Strade Bianche 2017 Preview; Siena -> Siena

Strade Bianche 2017 Preview; Siena -> Siena

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

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

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

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

The Route

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

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There you go…

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

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

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

Weather

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

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Weather in Siena (Source: Wunderground)

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

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

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

Contenders

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Prediction

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

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Betting

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

Rio Olympics 2016 – Men and Women’s ITT Preview

Rio Olympics 2016 – Men and Women’s ITT Preview

Mixing things up with a joint preview!

After the dramatic events over the weekend, the riders have a couple of days rest before the Individual Time Trial on Wednesday.

The Route

The TT takes place over the Grumari circuit that was used during the Road Race.

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As you can see, the route is a mixed bag of short climbs and long periods of rolling roads. This really opens up the type of rider who can win, as some climbers will fancy it but so will some of the TT specialists. I guess nowadays though, a lot of good climbers are solid TTers as well and vice versa!

The few uncategorised lumps at the start of the route will sap the legs before the first “official” climb on the route; the Grumari Climb. Don’t let the short length deceive you (1.3km long), the average gradient is steep at 9.4%. However, this isn’t the whole story, as the second half of the climb is much tougher, with peaks of 24%. The second climb (Grota Funda) is a much steadier affair, clocking in at 2.1km long and only averaging 6.8%.

Neither of these climbs are alpine, but they will certainly pose a test, especially on a TT bike. As will the descents.

However, it’s not only the climbs that will worry the riders. They will be concerned about the section of cobbles that runs along the coast. This stretch of road caused issues in both the men’s and women’s races with riders dropping chains etc. The stronger riders will certainly be hoping to take advantage of it as the lighter riders struggle to get power down.

After the final descent, the riders will have around 8km of flat road left. They’ll need to save some energy for this as it is possible to lose a lot of time here.

The men follow the exact same route as the women, but complete the circuit twice!

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Female Contenders

Fresh off her RR win, Anna van der Breggen comes into this race as the bookies favourite. She’s had a great season so far, and has performed well in TTs, recently finishing 2nd at the Giro Rosa time trial. Furthermore, finishing 2nd at last years World’s shows that she can last the distance. I would not be surprised if she doubles up!

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Current World Champ Linda Villumsen was on the attack yesterday on the Grumari circuit, obviously wanting to test her legs and have a look at the course at race speed. With her racing in America, it’s hard to gauge her form, but I don’t think she’s quite there.

Lisa Brennauer was also on the attack and this lumpier course will suit her more than a flat effort. However, she’s not been great in TTs this year and that’s enough to put me off her.

USA will turn to Evelyn Stevens as their main hope. She won the tough TT at the Giro Rosa not so long ago and looked good doing work for her team-mates in the road race. A real danger!

I think the course will be too tough and hilly for the likes of Armstrong and Garfoot. Although the latter may surprise me.

One rider I do like for this is Ellen van Dijk. I didn’t manage to catch all of the RR, but from what I saw she looked very, very strong. Constantly attacking, she played a great role for the team. She’ll love the cobbles and the flatter sections, but as was proven yesterday, she seems to be climbing very well too!

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Some outsiders (odds-wise) to look out for are Ashleigh Moolman, Elisa Longo-Borgini and Karol-Ann Canuel. They’ll be hoping to challenge the podium and will want to top 5 at least.

Male Contenders

The length of the TT really makes this one for the specialists, those who can manage their efforts well. On paper, this is a two-horse race.

Froome rightly starts as favourite after his impeccable showing at the Tour. He seems to be back to his best in Time Trials. He should be able to gain time on his rivals on the climbs, and will hope to maintain that on the flat. He will be hard to beat, but has he maintained his form?

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Tom Dumoulin would have been favourite for this if he had not crashed at the Tour. Supposedly he’s recovered well, but is still on painkillers for the race. You never know in cycling if someone is bluffing pre-race, until they get out on the road, but everything combined together is enough to put me off him.

Aside from those two, the podium is wide open. My favourite for making the podium is Vasil Kiryienka. The Sky rider hasn’t been great this year, in fact he’s been terrible, but long TTs are his bread and butter. With no domestique duties to be concerned about, he’ll be going full gas here. Finally. The cycling community rejoices! When in full flight he is something special to watch.

I’d normally be very much raving about Rohan Dennis‘ chances on a course like this, but he seems to be out of sorts as of late. The same goes for Tony Martin, who hasn’t won a race this year (aside from the German TT national championships). They could turn it around here but I’ve seen nothing to suggest that they will.

The two Spaniards; Izagirre & Castroviejo, both seem to be riding well and can challenge here. They will hope to podium but it will be a tough ask. A top 5 is certainly achievable!

Roglic, Cancellara, Oliveira, Phinney and Bodnar will be fighting for top 10 spots, anything better would be great.

*Of course, writing ahead of time means that I’m unsure of how accurate the forecast is. It looks set to be even conditions all day, but this could change quite quickly. Then, we might see riders getting an advantage depending on their start times.*

Predictions

For the women’s race, I think it will be a Dutch rider that will win. It won’t be the favourite though! Instead, we’ll see Ellen van Dijk romp away to victory. She’s won both of the ITTs she’s entered this season and I fancy that to continue. Van der Breggen and Stevens will round out the podium.

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In the men’s race it would be easy to pick Froome but I’m not going to do that. I think the distance will be the key and that will massively benefit a certain rider from Belarus. Kiryienka pulled out early from the road race to focus 100% on this and I say he’ll 100% deliver. The World Champion’s class will shine through! Froome will podium, probably finishing 2nd, with Izagirre claiming the bronze for Spain.

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Betting

Backing both of my riders individually (1.125pt EW) and as a double (0.25pt).

Kiryienka best priced at 16/1 with various bookmakers. 3 places at 1/4 odds.

Van Dijk 9/1 with Boylesports. 3 places, 1/4 odds. If you can’t bet there then Sky/Ladbrokes/Betway are all offering 2 places (1/3 odds). If not there, then straight up is good.

The double is 186/1 at Betvictor straight up. I can’t bet there so have placed it at Betfair instead (at 135/1). Boyles offer the double at 130/1 and that can be placed EW.

 

Hope you enjoyed the double preview?! I thought I’d save everyone’s time as the route is the same, and there isn’t enough to write to stretch it over two separate previews! Who do you think will win both races? I just hope we get equal conditions for all. Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

 

TDF Stage 16 Preview: Moirans-en-Montagne -> Berne

Today’s Recap

I’m hoping we got an exciting stage and Pantano won it!

More than likely though, exactly the opposite of what I thought would happen, happened.

Or maybe not…

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The Route

A “flat” day with only one categorised climb. However, closer inspection of the stage profile indicates that the route is pretty undulating.

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The stage is categorised by small rises and falls. After the previous days efforts it looks like it won’t be plain sailing for the sprinters, especially if some of them suffered and just made it home.

There’s nothing else to mention about the opening of the stage apart from they enter Switzerland just after the half way mark.

The riders are greeted by the only categorised climb of the day at 26km left, the Côte de Mühleberg. It’s only 1.2km at 4.8% so it shouldn’t cause many difficulties but we may see some riders out the back here. The road then rolls its way into the finish in Berne.

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Like the rest of the stage, these final 5kms are what I would call “undulating”. Oh, and did I mention that some of the streets are cobbled? Well it’s pavé, but still!

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Streetview of the road surface. Link here.

Annoyingly, the streetview car hasn’t been down that section where the camera is facing. That’s the 250m section at 7%. The riders come up from that road and take the hairpin turn left onto the plateau (still cobbled) before the road kicks up again.

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The section of road on the bridge is actually pavé as well, with the road only returning before the roundabout and the left hand turn up the hill. The hill itself is pretty steep and is 600m at 6.5% according to the stage profile. Looking at it on streetview those figures do seem right, it does seem pretty steep in sections (View it here).

Once over the hill, the riders are greeted by the Flamme Rouge and a straight, flat road to the finish line.

How will the stage pan out?

With this being the last chance for some kind of sprint before the riders reach the Champs-Élysées, this stage will 100% see the peloton make it into Bern together. Will we 100% see a sprint at the end? I’m not so sure!

I have to say, I really like the way the final 5kms are organised. It’s a real Heinz 57 finish, there’s a bit of everything!

Going off the profile I make that final stretch before the Flamme Rouge to be roughly 1.4km long. The road rises 60 metres in that time (504m -> 564m) which gives that section as a whole an average gradient of 4.29%. Almost identical to the Cat-4 climb earlier, but I think that is too tough for some of the sprinters when the race is going full gas. If not, it’s most definitely on their limits. The saving grace for them is the kilometre of flat where their lead-outs can swiftly be reorganised.

I would expect Sagan and Matthews to be at the head of the peloton no matter what. The same can be said for EBH if he’s not on Cav guarding duties. Coquard theoretically should be there too. As for the rest of the pure sprinters, it’ll be a tough ask. Greipel and Kristoff have the best chances going on their history.

This stage ending is also conducive to a late attack. Either a slightly long-range one at 2.5km to go, or on that final ramp with 1.5km left. If someone really puts in an effort here then they could be hard to catch!

A whole host of riders might fancy making a move here such as Alaphilippe, Costa or Gallopin.

But with it finishing in Bern, you have to consider the Swiss riders and the Swiss teams (IAM & BMC) as they’ll be out to impress on the biggest stage of all on home roads.

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BMC have a great card to play in this finish with Greg Van Avermaet. As a cobbled classic specialist he should soar up the climb, plus he’s shown his great form so far this race. I remember hearing in an interview after he lost the Yellow that he would target this stage. He could be hard to beat. Or Swiss rider Schar could be let off on a long-range effort.

IAM have a few Swiss riders in their team; Frank, Elmiger and Hollenstein, but their best chance could be Holst Enger (if he’s not too tired in his first GT). Pantano would normally be good on this stage, but I’m going to discount him as I’m assuming he won today’s stage and will be tired from his efforts 😉

Local hero Cancellara will no doubt give it a go. He was poor in the TT, stating that his form wasn’t there. However, he only the other day tweeted how his legs were feeling good. A classic double bluff, or is he really not good? We’ll know on this day once he puts in an attack if he is 100%.

Special mention must go to Rast, Reichenbach and Morabito but I can’t see them doing anything here.

There is one Swiss rider who I’ve not mentioned so far. 10 MTSW points if you can guess who it is…

Prediction

Michael Albasini.

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He had an incredible Spring campaign with 7th at Fleche and 2nd at LBL. The way he ate up the cobbled climb at the end of Liege was truly impressive. I fancy him to be given free rein by Orica on this finish, especially now that Gerrans is gone. He’ll be used as their satellite rider up the road in the final 5km to mark attacks, or make them himself to force other teams to chase. Meanwhile Matthews will sit near the front of the peloton ready for the sprint, probably protected by Impey. I can see a late attack sticking here, and Albasini has the raw power on the climbs and the sprint to finish it off, if he comes to the line with others. It will be another tactical masterclass from Orica and he’ll be the benefactor.

Betting

25/1 with Bet365, 0.5pt EW. (Other places might be more generous later)

 

Like my grovelling apology on yesterday’s preview, I’m sorry if there are some errors in this. I’ve just wrote three back-to-back previews (stages 14, 15 and now 16) so I might be getting a bit sloppy and it’s now 1:45am on Saturday morning. Nonetheless, I hope we do get the exciting end to the stage that this finish deserves! Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

TDF Stage 13 Preview: Bourg-Saint-Andéol -> Le Caverne de Pont

Today’s Recap

Oh to be a bike racing fan!

Thomas De Gendt won a fantastic breakaway, out-sprinting Pauwels and Navarro. He dedicated his win to team-mate Stig Broeckx. Rather poignant after the events that followed behind him on the road. It was a big win for Lotto Soudal who’ve been struggling so far this Tour.

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Behind, well, I’m pretty sure by now if you’re reading this you know what happened. There are fair arguments to both sides of the outcome, however, the more I think about it, the more I think the incorrect decision was made. As bad as it was, it was a racing incident at the end of the day. If it had happened to De Gendt and co would there have been the same jury decision? Froome and Porte getting the same time as Mollema is wrong too in my opinion. The riders behind, Yates etc., were all held up by the crash as well, who says they wouldn’t have made attacks to catch up with them. Or the opposite is equally possible, the way the trio were riding they could have easily gained more time. It’s not even just Froome/Porte that this benefits, Quintana and Valverde get the same time as Yates (because they were in his group at the time of the accident) even though they actually finished the stage 7 seconds down.

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The main thing that should come from this is that the UCI need to be a lot clearer with their rules, rather than just giving vague guidelines that are open to interpretation. While the ASO need to get their act together with everything, they’re turning into a laughing-stock this year. All we need now is a doping scandal to take everyone’s mind off of the farce!

But alas, the show must go on and the circus makes its way to Bourg-Saint-Andéol tomorrow.

The Route

A 37.5km ITT with a real mix bag of terrain.

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I’ve once again made a Strava profile of the stage that you can view here.

Out of the blocks the riders almost immediately start the Côte de Bourg-Saint-Andéol. The climb is 6.9km long with an average gradient of 4.9%. There are some steeper gradients, of roughly 7%, but those sections are very short and last no more than 100 metres. It is a big ring, power climb!

The riders will then travel along a plateau, although the road does rise and fall throughout, it is mainly flat for the next 13km.

They then hit a fast and pretty technical descent with around 16km left in the stage. It only lasts 5km at most, but the riders will welcome a little bit of respite.

Therein they have a flat run to the base of the climb up to the finishing point of La Caverne du Pont-D’Arc. 3.3km in length and at a 4.9% average, the riders won’t be overly concerned by the numbers, however, they will need to keep something in reserve for it in fear of blowing up! If they do, time lost could end up being quite substantial here.

Weather Watch

One of the main influences on ITTs this year has been the weather. There is no rain forecast for tomorrow but the wind, like the past few days, could be a big factor.

Thankfully for the riders, it looks set to be similar all day.

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Wind statistics from Vallon-Pont-D’Arc 

If anything, it looks to favour the GC guys. Although some reports suggest that the wind will turn slightly later and be more of a North wind, rather than the NNE. This would turn some of the sections into more of a headwind and actually hinder the later riders. One thing is for certain; is that no one is certain!

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There is quite a lot of tree-cover out on the course tomorrow so it might not play a big a part as predicted, but we’ll just have to wait and see.

Who can contend in a TT like this?

Power riders and GC guys.

The normal TT candidates such as TMartin, Cancellara, Dumoulin and Dennis should all be up there. The first three have all looked very impressive this race so far, doing their various team jobs or going on the attack. Martin and Dumoulin have looked the best when in the break, whereas Cancellara has done a lot of work for Mollema. I’d normally expect Dennis to go well in an effort like this, he’ll view it as a great practice for the Olympics. However, he’s not been going great so far but was up there in the first split today. Maybe he’s been saving himself for this? Kiryenka is another great candidate but he’s potentially been doing too much work for Froome and could be told to take it easy here. Do you really tell the World Champ to do that though?

Of the GC guys Quintana and Froome are hard to split on this seasons ITT form. They’ve only pitted their wits against each other in one TT (at Romandie) and both finished on the same time. I wanted to back Quintana for this TT pre-Tour. I’ve been really impressed by his progression on the bike this year and he’s now one of the best all rounders in the world. Supposedly they have a new TT bike and Nairo practices on it everyday. However, he wasn’t on the best of form today. Maybe he just had an off day or he’s not in great shape at all, only those inside the Movistar camp will know. If he’s recovered for tomorrow he has a real shot of going well here. He seems fairly upbeat…

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Screenshot from the Movistar website

Froome himself has to be a favourite for this stage. He’s looked incredible on the descents, on the flat and on the climbs. His seated attack on today’s stage was unbelievable. His TT hasn’t been great recently but riding the way he is, you can’t discount him! There might be question marks over possible injuries that he sustained today, he seemed to be hobbling after the crash.

Porte could go well here but he seems the worst off after the crash. His team-mate TVG could also put in a decent time. As for the rest of the GC riders, I can’t see them breaking into the top 10.

An outsider who I like for the stage is Luke Durbridge. We saw on stage 10 the amount of work that he was doing for Matthews and Impey, he looks to be on good form going from that effort. He’s not done fantastically well in TTs recently but if he gets the rub of the green here then that could change.

Prediction

I really want to write that Quintana will be the winner here. As I said above, I’ve had him penned in for this stage pre-Tour, but his performance today though has cast doubts in my mind. Froome knows if he puts in a big effort here then that could end the GC battle so he’ll no doubt go well. I’m just not convinced by either of them, in fact, I’m not really convinced by any of the favourites. So sticking to tradition and naming outsiders, Luke Durbridge will put in an incredible ride and pull of an amazing win. After all, he is a former U23 World TT Champion and you don’t get the nickname Turbo Durbo for nothing!

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Betting

Another one where it should be a no bet day but I’m willing to back Durbridge at the price he is.

0.25pt EW 250/1 with Various bookmakers.

 

How do you think the TT will go tomorrow? I think it’s wide open! As usual, any feedback would be great. We should be in for a calmer day of racing tomorrow, enjoy it wherever you’re watching it from. Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

 

 

TDF Stage 11 Preview: Carcassonne -> Montpellier

Today’s Recap

The crossbar was hit today!

A very strong break got away that included representatives from the main sprint teams (only Jumbo, Katusha and Etixx not represented) and with a lack of co-ordination behind, it was never brought back.  I have to be honest, I have no idea what happened before the last 15km as I was away visiting my grandparents, so I can’t say why Nibali/Landa and Co weren’t there at the end.

Anyway, Orica played the numbers game brilliantly with Durbridge pulling into and up the final climb. Once Durbridge started to swing over, one of our picks and predicted break winner Impey attacked. However, Sagan was his usual imperious self and closed him down. This happened a few times. Much to my disgust!

It was probably sour grapes because Impey never got away, but I was irritated by Kirby’s calling of “The old 1-2 tactic”, because it was more of a 1-1-1, the 2 never came. I really thought Sagan would have won the sprint, but fair play to Matthews who powered home excellently. I guess that’s why I’m not a DS and Matt White is!

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Moving onto tomorrow’ stage.

The Route

After the mountain start today, the riders face a much easier start.

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We’ll probably see a 3 to 5 man break get away almost from the gun, with the sprinters teams managing the gap. There are two Cat 4 climbs out on the route to ensure we get some kind of excitement from the break as the riders go for the points (*cough* prize money *cough*).

The stage finale is relatively straight forward too.

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After the organisers throwing in a few turns/roundabouts in the last 1km in previous stages, we look set to get a drag race here.

The road itself kicks up ever so slightly, but nothing that will worry any of the sprinters.

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The main concern within the peloton tomorrow and the thing that could potentially cause havoc is the wind.

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The riders never stray too far from the coast, but the in-land roads they traverse are very exposed. It’s prime wine growing country, there is vine-cover not tree-cover out on the road.

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Wind direction/average speed/gusts (in km/h) at Albine (near the first half of the stage)
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Same statistics for Cournonterral (near the end of the stage)

As you can see above, the wind seems to be at a constant all day. Furthermore, the direction that it’s blowing in is ideal for cross-tailwinds. This is the least favoured type of wind within the peloton because it increases the speed so much and causes a lot of nervousness. This coupled with the long sections of exposed road could lead to some crazy racing.

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Section of road just after Montagnac (around 40km to go), highlighting the exposed roads.

So how will the stage pan out?

Well, that all depends on the attitudes of the sprint and GC teams.

Two big echelon creating powerhouses in the form of Lotto Soudal and Etixx don’t have as many wins as they’d like at this stage. With Lotto winless and Etixx only having Kittel’s win to their name. They will both see this as a big opportunity to try to get rid of some of the other sprinters. Unfortunately for them, a lot of the sprinters are very good at positioning themselves in the wind. Sagan, Cavendish, Kristoff and Groenewegen would all hope to be there. That is of course assuming that the peloton stays at a reasonable size. If the hammer is really put down we could end up with around 20 riders contesting the finish.

We saw on the first stage that Movistar were very keen and proactive at the front of the peloton in the crosswinds. They could try something similar here. The only issue with the GC guys putting the hammer down is that they have a very tough finish up Ventoux the following day and an ITT the next. But if they sense blood then they’ll go for it!

I’m hoping we do get some crosswind action to liven the day up, otherwise it will just be a case of tuning into the final 20km to watch the sprint.

Stage Contenders

If we get a pure bunch sprint then it has to be Cavendish v Kittel. I can’t split them and neither can the bookies, on form I’d go with the Manxman.

I’m not going to bother listing out all of the possible outsiders but there is one rider who’s progression I like during the race, Alexander Kristoff. He came into the Tour a bit undercooked and not in form but seems to be getting there. He finished an impressive 4th on Stage 6. Unfortunately, he has lost a key lead-out man in Morkov, but still has Haller and Guarnieri who can do a very good job. I’d expect him to get onto the podium soon, potentially go better. Tomorrow could be that day.

If we do get some echelon madness, then look to those who go well in Belgian classics/semi-classics where wind plays a big part.

Cancellara is the type of guy who could go well from a 20-man or so group at the end of the stage. He seems to be felling better after the rest-day, which is evident with this poorly worded tweet.

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Belgian Vanmarcke will no doubt be up there if we get some kind of split in the peloton. If his young compatriot Groenewegen hasn’t made the selection, he could well be given the go ahead. It would have to be pretty selective for him but you never know!

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The same can be said for Dylan Van Baarle. He had a solid spring campaign but hasn’t done much here. Cannondale don’t really have a proper sprinter, Navardauskas is the closest they have, so if things get dicey they could turn to Dylan.

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Prediction

It’s more out of hope than anything else, but I think we’ll see some kind of cross wind action tomorrow. Kristoff is very good in these conditions and with his upward trajectory, I think he can nab a stage win. Even if there are no echelons, he can definitely contend the sprint!

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Betting

One main, all types of situation bet plus 3 wind calamity long-shots.

Kristoff 1.1pt EW @18/1 with Skybet (I’d take the 16/1 widely available)

Cancellara 0.2pt EW @250/1 with Betfair (I’d take 200/1)

Vanmarcke 0.1pt EW @400/1 with Betfair (I’d take 300/1)

Van Baarle 0.1pt EW @500/1 with Betfair (I’d take 400/1)

 

Hope you liked the preview, do you think we’ll see echelons tomorrow? It would certainly make better viewing. Any feedback as normal is greatly appreciated. Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

 

TDF stage 1 preview: Mont-Saint-Michel -> Utah Beach

This week seems to have dragged on for a while, but the first stage of the Tour is finally upon us! The Yellow Jersey appears to be destined for the shoulders of one of the many sprinters that are here at this race come tomorrow afternoon. But first, let’s take a look at the route the riders will have to traverse.

The Route

Not a challenging parcours in terms of climbing, the opening stage is a fairly flat affair. There are some bumps along the way but nothing overly worrying for the fast men.

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We’ll probably see a slightly tougher than normal fight to get into the morning breakaway with the two categorised climbs coming within the first 40km. The winner of these two climbs will get to pull on the Polka Dot jersey at the end of the day. Expect the usual suspects and teams to go after it.

The main obstacle that the riders will have to face on this stage is the threat of crosswinds.

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With the race never straying far from the coast-line, the action could start soon after the final KOM climb.

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Wind direction/ speed / max gusts (Granville) (All speeds km/h)

The above screenshot is taken from windfinder.com and focusses on the town of Granville which is situated roughly 51km into the stage. The wind direction and speed definitely looks strong enough to create some echelons! The same can be said later on in the stage too, with the following screenshot taken of the town of Lessay, which is 110km into the race.

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If some of the teams decide to put the hammer down then we could see some splits and time-gaps. Although there is a long way to go after this point (just over 75km), the race comes slightly more in land and should benefit from a cross-tailwind, cross-headwind and finally a tailwind coming into the finish at Utah Beach. Any reasonable-sized gaps made earlier in the stage will be very hard to bring back!

Stage Contenders

If it comes down to a fair sprint then there really are only two contenders; Marcel Kittel and Andre Greipel. They are quite evenly matched in this type of finish but I’d have to give Kittel the edge, and he is rightly the favourite for the stage. If Greipel wants to beat his countryman then he’ll have to start his sprint ahead of him. This is certainly possible as Greipel has the best lead out train in the race in my opinion!

Who will try to split the race?

Some of the GC teams (Sky, Tinkoff etc) will give it a shot, but annoyingly for some of the other sprinters Etixx and Lotto Soudal are capable of doing some damage as well. So there is a very good chance that they’ll be around at the end no matter what. More than likely, the rest of the sprinters will probably be fighting for third place.

However, with this being the first stage the usual peloton nervousness will be exacerbated by the potential tricky conditions and I think we’ll see some unfortunate crashes and possibly some GC/sprint casualties. Therefore, I don’t think we’ll get a full sprint at the end of the stage. It could very much be like stage 2 from last years Tour, where only 24 riders finished within 15 seconds of the winner on that day, Andre Greipel.

The numbers and composition of that group, who knows?!

There are two riders who if the race gets tough that I’d like to highlight. First up is Fabian Cancellara.

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The Swiss rider is about to start his final ever Tour de France and after missing out on wearing the Maglia Rosa at the Giro, he’ll be incredibly fired up here to make amends. He managed to sprint for third on last years wind-affected stage, pipping Mark Cavendish on the line. If the group gets whittled down to round 15 riders, he is a definite danger man.

The other rider is his team-mate and Tour debutant, Edward Theuns.

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Making the step up to World Tour level this year, the Belgian has delivered some good results this year, finally getting his first win for Trek at the Baloise Belgium Tour. A rider not afraid of wind (and rain), he’ll definitely be one of the fastest riders left in a reduced group. After all, he came 4th at Scheldeprijs (A.K.A The Sprinters World Championships) so is no slouch.

Prediction

It’s the boring and simple pick, but I can’t really see past a Marcel Kittel win here. He’s the fastest man in the world, and now riding for Etixx (arguably the best echelon creating team) they’ll be able to safeguard him in the bad conditions.

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However, there is a slight chance that there is absolute carnage out on the road tomorrow and if that’s the case then look to Cancellara or Theuns to possibly sneak on the podium or even better.

Betting

This really should be a no bet stage. I personally have money on Kittel at 9/4 from pre-Giro, however those odds are long gone and I can’t recommend him at the price he is just now (around evens) in a race that could be wild.

Just because I’ve mentioned them as possibilities if things do get crazy, I’m going to put a little fun stake (0.1pt EW) on Cancellara and Theuns.

Cancellara @ 300/1 (Betfred or Totesport) or 250/1 with Skybet.

Theuns @ 400/1 (Paddy Power).

 

Hopefully we do get some crosswind action to make the stage more exciting, otherwise it will be a dull and long day until the final 20km. Enjoy the race wherever you’re watching it from! Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.