Ride London-Surrey Classic 2017 Preview

After spending a few years at .HC level, the race makes the step up to WT status for 2017. A decision that I’m not so sure about as with two WT races already going on at the weekend; team’s resources will be stretched to the limit and we could see some weaker teams sent here because of it. Furthermore, it takes away the opportunity for the UK Continental teams to shine. Oh well, it is what it is!

Last year saw the race come back for a relatively large bunch sprint which Tom Boonen won.

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The Aussie duo of Renshaw and Matthews followed the Belgian home to round out the podium.

Will we see a similar outcome this year? Let’s have a look at what’s in store for the riders.

The Route

The organisers have slightly shortened the route for this edition, removing one of the climbs that we normally have during the middle of the race.

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Rolling out from London, the riders will face fairly flat roads with only a few minor lumps before reaching the first KOM of the day; Staple Lane.

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Uncategorised in last years race, it’s not an overly tough climb mainly due to the amount of false flat that it has. However, there are a few steep ramps and some longer sections at +5%. I wouldn’t expect it to do any damage to the peloton though.

Staple Hill does kick off the “serious” section of the race where the riders will be facing climbs every 15km or so.

Next on the agenda is Leith Hill.

LeithHill KOM

A more challenging climb than Staple Hill, we could see some of the stronger climbing teams push the pace on here to try to put the sprinters into difficulty early on.

Once over the top they’ll face a long shallow descent before the first passage of Ranmore Common.

Ranmore KOM

Another short climb, the peloton will no doubt fly up it. The gradient does get steepest near the top, peaking at 16%, which does offer a great opportunity to attack. Even more so because there are a few kilometres of false-flat to continue to apply the pressure on once you’re over the summit. The riders will then complete a loop back through Dorking and complete the Ranmore climb for a second time.

With roughly 50km remaining, the riders will face the last KOM of the day; Box Hill.

BoxHill KOM

For the professional peloton it shouldn’t be too much of a challenge, but it depends how aggressive the race has been up to that point. If we’ve had some very fast racing over the previous 60km then the 3.9% average gradient might seem a little harder than it is on paper!

When off the descent, the riders will have just over 40km until the finish in London. A lot of the route is flat in general, but the road does roll quite a lot. One thing British roads are known for is being “heavy” and energy sapping. This could really be of the detriment to any group up the road if they’ve already expended a lot of energy and the peloton is chasing keenly behind. Conversely though, narrow roads make it hard for a team to organise a chase.

The finish in London itself is the same we’ve had the past few years with the sprint along the Mall.

Weather Watch

As with most races in the UK, you never know what type of weather you’ll get on the day of the event.

Looking just now, the forecast for Kingston-upon-Thames has some possible localised thunderstorms mid-afternoon.

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Source: Met Office

That could certainly make the run in for home interesting; especially with a strong tailwind helping those staying away.

However, in Dorking (where most of the climbs are near) there is no rain forecast with fairly clear skies promised for the majority of the day!

All of this can change in an instant though and I wouldn’t be surprised if the forecast is different later on this evening compared to what it is when I’m looking at it now (10:30 am).

How will the race pan out?

The past 4 editions of the race have seen a small group stay away two times, with a reduced bunch sprint deciding the winner on the other occasions.

With the race now stepped up to WT level, we could see a race where teams are more happy to control the day hoping for a sprint and to gain some crucial WT points.

The step up also means that teams are able to bring an extra rider; 7 compared to 6 the past few years. Consequently, the bigger teams have another “disposable” rider to try to control the breakaway up ahead.

Conversely though, quite a few teams bring squads where they have riders who can cover both options.

I think I’m hoping more than anything else that we’ll get an exciting, attacking race, but I fear that it could end up being a relatively dull and controlled day.

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The majority of you seem to think the same way!

Sprinters

Matthews.

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Off the back of a great Tour de France, the Aussie will arrive here looking to keep the momentum going. As one of the best climbing sprinters in the world, he might actually get his team to apply some pressure on the KOMs during the middle of the race. He’s not the fastest on a pure flat sprint like the one we have tomorrow so he needs to take advantage elsewhere. He has a solid lead-out but it’s made up of mostly sprinters so they might be a bit disorganised. His team doesn’t really have anyone that will ride tempo on the front of the peloton all day so I’m intrigued to see if they try to get someone into the break.

Greipel.

Bitterly disappointed with his performance at the Tour, he’ll be here hoping to make amends tomorrow. In this type of field he should be making it over the climbs if they’re not rode aggressively and he should be there at the finish. Is he getting past his prime and starting to decline in prowess? Unfortunately, I think so. He just doesn’t seem as fast as he used to be and that’s shown at the Giro and Tour. I wouldn’t be placing my house on him to win tomorrow!

Bennett.

After picking up a handful of podiums at the Giro but just missing out on that elusive Grand Tour win, he bounced back with two wins in Slovenia. However, he’s not raced since the Irish Road Champs over a month ago so it will be interesting to see where his form is at. A rider I rate highly, he should be able to get over the climbs in fairly good shape and will be one of the fastest guys at the finish. If he’s on form…

Viviani.

According to an interview with Doull, Team Sky are backing Viviani 100% and that the Italian is in good form. Are they that confident in him or is that a bluff? Because to be honest, I wouldn’t be confident in Viviani winning! Sky have a few cards to play if the race does become attacking, such as Kennaugh or Stannard, so maybe they’re trying to play mind games with everyone. To be fair to Viviani, he did win a couple of stages in Austria recently but the field was hardly stacked with sprinting talent; Vanmarcke came home behind him in 2nd and 3rd on those two days.

Kristoff.

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Another rider who was poor at the Tour, he did seem to grow into the race as it progressed. However, he was then involved in a crash and that put a halt to things for him. If this was Kristoff of 2014 or 2015 vintage, there would be no point in having anyone else turn up as he would have this race in the bag. Can he roll back the years tomorrow? I’m sure he’ll be doing a rain dance tonight anyway!

Aside from those guys, there are plenty of riders who could get involved in a sprint including;

Drucker – Former winner, would need some of the faster guys to be distanced. In good form at the moment, picking up a win in Wallonie.

Theuns – I’m a big fan of his and without Degenkolb here he’ll now be designated sprinter. With De Kort and Stuyven he has a strong short lead-out. Does he have the legs to compete?

Cort Nielsen – After promising so much towards the end of last year he’s been a bit “meh” so far this season. A good climbing sprinter, he’ll probably want a tough race. If he’s not there, Orica might turn to Impey.

There are others, but I don’t want to list 20% of the start list!

Breakers/Late Attackers?

There are a few names I want to throw into the proverbial hat for this section.

Naesen.

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The Belgian Champion was one of the MVPs of the Tour, working selflessly for Bardet every day. Due to how well his team-mate was going, Naesen never got a chance to shine himself but tomorrow could be that day. AG2R arrive with an attacking team, as let’s be honest, Barbier isn’t going to win the sprint. A super strong rider on the short climbs and on the flat, he should be good enough to get into the moves.

Bauer.

A rider who earned a lot of my respect during the Tour, he often found himself last man standing as support for Dan Martin. Climbing better than ever before, he tried to get into the winning break on the penultimate road stage but just missed out. Quick Step don’t bring a proper sprinter as such, although that is doing Trentin a little bit of a disservice, so they’ll be trying to animate the race as much as possible. Bauer could be the man who makes it two in a row for them!

Van Baarle.

Another rider just out of the Tour, he was also climbing well on a few of the mountain stages, helping his team-leader Uran. Much more of a classics rider, tomorrow’s route suits him quite well and he is certainly a guy who can attack in the middle part of the race. Cannondale have an aggressive team and I expect to see Van Baarle on the move at some time. Will Tour legs benefit him?

Prediction

I really hope we see an attacking and exciting race but I think there will be enough motivation behind to bring things back for a sprint.

In that situation, I’ll go for a Bennett win.

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I’ll be waiting (possibly with bated breath) for a Bauer / Naesen / Van Baarle attack though…

Betting

No real value at the top of the order and if you’re to back a sprinter it is definitely an in-play day but I might avoid that completely.

Happy to have a gamble on two of my outsiders though;

0.5pt WIN on them both at B365;

Bauer @ 200/1

Van Baarle @ 100/1

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

Those were My Two Spokes Worth

 

 

Omloop Het Nieuwsblad 2017 Preview

Omloop Het Nieuwsblad 2017 Preview

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

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

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The Route

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Weather Forecast

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

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

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

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

Contenders

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

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

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

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

Zdenek Stybar.

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

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

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

Arnaud Démare.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dylan Van Baarle.

Cycling: 100th Tour of Flanders 2016

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

Pim Ligthart.

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

Prediction

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

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

Betting

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

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

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

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

H2H wise I like the following two;

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

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

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

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

 

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

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.