La Course 2017 Preview

This edition of La Course is a special one for me as  it marks a year of writing women’s previews! Last year saw a sprint finish in Paris, with Hosking taking the win, somehow managing to avoid the now famous #HaugheyCurse. Maybe it was beginners luck?!

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After 3 years with a glorified criterium on the Champs-Élysées, the ASO have decided to mix things up this year with a move away from Paris, instead heading into the mountains with a change of format.

I’m pleased to see things get mixed up and for the race to provide an opportunity for different riders to shine on “the biggest stage in World cycling”. Yet, I can’t help but feel somewhat let down.

Obviously, I don’t know the intricacies of the financial aspect surrounding organising the race but given the infrastructure will be there for the men, how difficult is it for the women to have at least a 5-day stage race that coincides with the Tour? Heck, if organisers are worried about difference in speeds and the potential issues that might cause then let the women do 75% of the stage for example, and start them earlier. With the limit on the length of stages by the UCI (155km I think) we would still be treated to some very exciting racing throughout the final week and it would be a much better showcase for the sport than what we’re getting.

I also feel that the new format is a bit “gimmicky” and trivialises the women’s side of the sport a bit. If it is for only one year then that’s OK, but if it becomes a regular occurrence then I think it is more of a step sideways rather than a step forwards.

Let’s have a look at what’s getting me all worked up anyway!

The Format

La Course this year will be split into two “stages” with the first being a mountain top finish on the mythical Col d’Izoard. I say “stages” as it is not a stage race in the traditional sense, and it’s important to point that out but I’ll get into that in more detail later on.

Stage 1.

CARTE

The riders will head south from the start in Briançon, following the same opening 30km of the men’s race, before they cut across the valley and head towards Izoard.

PROFIL (1)

From the halfway point in the race (it is a paltry 67.5km long stage after all which is pretty insulting), the road rises ever so slightly almost all the way home. For example, the section between La Chapelue and Ariveux is 7.5km at just over 4%.

The categorised climb of the Col d’Izoard itself starts a couple of kilometres before Ariveux.

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At 14.1km with an average gradient of 7.3% it is a brute, but is also fair to say that the first half of the climb starts off relatively “easy”. Well, when you look at the rest of it the climb that is!

The opening 7km average only 5.6%, whereas the second half is a much more painful sounding 9%. You better hold something back for the end of the day, that’s for sure.

Whoever wins on the day will certainly have deserved it!

Now, this is where things get weird / ever so slightly confusing / gimmicky.

The opening stage is the only one that counts towards UCI standings, with the winner being awarded 120 points, the same amount as they would in any other UCI World Tour race. So for the riders, the opening day is the only one that really matters to them in that sense.

Except, the racing doesn’t end after the first day though…

Stage 2.

The first oddity is that there is essentially a rest day between the finish on Izoard and the following race day in Marseille.

PROFIL (2)

The top 20 finishers on the previous stage (although this can apparently change depending on time gaps) will roll out on the same TT course that the men will be going around later that day.

However, instead of it being like a normal TT where the riders go out in reverse order GC wise, it will be whoever finishes at the head of the race on Izoard that leaves the start ramp first. The following 19 riders will then set off, chasing the leader, at the same time gap that they finished behind them on the mountain stage during the previous day of racing.

The “gimmicky” idea continues as the riders will all be on normal road-bikes (no TT machines allowed) and they will be allowed to draft and work with opposition riders or any team-mates that they may have.

This presents a conundrum for the riders going out early. Do they go full gas and replicate a TT effort, knowing they have a big enough gap to hold off any chasers. Or if their lead is minimal, do they sit up and wait?

We could end up seeing a bunch sprint in the velodrome if things get really tactical!

How will the “race” pan out?

Getting my poor prediction disclaimer in early but we hardly ever see the women compete on mountains such as the Izoard so I don’t think anyone has a real idea as to how well the riders will go.

At the recent Giro Rosa the defining GC climb of the race was 5.3km long at 7.6%. I guess the closest we’ve had to the Izoard is the climb of Daggett Summit in the Tour of California which was 12.6km at 6.1%.

With the day only being 67km long, I think the break will find it hard to get away but I’m sure there will be a lot of teams who will try. If they get riders up the road then they’ll be a great help to their team-mates later on.

However, I think we’ll see a race of attrition where riders go out of the back, rather than off the front.

The on the “TT” I have no idea! Will all depend on the gaps after Izoard but I think we could see the winner of that day hold on for the title too.

Contenders

Van Vleuten.

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After her stellar performance at the Giro Rosa, a race which she could really have won, the Orica Scott rider will be coming here full of confidence. Arguably the in-form rider in the peloton she will certainly be hard to drop. Not the purest of climbers, more of a great all-rounder, I’m intrigued to see how she copes on a really long ascent. At the Giro she was the rider pushing the pace during the GC-day I mentioned above so it will be interesting to see how she approaches tomorrow. With a strong Spratt in her team, she will be able to rely on having someone for a long way up the climb which could be crucial.

Guarnier.

Having had a quiet season by her standards, especially when considering her barnstroming 2016, the American showed signs of promise at the recent Giro. Working well for her team-leader she managed to finish 4th on GC, winning the final stage along the way. Possibly now riding into form, she is Boels best candidate for a race like this and having the help of Canuel and Deignan could be crucial.

Longo Borghini.

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The Italian champion finished second on GC at the Giro behind van der Breggen but never really looked like beating the Dutchwoman all race. However, with VDB not here, the race is certainly open for other riders to step up. Not a pure climber, she could struggle on the long climb but as one of the best riders in the women’s peloton then she will certainly be close to the head of the bunch. Lichtenberg will also be at the head of the race for Wiggle, with the German pure-climber really liking this type of ascent. Can they form a strong attacking duo?

Moolman.

Withdrawing from the Giro due illness wasn’t ideal for the Cervélo rider, especially considering she was flying before the race and could have been a proper GC player. A very strong climber, her mind will be fully focussed on this race and proving what could have been at the Giro. With Uttrup Ludwig on her team, she is another rider who could take advantage of a strong team-mate. I think she has a big chance!

Niewiadoma.

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One of the riders of the season, she has top-10’d in pretty much every race that she’s entered so far. At only 22 years old, it is scary to think what she’ll be able to do in the future. I’m not sure how she’ll cope on a long climb like this as the punchier 3-4km climbs seem to be her speciality but you never know!

Some outsiders to keep an eye on to possibly break into the top 10 are;

Gillow (FDJ), Nosková (Bepink), Ensing (Alé) and Nilsson (BTC).

I think the Izoard stage will become a Moolman v Van Vleuten show-down. With the Giro in her legs, VV will tire and leave the “fresher” Moolman to take victory!

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As for who wins the TT/chase malarkey, then that depends on time gaps from the Izoard. Van Vleuten was flying in the TT at the Giro so I reckon she could catch Moolman and then win in a 2-up sprint!

So Moolman and Van Vleuten both win something, but who wins “La Course”? That depends on your interpretation whether you’re the UCI or the ASO!

Coverage

All of the racing should be shown live by broadcasters throughout so check with your local provider. I’m pretty sure it is being shown pan-Europe on the Eurosport Player.

Hopefully the racing lives up to the billing tomorrow. I’m not too fussed about what we’ll see on Saturday though, but that’s just my opinion.

Who do you think will win? Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

 

 

La Flèche Wallonne Feminine 2017 Preview

The much more exciting race tomorrow, the women’s edition of La Fleche is often an attacking day in the saddle with the peloton blown to bits over the closing climbs.

Last year saw the peloton split from far out and we only had around 30 riders left in contention with 40km left. There were a flurry of attacks throughout the afternoon but a group of favourites managed to break clear on the penultimate climb of the day (Côte de Cherave). Before Van der Breggen made the most of the Rabobank numbers at the head of the race, escaping at just over 2.5km left only being followed by Stevens. Those two held on and it was the Dutch rider who took the win for the second year in a row.

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Behind, Guarnier rounded out the podium.

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

The Route

Similar to 2016 apart from the organisers have decreased the length by 17km which makes it one of the shortest events on the calendar at only 120km in total.

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We could see the race split up from far out again if the pace is increased over the Côte de Villers-le-Bouillet. Not a long climb, it was enough to do the damage last year when Deignan pulled at the front all the way up.

From there, we have one passage of the Mur de Huy, before the same closing circuit we see in the men’s race.

The Côte d’Ereffe comes at an awkward time in terms of race placement but it does have the potential to be a springboard for a move. However, I think the day will once again be decided on the Cherave and the run in to Huy. Boels will use their strength in numbers and hope to isolate some of the other favourites, leaving the door open for a similar attack to last year.

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The small group of escapees will then tackle the Mur and the strongest woman on the day will win! Well, the strongest from that group so they’ll also have to be tactically astute too.

Contenders

It seems Boels plan of taking it easier in the first month of racing so that they can peak for this week is going to plan. After landing a 1-2 in Amstel, they arrive at this race as hot favourites to take another win. They’ll be thankful to have Anna van der Breggen on their team this time as she looks like the rider to beat. I did say in my Amstel preview that she looked good at the Healthy Ageing Tour and she did not let me down, taking a superb victory on Sunday! This type of finish suits her perfectly and she has a good chance of taking a third win in a row.

If not, team-mate Deignan certainly has the abilities to be a great second option for Boels. She was strong in Amstel and rode a perfect, tactical race to help set VDB up for the win. The short punchy climb is on the limit for the Brit but in her current form, I wouldn’t bet against her!

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WM3’s Kasia Niewiadoma looks to be the biggest threat to Boels here. The Polish rider was impressive in Amstel, like she’s been all season but struggled due to the lack of team support as she can’t be expected to cover every move. Unfortunately, the same could well happen here but she has a very good chance if she comes to the bottom of the Mur with someone. A rider from Rabobank has won this race the past 4 years and as WM3 is the next incarnation of that team, can they make it 5 in a row?

Orica have a few riders who could go well here and they will hope to have numbers in the front group towards the end of the race. Van Vleuten was up there in Amstel on Sunday and will look to challenge here again. She seems to be in great form at the moment and the punchy climb will suit her. Team-mate Garfoot would probably prefer a longer, more gradual climb, but the Aussie champ can’t be discounted.

Ferrand-Prevot hinted at a return to form with her 8th in Amstel and as a former winner of the race, she knows what it takes to be successful here. The 2014 World Champion has struggled to replicate that year but she has every chance in the right group. However, I think that there will always be someone just better than her. I’m happy to be proved wrong though!

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Van Dijk could win for Sunweb but I think she might have to attack solo before they get to the Mur as the climb is on the limit for her. Nonetheless, she has been exceptional this season and the form is certainly there for her to spring a relative surprise. As for her team-mate Rivera, she’s improved massively on the climbs this season but this will be too hard for her. We saw her get dropped on the Cauberg in Amstel so you wouldn’t expect her to cope any better here!

Aside from those riders, I can’t really see anyone else take the victory but honourable mentions go to Lichtenberg (Wiggle), Gillow (FDJ), Beggin (Astana), Moolman (Cervelo) and Ensing (Alé).

Prediction

Van der Breggen and Boels to win again this week, with the Dutchwomen taking her third title at this race and setting up the potential Ardennes triple nicely for Liege this Sunday!

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I’ll go with Van Vleuten and Niewiadoma to come home second and third.

Thanks as always for reading and as usual any feedback is greatly appreciated. Who do you think will win? Will Boels continue their Ardennes superiority, or will another rider knock them off top spot? Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

 

Rio Olympics 2016 – Women’s Road Race

Rio Olympics 2016 – Women’s Road Race

*Same disclaimer as last time. Things should be back to normal for the TT previews!*

The Route

A shorter version of the men’s race, the women will only tackle the main climb once.

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The climb is tough but not overly challenging, with the hardest part coming at the beginning. The more explosive climbers will hope to make a difference here. Like the men’s race, there is a fast descent followed by a stretch of flat road (around 9km) until the finish line on Copacabana beach.

You can view an interactive profile here.

How will the race pan out?

This race is all about the final climb. There is obviously a chance that a break could have formed itself beforehand and with the right riders (& nations) in it, stay away until the end. However, this is unlikely, it definitely won’t be the first break of the day that wins, that’s for sure!

Like the men’s race, the race will blow to bits on the final climb, with a solo rider maybe making it to the finish after cresting the summit alone. We equally could see a small bunch sprint, or a late attack on the flat sticking! I favour a small group making it to the line together.

Contenders

No better place to start than with the strongest squad here: Team USA. They have three potential winners with Evelyn Stevens, Megan Guarnier and Mara Abbott all with strong chances. Out of the three, I’d have Guarnier as favourite. She is the fastest of the three from a small group, and has been absolutely sensational this season: winning the Giro Rosa earlier in May. Abbott and Stevens will be fantastic lieutenants and have a great chance themselves. Abbott’s problem is that she is great at going up hill, just not down. Numbers will be very important for the squad, and they’ll be very attacking in the finale. I’ll be very shocked if the star-spangled banner isn’t on the podium at the end of the day!

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The Dutch have the next strongest team. Former World Champion Marianne Vos lines up for them. She’s still re-finding her feet in the peloton and is looking very strong, but I’m not sure that she’ll be climbing well enough to win here. Instead, they will probably look to Anna van der Breggen to bring home the Gold. She’s had a great year so far, winning Fleche and finishing on the podium at the Giro Rosa. Annemiek van Vleuten will be used as a satellite rider but can’t be underestimated herself!

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Fleche 2016

Italy’s chances of a medal will lie with Elisa Longo Borghini. The 24-year old has had a very consistent and solid season, and seems to be climbing better than ever. She’ll hope to be within touching distance at the top of the mountain and make her way back on during the descent. I think she’ll top 5.

Team GB…

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Very intrigued to see how Armitstead goes here after everything that has happened this past week. She may respond brilliantly, but I’m not so confident. I also think there could be a “anyone but her” approach from some of the peloton. If you follow me on Twitter then you’ll already know my very strong views on her support riders. Not a fan of Pooley and the way she’s got into the team, but that’s a rant for another day! I don’t think we’ll see a GB podium finish here.

Katarzyna (Kasia) Niewiadoma has the weight of a nation on her young shoulders. The 21-year old comes into the Games with a great chance of picking up a medal for Poland. An excellent climber, she should be able to cope with the climb, it all depends how far back she is, if at all, once they summit. Youthful exuberance may get the better of her!

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South African, Ashleigh Moolman, seems to be building form for the race nicely with good showings at the Aviva Women’s Tour and Thüringen Rundfahrt. On her day she can climb with the best, and should not be given too much of a gap!

Whereas, Germany will hope Claudia Lichtenberg has a great day. However, she’ll need to finish solo as she doesn’t have a great sprint on her.

Johansson (SWE), Neff (SUI), Ferrand Prevot (FRA) & Amialiusik (BLR) will hope to pull something off, but not being as strong on the climbs as some of the favourites, they’ll need a bit of luck to go their way. Don’t get me wrong, they are all great riders but on a pure climb I’m not sure how they’ll go.

One massive outsider I’m keen to mention, who was originally pointed out by Cyclepieces, is the Brazilian rider: Flavia Oliveira. She recently finished 2nd at the Tour de Pologne behind the aforementioned Neff so is evidently in great shape. I’m also factoring in the classic football theory, where World Cups in South America were won by South American teams. Same rules apply here? Furthermore, my interest in her has been exacerbated by a L’Equipe article that suggests Brazilians haven’t been drug tested for the majority of July, so yeah…

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Prediction

I’ve had this rider in my mind for this race for a while, but to’d and fro’d whether to pick her. Trying to come up with other candidates and almost convincing myself otherwise. But now I’ve seen some sense and I’m confident that she’ll pick up the win here.

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Coming off of the incredible season she’s had, I don’t think anyone can beat Megan Guarnier and she’ll be our Olympic Champion. Her climbing has been impeccable, she has a great sprint for a climber, but more importantly, she’ll have team-mates left at the end. The only way she doesn’t win this race, is if one of her team-mates does.

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Betting

Backing Guarnier straight up with 4.8pts at 11/2 (Sky & Coral), would take 5/1, or even 9/2.

Bit of a fun 0.1pt EW bet on Oliveira at 200/1 with PaddyPower, Ladbrokes or Betfair.

 

How do you think the race will pan out? As usual, any feedback is greatly appreciated! Normal, full service should resume for the TTs once I’m back from being on holiday. Hope you enjoy the race wherever you’re watching it from! Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.