edition of the race saw quite a tactical battle in the closing 30 kms of the day with a pretty strong head wind. Despite a strong group getting away and looking as if they were going to fight out for the win, the co-operation within the move completely fell apart within the last 3 kms of the day. Valgren timed his attack perfectly and with team-mates in the group behind to quickly halt any chase, the Dane managed to ride away and take the win.

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Wisniowski and Vanmarcke also escaped the group, just holding off the charging peloton to round off the day.

Will we see something similar happening this year? First, let’s take a look at what is in store for the riders.

The Route

A tad over 200 kms of twisty Belgian roads: sounds fun!

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Although there are several cobbled sections in the opening half of the race, it won’t be until the Wolvenberg at around 60 kms to go that the riders will start to consider their options for the day. However, as we’ve seen in previous years at various cobbled classics, it is feasible for the race winning attack/move to be made from any point onwards.

Comparing the route to last year, it seems as if the organisers have wanted to make it a little more intense from roughly 40 km out with a quick succession of climbs and cobbled sections. This is one of the key sections of road throughout the whole day.

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Although none of the rises are incredibly long, it is the constant up and down nature of that section, combined with the always twisting and turning roads that will see the peloton fully stretched out. The strongest riders can really put those suffering into difficulty here.

Next on the agenda is roughly 8 kms of mostly flat (there’s no such thing as an actual flat road around here) through the towns of Sint-Martens-Lierde and Deftinge before they reach the famous Geraardsbergen.

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Two steep and tough climbs that need to introduction or explanation, the Muur and Bosberg offer a final chance for a selection to be made. With a shade over 12 km from the crest of the Bosberg to the finish line, will those ahead be able to stay away, or will we see some kind of regrouping?

Weather Watch

As is often the case for cobbled classic races, one of the important factors which can help to determine the outcome of the day is the wind.

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As I mentioned earlier, a strong headwind in 2018 caused some more “negative” racing because no one really wanted to commit too early in fear of blowing up. That led to the tactical and exciting finale we had so it wasn’t all too bad I suppose!

However, tomorrow we’re due to have pretty consistent winds coming mostly from the West throughout the day. This of course means that some of the course will be into a headwind, due to the nature of the parcours, but most importantly those final 40 km won’t be.

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As you can see, most of it will either be tail or cross wind, dependent on their location throughout the final hour of racing. This should make for some fast and exciting action!

How will the race pan out?

I expect it to be full gas from just after the Wolvenburg (60 km left) but the first major moves to be made at 40 km to go marker and the aforementioned quartet of cobbles/climbs. Given the mostly tailwind run to the line, teams and big favourites won’t be as afraid to attack from far tomorrow. Those with numerous options to play such as Deceuninck Quick Step and Jumbo Visma will most likely adopt the approach of attacking rather than pacing the front of the peloton in the final hour.

There are two big danger men in the race that I think will make sure the day won’t come down to a sprint of 10+ riders: Trentin and Matthews.

Trentin has had a superb start to the year, already taking three wins to his name. He comes here as Mitchelton’s number one card with Durbridge playing second fiddle. The Italian has been climbing like a dream in this opening month of racing so he’ll cope perfectly well with the rises that we have here. Everyone will be well aware of just how well he is going and as one of the fastest riders on the start list, it would simply be stupid to bring him to the line. I’m not even sure the likes of Van Avermaet would be happy arriving for a small group sprint against him.

Conversely, this is Matthews first race of the season but that shouldn’t be a negative for the Sunweb rider as he always begins his year in great form anyway. Not many have talked about his chances in the press but in Lotto Soudal’s preview Wellens was quick to point out the Aussie as a real threat. I was going to say he had a poor 2018 but he ended up with 4 wins and all of them at World Tour level so it wasn’t exactly a disaster! It’s almost a case of “what could have been” given that he had to withdraw from several races due to illness or injury. He’s a rider that I rate very highly and I expect him to be in the mix tomorrow. Like Trentin, it would be unwise for anyone to bring him to the line.

Contenders – A trio to watch

I could list about 15 riders here if I desperately wanted to but that’s not my style, so I’m just going with three. No apologies.

Yves Lampaert.

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If you’ve followed the blog for a while then you’ll know I’m a massive Yves fan and it’s been good to see him make steady progress in the past few years. Last season he managed to retain his Dwars door Vlaanderen title before going on to claim the Belgian championships later in the season. So far in 2019 he’s put in some pretty solid training at races both in Provence and Algarve with a focus of building that form for the cobbles. Once touted as a Boonen/Museeuw hybrid, it is understandable that he has not lived up to that lofty billing but now coming into the strongest years of his career, I certainly think he will start to pick up some more individual results. Stybar and Gilbert are probably the two main leaders for DQS but Lampaert will no doubt be given a free role as he looks to step up and replace the Terpstra shaped hole that is left in their classics team, with Senechal replacing 2017/18 Lampaert. As I mentioned earlier, having numbers near the head of the race will be important and DQS should have exactly that. I think we’ll see Lamapert as one of the early attackers for them and if he can get away in the right group with the right teams represented, that could be it for the day. Packing a pretty decent sprint from a very small group he is certainly one to watch.

Tim Wellens.

A rider who always starts his year in barnstorming form, 2019 seems to be no different for Wellens. With consistent results in the opening Trofeo’s, including a win, the Lotto Soudal man went on to pick up two stage wins in Andalucia before a 9th placed finish on GC. Not a bad result for someone who had to skip Besseges due to illness. An all round brute of a rider, it amazed me that Wellens hadn’t dabbled with the cobbled one-day races before Omloop last year because the parcours definitely suits him in my opinion – I could see him go very well in Flanders for example. Last year at this race he burnt too many matches early on, hoping to split the race up but with the headwind conditions it proved too difficult. Tomorrow’s race should reward attacking riding more and I’m looking forward to seeing what he and Benoot do as a duo. As a former winner of the BinckBank (formerly Eneco) Tour, Wellens is no stranger to cobbles so it is not like he lacks experience. One of the form riders in this early season, he is one that I wouldn’t give a few bike lengths to as you might not get them back.

Taco van der Hoorn.

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Talk about teams with options, Jumbo Visma have a squad of riders who could feasibly challenge for a good result here – are they Quick Step in disguise? A lot of the attention from the cycling world will be on van Aert but with van Poppel, Teunissen, Roosen and van der Hoorn it would be unwise to just focus on one of them. Since his win in Schaal Seis back in 2017, I’ve been intrigued to see what Taco can do. His season last year started very late due to him suffering from lingering effects of concussion. In fact, he only raced from August onwards but managed to pick up 2 wins and 5 other top 10s in 19 days on the road – not bad! He spent a lot of his time in Algarve on the front of the bunch, pacing the peloton for Groenewegen and getting some good miles in the legs. He’s possibly a bit further down the pecking order in the Jumbo Visma team than I would think he should be, he’s not even mentioned in their race preview, but I certainly wouldn’t discount him. If anything van der Hoorn is the stereotypical rider that I like to go for on here: a complete wildcard that not many people know of but he’ll probably turn good in a year or two!

Prediction

Plenty of form riders are here and I’m looking forward to some aggressive racing. I’ll go with Tim Wellens to power away from everyone over the Muur and stay away to the end of the day.

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Zweeler

Quick shout out to my affiliates over at Zweeler who are starting up their Fantasy Spring CyClassics Game which offers a prize pool of 8000 Euro with first place guaranteed 1400 Euro and the top 160 people guaranteed to at least make their entry fee back.

Pick 20 riders from a budget of 230 million to score you points over the coming weeks with the game active from Omloop through to Liege. Choose wisely though as there is are no transfers available!

Sign up for each team is 10 Euro.

Think you’ve got what it takes to take home first place? Sign up here to find out.

If you do it helps me out a little and I’ll be forever grateful!

Betting

Tweeted out my picks for Omloop yesterday…

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Thanks as always for reading, who do you think will win tomorrow? Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

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Volta a la Comunitat Valenciana 2019 Stage 3 Preview: Quart de Poblet -> Chera

Today’s Recap

The early break was caught on the final climb of the day, with Astana and Mitchelton Scott drilling the pace at the front of the bunch in the hope to distance some sprinters. Their plan worked with Groenewegen dropping off the back of the peloton, trailing them by roughly 30 seconds at the summit. His whole Jumbo Visma team dropped back to help pace him back to the bunch and things calmed down a little with around 15 km to go. However, that only lasted for a little while and things quickly sped up going into the last 5 km of the day. There was a big fight for position and it looked like Team Sky had got their timing perfect going into the final and decisive roundabout with 300m to go, but a burst of speed from Sondre Holst Enger saw Bouhanni and Trentin follow the Israel Academy rider, beating the Sky train into the corner. Trentin elbowed his way past Bouhanni so that he led coming out of it, and that would be our 1-2 on the day, with the Frenchman running out of road in his attempt to come around the current European Champion.

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Swift recovered his sprint a little and rewarded his team’s efforts by rounding out the podium in third.

With a punchy route on the cards tomorrow, it will be unlikely we’ll see any of the guys who were in the top 10 today up there again until the final stage. So let’s have a look at what is in store for the riders on stage 3.

The Route

A saw-toothed profile with 3200m of climbing throughout the day, the organisers have managed to find the fairly challenging day in the saddle without having the riders traverse any mountains.

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Despite the categorised and uncategorised climbs early on, the stage will more than likely be decided by the last 20km.

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The opening climb isn’t too tough, averaging a very consistent 5.7% gradient for 4.16 km. Without any steep ramps it will be hard for anyone to make gaps here, instead, we’ll more than likely see a battle of attrition with riders going out the back and not the front.

A quick descent follows before the longer but more shallow, last climb of the day.

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Again, it is not an overly difficult climb so the proper mountain goats will find it difficult to make much of a difference, while the puncheurs will be licking their lips in the hope of hanging on. Once over the summit, there are still a tricky 2.5km to navigate before the finish line.

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As you can see, those final 2.5 km are along quite a twisty and narrow single-track road. It is possible that if someone or a small group of people get a gap then they could be difficult to bring back because it will be difficult to organise a chase on that road and in the short time frame they will have.

The final 500m are uphill at an average gradient of 6%, which should make it ideal for the puncheurs. Also in typical Spanish fashion, like today, the finish isn’t exactly easy either…

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Having to make a quick left then right, I’m sure the riders will be glad that it is somewhat uphill as this would be complete chaos otherwise. Once again, given that there is 100m or less coming out of the final turn, it is imperative to be at the head of the race coming into that chicane. In fact, I’ll say whoever leads into the chicane will win the stage. Take note any pros/teams who happen to be reading this…

How will the stage pan out?

If this stage was after what we’re getting on Saturday, this could well have been a day for the breakaway but given the minimal gaps on GC, aside from a few riders, things should be kept together. Looking at the design of the stage, it seems as if the Spanish organisers had their new World Champion in mind as they’ve built a course that is tailor-made for him. I think that everyone else in the peloton will know that too so there will be a lot of pressure on the Movistar team to keep it together.

The selectiveness of the race all depends on how aggressive the closing 20kms of the race are ridden. If we see a couple of strong teams come and set a relentless pace on the two climbs, then we might have a group of 30-40 riders reaching that 2.5km to go banner within relative contact with each other. We could even see a smaller group but I don’t think the gradients are tough enough for it to be incredibly selective, then again, it is early season so who knows.

Do the puncheurs make it? If the climbs are taken at a steadier pace then there is a good chance that the likes of Boasson Hagen, Van Avermaet and even Trentin could make the finale.

With no bonus seconds on offer at the line, a GC rider will need to create a gap here to gain some time on their rivals. It will be difficult for one of the main contenders to get away but a team having options will certainly help, and maybe their “second tier” rider might manage to slip under the radar on the tough to control finish.

In fact, that’s exactly what I expect to happen: a late attack in those closing 2.5 kms from one or a group of riders, that then sticks to the finish. So who could we see try to slip away?

A trio to watch

Rui Costa.

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Often one to start his season strongly, the former World Champion produced a good TT result by his standards on the opening day of racing here. With a lot of eyes on his team-mate Martin, Costa has the ability to fly under the radar and attack in the closing kilometres. An aggressive racer when he senses an opportunity, I expect UAE to give him free rein tomorrow to go for the stage win and see what happens. He failed to take a win last year which is unlike him, so can he capitalise on some good early season form?

Pello Bilbao.

Astana have both the blessing and the curse of having a number of riders who this finish could suit, given different scenarios. It will be interesting to see who they work for but I assume they will want to give their two highest placed GC riders the best chance of winning the race overall going into the decisive stage 4. With Izagirre effectively in the race lead (as EBH won’t last on stage 4), Astana could play the card of just following some attacks tomorrow with Bilbao and see if they stick. The Basque rider has a good punchy finish on him and is clearly in decent shape at the moment with his strong opening TT.

Jesus Herrada.

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Having already tasted victory this season so far with his win at the Trofeo Ses Salines, Herrada will be hoping to double up tomorrow. The Spaniard certainly seems to enjoy the opening part of the season as he was absolutely flying at this stage last year and appears to be in similar shape this time round. As a rider from Cofidis, there is a bit of a stigma that he won’t be an immediate threat so he might not be chased down immediately. Not an ideal thing to do when he’s in good form as he will be very difficult to bring back on a punchy finish.

Prediction

Small group escape in the closing 2.5 km and we see Pello Bilbao (a classic blog favourite) take the win. Potentially setting up a good tilt at the overall title.

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Betting

No odds out yet but will tweet anything that tickles my fancy once we get them.

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

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

 

 

 

Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race 2019 Preview

The race with the second longest name in the calendar (nothing on the Amgen Tour of California Women’s Race empowered with SRAM) returns this Sunday for its 5th edition. A quite unpredictable race to call, last year we saw Jay McCarthy take the win after a small group managed to escape over the top of the last ascent of Challambra.

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However, that doesn’t tell the full story as some strong sprinters managed to come back to the lead group in the final 500m, with Viviani storming his way through the front group to come home second, while Impey rounded out the podium in third. It does show that the fast men can make it to the finale but it all just depends on the pace at the head of the race and of course team tactics. Before we get to all that, let’s have a look at what is in store for the riders.

The Route

Fans of the adage “if it’s not broke, don’t fix it”, the organisers have decided to go with the exact same parcours we had last year.

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Although there a few climbs early on, this race is all about the circuit around Geelong.

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The riders will join the circuit for the first time just before the foot of the Challambra Crescent climb, an ascent that they will have to take on 4 times throughout the race and the most focal point of the afternoon.

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The climb is short but very punchy with some of the steepest gradients coming near the top. It is actually very important to keep something in the tank for the summit as things flatten out for a few hundred metres before heading downhill and a rider in the red can really lose a lot of time here if they can’t turn the pedals. Likewise, someone who has measured their effort can power on and gain quite a substantial gap.

A quick 2km descent follows Challambra before the last real hill of the day and attack point.

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At only 500m long, it will be tough for some to get a gap but the steep gradients in the second half do make it possible. With it only being a shade over 6km to the finish after the rise, those chasing behind will need to co-operate well to bring any attack back.

The final kilometre is a very simple with a sweeping left hand bend along the Geelong waterfront but it could see a tactical finish depending on the race situation.

How will the race pan out?

A very unpredictable race to call, it all depends on the attitude of the teams.

Last year the front group would have stayed away properly from the peloton had there been more co-operation, but with constant attacks and no one wanting to work fully, they just managed to hold on from the chase behind. In fact, it was only the race winner McCarthy who “stayed away” with Viviani coming through for second.

There are three possible ways the teams can approach the race: put the pressure on in the early laps and hope to split things up there; save it all for the final ascent of Challambra and try to get a group away; try to hold things together for their sprinter. Last year’s result will give the likes of Viviani confidence that they can make it back to the peloton but he’ll need some team mates with him to pace things and for those up ahead to not work together again – both of which are strong possibilities.

Looking at the teams who might want a larger sprint we only really have Deceuninck for Viviani, UAE for Philipsen and Lotto Soudal for Ewan: although I’m not too sure the latter two will make the finish. As for those wanting a reduced bunch sprint we have Mitchelton (Impey), Dimension Data (Gibbons), Lotto Visma (Van Poppel), Astana (Ballerini) and Bora (McCarthy). The rest of the teams will be looking to break things up early on, or on the final passage of Challambra so that a select group can stay away.

Up until a couple of days ago I was confident that things would be controlled here and that it would come down to a reasonable sized bunch gallop to the line. However, I’m not entirely sure of that now. Last year we had a few teams willing to help set the pace and control the breakaway but given the form of the riders, I can only really see Mitchelton and Deceuninck taking an active role to try to keep things together. We might have the likes of Visma and Dimension Data chip in but the majority of the work will be left to the aforementioned teams. Instead, I think we’ll see an attacking race because as stated, the form of Viviani and even more so Impey,  no one will really want to bring them to the line. The cooler temperature compared to last year could also entice some earlier attacks as the riders won’t be afraid of blowing up in sweltering conditions.

Saying all of that, some teams need to take things up before the last climb because although I think they can drop Viviani there and make sure he doesn’t come back, there is no chance Impey gets dropped there. The only way to beat him then is to have numbers to attack or to be confident in your fast man who has made the front group.

It would be interesting to see the reaction of Mitchelton if a strong move attacked on the penultimate ascent of Challambra – would they try to get someone in it or commit to a chase?

Four to Watch

Darly Impey.

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The rightful favourite for the race, Impey once again seems to find himself in great condition during the Aussie summer of cycling. I’m still not entirely sure if he would have won the TDU had Bevin not crashed on the penultimate day but given that he still managed to come home third on Willunga – he’s not going badly either. Mitchelton Scott will be 100% focused on controlling this race for him and I think they’ll try their best to keep things together until that final climb of Challambra. Dion Smith does offer the Aussie squad a plausible second option to play though. Getting a team-mate over the top with Impey will be crucial as they can just ride tempo and hope to keep things together for the sprint. With his current form though, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Impey going on the attack himself if he senses things are slowing down and a group coming up from behind. Everyone will have their eyes on him, but can he deliver under the pressure?

Danny van Poppel.

A switch of focus to the tougher sprints and classics for Van Poppel this year, he tested out his form in the TDU with a strong performance in Uraidla and a day in the break for the Willunga stage. We saw at the Vuelta last year, which was quickly followed up by Binche, that Van Poppel can handle the 2 minute power climb efforts very well and this race has been a target of his while in Australia. Lotto Visma has a team capable of keeping things together and with the likes of Bennett and Gesink they should have a couple of guys in the front group to work for the Dutchman. I think he’ll make the front split or not be too far off so that he can come back on the descent but he might suffer from the same fate as Impey – where no one will want to work with him and his team because of his far superior sprint. Ideally for both Van Poppel and Impey is that their teams have a couple of guys in the front split and they decide to share the work load, but will that be the case?

Dylan van Baarle.

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The first of my wildcard picks, I was impressed with van Baarle’s performance in the TDU and he seemed to be climbing very well. A rider for the classics, the 1km ascent of Challambra shouldn’t see him gapped too much by the proper climbers and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him right near the front. Sky don’t really arrive with a sprinter as such so I expect them to be one of the main driving forces for an aggressive race, pinging attacks off the front on every lap. As the Dutch TT champion, van Baarle has a good engine and if he gets a gap in the closing 5km it could be tough for a disorganised group to bring him back. Packing a decent sprint, he wouldn’t mind arriving at the line with a group of riders who escaped early on.

Gregor Mühlberger.

A blog favourite, it was good to see a few coming of age performances from the Bora rider in 2018 including a strong win in the Binck Bank Tour. With the defending champion on their team you might expect them to be working for McCarthy but with the Aussie suffering from a slight chest infection during the TDU, he might not have fully recovered for here. Mühlberger offers a solid option as he should be there or thereabouts on the climb and he might manage to slip away unmarked. He’s a longshot, but we’ve seen crazier things happen!

Prediction

Despite the best efforts from teams to break away in the closing two laps, things are controlled by Mitchelton and Lotto Visma and we get a select sprint of around 15 riders, with no Viviani and van Poppel powers home to take the win.

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Betting

3pts WIN Impey @ 5/1 with Ladbrokes/Coral (Would take 4/1)

2pts WIN Van Poppel @ 9/1 with SkyBet/Ladbrokes/Coral (Would take the 7/1)

1pt EW Van Baarle @ 50/1 with various bookmakers

0.5pt EW Muhlberger @ 200/1 with Bet365 (would take 150/1 elsewhere)

Thanks as always for reading, who do you think will win? Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

 

Tour Down Under 2019 Stage 1 Preview: North Adelaide -> Port Adelaide

Welcome back everyone and a happy 2019! I hope you had a good off-season and are ready for the cycling calendar to kick off in earnest with an Aussie summer of racing. Last year saw Daryl Impey take the overall crown on count back after picking up an impressive number of bonus seconds throughout the race, edging Richie Porte into second place, with Tom-Jelte Slagter rounding out the GC podium.

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All three of those riders return this year and they will no doubt be hoping for repeat, if not better, performances.

GC Overview

Could this be the most open TDU in history?

The move of the Willunga stage to the final day means that everyone knows they need to try to take some time back before then, as no doubt Porte will take his traditional stage win there. The reintroduction of the Corkscrew climb on Stage 4 will be very important in shaping the outcome of the race and you can’t afford to have a bad day there. However, I think one of the most important stages could actually be the day before that, with the new circuit finish in Uraidla. On paper it isn’t a particularly tough parcours, with no real long climbs, but the road is pretty much up and down all day and given the forecasted temperatures – that will take a massive toll on the riders. I think that day lends itself to some very attacking riding and it gives some a good chance to take time before the two tougher finishes on Stage 4 and 6. However, there is also the chance…

Could this be the most dull TDU in history?

If Stage 3 turns out to be a controlled affair with a few teams controlling it for a reduced bunch sprint, or if we see some shortened stages due to the heat – then the race might only be decided by the gaps on Willunga or bonus seconds. Of course, you could argue that is exciting due to how close it could be but personally I’d rather see some attacking racing.

As for who might win the race? It of course depends on a few things but Impey will fancy his chances of retaining the crown if he can pick up some bonus seconds and repeat that Willunga performance. Porte on the other hand will look at the Corkscrew day as another chance to distance everyone and possibly hold off a chasing group to the line. McCarthy is another in the mould of Impey who can pick up some bonus seconds here and there, but he’ll need to be wiser on Willunga this year round and not blindly follow Porte. It was a bold move for him last year but one that didn’t pay off.

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Woods might be one to watch this week, with the Canadian having a proper breakthrough last year – he is a serious contender if climbing well and arguably the only rider who on his day I can see sticking with Porte up Willunga. Poels is similar to Woods, but who knows what condition he arrives here in. Another few to keep an eye on are Hamilton, Valgren and Bevin who I all think will feature at some point throughout this week.

I think we’ll see Jay McCarthy take home the ochre jersey come the end of the week though. He seems to be in great form at the moment with a third at the Aussie Crit championships – not exactly an event you would expect him to shine at. At the road race he unfortunately suffered from being the only Bora rider and dropped out after any chance of the win was gone. On stage 3 we’ll see him and Sagan in the front group and with the former World Champion marking moves behind, McCarthy will be able to escape in a group and fight out for the win. A result which will be enough to see him take the title later in the week!

I may as well kick off the season with a somewhat of an out there suggestion…

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Anyway, onto the opening day of racing.

The Route

A bit of a rolling day through the Adelaide hills but nothing too extreme for the riders with the afternoon most likely ending in a sprint, unless of course something crazy happens such as Bobridge’s breakaway win in 2015.

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The finish in Port Adelaide is a new one for the peloton but it is pretty straight forward and should be a simple run-in.

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With the last turn coming 1km from the line, it will be a drag race from there. It is possible for a team to control the front of the race from through that corner and not allow anyone back, but I think that will be pretty difficult as there is plenty of room for others to come by.

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Saying that, there is quite a lot of street furniture (see above) on the closing circuit which could be quite dangerous. They possibly might just barrier off one side of the road for the whole kilometre because there is a concrete verge in the middle that divides it up anyway with around 200m to go.

Often these “simple” finishes are the most dangerous because everyone is able to jostle for position so hopefully things stay upwards.

*The race organisers/jury have decided to remove the full lap around the closing circuit so they will join it at the ‘zig-zag’ part on the route profile, coming from the east. It shouldn’t really change much as the same rules will apply for the finishing straight and the bits of street furniture there.*

Weather Watch

The reason given by the organisers for not including the finish circuit tomorrow is that they expect it to be pretty windy, and the race could potentially be split up by the time the race arrives back into Adelaide. That could cause some issues, as those just joining the circuit might get in the way with those at the head of the race – it is a sensible decision to make in my opinion.

It also means that I get to talk about the potential of my favourite thing in the opening blog post of the year…

 

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However, I don’t seem to share the same outlook for strong winds that the organisers do. Although to be fair, looking at various sources Australian Bureau of Meteorology, Windfinder and WillyWeather no one has a real idea as to the severity of the wind. There does seem to be the general consensus that it picks up a little later on in the afternoon but the stronger winds seem to be coming in after the race has finished. However, the time of them has gotten earlier since I looked the other day so who really knows!

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The final 16km is the perfect terrain for cross winds though, with a 3km stretch of road past Parafield runway completely exposed and flat terrain.

Likewise, after a couple of kilometres coming through town, the riders will once again be on an exposed dual carriageway.

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That only really stops with around 3km to go when the road is sheltered by more trees and buildings. Now, I’m not saying that we will see echelons, but if they were to happen, it would be in those closing 16kms.

Either way, it is going to be a very nervy finish so hopefully everyone just stays upright!

Contenders – A Three Horse Race?

Caleb Ewan.

The Aussie got off to a blistering start with his new Lotto Soudal team, picking up the win at the People’s Choice Classic on Sunday. His squad was strong, controlling the action all afternoon, before setting him up excellently. Having brought Roger Kluge with him from Mitchelton will certainly have helped him gel into his train a lot quicker, and the German was a perfect pilot fish on Sunday. However, there is a big difference between a one hour-long crit around a course that you’re familiar with and a new finish on open roads. He is clearly in form and starts the man to beat but he’s not been properly tested yet, given the crashes that took out almost all of his competitors the other day.

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Peter Sagan.

A solid second place for Sagan on Sunday. He was typically the last rider to escape from the crash, narrowly avoiding his falling team-mate and holding on to the back of Ewan’s wheel. With Daniel Oss attacking out the front amidst the chaos, Sagan had to be content with just sitting in and not launching his sprint early. Consequently, he only really opened the taps with around 100m to go which was way too late to contest with Ewan. The gap did close a little so I do think Sagan will show some good legs this week. Furthermore, if there are cross winds and echelons in the closing kilometres, it is almost a guarantee that he will make the split.

Elia Viviani.

Unlucky to have been taken out by his own team-mate Morkov in the crash, but at least the Italian managed to get away relatively unscathed – with only a slightly sore foot being a little bit of an issue. Arriving with a strong team, Viviani will be able to rely on trusted lead-out men such as Morkov and Sabatini which will be a massive help for him. Interestingly, I don’t think they will try to control the final 5 kilometres, instead they will try to time their run to the front of the peloton perfectly so that no one else is able to come around them before the line. They don’t have some of their big name classics experts so it will be interesting to see how they cope if there are echelons – but hey, this is Deucenink-Quick Step so they should be fine.

Best of the rest.

Max Walscheid – Has a young lead-out with him so not entirely sure how well they’ll perform as a unit. Might go missing.

Phil Bauhaus – Joins a team that has quite a bit of firepower and a last man in Haussler who is going well at the moment. Could be the surprise.

Danny Van Poppel – Arrives with little support so will have to mainly go solo. He’ll be hoping for wind to make the finish more difficult.

Halvorsen, Mareczko, Philipsen and McLay are all there or thereabouts kind of riders but I think they’ll struggle to make the podium.

Prediction

Possible echelons and a swirling wind that will make timing the sprint difficult, you will need to either be a rider confident in those conditions or with a team strong enough to guide you through them. Furthermore, with the GC riders no doubt twitchy and nervous about possible splits, I think we’ll see a very messy sprint on the opening day.

So I’m going with the master of race craft and position, Peter Sagan, to find himself in the right place at the right time again, taking the win.

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Zweeler

This year the kind people at Zweeler have been nice enough to partner up with the blog, so if you want to play some fantasy games for cash (not just cycling – they have plenty of other sports to offer) then sign up using this link here.

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Doing so and playing a few games will help the blog out greatly – so thanks in advance if you do!

Betting

Was tempted to make it a no bet day but I’m going to have a little dabble on Sagan, nothing wild.

1pt WIN Sagan @ 4/1 various.

Thanks as always for reading! Hope you enjoyed the first preview of the year? Who do you think will win on the opening day and the race overall? Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

La Classica delle foglie morte: Il Lombardia 2018 Preview

La Classica delle foglie morte: Il Lombardia 2018 Preview

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

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

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

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

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

But yeah, cheers and enjoy the off-season.

Here goes nothing for one last time this year…


 

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

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

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

The Route

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How will the race pan out?

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

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

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

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

The Great Eight

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

Alejandro Valverde.

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

Michael Woods.

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

Rigoberto Uran.

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

Thibaut Pinot.

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

Romain Bardet.

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

Vincenzo Nibali.

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

Primoz Roglic.

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

Egan Bernal.

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

Prediction

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

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Betting

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

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

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

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

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

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

 

Innsbruck 2018 World Championships – Men’s TTT Preview

In 2017 we were treated to somewhat of a surprise performance with third favourites on the day, Team Sunweb, beating BMC by 8 seconds.

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Team Sky rounded out the podium but were definitely the disappointment of the day as they brought their best ever line-up to this event. Will Sunweb be able to double up on what is the last running of the event? Or will someone else take the title from them? Let’s have a look at what is in store for the riders.

The Route

The longest edition since the event returned in 2012, the riders will face an almost 63km route through the valley.

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There is a slight rise at the start but the only real difficulty the riders will face, aside from some roundabouts, is the climb which tops out at around 18.5km to go.

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The opening 1.75km of the climb averages roughly 8% before it “flattens” for the remainder. It isn’t an overly challenging ascent when taken in isolation but with it combined with an almost flat-out effort beforehand, we could see some surprise cracks. Conversely, those with a good pacing strategy might see all of their riders in the group over the top.

After the climb there is a plateau before the riders descend and are left with 10km of flat to the finish.

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There is a sharp turn with around 1.6km to go but aside from that, it should be plain sailing and full gas.

Team Tactics

I for one am very intrigued to see how the teams split themselves up for this race. Do they have a designated rider who’s main job is to empty the tank before and onto the foot slopes of the climb? Will the squad ride a solid tempo to keep all six together before drilling it in those final 10km?

Annoyingly for most of the teams but something that adds to the tactical intrigue, is the hardest part of the climb comes at the bottom. This means it will be harder for the heavier riders to keep up with the pace of the lighter guys, potentially meaning they go into the red and fall of the back of the pace line.

The length of the climb also adds an element to the tactics. At 4kms, it is probably just too long to slow the pace down to let all six riders stick together but some teams might think otherwise and the 20-30 seconds they lose on the ascent they can gain back later on.

Personally, and I am no TT expert, I would try to have five riders over the top together. That means sacrificing one guy to drill it into the bottom and the rest to just ride tempo so that they stick together. Losing one rider but still having an extra over the 4 rider minimum at the finish means that the periods of rest will be slightly longer when making rotations on the run in. That could make all the difference and help keep the speed that 1km/h quicker.

A two-horse race?

Much like the women’s event, there are two clear favourites here.

Sunweb are obviously the defending champions and they arrive with a squad that looks as strong, if not stronger than last year. Comparing all of the teams here, they are arguably the only squad that I can see keeping everyone together over the climb. Although I do think they might sacrifice Haga early on and keep the remaining five together. A powerful unit, they arrive here as rightful favourites. However, they will hope to improve on their disappointing 5th place at the Tour TTT.

sunwebm_2000_gettyBMC will have been bitterly disappointed to come away with second last year, which made it two years in a row that they were the bridesmaids at the main event. A stat that is somewhat surprising given their dominance in the event in previous years and throughout the seasons at different races. They were disappointing in the recent TTT effort in the Tour of Britain, juxtaposed to that though is Dennis smashing it at the Vuelta in the individual event. In 2018 they have tasted victory in all three of the WT level TTTs so far and that will certainly bring them confidence. With Pinotti leading them from the car, their pacing strategy will no doubt be perfect. It will just be a case of them having legs on the day.

So that’s it then? Well, there are a few teams that might upset the apple cart.

Team Sky – Perennially the “oooh, they could go well” squad before more often than not disappointing. They bring with them a strong squad but in recent times their pacing strategy has been off and I see them dropping Stannard and Doull on the climb which will cost them, despite just how strong their final four is.

Quick Step Floors – Once the strongest team in the world in the discipline, they have waned a little bit in terms of their results. However, they always come into races now as the underdogs and almost over achieve. On paper their squad might not stand out to some but it does to me. They have six exceptionally strong riders with them though and I would not be surprised to see them on the podium come the end of the day.

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Team Katusha – Another solid outfit with six good riders but the climb might just be their undoing. However, a team with Dowsett and Martin can never be underestimated.

Mitchelton Scott – Might have a chance, might not. As I’m writing this it is just over 24 hours to go until the start of the race yet there is no final team for them. Like Katusha, they can’t be underestimated but the hill might be their undoing.

Prediction

A BMC v Sunweb fight and I think the former will get it right this time around.

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Sunweb to come home second with Quick Step rounding out the podium.

Betting

Close race that is hard to predict so just a H2H double for me, nothing wild.

3pts on BMC > Sunweb and QS > Sky @ 2.45/1.

 

Thanks as always for reading, who do you think will win tomorrow? Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

Vuelta a España 2018 Stage 20 Preview: Andorra. Escaldes-Engordany › Coll de la Gallina. Santuario de Canolich

Today’s Recap

The stage was going almost identical to yesterday’s preview, with Movistar controlling things all day and a break never allowed clear. Once onto the final climb Quintana launched early and was followed by Kruijswijk. Blog pick Pinot then rode across the gap and made the duo up front a trio. However, that’s when things went a bit off-piste!

Yates attacked from the rest of the GC group and no one was able to follow. Carapaz did some work but he soon went pop and Quintana dropped back from what was now a front four to help pace Valverde. The Colombian then punctured not long later and things went really pear-shaped in that group. No one wanted to commit fully and some more attacks came from Kelderman and Gallopin. Eventually, Bilbao pulled for Lopez but the gap had went out over a minute by then.

The stage and possibly the GC were gone up the road and with Yates continuing to push full gas, Kruijswijk eventually popped in the closing kilometre. Pinot, who had done several turns to be fair, launched his sprint and took what was a “comfortable” stage win in the end, with Yates trailing home 5 seconds behind.

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Wasn’t exactly how I imagined it playing it out but it will do!

Kruijswijk finished in third place, only a further 8 seconds behind Yates, a result that moves him up onto the current GC podium.

Will things change again tomorrow? Let’s have a look at what is in store for the riders.

The Route

The one everyone has apparently been waiting for, but it appears Yates didn’t get the memo today!

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Over 3400m of climbing in only 98km, is it a bit overkill? Pretty much from the gun they will face the Cat-2 climb of Coll de la Comella (4.4km at 7.7%) and no doubt this will be rode at a very aggressive pace as those hoping to make the break look to escape. It wouldn’t surprise me if the break doesn’t go, unless it is a massive move, until the Coll de Beixalis (6.8km at 8.3%) which officially starts at around the 13km into the day mark.

A descent leads into some valley roads and the intermediate sprint point before yet another Cat-1 climb  of the Coll de Ordino (9.4km at 7.2%). It reaches an altitude of 1977m and it might be a place to test those who suffer at that kind of height. Then again, there are still 55kms to go and a lot of racing. Where is Froome when you need him?

Once again a long descent follows before the road rises straight away up yet another Cat-1, but this time they are repeating the Coll de Beixalis.

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Again, the climb is tough but with its distance to the finish will we see anyone go for it? A fairly long descent is followed by the most amount of valley roads the stage has to offer, albeit, they are rudely interrupted by a paltry Cat-3.

It’s then over to the big finish and the last mountain the riders will have to face this Vuelta.

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Touted as Andorra’s toughest climb, it is known for having some double-digit switchbacks near the summit. The 8.1% average gradient will be a killer after what the riders will have had to face throughout the day, but on closer inspection the final 4km are even tougher than that as they average 9.5%. After a tough day, we could see some big gaps.

The Battle for the Top 10

With Yates asserting his dominance today, he now sits with a good buffer over his nearest rivals. Furthermore, both Haig and Adam Yates looked fairly comfortable for the majority of the final climb so he should have strong domestiques with him throughout the day.

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ProCyclingStats

There is scope for movement though but I’m not too sure we’ll see a hail mary attack from the gun by any of the top 5. I would love for it to happen but it is pretty foolish. Even attacking from the second ascent of Beixalis is unwise, unless you have team-mates up the road of course, because a lot of energy can be expended on the valley roads before the summit finish. We might see someone from Uran down try to get into the morning move and it will be interesting to see how it plays out from there. If that happens, then we could see some teams come to the front and ride to protect their GC rider’s placing.

Barring any major catastrophe Yates has this race wrapped up as he was the strongest on the climb today and he has a very solid bit of mountain support too. However, I did say that coming into the final few days of the Giro so who knows…

The battle for the podium is very much on though and any of the guys from 2nd to 5th could finish on it and in any order. That should be the exciting race to watch and it will probably provide some very tactical battles!

How will the stage pan out?

No doubt we will see a big fight to get into the break and those hunting the KOM prize will most definitely feature. Given the amount of points on offer there are still several in with a chance so it will all be about race and pacing management throughout the afternoon, choosing the right move to go with etc.

Once again I think Mitchelton will be happy to let a break go up the road and take the stage win and after their collapse today, I’m not too sure Movistar will be keen to set the pace early on and instead will no doubt turn to an ambush style strategy.

So for the break to be caught it either needs Astana to go crazy, which is possible, or for there to be one of those really awkward riders in the top 15 who will sneak into the top 10 to make the move, and another team closes them down.

One thing that also lends itself to the break is that the once over the second passage of the Beixalis, the riders still have 26km to the foot slopes of the final climb. That’s probably too far out for anyone to fully commit. Furthermore, I think the race tomorrow might just be too tough and it will scare a lot of the GC riders out of trying anything early. Instead, they will wait until the final climb and by then the race might be done ahead of them.

Therefore, for one last time this race, let’s play everyone’s favourite game…

TheBreakawayLottery

Candidates

It is hard to read into today’s stage a bit. For example, there are some who finished quite strongly where it is a matter of “do they have good legs?” or “will they be cooked tomorrow?. Likewise, the opposite can be said for those who just rolled home in the grupetto: bad legs or saving themselves?

I’m going to take two from each set and see what happens. I’ll be keeping the next bit brief!

Vincenzo Nibali.

Milano-Sanremo 2018 - edizione 109 - da Milano a Sanremo (294 km)

The Shark of Messina did a lot of work on the front of the peloton during stage 15 in an effort to set up Izagirre before going in the break on stage 17. He failed to live up to expectations on that day but the super steep slopes are not really suited to him anyway. After that stage though he said he was on the up and I think he will want to give it a dig tomorrow to test where his form is at before some Italian Cup races and then the worlds.

Rudy Molard.

Back to back Groupama wins? I was impressed with how long Molard hung on with the main group today so I think his legs are there. An attacking rider, I think he will be let of the leash by Pinot to chase his own success. This season has been a bit of a breakout year for him and after wearing the red jersey already here, can he take a stage win too?

Pello Bilbao.

I was very impressed with Bilbao who hung tight and looked as strong as some of the GC candidates today. His team leader Lopez disappointed me a little because he didn’t have the legs to go earlier on the climb, otherwise he would have asked the Basque rider to do some work sooner. Possibly Astana will allow Bilbao a free role tomorrow? I pointed out before his home stage that he seems to be “doing a Poels” and timing his third week perfectly. It will be tough to beat him if he makes the break.

Michal Kwiatkowski.

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Desperate to make the break today, the Sky rider just rode home with the grupetto to save his legs for tomorrow. He seems really keen to get in a break and win a stage here. The amount of climbing throughout the afternoon could be a test for him but I think he will be fine, especially with the shorter day. He’s been saving himself the past few days for one big blow out, will it end in a win?

Prediction

Bilbao to be given freedom and fly.

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Betting

Dabble on each of the breakers.

1pt WIN on them all;

Kwiatkowski and Nibali @ 50

Bilbao @ 66

Molard @ 100

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

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.