Tour Down Under 2019 Stage 1 Preview: North Adelaide -> Port Adelaide

Welcome back everyone and a happy 2019! I hope you had a good off-season and are ready for the cycling calendar to kick off in earnest with an Aussie summer of racing. Last year saw Daryl Impey take the overall crown on count back after picking up an impressive number of bonus seconds throughout the race, edging Richie Porte into second place, with Tom-Jelte Slagter rounding out the GC podium.

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All three of those riders return this year and they will no doubt be hoping for repeat, if not better, performances.

GC Overview

Could this be the most open TDU in history?

The move of the Willunga stage to the final day means that everyone knows they need to try to take some time back before then, as no doubt Porte will take his traditional stage win there. The reintroduction of the Corkscrew climb on Stage 4 will be very important in shaping the outcome of the race and you can’t afford to have a bad day there. However, I think one of the most important stages could actually be the day before that, with the new circuit finish in Uraidla. On paper it isn’t a particularly tough parcours, with no real long climbs, but the road is pretty much up and down all day and given the forecasted temperatures – that will take a massive toll on the riders. I think that day lends itself to some very attacking riding and it gives some a good chance to take time before the two tougher finishes on Stage 4 and 6. However, there is also the chance…

Could this be the most dull TDU in history?

If Stage 3 turns out to be a controlled affair with a few teams controlling it for a reduced bunch sprint, or if we see some shortened stages due to the heat – then the race might only be decided by the gaps on Willunga or bonus seconds. Of course, you could argue that is exciting due to how close it could be but personally I’d rather see some attacking racing.

As for who might win the race? It of course depends on a few things but Impey will fancy his chances of retaining the crown if he can pick up some bonus seconds and repeat that Willunga performance. Porte on the other hand will look at the Corkscrew day as another chance to distance everyone and possibly hold off a chasing group to the line. McCarthy is another in the mould of Impey who can pick up some bonus seconds here and there, but he’ll need to be wiser on Willunga this year round and not blindly follow Porte. It was a bold move for him last year but one that didn’t pay off.

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Woods might be one to watch this week, with the Canadian having a proper breakthrough last year – he is a serious contender if climbing well and arguably the only rider who on his day I can see sticking with Porte up Willunga. Poels is similar to Woods, but who knows what condition he arrives here in. Another few to keep an eye on are Hamilton, Valgren and Bevin who I all think will feature at some point throughout this week.

I think we’ll see Jay McCarthy take home the ochre jersey come the end of the week though. He seems to be in great form at the moment with a third at the Aussie Crit championships – not exactly an event you would expect him to shine at. At the road race he unfortunately suffered from being the only Bora rider and dropped out after any chance of the win was gone. On stage 3 we’ll see him and Sagan in the front group and with the former World Champion marking moves behind, McCarthy will be able to escape in a group and fight out for the win. A result which will be enough to see him take the title later in the week!

I may as well kick off the season with a somewhat of an out there suggestion…

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Anyway, onto the opening day of racing.

The Route

A bit of a rolling day through the Adelaide hills but nothing too extreme for the riders with the afternoon most likely ending in a sprint, unless of course something crazy happens such as Bobridge’s breakaway win in 2015.

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The finish in Port Adelaide is a new one for the peloton but it is pretty straight forward and should be a simple run-in.

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With the last turn coming 1km from the line, it will be a drag race from there. It is possible for a team to control the front of the race from through that corner and not allow anyone back, but I think that will be pretty difficult as there is plenty of room for others to come by.

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Saying that, there is quite a lot of street furniture (see above) on the closing circuit which could be quite dangerous. They possibly might just barrier off one side of the road for the whole kilometre because there is a concrete verge in the middle that divides it up anyway with around 200m to go.

Often these “simple” finishes are the most dangerous because everyone is able to jostle for position so hopefully things stay upwards.

*The race organisers/jury have decided to remove the full lap around the closing circuit so they will join it at the ‘zig-zag’ part on the route profile, coming from the east. It shouldn’t really change much as the same rules will apply for the finishing straight and the bits of street furniture there.*

Weather Watch

The reason given by the organisers for not including the finish circuit tomorrow is that they expect it to be pretty windy, and the race could potentially be split up by the time the race arrives back into Adelaide. That could cause some issues, as those just joining the circuit might get in the way with those at the head of the race – it is a sensible decision to make in my opinion.

It also means that I get to talk about the potential of my favourite thing in the opening blog post of the year…

 

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However, I don’t seem to share the same outlook for strong winds that the organisers do. Although to be fair, looking at various sources Australian Bureau of Meteorology, Windfinder and WillyWeather no one has a real idea as to the severity of the wind. There does seem to be the general consensus that it picks up a little later on in the afternoon but the stronger winds seem to be coming in after the race has finished. However, the time of them has gotten earlier since I looked the other day so who really knows!

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The final 16km is the perfect terrain for cross winds though, with a 3km stretch of road past Parafield runway completely exposed and flat terrain.

Likewise, after a couple of kilometres coming through town, the riders will once again be on an exposed dual carriageway.

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That only really stops with around 3km to go when the road is sheltered by more trees and buildings. Now, I’m not saying that we will see echelons, but if they were to happen, it would be in those closing 16kms.

Either way, it is going to be a very nervy finish so hopefully everyone just stays upright!

Contenders – A Three Horse Race?

Caleb Ewan.

The Aussie got off to a blistering start with his new Lotto Soudal team, picking up the win at the People’s Choice Classic on Sunday. His squad was strong, controlling the action all afternoon, before setting him up excellently. Having brought Roger Kluge with him from Mitchelton will certainly have helped him gel into his train a lot quicker, and the German was a perfect pilot fish on Sunday. However, there is a big difference between a one hour-long crit around a course that you’re familiar with and a new finish on open roads. He is clearly in form and starts the man to beat but he’s not been properly tested yet, given the crashes that took out almost all of his competitors the other day.

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Peter Sagan.

A solid second place for Sagan on Sunday. He was typically the last rider to escape from the crash, narrowly avoiding his falling team-mate and holding on to the back of Ewan’s wheel. With Daniel Oss attacking out the front amidst the chaos, Sagan had to be content with just sitting in and not launching his sprint early. Consequently, he only really opened the taps with around 100m to go which was way too late to contest with Ewan. The gap did close a little so I do think Sagan will show some good legs this week. Furthermore, if there are cross winds and echelons in the closing kilometres, it is almost a guarantee that he will make the split.

Elia Viviani.

Unlucky to have been taken out by his own team-mate Morkov in the crash, but at least the Italian managed to get away relatively unscathed – with only a slightly sore foot being a little bit of an issue. Arriving with a strong team, Viviani will be able to rely on trusted lead-out men such as Morkov and Sabatini which will be a massive help for him. Interestingly, I don’t think they will try to control the final 5 kilometres, instead they will try to time their run to the front of the peloton perfectly so that no one else is able to come around them before the line. They don’t have some of their big name classics experts so it will be interesting to see how they cope if there are echelons – but hey, this is Deucenink-Quick Step so they should be fine.

Best of the rest.

Max Walscheid – Has a young lead-out with him so not entirely sure how well they’ll perform as a unit. Might go missing.

Phil Bauhaus – Joins a team that has quite a bit of firepower and a last man in Haussler who is going well at the moment. Could be the surprise.

Danny Van Poppel – Arrives with little support so will have to mainly go solo. He’ll be hoping for wind to make the finish more difficult.

Halvorsen, Mareczko, Philipsen and McLay are all there or thereabouts kind of riders but I think they’ll struggle to make the podium.

Prediction

Possible echelons and a swirling wind that will make timing the sprint difficult, you will need to either be a rider confident in those conditions or with a team strong enough to guide you through them. Furthermore, with the GC riders no doubt twitchy and nervous about possible splits, I think we’ll see a very messy sprint on the opening day.

So I’m going with the master of race craft and position, Peter Sagan, to find himself in the right place at the right time again, taking the win.

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Zweeler

This year the kind people at Zweeler have been nice enough to partner up with the blog, so if you want to play some fantasy games for cash (not just cycling – they have plenty of other sports to offer) then sign up using this link here.

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Doing so and playing a few games will help the blog out greatly – so thanks in advance if you do!

Betting

Was tempted to make it a no bet day but I’m going to have a little dabble on Sagan, nothing wild.

1pt WIN Sagan @ 4/1 various.

Thanks as always for reading! Hope you enjoyed the first preview of the year? Who do you think will win on the opening day and the race overall? Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

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La Classica delle foglie morte: Il Lombardia 2018 Preview

La Classica delle foglie morte: Il Lombardia 2018 Preview

The last monument of the year is upon us and the now almost year-round cycling season is winding down, albeit there are still some races left after tomorrow’s affair. However, il Lombaria marks the traditional end of the season and so this will be the last preview of the year. Before starting it properly though, I’ll get the soppy stuff out the road first…

Thank you for returning continuously throughout the year to read the posts and interacting with me on Twitter etc, it really helps to keep me motivated through the months where I’m churning out a preview a day or more! I’m proud to see the blog grow even more this year and thanks for being a part of that – I hope I’ve been able to deliver good and entertaining content, well, at least for most of the time.*

*We’ll just ignore the processional final GT stages…

I’m not sure what the off-season will bring, maybe some rider interviews but let’s be honest, who is really wanting to be interviewed here rather than one of the bigger sites so that is probably a no go. I’ll try to get some opinion pieces out or rider profiles for “ones to watch” or anything really. We’ll see how bored I get during the cold and dark winter months in Scotland!

I never thought at the start of the year I’d manage to get two pieces published in Cycling Weekly and once again that is down to you for sharing and engaging with the content on here/Twitter. Not bad for someone who is a “clueless” cycling blogger – shout out Mr Wong.

But yeah, cheers and enjoy the off-season.

Here goes nothing for one last time this year…


 

In 2017 we were treated to a tough and tactical race but it was a day that was really ever going to be won by one rider – Vincenzo Nibali.

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The Italian was one of the strongest riders on the climbs and only Pinot could match him, but it was on the descents where he proved his worth. He delivered a trademark masterclass and took 15 seconds off of the Frenchman on the penultimate climb’s descent before skipping up the final climb and riding solo to the finish. Behind, Pinot was caught by a group and thanks to some more dare-devil descending, Alaphilippe took second place – a sign of things to come for this year. The Pinot group then sprinted for the final podium spot and it was Moscon who took the spoils.

Will we see a similar outcome this year? Let’s take a look at what awaits the riders.

The Route

An almost carbon copy of the 2017 route, the only major difference is that the San Fermo climb has been removed due to a threat of landslides.

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At 241km and with almost 4000m of elevation gain, it is no easy day out in the saddle. It is even more difficult though when you consider the majority of the climbing comes in the closing 70kms. First up is the famous Madonna del Ghisallo climb (9.1km at 5.2%) and we can expect to see a thinning out process here and possibly some early probing attacks by second and third tier riders from the top teams.

Any rider who is in difficulty this early on won’t have much time to rest though as they will soon face the toughest climb of the day; the Colma di Sormano.

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At 7kms in length it averages a leg breaking 8.9% in gradient. That is hard either way you look at it, but it is the final 1.9km of the climb that averages close to 16% which is the real killer.

If a team really pushes on in the bunch, not many will be left in with a chance once the peloton is over the top. Back in 2015 we had around 20 riders who made it over together, with a few more getting back on in the descent and flat roads as they headed towards Civilgio. Those 15kms are pretty important because it is yet another place where teams with numbers can launch an attack and if there is only a group of 20 up ahead, a counter attack of 5-6 riders could easily gain a minute or so quickly before Civiglio.

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Anyone that went out the back door on the Sormano but managed to get back to the peloton, will unfortunately meet their maker for the second time in the race here. Steep and persistent is the best way to describe it, the climb will wear the riders down and only the strongest will be left at the head of the race. As a tough penultimate climb, it acts as the perfect launchpad. Will anyone manage to break free?

It is not only the climb that you can attack on but the technical descent provides a good place to distance rivals – as we saw last year with Nibali v Pinot. Thankfully it looks as if it will be dry tomorrow but the descent is still tricky nonetheless.

They descend all the way, albeit the gradients are less severe as they enter Como, before hitting the “new” climb of Monte Olimpino.

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Ignore the sudden rise at the start of the profile above as they go under the bridge and the contours on the map happen to be right beside there so it messes with it a bit. The climb is a lot more gradual but the 5.2% for 1.7km is enough for someone to launch a late attack – especially with what has come before. The route down the other side is almost a mirror image before a final 1.5km of flat sees the riders to the finish.

Will someone arrive solo or will we see a small group sprint?

How will the race pan out?

Last year saw a thinning of the peloton over the Ghisallo and Sormano climbs before the pace was really upped on the Civiglio by FDJ. I would expect something similar this year but with Olimpino being considerably easier than the San Fermo, we could have action earlier because it will be harder to create a gap on that last climb.

If that is the case, then it will be tougher to control those 15kms of flat between Sormano and Civiglio because few riders will have many, if any, domestiques left. Consequently, that could open it up for a cluster of “second string” riders to get away and if the majority of the main favourites have a team-mate there, then it could be the move of the day.

However, this is the last monument of the year and a big goal for many in this part of the season so I can’t really see it happening. It should be fought out between the favourites, it is just a case of who makes the move and when. Proceedings will be extremely thinned out on Civiglio and we could see some attack on either the climb or the descent – those without a good sprint will certainly want to shake their rivals off there.

If not, things will get very tactical in the closing 6 kilometres and we might get a bit of a surprise victor, albeit, from a group of favourites.

The Great Eight

There are only eight guys who I think can win this race.

Alejandro Valverde.

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The evergreen World Champion arrives at this race as main favourite because he can do pretty much everything but the main reason is that if things come together for a reduced bunch sprint, it will be very difficult for anyone to beat him. After doing a lot of media duty post-Innsbruck, he’s used Emilia and Milano Torino as good training and to get the race speed back in the legs with the main goal always being Sunday. He looked very comfortable in MT before cracking a little on the final climb and finishing third. Was it a real crack though? Or was it more a case of him being happy with his training for the day and riding home? Knowing Valverde, I think the latter.

Michael Woods.

After taking a great win at the Vuelta, the Canadian was a bit of a surprise package at the Worlds where he ultimately took the bronze medal. Arguably, he looked one of the strongest on the climb but cramped up at the finish. Since then he looked comfortable in Emilia with a 4th place finish but then disappointed with the same result in Tre Valli after his team-mate Uran did all the work for him. Woods has really developed this season in the tougher one-day races – can he take that big win?

Rigoberto Uran.

Like Woods, he skipped Milano Torino as he was more than happy enough with his form in the other two races. The way he skipped away from the bunch on both of those days was quite remarkable and I think he will have a big say in the outcome of the day tomorrow. He’s finished 3rd three times here before and will desperately want to go better. One of the few guys who might actually fancy his chances against Valverde in a sprint.

Thibaut Pinot.

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A spectacular climbing display in Milano Torino saw him take the title of a one-day race, something he has been desperately chasing this Autumn. He’s arguably been the most consistent rider of this final third of the season and has certainly looked a different beast compared to the early part of the year. Being able to rely on Gaudu and Reichenbach deep into the race will be important but I’m not sure either will be there when it really gets going so Pinot will have to do it on his own.

Romain Bardet.

Apparently working for Alaphilippe at the Worlds, finishing second to Valverde in the end wasn’t a bad result. Like most on this list, he was up there in Emilia and came home with the main group in Tre Valli. One of the better descenders in the peloton, Bardet may opt to attack on the downhill of Civiglio and hope to get a gap. A gutsy rider, expect to see him on the move at some point. A big ride from Gallopin tomorrow could be a great help.

Vincenzo Nibali.

Winner on this route two times before, can he make it three? After an unfortunate incident at the Tour forced him to abandon, he has been trying to chase a good level of form ever since. Content with his performances in Emilia and TVV, I think that form is coming. Nibali is known to pull one out of the bag and there won’t be anyone in the peloton who knows this finale better than him. Having a strong team around him should help and I’d expect to see Pozzovivo and Izagirre with him for most of the day.

Primoz Roglic.

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Is it possible to have two “breakthrough” years in a row? Because Roglic has certainly done that in my opinion. On paper this a route and race that is perfect for him: some tough climbs and gnarly descents. However, the Slovenian has still yet to prove himself as a one-day racer, although he has won plenty of stages that are reminiscent of tomorrow. His result at the Worlds will have been a disappointment but there is nothing he could do about the crash and the consequent chase/energy loss because of it. Since then his performances in the two Italian one-day races have been good and I think he’ll be there or thereabouts tomorrow.

Egan Bernal.

The wild card for tomorrow given his recent return after injury but you can never discount a talent like Bernal. Aged just 20 he finished in 17th place here which was a truly stunning result so he does have previous on this parcours. He’s been involved in a lot of the Italian races just so that he can regain the racing rhythm back into his legs and a 10th place in Milano Torino suggests he’s heading in the right direction. Is it too little too late though?

Prediction

Team mates will be incredibly important at the end and there are two guys on the list above from the same time. I think this is Rigoberto Uran’s time to finally get further up that podium. Vamos!

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Betting

I don’t just want to cover Uran though and I’m backing another two of the eight. End of the season so let’s have some fun:

2pts WIN Uran @ 12/1 (would take 10s)

2pts WIN Nibali @ 16/1 (would take 14s available with most)

2pts WIN Roglic @ 20/1 (would take 16s)

Thanks as always for reading! Who do you think will win tomorrow? Anyway, for the last time this season,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

 

Innsbruck 2018 World Championships – Men’s TTT Preview

In 2017 we were treated to somewhat of a surprise performance with third favourites on the day, Team Sunweb, beating BMC by 8 seconds.

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Team Sky rounded out the podium but were definitely the disappointment of the day as they brought their best ever line-up to this event. Will Sunweb be able to double up on what is the last running of the event? Or will someone else take the title from them? Let’s have a look at what is in store for the riders.

The Route

The longest edition since the event returned in 2012, the riders will face an almost 63km route through the valley.

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There is a slight rise at the start but the only real difficulty the riders will face, aside from some roundabouts, is the climb which tops out at around 18.5km to go.

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The opening 1.75km of the climb averages roughly 8% before it “flattens” for the remainder. It isn’t an overly challenging ascent when taken in isolation but with it combined with an almost flat-out effort beforehand, we could see some surprise cracks. Conversely, those with a good pacing strategy might see all of their riders in the group over the top.

After the climb there is a plateau before the riders descend and are left with 10km of flat to the finish.

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There is a sharp turn with around 1.6km to go but aside from that, it should be plain sailing and full gas.

Team Tactics

I for one am very intrigued to see how the teams split themselves up for this race. Do they have a designated rider who’s main job is to empty the tank before and onto the foot slopes of the climb? Will the squad ride a solid tempo to keep all six together before drilling it in those final 10km?

Annoyingly for most of the teams but something that adds to the tactical intrigue, is the hardest part of the climb comes at the bottom. This means it will be harder for the heavier riders to keep up with the pace of the lighter guys, potentially meaning they go into the red and fall of the back of the pace line.

The length of the climb also adds an element to the tactics. At 4kms, it is probably just too long to slow the pace down to let all six riders stick together but some teams might think otherwise and the 20-30 seconds they lose on the ascent they can gain back later on.

Personally, and I am no TT expert, I would try to have five riders over the top together. That means sacrificing one guy to drill it into the bottom and the rest to just ride tempo so that they stick together. Losing one rider but still having an extra over the 4 rider minimum at the finish means that the periods of rest will be slightly longer when making rotations on the run in. That could make all the difference and help keep the speed that 1km/h quicker.

A two-horse race?

Much like the women’s event, there are two clear favourites here.

Sunweb are obviously the defending champions and they arrive with a squad that looks as strong, if not stronger than last year. Comparing all of the teams here, they are arguably the only squad that I can see keeping everyone together over the climb. Although I do think they might sacrifice Haga early on and keep the remaining five together. A powerful unit, they arrive here as rightful favourites. However, they will hope to improve on their disappointing 5th place at the Tour TTT.

sunwebm_2000_gettyBMC will have been bitterly disappointed to come away with second last year, which made it two years in a row that they were the bridesmaids at the main event. A stat that is somewhat surprising given their dominance in the event in previous years and throughout the seasons at different races. They were disappointing in the recent TTT effort in the Tour of Britain, juxtaposed to that though is Dennis smashing it at the Vuelta in the individual event. In 2018 they have tasted victory in all three of the WT level TTTs so far and that will certainly bring them confidence. With Pinotti leading them from the car, their pacing strategy will no doubt be perfect. It will just be a case of them having legs on the day.

So that’s it then? Well, there are a few teams that might upset the apple cart.

Team Sky – Perennially the “oooh, they could go well” squad before more often than not disappointing. They bring with them a strong squad but in recent times their pacing strategy has been off and I see them dropping Stannard and Doull on the climb which will cost them, despite just how strong their final four is.

Quick Step Floors – Once the strongest team in the world in the discipline, they have waned a little bit in terms of their results. However, they always come into races now as the underdogs and almost over achieve. On paper their squad might not stand out to some but it does to me. They have six exceptionally strong riders with them though and I would not be surprised to see them on the podium come the end of the day.

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Team Katusha – Another solid outfit with six good riders but the climb might just be their undoing. However, a team with Dowsett and Martin can never be underestimated.

Mitchelton Scott – Might have a chance, might not. As I’m writing this it is just over 24 hours to go until the start of the race yet there is no final team for them. Like Katusha, they can’t be underestimated but the hill might be their undoing.

Prediction

A BMC v Sunweb fight and I think the former will get it right this time around.

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Sunweb to come home second with Quick Step rounding out the podium.

Betting

Close race that is hard to predict so just a H2H double for me, nothing wild.

3pts on BMC > Sunweb and QS > Sky @ 2.45/1.

 

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

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

Vuelta a España 2018 Stage 20 Preview: Andorra. Escaldes-Engordany › Coll de la Gallina. Santuario de Canolich

Today’s Recap

The stage was going almost identical to yesterday’s preview, with Movistar controlling things all day and a break never allowed clear. Once onto the final climb Quintana launched early and was followed by Kruijswijk. Blog pick Pinot then rode across the gap and made the duo up front a trio. However, that’s when things went a bit off-piste!

Yates attacked from the rest of the GC group and no one was able to follow. Carapaz did some work but he soon went pop and Quintana dropped back from what was now a front four to help pace Valverde. The Colombian then punctured not long later and things went really pear-shaped in that group. No one wanted to commit fully and some more attacks came from Kelderman and Gallopin. Eventually, Bilbao pulled for Lopez but the gap had went out over a minute by then.

The stage and possibly the GC were gone up the road and with Yates continuing to push full gas, Kruijswijk eventually popped in the closing kilometre. Pinot, who had done several turns to be fair, launched his sprint and took what was a “comfortable” stage win in the end, with Yates trailing home 5 seconds behind.

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Wasn’t exactly how I imagined it playing it out but it will do!

Kruijswijk finished in third place, only a further 8 seconds behind Yates, a result that moves him up onto the current GC podium.

Will things change again tomorrow? Let’s have a look at what is in store for the riders.

The Route

The one everyone has apparently been waiting for, but it appears Yates didn’t get the memo today!

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Over 3400m of climbing in only 98km, is it a bit overkill? Pretty much from the gun they will face the Cat-2 climb of Coll de la Comella (4.4km at 7.7%) and no doubt this will be rode at a very aggressive pace as those hoping to make the break look to escape. It wouldn’t surprise me if the break doesn’t go, unless it is a massive move, until the Coll de Beixalis (6.8km at 8.3%) which officially starts at around the 13km into the day mark.

A descent leads into some valley roads and the intermediate sprint point before yet another Cat-1 climb  of the Coll de Ordino (9.4km at 7.2%). It reaches an altitude of 1977m and it might be a place to test those who suffer at that kind of height. Then again, there are still 55kms to go and a lot of racing. Where is Froome when you need him?

Once again a long descent follows before the road rises straight away up yet another Cat-1, but this time they are repeating the Coll de Beixalis.

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Again, the climb is tough but with its distance to the finish will we see anyone go for it? A fairly long descent is followed by the most amount of valley roads the stage has to offer, albeit, they are rudely interrupted by a paltry Cat-3.

It’s then over to the big finish and the last mountain the riders will have to face this Vuelta.

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Touted as Andorra’s toughest climb, it is known for having some double-digit switchbacks near the summit. The 8.1% average gradient will be a killer after what the riders will have had to face throughout the day, but on closer inspection the final 4km are even tougher than that as they average 9.5%. After a tough day, we could see some big gaps.

The Battle for the Top 10

With Yates asserting his dominance today, he now sits with a good buffer over his nearest rivals. Furthermore, both Haig and Adam Yates looked fairly comfortable for the majority of the final climb so he should have strong domestiques with him throughout the day.

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ProCyclingStats

There is scope for movement though but I’m not too sure we’ll see a hail mary attack from the gun by any of the top 5. I would love for it to happen but it is pretty foolish. Even attacking from the second ascent of Beixalis is unwise, unless you have team-mates up the road of course, because a lot of energy can be expended on the valley roads before the summit finish. We might see someone from Uran down try to get into the morning move and it will be interesting to see how it plays out from there. If that happens, then we could see some teams come to the front and ride to protect their GC rider’s placing.

Barring any major catastrophe Yates has this race wrapped up as he was the strongest on the climb today and he has a very solid bit of mountain support too. However, I did say that coming into the final few days of the Giro so who knows…

The battle for the podium is very much on though and any of the guys from 2nd to 5th could finish on it and in any order. That should be the exciting race to watch and it will probably provide some very tactical battles!

How will the stage pan out?

No doubt we will see a big fight to get into the break and those hunting the KOM prize will most definitely feature. Given the amount of points on offer there are still several in with a chance so it will all be about race and pacing management throughout the afternoon, choosing the right move to go with etc.

Once again I think Mitchelton will be happy to let a break go up the road and take the stage win and after their collapse today, I’m not too sure Movistar will be keen to set the pace early on and instead will no doubt turn to an ambush style strategy.

So for the break to be caught it either needs Astana to go crazy, which is possible, or for there to be one of those really awkward riders in the top 15 who will sneak into the top 10 to make the move, and another team closes them down.

One thing that also lends itself to the break is that the once over the second passage of the Beixalis, the riders still have 26km to the foot slopes of the final climb. That’s probably too far out for anyone to fully commit. Furthermore, I think the race tomorrow might just be too tough and it will scare a lot of the GC riders out of trying anything early. Instead, they will wait until the final climb and by then the race might be done ahead of them.

Therefore, for one last time this race, let’s play everyone’s favourite game…

TheBreakawayLottery

Candidates

It is hard to read into today’s stage a bit. For example, there are some who finished quite strongly where it is a matter of “do they have good legs?” or “will they be cooked tomorrow?. Likewise, the opposite can be said for those who just rolled home in the grupetto: bad legs or saving themselves?

I’m going to take two from each set and see what happens. I’ll be keeping the next bit brief!

Vincenzo Nibali.

Milano-Sanremo 2018 - edizione 109 - da Milano a Sanremo (294 km)

The Shark of Messina did a lot of work on the front of the peloton during stage 15 in an effort to set up Izagirre before going in the break on stage 17. He failed to live up to expectations on that day but the super steep slopes are not really suited to him anyway. After that stage though he said he was on the up and I think he will want to give it a dig tomorrow to test where his form is at before some Italian Cup races and then the worlds.

Rudy Molard.

Back to back Groupama wins? I was impressed with how long Molard hung on with the main group today so I think his legs are there. An attacking rider, I think he will be let of the leash by Pinot to chase his own success. This season has been a bit of a breakout year for him and after wearing the red jersey already here, can he take a stage win too?

Pello Bilbao.

I was very impressed with Bilbao who hung tight and looked as strong as some of the GC candidates today. His team leader Lopez disappointed me a little because he didn’t have the legs to go earlier on the climb, otherwise he would have asked the Basque rider to do some work sooner. Possibly Astana will allow Bilbao a free role tomorrow? I pointed out before his home stage that he seems to be “doing a Poels” and timing his third week perfectly. It will be tough to beat him if he makes the break.

Michal Kwiatkowski.

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Desperate to make the break today, the Sky rider just rode home with the grupetto to save his legs for tomorrow. He seems really keen to get in a break and win a stage here. The amount of climbing throughout the afternoon could be a test for him but I think he will be fine, especially with the shorter day. He’s been saving himself the past few days for one big blow out, will it end in a win?

Prediction

Bilbao to be given freedom and fly.

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Betting

Dabble on each of the breakers.

1pt WIN on them all;

Kwiatkowski and Nibali @ 50

Bilbao @ 66

Molard @ 100

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

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

Vuelta a España 2018 Stage 19 Preview: Lleida -> Andorra. Naturlandia

Today’s Recap

Nailed on sprint day huh? The peloton severely underestimated the strength of the trio of riders up the road and what a tailwind on the run to the line can do. After becoming a duo in the final 5km, Wallays and Bystrom pushed on and co-operated well all the way until the Flamme Rouge. Things got a little bit cagey but they just had enough of an advantage for the Lotto Soudal rider to bide his time and go for the sprint, taking a famous victory.

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A super strong rider and hard-working domestique, it was nice to see him take another pro win. Bystrom got a second place out of the day while Sagan followed just on his wheels, “winning” the bunch sprint for third. I did say in yesterday’s preview that I thought Sagan might have it today so him coming home first of the group reaffirmed to me that his form is nearly there now.

So the sprinters were denied their fun today but it was mostly their own doing to be fair, will we see the GC men slip up tomorrow? Let’s have a look at what is in store for them.

The Route

A pretty easy day out, although the terrain is deceptively rolling at times, but with one big sting in the tail.

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No beating around the bush, tomorrow is all about the final climb.

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It is a long climb and is in fact one of the peaks with the most amount of ascending in this race. As you can see, the toughest ramps come in the opening 7km before it “flattens out” for the final 10km. The easier gradients to the line could see some kind of sprint between riders but that is of course assuming it is not split up earlier on.

One important aspect to note is that the finish is above 2000m and this might have an effect on the breathing of the riders. Some perform better than others at high altitude. Thankfully for those who suffer, they aren’t above 2000m for long so it shouldn’t be too much of an issue.

How will the stage pan out?

Looks as if it will be much the same pattern as previous days; where Mitchelton will be happy to let the break get up the road and take the stage win. However, unlike previous days, there will be an incentive for both Movistar and Quick Step to chase, as Valverde and Mas were on superb form the other day. Throw in Astana and Lopez to the mix and we might just see an alliance to keep a tight leash on things.

Furthermore, it is an easy stage to control tomorrow and the squads can use their rouleurs without fear of them cracking on the climbs because there aren’t really any before the summit finish.

We could see them all take the approach of just let Mitchelton do the work and tire them out but the prospect of a controllable day and bonus seconds on the line should be too much.

We’ll see a GC winner tomorrow.

Tactics

Does someone go early on the climb in a bid to regain some valuable time, hoping that there is looking around by others? We could see some inside the latter half of the top 10 go on the offensive and as they are not an immediate threat, the might be given some leeway, just like Pinot’s win earlier in the race.

Quintana and Kruijsiwjk are in the position of where they could probably attack and get away without being latched onto straight away by Yates and his team. However, if the gap starts to grow to them then some panic might set in.

Movistar are at a clear tactical advantage with having both Quintana and Valverde in the top 6 of GC but the Colombian has lacked the legs the past few week. If he has managed to turn it around then I would expect a hail mary attack from home, while Valverde can just sit in and let the race leader do the work.

Contenders

Yates.

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Up until Wednesday’s summit finish most would have said Yates has been the strongest climber in this race and I was one of them. The question we now have to ask, and so does the rest of the peloton, is: was that 8 second loss just a blip or a crack starting to appear? Tomorrow might not give a lot more away either but it could quite easily be another Prato Nevoso situation. The Brit currently lives in Andorra so no doubt he knows the roads better than most and that could be a big advantage, as is having his brother up to support him who seems to have “done a Poels” and timed his third-week peak to perfection.

Valverde.

If Valverde can get over the steeper sections earlier on in the climb then he will love the look of the profile near the finish, rating his chances of nabbing some bonus seconds highly. The Movistar man is one of those riders I mentioned above who will be thankful the climb just tips the 2000m mark as he has never been one to go too well at altitude. He looks as strong as ever though and I would be surprised to see him crack tomorrow.

Mas.

Will the young pretender prove his worth as a fully fledged contender? I think the answer to that is already “yes”, despite whatever may happen over the coming days. Touted as Contador 2.0, he has some lofty heights to live up to but Quick Step seem to be managing him very well. Like Yates, he currently resides in Andorra and says he knows the perfect place to attack. The issue for him is that he is now a marked man, unlike earlier in the race.

Lopez.

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The rider whom the higher altitude should suit the best, he will hope to go better than his slightly disappointing performance on Stage 17 after his team did a lot of the work. Nonetheless, he only lost 2 seconds to Yates and 10 to Valverde/Mas so it wasn’t too bad a result. The Colombian now sits on the tipping point of not being immediately marked so he could slip away in the closing kilometre or so. However, he is still close enough to have a watchful eye kept on. I’m sure Yates won’t want to give him 30 seconds and let him right back into it.

Kruijswijk.

The Dutchman has had a really up and down race so far but still finds himself somewhat in contention for the overall title. He’s said in the press that it will be all or nothing from him so I expect either a crazy early attack from him tomorrow or he will save all of that for Saturday. It is hard to read what type of day he will be on but if he is on a good day, then he could be tough to beat.

Pinot.

The one rider who no longer has a real chance of winning the race overall but that I fancy to go well tomorrow, the Frenchman had his jour-sans on Stage 17, now finding himself 5’31 down on GC. Yet, we saw with his exceptional performance on Lagos de Covadonga that he is more than capable of hanging with the big boys. As one of the GC riders with a fast kick, I think he has a very good chance.

Prediction

A Movistar, Astana and Quick Step alliance keeps the break in check before the climb. Quintana goes early but unfortunately for him he just doesn’t have the legs anymore this race and he is reeled back in by Adam Yates. A little bit of stalling in the main group sees Pinot attack and in a déjà vu scenario, he manages to steal a march and take the stage in an idental manner to Covadonga.

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Behind, Yates cracks a little again and Valverde gains the second place bonuses, but the Mitchelton man remains in the lead – only by a margin of 16 seconds going into the final mountain day.

Betting

No bet for now

Thanks as always for reading. Who do you think will win tomorrow? Will the break be allowed any freedom? Or will the GC teams control it? Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vuelta a España 2018 Stage 6 Preview: Huércal-Overa -> San Javier. Mar Menor

Today’s Recap

After a long fight this morning/early afternoon, a big break of 20-odd riders eventually escaped from what was at that time a reduced peloton. Sky let them go and with it the race lead at the end of the day, a sensible decision given they’ve struggled a bit over some of the previous stages.

Up ahead the day was pretty tactical with several attacks and counters throughout the afternoon. I’ll be honest, I didn’t really watch much of today’s action at all and only tuned in with 20km to go with a trio up ahead: Clarke, De Marchi and Mollema.

The latter two tried to play games and drop the EF Education rider but it was not to be as he was just too strong on the flat. They nearly got caught by a group of three behind, which included new race leader Molard, but the trio at the front held on for the sprint with Clarke taking what was an inevitable win.

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Mollema finished second with De Marchi.

No opportunity for the sprinters today but that looks likely to change tomorrow. Let’s have a look at what is in store for the riders.

The Route

A pretty benign day by Vuelta standards with only 1400m of climbing throughout the afternoon.

vuelta-a-espana-2018-stage-6

There are a couple of Cat-3 climbs to deal with out on the course but they aren’t overly difficult and come too far from the finish to cause any real issues. Or at least you wouldn’t think so, anyway.

stage-6-finish (2)

The run in is fairly straightforward with the final 5km being pan-flat. There are a few corners and the most difficult of those typically comes inside the final 1km, where the riders will have to traverse the long way around a roundabout. It will certainly string things out and coming out of the roundabout near the front of the bunch is necessary to be competing come the end of the day.

Weather Watch

It gives me great pleasure to bring back this segment for the first time in the race and it is for everyone’s favourite reason: possible echelon action!

Screen Shot 2018-08-29 at 17.47.21
Source: Windfinder

The above screenshot is the weather forecast for a town just to the north of La Unión, a.k.a the 25km to go marker for the day.

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The riders head pretty much north for twenty of those kilometres before the turn back on themselves before again heading north for the approach to the finish line. The tailwind finish means you can afford to go earlier with your sprint.

Anyway, creating echelons in a peloton needs three inputs really.

First, the road and wind direction combination needs to be perfect, and that is the case for tomorrow with the route heading north and the wind coming directly across from the riders right.

Secondly, you need areas of land that are exposed enough for the wind to have an effect. There’s no point in it being a gusty day if the road is in a valley and sheltered by hills or trees for example.

Oh, would you look at that…

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Wide open plain…

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After wide open plain…

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After wide open plain.

As you can see, even in the final few kilometres to the finish the riders are exposed to the wind coming off of the sea. The only place of real respite they have is when they travel through the towns of Los Alcázares and Los Narejos: only a 4km stretch of road, before it all starts again once they leave the cover of the buildings.

I make it therefore that out of the last 25km in tomorrow’s stage, 20km of them are prime echelon territory.

Finally, the last thing you need for echelons to happen is a couple of committed teams in the peloton. Given how close things are GC wise just now then there will be a good few squads looking at tomorrow as an opprtunity to split things up and gain time for their overall contenders. We’ve seen Movistar do this in the past and back in 2011 Liquigas pretty much did a TTT and tore things apart. We obviously have the likes of Quick Step who are masters in these conditions, remember Stage 2 last year, or stage 3 of the Giro that same year?

How will the race pan out?

I’m being bold here and I don’t think we’ll see a full bunch sprint tomorrow as things will get split up on the run in. As to who might be there, it really is tough to tell!

We will have GC teams trying to protect their main rider but we’ll also have guys trying to split things up with a hope of increasing their chances for the stage win. It’s going to be manic. One thing that you do find though is that a lot of sprinters tend to be the better riders in cross winds due to their size and raw power, so a lot of them should be near the front tomorrow. Unless it is complete chaos.

Viviani is probably still the favourite for the stage given how good he is this year and the team he rides for. But the conditions tomorrow probably don’t help him as much as they hinder him because I’m sure he would prefer his lead-out to be there in full to guide him through the finish.

Bold prediction number two: Viviani doesn’t win.

The Two Lotto Tickers

Tosh Van der Sande.

Lotto Soudal are exactly the type of team with the strength and know-how in these conditions to help split the bunch. They have no GC aspirations so can go all in to try something and hope it pays off. With their full Belgian squad, the wind will be a welcome sight to them after the heat of the past few days. Van der Sande is their fastest rider and if they can get him into a group of 10-15, then he has a very good chance of producing the win.

Victor Campenaerts.

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Another strong rider who eats wind for breakfast, the current European TT Champion is clearly in good form after his very good run in the opening effort against the clock. He looked lively on the third stage and went on the attack but unfortunately came off of his bike. However, he only sustained some “abrasions to the buttocks” so it was nothing too serious. After a couple of days at the back of the bunch, I think he’ll have recovered and want to put on a show again. He’s the type of rider who could ping off the front of a group at the end and be nigh on impossible to bring back. Come on the ‘tache!

Prediction

Tosh van der Sande wins an echelon filled finale. Don’t @ me.

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Actually you can @ me all you want, I know I’m being a bit ridiculous but this doesn’t end in a full bunch sprint so why not have some fun!

Betting

Day to be avoiding Viviani unless you’re ridiculously confident. So I’m throwing a few pennies around on the two Lotto riders.

0.5pt WIN Campenaerts @ 400/1

0.5pt EW TVDS @ 300/1

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

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

Vuelta a España 2018 GC Preview

Vuelta a España 2018 GC Preview

It doesn’t seem that long ago that I was settling down to write about the Giro, yet here we are three and half months later and it is time to talk about the final GT of the year: the Vuelta. Or “Spain 2018”, depends what I’m allowed to say really…

Last year’s edition of the race saw a dominant Chris Froome take the red leader’s jersey on stage 3 and hold it all the way to Madrid.

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He had a couple of nervy moments but never really looked in that much trouble, ultimately beating Nibali by 2’15 with Zakarin 2’51 behind in third place. Froome isn’t here to defend his title this year but we do have three former champions in the shape of Nibali, Aru and Valverde on the start list. However, there is plenty of talent at the race looking to take their maiden Vuelta, or even Grand Tour in general, win.

As always, I’ll be doing daily stage previews I’m just going to gloss over the route completely really. There will be plenty of others who look at key stages etc so I don’t want to bore you with that again!

The Bookmaker’s Favourite

Richie Porte.

The BMC rider arrives at this race after once again failing to complete a Grand Tour without incident; crashing out of the Tour was his downfall again this year. He’s openly admitted that his form is not as good as pre-Tour so he will hope to ride himself into the race and go from there. In fact, he’s not raced since that crash so it will be very interesting to see how he copes in the opening week where there are a few summit finishes. He is the best climber in this race when on form, it is just a question if he is near that level now? I don’t think so, but I’m willing to be proved wrong. There is also then the cloud that looms over his head of Porte not being able to complete a GT without a bad day. It’s happened too many times for it to be classed as “just bad luck” and it will once again be the undoing of him this race. I think we’ll see him here to gain some miles on the clock and re-find his good condition before having a tilt at the Worlds in Innsbruck.

The Main Challengers

Simon Yates.

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Super strong in the opening two-weeks of the Giro, there was no one able to match him on the climbs. However, he cracked massively and his tumble-down the order was dramatic: losing 1 hour and 15 minutes over two stages. He’s back here to have another tilt at GC along with his brother Adam who provides another option for the team, although it has to be said, after a poor Tour from him it will be interesting to see how he bounces back. Simon is their main guy for GC and if he can repeat the form he had in those opening two weeks at the Giro over the three weeks here then he has to start as the favourite. I think both he and the team will have learnt a lot from that experience, gaining a lot both physically and mentally. Although if we see them chasing down every break in the first week – then maybe they haven’t!

Nairo Quintana.

We caught a glimpse of the old Nairo returning at the Tour when he took a rather spectacular stage win on the Col du Portet. However, that was only short-lived after a crash the following day saw him ship a lot of time over the coming stages and he slipped down the order to finish in 10th place overall. If he has recovered from that fall then he should be one of the main contenders for the race. Back in 2016 when he won the Vuelta his third week peak in the Tour was very similar to what this year’s *could* have been. I do expect him to go well this race, but it will once again be a case of him trying to avoid any silly time losses in the opening week before they even get to the mountains proper.

Miguel Angel Lopez.

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A third place finish at the Giro and the young rider’s jersey to boot, this will the Astana man’s first attempt riding, let along being competitive, at two Grand Tours in a season. Theoretically the course is good for him, with lots of summit finishes where he can show his climbing prowess. His recent performance in Burgos was a good indicator that his form is on the up, where he got a stage win but ultimately finished behind a flying Sosa on GC. The long TT isn’t ideal for him and he will definitely ship some time there. Also, he seems like a rider who suffers one bad day in a GT – so will he be able to recoup the TT and bad day losses over the rest of the climbing days? I’m not so sure but he will be there or thereabouts.

The Podium Contenders.

With such an open race, there are several guys who will rate their chances of making the GC podium come the end of the three weeks in Madrid.

Alejandro Valverde – After performing a good supporting role for his team-mates in France, this will be the Grand Tour where Valverde gets his chance to shine. He probably enters the race as co-leader with Quintana and they will see how things pan out throughout the race. There are plenty of opportunities for him to pick up bonus seconds but some of the tougher finish climbs might worry him. Nonetheless, this is Spain and we are in Valverde territory so he can’t be discounted. Will having one eye on the Worlds detract from his performance? I don’t think so.

Rigobero Uran – Disappointing in the Tour before abandoning the race, he arrives here with only San Sebastian in his legs since then. At that race though he did look fairly strong for someone who dropped out of the Tour but will he have been able to re-find that form? If he’s on or close to his 2017 Tour level then he has a very good chance of winning this race.

Fabio Aru – One of the enigmas of Grand Tour cycling, Aru only seems to ever really turn up at the for the big events and even then he’s struggled since 2015 with consistency. His implosion at the Giro was pretty dramatic but even before then he wasn’t really in the fight for the title and found himself sitting 5’33 down on Yates. He does seem to go well in Spain though and he certainly seems more “chipper” on social media which to be indicates that he is in a good place – maybe the results will follow and we’ll see 2015 Fabio again?

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David De La Cruz – Sky’s GC man for this race, it was here that he had a breakthrough performance in 2016 when he finished in 7th. At the start of the year he was in good form but he lost the opportunity to chase his own results in races such as the Giro and Tirreno. However, a recent third place in Burgos shows that he is slowly riding himself back into form for the Vuelta. Will we see an attacking Sky for once with Henao and Kwiatkowski also possible outsiders for a good result.

George Bennett – My favourite outsider for the race, I have been really impressed with the Kiwi’s development this year. He had a solid Giro where he finished 8th overall but the Vuelta on paper has the parcours that suits him a lot better. Recently in Poland he was by far the strongest on the short few kilometre climbs and it was just a shame for him that they weren’t just a little bit longer so that he could definitely drop everyone. I did question his tactics on pulling during that final day, but maybe he’ll cash in that favour from Kwiatkowski at some point here? The TT will see him lose a good bit of time but as an attacking rider I think he can gain it back elsewhere.

Ilnur Zakarin – After a successful Giro (5th) / Vuelta (3rd) attempt in 2017, this will be the Katusha riders first effort at the Tour/Vuelta combination. A little bit like Quintana, although not as evident, Zakarin seemed to grow into the Tour in the final week and find some good legs in the closing stages. The number of mountain finishes will be great news for him as it means he can avoid descending to the finish line!

The “Unknowns”

Those with questionable/unkown form or riders that have their sights elsewhere…

Wilco Kelderman – His 4th place last year was his second “breakthrough” GC performance after his 7th in the Giro back in 2014. He was strong in his comeback race in Suisse but he was meant to go to the Tour to support Dumoulin but crashed in training and missed the race. That has resulted in his preparations for here being a bit rushed so no one really has any idea of how he will go. Given what we saw last year, he has to be considered a contender if the form is there. He will love the long TT.

Vincenzo Nibali – Unjustly forced to abandon the Tour after he was taken out by a spectator, he says that his current shape is miles off where it needs to be. I kind of believe him but this is Nibali after all and if he has a chance of winning the race in the final week, he’ll turn up. However, I do think this is all just preparation for the Worlds at which he has a serious chance of winning.

Richard Carapaz – One of the standout performances at the Giro where he took a very impressive 4th place on GC. Will he be here to help Quintana and Valverde, or will he get another chance to chase glory? Who knows!

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Thibaut Pinot – Another who completely capitulated at the Giro, he looked good on his return to racing in Poland earlier in the month. I see a lot of people are touting him for success here and given the field, he is one of the riders with a solid pedigree. However, my main concern with him for this race is the heat: he notoriously struggles in the warm weather and the opening week looks like it will be typical Spanish August weather. So a with a return to an old blog favourite, take it away Simon…

its a no

Mas, Buchmann and Ion Izagirre all fall into the same category for me of “solid top 10 potential but I struggle to see them fighting for anything further up the order”. A stage win and a top 10 would be a good result for them!

I think I’ve covered everyone, there are certainly plenty of guys to cover…

Prediction

Is this the most open Grand Tour we’ve seen in recent memory? I think so. We could be in for some surprises over the coming few weeks as teams and riders battle for control. As for who will win? I’m not overly confident in choosing any of the contenders as a clear candidate so I’ll stick to tradition in this situation and go for someone slightly left-field…

George Bennett to take home the title!

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Both he and his team have looked lively over the past couple of weeks and I think they will continue that form into the Vuelta.

Betting

I’m not normally one to make many antepost bets but the odds of 50/1 on offer a few days ago were too good to pass up.

Bennett is still available at 40/1 in some places but I would even accept the 33/1 that is common.

1pt EW Bennett at 50/1 (take the 33/1).

As for other antepost markets, I made a short KOM thread on my twitter yesterday and pointed to two potential candidates for that: Nick Schultz (300/1) and Thomas de Gendt (14/1), but both of their prices have dropped dramatically – now 80/1 and 9/1 respectively, I think TDG is still back-able at that price, Schultz not so much.

Likewise, for the points jersey I fancy Kwiatkowski (33/1) to go well but that price has shortened to 16/1 with Bet365. However, he is still available at those same odds with Ladbrokes/Coral.

Thanks for reading as always. Who do you think will win the race overall and why? I shall be back with my stage 1 preview on Friday evening so hope to see you then! Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.