Vuelta a Andalucia 2018 Stage 3 Preview; Mancha Real › Herrera

Today’s Recap

Well that was an exciting finish!

It wasn’t as decisive GC wise as I had expected but it was a very tactical and enthralling finale with attacks off the front being slowly brought back for a counter move to go instantly. In the end though, Wout Poels timed his last attack at the perfect moment and sprung away to take stage victory and with it the GC lead.

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Sanchez and Wellens trailed home just 2 seconds down with Landa and Fuglsang another two behind them. It leaves the race interestingly poised going into the next few stages.

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

The Route

The only stage of the race that should be a guaranteed sprint.

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With that being said though, the riders will have to contend with a lot of uncategorised climbing throughout the day so it will be interesting to see who takes up the chase.

The two Cat-3s shouldn’t be of any major difficulty for the bunch unless some have really suffered during today’s ridiculously tough finish. We do get an intermediate sprint at Puente Genil with only 10kms left, but given there are no bonus seconds on offer then it’s interesting placement becomes somewhat less interesting.

The final 12km does roll a bit though which makes it a not so straightforward finish.

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The major rise in the closing section averages 3.6% for 2.4km that “crests” at just over 7km to go. It might just be enough for a team to stretch the bunch out if they hit it hard, but they’ll need to keep the pressure on over the last 7km if it is to be worthwhile.

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At just 500m to go, the peloton will be greeted with a very tight left-hand turn. Expect a massive fight to get here as you’ll need to be in the first ten riders through here if you want to contend for the stage.

Those last 500m actually kick up ever so slightly but it is more of a grind than anything else at an average of 1.9%. It will certainly give the sprinters something else to think about as you don’t want to open up too early and fade in the end.

How will the stage pan out?

As I said previously, this should be a sprint stage. But nothing is ever certain in cycling!

We saw on the opening day that some of the sprint teams didn’t really want to commit to the chase and the break almost and probably would have stayed away if it wasn’t for Astana. Now, that stage was a lot harder than this one but with a few more days racing in the legs, some of the riders might not be as keen to work at the front all day.

Sky will set their usual tempo but if no one up the road is a danger to them, then they’re not going to over-extended themselves by brining it back unnecessarily. That realistically just leaves the sprinters teams and none of them really strike me with confidence.

Modolo messed up the first stage and he is probably the class sprinter here but can we really trust EF Education First to organise a chase? This was the team that struggled to bring back a break in the Giro even when their whole squad was TTing on the front.

AG2R might chip in to chase but they’ve been in both of the breakaways so far which indicates that they might play that card again. So will Direct Energie or Wanty help then either?

I’m really starting to lean-to the possibility that the break might actually have a better chance tomorrow than originally thought.

In fact, I’m just going to talk about some break candidates because if we get a sprint then I don’t expect Modolo to make the same mistake again.

Lottery Contenders

I’ll keep this bit short and sweet as I’ll no doubt be massively wrong and we’ll end with the obvious bunch sprint.

Moreno Moser.

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Back again with my favourite Italian on Astana, he and the rest of his team-mates have done a lot of work over the opening two stages for the team’s leaders. In an interview on the Astana website, Moser says that he wants to work well for the team but also chase his own opportunity at some point in the race. We’re running out of stages so he might just go in the break tomorrow if there is a sense in the peloton of no-one wanting to commit to a chase.

Oliver Naesen.

As I’ve said above, Ag2r seem keen on sending people up the road during this race. Naesen fits the bill perfectly tomorrow of being far enough down the order not to be a threat but he’s strong enough to win from a group. With the classics season on the horizon, a nice hit-out here would be a good test of form.

Damien Gaudin.

He really “found himself” last year while riding for the Armee de Terre squad picking up three victories to his name. Starting his season this year in the Bongo at which he finished third overall, he’s been a solid domestique for his team-mates since then. He’s the type of rider who is dangerous in a breakaway as he seems to be strong in one-day races. With an explosive short turn of power (he’s not too bad at prologues) he could surprise in a sprint from the break.

Lluís Mas Bonet.

Cycling: 51th Tour of Turkey 2015/ Stage 8

Token Spaniard breakaway pick who also doubles as current KOM leader. Mas Bonet gets into the break to defend and secure the KOM title but with no chase behind he turns his attention to the stage. He packs a surprisingly decent kick and it could catch out a few. The slightly rolling finish would be good for him.

Prediction

Breakaway stays away as EF Education First fail to organise a piss up in a brewery and no one else wants to commit to the work. In fact, other sprinters teams send riders up the road and a 7 man group stays away until the end.

That man Oli Naesen warms up for the classics perfectly by taking a confidence boosting win here!

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Or we get a fairly dull day where the sprint teams decide to actually co-operate and then it is anyone’s guess. Modolo would be favourite but he’s not unbeatable.

Betting

2 of the guys not priced up but I’m just going to “waste” 1pt on some break picks.

0.25pt WIN on them all.

Naesen @ 50/1

Moser @ 300/1

Valgren @ 400/1

Van Hecke @ 400/1

All with Bet365.

Thanks as always for reading. Who do you think will win tomorrow? Will it end in a sprint or will we see the break surprise? Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

Vuelta a España 2017 Stage 19 Preview; Caso. Parque Natural de Redes -> Gijón

Today’s Recap

What a Vuelta the Lotto old-boys are having!

It took a while for the break to go but once it was up the road, that was it gone for the day. Sky mobbed the front of the peloton and no-one seemed overly keen to chase.

In the end, it was a duel between Armée and Lutsenko on the final climb, with the Belgian taking his first pro win. Not bad for someone who is 31 years old. Maybe age just is a number after all?! Visconti sprinted up the final hill to round out the day’s podium.

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There were some GC gaps behind, but nothing too crazy. Lopez being the worst off out of the top 10, losing 37 seconds to Froome.

With only the Angliru left of any major danger, it does look like the Brit has the GC race sewn up.

Unless of course we see any bold attacks tomorrow. Speaking of which, let’s take a look at what is in store for the riders.

The Route

If today’s stage was close to 100% ideal territory for a breakaway, tomorrow’s parcours hits the full house!

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Too tough for any sprinters team to control, not really difficult enough for the GC contenders to make their mark.

The peloton will descend from the gun almost and it is most likely that we’ll see our break of the day formed on the Cat-1 Alto de la Colladona.

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A fairly hard start to the day, especially when the first kilometre of the climb is false-flat and makes the average gradient a bit shallower!

Expect only fresh riders and good climbers to make the break if it does go here. Although unlikely, I wonder if we’ll see any early GC attacks. I live in hope…

The riders will then face two Cat-3 climbs in the middle of the day; Alto de Santo Emiliana (6.8km at 4.5%) and the Alto de la Falla de los Lobos (4.3km at 8.2%).

The second of those climbs is obviously steep, but it comes awkwardly positioned in the stage and it really shouldn’t be of any major impact to the day’s events.

However, the same can’t be said for the final climb of Alto de San Martin de Huerces…

Huerces

Short and steep, this could be a flash point for both the breakaway and the GC riders. The steep gradients will be a real grind and with almost three weeks of racing in the legs, some might surprisingly struggle.

Cresting with just 15km to go, if a rider has 15-20 seconds over the top then they should make it all the way to the finish line.

The descent into Gijón does have a few tricky turns but it isn’t overly technical. The downhill turns to flat at roughly 4km to go as the riders make their way through the outskirts of the town before finishing along the beachfront.

How will the stage pan out?

It is a fairly short stage, so there is a chance that some of the GC teams might try to keep things together and cause some chaos but with Angliru looming and Froome looking solid, that is very unlikely.

So here we are, yet again, playing everyone’s favourite sweepstakes.

TheBreakawayLottery

Breakaway Candidates

I’m tempted to treat myself to 5 names today. How exciting…

To make the break, assuming it goes on the opening Cat-1, a rider will have to be fresh or a good climber. The two of those seem to go almost hand in hand at the back end of a Grand Tour but there are room for some surprises.

Thomas De Gendt.

The Belgian breakaway expert has been fairly quiet as of late in this race, not making as many moves as would be expected of him. Is fatigue setting in, or has he been saving himself for one last dig? He produced a good TT on Stage 16, finishing in the top 20 that day so there must be some form there. At the Tour he made the winning move on Stage 19, can he repeat that tomorrow? I think so.

Odd Christian Eiking.

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A new name for the list and possibly an unusual one. It took a lot for me not to use the expected pun there! Nonetheless, the young Norwegian is a talented rider who took his first pro win earlier this year. A strong climber, he finished fairly well on today’s stage after sticking with the GC group for a lot of the day, coming in just behind Lopez and ahead of Van Garderen and Chaves. Can he turn those good climbing legs into a result tomorrow? Let’s hope he makes the break and we’ll find out.

Soren Kragh Andersen.

He seems to have recovered from the illness that was hampering him a few days ago, as he was in the second group that returned to the GC favourites once the pace had slowed. It depends if the team give him the OK to go and hunt the break because there is a chance he might have to work for Kelderman. If he does make the move, he has the explosiveness to go well on the final climb of the day. I wouldn’t want to take him to a small sprint, that’s for sure.

Nicolas Roche.

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The Irishman said pre-stage today that he would try something. Unfortunately that didn’t come to fruition and he missed the break. I’m sure he’ll be gunning for it tomorrow as the finish looks ideal for him. On a 4km climb like that he should be able to follow most who are up ahead and if he descends like he did on stage 10, then he could easily get a gap on the downhill. Enough to take the win? Quite possibly!

Matvey Mamykin.

Everyone’s favourite young Russian climber. Wait, he isn’t? Just @padsbets and I it is then! Mamykin was strong today in aid of Zakarin and was one of the driving forces behind that impromptu Katusha team time trial. He might be rewarded tomorrow with the freedom of going on the attack. At this point in the race with riders form all over the place, it might be the perfect time for him to also take his first pro win. It seems to be the done thing nowadays!

Vuelta Picks

Much the same as the past few days;

Safe Pick – Kruijswijk.

Choose a random GC guy and hope they come home near the front of the bunch. I assume we’ll see some attacks on the final climb so it should be the case.

Wongshot Pick – Mamykin

He’ll be your favourite Russian climber too!

Lanterne Rouge Pick – Houle

What the Houle…

Prediction

Break to stay away and Søren Kragh Andersen to take the win!

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Betting

As it’s unlikely I’ll be backing anything on Angliru, this could be one of the last days of punting so I’m treating myself.

Roche 1.25pt WIN @ 20/1

De Gendt 1.25pt WIN @ 25/1

Eiking 1pt WIN @ 66/1

Andersen 0.75pt WIN 100/1

Mamykin 0.75pt WIN 150/1

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

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

 

 

Vuelta a España 2017 Stage 18 Preview; Suances -> Santo Toribio de Liébana

Today’s Recap

The break stayed away to the end today, but it was only one man who survived out in front ahead of the GC battle behind.

Aqua Blue’s Denifl lit up the final climb of the day, taking the Irish outfit’s first Grand Tour stage win. Not a bad start to their first year as a team!

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The Austrian produced a great performance and didn’t lose too much of his starting gap. In fact, he actually gained time on some of the GC guys.

Behind, Contador attacked and forged on ahead, finishing second on the day. A group 4 then came in led by Lopez 36 seconds down on the Spaniard. Followed not so far behind from Woods and Kelderman. However, Froome was the worst off of the GC contenders today, shipping 1’18 to Contador and 42 seconds to Nibali and co.

It leaves the GC battle somewhat back on as the Shark closes to 1’16 on the current leader. However, the following few stages aren’t too difficult so it could all come down to a big battle on the Angliru.

Yet, with Contador in his current mood, who knows what might happen.

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

The Route

Normally at this point in the race, tomorrow’s route would be an ideal breakaway day.

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The stage starts off with some undulating terrain but nothing too serious for the riders although they will have to tackle a few 2-3km climbs at low percentages.

Tomorrow is all about the closing 65km.

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The riders will face 2 Cat-3s, 1 Cat-2 and a Cat-3 finish all in that closing 65km. It certainly could be tough enough to entice some GC men into audacious attacks.

The first of the climbs is Collada de Carmona.

Carmona

As you can see, at average of 7.1% for 4.7km it isn’t exactly easy and if attacked at a fast pace then the peloton could be reduced quite drastically here. It does peak at 10% at points, but the “steady” gradients should suit Sky and Froome.

The riders will then descend for just over 10km before they start heading back towards the heavens again.

Ozalba

 

Collada de Ozalba is of a similar gradient to the previous Carmona but is 1km longer and a lot more irregular. A classic Vuelta Cat-3 you might say that averages 7% for 5.7km. Would be a 2xHC climb at the Tour of Britain! The punchy gradients certainly suit a certain Spaniard who looked lively today. I wonder if this is where we’ll see an early attack?

A shorter descent this time of 6kms follows before the only Cat-2 of the day, which stats wise, is actually the easier of the three.

Hoz

Averaging 5.4% for 7.6km is easy for these guys, but that figure is distorted somewhat by the almost 2km of false flat right at the start and the 500m at the end. The 2kms at 9.7% are certainly steep enough for riders to attack and drop their rivals. Will anyone try?

The only issue with doing so is that once they are over the summit of the climb then they still have 29km left in the day.

You’ll certainly need some strong team-mates up ahead to drop back and drag you along the valley roads until the final kicker.

Subido

Another couple of kilometres at just over 9%, it will be interesting to see how the riders will cope if the last 60km have been raced aggressively. In theory the time gaps should not be massive, but you never know; this Vuelta has been fast and there is certainly some fatigue in the legs of the GC guys.

How will the stage pan out?

Hmmm.

On paper this has break written all over it, but after today’s escapades I’m not so sure.

Froome looked tired, but he did well to somewhat limit his losses. We’ve seen this from him before and he comes out fighting the next day. The one saving grace for him is that his Team was strong today. He had 5 riders supporting him going onto the final climb and if they are in the same position tomorrow, he should be ok.

Yet, Sky have done a lot of work throughout this race and that is bound to catch up with them at some point. If they show any weakness tomorrow, then Froome could be exposed.

The closing 66km look as if they’re almost straight out of a hilly one-day race. I heard Nibali is not too bad at those!

I expect to see Astana/Bahrain/Trek/Katusha all attempt to put the pressure onto Sky tomorrow by setting a fast pace on the run in to the first of the climbs, almost testing the water so to say. If they manage to put them into trouble then they’ll continue on. If not, they’ll wait until the final climb and hope their GC rider can gain some more seconds back then.

So will that all happen at the front of the race, or behind the break?!

I really don’t know to be honest.

Either way, teams will want to send riders up the road so that they can work for the team leader in the final valley. Therefore, we’ll see another big fight to get into the move.

Sky will probably once again call the bluff of the other teams and let the gap grow so at that point we’ll know who is interested in the stage if they start chasing.

I’m leaning towards to situations.

If we get GC chaos and attacks on the first climb, then the break has no chance. But, if it doesn’t happen until the penultimate climb of the day, Collado de Hoz, then the break should have enough of a gap left and favourable terrain to take the win.

As much as I hope for some aggressive racing in the bunch, I think Sky will be strong enough to neutralise any early moves so we’ll see the break hold on to fight for stage victory.

TheBreakawayLottery

Break Candidates

Names in a hat time again! After naming all of the riders of over the past few weeks, I am not going to explain my reason for choosing them this time round in massive depth.

Enric Mas.

Good climber, solid on the flat. Certainly capable of winning on the steep final climb.

Tobias Ludvigsson.

Great performance in the TT so form is clearly there. Might not find the last climb great, so an early attack could work for him.

Marc Soler.

Much the same as Mas, the Spaniard is good on the flat but much more proficient at going up hills. Movistar really need something out of this race.

Matej Mohoric.

Already won a stage this Vuelta but he has been a bit quiet since then. Had a tumble today but seems okay. He can certainly put out the power when required and could be an outsider if he makes the move.

Vuelta Picks

Another tricky day for those near the top of the table with the potential breakaway day. Like always though, on an uphill finish choosing a GC rider is the sensible idea.

Safe Pick – Zakarin

Looked strong today and should be up near the front again tomorrow.

Wongshot Pick – Mohoric

Double stage winner on the cards for the top-tube descender?

Lanterne Rouge Pick – Mertz

The Lotto youngster is bound to be fatigued by now!

Prediction

Even now, I’m still not 100% sure as to how the stage will go and I’ve changed my mind several times since writing the above sections.

It really depends on the attitude of the 4 main teams and how weak/strong Sky look on the opening climb. There is no point Astana/Bahrain etc burning matches on a day where they aren’t going to make any inroads on Froome if Sky are strong. Instead, letting the British team do some work and tire them out for future days.

But, I think we could see Sky falter and an unexpected GC day…

Contador to get that stage win his has been longing!

Alberto-Contador-Trek-Segafredo-2017-climb-pic-Sirotti

 

Betting

1pt EW Contador @ 50/1

 

Thanks as always for reading. Who do you think will win tomorrow? Will we see Contador and co go early or will the break survive? Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

 

 

Vuelta a España 2017 Stage 17 Preview; Villadiego -> Los Machucos

Today’s Recap

Night follows day and Froome wins yet another final week Grand Tour TT.

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Kelderman was his nearest challenger on the day, finishing 29 seconds down. With Nibali, Zakarin and Contador all staying within a minute of the flying Sky rider.

He’s certainly not struggling in going for back-to-back GT wins. To be honest, barring any unfortunate crash/mechanical or a terribly bad day; then Froome has the overall win in the bag.

The fight for the podium could still be exciting though and I hope we’ll see some attacking racing!

Special mention must go to Big T who was in the hot seat for the majority of the day, only being knocked off his perch by 5 of the strongest guys at the race! I guess the later starters must have benefited from the tailwind I mentioned in my preview yesterday. He’s a winner in my eyes…

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

The Route

A fairly typical final week Vuelta stage!

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The riders will start with a few uncategorised lumps and bumps (6km at 3% is my rough guess off the profile) and a fair chunk of flat plateau before the plunge down the valley at 50km into the stage.

From there, they’ll face a few more uncategorised climbs before the opening Cat-2 of Portillo de Lunada. According to the road book, it is 8.3km long at 5.7%. Not too tough, but it will hurt after the hard racing we have had up to now. It is very unlikely to play any significance in the outcome of the stage though, that will be saved for the final two climbs.

Once the riders summit Lunada they’ll face a long 30km descent, that does pitch back upwards occasionally. Not long after they’ll go through the sprint point before we tackle the final two categorised climbs which both fall in the last 28km of the stage.

First up is the Puerto de Alisas.

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As you can see, it is a very steady climb. Great for Sky to control the tempo and deter attacks! So unless someone is feeling very brave, I don’t think we’ll see any riders escape the peloton here. It will be more a case of people going backwards instead.

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The descent off of the climb does feature some tricky hairpin turns, but I don’t think we should see many gaps. The road seems to be in good condition!

However, the same can’t be said for our final climb of the day which is arguably the most “viral” of the whole Vuelta.

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Alto de Los Machucos translates to “High from the bruises” according to Google; will anyone be licking their wounds tomorrow?

It looks like an absolute corker of a climb to watch as a spectator, not so much to ride up. Incredibly steep gradients interchanged with some shallower sections will make it hard for the riders to get into a rhythm. Furthermore, the road is incredibly narrow and in some places they will only be able to cycle two abreast.

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The now viral concrete slabs.

When you then consider that fans will be standing at the side of the road, it could be single file a lot of the way up.

Team cars won’t be allowed to follow-up the climb due to its narrowness, with only the neutral service cars given the freedom to do so. This will make things very desperate if a rider needs mechanical help and there is no one immediately nearby.

It would be wise to put riders in the morning move to almost cover that option alone.

Speaking of which…

How will the stage pan out?

With the main challenges of the day coming so late on then I’m not so sure that any team will want to take up the brunt of the work by chasing the break down all day.

Instead, it is a much better tactic to try to get one or two guys up the road and then call them back if need be to help your GC leader. If not, then give them the green light to go for the stage.

Froome has a commanding lead, and Sky won’t do any extra effort than what is required so they will be more than happy to let a break go.

The only way we might not see the break hold out for victory is that if a rider from in or around the top 10 gets into the move.

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Those 4 are all relatively close to 10th place Michael Woods (who is 7’06 behind Froome). If they get into the move then there is a good chance that we will see Cannondale come to the front of the peloton to help chase and protect that top 10 on GC. It is not great to watch from a fan’s point of view, but it is understandable. You’ve got to get those WT points!

Nonetheless, I think another break win is the most likely outcome tomorrow.

So once again, let’s play…

TheBreakawayLottery

Candidates

150 out of the 164 riders left in the race would most definitely be given enough leeway to go into a break that could take 10 plus minutes on the GC group. So it should be good fun trying to narrow it down!

Obviously to win the rider has to be a very good climber. However, the issue lies in that the first 60km of the day aren’t great for the mountain goats of the peloton to make the move given how “flat” it is. Well, for Vuelta standards!

Inevitably a handful will, like Majka on Stage 14, but some will miss out. That is unless of course a massive group of 25 riders is allowed to roll off the front after 10km or so. Then we might see some more make it.

Anyway, here goes nothing…

Nicolas Roche.

Super strong at the start of the race, he was always going to struggle to keep that form up, especially when we got the longer, higher climbs. Nonetheless, he is still in great shape and is now far back enough to be given freedom to chase stages. The steep gradients of Los Machucos should be to his liking and he’ll certainly be a threat for the win. Has his confidence been knocked though after the past few days?

Jack Haig.

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My “initial-sake” makes his umpteenth return to this section. After Chaves, he is arguably the strongest rider on the Orica team on the mountains at this race. With the Colombian losing a lot of time in the TT today, I think Orica will look to chase stages now. In fact, that was evident on Stage 15 with Yates’ attack. Haig rolled home 6 minutes behind today, saving himself for tomorrow? I think so!

Richard Carapaz.

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The Ecuadorian has performed well on some of the mountain stages this Vuelta when he has finished with the GC group, coming home in the top 15 riders twice. I’m still miffed that he had to do all the work for Rojas on the stage that Mohoric won, the youngster is clearly the better climber and he would have had the better chance in my opinion. It will be interesting to see how is body reacts this deep into his first Grand Tour, but he is one to keep an eye on if he makes it up the road.

Enric Mas.

Quick Step have been incredible so far this Vuelta and they’ll want to keep that going in the final week. Tomorrow looks like a good day to get one of their young climbers into the move; easier said than done though! Mas performed very well in Burgos before the Vuelta on the steep ramps of Picón Blanco so he should find the similar gradients of Los Machucos comforting. Can he win and give QS their 6th stage of the race?!

Vuelta Picks

Another tough day where the break looks like it will win so once again you’ll have to adopt a similar strategy as to other mountain days.

Safe Pick – Lopez.

Any GC rider that you have left would be ideal here. There will be gaps on the final climb but I’m not sure they’ll be fighting out for the stage win, so chose someone who could be given some leeway by their opposition. Lopez is that guy.

Wongshot Pick – Carapaz

Name in a hat time again if you’re being bold and going for a breakaway pick!

Lanterne Rouge Pick – Pfingsten

A consistent low finisher. I like his style!

Prediction

Break to stay away and Roche to make amends for falling down the GC order by winning a stage!

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Behind, Lopez to take some more time in the GC battle as those closer to the podium mark each other out of it.

Betting

0.5pt WIN on them all;

Roche @ 125/1 (would take 66s)

Mas @ 50/1 

Carapaz @ 50/1 

Haig @ 50/1

(Would take no less than 40 for the other three)

Thanks as always for reading! Who do you think will win tomorrow? Will the break make it, again?! Or will we see a GC showdown on the final slopes? Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

Vuelta a España 2017 Stage 14 Preview; Écija -> Sierra de La Pandera

Today’s Recap

A solid break went up the road, but it was a break more suited to rolling terrain than what we had today. Villella gave up after securing some KOM points, leaving just 4 up ahead and their task was made even tougher.

Quick Step took on the brunt of the work behind, getting some assistance from Cannondale and Lotto Jumbo.

In the end, the last survivor from the break (De Marchi) was caught in the closing 10km and we had our sprint.

Well, it was a very reduced sprint to the line.

After all the work that his team had done throughout the day, Trentin delivered, taking his third stage win of the race.

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Moscon showed that he’s much more than a one-trick pony sprinting to second, with Kragh Andersen finishing in third.

Finally a good day for the pre-stage blog punts!

With the sprinters having their last chance for a while today, let’s have a look at what is in store for the riders tomorrow.

The Route

We’ve had a stage that almost descended from the gun to the finish (aside from a categorised climb) but tomorrow we have one that pretty much rises from the get go.

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Well, it is a very gradual rise from the start! Over the opening 70kms the peloton will only gain roughly 200m of elevation.

They will face some harder tests with the first categorised climb Puerto el Mojón starting at 77km into the day. However, it isn’t anything crazy…

Puerto de Mojon (1)

An average of 4.4% over 8.4km should see everyone make it over the top together. Once the descent has finished, the riders will tackle a lot of uncategorised rises, including a 4km effort not long before the Sprint Point.

At 33km to go, the riders will be able to warm up for the summit finish with the Cat-2 climb of Alto Valdepeñas de Jaén. Again though, it is nothing too troublesome for the bunch; averaging a fairly lowly 4.8% for 8.5km.

Therefore, it seems that tomorrow is all about the Especial finish climb – Sierra de la Pandera.

La Pandera

As I was unsure of the official profile I just decided to make my own as per usual!

12.8km at 7.2%, it is a tough test to end the day for the riders. That gradient does include some false flat sections and even a couple of downhills. Therefore when the road is going up, the gradient is probably closer to an 8% average.

The key point on the climb though is most likely at the ~5km to go point. From there until the little descent, its is 4.3km at 9.8%. That is certainly steep enough for some gaps to be created; we saw what happened on Stage 11.

At 1km to go the riders will drop down for 500m before the road rises back up again to the finish line.

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That hairpin with 200m to go could be interesting if we don’t have riders arriving solo…

How will the stage pan out?

Once again we’re treated to the question of “break or no break?”

In theory, the stage is easy for some GC teams to control. Not an overly hard opening to the day, followed by a lumpier second half is ideal for them to keep the break on a tight leash. However, after Orica tried something on Stage 11 (that backfired) I’m not so sure if we’ll see anyone offer assistance to Sky early on.

Trek of course could try something but the Cat-3 and Cat-2 are nowhere near hard enough for Contador to drop his rivals. Plus, with one eye on Sunday’s crazy stage, I think most teams will be happy to see Sky tire themselves out by having to do a lot of the work.

Consequently, I think we’ll once again see the breakaway make it all the way to the line.

It won’t be simple to make the move though as the opening 50km are fairly straight forward, albeit rising, so we’ll no doubt have a fast pace from the gun again. This means that strong riders should find it easier to make the move compared to the lightweight climbers.

Conversely though, the end of the stage is much more suited to the mountain goats. It could be a case of one or two strong climbers make the move and in that case, they’ve lucked out. If that does happen, then a long-range attack might stick as no-one will want to tow the better guys to the foot of the climb.

Anyway, time to play…

TheBreakawayLottery

Breakaway candidates

Enric Mas.

Quick Step have been in sensational form this race so far and they’ll no doubt be in the hunt again tomorrow. They have DLC in a good GC position but the team is aggressive enough to send someone in the breakaway and potentially fight for stage glory. Mas was one of the strongest on the climbs of stage 6. He’ll certainly be a danger tomorrow if he makes the move. Rolling home today near the back of the bunch after doing some work early on, does he have one eye on tomorrow?

Pello Bilbao.

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He’s taken some time to find his form in this race but he has been great the past few stages for his leaders. On Stage 11 he was instrumental in helping Aru lose as little time as possible on GC, eventually finishing 14th on the stage. It depends on how keen Astana are to defend their Team Classification lead, but they could well try to get someone up the road tomorrow. In his current form, Bilbao will be there or thereabouts come the end of the stage.

Rui Costa.

It has been an oddly quite Vuelta so far Costa. Something I didn’t expect before the race; I thought we’d see him in numerous breakaways. The only thing of note he’s done so far is that bold and ultimately pointless attack on stage 3. Nonetheless, he is a classy, classy rider and can’t be discounted.

Tobias Ludvigsson.

Token Big T mention.

I was staring at the start list and results for a few minutes trying to think of who else to include aside from obvious riders such as Majka (who might not even make the break on the flat anyway). So I just decided to stick with ma boy!

Vuelta Picks

Same shit, different day…

“Safe Pick” – Zakarin

Should be close to the head of the GC group at the finish, and you don’t want to risk going for a breakaway pick.

“Wongshot Pick” – Bilbao

It requires Astana to be bold and attacking to defend the team classification, but then also requires for the Basque rider to make the move. Yolo, as the young kids would say…You’re already sitting down in the bottom half of the table. Why not go for glory?!

“Lanterne Rouge Pick” – Tuft

Pretty self explanatory, Tuft ain’t not climber!

Prediction

Breakaway to win, but we will see some GC fireworks behind and a top 10 rider to lose quite a bit of time. As to who that may be, ask me tomorrow!

Rui Costa to take the stage win after being quiet all race.

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Betting

Spreading some pennies on the breakers but it looks a good day for some in-play action.

(all B365)

0.6pt WIN Mas @ 40/1

0.6pt WIN Costa @ 80/1

0.5pt WIN Bilbao @ 66/1

0.3pt WIN Ludvigsson @ 300/1

 

Thanks as always for reading! Who do you think will win tomorrow? Will the break once again make it all the way to the line? Or will the GC teams chase it down and go for the stage?

 

 

 

 

 

Vuelta a España 2017 Stage 7 Preview; Llíria -> Cuenca

Today’s Recap

A weird stage where the break never got more than three minutes but that was all that was needed.

With Luis Leon Sanchez up the road, Sky kept the break in check for a lot of the stage. However, it was Trek and Contador who tore things up on the final climb of the day, shattering the peloton.

We had a slight regrouping on the descent and flat run-in, with the gap coming down to 6 seconds at one point! Yet, three riders from the morning move kept their heads down, eventually increasing the gap and ultimately fighting out the stage win.

Enric Mas lead out the sprint, but it was Marczynski who was the strongest, beating his countryman Poljanski into second place.

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It was a bit of a weird ending to the stage as at one point the Froome/Contador group had 40 seconds on a group containing De La Cruz and Yates. Yet, none of the teams fully committed and in the end DLC only lost 17 seconds.

Will we see something similar tomorrow?

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

The Route

Another 200+km day for the peloton over some undulating roads.

 

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Although we don’t have the same number of categorised climbs that we had on today’s stage, the peloton will actually have to face more elevation gain at 2700m compared to the 2600m today.

There is a lot of uncategorised rolling terrain that once again suits powerful riders.

For example, the opening categorised climb of the day (Puerto La Montalbana) is 8km long at an average of 4.3%. Nothing too strenuous but they do climb for roughly 10km before then!

This is where the break is most likely to form.

Once over the top, there is a short descent followed by another few uncategorised drags. The riders will then tackle a longer descent before the second Cat-3 of the day.

The Alto de Santa Cruz de Moya is another power climb; averaging 4% for 8.7km.

From there, the riders will traverse a plateau of sorts for the following 100km. Kind of flat, but kind of hilly at the same time!

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The last climb of the day is enticingly positioned, cresting just 12km from the finish. I would take some of the gradients and bumps in the profile with a pinch of salt as Strava does sometimes seem to struggle when the route follows contour lines very closely. However, the average percentage for the climb is correct and it does have ramps of 15% or so in it, just maybe not the 25% or so.

Two important things to note about the climb are that it is cobbled, well paved, and it is very narrow in points.

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One car width wide in parts, positioning will be crucial for anyone who wants to contest the stage.

There is a slight plateau after the crest of the climb, but the closing 5kms are all downhill ever so slightly.

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Will it be a solo that comes to the line or will we see a reduced sprint?

How will the race pan out?

Another really tough day to predict. We could easily see a number of situations play out during the stage!

The early break obviously has a good chance at survival given what we’ve seen over the past few days and with terrain that is tough to control. For sprint teams that is.

Contador seems very sprightly just now and he may get his Trek team to help Sky keep check on the break so that he can launch an attack on the final climb. Considering the much shorter distance to the line that today’s stage, he could feasibly hold on with Froome and a few others. But is the climb tough enough for that? I don’t think so.

We could see a couple of teams control the day and hope for a reduced bunch sprint. Trentin was impressive today in making it over the final climb relatively close to the head of the peloton, eventually arriving home just behind the De La Cruz group. Lobato is another rider who might fancy his chances on making it over the short, not too steep climb.

Like today though, it would be wise for QS and Jumbo to send riders in the break so they don’t have to work behind.

Witha fast stage today, some riders will be hoping for a quieter and less stressful day tomorrow. Stage 8 should produce a GC showdown so the overall contenders might want to keep their powder dry for another day.

Consequently, if the right mix of teams and riders goes, then it should be another day for the break to stick!

Time to play everyone’s favourite game at the Vuelta…

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Break Contenders

Time to throw some darts again.

Tobias Ludvigsson.

Big T didn’t make the move today but I’m willing to give him another chance tomorrow. He came home in the Bardet/Moreno/Pozzovivo group today, i.e. the next main one on the road after the groups that included the top 20 on GC and the break. Clearly he has some kind of form and this is a race he seems to perform fairly well at. He climbed well here at the Vuelta last year and I was really hoping to see him push on this season. That’s not happened yet, but could tomorrow be that day?

Richard Carapaz.

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Arguably one of the biggest talents to come out of Ecuador in a long, long time; he is a solid climber and good all-rounder. He impressed early season, picking up a second place behind Adam Yates in Industria, along with a few top 10s on GC in Spanish 2.1 races. However it was his second place overall in the Route du Sud that really highlighted his talents. After Betancur’s fall today Movistar only have one rider in the top 25 in GC so they are guaranteed to be attacking. Can Carapaz turn their bad luck around?

Jetse Bol.

Another rider to make his return to the blog, he spent the day in the break on stage 5. He missed the key move that day but still finished strongly to take an 8th place at the finish. Tomorrow’s stage looks great for the Manzana rider and like many other teams, they’ll be hoping that the break makes it all the way. Bol is a rider who can climb well but he also packs a good sprint, will that see him through?

Pello Bilbao.

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This type of terrain is perfect for the Astana rider, who excels on rolling days. I’m still not 100% sure about his abilities on the long Alpine climbs, but nothing tomorrow should be of difficulty for him if he is fit! Punchy enough to make an attack on the closing climb, he could get a gap that way. However, he also packs a fairly solid sprint so he may hope for a reduced gallop to the line.

Vuelta Picks

Picking a GC rider today was definitely damage limitation for anyone near the top of the table. The same approach tomorrow is definitely advised too.

“Safe Pick” – Simon Yates.

A guy that should be there at the finish and relatively near the front of the bunch. It will save some of the “bigger hitters” for later in the race.

Wongshot Pick – Jetse Bol.

An almost smart Wongshot pick as it covers a possibly reduced sprint and breakaway.

Lanterne Rouge Pick – Lasse Hansen.

One of the many riders suffering from illness.

Prediction

Jetse Bol 2.0 to take a great stage win for Manzana. Vamos!

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Betting

Bol 0.5pt WIN @ 50/1

Ludvigsson 0.25pt EW @ 300/1

Carapaz 0.25pt EW @ 200/1

Bilbao 0.5pt WIN @ 80/1

Thanks as always for reading! Who do you think will win tomorrow on this upredictable stage? Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

 

 

 

Vuelta a España 2017 Stage 6 Preview; Vila-Real -> Sagunt

Today’s Recap

*Insert cliché here about having a 250/1 rider finish second…*

The break ended up making it today but for a while it was finely in the balance with Sky doing a lot of the pacing. However, over the penultimate climb of the day no one else in the peloton seemed keen to help with the chase and Sky eased off the pace.

Ahead, Lutsenko and Haller attacked on the descent, gaining quite a bit of time as everyone behind looked around. We saw a splinter move go and start to chase but they never closed the gap to less than 20 seconds.

On the bottom slopes of the climb, Lutsenko dropped his break companion, forging on ahead. Behind Kudus did the same to Gougeard.

However, the Eritrean didn’t have enough in the tank to catch back to Lutsenko, with the Kazakh taking a great win!

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Soler finished strongly from behind, closing the gap quite a lot, taking third on the day.

 

Similar to Lampaert’s win earlier in the week, I’m not too bothered with Lutsenko’s win. He’s a rider who I rate highly and have ranted and raved about for a couple of season’s now so it is good to see him take his first Grand Tour win. Although it is slightly more annoying when I couldn’t get on Kudus EW when placing my punt. Oh well. Onwards and upwards!

Maybe.

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

The Route

If there was ever a stage that was designed for a breakaway, this is it.

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Five categorised climbs litter the day, but with the last cresting at just under 40km to go, it is going to be a very tactical stage.

The opening climb is officially 11km long at 3.4% but the road does rise ever so slightly before then. However, it is not too tough and it is most definitely a “power” climb.

With the crest coming at 48 into the day, I would be unusual for the break not to have formed yet. Although equally, I wouldn’t be surprised to see them still slogging it out as they tackle the following Cat-3 almost instantly.

Puerto de Eslida is shorter but steeper than the previous climb, averaging 5.1% for its 5.3km.

If the break does go here, then there is a chance that the climbers will make the move. Not ideal given the finish, so they’ll have to be inventive later on.

The following two Cat-3 climbs won’t really play any major part in the outcome of the day and they’ll just be used to build the breakaway’s advantage, along with the long valley roads in between them.

puertogarbi

The final climb of the day the Puerto del Garbi averages roughly 5.5% for just over 9km but that doesn’t tell the whole story.

There are two very steep kilometres in the climb that both average over 11% and this is where the lighter climbers up ahead will hope to break the race up.

If a group of 4-5 riders gets ahead and works well at this point then they might not be seen for the rest of the stage. It will take someone brave if they want to go solo from here!

The remaining 40km or so are mostly downhill or on flat roads with a fairly simple run home.

Well, when I say simple, it is mainly straight but there are several roundabouts in the closing few kilometres.

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Thankfull the riders won’t have to make many 90-degree turns though with most of the roundabouts being travelled straight through. Having one at 250m to go will spice things up if a group arrives together.

How will the stage pan out?

A day tailor-made for the breakaway, I would be very surprised if we didn’t see the morning move make it all the way to the line.

There is of course a chance we see it come together for a sprint but who is really going to chase all day?

On Stage 4 we saw Aqua Blue and Quick-Step chase for the majority of the day, with some help from Lotto Soudal as well. Will we see a similar situation this time around? No.

It is a tough stage to control so it is more beneficial for a team to get a guy up the road early and re-assess the day after that. Doing so means they don’t have to chase behind which is ideal on this type of territory. If it is coming back, then they can change-up their plan to work for their sprinter.

The only danger for the breakaway in terms of succeeding, is if a current top 25 interloper is in their midst. In that case, Sky will more than likely keep the break on a tight leash and once we get into the final 40km, the sprinters teams could come to help reel it in.

Break Contenders

Two of the riders who I had pencilled in for this stage actually made the move today, with one of them going on to win the stage. I’m not sure Lutsenko will go for back to back breakaways, but the other rider might…

Alexis Gougeard.

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An incredibly attacking rider, he won a similar type of stage back in the 2015 Vuelta, where the penultimate climb crested with 20km to go that time. He has the fighting spirit to make the break on multiple days in a row, we saw that in the Tour of Wallonie not too long ago. Clearly in great form at the moment, I think he could go even better tomorrow.

Lasse Hansen.

If Aqua Blue aren’t willing to chase all day then sending someone like Hansen up the road is a great idea. The Dane has had a fairly solid season so far, winning a couple of KOM jerseys for his efforts. He came in way down today, which could be a sign that he is struggling, or he could also be saving some energy. Who knows!? I guess we’ll find out tomorrow afternoon. A powerful rider with a fast kick, he might fancy his chances in a small group.

Tobias Ludvigsson.

A rider that I am a massive fan of and you’re bound to be aware of that if you’ve read my blog for a little while now. With FDJ having a real mixed bag of a team here, they’ll be hoping to make the breakaways every day. Maison finished 10th for them today but I’m sure they’ll be hoping for more soon. Big T should be able to cope with the climbs and as a fairly good TTer then he could potentially attack and hold off his breakaway companions.

Bob Jungels.

Not really in the GC picture anymore he is far enough behind to be given some freedom. The perfect type of rider for this style of stage where power is needed for the climbs and for the flat. He struggled in the heat on the earlier stages but he seems to be getting more aclimatised to it now. A big danger if he gets in the breakaway.

Vuelta Picks

Another tough day with a breakaway win looking likely.

“Safe Pick” – GC Contender, i.e. Nibali.

You’re close to the top of the table, so you don’t want to take many risks. Backing a sprinter on a day like this is a very dangerous game as if the breakaway wins then the peloton might roll home together. Nonetheless, a GC rider is more likely to further ahead in the bunch in that situation.

“Wongshot Pick” – Break rider; Jungels.

Have a stab in the dark basically!

Lanterne Rouge Pick – Dunne

He seems to like to adopt the Cummings position on these types of stages.

Prediction

Breakaway to stay away and Jungels to take a solo victory!

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Betting

0.5pt WIN on them all;

Jungels @ 18

Hansen @ 300

Ludvigsson @ 250

Gougeard @ 125

Thanks as always for reading; who do you think will win tomorrow? Is it a nailed on break day? Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

Vuelta a España 2017 Stage 5 Preview; Benicàssim -> Alcossebre

Today’s Recap

As expected it was a long and tough day for the breakaway and we got the inevitable bunch sprint.

The run in wasn’t without danger though and a crash at 3.2km took out Moreno, Pozzovivo and blog pick for the day Molano to name a few. Good to see the Haughey Curse is back with a vengence!

The final 2kms were incredibly hectic with riders and teams strewn all over the road. Quick Step asserted their dominance leading, but it was Lobato who jumped first and launched his sprint early. However, Trentin quickly got into his slipstream and came round him relatively easily in the end, taking the stage win.

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Lobato held on for second with Van Asbroeck taking third.

*Overused fact alert*

That win makes Trentin the 100th rider to win a stage in all three Grand Tours. Quite the achievement.

It’s unlikely he’ll be doubling up tomorrow though. Let’s take a look at what is store for the riders.

The Route

A rolling day in the saddle that typifies the Vuelta.

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Three Cat-2s and Two Cat-3s (quite the tongue twister there) litter the route, totalling 2733m of elevation gain according to the road book.

With it being a stage that is unlikely to see any massive gaps, the fight will be on to get into the breakaway and we’ll most likely see the move go on the first climb of the day; the Alto del Desierto de las Palmas.

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Averaging only 4.8% for 8.2km, it is a fairly generous Cat-2 climb going by Vuelta standards. However, it is incredibly inconsistent with lots of changes in gradient, especially in the second half. This makes it difficult for riders to settle into a rhythm and should suit the punchier climbers looking to make the move.

Nonetheless, if there is a big fight to get into the move it might not even stick over the top of the first climb. Instead, it could go on the flatter land that follows, or possibly the second climb of the day.

Alto de Cabenes is a fairly easy climb, averaging a lowly 3.8% for 9.4kms. It shouldn’t be of any major difficulty to the majority of the peloton. If we do see a breakaway go here then some of the power climbers could make the move, rather than it just being the more mountain goat style riders.

The Coll de la Bandereta is next on the menu for the riders. With the break having already been established, it shouldn’t cause any issues and the only action it will see is possibly someone chasing KOM points. It is a sharper climb than what the riders will have faced earlier in the day, averaging 6.8% for 4.6km.

At just over 60km to go, the riders will face the penultimate categorised climb of the day.

Sarratella

The Alto de la Serratella is a long climb at just over 14km, but like a few ascents they’ve faced today, it is not that steep. If anyone wants to forge on out ahead, then they will have to do so early on in the climb between kilometres 4-9 where the gradient is the steepest.

Once over the top they face a long descent that features a kick ups, before a few more serious climbs on the “flat section” before the rise to the finish in Alcossebre.

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You can view my full final 6km profile here, if you want to look at the finale in more detail.

After the lower gradients on the previous climbs in the day, this is the typical Vuelta Cat-3  climbs we’ll see throughout the race. It is an absolute leg breaker and the style of finish I love to watch!

Some of it is truly cruel, with 800m at just over 14% (1.7km -> 2,5km in the image above) and 260m at 18.5%; that stops at roughly 400m to the line.

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Just look at that kick up! Hopefully the road surface has been improved, other wise it will be like riding on the cobbles of Roubaix.

How will the stage pan out?

There is of course the chance that the GC teams keep things together to chase for bonus seconds on the line, but I struggle to see that happening. Although saying that, Sky are in the lead and Froome looked very good on the similar last climb during Stage 3. They could fancy his chances and consequently keep tabs on the move. In their report of today’s stage Froome says he won’t give any gifts and fight for bonus seconds and at the finishes. Make of that what you will!

Yet, with the penultimate climb coming a long way from the finish then it becomes less likely. The reason I say that is because Sky would prefer a climb/descent just before the kick up the line so that the pace can be made hard and put everyone else into difficulty.

If they arrive at the bottom of the slope controlling a pretty much full peloton, then there could be a couple of his contenders who go better on this type of finish. Therefore, Sky might keep their powder dry and hope Froome can just gain time on the road instead, rather than bonus seconds.

So it looks like a…

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kind of day again, with backing a GC guy in-play.

However, even that has some permutations.

If the break goes on the second half of the opening climb then we will see more traditional lighter climbers up ahead, but if it goes anytime after that then a few more power climbers could make the move.

With the other climbs on the road not being too difficult (until the finale), then a splinter group of the breakaway could attack anywhere after the penultimate climb. Heck, we could even see a long-range solo attack a la Plaza from 2015 but that would be very hard to maintain for anyone!

Contenders

We have a lot of strong riders who are already 6 minutes plus on GC, with plenty much further back than that.

The issue is trying to figure if they are that far back; out of choice, i.e. wanting to lose time to hunt stages; simply not in form; or ill. Although the last two are kind of linked.

Currently there seems to be a bout of stomach issues going around the peloton with Majka and Contador the notable riders to have complained so far, and Ben King pulling out because of it.

It’s a minefield, but I’ll throw a few darts at it anyway!

Enric Mas.

Incredibly strong in Burgos, he hasn’t been as good as I had expected here so far, shipping a lot of time on Stage 3. Falling into the “possibly ill” category, if he has been bluffing and losing time deliberately to hunt stage wins then tomorrow looks good for him. Aside from Landa and De La Cruz, he was next best on the brutally steep finish of Picon Blanco in Burgos. A similar performance could see him take the win and mean QS take 3 out of the 5 stages.

Alessandro De Marchi.

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Willing to put my faith in the BMC man again, he’ll get in a good move at some point this Vuelta. It will be tough for him to out-climb some mountain goats on the finish so he’ll be hoping for a pre-selection before the last climb itself. If so, he can then attack around 10km before the start of the ramp and hope to win Cummings style. He has the class to do it.

Merhawi Kudus.

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The super light Eritrean climber in theory should be able to cope well with the steep gradients of the final ascent. He was incredible at the start of the year in Llucena and he wasn’t too far off the pace on the steep finish in Burgos recently. Dimension Data are bound to get someone up the road tomorrow and in the right company the Eritrean could win.

Ruben Fernandez.

I have a lot of time for the Movistar man. He has slowly progressed through their system, and although it has not been the meteoric rise since his l’Avenir win that some might have expected/hoped for, he has been very solid. Last year he was great on the steep finish of third stage, taking second place on the day and with it a stint in the leader’s jersey. He’s been a bit off the boil recently, but with no GC leader here as such, I think Movistar will be targeting stage wins. Fernandez could be that guy!

Vuelta Picks

Well it didn’t go well today for me and my Molano pick, after he crashed in the finale. Tomorrow’s stage is a bit of a land mine and we could see a few more hiccups.

“Safe Pick” – Bardet

If you’re near the top of the table take a GC guy and hope that they are near the front of their group at the end of the day. Bardet was one of the strongest on the final climb on S3 and he should be close again.

“Wongshot Pick” – Any Break rider i.e. Mas.

The boat I find myself in just now. You’re almost guaranteed to be out of the overall game so it is time to choose a bold breakaway contender and hope for the stage win. Plus, it saves some GC contenders for later in the race.

“Lanterne Rouge Pick” – Manzin.

The sprinter struggled on Stage 3 and will do so again tomorrow.

Prediction

I think the break will stay away but it is not clear-cut and all depends on Sky’s attitude. If they think Froome can win the final climb they might bring it back. Nonetheless, I would say it is still a 65/35 split.

So with that said, it is the name in a hat time and I’ll go for Fernandez to finally step up for his first pro win.

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Betting

So two of my picks aren’t priced up yet, hoping they will be later…

0.5pt WIN on them all though which currently means;

Kudus @ 250/1

De Marchi @ 28/1

 

Thanks as always for reading! Who do you think will win tomorrow? Will it be a breakaway win or another GC day?

 

Vuelta a España 2017 Stage 3 Preview; Prades Conflent Canigo -> Andorra la Vella

Today’s Recap

A fast day in the saddle with a nervous peloton that never allowed a breakaway to get up the road.

With all the hype surrounding possible echelons, we had nothing overly exciting all day; only a few minor splits. Well, that was until I tuned into the action at 15kms to go (you can thank me later).

Sky pushed it on in the closing 10kms and we had a group of  20 properly detached, with another 40 or so chasing on roughly 30 seconds behind. That looked as if that was going to be the end of it, until QS came up at three km to go, charing into the penultimate roundabout.

Things strung out and then the front of the peloton imploded as they were battered by a crosswind coming from their left. Theuns put in a massive effort in the gutter to close what looked like a 2m gap to those in front.

However, it was Lampaert who stole the day; attacking from roughly 1km out and holding on until the line. A great win for him and the team!

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A rider I like a lot, I wasn’t even mad that Theuns ended up finishing just outside the places in 4th, after he was beaten in the sprint by Trentin and Blythe. After the effort the Trek rider put in to get across to that front group, it would have taken a monumental performance to win. Oh well, at least I wasn’t a mile off!

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

The Route

The Vuelta organisers didn’t seem to get the memo from those at ASO about easing riders into Grand Tours…

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Two Cat-1 climbs and one cat-2 all in 158.5km of racing. Definitely not what some of the riders would have been wanting on the first weekend of the race.

The road essentially climbs all the way from the gun until we “crest” the Cat-1 climb of Col de la Perche at 34.8km.

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At 22.7km long in length and averaging 4.2%, it is certainly not the easiest way to start the day. The slightly low average gradient and its position right at the beginning of the stage mean that it will most likely be attacked at a fast pace. In the searing heat could we see some riders dropped early?

 

It all depends when the break is formed really.

Once over the summit, they will face an incredibly long, shallow descent for 70km. Pretty much a negative false flat!

The road then drags ever so slightly as they head towards Andorra and the second Cat-1 of the day.

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Averaging 6.8% for 13.3km is fairly hard but it is what you would expect in this part of the world. However, the first half of the climb is certainly the toughest, with the gradient averaging closer to 8%.

Peaking at just over 30km to go, will we see any crazy attacks from the peloton here, as the riders plunge straight down the other side of the mountain?

The final ascent of the day is the Alto de la Cornella. Used back in the 2015 Vuelta it is a fairly short but steep climb.

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The close to 8% average gradient certainly suits the punchier riders compared to the “sloggers” of the world such as Jungels. We should see the peloton climb it in under 12 minutes at race pace. Damiano Caruso holds the Strava KOM for it when it was used on Stage 9 of the Tour last year, completing it in 12:34. I expect them to go up faster this time round given its place as the final obstacle on the stage!

Although the 28-degree heat might slow them down a bit.

The descent begins off technical, but the final few kilometres into Andorra la Vella itself are straightforward.

How will the stage pan out?

To be honest, I have no bloody idea what to make of it!

We could see a few of the GC guys fancy their chances and make the stage tough, with a select group cresting the final climb together. Things could be slightly easier and a larger group of 20 or so riders come to the line for a sprint. A late attack from someone not deemed a “real” GC threat is a possibility. Then of course there is the breakaway staying away.

We wouldn’t normally expect to see a breakaway stay away this early at a Grand Tour but Polanc did manage it on Stage 4 of the Giro this year. Furthermore, this stage does have a very similar feel to the stage that Van Avermaet won at the Tour in 2016.

Will Quick-Step be happy to relinquish the leader’s jersey?

I would be if I was them! This Vuelta is exceptionally tough and you don’t want to be wasting needless resources early on in the race to protect a jersey that Lampaert is never going to keep all the way to Madrid.

Let another team take the strain of chasing breaks and setting tempo over the next few days. We all know Sky will do it anyway!

So I think we could be playing that game again…

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Two is company?

As I really have no idea who might be competing tomorrow I’m just going to name two break candidates for the stage. Plus, with three KOM candidates I don’t want to go crazy. Obviously anyone who wants to compete needs to be a good climber!

Alessandro De Marchi.

The guy that only ever wins at World Tour level and in fact, out of his three pro wins, two have been at La Vuelta. He was very strong in the opening TTT, helping drive his team towards victory and he seems to be in good shape for this race; like always! An attacking rider who is not a bad climber; all three of his pro wins have been from breakaways on mountain days, he certainly has a chance if he makes the move. After losing the jersey today, BMC will want to make amends tomorrow! He doesn’t seem to mind the heat which is a massive bonus.

Jan Polanc.

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The early GT breakaway king, can he do the same as he did at the Giro? UAE bring a very aggressive team to this race and they’re bound to get someone into the morning move. Polanc has really taken a step up this season in terms of his climbing ability and he should be able to cope with tomorrow’s stage. My only concern is that I have no idea how well he manages in the heat. I guess we’ll have to wait and see!

Vuelta Picks

“Safe Pick” – Chaves

A tough stage to predict in general but with a climb near the end, you want to be picking a GC rider. If it turns into a GC stage then they should be there, but will also be there in a relatively low scoring position if the break or late attack wins. Take a random dart at a GC favourite, but Chaves seemed fairly attentive today.

“Wongshot Pick” – De Marchi

You picked Degenkolb didn’t you and you’ve already thrown in the towel for the overall? Although you’re not completely out of it, the game is still early, you may want to be bold and pick a breakaway rider. Hoping to gain back some points, or score a crucial stage win.

Lanterne Rouge Pick” – Fournier

Close today with Zurlo, I think the young French rider might struggle tomorrow in the heat. Well, I say young but he’s 6 days older than me! In the last group today, it could be the same situation on stage 3.

Prediction

The break to stay away and De Marchi to add to his Vuelta stage win haul!

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Betting

Sticking to my 2pts a day, keeps the debt collector away rule*

1.5pt WIN De Marchi @ 50/1 (would take 40s)

0.5pt WIN Polanc @ 125/1 (would take 100s)

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

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

 

 

 

Tour de Pologne 2017 Stage 5 Preview; Olimp Nagawczyna -> Rzeszów

Today’s Recap

Long, hot day for the riders.

A breakaway escaped early on but was never given too much leeway and was brought back for the inevitable bunch sprint.

Sky were the team that was keen to hit the front early and they controlled the final few kilometres up until around 600m to go. Mezgec flew past them on the outside with Ewan in tow, dropping the Aussie off at roughly 175m left. He didn’t have it all his own way as Sagan challenged him early, and Van Poppel had a good run at him late, but it was not enough to stop the Orica man taking the stage.

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

The Route

A short and sharp stage at only 130km in length, we should hopefully see some fast and aggressive racing.

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You can view the whole profile on VeloViewer here.

The reason I’m not using the style of image that I have used over the past few stages is that due to the short nature of the stage, it almost seems to oversimplify things.

The day starts off with a climb for the riders, with the road almost rising from the gun.

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Averaging 3% for 5.5km it should entice some of the strong riders in the peloton to try to get into the breakaway. It does average almost 7% for roughly 1.5kms which makes up the brunt of the elevation gain but the false flat afterwards will be of equal importance for the formation of the break.

From there, the stage is fairly easy with only a few one to two kilometre long climbs breaking up the flat roads. However, from 70kms in, the road starts to become more rolling.

First up is a 2.2km climb at 5%, followed not long after by a 2.7km climb at 5.5%. Straight off the descent that follows the riders will climb once again; although a lot more gradually with 3km at 2.8%.

The riders will then tackle the final climb of the day for the first time, although from a different direction than they will later. If you take into account some of the false flat afterwards then it’s 3.4km at 4.2% but that includes an opening 1.2km at 8.5%.

Second time round it is arguably even easier. The road does rise gently in the preceding 4kms but the main climbing takes place over 1.3km.

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Not overly tough, it is still steep enough to be a launchpad for an attack. With only 11.6km to the finish will we see someone take a risk and go for it?

As for the finish itself, it is incredibly straightforward with wide roads and no real sharp turns.

How will the stage pan out?

Break or reduced bunch sprint, that is the question? Maybe with a slim chance of a late attack going.

With plenty of riders far down on GC, there is a good chance for some strong riders to make the break early in the day. The starting climb is an opportunity for them to get away but I have a feeling it might be after the climb and on the flat-lands where the elastic finally snaps.

It is a day for the breakaway specialists in the sense that the climbs aren’t too hard so that they suit a climber but instead seem more tailor-made to a powerful rider and classics specialist.

The key to how the stage plays out is Bora.

If they really fancy Sagan’s chances for the overall then tomorrow’s stage looks ideal for him and he would pretty much be a shoe-in for 10 bonus seconds. It will require them to control the stage all day, but at 130km they might just do that.

I wouldn’t expect other teams to help as;

  1. I don’t think many other sprinters would make the finish as if Bora do control the day, they’ll set a fast pace on the climbs to distance them.
  2. No GC team will help Sagan to gain time.

I’m really split on this but I think the break just edges it, purely because it relies on Bora to control all day on their own. 55/45.

Time to play that game again…

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Breakaway Candidates

You know the score by now; proverbial hat and names.

I’ll throw a couple of candidates into the mix, nothing extensive as always!

Niki Terpstra.

I’m a big fan of the Dutchman as some of you may know if you read some of my cobbled classics previews. He’s a bit of an arsehole apparently, but a talented one nonetheless. Quick Step have Jungels and De Plus for their GC challenge but the team has also been very attacking throughout the Tour so far. One guy who has kept relatively quiet is Terpstra. This is his first race back after pulling out of Ster ZLM so his form is a bit unknown, however, he always goes well in this part of the season. With one eye on defending his Eneco (now BinckBank) Tour title next week, I get the feeling he might stretch his legs tomorrow. A man who’s strong on short hills, the climbs tomorrow should be of no difficulty. Give him a gap, and he’ll be tough to bring back!

Matteo Montaguti.

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The Italian veteran has a penchant for finding himself in good breakaways but is always beaten by a better man. However, he is also good in the hilly (not mountainous) Italian classics and tomorrow’s stage reminds me of that type of racing; a few climbs in a tactical position but a finish that could also end in a sprint. Back in April at the Tour of the Alps he took his first victory in 7 years, winning a reduced bunch sprint of 49 guys. It doesn’t exactly instil the most confidence, but what it does highlight is that he can sprint well after a tough day. If a breakaway group makes it to the line he has every chance of winning the gallop!

Prediction

Terpstra to warm up nicely for his title defense next week with a win here.

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Or Sagan wins a reduced bunch sprint to extend his GC lead.

Betting

0.5pt WIN on Terpstra @ 150/1

0.5pt WIN on Montaguti @ 150/1

Would take 66s lowest for them both, and that’s at a push.

Thanks as always for reading and apologies for this being out later than normal; thought I’d go out on the bike myself! Who do you think will win tomorrow? Will the break make it, or will Sagan romp home in the sprint? Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.