Paris Roubaix 2017 Preview

Paris Roubaix 2017 Preview

The “Hell in the North” and self-titled “Queen of the Classics” (I’d like to argue about that – it’s no Flanders!) returns this weekend for its 115th edition this weekend. I mean it’s still a cobbled monument, so I’m not going to complain!

Last year’s race saw Mat Hayman take a rather incredible, fairytale victory which I’m sure you’ve already read a lot about this week.

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Can he upset all odds and repeat the feat, or will we get another fairytale with a Boonen win?

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

The Route

You know the score by now; 257km including 29 sectors (55km) of pave. Again, I’m not going to bore you with a massive route analysis (like normal), there are plenty of those floating around this week anyway!

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The first 150km will sap the legs and I wouldn’t expect too much attacking early on, but you never know after the past few cobbles races we’ve had.

It will be interesting to see who makes the “early” break. I say early, as last year it took over 70km for something to finally go!

The Arenberg will more than likely kick off the action in the peloton and from there anything and everything could happen throughout the afternoon.

A race of attrition and team tactics follows with the notable Carrefour de l’Arbre coming only 15km from the finish line. Will things all still be together then? Will a rider have gone solo? Or will we see a small group?

After that, they have 3 more sections but nothing too tricky on the run in to the famous Roubaix velodrome.

How will the race pan out?

Your guess is as good as mine!

The riders will be happy that the weather is good and there seems to be no wind, but that normally leads to a very fast race from the gun. That coincides with the approach we’ve seen teams take in the cobbled races this year; attacking from further out and trying to split the race up early.

Having a number of strong riders in a squad is important so that someone is always up front, following the moves, meaning that team-mates behind can rest-up.

I think we’ll once again see an attacking race here and it might not be the favourites for the race who come away with the victory.

Contenders

All the pre-race coverage is about Boonen, with this being the last professional race of his career. He hopes to bow out with a win and become the most successful rider at Paris Roubaix of all time!

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I’m going to be very controversial here and say that I don’t care for a Boonen win that much, indifferent is what I would call it. I’m not sure if that’s because I only started following the sport in 2008 and properly started paying attention to all the races in 2010 or so. I can understand the hype around him; he’s going well just now and looked strong in Flanders and Schelderprijs. But I think people are getting too emotional with how much they are hyping him up. He’s been talked up so much that he is now pretty much joint favourite and if I’m honest, I’ve not seen enough from him this year for that to be justified. Benefiting from being on the strongest team, he may well go on to win, which would certainly make for a great story. However, in the words of Simon Cowell…

its a no

Quick Step do have several other riders who can win this race, such as Terpstra, Stybar and Lampaert. The former I have banged on for pretty much all of this month and if it wasn’t for QS supposedly working for Boonen 100%, I’d be all over Terpstra like a rash again. If there is one rider who won’t follow team-orders though, it is the Dutchman. He clawed back the gap on the Paterberg to a fallen GVA convincingly in Flanders, taking around 30 seconds out of Gilbert on that climb. He is clearly going exceptionally well. A former winner of the race, I would not be surprised to see him attacking at some point, and he might solo to victory again!

Sagan was left bitterly disappointed after Flanders, but that’s the risk you take for riding close to the barriers. He looked bashed up at the time but seemed to be going OK in his Scheldeprijs training ride. Often underperforming in this race (his best result is 6th in 2014), I think he finds the easier parcours harder to create gaps on. Furthermore, there is a good chance he will once again be marked out of the race and unlike Flanders, he doesn’t have the tough cobbled climbs to just ride away from everyone. It’s hard to write off the World Champion, but I’m putting my neck on the line and doing just that!

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Greg Van Avermaet starts as my favourite for this race. He’s the form rider of the year so far and if not for the crash in Flanders, he had a great chance of winning that too. Even with that unfortunate moment, he managed to get himself up quickly and still sprint for second place. A rider who can win a small sprint but also isn’t afraid to attack, he has a great chance of winning. I wonder if teams will now show him the same type of respect/fear as they do Sagan? They should, if not, it could be game over for them!

Oliver Naesen has carried on his incredible trajectory to the top of cobbled classic racing. Following on from a strong season last year, he has been even better this year! He seemed to be able to cope with Sagan and GVA in Flanders but unfortunately was taken down in that crash. Sustaining an injury to his knee, he worked hard in Scheldeprijs to test it out and things seem to be OK. Like his training partner Van Avermaet, the Belgian isn’t afraid to attack and I think he will benefit from still be underrated within the peloton.

Aside from those guys, some other names to conjure with are Kristoff, Stannard and Demare, who have all shown good form at points throughout the year. They won’t be the favourites, but can’t be discounted.

There are two proper outsiders (triple figures with the bookmakers) that I’d like to mention.

First up is Edward Theuns. I imagine he’ll be one of the riders given the role of following early attacks, allowing his team-leader Degenkolb to rest behind. Yet, as I said in my Flanders preview, I still think the German is missing that 5% and doesn’t look as good as he did when he won here in 2015. Theuns is capable enough to step-up and with a bit of luck he has a chance, packing a fast sprint after a tough day. I really do hope he is given free rein tomorrow and the Trek DS doesn’t put all their eggs in a Degenkolb shaped basket!

Dwars door Vlaanderen

The other is Dylan Groenewegen. Possibly not the first name to spring to the forefront of your thoughts, this will be the youngster’s first Paris Roubaix. He is someone who I think can go really well in this type of race in the future! Much more than a fast sprinter, he can cope with a hard day in the saddle and with the route being flat, it should suit his characteristics. Like Theuns, with a bit of luck and being in the right move, he could be up there at the end of the day.

Prediction

As I’ve said above, Greg Van Avermaet is my favourite on paper, but this race isn’t won on paper and I think teams will finally approach him the same way that they do with Sagan. That will leave it open to a “lesser” rider, although it’s offensive to call him that after the season he’s had. Oliver Naesen will complete his classics transformation and take an incredible victory!

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Betting

1pt EW Naesen @25/1 with PP/Betfair (paying 4 places – would take down to 20s)

1pt WIN Terpstra @16/1 with various (wouldn’t take less)

The two bets I mentioned yesterday;

0.25pt EW Theuns @200/1 (would take 150/1)

0.25pt EW Groenewegen @250/1 (would take 150/1)

One H2H;

5pts Arndt to beat Laporte at 1/1 with Bet365. (Would take 4/6 lowest)

The German is a very solid one-day racer and finished reasonably well in Flanders. Not so sure about the Frenchman’s credentials on this terrain.

 

Thanks for reading as always and any feedback is greatly appreciated (especially some RTs on Twitter 😉). Who do you think will win the race and how will they do it?! I’m looking forward to what should be a good day’s racing. Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

Scheldeprijs 2017 Preview

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

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

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

More of the same this year?

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

The Route

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

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

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

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

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

Weather

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

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

 

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Forecast for Retie (78km done) Source: Windfinder

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

Sprinters

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dwars door Vlaanderen

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

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

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

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

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

Prediction

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

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

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Betting

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

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

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

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

 

Ronde van Vlaanderen 2017 Preview

Ronde van Vlaanderen 2017 Preview

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

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

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

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

The Route

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sagan blew the wheels off of Vanmarcke here last year.

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

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

How will the race pan out? Team tactics.

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

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

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

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

Contenders

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Prediction

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

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

Hmmmmm.

Right…

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

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

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Betting

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

Adding;

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

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

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

 

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

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

 

 

 

Gent – Wevelgem 2017 Preview

Gent – Wevelgem 2017 Preview

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

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

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

The Route

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

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Profile once again courtesy of @LasterketaBurua.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Weather

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

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

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Source: Windfinder

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

How will the race pan out?

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

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

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

Contenders

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

So who can beat him?

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

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

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

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

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

Prediction

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

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

Betting

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

E3 Harelbeke 2017 Preview

E3 Harelbeke 2017 Preview

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

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

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

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

The Route

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

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Profile once again courtesy of @LasterketaBurua.

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

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

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

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View the Strava segment here.

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

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

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

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

Contenders

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Prediction

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

Nonetheless, I don’t think he wins.

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

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

Betting

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

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

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

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

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

Also,

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

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

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

Omloop Het Nieuwsblad 2017 Preview

Omloop Het Nieuwsblad 2017 Preview

The start of the season for many fans and probably some riders to boot! The peloton makes its return to the Belgian cobbles for the beginning of the Classics season, kicking off with Omloop Het Nieuwsblad.

Last year saw a group of favourites (Van Avermaet, Rowe, Benoot and Sagan) attack on the Taaienberg with 57.4km to go and long story short, they managed to hold off the chasing bunch with some strong work and co-operation. A special mention must go to morning breakee Alexis Gougeard who drove the front of the break in the closing kilometres ensuring they didn’t get caught when the others started playing games . We then saw an ever so slight uphill sprint to the line and it was Van Avermaet who took the glory!

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The Route

The riders will tackle an almost identical route that we see back in 2016 with the only change being the traditional return of the Molenberg as the final climb.

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Credit to @RickyFilips95  for the above profile, it’s much better than the official one the organisers provide IMO.

The race will follow a normal pattern of an early break escaping up the road before the pace is slowly ramped up over the opening hills and cobbled sections.

Things really get serious on Kruisberg before we often see the first big attacks from the main contenders on the Taaienberg at roughly 55km to go.

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As you can imagine from looking at the profile, the biggest gaps are made on the steep bottom section. It’s interesting to note that Sagan always seems to “struggle” up that part, but then power his way over the flatter second half.

We then have a lot of climbs/cobbles/cobbled climbs in succession over the next 10km, five to be exact. If the lead group really put the hammer down over this section, they can really extend their lead. Likewise, it is the place where those behind may try to jump across the gap.

The final cobbled climb of the race, the Molenberg, comes at just over 40km to go.

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At only 300m long (averaging 8%), it’s not ridiculously tough but gaps can still be made here. Once over the top, the riders have to traverse 3 more cobbled sections and a fairly flat run home. There are some technical sections as they pass through towns and are on small, twisty roads, but that’s what you would expect in this region!

After the success of last year’s finish, the organisers have decided to stick with the slight up hill drag.

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Not the Mur, but it still requires the riders to have some punch left after a long day in the saddle!

So that’s the route covered, but it’s not the only variable that can have an impact on the race. The weather often plays its part here.

Weather Forecast

It doesn’t look as bad as was initially predicted which is a shame for us sitting watching from the warmth of our homes. In fact, there are probably several riders who would have wanted a lot of rain and wind!

With rain looking unlikely apart from a few scattered showers, it will be the wind that may cause some issues for the riders.

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The above forecast is taken from Zottegem, which is roughly in the middle of the route. As you can see, a 20 km/h SSW wind is expected. This could cause some echelons, particularly with the twisting nature of the route where the riders will have to change road position.

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The wind seems to be even stronger as we get closer to Gent. It will be a fast chase home!

Contenders

I’m going to do this differently than normal, structuring this more as I would on a breakaway day where I highlight some riders and talk about them in-depth. The reason for not going through the whole start list is that;

1. Plenty of others will do that so I don’t want to repeat and;

2. Most importantly, I could easily see myself write close to 3,000 words on the nuances and intricacies of favourites/half favourites/no hopers etc and…

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So apologies if I don’t name someone you were hoping for! Right, enough of me beating around the bush…

Zdenek Stybar.

You can’t have a cobbled classic without naming at least one Quick Step rider. Their team for this race is just stupidly strong and you could make arguments for at least 6 of their riders to win this race. Sorry Keisse and Vermote! That strength in-depth can be both a positive and negative as they should in theory always be represented at the front (we’ll just gloss over last year…or the year before that…). Yet, you’re never entirely sure who they’re riding for on the day! Stybar himself has often been the bridesmaid, used as the anchor on a chasing group behind.

The Czech rider is exceptional on cobbles due to his cyclo-cross background and he always seems to be at the pointy end of a race on this terrain. He’s been quiet this season so far but I have been impressed with the glimpses that we have seen of him. Particularly the Mapei-style attack that he was the main driving force behind at the Volta ao Algarve.

He clearly has some good form! Stybar isn’t a slouch either in an uphill sprint so will fancy his chances if it comes down to a select group at the line, like we saw last year. The only issue might be if Van Avermaet and Sagan are there, or my next pick…

Arnaud Démare.

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I’ve talked him up a lot on the blog the past few weeks, but that’s with good reason; he seems to be in scintillating form and has been unlucky not to have notched up a few extra wins by now.

Still only young, the Frenchman has had a very good career so far and is someone who I think is under-rated for what he has achieved. Winning some World Tour races this year will certainly help to change people’s minds!

A sprinter who’s at home on the cobbles and short climbs, he’s finished 10th here twice in the past (2014 and 2015), he just needs some luck to go his way.

Now, I’m not sure if he’ll be able to follow the very best over the likes of the Taaienberg, but he is certainly capable of being in a second group that rejoins the head of the race if those ahead stall at any point.

In an uphill sprint after a tough day he is certainly a big threat.

A repeat of the Binche result from last year wouldn’t go amiss!

Looking at a couple of riders further down the betting order, i.e. proper outsiders, there are a couple I’d like to highlight.

Dylan Van Baarle.

Cycling: 100th Tour of Flanders 2016

Finishing a very credible 6th in Flanders last year after attacking early on in the day, he will be Vanmarcke’s right-hand man here. A real powerful rider who can get over the lumps and bumps, he could well be used as a ploy, attacking off the front of the bunch while Vanmarcke follows the moves behind. Only having competed in one race so far this year on the road, he has been doing a lot of track racing so it will be interesting to see how he copes in a race like this. Will that explosiveness carry over?

Pim Ligthart.

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At a point in his career where he felt like he wanted more leadership opportunities, Lightart has taken the step down from World Tour to Pro Continental to ride for the Roompot team. This is the type of race where he should be given those leadership opportunities. Picking up a second place on a stage in Valenciana highlights his fairly good climbing form, so he should be able to cope with the hills here. Ligthart also possesses a fairly fast sprint so he could win from a small bunch gallop too. Although he will need a lot of luck to go his way!

Prediction

I’m really torn between my two main picks here but I think I’ll go with Stybar as the winner!

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We’ll get a group of around 10 riders escape on the Taainberg, but they’ll slow a little initially, allowing another 10 guys to join from behind. With some co-operation in the group they’ll build up enough of an advantage over the rest of the peloton. From here, we’ll see some attacks in the final 10km. Everyone will be looking at Terpstra as the obvious choice from QS, but instead it will be Stybar who makes the move. He gets joined by a few others (maybe 5 of them in total) and with enough representatives from the group behind involved, they stay away to the end. Stybar then powers away on the final sprint, taking an excellent win!

Betting

0.75pt EW Stybar @25/1 with various bookmakers (I’d take 22/1, even 20/1).

0.75pt EW Demare @33/1 with various bookmakers (would take 28/1)

0.125pt EW Ligthart @ 150/1 with Bet365/Betfair/PP

0.125pt EW Van Baarle @ 125/1 with Bet365.

H2H wise I like the following two;

Ligthart > Kragh Andersen at 5/6 with Bet365. 4.5pts.

I tweeted this one out yesterday when it was at evens and I still like it at the price it is just now, I’d even take it at 4/6, or 1/2 at a stretch. I’m confused as to why it is priced the way it is. Yes, Kragh Andersen took a good win in Oman, but he has no history what so all in these types of races, whereas Ligthart does. I can’t see Andersen dropping Ligthart on any of the climbs, and it should be Ligthart doing the dropping on the cobbles. I like it so much I’m increasing my stake to 4.5pts (from the 3 I initially put on).

Stybar > Boom at 1/2 with William Hill. 2pts.

I think it’s clear to see my love for Stybar with what I’ve written above. Boom has often promised so much on this type of terrain but he’s failed to deliver in the past. The Dutchman did have a good TT in Algarve but I just don’t think he has the quality to match Stybar here. Boom’s performance is still enough to put me off going crazy on this one.

 

Thanks for reading if you managed to get this far and apologies again for not doing a full breakdown of the start list; you can see how much I managed to write for just 4 guys, imagine 20! Any RTs/Shares/any type of feedback is greatly appreciated as always. Who do you think will win? I’m just looking forward to a good race! Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

 

Men’s Road Race World Championships Preview – Doha 2016

Men’s Road Race World Championships Preview – Doha 2016

*Apologies, this preview is not up to my usual standards as I am terribly hungover and only have an hour to write it before a family meal. Should have written in advance, my bad!*

Last year saw an incredibly exciting race and Sagan showed his strength with a devastating attack out the peloton on the final lap. He wasn’t to be seen again!

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Can he make it back to back wins? Let’s have a look at what’s in store for them.

The Route

A jaunt around the desert followed by 7 laps of the Pearl Circuit.

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Don’t expect any great scenery out on the course as they travel through the desert. We might see a few camels running beside the peloton!

There’s not really much more to say about the route, it is very dull to be honest. The only way this race doesn’t become a snoozefest if things get a spicy out in the desert. Speaking of which…

Weather Watch

Fingers crossed for wind!

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Forecast for Al Khor Airport

It looks like we will get some wind, but annoyingly just now it’s too much off a headwind (going out) to make a difference. Opposite direction on the way back. However, as we’ve seen over this past week, the wind can change direction and speed at will. With the barren landscape on offer, there will be nothing to protect the riders from the wind so they will have to be vigilant at all times. Even the smallest of changes in direction could split things up, and I’m sure there will be a few teams interested in doing so.

How will the race pan out?

No wind = snoozefest = sprint.

Wind = anything could happen.

I think (maybe wishfully) that the race will be split up in the desert, so I’ll be writing from that angle. Plus there will be plenty of other previews out there that will discuss the pure sprinters anyway!

So in my multiverse the wind reaps havoc on the peloton out in the Qatari desert. How much damage will it do? Well, that depends on how hard the teams with numbers go and the composition of the front group. It could be possible that the peloton maybe halves in size relatively early on into the race. However, that group is still far too big and it fractures again with 30 riders or so off the front. These riders then power on and those behind have no chance of returning. Depending who’s made it into that group, it could well go all the way to the line once we reach the circuit but this is unlikely. Instead, I would expect more attacks with either a solo rider getting away or a small group of 12-15 riders contesting the finish.

There will be enough teams and riders who won’t want to drag the best sprinters in the world to the line, so look to the Classics specialists.

Sagan is a safe option for both scenarios but he will probably want a harder race to get rid of some of the faster sprinters. Saying that, there are few who can match Sagan in a sprint after 250km so he will be confident of his chances either way!

Belgium will turn to Boonen as their all-weather guy, although they have a very strong team for this type of race, especially if the wind does pick up. Van Avermaet & Naesen provide great back options and should offer strength in numbers if there are echelons.

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The Dutch have Groenewegen who has shown he can handle crosswinds and echelons, but they also could turn to the likes of Terpstra to make a late attack from a reduced bunch. Along with the Belgians, they are the most likely team to try to cause some havoc.

Another sprinter who enjoys riding in the crosswinds is Norwegian Alexander Kristoff, like Sagan, he should be there in both situations. He’s been a bit off the boil this year but that could be a good thing, saving himself for this race and going under the radar. He’ll want to get rid of the likes of Cavendish and Kittel, making his job a lot easier. Importantly for him, the Norwegian team is very strong for this type of parcours with a lot of big engines for flat riding.

Other sprinters who will enjoy tough conditions include Démare, Gaviria and one of the favourites, Greipel. It will be hard for these guys to win in the situation of a blown to bits peloton, as no one will want to drag them to the line.

For a potential late attacker, look to Tony Martin. He’s been in great form in Doha winning the TTT and the TT, why not add the road race title to that collection too? There will be very few riders capable of bringing him back if he does escape with around 20km to and those chasing will have to be going full gas to get close.

Campionati del Mondo Doha 2016

Not as strong as Martin, but someone who is also on good form is Stybar. He looked very strong in Binche and has the capabilities to win a small group sprint or attack with a kilometre to go.

Prediciton

However, I’m going for none of the above. I mean it wouldn’t be right if in my final preview of the year I didn’t stick to tradition and go with an outsider?!

Instead, I think Matteo Trentin will be the new World Champion. Left-field I know, but hear me out. He rides for Etixx as his trade team and is very good in tough, windy conditions but more often than not he has to work as a domestique. However, here I think he will be given more of a free role and the chance to look after himself if things do get wild. Finishing 4th in his last two races (both this month) show that he has some good form. He has the speed to win from a very reduced bunch but also the bravery to attack from that group too if there are faster riders. Forza Matteo!

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And after saying all of that, Sagan will probably win.

Betting

It’s not a race I want to get heavily involved in and if we don’t get crosswinds, I won’t be watching until the last 10km. So a few outside shots to keep me interested

0.2pt WIN Trentin @ 150/1 with Coral (I’d take 100/1 that’s widely available)

0.1pt WIN Naesen @ 250/1 with Coral and Betfred

0.1pt WIN Stybar @ 200/1 with Bet365/Ladbrokes/Betvictor

0.1pt WIN Martin @ 250/1 with PaddyPower/Betfair/Coral

 

This is most likely my last preview of the year so a final thanks for reading and apologies again if this isn’t as succinct as normal, my brain isn’t functioning at 100%. I may have something for the Abu Dhabi Tour but I’m not promising anything. Working on a few ideas to keep this going through winter, any suggestions will be taken on board! As usual any feedback is greatly appreciated. Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

 

 

 

 

Eneco Tour Stage 3 Preview: Blankenberge -> Ardooie

Today’s Recap

Sigh…

I had a lot of faith in Dennis writing this preview yesterday, but didn’t put any money down on him due to the combination of everyone else seemingly backing Dumoulin and the odds not being that great. The Aussie went on to prove everyone else wrong (I told you Rohan would answer) and took a superb win, knocking 7 seconds off of Dumoulin’s time in 2014! So I guess that’s some kind of blog win, right?

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Also, when I suggested we might get a surprise or two today, I didn’t expect that to be Dumoulin and Martin being 20 seconds back and not finishing in the top 10! Few interesting names in that top 10, showing how varied a short, powerful TT can be at times.

Anyway, moving on to tomorrow’s stage and a finish we’ve had several times before.

The Route

Another fairly flat day (around 600m of climbing) that’s sure to end as a bunch sprint. This is all about the finale!

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The finish itself is a technical one, that causes lead-outs to be disrupted. As we saw on stage 1, a simple run in can cause issues, so you can imagine what might happen here!

That left hand-turn around 1.2km to go is crucial for the riders. If their train can take that first, then they have a very good chance. As long as they have at least two riders in front of them, three would be ideal.

In the video above, you can see the closing kms. Ignore the ticker in the top left of the screen, it’s wrong (classic)! You can see the effect that the sharp left followed by the chicane has on the peloton. It gets very strung out. If a team has a few riders left here, they can keep the hurt on. The video above shows what happens if there is a slowing of the pace once the lead-out men disappear in the final 500m!

The Sprint Contenders

As highlighted on stage 1, there are a load of sprinters here so I won’t be going over them individually and in-depth. Instead, I’ll be focussing on the type of sprint we have and who might do well because of it.

Due to the finish being technical, you need to be fearless and have a good lead-out who can dictate the final 2kms. Obviously, this was in issue for every team on stage 1, but I think it will be different tomorrow and some trains will properly form.

Considering the above two conditions, the first name that sprints to mind is Nacer Bouhanni. The Frenchman was the fastest finisher on Monday but was blocked and squeezed out a bit. His train didn’t leave the station so to say and never really got going on St1. I can’t imagine Nacer will have taken that too well, and they’re sure to deliver a better performance tomorrow.

Groenewegen also has to be considered in a finish like this. He proved on stage 1 that he can pick the right wheel and can deliver the result at the end of it. A very fast rider, full of confidence, he’ll fancy his chances of doubling up.

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Boonen won this stage last year, but Etixx will be hoping that Kittel can get the required space to flex his muscles tomorrow. His 9th place today on the TT highlights that he has indeed recovered from his sickness bug. Technical finishes aren’t his speciality but he’s by no means bad at them and he’ll accept nothing less than a win.

Sagan will look to get involved too and his incredibly bike handling skills and great tactical nous should see him on the right wheel coming out of the chicane. The way he’s riding, I would not be surprised to see him make the podium again and even take the win.

A rider I like for this stage is Nizzolo. He’s finished on the podium twice so knows the closing kilometres well, plus his lead-out train looks very good. If they can get 3 riders in front of him going into the first left-hander, he should be delivered to a perfect position. Can he hold on for the win?

Modolo and Ewan will find the technical finish much more suited to their abilities, while Kristoff, Greipel and Demare might struggle. Although the Frenchman is probably the best out of that 3.

Prediction

Going with my gut while the rider might go with his nut! Bouhanni wins.

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He’s in the top 3 sprinters here based on pure speed, his train is in the top 3, but most importantly he is fearless and incredibly motivated. I expect the Cofidis boys to sharpen up their act tomorrow, asserting their dominance at the head of the peloton in the final 2km. Managing to drop Bouhanni off in the perfect position and he cruises home for the win.

I say Nizzolo and Sagan round out the podium.

Betting

1.5pt Bouhanni  WIN @ 9/2 (B365)

0.25pt Nizzolo EW @ 33/1 (B365)

 

Thanks again for reading! Apologies for this being slightly shorter than normal, there’s just not that much to talk about. Who do you think will win the stage? As usual, any feedback is greatly appreciated. Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

Eneco Tour Stage 1 Preview: Bolsward -> Bolsward

Eneco Tour Stage 1 Preview: Bolsward -> Bolsward

No proper GC preview from me, but I’ll give a quick insight into how I think it will play out. The TTT will probably shape the race and with BMC the likely winners of that stage, they should have at least 4 riders in the top 10 going into the tougher stages at the end. Playing the numbers game, they should hold on for the win, with GVA or Dennis being their best candidates. I’d go with Van Avermaet to win it!

However, if some teams can stay relatively close in the TTT, such as Tinkoff, then they have a chance to upset the apple cart. The ITT won’t play a huge part in the race, as there won’t be massive time gaps because of it, so it will come down to the TTT and the final two road stages. After Sagan crushing the opposition today at the Euro Champs he’ll be brimming with confidence (like always!) and could claw back some time here. My dark-horse for the week is his team-mate Michael Valgren. A top 5 would be, and require a fantastic performance but a top 10 does look achievable!

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Anyway, let’s have a look at the opening stage.

The Route

The organisers aren’t entirely helpful and there are no official profiles. There are GPX files which you can download so I’ve attempted to make my own stage profile. However, Strava seems to get a bit confused at some point and the route it makes is 6km longer than the official 184km for the stage. Nonetheless, here it is…

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Pan-flat pretty much all day, although with some tiny changes in elevation, but that’s me really scraping the barrel for something to talk about! It is a nailed on sprint stage.

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The final 3km should be fairly straight-forward, although it is important to note that the roads aren’t large open highways. Instead, they’re normal two-lane roads, so there won’t be lots of space for every team at the front. This is particularly interesting with the number of sprinters and lead-out trains that we have here. Speaking of which…

Sprint Contenders

We have a whole host of sprint talent here, as they gear up towards the World’s in Qatar that start in just under a months time.

The fastest man in the world, Marcel Kittel, makes an appearance here. After a poor TDF, only picking up one stage win, he finally returned to racing at the end of last month. He re-found his race pace in Germany doing some work for team-mates, and managed to win GP Fourmies a fortnight ago. However, he was physically sick during the race in Belgium on Friday, forcing him to abandon. I’m not sure if he’ll have recovered fully by tomorrow and he won’t make the podium. Bold claim, I know!

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In fact, if he isn’t feeling 100% Etixx may turn to Boonen as their sprint option. I just think he lacks the top end speed now to match the best on a pure sprint like this. No Etixx rider in the top 5 tomorrow!

Looking to seize his opportunity will be Andre Greipel. The Gorilla has had a very solid season, he always seems to deliver! Winning the opening stage at the Tour of Britain comfortably he then turned his focus to team duties, riding for Debuscherre for the rest of the race. He’ll be back to team leader in the sprints here. With the simple run-in he’ll want to take advantage and remind everyone, particularly the German World’s selectors, that he is the man to beat. With a solid lead-out, the stage is certainly there for the taking!

One rider who will have something to say about that is Nacer Bouhanni. The mercurial Frenchman has his full lead-out train with him here. Having felt hard done by in the past few months with being relegated in a sprint and supposedly the whole world against him, he’s going to come out fighting! A very fast rider on his day, people seem to forget he has a great kick. With Kittel not 100% and Greipel not a fan if things get messy, Bouhanni is a serious threat!

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Kristoff comes here after dominating his local race, the Tour des Fjords. Admittedly, the level of sprinters there wasn’t that high but confidence is key for sprinters, so Kristoff will come here with high levels of expectations. Can he deliver? Quite possibly. He’ll be hoping for a headwind sprint!

Orica come here with two options, Matthews or Ewan. I think they’ll go for the latter in tomorrow’s sprint. With it being pan-flat, it suits Ewan’s characteristics a lot more. However, as fast as he is, I don’t think he’s at the level to win against this competition consistently, not just yet. Maybe next year and certainly in years to come!

One rider I am interested in seeing how they go here is Giacomo Nizzolo. The Italian has had a bit of a so-so season, but as his country’s main hope for a medal at the World’s he’ll be coming here in good form. He crashed in Britain, but seemed to be over that, winning Coppa Bernocchi midweek. The Trek team here is surprisingly strong, with Stuyven, Van Poppel and Bonifazio to lead him out. A rider who’s promised a lot in the past, I think he’ll get a win this week. Is tomorrow his day?

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How can I leave out the new European Champion too! Sagan was incredibly strong today, but can he pull off back to back wins? It will be tough but he his capable of doing it. He’s looking in great shape for the Worlds, but will he risk that chance to mix it up in the sprints here?

Aside from those mentioned above, there are still several guys who could get in the mix; Groenewegen, Degenkolb, Danny Van Poppel, Wippert, Démare, Modolo, Kreder, Capiot, Van Lerberghe, Jans, Dehaes, Van Genechten, Renshaw, EBH & GVA. Quite the list! Eat your heart out CyclingQuotes 😉

The first three in that list are most likely to challenge.

Prediction

Flat sprint, straight roads and a team that normally starts with a bang. Greipel to take the win and make a big statement!

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Betting

With a stage that could cause a few surprises, a sensible decision would be a no bet. But we all know I’m not very sensible and don’t like sitting on the fence!

Greipel 1pt WIN @ 5/1 with Bet365

Nizzolo 0.25pt EW @28/1 with Various bookmakers.

 

Thanks for reading, hope you enjoyed the preview?! How do you think the first sprint stage will go down? As usual, any feedback is greatly appreciated! Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

Ride London Classic

Ride London Classic

*Apologies in advance, this will be a more truncated preview than normal, I’m away on a family holiday tomorrow so don’t have much time to write this.  I’ll be focussing more on contenders than route etc*

The Route

 

There are plenty previews out there that focus on the route more. Check out CyclingQuotes or CyclingHub.

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Basically, it’s a mix of shortish climbs in the mid portion of the race, followed by a mainly flat finish into London with a couple of bumps along the way.

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How will the race pan out?

The profile suggests bunch sprint, previous editions suggest otherwise.

Ride London is normally dominated by fast and aggressive racing, as the teams without top sprinters attempt to split the race up over the climbs. Having smaller teams (6 riders per squad) is also conducive to more aggressive racing as there are less team-mates to control the breakaways and attacks.

This is one of the toughest races to predict the outcome of.

We could well see a sprint of 70-80 riders, a sprint of around 40, a small group of 10 or less make it to the line, or even a solo winner.

All of the above are all very plausible outcomes.

Contenders

The team with the strongest candidate here has to be Orica BikeExchange who have Michael Matthews. The Aussie rider will be able to deal with all of the climbs easily and he isn’t afraid to go onto the attack. He has a very fast sprint after a tough day, as was shown on Stage 10 at the Tour. He has to start as favourite. The only concern is that Orica don’t like to chase all day, so he might have to force/follow the attacks himself and could be outnumbered late in the race. Howson will be the key for him.

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Etixx have a strong squad here, if not the strongest, with two great candidates in the shape of Boonen and Trentin. I would say the Italian has the greater all round abilities to win this race compared to his veteran team-mate. It will be interesting to see how they play it. In Terpstra, Vandenbergh and Martinelli they have strong riders to chase moves or to force the opposition to work. Although Marintelli won’t win himself, because Gaviria isn’t here to be led out.

Last year’s winner Drucker returns for BMC. Their team is not as strong as in previous editions, and they don’t have a proper sprinter. They will have to force the race and split it up which is possible, with the likes of Oss and Gerts.

Sky come here with the Tour winner, but I can’t see him doing anything here. Their hopes will be Swift or DVP in some kind of sprint, but their main card could well be Stannard. The powerhouse of a rider did a great deal of work at the Tour and this type of race will suit him down to a tee. He should be able to manage the climbs and his big diesel engine will get better as the race goes. I can imagine he’ll be given the go ahead to mark attacks/go himself, while the others wait for a sprint.

Lotto come here without a big-name sprinter so will most likely turn to Roelandts as their main hope. A great classics rider, he’ll deal with Box Hill etc easily and he packs a fast kick too from a reduced group! Jelle Wallays might also have an impact on the days outcome.

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The other big name Brits: Cummings, Blythe and Dowsett could all pull something off here. With Blythe winning here before, he is very capable of winning a sprint. The other two will have to come home alone.

Away from the bigger teams and well-known riders there are a few guys from Pro-Conti and Continental teams that I’d like to highlight. It will be tough for these riders to win, but I hope we get a good showing from them!

First up is Karol Domagalski from One Pro Cycling. The Polish rider is a fairly solid climber and isn’t afraid of attacking. Earlier in June he won a stage in Korea with a great attack in the final 5km. Furthermore, he’s shown recent form, after winning the “bunch” sprint at the Ordiziako Klasika, so has a good turn of speed from a small group.

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Xandro Meurisse has recently just switched team from Crelan to Wanty as a stagiaire and gets his first race here. He finished 7th on GC at the Tour de Wallonie earlier this week so clearly has good legs. Another fast finisher from a small group he out-sprinted Coquard in Dunkerque after a tough end to the stage that involved some short, steep climbs. If he makes a small selection here, I’d keep an eye on him!

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I can’t go through these three riders without selecting a Brit, so Thomas Stewart gets the nod. The Madison Genesis rider has had a very consistent, picking up a win in Wales not so long ago, but also managing an 11th place on GC at the Tour de Yorkshire. He’ll hope to make it over the climbs with the favourites, and he should not be underestimated!

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Prediction

I think we’ll see another selective race tomorrow. I’d love to see one of the 3 “lesser” riders I’ve named steal a win, even a podium would be great! However, I fancy Ian Stannard to put in a killer attack somewhere near the finish and with the others marking each other out/not co-operating, he’ll storm away to victory. After all, he has Tour legs!

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Betting

No odds up as of writing. 

I’ll be backing Stannard for the win, most likely EW, odds dependant. If he’s 20/1 or under I’ll just go straight up. 

If there are somehow odds for my 3 outside riders, then I might have a small fun play on them. If not, it’ll just be Yogi.

Stannard 33/1 at B365 1pt EW

0.125pt EW on Meurrise (80/1) & Domagalski (200/1)

Thanks again for reading, any feedback is always appreciated. Do you think we’ll see a selective race? Unfortunately, I doubt I’ll be able to watch it as I’ll be travelling most of the day 😦 I’m taking my laptop with me so the next preview should be for the Olympics RR, but I’m not promising anything. Enjoy the race wherever you’re watching it from! Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.