Omloop Het Nieuwsblad 2019 Preview

The cycling season “begins” for many this weekend with the cobbled classics and Omloop Het Nieuwsblad returning this Saturday. Last year’s edition of the race saw quite a tactical battle in the closing 30 kms of the day with a pretty strong head wind. Despite a strong group getting away and looking as if they were going to fight out for the win, the co-operation within the move completely fell apart within the last 3 kms of the day. Valgren timed his attack perfectly and with team-mates in the group behind to quickly halt any chase, the Dane managed to ride away and take the win.

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Wisniowski and Vanmarcke also escaped the group, just holding off the charging peloton to round off the day.

Will we see something similar happening this year? First, let’s take a look at what is in store for the riders.

The Route

A tad over 200 kms of twisty Belgian roads: sounds fun!

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Although there are several cobbled sections in the opening half of the race, it won’t be until the Wolvenberg at around 60 kms to go that the riders will start to consider their options for the day. However, as we’ve seen in previous years at various cobbled classics, it is feasible for the race winning attack/move to be made from any point onwards.

Comparing the route to last year, it seems as if the organisers have wanted to make it a little more intense from roughly 40 km out with a quick succession of climbs and cobbled sections. This is one of the key sections of road throughout the whole day.

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Although none of the rises are incredibly long, it is the constant up and down nature of that section, combined with the always twisting and turning roads that will see the peloton fully stretched out. The strongest riders can really put those suffering into difficulty here.

Next on the agenda is roughly 8 kms of mostly flat (there’s no such thing as an actual flat road around here) through the towns of Sint-Martens-Lierde and Deftinge before they reach the famous Geraardsbergen.

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Two steep and tough climbs that need to introduction or explanation, the Muur and Bosberg offer a final chance for a selection to be made. With a shade over 12 km from the crest of the Bosberg to the finish line, will those ahead be able to stay away, or will we see some kind of regrouping?

Weather Watch

As is often the case for cobbled classic races, one of the important factors which can help to determine the outcome of the day is the wind.

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As I mentioned earlier, a strong headwind in 2018 caused some more “negative” racing because no one really wanted to commit too early in fear of blowing up. That led to the tactical and exciting finale we had so it wasn’t all too bad I suppose!

However, tomorrow we’re due to have pretty consistent winds coming mostly from the West throughout the day. This of course means that some of the course will be into a headwind, due to the nature of the parcours, but most importantly those final 40 km won’t be.

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As you can see, most of it will either be tail or cross wind, dependent on their location throughout the final hour of racing. This should make for some fast and exciting action!

How will the race pan out?

I expect it to be full gas from just after the Wolvenburg (60 km left) but the first major moves to be made at 40 km to go marker and the aforementioned quartet of cobbles/climbs. Given the mostly tailwind run to the line, teams and big favourites won’t be as afraid to attack from far tomorrow. Those with numerous options to play such as Deceuninck Quick Step and Jumbo Visma will most likely adopt the approach of attacking rather than pacing the front of the peloton in the final hour.

There are two big danger men in the race that I think will make sure the day won’t come down to a sprint of 10+ riders: Trentin and Matthews.

Trentin has had a superb start to the year, already taking three wins to his name. He comes here as Mitchelton’s number one card with Durbridge playing second fiddle. The Italian has been climbing like a dream in this opening month of racing so he’ll cope perfectly well with the rises that we have here. Everyone will be well aware of just how well he is going and as one of the fastest riders on the start list, it would simply be stupid to bring him to the line. I’m not even sure the likes of Van Avermaet would be happy arriving for a small group sprint against him.

Conversely, this is Matthews first race of the season but that shouldn’t be a negative for the Sunweb rider as he always begins his year in great form anyway. Not many have talked about his chances in the press but in Lotto Soudal’s preview Wellens was quick to point out the Aussie as a real threat. I was going to say he had a poor 2018 but he ended up with 4 wins and all of them at World Tour level so it wasn’t exactly a disaster! It’s almost a case of “what could have been” given that he had to withdraw from several races due to illness or injury. He’s a rider that I rate very highly and I expect him to be in the mix tomorrow. Like Trentin, it would be unwise for anyone to bring him to the line.

Contenders – A trio to watch

I could list about 15 riders here if I desperately wanted to but that’s not my style, so I’m just going with three. No apologies.

Yves Lampaert.

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If you’ve followed the blog for a while then you’ll know I’m a massive Yves fan and it’s been good to see him make steady progress in the past few years. Last season he managed to retain his Dwars door Vlaanderen title before going on to claim the Belgian championships later in the season. So far in 2019 he’s put in some pretty solid training at races both in Provence and Algarve with a focus of building that form for the cobbles. Once touted as a Boonen/Museeuw hybrid, it is understandable that he has not lived up to that lofty billing but now coming into the strongest years of his career, I certainly think he will start to pick up some more individual results. Stybar and Gilbert are probably the two main leaders for DQS but Lampaert will no doubt be given a free role as he looks to step up and replace the Terpstra shaped hole that is left in their classics team, with Senechal replacing 2017/18 Lampaert. As I mentioned earlier, having numbers near the head of the race will be important and DQS should have exactly that. I think we’ll see Lamapert as one of the early attackers for them and if he can get away in the right group with the right teams represented, that could be it for the day. Packing a pretty decent sprint from a very small group he is certainly one to watch.

Tim Wellens.

A rider who always starts his year in barnstorming form, 2019 seems to be no different for Wellens. With consistent results in the opening Trofeo’s, including a win, the Lotto Soudal man went on to pick up two stage wins in Andalucia before a 9th placed finish on GC. Not a bad result for someone who had to skip Besseges due to illness. An all round brute of a rider, it amazed me that Wellens hadn’t dabbled with the cobbled one-day races before Omloop last year because the parcours definitely suits him in my opinion – I could see him go very well in Flanders for example. Last year at this race he burnt too many matches early on, hoping to split the race up but with the headwind conditions it proved too difficult. Tomorrow’s race should reward attacking riding more and I’m looking forward to seeing what he and Benoot do as a duo. As a former winner of the BinckBank (formerly Eneco) Tour, Wellens is no stranger to cobbles so it is not like he lacks experience. One of the form riders in this early season, he is one that I wouldn’t give a few bike lengths to as you might not get them back.

Taco van der Hoorn.

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Talk about teams with options, Jumbo Visma have a squad of riders who could feasibly challenge for a good result here – are they Quick Step in disguise? A lot of the attention from the cycling world will be on van Aert but with van Poppel, Teunissen, Roosen and van der Hoorn it would be unwise to just focus on one of them. Since his win in Schaal Seis back in 2017, I’ve been intrigued to see what Taco can do. His season last year started very late due to him suffering from lingering effects of concussion. In fact, he only raced from August onwards but managed to pick up 2 wins and 5 other top 10s in 19 days on the road – not bad! He spent a lot of his time in Algarve on the front of the bunch, pacing the peloton for Groenewegen and getting some good miles in the legs. He’s possibly a bit further down the pecking order in the Jumbo Visma team than I would think he should be, he’s not even mentioned in their race preview, but I certainly wouldn’t discount him. If anything van der Hoorn is the stereotypical rider that I like to go for on here: a complete wildcard that not many people know of but he’ll probably turn good in a year or two!

Prediction

Plenty of form riders are here and I’m looking forward to some aggressive racing. I’ll go with Tim Wellens to power away from everyone over the Muur and stay away to the end of the day.

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Zweeler

Quick shout out to my affiliates over at Zweeler who are starting up their Fantasy Spring CyClassics Game which offers a prize pool of 8000 Euro with first place guaranteed 1400 Euro and the top 160 people guaranteed to at least make their entry fee back.

Pick 20 riders from a budget of 230 million to score you points over the coming weeks with the game active from Omloop through to Liege. Choose wisely though as there is are no transfers available!

Sign up for each team is 10 Euro.

Think you’ve got what it takes to take home first place? Sign up here to find out.

If you do it helps me out a little and I’ll be forever grateful!

Betting

Tweeted out my picks for Omloop yesterday…

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

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

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Trofeo Laigueglia 2019 Preview

Now a yearly staple for my blog, the Italian Cup starts this weekend with the 56th edition of Trofeo Laigueglia on Sunday. A tricky race for this early in the season given the punchy climb on the closing circuit, it is often a race decided by a reduced bunch sprint or a solo rider escaping over one of the climbs and arriving at the finish ahead of the rest. In 2018 we saw a rather electric attack from Moreno Moser on the penultimate climb, which completely blew everyone else away. By the end the Astana man, riding for the Italian national team on the day, finished with a 43 second buffer over the remnants of the peloton: the biggest winning margin in recent years.

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Moser arrives here to defend his title and looking to complete a hat-trick of wins at this race. First though, let’s have a look at what is in store for the riders.

The Route

Identical to 2018’s parcours, the organisers obviously liked the one extra lap around the closing circuit that they added last year.

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The early climbs of the Paravenna (6.6km at 5.9%) and Testico (8.47km at 3.7%) won’t be decisive but they’ll certainly sap the legs of the peloton. I’m thankful for the figures on the profile above as trying to find the length/gradients of the latter climb was a real ball-ache last year…

Moving swiftly on, the crux of the race is the circuit that we have around Laigueglia itself.

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The toughest part on the course is the climb of Colla Micheri and that is the point at which Moser launched his winning attack last year, with Felline doing the exact same before going on to win in 2017.

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Averaging almost 8% for 2kms it will be attacked at a ferocious speed. Not long enough for a pure climber to make a difference, it certainly suits a puncheur that can hold a good amount of power for the 5 minutes it takes to get up it. Last year showed that the differences can be much greater on the final time up the ascent because of the extra lap and the more tired legs because of it. With the final 500m being the most important part and the area where the most hurt can be put on.

A fast descent follows before a few kilometres of flat and a final little kick up Capo Mele. It’s not a tough climb averaging only 3.5% for 1.9km but there are a few steeper ramps that can act as a launchpad if riders are stalling and looking at each other; just like Andrea Fedi did in 2016 before going on to win the race.

Once over the crest of Mele, the riders only have 2kms left of shallow descent and a flat run in to the finish.

Contenders

Despite the race being .HC in category, we only have two World Tour teams at the start of the race. Although to be fair, that is an improvement on last year’s one! Consequently, it could potentially be an open race that is difficult to control but I think we’ll see things kept in relative check until the closing couple of laps as some of the Italian Pro Conti teams will more than happily share the pace making.

Marco Canola.

On the team of the defending champion, I think Canola offers Nippo their best chance of taking the race. A consistent rider after his return to the European peloton, his 2018 failed to live up to the incredible 2017 he had, although several top 10s and podium places to his name so it wasn’t too bad a year; it was just a win that eluded him. He can climb well on the short slopes and with his fast sprint, he is a good candidate for this type of parcours. Having already got some racing in his legs over in Valenciana, he’ll be wanting to put that to good use tomorrow.

Anthony Roux.

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The current French champion will most likely be Groupama’s man for the day but without any racing for him so far this year, it is hard to know where his form is at. Last season was re-breakthrough (if I can call it that) year for the 31-year-old with him managing to take three victories and some other strong results including an impressive 3rd place in San Sebastian. If he is close to a similar level like he was on that day, then he should be in the mix here. I’m just not too sure if he will be.

Benoît Cosnefroy.

The 2017 U23 World Champion had a solid neo-pro year with AG2R in 2018, with the highlight being a 3rd place in his last race of the season at Paris Tours. Spending the opening part of the season in Australia saw the Frenchman get some racing in his legs, where he picked up an 11th place finish in Cadel’s race. A bit of a punchy all-rounder, he theoretically should be able to go well here and I imagine he’ll lead the AG2R squad.

Fabio Felline and his Trek buddies.

Winner in 2017, the Italian will once again ride for the national team and as a “squad” they are looking for their third win in a row at this race. With a mix of youth and experience in the team to help him, Felline will be confident of being at the pointy end of things come the finale. His 2018 wasn’t as strong as his 2017, but he did seem to finish the year off well and pick up a few good results. This season he’s already been racing in Spain and France, with a 9th place finish overall in Bessèges. One of the massive advantages that Felline has is the strength of his team, with both Ciccone and Brambilla potential winners of this race as well. With all three of them riding for trade-team Trek Segafredo, they should be able to communicate and work well together on the day. Whether that admitting your legs aren’t good, or bouncing attacks off of each other. I would be very surprised if we didn’t see one of them on the podium.

The whole of Androni, basically.

Looking at the teams, Androni have the most amount of riders who I think could win this race with Gavazzi, Cattaneo, Busato and Montaguti all potential candidates. Without any real fast climbing-sprinters at the race, I think Gavazzi would be the team’s best shot at winning in a reduced gallop to the line. However, I do expect them to be one of the teams to animate the race so they might try to avoid that outcome if possible, with maybe Cattaneo or Montaguti riding solo to the line.

Giovanni Visconti.

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In the twilight of his career, Visconti switched teams in the winter and returned to his former PCT outfit now known as Neri Sottoli, in the search for some more personal success and to help the younger Italian riders. On paper, this is a parcours that is made for the Italian with the short punchy climbs suiting his characteristics. He made a slow start in Argentina but now back on home soil he is a threat and one that most of his opposition will have an eye on.

Given the large amount of Continental teams here, there are a few riders who could pull out a surprise performance. Others to watch include Paolo Totò of Sangemini who was second here last year; Marco Tizza of Amore & Vita; plus youngster Andrea Bagioli (Team Colpack) who I think will be a star of the future.

Prediction

Looking at the strength of their team, I would be surprised not to see the Italian Trek conglomeration make it three wins in a row and I’ll go with Felline to be that man.

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

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

Volta a la Comunitat Valenciana 2019 Stage 3 Preview: Quart de Poblet -> Chera

Today’s Recap

The early break was caught on the final climb of the day, with Astana and Mitchelton Scott drilling the pace at the front of the bunch in the hope to distance some sprinters. Their plan worked with Groenewegen dropping off the back of the peloton, trailing them by roughly 30 seconds at the summit. His whole Jumbo Visma team dropped back to help pace him back to the bunch and things calmed down a little with around 15 km to go. However, that only lasted for a little while and things quickly sped up going into the last 5 km of the day. There was a big fight for position and it looked like Team Sky had got their timing perfect going into the final and decisive roundabout with 300m to go, but a burst of speed from Sondre Holst Enger saw Bouhanni and Trentin follow the Israel Academy rider, beating the Sky train into the corner. Trentin elbowed his way past Bouhanni so that he led coming out of it, and that would be our 1-2 on the day, with the Frenchman running out of road in his attempt to come around the current European Champion.

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Swift recovered his sprint a little and rewarded his team’s efforts by rounding out the podium in third.

With a punchy route on the cards tomorrow, it will be unlikely we’ll see any of the guys who were in the top 10 today up there again until the final stage. So let’s have a look at what is in store for the riders on stage 3.

The Route

A saw-toothed profile with 3200m of climbing throughout the day, the organisers have managed to find the fairly challenging day in the saddle without having the riders traverse any mountains.

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Despite the categorised and uncategorised climbs early on, the stage will more than likely be decided by the last 20km.

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The opening climb isn’t too tough, averaging a very consistent 5.7% gradient for 4.16 km. Without any steep ramps it will be hard for anyone to make gaps here, instead, we’ll more than likely see a battle of attrition with riders going out the back and not the front.

A quick descent follows before the longer but more shallow, last climb of the day.

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Again, it is not an overly difficult climb so the proper mountain goats will find it difficult to make much of a difference, while the puncheurs will be licking their lips in the hope of hanging on. Once over the summit, there are still a tricky 2.5km to navigate before the finish line.

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As you can see, those final 2.5 km are along quite a twisty and narrow single-track road. It is possible that if someone or a small group of people get a gap then they could be difficult to bring back because it will be difficult to organise a chase on that road and in the short time frame they will have.

The final 500m are uphill at an average gradient of 6%, which should make it ideal for the puncheurs. Also in typical Spanish fashion, like today, the finish isn’t exactly easy either…

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Having to make a quick left then right, I’m sure the riders will be glad that it is somewhat uphill as this would be complete chaos otherwise. Once again, given that there is 100m or less coming out of the final turn, it is imperative to be at the head of the race coming into that chicane. In fact, I’ll say whoever leads into the chicane will win the stage. Take note any pros/teams who happen to be reading this…

How will the stage pan out?

If this stage was after what we’re getting on Saturday, this could well have been a day for the breakaway but given the minimal gaps on GC, aside from a few riders, things should be kept together. Looking at the design of the stage, it seems as if the Spanish organisers had their new World Champion in mind as they’ve built a course that is tailor-made for him. I think that everyone else in the peloton will know that too so there will be a lot of pressure on the Movistar team to keep it together.

The selectiveness of the race all depends on how aggressive the closing 20kms of the race are ridden. If we see a couple of strong teams come and set a relentless pace on the two climbs, then we might have a group of 30-40 riders reaching that 2.5km to go banner within relative contact with each other. We could even see a smaller group but I don’t think the gradients are tough enough for it to be incredibly selective, then again, it is early season so who knows.

Do the puncheurs make it? If the climbs are taken at a steadier pace then there is a good chance that the likes of Boasson Hagen, Van Avermaet and even Trentin could make the finale.

With no bonus seconds on offer at the line, a GC rider will need to create a gap here to gain some time on their rivals. It will be difficult for one of the main contenders to get away but a team having options will certainly help, and maybe their “second tier” rider might manage to slip under the radar on the tough to control finish.

In fact, that’s exactly what I expect to happen: a late attack in those closing 2.5 kms from one or a group of riders, that then sticks to the finish. So who could we see try to slip away?

A trio to watch

Rui Costa.

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Often one to start his season strongly, the former World Champion produced a good TT result by his standards on the opening day of racing here. With a lot of eyes on his team-mate Martin, Costa has the ability to fly under the radar and attack in the closing kilometres. An aggressive racer when he senses an opportunity, I expect UAE to give him free rein tomorrow to go for the stage win and see what happens. He failed to take a win last year which is unlike him, so can he capitalise on some good early season form?

Pello Bilbao.

Astana have both the blessing and the curse of having a number of riders who this finish could suit, given different scenarios. It will be interesting to see who they work for but I assume they will want to give their two highest placed GC riders the best chance of winning the race overall going into the decisive stage 4. With Izagirre effectively in the race lead (as EBH won’t last on stage 4), Astana could play the card of just following some attacks tomorrow with Bilbao and see if they stick. The Basque rider has a good punchy finish on him and is clearly in decent shape at the moment with his strong opening TT.

Jesus Herrada.

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Having already tasted victory this season so far with his win at the Trofeo Ses Salines, Herrada will be hoping to double up tomorrow. The Spaniard certainly seems to enjoy the opening part of the season as he was absolutely flying at this stage last year and appears to be in similar shape this time round. As a rider from Cofidis, there is a bit of a stigma that he won’t be an immediate threat so he might not be chased down immediately. Not an ideal thing to do when he’s in good form as he will be very difficult to bring back on a punchy finish.

Prediction

Small group escape in the closing 2.5 km and we see Pello Bilbao (a classic blog favourite) take the win. Potentially setting up a good tilt at the overall title.

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Betting

No odds out yet but will tweet anything that tickles my fancy once we get them.

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

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

 

 

 

Volta a la Comunitat Valenciana 2019 Stage 2 Preview: Alicante -> Alicante

Today’s Recap

Well that was an enjoyable TT course to watch, with a whole mix of riders involved at the top of the order. It was Edvald Boasson Hagen who took  home the win though, with Dimension Data making most of their new BMC TT bikes and the Norwegian’s solid block of winter training.

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Izagirre caused a little bit of an upset with a second place, showing that maybe the Astana bikes aren’t that bad in the right hands. While former TT World Champion Tony Martin rounded out the podium for his new team Jumbo Visma.

There was quite the mix of traditional TT riders, puncheurs and GC riders in the top 20 so we’re all set up for an exciting race over the coming week. First though, let’s look at what the riders will face on the road tomorrow.

The Route

A rolling day in the saddle awaits the riders as they face just over 2400m of elevation gain throughout the stage.

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None of the climbs on the route are particularly difficult but given the constant up and down nature of the terrain, teams will have to be alert at all times. The final climb of the day is a fairly consistent drag, with the percentages staying at roughly 5% throughout.

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With it cresting at 42km to go, things should come down to a sprint to the line, albeit with a possibly reduced group. Last year we saw Valverde, Fuglsang and LL Sanchez attack on the final climb, on a stage similar to tomorrow, but with longer to go to the finish and a less severe final ascent to tackle, I can’t see that happening this time.

So the stage should be decided in the final 5km and in typical Spanish racing fashion, it isn’t 100% straight forward…

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From 4.5 km to 3.5 km to go, the riders face a kilometre long drag that averages 3.4% before a descent that almost mimics the length and gradient of the climb. A short 500m (3.4% again) rise follows that sees the riders taken to the 1.5 km to go banner and another dip down. One final kicker (300m at 2.6%) takes them to about 400m to go, where you would expect a straight run to the line. Well…

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The riders will carry a lot of speed from the previous downhill onto the slight drag because it is straightforward and down a wide boulevard, so that rise will be negated somewhat. I expect a big fight to get into this roundabout first, as coming out of it there are only 200m left, almost enough for your sprinter to go full gas from; they only need a little turn coming out of the roundabout.

Sprinters

Will they all make it to the line? That all depends on how aggressively they early part of the race is attacked by the peloton and if there are a few teams that want to try to drop some of the more traditional sprinters, namely Dylan Groenewegen. It is possible, but it will take a lot of effort so I think they should more than likely all make it.

Dylan Groenewegen.

One of the best sprinters in the world last year, Groenewegen will look to hit the ground running this season. Jumbo Visma bring a strong squad to support him, with new recruit Teunissen most likely slotting in as the last man in the train. We saw today in the TT that Van Emden and Martin are strong at the moment so they should be able to try to line things out in the closing kilometres. There will be a lot of pressure on them to do so and I think we’ll see plenty of teams try to come over the top of them late on, hoping to get to the roundabout first. Saying that, Jumbo honed their skills and became one of the best “late lead-outs” in the business, only appearing at the front in the last 2km so it will be interesting to see their approach tomorrow. Groenewegen is the man to beat, but he’s certainly not unbeatable.

Alexander Kristoff.

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With Fernando Gaviria having already taken two wins to his name in Argentina, the pressure is both on and off Krisotff here. The Norwegian is said to want to shift his focus towards the classics a little bit more, but still be involved in the bunch sprints when he can. Tomorrow is a good test for him against a solid field and the slightly rolling finale should suit his strengths. For a while I didn’t think he had the top-end speed that he used to but on the final stage of the Tour last year he showed he can still mix it with the best in a flat stage.

Nacer Bouhanni.

Contract year for the fighting Frenchman and I’m expecting a good year from him. In 2018 we saw a tough teething phase for him with new management at Cofidis but by the end of the season he seemed to be coming around to their approach more, taking a much-needed win at the Vuelta. Traditionally one of the better climbing sprinters, Bouhanni should be there at the finish. His Cofidis lead-out isn’t incredible but with Claeys and Vanbilsen as the two in front of him, they could arrive late and time it right. He’s definitely one to watch.

Giacomo Nizzolo.

Can Dimension Data make it two from two? The mood in the team camp will be buoyant so there will be a lot less pressure on Nizzolo for tomorrow. The Italian had an OK 2018 but nothing extraordinary, it was good to see him just competing at the pointy end of races after his injury plagued 2017. A rider capable of a very fast sprint on his day, he’ll be able to rely on the current race leader in the lead-out, unless of course the plan is for EBH to go and double up, but I can’t see that happening as it should be for Nizzolo.

Sonny Colbrelli.

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One of the sprinters that should happily make it over the climbs, Colbrelli delivered a very strong TT this afternoon by his standards, coming home in 19th. Although the team will want to do well in the overall with Teuns, they have a squad here that can help out Colbrelli massively tomorrow and I think they are the one team that can challenge Jumbo with their sprint train speed. With Tratnik, Mohoric and Garcia they certainly have some firepower to put the Italian into position. Does he have the sprint speed to take the win?

Matteo Trentin.

The current European Champion had a pretty poor debut year with Mitchelton Scott in 2018 but that was mainly due to an injury (caused by the #HaugheyCurse) that saw him miss a lot of the season. He obviously came back to take a well fought win in Glasgow and going by his solid TT result today, his form seems to be there too. Not a team with a lot of sprint support, he will have to rely heavily on Mezgec and his own positioning but he could well surprise.

Of course there are others that could well be in the mix and we have a good field here of solid sprinters: Cort, Boudat, Lobato, Roelandts, Enger, Noppe and Lawless will all hope to try to make the top 10.

Prediction

All the pressure will be on Groenewegen and on that tricky run in I think we’ll see some chaos due to the big fight for position. One man in this field loves those types of finish so I’ll go with Nacer Bouhanni to get his season started in the best way possible.

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There might be a slight bit of #PFCL5 bias coming in to this as he’s in my season long fantasy team…

Betting

Nothing wild as it is quite a tricky stage…

1pt WIN Bouhanni @ 13/2 with Betway

Should hopefully get odds elsewhere later as SkyBet and Ladbrokes/Coral eventually had the race priced yesterday too.

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

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

 

Volta a la Comunitat Valenciana 2019 Stage 1 Preview: Orihuela -> Orihuela (ITT)

European stage racing starts this Wednesday with the Volta a la Comunitat Valenciana in Spain and the Etoile de Bessèges in France. Both races attract a solid line up of teams but given that it is early in the year, form is often difficult to figure out so we could see a surprise result. Or of course, Valverde just wins like he did last year.

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GC Overview

With a route tailor-made for him and a bonus second system in place, it does look hard for anyone to topple the reigning champion. The opening day TT will see some time gaps but they shouldn’t be too significant given the short nature of the race against the clock. Saying that, a climber who has started the season a little slowly could see the race already slip away from them if they don’t hit the ground running. Stage 2 could be a surprise GC day but it is more than likely going to be a reduced bunch sprint, with stage 3 the first day we should see some kind of selection and an uphill sprint finish that looks perfect for Valverde. The overall will be decided on the penultimate day of racing though with a tricky climb out of the town of Alcossebre where the better climbers will hope to come to the fore and steal the race title.

Valverde starts as the obvious favourite but there are certainly some strong teams here with multiple options that could put the World Champion under pressure. Firstly, we have an Astana trio of Izagirre, Sanchez and Bilbao who all should be there or thereabouts with the tough to control stage 3 a day where they will hope to utilise those numbers with aggressive racing. Likewise, UAE (Martin and Costa), Mitchelton (Yates and Haig) and Sky (Thomas and De La Cruz) have a couple of options to ensure that this isn’t a walk in the park for Valverde.

However, like night follows day, Valverde wins his “home” stage race again.

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Let’s take a look at what is in store for the riders on the opening day of racing.

The Route

An almost pan flat 10.2km individual time trial awaits the riders but they need to be wary as it does have a sting in the tail.

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The route can really be split into three sections. First, we have the largest section which comprises of the opening 7.8km and is a pure test of power.

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There are a few roundabouts on course through that section but they are few and far between, with the majority of the corners being able to be taken at full speed. This is where the stronger and more traditional TT riders will hope to build up an advantage.

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Next is a shorter section which has quite a few roundabouts and tight corners to traverse, so good technique and line choice here will be important. As the cliché goes, you probably can’t win the stage here but you can certainly lose it.

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Finally we have the closing 700m and a climb to the line. The strava/veloviewer profile that I made for the whole stage above is quite deceptive as there is no “descent” in the final climb. Instead, it is more of a false flat than anything else, so this Strava segment is a much better indicator of what it actually looks like.

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The riders will face some “cobbles” as they leave the town and onto the hill but it would be offensive to the Spring Classics to call them anything serious, more like slightly bumpy paved stones.

The steep gradients will be a bit awkward on a TT rig but nothing the riders haven’t dealt with before. At 600m it is short enough for the traditional TT riders to fancy their chances of powering up it, but it is also at a length where the climbers/puncheurs will hope to gain back some time.

I really like this TT course because there will be quite a few in the bunch that will fancy their chances due to the varied parcours.

Contenders

Tony Martin.

After a pretty disappointing two years at Katusha, by his normal standards, the German made a switch of teams in the off-season to Jumbo Visma. I for one am really looking forward to seeing what he can do this year on the Bianchi bike, as Jumbo have their TT rigs properly dialled in. A 10km TT that is mostly about pure power with a short climb at the end would be perfect for Martin of 2014/2015 but have his legs waned in recent years? We’ll just have to wait and see.

Geraint Thomas.

Last year’s Tour winner arrives here early in the season but with his main goal to try to retain his crown in France this summer, will he be at a high enough level to challenge? On paper this course is ideal for him and Team Sky are one of the top TT teams around so no doubt he’ll put in a pretty solid time but I think this will be more of a training race for him. He had a festive off-season by the looks of it with some photos of him appearing a little podgy compared to the skeletal standards of most GT contenders. Since then he has seemed to lose a some weight so he could well hit the ground running but I just can’t see it.

David De La Cruz.

Conversely, I think it will be Sky’s Spaniard that will be the best finisher for their team tomorrow. A solid debut season for the outfit last year saw De La Cruz take home the TT win in Andalucia as well as the final stage in Paris Nice. Going to the Vuelta as co-leader for the team, he will have been disappointed with the final outcome and hope to hit the ground running. His results in efforts against the clock last year were fairly consistent with him being in or around the top 15 for the majority of them. Tactically for Sky it will be useful for them to have two riders near the head of the race before we head to the more mountainous stages so I expect a good result.

Alejandro Valverde.

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Although the race isn’t technically a “home” race for the current World road champion, the opening stage in Orihuela is only a 20km cycle from his home in Murcia, so the Movistar man will want to do well here. In fact, on a training ride recently he did some reconnaissance of the final ramp so he is most definitely preparing well and taking it seriously. Normally you wouldn’t consider Valverde for a traditional TT but given the short nature, he always starts the season well, that kicker at the end, plus some friendly Spanish motos: he has a very good chance of taking the stage and holding the GC jersey throughout the race.

Nelson Oliveira.

Likewise, his Movistar team-mate will no doubt be looking forward to this hit out as well, with Oliveira starting the season well over in Mallorca; doing some good work for his squad and managing to bag a 6th place in Trofeo de Tramuntana. Still only 29, he’s very consistent in efforts against the clock with a 15th place finish being his worst result in 2018. My one concern about him is that he doesn’t win too much and he’s never tasted victory in a TT aside from his national championships. Is this the year he finally breaks that duck?

Ion Izagirre.

From one dud of a TT bike to another, Izagirre will hope that his legs can do the talking rather than the bike. Astana arrive here with a very strong squad to challenge for the overall so they need as many of them as possible to be near the top of the standings after tomorrow. Izagirre looks the most likely to challenge for the stage as he has the best TT out of the lot of them. Saying that, he wasn’t as strong last year as he had been in previous seasons so it will be interesting to see what he can pull off tomorrow.

There are a couple of Katusha riders who I’m looking forward to seeing how they fare: Tanfield and Goncalves. The former will get his first chance to show his mettle in a TT for his new WT team, while the latter on occasion has produced a great TT and the short but punchy climb should suit his characteristics. I don’t think either of them will win, but they should turn in decent performances. Van Emden is also another one who should do well but given that his climbing ability is pretty abysmal, he might lose quite a bit of time on that final rise. Tratnik steps up to the WT this year as well but how will he fare on that Merida bike? He’s one to watch for a top 10 anyway. Finally, I have my eyes on the young Portuguese rider João Rodrigues who rides for W52 and their new-found Pro Conti license. If this was La Grandissima he would be a shoe-in for a good result but it’s not, so we’ll see how he goes.

Prediction

Tony to roll back the clock? Sky to keep up that great TT record? Valverde to smash his “local” 10km? Nope, I’ll go with the Oliveira to get his first pro TT win narrative!

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After a good hit out in Mallorca, I think he’s ready to start his season proper with a bang. I’ll go for De La Cruz to finish second with Valverde in an ominous third.

Zweeler

Once again I’ll plug the blog sponsor Zweeler and their fantasy sports games. For Valenciana they have a competition open for the race, with the top 23 finishers (there are 200 teams entered already) guaranteeing themselves a return on their entrance fee. You can sign up to play it via this link here (which helps the blog out a little).

If you fancy yourself as more of a long-term prospector of cycling talent, their “1st period” game starts with Valenciana too. For that you have to pick a total of 30 riders from 6 different categories, with points being scored right through from Valenciana to the Tour of California. Due to the amount of entrants for the game so far the total prize pool has increased from €1500 to €1900, with the overall winner guaranteed a cool €350 from their €7 entry fee. If that tickles your particulars, then you can sign up to that via this link!

Betting

As for tomorrow’s stage, I’m going to keep it simple-ish as TTs early in the season can often be a bit tricky.

2pts WIN Oliveira @ 6/1 (With Betway)

1pt WIN De La Cruz @ 16/1 (With SkyBet)

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

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

 

 

Grand Prix Cycliste la Marseillaise 2019 Preview

The French cycling season begins tomorrow afternoon with the 40th edition of GP Marseillaise. A race that is often a tough one to predict with varying parcours and early season legs within the peloton, it consequently leads to some exciting cycling. Last year a strong group of 9 managed to escape over the climbs, before battling it out for the win, with Alexandre Geniez coming out victorious.

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Odd Christian Eiking and Lilian Calmejane rounded out the podium just behind the AG2R man. Will Geniez be able to double up this year? First though, let’s take a look at what is in store for the riders.

The Route

About 5 or so years ago the race suited a sprinter who could climb very well (think Sam Dumoulin), but in recent times the parcours have been made more difficult with added climbs and we’ve seen that translated onto the results sheets, with much more selective races. This year’s edition of the race was meant to be on an almost identical parcours to 2018 but due to strong winds that are expected the decisive climb in the final 50km of the race, Route des Crêtes, has been removed and replaced by the Pas d’Oullier.

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Before they get to that point though they still have the small matter of the Petit Galibier (7.6km at 3.7%) and the Col de l’Espigoulier to traverse, along with the uncategorised Col des Bastides (7.1% at 3%). Those climbs will certainly sap the legs but given the shallow gradients, it makes it much more difficult for the climbers to create some gaps.

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As you can see, there are no crazy gradients in the closing 38km so anyone looking to get away will have to go very hard on the 5.5% slopes of the Pas d’Ouillier, or on the uncategorised rises after that. With 10km of descent and flat to the line after the final hill, it is possible for a committed chase to bring things back together.

How will the race pan out?

It all depends on the attitude of the teams. Personally, I think the parcours is still capable of creating a selective race but it won’t be the pure climbers who manage to escape, instead it will the puncheurs who have a chance. Conversely though, if some of the bigger teams decide to take it easy early on then the race can be controlled over the closing 40km and a slightly reduced bunch sprint set up.

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Another factor that could see the race come down to a reduced bunch sprint is the strong wind which for the closing 20km will be cross-head wind, with the closing 5km being a pure head wind.

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The finishing boulevard will act as a funnel for the wind and make it very difficult for a small group to stay away if there is a motivated chase behind. Looking at the teams though and we don’t have many sprinters here, which might just be enough to entice a strong group away made up of riders from the bigger teams and that be that for the day. As you can probably tell, I’m struggling to decide what will happen!

Hmm, I think the forced change of parcours will see this race return to what it was like a few years ago, with a reduced bunch sprint deciding the day.

Contenders

Sam Dumoulin.

Former winner of this race, the Frenchman would expect to make the selection tomorrow. Entering the twilight of his career, he doesn’t win very often but is consistent in the French Cup races and consequently that makes him a danger man. The AG2R squad is made up of competent climbers so they should have plenty of numbers to control things at the finish. I am intrigued to see though if his team-mate Venturini makes the split too, and if so, who sprints?

Marc Sarreau.

Can he make the finish? If so, the FDJ rider is the classiest sprinter in this field in my opinion. With a good mix of youth and experience at the race it will be interesting to see how they work together but I think they will get on fine. Madouas was up there for the team last year so he should be able to contribute in the finale if we get an even more selective race. One thing is for sure, I would definitely be trying to get rid of Sarreau if I was a DS in another team.

Arthur Vichot.

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Another former winner of this race, Vichot made the move away from the FDJ set up in the winter to only his second team in his career, Vital Concept. Again, they are another squad that look set up for a tougher race so expect to see them try to make it more difficult and reduce the group as much as possible. Vichot does have a deceptively fast kick from a group though so he will be confident of challenging for the win again but I just think there will be faster riders there.

Tom Van Asbroeck.

A step down from the WT in the winter sees the Belgian now ride for Israel Academy in the search of getting his own opportunities. Tomorrow presents a great chance for him to get off to a good start. By no means a pure sprinter, van Asbroeck falls into a category similar to Dumoulin where he will hope to be climbing well and make a group of 40, and if so, he will have one of the faster sprinters there. However, it is the start of the season so the legs might not respond in the way he wants. In that case, Israel Academy might turn to Sbaragli as their option for the day, although he has really fallen away in terms of good results since his breakthrough 2015 Vuelta stage win.

Amaury Capiot.

One of the few teams who I think will be relishing the change in route is Sport Vlaanderen as they have several fast finishers that will now fancy their chances of making it to the end of the day at the head of the race. Their best option would probably be Capiot who is looking to build on 2018 where he returned to the peloton after spending the majority of 2017 out injured. A good sprinter who can handle some hills, I think 2019 could be a belated break out year for him, he just needs some good luck. If the legs aren’t there yet, the team could turn to Warlop or Menten.

Baptiste Planckaert.

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His move to WT didn’t really work out for him and now the Belgian finds himself back at his old outfit. Will he be able to rekindle that 2016 magic? This is the exact type of race that he would have challenged in back then and I think he’ll be up there tomorrow. Possibly he won’t have the form to win, but he should be top 10.

Others to look out for that would have preferred the tougher profile are Hivert, Finetto and Eiking.

Prediction

Despite the still rolling and difficult parcours I think we’ll see a reduced sprint of around 50 riders or so. Timing will be critical in the monstrous head wind they’ll be cycling into along the finish straight so we could see a surprise result if some get it desperately wrong.

I’ll go with Amaury Capiot to take the day and start his 2019 season with a bang.

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Thanks as always for reading and I hope you enjoyed the preview; it’s not always about the WT races! Who do you think will win tomorrow and in what manner? Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

Women’s Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race 2019 Preview

In 2018 we saw the 3rd running of this event for the women and the first time it was a 1.1 level race, meaning a slightly more international field. An unpredictable race to call, in the three editions we’ve had a different race outcome every time; with 2016 being a solo win, 2017 a 5 rider sprint and 2018 a 20-strong bunch gallop.

It was Chloe Hosking who surprised many last year by making it over the Challambra Crescent climb with what remained of the peloton, before taking the win with relative ease after a dominant sprint.

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Gracie Elvin came away with second after her Mitchelton Scott team had done a lot to control things in those final 5 kilometres, while the now retired Giorgia Bronzini rounded out the podium in third.

Will Hosking be able to double up this year? First, let’s take a look at what is in store for the riders.

The Route

It seems the organisers are a fan of the “if it’s not broke, don’t fix it” analogy as we have the exact same route as last year.

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At just over 113km long, it isn’t exactly the longest race the women will face all season but given the Australian heat, some of the Europeans will be very happy about that. Saying that, it is meant to be slightly cooler over the weekend at only 27℃.

The opening 80km will act as almost a warm-up for the riders, but it will be the final 35km where we could see a potential race winning move go. The first place we might see shakeout is at 30km to go where the riders will be greeted by a small drag in the road. Fairly innocuous, averaging only 3.1% for 2.1km, it will be interesting to see how the riders attack it. Furthermore, as it is placed on a fairly open stretch of road, the wind direction and strength will also add another factor that has to be considered. Once over the top of that climb, the riders will have to contend with almost 10km of flat/slightly descending roads before the quick double climb into Ceres.

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Waste not want not, reusing last year’s images!

The first ramp is only 500m long but it averages 4.6%. A stinging attack here could certainly line out the bunch before a fast descent and the second, longer part of the climb begins. At 1.8km in distance and averaging 4.4%, it is tough enough for some of the stronger riders in the race to create some gaps. Who will be brave enough to go all in 16km from the finish?

If gaps are made, then they should be held or even extended with the short flat section before the road plummets all the way down for the next 4 kms as they approach Challambra.

There is a little 300m kicker (6%) which will disrupt their rhythm 600m or so before the start of Challambra itself.

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Not an easy climb as you can see, with it going up in various ramps. Not ideal for those who like to keep a steady pace and if a few riders attack this hard then we will no doubt see some fairly large time gaps at the top of it. From there, the road mainly heads downwards for the remaining 9km, albeit there is one last kick up and a chance for a climber to try to distance someone. That comes just after they cross the small bridge with the 800m section averaging 4%, but they do carry a lot of speed onto the rise from the descent so its impact is negated a little.

It is then a final few kilometres along the Geelong waterside before the dash to the line.

How will the race pan out?

As I’ve mentioned above, this is a very unpredictable race with three different outcomes since the first running of it. Was the sprint last year indicative of it what is to come with the upping of the races’ level, or was it more of an anomaly? I think more of the latter because if Stultiens, van Vleuten and Garfoot co-operated together there was a very good chance that they would have stayed away to the finish line. In fact, there was no chance they would have been caught.

Mitchelton Scott arrive here as the team to beat and they will want to make the race aggressive because they know from last year that Hosking can make the finish and they won’t want to risk bringing it down to a bunch gallop if they don’t have to. Obviously, everyone will be looking at them to make the race but they have a strong enough squad to put the other teams into difficulty. I think we’ll see them try to string things out and reduce the size of the group before they get to Challambra, but some of that will depend on if the wind is in their face or not – there’s no point going full gas into a block head wind. Looking at the forecast just now, it appears that there will be a slight tail wind on the run in past Ceres and into Geelong, so I’m expecting some attacks on the earlier rises and the race to be split there.

Having several riders in the front group will be important so the stronger teams will be at an advantage. If we do see splits before Challambra, this is who I expect to be up there in numbers:

Mitchelton – Spratt, Kennedy, Brown and Williams

Trek – Winder, Wiles and Longo Borghini

Tibco – Jackson and Stephens

I can’t see many other teams having a lot of riders at the head of the race and consequently it will be more difficult for them to win, especially if the teams with numerous riders are constantly pinging attacks off the front of the bunch. For the likes of Neylan, Moolman and Doebel-Hicock, it will be all about timing your effort and going with the right move.

Of course, there is a chance the race hasn’t fully split up by Challambra but it most definitely will by the top of that climb.

Prediction

There’s no point me even prolonging this much longer, I saw enough at the TDU to know who wins this – Amanda Spratt.

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Her level on Mengler’s Hill was just phenomenal and no one will be able to match her on Challambra, with team-mate Kennedy possibly her biggest rival. I think we’ll see Spratt cross the top of the climb with a 15 second gap on her competitors which will only be extended by them all being completely in the red on the flat few hundred metre section before the descent starts. With a couple of team-mates behind sand-bagging any attempted chase, she won’t be seen again until the finish.

Things will regroup behind though and we’ll see another 20 or so rider sprint to the line, with Hosking beating Lepistö for the final podium spots.

Coverage

We’ll get to see the race live and in full I think, with Channel 7 in Australia showing it on free to air television. I’m not too sure if it will be streamed online anywhere (Facebook etc, like the Crit was) or if you will need a VPN to access it. However, there will no doubt be a slightly less than legal stream of it somewhere so I’ll tweet it out when I find it.

Thanks as always for reading! Who do you think is going to win and in what manner? Will it be a return to winning ways here for Mitchelton Scott or will someone upset the party? Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.