Tour de France 2018 Stage 1 Preview: Noirmoutier-en-l’Île -> Fontenay-le-Comte

Tour de France 2018 Stage 1 Preview: Noirmoutier-en-l’Île -> Fontenay-le-Comte

After much hype and build up, the Tour finally starts tomorrow. So no messing about here, let’s get straight into what the riders have to look forward to on the opening day.

The Route

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An almost pan-flat jaunt along the cause before the road heads inland and towards the finish town.

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With the race travelling along the coast I was really hoping that the wind would play ball and offer some potential opening day echelons. Unfortunately it doesn’t look strong enough and it turns into a headwind as they head towards the finish. Which will demotivate anyone wanting to split it.

The Cat-4 climb will offer someone in the early break a chance of stepping onto the podium at the end of the day and claim the KOM jersey. Although with it coming 28km from the finish line, will they still be away by then?

At 13.5km to go, the riders will have the opportunity to chase some bonus seconds in the GC battle at the brand new sprint points that have been added to the race. They offer no points in the Green Jersey classification but they do offer time bonuses. I think the thinking behind it is to entice some of the GC riders to go for them but I’m not entirely sure how they will play out.

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As you can see on the image above, the major issues on the run in come at 3km to 1km to go with three roundabouts and a “sharp turn” to be covered. This will string the bunch out and we’ll no doubt see a lot of fighting to get into the first roundabout so that a team can take the head of the bunch and control the pace.

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Once through the “sharp turn” which is actually another roundabout, the riders will have just over a kilometre left to go. It will be a fast final kilometre as the road dips down ever so slightly, meaning we will no doubt see some crazy top speeds but it does make it a bit more dangerous.

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The final 100m or so do rise up to the line but given the speed that the riders will be carrying then it shouldn’t be an issue. You can see a mock finish line banner in the distance!

Who will be competing for the win though?

The Old Guard vs the New Wave

Are we seeing a shift in power between the sprinters with some of the older riders passing the baton onto the newer generation coming through? Let’s start off by looking at some of the old guard.

Mark Cavendish.

What Cav will turn up this year? In 2016 everyone wrote him off (including myself) but he arrived at the race absolutely flying and racked up 4 stage wins to his name. Last year he seemed pretty lively but we never got to see where he was at after he was involved in a crash, partly or mainly caused by himself – that depends on who you ask. Since then he has had pretty terrible luck with illness and crashes hampering the end of 2017 and the majority of this year. Seemingly lacking confidence at the moment, he only has one win to his name in 2018 but with a team almost fully dedicated to him, there will be pressure on him to deliver. On form he doesn’t really have a chance but you can never rule out a guy with 148 wins in his career that includes 30 stage wins at the Tour, can you?

Andre Greipel.

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The Gorilla started off this year with a bang by taking two strong stage wins Down Under but back in Europe he has struggled to find his feet in the WT bunch sprints with two podium places the only results to shout home about. He fell (twice) in Milan SanRemo, that #HaugheyCurse striking again, which was a shame as he was climbing as well as I have seen from him in a long time. After his lay off he returned he bullied his way to two stage wins in both Dunkerque and the Belgium Tour. His recent run in Suisse wasn’t great but I think he was using that more for training rather than anything else. With a quite powerful lead-out train, NewLottoSoudal will hope to be one of the teams controlling the run in. The slight kick up to the line is good news for the powerful Greipel and with a potential headwind sprint, he has a chance. Remember the rule?

Alexander Kristoff.

The second part of that rule, Kristoff unfortunately seems a little past his heyday in the big bunch sprints, he needs a slightly reduced group to shine against the very best. He has no real lead-out to speak of and I just can’t see him winning or finishing on the podium tomorrow. I am ready to eat my hat.

Marcel Kittel.

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Devoid of confidence, he looks a shell of the man he was at Quick Step last year. With only two wins to his name this year, both at Tirreno Adriatico, his team seem to have lost faith in him too as they only bring a reduced lead-out train with him. Not ideal. There is no doubt he has the talent but he seems to be missing a few watts due to his lack of confidence. For his sake, I hope he bags a result at some point this race and it is not great from a fan’s perspective to see one of the best sprinters struggle.

John Degenkolb.

He’s just never been the same since that crash and he doesn’t have the speed to compete on this type of finish.

Now onto the new guard…

Fernando Gaviria.

The Colombian sprint sensation arrives here with seven wins to his name so far this season, including a dominant display in California. In his recent outing in Switzerland he was the bridesmaid on three occasions but that won’t have knocked his confidence, it will only make him hungrier. The lack of Keisse is a big loss but Quick Step still bring a strong and powerful lead out and no doubt we’ll see them come to the front in the closing stages. With his trusted pilot fish Richeze, Gaviria should be positioned well in the final kilometre – he just needs to get his timing right.

Dylan Groenewegen.

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The most successful sprinter so far this season with 8 wins, the Lotto NL Jumbo man comes into the race full of confidence. Some of his victories this season have seen him almost bully his sprint opposition and he will no doubt be expecting similar results this time. His team have stuck with the short and late lead-out approach this season which has worked in the majority of races but if they get the timing wrong, then it is very difficult for him to make up ground. On a run in like tomorrow expect them to sit a little back until they hit near they come around the final turn and go full gas from there. Sitting further back though does run the risk of being detached from the lead out or getting caught up in a crash. He does start as the favourite given the season he is having though.

Arnaud Demare.

 

Technically Demare is the form sprinter as he has won the most recent bunch sprint and if you read my GC preview yesterday, you will know that I have backed him for the green jersey. I was really impressed with his train in that Suisse stage and they could very easily pull off something similar here and boss the final couple of kilometres Last year at the Tour he was in the Green Jersey for a few stages and well in the running before unfortunately falling ill and having to withdraw. No longer wearing the French champions jersey, I’m sure he won’t mind if he pulls on Yellow tomorrow.

The I couldn’t fit them into a category-ers…

Peter Sagan.

What can the World Champ not do? Win a full bunch sprint at the Tour, that’s what. Well, maybe until this year. Despite having won 8 stages at this event, they have all came in reduced sprint days where some of the fast men have been left behind. Does he have the speed to compete? Most certainly but he will have to ride solo, not that that has stopped him before. He’s very consistently on or around the podium in WT sprints and he might benefit tomorrow from others having some first stage nerves as he will no doubt manage to keep his cool.

Sonny Colbrelli & Michael Matthews.

Very similar riders who will find it difficult on a finish like this, they would prefer a slightly tougher day. Both have little help from their teams so a podium on the stage would be a wonderful result. I would think that Colbrelli would have more of a chance.

I’ve probably missed someone but time is marching on so apologies!

Prediction

A tough one to call in what will no doubt be a frantic and messy sprint but I think Demare’s lead out will prevail and the Frenchman will kick off the big race with a win.

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Groenewegen to come fast and late but just miss out and come second with wily old Greipel coming home in third.

Betting

1pt WIN Demare at 8/1 (with Skybet although you can get better odds on BF Exchange)

0.5pt EW Greipel at 18/1 (with Bet365 and others)

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

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

Abu Dhabi Tour 2018 Stage 1 Preview; Madinat Zayed -> ADNOC School

GC Overview

The last of the races in the middle-east and the only one that holds World Tour status, the Abu Dhabi Tour features five stages this year. We should have three sprints, one time trial and a mountain top finish with the latter two more than likely deciding the GC.

In 2017 it was Rui Costa who took the win which topped off his cracking start to the year.

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He’s here to defend his crown this year but with the added effort against the clock it will be difficult for him to do so.

Given the TT, anyone who hopes to go well in the GC can’t afford to lose anymore than 30 seconds here and even then, it might be a struggle to gain them back on Jebel Hafeet. So with that said we have a few stand-out candidates.

Tom Dumoulin races for the first time this season but that doesn’t really mean anything as he finished here in 2017 on his first outing. The TT/Mountain top finish combination suits him perfectly and he’ll hope to be close to winning both days. He might not actually get a stage win but it could be enough to secure the GC. Sunweb also have the benefit of having Kelderman here too and it will be interesting to see how the Dutch pair combine.

Rohan Dennis is hoping to develop into a GC rider with this season being a crucial point in that transformation. The best TT rider in the World over a course of this length he’ll hope to end the day with almost a minute of some of the climbers and maybe 15 seconds or so over Dumouln. Holding on to that lead of Jebel Hafeet will be tough but it will be a good acid test for him and his GC abilities.

Jonathan Castroviejo will get his first chance at leadership for Sky here. The British outfit have been flying in TTs as of late, winning both the Algarve and Andalucia efforts against the clock. Castroviejo is an exceptional TT rider but also a competent climber too. Jebel Hafeet will be on his limit but he’ll certainly be hoping to make the top 5 on GC and possibly go a bit better.

Alejandro Valverde isn’t great against the clock, but he’s not bad either. After a return to racing after his crash in the TDF last year, the Movistar man has once again looked imperious in the races he’s competed in so far. He’ll hope to limit his losses in the TT, to maybe 30 seconds at most then it is all up to a big effort on the final day. He’s certainly put a strong dig on Jebel Hafeet during training as he now holds the Strava record for te climb!

Others will be there or thereabouts but I’m not going to bore you with names, Tom Dumoulin to win the GC!

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Right, now let’s have a look at what is in store for the riders on the opening day.

The Route

A boring sprint stage with an almost out and back route through the desert; no need for a profile as it is pan flat.

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It’s pretty much the same stage that was used last year. Expect a lot of images of camels and rocks!

The finale is fairly straightforward with there being only two key pinch points/turns. Apparently Google Streetview isn’t a thing in this part of the Emirates yet so a satellite image of the final 3km will have to suffice.

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One right-hand turn at roughly 2.5km to go is followed by a roundabout at ~1.3km. I’m not sure what way they’ll take the roundabout, whether they go on the inside line (likely) or if it will be taken as a sweeping turn as above. Either way, the teams will have one kilometre dead ahead of them with a final jockey for position before they release their sprinters.

We’ve seen so far this season how simple run ins like this cause a lot of chaos because everyone is fairly evenly matched and they’re all vying for the same road space. We have a stacked sprint field here so I expect this to be equally manic!

Wind Watch

Given that the riders will be travelling into the wide open desert the possibility of echelons increases (much to my excitement). I’ve had my eye on the forecast for the past few days and it has changed a bit. Originally it was supposed to be a crosswind across the main stretch of straight road except that has changed to more of a headwind now.

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You can see on the screen capture above Madinat Zayed at the top of the map with the “turning point” of the stage down at the bottom. The wind is probably not coming from the East enough to cause any crosswinds but there is the point around halfway up the image that the road itself heads more West. Could this be enough to see some echelon action? I would love it, but I’m not holding out hope!

I’ll certainly be doing by crosswind dance before I go to bed tonight though.

If we do get echelons, then expect the majority of sprinters to be present at the front of the race anyway as a lot of them are masters at riding in bad conditions. In that situation it would depend on how many team-mates are there to hold it together for a sprint but it is still likely we’ll see some type of gallop to the line.

Sprinters

It seems as if the whole sprinting peloton is here; so much so, that I’m fairly certain that I could write another 1000 words. I’m not going to bore you with that so I’ll try write a few sentences at most for each rider!

Kittel.

Disappointed with his poor performances in Dubai, he’ll be here to remind everyone that he is the fastest rider in the peloton. A straight forward finish should be good for him but he’ll need to be positioned better.

Cavendish.

Already matching his tally of wins from last season, the Manxman will hope to continue that winning streak here. A tenacious rider, he always seems to rise to the occasion and knowing that the majority of the top sprinters are here he’ll desperately want to get one over them.

Greipel.

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Started the season with a bang in Australia, taking two stage wins. The German seems to be as powerful as ever but his lead-out train lacks a fast last man. Will need to latch onto another train which might cause issues. Headwind sprint helps him a lot though.

Kristoff.

The second rider that I proclaim is the best in the peloton (along with Greipel) in a headwind sprint, he is a master of tricky conditions. After firing a few blanks in his first races, he opened his account in Oman. Can he continue that here?

Ewan.

Was good in Australia but didn’t seem his scintillating best in the sprints. However, he was very strong in Almeria with a comfortable win over Van Poppel. Having a strong, strong lead-out here for him will help massively.

Viviani.

Arguably the in-form sprinter of the season so far, he has been truly exceptional. Arriving with a slightly different train, he has his reliable pilot fish Sabatini and that will be pivotal. Will the winning run continue?

Van Poppel.

Looked good in Valenciana but he’ll have been humbled a bit by Ewan in Almeria. Nonetheless, he’s a strong guy and will be hoping to bounce back. Jumbo nailed the lead-outs for Groenewegen so far this season, will DVP get the same quality?

Bauhaus.

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I’m a fan of the ‘Haus and it will be good to watch his progression again this year. He had a few strong placings in Australia but just missed out on the win. Tipped as the “new Kittel” he’ll be able to rely on the massive engines of Dumoulin and Arndt for a lead-out. He could surprise but would it really be a surprise though?

McLay.

Gets his chance to sprint for EF Education here. No lead-out for him so he’ll have to freestyle but that might work to his advantage. He is capable of pulling a very good result out of the bag but a top 10 will be solid for him nonetheless.

Minali.

Another “M” sprinter who will probably have to fly solo, he looked fast in a few of the finishes in Dubai but he seems very inconsistent. Will require some luck for him to go well.

Guardini. 

My #PFCL4 rider is in high company here and a top 10 result would be nice in a few of the stages. Back in 2015 he was notorious for strong showings in the desert sprints but he has since lost his way. Has he found Bernard’s Watch and rolled back the clock?

There are even more guys to consider such as Ackermann, Bonifazio, Barbier and Halvorsen to name a few but I think that the list is exhaustive enough!

Prediction

After a bit of a wind-battered day in the peloton, the riders will be more fatigued than expected. I have to go with one of two riders that I proclaim are the best in the world in a headwind sprint, no doubt picking the wrong one…

Alexander Kristoff to take the win!

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Having start off the season promisingly but without the result to show for it, it was good to see him get the proverbial monkey off his back in Oman. He looks in great shape, a 4th place on Hatta Dam is testament to that and I think a few people will underestimate him here.

Betting

1pt EW Kristoff at 12/1 with Bet365 (would take 10/1)

Thanks as always for reading! Who do you think will win the opener tomorrow? Will we see some splits in the bunch, or will it be a long day in the saddle? Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

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 Stage 4 Preview; Mondorf-les-Bains -> Vittel

Today’s Recap

An exciting finale that had a little bit of everything but in the end the result was inevitable, wasn’t it? After managing to clip back into his pedal after unclipping, Sagan still had enough power to hold off a charging Matthews on the line to take a great stage victory.

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Dan Martin was the best of the GC guys, coming home in third place and taking 4 bonus seconds on the line plus a 2 second time gap back to the main GC group. Yates was the worst off today, losing 8 seconds to the likes of Froome/Porte etc.

A special mention must also go to Démare who managed to hold on to the wheels of the climbers and eventually finished 6th. He’s in stupendous form at the moment!

Will he get a chance to go for the win tomorrow?

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

The Route

A fairly simple stage with not too much to talk about!

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It should be a day for the sprinters so the stage is all about the final few kilometres.

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The road does rise and fall in the final 5kms but it’s nothing too severe. The climb that you see on the profile above averages roughly 1.8% for 2kms, so nothing more than false flat. Likewise, the finish itself does ramp up but it is only 1.7% for the final kilometre.

I’m sure all of the sprinters would expect to be there!

As for the run-in itself, it is more technical than what we had on stage 2.stage-4-5km

So here comes a little preview by pictures…

The first challenge the riders will have to face is the turn onto Rue de la Vauviard after they come off the short descent.

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Having gathered up a lot of pace, they’ll have to be careful not to misjudge the bend as it is a lot tighter than I expected going off of the stage map. From there, they will face a sweeping road until the “tight turn” at roughly 1.5km to go.

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Said “tight turn”

On a two-lane wide road the fight for position will be important as the best way to take the turn at maximum speed is to sweep from left to right. From there, they continue towards a roundabout which is a lot more precarious than the road book suggests.

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The two lanes that they approach on are split by some nasty looking road furniture, with the roundabout itself being very narrow. I hope we don’t see any accidents as every tries to funnel right.

Once through the roundabout the riders will hit the Flamme Rouge and from there things get a lot easier with no more sharp turns and slightly wider roads.

Conteders

Can anyone beat Kittel? Probably not.

The German was incredibly strong on the opening stage and if he produces the same amount of power tomorrow then he should eat up the finish. He will be hoping for a better lead-out though as he can’t afford to go too early on the rise as it could catch him (or anyone) out.

Démare again looks like his main challenger. The Frenchman missed his structured lead-out on stage 1 and he’ll bo hoping that changes tomorrow. They have the numbers to control the final 3km which is a huge advantage. Not afraid of a slight drag to the line, he has a good chance of going better than stage 2.7087035_1-0-1561477825_1000x625

Greipel loves a tougher sprint finish like this and he no doubt will be there at the end again. His train isn’t the best, he’ll need to use all of his experience to stay near enough to the front through the technical sections.

Cavendish took some promise from his result on stage 2. With another day of racing in his legs, will his form be on the up? Who knows! I’ll repeat what I said for the last sprint stage, his result won’t surprise me either way!

Bouhanni is the local boy and he will relish the technical finish. However, I’m still not convinced he’s at 100% after his crash in Yorkshire. He’ll give it his all and like Cavendish, I won’t be surprised with whatever he does.

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Groenewegen normally goes well on tougher run ins. The young Dutchman has no fear so he should be well positioned going into the final kilometre. Does he have the legs to compete with the best? A 5th on Stage 2 was promising and he may well sneak a podium tomorrow.

Matthews produced a very impressive final few hundred metres today, but it was too little too late. Not the fastest in a pan-flat sprint, the ever so slight gradient does bring him closer to the other sprinters.

Degenkolb was never really involved in the sprint on stage 2 and he might struggle with a lack of support. However, he looked very strong at the start of the year and you have to imagine that he will be close to that form again due to it being the Tour. If things click tomorrow, we might see a good result from the German sprinter.

Sagan will of course be up there again. Hampered on Stage 2, he was truly exceptional today. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him go back to back.

Colbrelli and Kristoff will looking to top 10 again.

Prediction

Boring, but Kittel wins again most likely!

Cue the glaringly obvious Kittel wins in Vittel headlines.

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He certainly can be challenged though and a few riders will fancy their chances, it won’t be as “easy” for him as it was on stage 2.

Betting

No value in Kittel but there are two “outsiders” I’d like to back because the odds are just ridiculous for them.

0.7pt EW Matthews @ 80/1 with PP/BF (Would take 66s)

The Sunweb rider actually has a fairly solid lead-out train with him and theory could be one of the better positioned riders in the finale tomorrow. He got blocked off on Stage 2 so could never really make any effort to go for the win. His finish today gives me a lot of confidence in his power right now and I think he could be up there tomorrow again. Definitly should be lower than a 66 or 80/1 shot.

0.3pt EW Degenkolb @150/1 with Sky/PP/BF (would take 125s)

He’s not been great as of late but that doesn’t warrant his massive price, I think his form is actually on the up. Another rider who didn’t really sprint at all on Stage 2, he might get lucky tomorrow. I find it absurd that he’s that price while McClay/Kristoff/Colbrelli are all shorter, and by some margin.

Probably another two losing “value” bets, but they could run close in a hectic finish.

 

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

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

Tour de France 2017 Stage 2 Preview; Düsseldorf -> Liège

Today’s Recap

Luck, bravery and a stonkingly strong effort from Thomas saw him take Yellow at the end of a very tricky and tough day.

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Don’t think many people would have predicted that!

Küng and Kiryienka rounded out the podium, with Froome being the best GC rider (not including Thomas of course), beating his closest rivals by around 25 seconds.

It was a course fraught with danger due to the wet and greasy surface which unfortunately meant several riders crash. The #HaugheyCurse already managed to rear its head on stage one with Roglic going down and ruling him out of stage contention. However, more disappointingly we’ve had two abandons in the form of Valverde and Izagirre, both of whom were top 10 contenders for the overall at the very least.

The organisers will be looking for a much more mundane day out tomorrow. Let’s have a look at what’s in store for the riders.

The Route

A fairly flat day out where the sprinters should get their first chance to go for stage glory.

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We should see a fairly exciting start to the day as several riders will no doubt be gunning for the early KOM. After that though it should be a fairly benign day as they travel through Germany until the terrain starts to get more rolling once they enter Belgium and the province of Liège.

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We do have some uncategorised rises and a Cat-4 climb that crests with 20km to go but they should be of no difficulty to the fast men.

The run is a sprinters delight and I’m sure the GC riders will be happy with it too, no first road stage nervousness!

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Facing a few technical turns, the biggest difficulty is a right-handed turn at 3km to go. After that, it will be a drag race between the lead-out trains with the final kilometre being dead straight.

Weather Watch

One thing that could upset the apple cart though is the weather. We might have a few showers throughout the day and there are some consistent winds forecast throughout the day.

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Weather forecast for Aachen (Source: Windfinder)

Strong enough to create some echelons when the route is heading South/South-West (so most of the stage), I will be intrigued to see if any team tries to split it in the wind.

It’s quite hard to tell how exposed some of the course is due to the strange reason that Google Streetview hasn’t covered any of the area south of Mönchengladbach. Can anyone tell me why?!

Looking at the satellite images, it appears like flat German farmland that could be fairly exposed to the wind.

As for when the riders enter Belgium, we have typical small Belgian towns, some exposed roads but some fairly well sheltered.

I think it’s unlikely we’ll see any splits but you never know. Some teams/riders are already facing an uphill battle on GC so if they sense any opportunity they’ll go for it.

Sprint Contenders 

The first sprint of a Tour is always an interesting one as riders/teams aren’t sure of what to expect. Everyone will fancy their chances so it often leads to a rather chaotic finale. It will also be a cross-headwind finish so timing your effort will be important.

Marcel Kittel starts as the favourite for the day. The German has a team built to support him and it is arguably one of the longest proper sprint trains that we’ve seen in a Grand Tour since the HTC days. Quick Step will be able to put the power down in the closing few kilometres and with Sabatini (Kittel’s trusted lead-out man) dropping him off at 150m to go, will anyone be able to beat him?

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Arnaud Démare on current form looks like his main challenger, with the Frenchman dominant in his last few races. The reason I said “arguably” for Kittel’s lead-out is that Deémare will have everyone in his team apart from Pinot working for him. The signings of Cimolai and Guarnieri have really brought some high-end speed into the top end of the order. He might not beat Kittel when the German is up to full race speed but since he’s not raced in a while, Démare has every chance. I’m sure he’ll be doing his rain dance too!

Peter Sagan will be close to the top of the order, like always! He really seems to up his game in the sprints at the Tour and is one of the fastest riders here. Sagan doesn’t really have a lead-out train to the same extent as Kittel and Demare do but he still has some fire power. Selig will be his last man and he’s a rider who I’ve really rated this season, he’s done great work for Bennett etc, so he’ll be expected to continue that for Sagan here. Can the World Champion make an early claim for Green with a win?

Andre Greipel is a bit of a hit or miss character in the sprints recently and I think it is clear he’s sorely missing Henderson. Lotto Soudal shortened their lead-out train on the final day of the Tour last year and it seemed to work for them then so they’ve taken a similar approach this year. He’ll more than likely have to latch onto the back of someone elses lead-out and I think it will be tough for him to take the win, but he is certainly strong enough on his day to do so.

Mark Cavendish is the unknown quantity. He says he doesn’t know where his form is, although he most definitely will, and I’m intrigued to see how he copes. With a strong lead-out, he is almost capable of anything tomorrow. I would not be surprised with a win or if he was nowhere.

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Dylan Groenewegen has the speed and fearlessness to get himself a podium position. He recently beat Kittel and Greipel at Ster ZLM so will be full of confidence, although he did struggle at the Nationals recently. I think he would prefer the finish to be a bit more technical. He has a chance but it will be tough!

As for the rest, they should be there or thereabouts but I think it will be hard for them to win.

Prediction

Arnaud Démare to take advantage of his fine form while he can and take the win, sending the French public/media into disarray!

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Betting

As I said yesterday, today was most likely to be a no bet and it will remain that way. Almost tempted with a couple of loose change punts on Naesen and Lutsenko at crazy prices and do my wind dance. I think I’ll save my money though to waste on future stages!

Thanks as always for reading and any feedback is greatly appreciated. Who do you think will win tomorrow? Can anyone beat Kittel? 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.

 

 

HSBC UK National Road Race Championships 2017 Preview; Douglas -> Douglas

After an “easy” route last year which saw two relatively large bunch sprints, with Blythe and Barnes being crowned champions, the organisers have certainly came up with a grippier parcours this time round.

2016 British Cycling National Road Championships - Stockton-on-Tees

Will the reigning champions be able to defend their crowns? Let’s have a proper look at what’s in store for the riders.

The Route

All profiles are courtesy of @LasterketaBurua / @raffilpt so go and give them a follow or check out their site!

The men’s race will incorporate two laps of the large circuit and 10 of the smaller circuit, totalling 193km. Whereas the women will only do one lap of the large circuit and 6 of the smaller one, totalling 103km.

You can view an interactive route profile here.

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As you can see, the main focal point of the opening circuit is the tough climb of ‘Mountain Mile” that averages 7% for 4.8km. Tough enough to see riders get dropped early on, it will be interesting to see how whittled down the group gets here and if we see any early attacks from the big hitters.

Compared to the opening loop and Mountain Mile, the closing circuit is fairly benign. However, the repeated nature of it and aggressive racing will certainly wear the riders down!

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The gradients are fairly shallow but there are some steeper pitches involved with some percentages of around ~8% in places. In fact, the second climb on the image above is closer to 8% for 400m but it flattens out at the top to bring the percentage down.

With only just over 2km from the top of the climb to the finish, those lacking a sprint will certainly be looking to make their move here.

Weather Watch

Along with the course, one thing that could shape the race is the weather. It looks as if the riders will have a dry day, but it is the wind that they will be more concerned about.

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Source: Met Office

With consistent winds of roughly 13mph (20kph) and gusts up to 24mph (38kph) the riders could certainly be caught out by crosswinds, especially on the larger opening circuit.

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Areas like the one above (just after Mountain Mile) are certainly exposed to the wind and it could potentially but the riders on the gutter on the left hand side of the road as the wind will be coming from their right.

However, it should only be the opening circuit that sees any echelon/crosswind action because the majority of the finishing laps are protected by trees and hedgerows.

Women’s Race

Given current form it is hard to argue against current champion Hannah Barnes regaining her title. Very strong in the TT on Thursday, she was incredibly consistent at the recent Women’s Tour and seems to have taken another step up again this year. She can climb, she’s strong on the flat and she can sprint. Ideal for this course! Will all of this racing catch up with her though?

Lizzie Deignan took a much more considered approach to the Women’s Tour but she will certainly be ready for this race. Having won a tough Tour de Yorkshire with a dominant ride, the 3-time National Champion will be looking to take home here 4th jersey here. Like Barnes, she can do everything and is the rider everyone will fear the most even though she has been a bit anonymous recently.

Women's Tour de Yorkshire 2017

Still an U-23 rider Hannah’s sister, Alice Barnes, could possibly compete here as well. The climb of Mountain Mile will be difficult for her but if she makes it to the final circuit with the lead group then she has as good a chance as any. Arguably a faster sprinter than her sister, can she win family bragging rights and more this time around?

After a solid third place in the TT, Katie Archibald will be looking for another strong performance in the road race. The Scot has really impressed me this season so far as she transitions from a track rider into a very versatile “roadie”. She won’t be dropped on the climbs but it her may be her inexperience in the wind that could be her undoing.

Dani King for a while looked as if she was going to hold on to the coat-tails of the flying Boels duo at the Tour de Yorkshire but it wasn’t to be.I’m still confused as to why she didn’t make the Olympic squad last year but that’s a debate for another day. A very consistent rider, she had a quiet Women’s Tour but still managed to finish 9th on GC, not bad! After being a loyal domestique for a few years, learning the trade, she moved teams during the winter to take more leadership opportunities. No better place to take your first pro win than at Nationals!

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Others who could be in contention include; Simmonds, Garner, Barker and Christian.

Men’s Race

There are two strong favourites for this course in my opinion and they were 1-2 on Alpe d’Huez not too long ago…

Pete Kennaugh will be looking to make history this year by being the first male rider to win the road race three times. A great one-day racer for this type of parcours, I’m sure he’ll be bitterly disappointed about missing out on the Tour squad. With that in mind, he will no doubt be going all out to win here. Will the local support be enough to see him win?

Ben Swift performed exceptionally well to come second behind Kennaugh on Alpe d’Huez, only losing ~15 seconds in the end. An under-rated climber, he should be able to cope with everything that he will face tomorrow. With a fast sprint as well, he is a force to be reckoned with. He’ll be out-numbered by other teams but that might not matter if he’s able to follow the best in an attacking race. The one issue is that no one will really want to bring him to the line.

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The same can be said for a recovering Mark Cavendish. The Manxman would have been relishing the opportunity to race for the national title on home roads but he has only just returned to racing after missing a large chunk of the season with Epstein Barr virus. He notched up a second place on a stage at the Tour of Slovenia and with the Tour de France around the corner, I have a feeling he’ll be going better than he says he is. He might not even show it tomorrow, but a hard race will do him good before next week.

 

Kennaugh isn’t Sky’s only option, Tao Geoghegan Hart is another candidate. The youngster produced a very solid time trial on Thursday, a discipline that’s not his strong point. He clearly is in good form and we could see Sky adopt some attacking tactics, using Geoghegan Hart to go in an early move that might just stick.

In a race that could become very open due to the attacking nature of it and the wind conditions there are several Continental riders who could have a chance.

Bibby (JLT), Holmes (Madison Genesis) and Williams (One Pro) are all riders to consider.

There is one rider I am going to keep a watchful eye on though and that is Scott Davies of Team Wiggins.

Scott-Davies

He won the U-23 TT on Thursday. More importantly, he was very impressive at the recent Baby Giro, finishing that race 4th on GC. Flying at the moment, he may take advantage of still being a “lower-level” rider and surprise a few tomorrow. The way he’s been riding, he shouldn’t be dropped on the climbs, that’s for sure!

Prediction

I’ll go for Hannah Barnes and Kennaugh wins, but with Davies to podium too!

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Betting

No women’s odds yet, but SkyBet might have something tomorrow. They had TT odds on the day of the event. As for the men…

Not much value in Kennaugh, but I’m willing to double him up with Aru in what is a hilly Italian course.

Kennaugh/Aru 1pt EW Double @ 65/1 with Bet365

Also backing…

Davies 0.5pt EW @ 50/1 with Bet365.

 

Thanks as always for reading, and any feedback is greatly appreciated. Who do you think will win the races tomorrow? 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 Stage 4 Preview; Yas Marina -> Yas Marina

The Route

I think you know what I think of this stage by now… 💩 💩 💩

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The most disheartening 22 laps of a race-track you’ll ever see. The one saving grace that this stage has is that the finale is normally relatively exciting.

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Lots of turns in the closing 2km means that lead-outs are crucial. A strong team can really string the peloton out and control the race in that final section. You can see from last year’s sprint that the top 3 at the end of the day, were the first three sprinters into the final turn.

The closing turn also present the opportunity for a gap to made and the lead out rider to ping off the front. We almost saw that last year with Renshaw and is something that the Directeur Sportif’s could consider. Although they probably won’t!

Contenders

With two sprint stages already to get an idea as to who’s going well, we haven’t actually learnt much more than we knew going into this race; the top 4 are still ahead of everyone else. Sorry Viviani, you’ve been demoted to your own second tier.

Kittel reasserted his dominance on Friday, coming from very far back to nab the victory from Ewan on the line. The crash clearly didn’t affect him! The one the that does concern me is the fact he had to come from far back because his lead-out hasn’t been as great as it normally is. For example, it looked good on Stage 1 up until the crash, but looked very disorganised on Stage 2. If it’s disorganised again tomorrow and Kittel isn’t behind the right wheel, then there’s no chance of him coming back.

The other rider who went down in the crash but seems unaffected is Ewan. The Aussie pocket rocket had the stage won but lost it in the closing metres because he stopped pedalling to celebrate. His train looked good and he looked good, I’m sure he’ll want to rectify his mistakes tomorrow!

Cavendish looked fairly good again but his lead-out was messier on Stage 2 compared to Stage 1. He tried to come round Ewan but seemed to missing that final kick. You can’t rule him out though!

Greipel had an abysmal day of it on stage 2. His lead-out was non existent and when trying to surf wheels solo, he got blocked off with around 1km to go and that was his chance of a win out the window. To get up for 9th place after all of that was not a bad result!

This finish does allow for a solo rider to do well if they’re brave going into that final corner and chop up some lead-outs, so we could see a surprise podium finisher, but probably not.

Prediction

His lead-out on Stage 2 was exceptional and I think that will be the same tomorrow. Wanting to make up for his mistakes, Caleb Ewan wins!

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Betting

 Nothing appeals to me odds wise at the moment

Thanks for reading! I think I might give this stage a miss tomorrow though, probably something more exciting on; twitter highlights will do. Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.