Dubai Tour 2018 Stage 1 Preview; Skydive Dubai › Palm Jumeirah

Dubai Tour 2018 Stage 1 Preview; Skydive Dubai › Palm Jumeirah

GC Overview

The annual battle in the desert between the sprinters returns this week with 5th edition of the Dubai Tour, and boy, do we have a strong field here!

Kittel, Cavendish, Viviani, Groenewegen, Degenkolb/Nizzolo, Kristoff, Bouhanni, Mareczko, Cort Nielsen and Colbrelli all will start the race, and they’ll all hope to get one over their rivals early on in the year.

Since the change in format after the 2014 edition (that had a TT to open), the GC battle has often came down to the sprinters being able to pick up bonus seconds coupled with their ability to follow home the puncheurs on the Hatta Dam. 2015 and 2016 saw Cavendish and Kittle take enough stage wins/secure enough bonus seconds to hold on for the overall title. While last year saw the Hatta Dam stage cancelled due to high winds, which made it more of a walk in the park for Kittel than what might have been.

This year, the riders will have one more stage to contend with which theoretically makes it even more likely that a sprinter will win the GC. However, given that this is the strongest field that we’ve seen here since the races inception, there is a chance that the stage wins will be spread around enough that a puncheur could sneak the overall win.

Nonetheless, I still think we’ll see a sprinter take the crown.

That man will be Viviani.

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With some racing already in his legs, he should come to this race sharper than a lot of his rivals and that could play a big part throughout the week. Furthermore, with a win to his name already and a string of solid performances down in Australia, he will be buoyed by confidence. I think being freed from the shackles of Sky really helped him and we saw a big change in his performances towards the end of last season when he knew the move to QuickStep was confirmed. Having a team that believes in you makes a massive difference for a sprinter and it clearly has helped the Italian. Some of the Watts he was putting out in Australia were incredibly impressive and I think he’s transforming back to the Viviani that showed so much promise in his early years at Liquigas. Consequently, that means he can actually climb reasonably well and get to some finishes that you might not expect, i.e. his second in Cadel’s Race, or Hatta Dam. QuickStep’s record in this race is remarkable, having won it for the past three years, and I fancy them to make it four in a row this time around.

Vai Vai Viviani!

Will he secure the win on the opening day though? Let’s have a look at what is in store for the riders on Stage 1.

The Route

Pretty much a carbon copy of last year’s opening day.

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There’s almost no point of me posting any of the stage profiles this week as they’re all flat! The more interesting thing about the stage is the final run.

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The riders come out of a tunnel at roughly 6km to go, before making their way towards the end of the Palm. This marks a fairly tight roundabout and once they are through that point, it is a 3km drag race for the sprint teams. The roundabout can be sketchy and last year’s race saw Colbrelli fall here and ruin any chance of victory.

Considering the distance from the roundabout to the finish line, it is possible for teams to move their riders up in that time. However, you certainly want to be in the first third of the peloton.

It is hard for a team to assert complete control at the front of the peloton and we’ll more than likely see surges from different trains in the closing couple of kilometres.

Normally the riders would be concerned with the wind on this stage, but the forecast is fairly benign with a 10km/h left to right cross-wind predicted for the closing sprint. Nothing too drastic, but coming from the downwind side might just present an opportunity for a rider to surprise. Conversely though, a strong lead-out could hug the right hand side of the road, forcing any competitor into the wind.

Contenders

As I’ve mentioned above, we’re treated to a long list of sprinters here so I’ll try to keep this bit short-ish, otherwise we could be here a while!

Marcel Kittel.

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Winner of this stage last year, it will be interesting to see how he gels into his new team and lead-out train. Katusha are certainly weaker than QS and with Kittel preferring a late dash to the line, pouncing in the closing kilometre a lot last season, I’m not sure the likes of Haller and Zabel have the speed to do that. We’ll see, but I’ll be watching with interest.

Elia Viviani.

The form rider here and my GC favourite. He was very strong in the Tour Down Under and was rewarded with a great stage win as a result. QuickStep bring a team with them here that is built around the Italian. With the power they have, we should see a dominant blue train in the closing kilometres. Can Viviani continue his good form?

Dylan Groenewegen.

Still only 24, the young Dutchman had another solid season last year where he picked up 8 wins, including the iconic sprint along the Champs-Élysées at the Tour. He started his season with a second place on GC here last year and will be looking to go one better this time. With a team dedicated to him, he should be positioned well going into the sprint, and it will be up to him to deliver.

Mark Cavendish.

You can never rule out Cavendish. I did at the 2016 and he absolutely blitzed that, before dropping out to focus on the Olympics. It is fair to say that 2017 was a bit of a disaster for him though, with only one win all year and a crash in the Tour that ruined his season. He arrives here with a tried and tested lead-out train and I’m sure he’ll want to come out of the blocks firing in 2018; reminding everyone that he is still one of the fastest guys in the peloton.

John Degenkolb.

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Having already started his season in Mallorca, Degenkolb has an advantage over some of his competitors in that sense. Furthermore, with two wins to his name, he already has more wins this year than in all of 2017. Trek also bring Nizzolo with them so it will be interesting to see the dynamic between them, but given that Degenkolb has won on Hatta before, I imagine they’ll go with him here. Can he make it 3 wins from 3 starts in 2018?

Alexander Kristoff.

Having moved from Katusha in the winter, where he spent six years of his career, it will be interesting to see how he gets on in his new UAE Emirates team. There will be pressure on the Norwegian to perform in what is a home race for the squad, but his team doesn’t look the best. A lot of pressure will be on the young shoulders of Ganna and Consonni to position him well, which could be his downfall. I’m sure he’ll be disappointed to see it won’t be a headwind sprint either! I think we might see something from him later in the race, but not on the opening day.

Nacer Bouhanni.

The enigmatic Frenchman arrives here with Cofidis receiving an invite to the race for the first time. When he wants to be he is lightning fast but more often than not he is too busy scrapping for someone’s wheel way down the order, before settling for a top 8 finish. If his attitude has improved and that is a big if, then he could have a really good season. The Cofidis management has had a change of approach and seems to be giving him some tough love an I’m intrigued to see how that works. I would not be surprised to see him first or fifteenth.

Sonny Colbrelli.

2017 was a good year for the Italian and his move up to World Tour level was a success, winning a stage of Paris Nice. I’m not sure his raw pace is up to the standard of some of the guys here and he would probably prefer a tougher day out in the saddle, but you never know.

Jakub Mareczko.

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Already with two wins under his belt at the famous Sharjah Tour towards the end of January, he’ll arrive here with confidence. What? You’ve never heard of it? Tut tut. To be fair, all he had to beat was Coquard and some sand so we can’t really take much from it. Nonetheless, I do rate the Wilier rider and he has the speed to compete on very flat days. He’s still a tier or so below the best riders, but given he’s been in the Emirates for a few weeks now, that might be of an advantage to him.

Magnus Cort Nielsen.

Another rider who moved in the winter, he’ll want to impress for new team Astana. On paper, he has the power and climbing ability to “do a Degenkolb” and challenge on the Dam, but a crash in training in December might have halted his build up to the season. Like Colbrelli, he would prefer a few more lumps and bumps, but he can’t be discounted entirely.

Prediction

Pffff, pick a name out of a hat!

Viviani has the form, but I think he might fall short on the first day. Instead, I’ve been drawn towards Cavendish for this opening stage.

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He’s spent a bit of time in the Emirates recently and was out there towards the end of January as an ambassador for Abu Dhabi Tour. Now, I’m unsure if he has just stayed there since, but he’s definitely been out since the 2nd of February and I think that shows some intent to go well on his part. Furthermore, he is playing down his chances and form in the press, which is normally when he ends up going well!

His big goal for the year is to get closer to Merckx’s Tour de France stage win record, but I imagine he will want to hit the ground running after a quite frankly awful 2017 by his accounts, mostly for confidence reasons. Although I don’t think he lacks that…

He’s a racer and with a tried and tested lead-out, he has a good chance of surprising on the opening day.

Betting

3pts WIN Viviani for GC at 9/2 with Bet365

1pt EW Cavendish for Stage 1 at 9/1 with SkyBet

4pts Viviani to beat Groenewegen for Stage 1 at 1/1 with Bet365

1pt Double on Viviani ov Groenewegen & Degenkolb ov Kristoff at 2.66/1 with Bet365.

Thanks as always for reading! Who do you think will win tomorrow? We have a plethora of sprinters to choose from so it should be an exciting week of racing. Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

 

 

 

 

Tour de France 2017 Green Jersey Preview

While a lot of the cycling world bemoans the easier route for this year’s Tour, there is one group of riders who will be happy with the flatter parcours: the sprinters.

The organisers have been kind to the fast men, with there looking to be 7 sprint stages but that could be increased to 9 or even 10 depending on how the peloton attacks the race.

Having won the jersey for the last 5 years in a row, Sagan is the rider to beat.

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Can he make it 6 this season?

First though, let’s have a look at how the points system works.

Scoring Points

The stages are categorised based on their difficulty, with the easier stages awarding more points to the winner at the end of the day.

The following table comes from @searchhhh on the Velorooms forums, that I have tea-leafed because I’m too lazy to make it myself!

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As for which stages fall into each category;

  • Stages 2, 4, 6, 7, 10, 11, 19, 21 are Cat 1, i.e. score maximum points
  • Stages 3, 5 , 8, 14, 15, 16 are Cat 2
  • Stages 1, 9, 12, 13, 17, 18, 20 are Cat 3

With 8 stages that reward 50 points at the line, it is possible for a dominant sprinter to build up a strong points tally. The sprinters will have to come out firing if they want to contest green because half of the “big” sprint stages come in the opening week of racing.

Sagan normally makes his mark by winning the Cat-2 stages and being close on the Cat-1 days. However, this year 3 and 14 look like the only days where we could have a reduced bunch sprint. Stage 5 will be a GC day and so could stage 8, with stage 15 looking like a breakaway day. Furthermore, Stage 16 actually looks like a stage where most of the sprinters could make it to the line as most of the climbing comes in the first half of the day.

Another way that Sagan cements his position in Green is by going on the hunt for the intermediate sprint points during the more rolling stages as his competitors normally can’t follow in the breakaway these days.

Yet, this year the organisers have seemed to “nerf” that aspect of his attack, with having most of the intermediate sprints on flatter parts of the route and before the big obstacles on the day. It’s really only on stages 9/15/17 that they’re in places inaccessible to most sprinters!

Even Stage 9 might be a little hard for Sagan to chase the points…

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Therefore, there is certainly a lot more emphasis on placing highly at the end of stages this year and picking up some minor points at the intermediates to keep the tally ticking over.

Contenders

With all that being said though, Sagan is still the clear favourite for the jersey. He looked lightning fast at the recent Tour de Suisse and he always ups his game in the sprints at the Tour. Even if he doesn’t win any of the flat stages, he’ll no doubt podium in at least 3 of them while picking up top 5s in a lot of the others. That will give him a good base of points to go and pick up some more during Stage 3 etc and some mountain breakaways.

So a rough points total for him could be;

2 Cat-2 wins (60pts), 2 Cat-1 2nds (50pts), 2 Cat-1 3rds (40pts), Top 10s in Cat-1s (~50 – 70pts), Intermediate Sprints (~70 – 100 pts) = 270 -> 320pts as an estimate.

A tough score to beat, but not impossible.

Kittel looks like Sagan’s biggest challenger, on paper anyway. Arguably the fastest sprinter in the world, a lot of these flatter stages will suit the fantastically haired German. His Tour didn’t go to plan last year, only winning one stage in the end. Not great for a man of his abilities. He’ll be hoping to go a lot better this year and that Cavendish arrives undercooked. If so, he could feasibly win 4 of the 8 Cat-1 stages, and get close on some others.

Picking up a few podiums and top 5s on the other stages as well as some intermediate sprint points, he will be there or thereabouts with Sagan’s total. It looks promising for him to launch a proper tilt at the Green Jersey this year.

Marcel-Kittel

And what about Cavendish? He took me and almost everyone else by surprise last year with his dominant performance in the sprints after seemingly coming into the Tour not on great form and possibly past his prime. This year, he faces an even tougher battle after recovering from the Epstein Barr Virus and only returning to racing a couple of weeks ago at the Tour of Slovenia. He only managed a second place there and was OTL at the British Championships (not a great sign but only 12 riders came home in time) so it’s not looking too good for his chances this year. Yet…

Now, you can call me crazy, but I have a feeling he will turn up and will be going well. Dimension Data won’t have wasted a spot for him on their team if he was going to use the first week as training, hoping to pick up a win later on in the race. Furthermore, a telling sign is that they’ve brought a strong lead-out train with them. That train could well be for Boasson Hagen, but it seems a bit over the top if it’s just for him.

On form, Cavendish is as fast as Kittel so he could well repeat last season’s performance and win 4 stages, putting him right in contention for the Green jersey. I’m certainly not ruling him out, that’s for sure.

Greipel will pick up his regular Grand Tour stage but at the Giro he went missing a lot in the sprints so he’ll need to be a lot more consistent to challenge for the jersey and I can’t see that happening.

Arnaud Démare is France’s best hope for a long time to win the Green jersey. He has been exceptional this year and his win at the recent French Nationals was truly dominant. As close to being a tier-1 sprinter without being one, he may well move up the rankings after this Tour. I expect good things from him this race and he is the most likely of all French riders to win a stage. With a team almost 100% focussed around him, the pressure will be on. Will he thrive under that pressure or crumble?

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I can’t really see anyone else being consistent enough to challenge for the jersey.

Groenewegen is a great talent but he has the propensity to be 1st or nowhere at times. A stage win for him would be a great result and that’s certainly a possibility, but to challenge for the jersey will be too tough an ask.

Matthews (as much as I like and rate him), is a poor man’s Sagan for this competition. Not as fast as others on the flat, not a good enough climber to win mountainous breakaway days.

The same can be said for Colbrelli.

Kristoff has been poor this season and his team seems to be against him.

Bouhanni still seems to be suffering from his crash in Yorkshire, possibly a lack of confidence which is surprising for him.

Prediction

Don’t get me wrong, Sagan should win the jersey again. He is fast enough to compete on the flat stages and strong enough to be there at the end when no other sprinters are. However, I just have a feeling that Cavendish will be as electric as he was last year and dominate the flat sprints.

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I expect this to all fall flat on its face when he doesn’t contest the sprint on Stage 2…

Betting

Now, it’s obviously a gamble but hey, that’s what betting is about!

If Cavendish is on fire, his current price is massive. If he is still under the weather, it is grossly under-priced. It would kill me to see him romp away with some stages this year knowing exactly what he did last year. Therefore, I’m willing to take the “gamble” on his form and back him EW for the Green Jersey and almost accept it could be a losing bet.

1pt EW Cavendish for Green Jersey @ 18/1 with Bet365 (and others)

Make sure you get 1/4 odds for 3 places, as some bookies are going 1/3 odds for 2.

Also, as I won’t be putting out any more Tour blogs until the stage 1 preview on Friday, I’ve backed Lotto Jumbo (0.5pt on) for the Team Classification @ 80/1 with Betfair. Would take 66s availalbe elsewhere.

Bit of an outside bet but they have an AG2R of 2013 feel about them where they should have 2 guys near the front of most stages and will be looking for breakaway success too.

Thanks as always for reading and any feedback is greatly appreciated. Who do you think will win the Green Jersey? Is Sagan a shoe-in? And have I really lost the plot before the Tour has even started?

I’ll have my “Big fuck off” Giro Rosa guide out tomorrow which I would greatly appreciate if you shared and have a read of! Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

 

Milano-Sanremo 2017 Preview

Milano-Sanremo 2017 Preview

The first monument of the year and the longest race in the calendar returns this weekend; Milan -> Sanremo!

Like most MSR’s, last year’s edition built slowly to a climax, with the closing kilometre being exceptionally exciting.

We had Gaviria crashing, almost taking out Sagan and Cancellara if it was not for some incredible bike handling, but what else would you expect from that pair! That left the door open for some other riders and Roelandts opened up the sprint early which caught everyone off guard. Swift followed (finishing 2nd in the end), Bouhanni looked strong but had a mechanical and came home 4th. Instead, it was a rather dubious win for Arnaud Démare in the end after there were accusations he got a tow from the team car back to the peloton after a crash. Nonetheless, it was an impressive sprint from the Frenchman and with the way he is riding this season so far, he could well make it back to back wins!

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

The Route

A carbon copy of what we’ve had the past few years pretty much.

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A real race of attrition, the peloton doesn’t get close to this distance in any other race. The extra 50km compared to some other monuments and almost 100km on normal stage-race stages really adds another element. The climbs of the Cipressa and the Poggio if taken alone aren’t difficult at all.

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Yet, with them being the only place for the climbers and puncheurs to make a move they are always attacked at a ferocious pace. Plus, with 260km already in the legs, riders will be nervous as to how their body reacts.

We might see some long-range attacks on the Cipressa before the puncheurs try to break the hearts of the sprinters on the Poggio. It’s often a battle between attacking classics riders and the sprinter’s team-mates for control of the race. Once over the crest of the Poggio, it’s time for a daredevil descent into Sanremo itself.

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Once off the descent we have roughly 2km of flat to the finish. There will no doubt be more attacks here as the riders regroup. Will the sprinters have enough team-mates left to chase and control the race? Or will we even see non-sprinters chase down other non-sprinters? Inadvertently helping the sprinters who are with them!

The famous finish along the via Roma awaits.

How will the race pan out?

Going off of recent trends, the race certainly seems to live up to its nickname of “The Sprinter’s Monument”.

In the last 5 years, the number of riders in the leading group at the finish has swelled; 2012 (3); 2013 (7); 2014 (25); 2015 (26); 2016 (31). Why is that?

Well, the removal of the “Le Manie” climb in 2014 swung the race back towards bunch gallops. Although it came around 100km from the finish, it sapped away at the sprinters legs a lot earlier and ensured that they tackled the climbs at the end of the race with a bit more fatigue. You could also argue that sprinters in general seem to have got better at climbing over the past few years, but I’m not sure the likes of Kittel will agree!

Oddly enough though, I do still think we’ll see one of the more attacking MSRs for a while. I’m not saying it won’t come down to a sprint in the end, but with so many puncheurs in great form coming into the race, I’m sure they won’t want to wait until the sprint to end up 6th-10th place. There will be a slight headwind when the riders turn onto the Poggio, but the majority of the climb will be a tailwind. Will this inspire the attackers?

If a select group can make it over the top of the Poggio and work well together then they can make it to the finish. However, the issue is that they have to co-operate, if not, then they have no chance.

I actually think someone like Sagan might attack on the Poggio.

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The World Champion is clearly in scintillating form but I’m sure even he will be concerned with the quality of sprinters that can make it over the final climb if the pace isn’t too high. He is the one of the fastest men in the World after a tough day and I’m sure he’ll do everything in his powers to ensure that he has the best chance at winning the race. Being beaten by Gaviria in Tirreno this week gone by won’t have done his confidence much use, but I guess Sagan being Sagan, he doesn’t need any more confidence!

Another reason I think Sagan might not wait around for a sprint is that Bora also have the handy second card to play of Sam Bennett. The Irishman took a breakthrough and much deserved win in Paris-Nice, beating some of the fastest pure sprinters in the World. That impressed me, but what impressed me more was his intermediate sprint win the next day. “Eh?!” I can imagine you say, thinking I’ve clearly lost the plot. Well, that intermediate sprint came after the stage started with a Cat-1 climb and the peloton was only 60-riders strong over the top, with the likes of Demare being dropped. Not Bennett though, he was up there beating Matthews and Gilbert. He certainly seems to have found his climbing legs and the Poggio shouldn’t be a challenge for him! Which leads me on to the other sprinters here…

Sprinters

We have plenty of them here, with only Kittel, Greipel and Groenewegen being the notable absentees.

I’m not going to bore you with a little bit on each sprint option (plenty of others will cover them more succinctly and concisely), as I’m already close to the 1000 word mark and I have a few other scenarios/riders I want to cover. So like I’ve been doing quite a bit recently, I’m going to focus on one rider and he’s a selection that might surprise you!

Mark Cavendish.

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The 2009 winner has had a relatively uninspiring but solid start to his 2017 season, picking up only one victory so far in Abu Dhabi. He wasn’t competitive at this race last year due to his Olympics build up, but will be hoping for better this year. Nonetheless, he looks like a tough rider to argue for, yet I’ll give it my best shot.

It’s his slow burning season that’s actually making me believe in his chances here. Before the Tour last year I had written him off as he didn’t seem to be having a great year and seemed past it. He went on to win 4 stages. Before the World Champs I ruled him out as he said he was ill in the week leading up to the event and had gone a bit off the boil post TDF, with only a 6th at Paris-Tours being a notable result. He went on to finish second. Really though, he should have won! He just chose the wrong wheel and got a bit boxed in. There is a recurring theme here; just when he seems to be out of it, he bags a result. The Manxman certainly knows how to peak for key targets. His recent performance in Tirreno fits the above agenda quite nicely and reminds me of a certain Irishman.

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The above screenshot is from an interview in Rouleur magazine with Sean Kelly (view it here). Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?

Write off Cavendish at your peril this weekend!

Outsiders

There are plenty of puncheurs and classics riders I could highlight but I’m returning to Dimension Data for my second rider.

Edvald Boasson Hagen has long been a favourite of mine. The guy oozed class and talent on a bike and it’s a shame for him he’s around in the same era as the likes of Sagan and GVA as I feel he gets overlooked at times.

The Norwegian was on the attack here in the final kilometres last year and only a few managed to follow him. I expect something similar this year, even if Cavendish makes it over the top of the Poggio in the main group. He’s without a win this season but he has looked strong in Strade, bridging across to the front group on his own. Likewise, his two top 10 TT results indicate to me that he’s peaking a lot more slowly this year compared to his blistering start last season. He can win solo by attacking, or could take out a sprint win from a small group and I don’t think there would be many cycling fans out there who would begrudge a Boasson Hagen win!

My final rider is a proper outsider and one that I have mentioned a lot over the past week in Paris Nice; Alexey Lutsenko.

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The Astana man has had a strong but fruitless start to the season. He was never outside the top 30 in Oman and finished a very respectable 11th in the tough TT during Paris Nice. The Kazakh outfit are without a top quality sprinter in their squad, but Lutsenko can certainly fill the void. Like EBH, he is capable of attacking late on in the race or challenging for the win in a very reduced sprint. He did win the U23 World’s in a very similar fashion! A talented rider who I think is going to have a very good season, a win here would certainly shock a few but not me. He will still need some luck to go his way, but who doesn’t here!

Prediction

A sprint is the most likely option but I think we’ll see a more attacking race this year and a move within the final 2km could well stick. He tried it last year and was unlucky to be marked out of it, but I think this year he might just make it with everyone else marking Sagan. Boasson Hagen to take a memorable victory!

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Betting

Cavendish 1pt EW @18/1 with Bet365 (Would take down to 14s available elsewhere)

Boasson Hagen 0.75pts EW @80/1 with Bet365 (Would take down to 50s)

Lutsenko 0.25pts EW @300/1 with PP/Bet365 (Would take down to 200s).

 

Thanks very much for reading and any feedback is greatly appreciated as always. Who do you think is going to win La Classicissima? Will we see a sprint or a late attack stick? Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

 

 

 

Tirreno Adriatico Stage 6 Preview

Today’s Recap

An incredibly exciting stage, and I only managed to catch the final 40km. We had attacks from GC guys and one-day specialists but the peloton arrived at the finish climb together, well, what remained of it.

Much like Gary Lineker’s quote about football being “a simple game where 22 men-chase a ball for 90 minutes and in the end, the Germans win.”

Cycling is a simple sport where 180 riders cycle for 5 hours and in the end, Sagan wins!

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The World Champion clawed his way back to a group of GC favourites as they sat up and played games. Not exactly the best move by them! It was then academic as we got to the slight uphill sprint finish. Pinot and Roglic rounded out the podium.

What’s in store for the riders tomorrow? Let’s have a look.

The Route

A shorter day in the saddle, which I’m sure will please some tired riders.

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We have a lot of undulating roads in the first three quarters of the stage but there is nothing too serious for the bunch to be concerned with.

A long period of flat with around 30km to go could see the end of the breakaway, and we then have one little test before the finish.

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1.7km at 4.7% average could be challenging for the sprinters if they’re on a bad day, but you would expect them to hold on. However, the little descent then 500m section at 7.4% could be a great launchpad for an attack before we have a tricky and technical descent.

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The pan-flat and almost dead straight finish may spell the end of any would be attackers though if the pack is organised behind.

How will the stage pan out?

Just like Natalie Imbruglia, I’m torn.

So this will be a split preview of sorts.

On paper, this should be a sprint with it being only the second opportunity all race for a bunch gallop to the line. With the sprinters close to peak condition for Milan San Remo, they should manage the final climb as it’s very similar to the Poggio. It does come a lot closer to the finish so the battle back to the front will be a lot more difficult if you slip to the back of the pack.

Yet, after a very tough two days the peloton might want to have an easier day in the saddle. Although saying that, with it being the last road stage of the race I’m sure we’ll see an attacking day. We only have four proper sprinters here that could contend at the finish in my opinion (Sagan, Cavendish, Gaviria, Viviani) so other teams may look to the breakaway as their best option for the day. Will the teams of the sprinters be willing to work on the front all day? That’s the million pound question. In his preview with @Cyclingmole (starts around 18:10 mark) Jay Thomson sounded fairly confident in a sprint, but will that have changed after the past two days?

I think if we get representation from at least two of the sprinters teams; Bora, Dimension Data, QuickStep and Sky, then the break will stay away.

Sprinters

As mentioned earlier, the 4 riders listed are a class above in a field like this and you would expect them to populate the top of the standings.

In a flat sprint you would have to favour Cavendish or Gaviria. The Dimension Data rider has a very strong team with him here, capable of delivering a very strong lead-out. His favourite pilot fish Mark Renshaw is here and they form a formidable duo. If the Manxman has recovered from his illness, he has a very good chance of winning this.

We don’t really know how well Gaviria may have gone on the opening sprint after he was held up in the crash. Like DD, Quickstep have a very good lead-out train here and no doubt they’ll be the two teams fighting for space at the head of the peloton. Having Boonen as a lead-out man isn’t that bad either! Gaviria has beaten Cavendish before and I’m sure he’d love to make a big statement before Milan San Remo.

You can never discount Sagan and the little hill close to the finish puts him more on terms with the other two. He clearly is motoring right now and a third stage win is not as unlikely as it seemed at the start of the race.

I’m still not convinced by Viviani this year. He did well to get up for second on stage 3 but he’s still without a win this year and I can’t see that changing here.

Breakaway Contenders

I’m going to pick two guys that were in the move today, plus another. All three are similar in style but ever so slightly different.

Steve Cummings.

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He’s been relatively quiet this season so far, but the Brit presents the best opportunity for Dimension Data in the break. He’s exceptionally strong on the flat and short climbs and he is capable of time trialling his way to the line if he gets a gap. Of course, he’s also a good ploy later on in the race to attack if Cavendish isn’t feeling up for it. Cummings won a similar stage here last year, although the final climb was slightly tougher then.

Niki Terpstra.

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I was pleasantly surprised to see Terpstra finish so far up the standings on stage 2. He is clearly building some nice form ahead of the cobbled classics. A rider in a similar mould to Cummings, although the Dutchman is probably better on the flat, he could find himself attacking the breakaway group near the end of the stage. Managing to hold on for the win.

Tim Wellens.

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You can’t ignore a rider like Wellens for this stage. He is in scintillating form in this early part of the season, already picking up 3 wins. His third place in Strade highlights how versatile of a rider he is. After being involved in the crash on stage 3, he’s since lost a lot of time on GC but has been resting up at the back of the peloton, apart from a probing attack on today’s stage.  With eyes on this stage maybe?

Prediction

If we get a sprint, I’ll go for Cavendish.

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He has the best train here and will be hungry to prove that he is a danger for MSR!

If we get a break, I’ll go for Wellens.

Betting

Cavendish 1.3pts WIN @ 11/2 with Bet365

Terpstra 0.25pts WIN @

Cummings 0.35pts WIN @ 40/1 with Bet365

Wellens 0.35pts WIN @ 66/1 with Bet365

 

Thanks as always for reading! How do you think the stage will pan out? Could be a finely balanced day, but the teams never seem to be thinking along the same lines as I am. Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

 

Abu Dhabi Tour 2017 Stage 2 Preview; Abu Dhabi -> Abu Dhabi

Today’s Recap

A very messy end to a rather dull day.

It was Mark Cavendish who took a reduced sprint ahead of Greipel and Bonfiazio, after there was a crash in the closing kilometre that took out the likes of Kittel and Ewan.

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Viviani came home a disappointing fifth but at least the H2H won so a small profit on the day.

It was a rather annoying result considering I’d backed Cavendish hand over foot in Dubai, but I was waiting for stage 2 this race. Oh well, that ship has sailed now!

Tomorrow the sprinters will get another chance at stage glory, so let’s take a look at what lies ahead.

The Route

A trip around the suburbs of the city, finishing along the Marina.

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Parcours wise, it’s once again incredibly flat. What else would you expect though?!

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So like stage one, it’s down to the closing few kilometres to make the race exciting as there is no chance of crosswinds causing any issue here.

This exact finish was used on stage 2 of last year’s race so the riders, and us the viewers, have a rough idea what to expect.

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We shall see a race to the first swooping right hand turn at 1.3km to go, but it’s not too important to be right at the front here. However, you need to be making your move to the head of the peloton by the flamme rouge.

The reason I say this, is that last year they implemented some barriers (at roughly the 600m to go banner) to narrow the road from 4 lanes to 2. This obviously then makes it more difficult for teams to move their sprinters up after that. Now, I don’t know for certain if that will be the case again this year but I’m willing to guess that it more than likely will be.

We saw today that they implemented similar barriers in the last kilometre so there is a very good chance they’ll feature tomorrow.

Then, we have another relatively tight corner at 300m to go, before the dash along the finishing straight to the line.

Sprinters

Cavendish and his Dimension Data team got it perfect today. They always looked in control in the last 3km, moving to the front at exactly the correct moment. Some luck was on their side as Renshaw and Cavendish managed to avoid the crash, but that’s not to take away from a great performance. They’ll certainly be full of confidence now looking ahead at the rest of the week and I wouldn’t discount Cavendish picking up back to back wins!

The rider who got closest to the Manxman was Greipel. He managed to match him for speed, but was never really able to pull up alongside him once he moved out of the slipstream. If it was the opposite way round I wonder what the outcome would have been? I think they’re as close on form as this result suggests.

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Unfortunately we didn’t get to see Kittel sprint it out today. His team did a lot of work on the front, and although they were hideously unorganised from around 3->1.2km to go, they seemed to have things together approaching the Flamme Rouge. That was until a touch of handlebars saw them go down. With the same numbers left as Dimension Data, would they have challenged them in the drag race to the line? I think they would have been very close! Kittel’s wounds seem superficial and he’ll be fired up to exact revenge tomorrow.

Ewan also went down in the crash which is also a shame, particularly considering that their lead-out looked very promising. On the instant replay it looked as if Ewan was one of the worst hurt, but he managed to get up and finish the stage. However, he is still going to the hospital for precautionary scans so as of yet we’re unaware as to the extent of his injuries. Even if he doesn’t get involved tomorrow, I’m sure he’ll try to solider on and compete on Sunday. After all, he is a tough little fella!

Viviani disappointed today, although he did start his sprint from far back in fairness to him. However, with his main lead out man suffering some injuries today, he may be left in an even worse position come tomorrow.

I was impressed by Bonifazio and Consonni‘s ability to negotiate the mayhem, particularly the neo-pro, who performed ahead of his years. Yet, I don’t think they’ll do any better tomorrow. If they can sneak into the top 5 again then that would be great!

One random sprinter might sneak into the top 5, but I’m not going to hazard a guess as to who.

Prediction

An angry Kittel = a fast Kittel.

He’ll carve through this field like a hot disk brake through shoes! Oh, too soon?

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Betting

No value in the stage betting market IMO. I like the look of this 1.25/1 double though…

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Cavendish’s train is better than Greipel’s, Renshaw should be dropping Cav off further ahead of De Bie. Would fancy him to roll home ahead.

Guardini not at the races today whereas Bonifazio got involved. The latter seems to have had the better start to the year as well.

2.5pts on it at 1.25/1 with Bet365. (Would take down to Evens).

 

Thanks for reading and as usual any feedback is greatly appreciated! Who do you think will win the stage? I’ll be back with a double preview tomorrow with Stage 3 of this race but also Omloop. More than likely it will be Omloop out first, some time in the afternoon, followed by Abu Dhabi in the evening. Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

 

Dubai Tour Stage 1 Preview; Dubai -> Palm Jumeirah

The Route

Pan flat jaunt around the city and its outskirts, with a little trip out to the camel track.

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I doubt there will be much action at all until we get into the final 10km when the sprint teams start to properly get themselves organised. Once onto the Palm, they’ll enter the tunnel that was the scene of a crash last year, with around 7km to go.

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From there they take a left, continue on for a couple of kilometres, make a U-turn and head towards the finish. The riders do have to negotiate a few pinch-points and traverse a couple of roundabouts; there is even one at around 400m to go. Surely this will cause panic?! Well, I use the term “roundabout” loosely…

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All that money and they make a shoddy little roundabout. Tut, tut.

No problems for the sprinters here, straight on it is, finishing beside the big hotel further up the road!

Contenders

Billed as a showdown between Kittel and Cavendish and to be honest that’s a good summary.

Kittel comes here with a solid lead-out. He’ll be able to rely on the likes of Trentin and Vermotte, but Sabatini will probably be his last man. That pairing didn’t work too well last year so I’m intrigued to see how it plays out this time round. It’s a good lead-out, but not amazing.

Cavendish arrives with a much better lead-out train in my opinion. Eisel will control the road in the final few kilometres, bossing everyone around. I like the addition of Thwaites to the team and I imagine he’ll fit into third man in the train here. The Manxman can then rely on his favourite pilot-fish, and the Barry to his Paul Chuckle, Mark Renshaw. One of the best in the business, Renshaw will be able to deliver Cav in the perfect position and from there it will be a drag race to the line.

Aside from those two, there are still some other fast-men here.

Groenewegen might be the sprinter they fear the most as he’s pretty much fearless himself; attempting to squeeze through any gap he can in the final kilometre. Last year he started the year with a stage win in Valenciana, can he do the same here?

Viviani already has some racing in his legs at San Juan, picking up three 2nd places behind QuickStep riders. He’s very hot or cold with his sprinting and I think he might be a bit cold here the first few stages but will be better later on. No real reason, just an inkling!

ModoloDegenkolb, and Mareczko could all well be in the mix too and they’ll hope for a podium place. Especially Degenkolb who will fancy his chances at the overall title.

Prediction

Like I said in my GC Preview, I think Cavendish will be amped-up and ready to go from the gun here. He’ll want to put an early season marker down, and take the mental advantage over Kittel. Although he’s talking down his chances, suggesting that he’s not in great shape etc, I think his winning instinct will take over.

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Betting

Should be a no bet if you’re sensible. I’m not sensible.

2pts WIN on Cavendish at 9/4. Would take down to 7/4.

Thanks for reading! These Dubai Tour stage previews will probably be shorter than normal, aside from days that the wind could wreak havoc, purely because it’s almost a copy/paste job! As usual, any feedback is greatly appreciated. Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

 

Dubai Tour 2017 – GC Preview

Dubai Tour 2017 – GC Preview

A relatively new race to the cycling calendar, starting back in 2014, we’re this year treated to its 4th edition. A combination of maintaining a 2.HC status and the generally good weather means the race can attract some of the biggest stars in World Cycling. Some appearance fees help too!

Last year saw Marcel Kittel take the crown after a very impressive display up the now famous Hatta Dam Wall finish, in between some great sprint victories.

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Since dropping the TT after the first edition, the past two years have seen a delicately poised GC battle between 1 or 2 dominant sprinters and the puncheurs. Both times, the sprinters have prevailed with 2 stage wins being enough to take GC victory as long as they don’t lose drastic amounts of time on Hatta. This year the race has actually been extended to 5 stages, much to my surprise as I only found out when starting this write-up! Does this give the sprinters an even better chance of overall victory? Let’s take a quick look at what’s in store for them…

The Route

The organisers aren’t entirely helpful and we don’t actually have any official stage profiles aside from that of Stage 4. It shouldn’t really matter though as the rest of the stages are mainly flat affairs anyway!

Stage 1.

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A trip around some of the famous landmarks are in store for the riders before the inevitable sprint finish along the Palm Jumeirah.

Stage 2.

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Stage 2 sees a trip up the coast and a finish at Ras al Khaimah. Another sprint is on the cards but with it being close to the coast, could we get crosswinds? The early wind forecast doesn’t look promising even with winds coming from the best direction for crosswinds as they’re only 10km/h strong. Hopefully this changes!

Stage 3.

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The riders travel from coast to coast, traversing through the desert on their way. Another sprint finish is likely but I do like the look of the long-range wind forecast for Thursday…

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Strong winds from a cross-tail direction, could see some chaos out on the roads.

Stage 4.

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The *cough* Queen *cough* stage of the Dubai Tour and the return to Hatta Dam. The organisers have decided to use the exact same route that they did last year. Again, we could get some strong winds out on course. The long-range forecast again looks like the section going NE to Al Malaha could be a bit exposed…

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The climbs before the finish themselves can cause splits in the peloton and those who aren’t in great shape can be dropped, and depending on the pace/winds a fair few more might not make the Dam Wall with the peloton as well. The all-out sprint up the 20% 150m section will ensue. It is important to note that the road does rise ever so slightly for a couple of kilometres beforehand and this will sap the legs before the massive anaerobic, 30-second effort.

Stage 5

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Another sprint day to end the race!

GC Contenders

The extra sprint day does swing the race even more in favour of the sprinters. As I’ve mentioned above, 2 stage wins has been enough in the previous editions to take the GC win and this year round it is much the same. In fact, even 4 trips to the lesser spots on the podium should be enough as long as there isn’t one dominant sprinter.

Marcel Kittel starts as favourite for this race according to the bookmakers. The defending champ had a much better season last year and really came out of the blocks flying at this event. Two stage wins and an impressive 6th up Hatta saw him secure the title. He managed that even with a messed up sprint on Stage 2. If he’s on similar form, then he could be hard to beat.

Mark Cavendish won this event back in 2015. He outclassed everyone at the Tour last year but will he be as amped up for this race so early in the year? With him he has a full strength sprint team and I think that’s a sign of intent to mount a serious challenge to Kittel.

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Those two riders are a cut above in terms of flat sprinting prowess and they could quite easily share all the flat stage wins.

Groenewegen and Viviani are in the tier below them but are capable of causing an upset. The Dutchman probably has a greater chance at the overall than the Italian who’s climbing is very hit or miss.

Two riders who will be hoping that the above four share the sprinting spoils and sneak onto the podium themselves on the flat stages are Degenkolb and Lobato. Both winners on Hatta Dam (2015 & 2016 respectively) they should gain time on that stage. Will it be enough to take the win though?

So it’s a sprint-fest then?

Yes and no.

Stages 1 and 5 should be bunch sprints as they are in urbanised areas protected from any prevailing weather conditions. However, the wind does look favourable for some cross winds on a couple of the stages. Namely the coastal finish on Stage 3 to Al Aqah and Stage 4 to Hatta Dam could get interesting before we even reach the wall!

Roughly 40km/h winds are being forecast for those days and we’ve seen numerous times what can happen out in the desert if there are strong winds; World Champs and Tour of Qatar from last year are great examples. This could be the first year that the wind plays a part in shaping the GC at this race.

Rather annoyingly, sprinters tend to be quite good in the wind so unless if it is absolute chaos (which I’m really hoping for) then it might be hard to completely drop them. It is however, more likely to isolate them. If that is the case, we could see some attacks from team-mates or more classics style riders once the race has been blown apart. Therefore, there are two riders I want to highlight who might spring a surprise this week.

Bob Jungels.

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The 24-year old had an exceptionally good first half of last year; winning a stage in Oman but more impressively finishing 6th on GC at the Giro and consequently winning the Young Riders classification. He tapered out a bit after then but was part of the World’s TTT winning squad at the end of the year. He’s a real powerhouse of a rider who can climb well but also has a great TT engine. If we do get a very reduced group of around 15 riders or so in the last 10km of a stage he has every chance of attacking and time trialling his way to the line. With a decent gap, he would be tough to beat for the rest of the race!

Dylan Teuns.

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The Belgian really sprung onto the scene back in 2014 at the Tour of Britain, finishing 10th on GC riding as a stagiare for BMC. Since then he’s been a bit anonymous and 2016 was a relatively poor year from him, with only a couple of top 20 places in the classics (Liege & Fleche) and a 3rd on a stage at the Tour of Luxembourg. I think he’ll want to come out of the blocks firing here and is a serious contender for the Hatta stage. The wind playing up will be great for him too, after all, he is Belgian! 😏

Prediction

I think Cavendish will do the business here, but if the wind starts blowing then it could be anyones game! I’ll go for Jungels in that situation.

Betting

No value in those at the top of the race, especially with dodgy conditions. Small punts on Teuns and Jungels;

0.125pt EW Teuns @ 300/1 with Bet365

0.12pt EW Jungels @ 200/1 with Bet365

 

Thanks again for reading! Who do you think will come out on top? Will the wind be a major factor or will it be another year for the sprinters? As usual any feedback is greatly appreciated. I will be doing daily previews for this race but they will probably be short as there isn’t that much to talk about! Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth