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.

 

 

 

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Giro d’Italia 2018 Stage 10 Preview: Penne -> Gualdo Tadino

Rest Day Recap

On stage 9 we once again so the break caught close to the finish, although this time it was at 3km to go for Masnada who saw his hopes of a dream stage win dashed. It’s a shame as he was certainly the strongest in the move, he’ll get some more chances throughout this race though…

The GC battle therefore turned into a fight for the stage too. We saw a few digs from the riders, namely Ciccone who found himself off the front on two occasions after he decided to chill in the peloton with the big guys all day. Froome was dropped and sensing blood Pozzovivo lit it up at the front of the group, almost sprinting the final 500m. He distanced everyone aside from Yates, Pinot and Chaves who came round him, finishing in that order.

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The result means that the Mitchelton rider strengthens his GC lead: he’s currently 32 seconds ahead of team-mate Chaves, with Dumoulin a further 6 seconds behind in third. With plenty of racing still to go, it will be interesting to see how long he can hold the Maglia Rosa and what approach Mitchelton take.

Tomorrow’s stage should be a quiet one for them, but you never know who is going to go well after a rest day or not. Let’s have a look at what is in store for the riders.

The Route

A tough day out in the saddle with roughly 4000m of climbing which also happens to be this year’s longest stage at 239km.

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No doubt we’ll see plenty of pictures circulating around Twitter in the morning of guys warming up on the rollers beforehand as the toughest test of the day comes from the gun. There is a little climb followed by a quick drop down before the Cat-2 climb of Fonte della Creta begins at just 5.6km into the day.

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The climb averages just under 6% for 15.7km and will certainly be a rude awakening for some. Expect a fierce pace as a strong group tries to form the break of the day.

Once over the top though, that is the only major climb out-of-the-way for the stage. However, the climbing doesn’t stop and we have a parcours that is very similar to stage 4 where the road is just up or down. The Cat-4 climb of Annifo crests with 30kms still remaining but I’m not sure the 1km at 7% will scare anyone. It could be a nice place to launch an attack though.

The final 18km could see a very tactical battle as riders try to escape while others will want to hold it together.

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It looks flat on the official profile and while there may not be many hills to speak of, the short kickers will thin the bunch out if the pace is high.

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Considering the pretty technical final 1.5km, it appears the organisers do not think this will be a sprint finish. Speaking of which…

How will the stage pan out?

A battle between the break and the sprinters teams.

Given the tough climb at the start of the day we should see a group of strong guys make up the escape but with it being the aforementioned climb that a break most likely forms on, they aren’t exactly going to be the best baroudeurs for the remaining 200km. Luckily for them, there are plenty of small rises throughout the day where they can continue to put the hurt on.

Will we see the sprint squads want to set tempo all afternoon to try to bring it back?

No, is the simple answer!

I am ready and prepared to eat my hat but tomorrow is 100% a breakaway day. I’m intrigued to see how things play out in the final 30km with the “flatter” terrain. It will certainly help if your team has a couple of riders in the move and consequently I think we could see a group of 22 or something similar escape in the end.

Time to play everyone’s favourite game again, although if you follow me on Twitter, the next bit has already been spoiled for you!

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David De La Cruz.

Sky have been abysmal this race so far and with Froome very much sub-par at the moment I think they might try their hand at going for stages. The only issue with this idea is that they’ve only ever took this approach at the Giro once their leader has left the race, so with Froome still here, will they stubbornly stick to Plan A? Tomorrow is the acid test and I think De La Cruz offers them a good stage hunting option. He’s strong enough to make the break on the climb but he’s also fairly handy on the flat too. We’ve seen in Paris Nice that he has a good kick on him against climbers so he might not mind bringing it down to a very reduced sprint.

Fausto Masnada.

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A performance on stage 9 that won many hearts, Masnada is the gutsy type of rider who will go for it again at some point. We saw how strong he was the other day, dropping a lot of good break companions who had no match for his stinging acceleration and hard pace. I’m pretty sure Androni have made the break every day so far and I will be incredibly surprised not to see them in the move again tomorrow, in fact, we’ll probably see a couple of them there. If Masnada replicates the same performance then he will be a tough character to beat if he times his attack correctly!

Tanel Kangert.

Astana went all in on stage 9 for a Lopez victory but he fell short in the end. With that, I think we’ll see a few of their strong domestiques let of the leash tomorrow and the stage looks perfect for the likes of Sanchez and Kangert. Both are more than competent on the climbs and they can hold their own in the closing 30kms. Having the two of those guys there will make the rest of the break easy as they can launch vicious 1-2s until the move sticks. Kangert is slowly finding his form again after 2017 was ruled out due to injury. Can he rekindle that spark he had in 2016?

Krists Neilands.

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The rider who sparked Nibali’s Milano Sanremo raid, Neilands is a talented Latvian climber, come one-day rider. His 2018 has been a bit disappointing so far with a 7th place at GP Industria the only result to shout home about. However, he showed a lot of class last year to finish 10th on GC at the Volta a Portgual which is notoriously one of the toughest races of the year outside the Grand Tours. He’s obviously a talented guy! Israel Cycling Academy have been a bit disappointing so far and nowhere near as attacking as I thought they would be. That needs to change, otherwise their wildcard was a waste of time (and Israel’s money). Maybe Neilands has been saving it all for tomorrow?

Prediction

None of them will win though, instead we’ll see a flying Giulio Ciccone take the day.

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He nearly caused a bit of a shock on the last day of racing when he attacked out the GC group and got a bit of a gap. It was an impressive display of power as he went forward, Froome went back. That will certainly give the Bardiani man confidence! The stage departs from Penne tomorrow which is not too far away from Ciccone’s home town and we’ve seen in the past what that can do for motivation – take Visconti’s second place on stage 5 for example. He won Appennino from a three-up sprint, can he repeat the feat tomorrow? Looking back at the results from after the first rest day last year it was a time trial so there is not much to take from it, but guess who won in 2016 after the rest day? Yep, Ciccone!

Betting

Already tweeted out my selections the other day.

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Odds have shortened on them all, but most are backable at their current prices.

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

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

Vuelta a Andalucia 2018 GC Preview

A race that has been dominated by Alejandro Valverde in the past, he’s won 5 out of the last 6 editions, it was the same last year where he just pipped Alberto Contador to the title by one second.

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Thibaut Pinot was third at only 6 seconds back but with none of those riders here this week, we have a chance for a new winner.

First though, let’s look at what is in store for the riders over the week.

The Route

As I’ll be doing in-depth daily stage previews, this section will be a little truncated. All of the following profiles are thanks to @LasterketaBurua.

Stage 1.

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An interesting opening stage with a lot of climbing in the third quarter of the day. This could turn into a GC day but the likely outcome will be a reduced sprint of some kind.

Stage 2.

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Only the second day but we have the Queen stage of the race. At only 141km of racing the stage is short but it is filled with climbs. The finish up to Alto de Las Allandas could see some massive gaps. Those with a poor TT will have to go full gas here, it should be a great watch!

Stage 3.

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The only stage the should see a full bunch sprint but we do have a lack of quick-men here. Who will control the day?

Stage 4.

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A long day in the saddle but it is all about the final 1.5km; a short but steep ramp. Both the climbers and puncheurs will fancy it.

Stage 5.

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A TT to finish that has a 5km section of gravel that averages just over 2%. It should be one for the more traditional TT riders, but it is short enough for some surprise names to get in the mix. Will the GC title be decided on the final day?

With the stages briefly covered, let’s have a look at who might be challenging for the win at the end of the week.

But first…

The Elephant in the Room

This is Froome’s first race after his AAF was announced/leaked. Now, the decision to have him race is one that divides opinion amongst cycling fans but I’m fairly certain you will all know what side of the argument I am on. It will be interesting to see how he and Sky approach the race. Will they take it easy and hope to slip under the radar (well, as much as they can) or will they continue on as if nothing has happened?

Either way, there is no way that they can come out of this one, ahem, cleanly.

If Froome takes it easy then the accusations will fly suggesting that he needed medication to go well etc. Whereas if he goes full gas and features at the head of the race then a lot of people will take offence as to the audacity of the team considering all that is going on at the moment. They are stuck between the proverbial rock and a hard place.

It will also be interesting to see how the riders in the peloton treat him. Will he be given the same respect as before?

No doubt the Brit will still have his fans that will cheer him on. In fact, I would suggest that they’ve become even more fanatical since the AAF finding so we can expect them to be vocal no matter what.

The voices of dissent will be as vocal as the cheers this week but I just hope no-one does anything stupid out on the road to take the situation into their own hands. Cycling’s image is already being made a mockery of, we don’t need stories of piss being thrown at him etc.

Personally I don’t think Froome will feature here. He’s essentially completed an extra Grand Tour while in South Africa as they attempt to recreate the situation and find a scientific reason as to why his salbutamol levels were so high. Surely he is spent after it all? Plus, I don’t think Sky can risk the outrage if he does win until the case/investigation is over. If he does, then it is a big “fuck you” to the sport.

So with that said, I’m going to discount him for this race. Let’s have a look at who else might compete though!

(Again though, this all opinion and shouldn’t be taken as fact. Plz don’t sue. I’m poor. 😐)

Contenders

Mikel Landa.

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Starting his first race for Movistar he’ll want to get his season up and running with a good result. On paper this looks ideal for the Spanish climber. He’ll love the steep and relentless finish on Stage 2 and he should be able to put in a solid time in the time trial. In fact, he should be the class act of the race but with his form being so unknown he could well win it or come home in 20th.

Jakob Fuglsang.

A rider that we do know the form of, the Astana man has started the season well with a 3rd place on GC in Valenciana. He followed that up with a solid 6th place in Murcia at the weekend. Astana have a very strong team here and they’ll hope to have a few guys near the head of the race in the important stages. Numbers could be crucial.

Luis Leon Sanchez.

The second Astana candidate for the race win, the Spaniard has started the European season in sensational form. After returning from the Tour Down Under where he finished a respectable 8th on GC, he’s since went on to finish second behind Valverde in Valenciana and then beat him in Murcia at the weekend. A strong TTer, he should have an advantage over some competitors in that stage and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him go well on some of the steep ramps, he did well in Valenciana on similar terrain.

De La Cruz / Poels.

With Froome taking this one easy (see my reasoning above) then Sky will turn to other riders for success. I’m not sure how either of them will go here though as their crack squad in Valenciana was extremely disappointing. Was it just a slow start to the season or is no-one in form yet as they all secretly want to lead at the Tour…I think it is too tough for De La Cruz to win GC, but if Poels has upped his game since a poor Valenciana then he of course is a contender for the win. We’ll find out on stage 2 where he is at!

Steven Kruijswijk.

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After pulling out of the Giro last year the Dutchman finished the season with a 9th place in the Vuelta. A rider who never really starts the season well I am intrigued to see if that changes this season given he is hoping to go to the Tour. On his day he can climb with the best and he can produce a good time against the clock. Yet, I don’t think he’ll be up and running yet so a top 10 would be a solid result.

Ben Hermans.

With three top 10s already in 2018, the Israel Academy rider will hope for a similar, if not better, result here. Juxtaposed to Kruijswijk, Hermans is a rider who normally does start his season well. I wouldn’t have him down as one of the best climbers here but given form is important at the start of the year he could surprise just like he did on the Green Mountain last season.

Amaro Antunes.

One of my favourite riders from 2017, it was great to see his season rewarded with a step up in level to ProConti with CCC. An explosive climber he’ll like the steep ramps that we have on a couple of the stages. In this field, he will fancy his chances to go well on those days. His TT definitely needs some work but his team have improved in the discipline over the past half a year, so I’m intrigued to see if it has had a positive effect on Antunes over the winter. Another top 10 on GC like Valenciana is certainly a possibility.

Prediction

Form is King early in the year so I have to go with Luis Leon Sanchez as the winner here.

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Part of the strongest team, he and Fuglsang should be at the head of the race on the toughest stages and that will be of massive benefit to them. Sanchez has looked the strongest on the climbs in the previous races so it will take a lot for someone to drop him. Furthermore, he possesses a strong TT which could see him seal the win on the closing day.

No odds are out as of yet but I might back him depending on the price.

Thanks as always for reading! Who do you think will win the GC? I’ll be back later this evening with my stage 1 preview. Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

Vuelta a España 2017 Stage 8 Preview; Hellín -> Xorret de Catí

Today’s Recap

So once again the break made it all the way to the line.

This time it was former Junior and U23 World Champion Matej Mohoric who attacked and solo-ed to victory. It is great to see him confirming some of his potential at World Tour level. I can’t wait to see what he’ll do now that he can focus on his cycling full-time, after finishing his studies!

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Behind, Poljanski sprinted to his second place in the same amount of days, with Rojas taking third.

Will the breakaway prosper again tomorrow? Let’s have a look at the route.

The Route

The riders will once again have a long day in the saddle tomorrow, but this time the stage just falls short of the 200km mark.

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At 2230m of elevation gain, it is what at the Vuelta can be regarded as a “flat” stage. Well, the first half anyway.

The road drags upwards in the first 35km or so, but nothing too serious. I am intrigued to see how the peloton manages to cope with that sheer drop though!

A long gradual descent then follows before we have two cat-3s once over the 100km into the day mark.

They aren’t of any serious worry for the peloton with both of them averaging under 4% for their duration (6.1km and 7km respectively). An uncategorised climb then follows which is very similar in length and gradient to the two Cat-3s.

This is all a prelude though to final 8km of the day.

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We’re treated to the famous Xorret de Catí climb!

According to the roadbook it is 5km at 9%, but it is actually 4km at 10.93% with a maximum gradient of 22%. It certainly is going to hurt.

The last time we’ve seen it used in a race was back in the 2016 Volta a la Communitat Valenciana, where Wout Poels won the stage.

The Dutchman flew up the climb that day, taking almost 30 seconds out of his rivals.

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Credit to @ammattipyöräily for the image above!

Will we see anyone beat his time? Given the way that some of the GC riders have been going on the short 12-minute climbs recently then I think it is bound to happen and a sub 13-minute time is well within reach.

I mean, they climbed Santa Lucia in 8’53 and that was 3.1km at 9.8%, with a +7w/kg power output! (Thanks to @faustocoppi60 for the stats)

The top of the climb is not the end of the stage though, with the riders having to face a couple of kilometres of descent.

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There are some sweeping technical turns in the closing kilometre that could cause some issues if there are riders coming home together.

How will the stage pan out?

After several breakaway wins in a row, I think tomorrow will once mark the return of the GC contenders fighting out for the stage win.

Sky seem keen to keep the race on a manageable leash, offering up the chance for other teams to help with the chase. No one has taken it up the past few stages. However, if they do that tomorrow then I think we’ll see Trek come to the party. Contador and his team-mates were keen to cause some damage on Stage 6 and I think they’ll adopt the same attitude tomorrow.

I’m not convinced with Contador’s ability on the longer climbs at the moment due to his poor performance on stage 3. He’ll hope to get better as the race goes on but tomorrow’s 4km effort looks great for him, and it gives him the opportunity to go for bonus seconds too.

Contenders

Short and steep, we have two rough form guides for this type of finale; Stage 5 finish and the last climb on Stage 6.

I would lean more towards Stage 5 being more relevant though as all GC guys were together and there were no crashes etc to disrupt the pace.

Contador.

He “won” that climb out of the GC favourites and looked relatively comfortable on the bike. Well, compared to Froome anyway. Although that doesn’t take much! Clearly flying in his last Vuelta, this type of finish looks great for him. I wonder if he’ll do the whole climb out of the saddle?! Given his punch, it would be very surprising not to see him finish on the podium.

Froome.

Our current GC leader has seemed strong this race and seems harder to beat than he was at the Tour. It is hard to tell how he really is going though due to his ragged style which makes him look a mess on the bike, but he hasn’t missed a beat yet. First over the first serious climb of the race, and following every move since; he should be there in the thick of the action tomorrow. Will he surge on and take a stage win along with it? Possibly!

Woods.

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One of the stand-out performers in the race so far, he excels on these short climbs of 4km or so. Following Contador on Stage 5 was a good sign for him and he should be there or thereabouts again. Possibly not considered a massive GC threat, there is a chance he might be given some leeway because of it and take the stage as a result.

Chaves.

The last of the 4 riders to follow on Stage 5, he seemed to be the one struggling the most. However, he looked good in the opening GC battle so who really knows with him! Being a smaller guy in theory should help on the steep ramps, but will it translate into a result the end of the day?

Those were the top 4 guys on Stage 5, will anyone else compete?

Aru could be up there if we see the sprightly form he had at the Tour on these types of climbs. A real hot or cold rider at times, it is hard to tell where is at in terms of performance level at the moment!

De La Cruz has impressed me so far this race but he was a bit “meh” on that Stage 5 finish. Unlucky to have fallen on Stage 6, I think he could surprise tomorrow. In Burgos he the only guy who could stay somewhat close to a flying Landa on the Picon Blanco stage. I have high hopes for him!

Van Garderen seems in the best shape I have seen him for a while! Terribly unlucky to crash on stage 6 after sticking with the Froome/Contador attacks on the climb. It was amazing that he limited his losses so much in the end. Today he was up near the front on the final kicker and I think his wounds are only superficial. Should be in or around the top 5.

Vuelta Picks

Safe Pick – Contador

Got to go a GC guy for a day like this and the Spaniard has looked sprightly so far this race. Might struggle on the big climbs so use him now!

Wongshot Pick – Any Break rider

There is of course a chance the break could go all the way so pull a name from the hat, as Wong would do. It of course could be a tactical move to almost waste a pick today so to save a GC rider for later in the race. Like me, you may want to target the KOM competition so think about saving them for that.

Lanterne Rouge Pick – Jelle Wallays

Poor Jelle has had no luck so far and he’ll continue to suffer tomorrow.

Prediction

Bit left field this one, but I’ll go for a De La Cruz win!

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His result on Picon Blanco seriously impressed me and I think he’ll deliver another big performance tomorrow. Possibly benefiting from not appearing a massive threat overall, he could sneak away and hold on. He’s a great descender too so that could be of a massive benefit to him. Will his new employers allow it?

Betting

Keeping it simple;

1pt EW De La Cruz @ 66/1 (Would take 50s)

Thanks as always for reading! Who do you think will win tomorrow? Will the break hold on, again?! Or will we see a big GC showdown? Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

Tour of Oman 2017 GC Preview

Tour of Oman 2017 GC Preview

Now in its 8th incarnation, the Tour of Oman has cemented itself as the toughest stage race in the Middle East. Well, in my opinion anyway! With a good mix of stages for the sprinters, classics guys and GC men, the race itself usually attracts a very strong start list and that’s no different this year.

The 2016 edition was won by Vincenzo Nibali, after a strong showing on the Green Mountain. With Romain Bardet and team-mate Jakob Fuglsang rounding out the podium.

Tour of Oman 2016

This year, the order of the stages has changed ever so slightly, but the parcours remains the same. Let’s have a look!

The Route

Stage 1 should see a sprint at the end of the day and we’ll probably have a battle between Kristoff and Boonen for the first leader’s jersey of the race.

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Stage 2 and a return to the very exciting opening stage we had last year.

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The climb of Al Jissah is 2.5km long at 8%. It is potentially tough enough to create some gaps, but the best climbers here last year matched each other quite well. Instead, it was the downhill run to the line that saw Bob Jungels power away from everyone and take the win.

Stage 3 and a hill-top finish.

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At 2.5km long with an average gradient of 6.9%, it is possible for some of the punchy classics riders to hold on. This was evident last year with Boasson Hagen winning the stage and Van Avermaet finishing in third, with Nibali wedged in between them!

Stage 4 and another opportunity for the punchy classics riders.

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It used to be 4 ascents of the Bousher Al Amerat climb, however, this was changed to 3 last year to try to give the sprinters more of a chance. That didn’t go to plan, as Kristoff finished over a minute down on stage winner Boasson Hagen. Although Gerald Ciolek did finish in 6th, so it is possible!

Stage 5 and the now traditional Queen stage finish up Jabal Al Akhdar or Green Mountain as it’s otherwise known as.

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This finish is tough! Steep gradients combined with warm (not ridiculously hot, but warm for this time of year) weather normally makes this a real slog for the riders.

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Last year they finished further up the climb, however they’ve returned the finish line to its original position for this year’s race. The winner of this stage normally takes the GC title.

Stage 6 and one stage for the sprinters to finish off the Tour.

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GC Contenders

With the tough finishing climb on Stage 5 it is safe to say that the GC should be won by a very solid climber. Last year, Boasson Hagen managed to win 2 stages and finish 10th on the Green Mountain, but that was only enough to finish 6th overall; a minute down on race winner Nibali. There is the possibility that we could see some gaps before the Queen stage if attacks on stages 2/3/4 aren’t marked by the main contenders.

It’s also very hard to know where riders form is at this current moment. Are they looking to ease themselves into the season? Or do they want to start off strong? Nonetheless…

Astana come here with a strong team; Aru, Fuglsang and Kangert are all capable of leading here. With Fuglsang aiming for a good GC at the Tour this year, I can’t see him going incredibly well here. He does have the advantage of racing in his legs already though, with a 6th place on GC at Valenciana. Will that be enough to win here?! Aru had a fairly poor 2016, but I expect him to be much better this year. Saying that, he never starts the season in scintillating form, often taking a race to get going. He’s been preparing at altitude along with Kangert, so in theory he should be able to cope with the elevation of Green Mountain. Although I imagine the temperature difference between Oman and Sierra Nevada will be quite big! Kangert is certainly a dark-horse for this race.

Romain Bardet will be hoping to go one better than his second place last year. He started off strongly here before having his best season to date. The climb up Green Mountain is good for him, and with is descending skills he may try to take advantage on Stages 2 and 4. Has he arrived here in good condition? If so, a win is certainly achievable!

Ben Hermans finished 2nd at the recent Volta a la Comunnitat Valenciana, behind an exceptionally strong Nairo Quintana. His performance on the Queen Stage there wasn’t mesmerising, just solid. Saying that, he did finish 6 seconds ahead of Fuglsang so will be confident coming up against him here. The slightly less severe gradients in Oman should suit him more than the ones he faced in Spain. A top 5 will be his minimum aim.

After his exceptional win on Stage 1 last year, Bob Jungels slowly drifted down the GC standings, ending up in 23rd place. However, he later went on to shine at the Giro d’Italia, finishing an exceptional 6th on GC. Having already raced in Dubai so far this year and doing monster turns on the front of the peloton there, he could well be given the chance to test his climbing legs here. If not, Quick Step may turn to David De La Cruz as their leader.

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Rui Costa claimed the win on the Queen Stage at the Vuelta San Juan back in January, with an impressive climbing display. Fifth on GC here last year, the parcours certainly seems to suit him and if he’s continued that climbing form then he has a real chance to get on the podium.

Dimension Data will have two, even three (Lachlan Morton), potential leaders with them in Oman. After a great Tour Down Under, Nathan Haas, will be looking to continue that fine form at this race. On paper, Green Mountain is too tough for him but he showed at the TdU he can spring a surprise on a tough climb. He stops racing for over a month after Oman has finished. Will he go out with a bang or peter out? I’m leaning more towards the latter as the Green Mountain really is on his on limits. Therefore, I think it will be Merhawi Kudus leading the team. Still only young, the Eritrean put in a great performance in Valenciana last week, finishing 2nd on the Queen Stage behind Quintana. Sixth on Green Mountain here last year, he’ll need to stop losing time on the “easier” stages to contend for a GC podium but that’s certainly possible!

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Other riders who could make the top 10 are; Rein Taaramäe, Janier Acevedo and Daniel Diaz.

Prediction

Bardet and the Astana boys will be tough to beat but I really liked the way Rui Costa was climbing in San Juan. His team UAE Abu Dhabi have started the season off strong and I expect that to continue. They’ll obviously want to go well in Abu Dhabi itself later in the month, but winning here would be a good starting point!

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Merhawi Kudus to sneak onto the podium too!

Betting

As of now, no bet. Costa and Kudus are remarkably short, was hoping something closer to 10/1 for Rui and 33/1 for Kudus. If we get those prices elsewhere then it might be worth a dabble!

Thanks for reading and any feedback is greatly appreciated as always! Who do you think will win GC? Any outsiders with a chance? Unfortunately I won’t have daily previews of this race out as I’ll be covering Algarve and Del Sol too so some race has to miss out. Oman’s lack of live TV coverage really letting it down! I will try to maybe do twitter mini-previews for the stages but there will be nothing more than that. Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth

 

Vuelta Stage 11 Preview: Colunga -> Peña Cabarga

Rest-Day Recap

Stage 10 finally saw a GC win, and it was Quintana who took the spoils on the day. He rode the final climb excellently. It was a very dominant performance and he looks back to his best! nairo-quintana-vuelta-a-espana-stage-10_3775273

Froome did exactly what he did in ’14 and rode his own pace, slowly picking off the guys who tried to follow Quintana. It was damage limitation for the Brit who ended up losing 25 seconds to the Colombian. Consequently, it leaves the top 10 looking like this going into today’s rest-day.

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Other impressive displays were from Gesink and Fraile, who managed to stick with the GC guys, finishing 2nd and 4th respectively. It will give them confidence for breakaway days to come!

Moving on to tomorrow’s stage.

The Route

Another typical stage of this Vuelta with not that much to talk about. A fairly flat start, followed by a mountain top finish.

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Like a few of the stages gone by, this is all about the final climb, and it’s another tough one!

The road book is good enough again, but there is a Strava segment you can view here if you wish.

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As you can see in the image above, it’s awfully steep with a 9.8% average gradient. However, this again doesn’t highlight the severity of the climbing sections as there is a 500m period of flat/shallow descent just over half way up the mountain. Taking away this section, the average gradient would be 10.8%. It’ll be a real grind, even for the best climbers in the peloton!

That’s all there is to mention about the stage, so that leaves us with the question…

How will the stage pan out?

Nobody is ever confident of how they will react after a rest-day. Some riders come out of the gates flying whereas others seem to struggle. With no climbs of note before tomorrow’s final challenge, the riders don’t really have a chance to test their legs during the stage. Some might not go as well as they hoped!

Anyway, we’re left with the classic question of: break or no break?

With Movistar commanding a dominant 1-2 on GC and with a stage win already, there is an incredibly high chance that they won’t chase very hard tomorrow. Instead, they’ll focus on saving their riders legs for the final climb and stages to come. The only other rider who looks set to challenge Quintana is Froome. He’s looked good, but not great. I’m not so sure how confident Sky will be of him beating Quintana and they very unlikely to waste resources to chase the break all day.

So once again, it looks as if we’ll get a breakaway win again. It will be another frantic start to the day as everyone tries to make the move. I wouldn’t be surprised if the break doesn’t go until 40km again!

Break Contenders

In a slight change to normal, I’m going to name 4 riders this time round!

Jean-Christophe Peraud.

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The veteran Frenchman has had a pretty abysmal final year on the road after crashing out of the Giro. However, he slowly seems to be finding his feet here at the Vuelta, finishing 12th on yesterday’s very tough stage. Far enough behind on GC at just over 6 minutes he should be given freedom by Movistar. A danger-man if he gets into the move.

Kenny Elissonde.

The diminutive FDJ rider had been riding well during this race, but didn’t seem to have the legs on stage 12. In an interview (view here) he says that he was caught behind crashes at the start of the stage and that cost him energy, so didn’t feel as strong at the end of the stage. Although disappointed, his focus now switches to stage hunting. He’s a pure climber, and tomorrow’s finale looks great for him. If he’s recovered from his off day then he could well take the stage.

Matvey Mamykin.

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Stage winner and 3rd on GC at last year’s Tour de l’Avenir, Mamykin has had a solid start to his first ever Grand Tour but hasn’t featured at the business end of any stages yet. He’s made a few interesting although fruitless attacks off the front of the peloton. A rider that a lot of the peloton won’t be familiar with, it would be unwise to give him a lot of time on the climb!

Pierre Latour.

The third Frenchman and second AG2R rider on the list, he came into the Vuelta with a lot of hope and an outside chance of a top 10. However, he’s now slipped down to 24th on GC and over 7 minutes behind Quintana. Coming into this race off of the back of a 3rd place at the Tour de l’Ain, he was clearly in good form. I doubt that he’ll be targeting a good GC placing anymore and will switch focus to stage hunting, like the others listed above. Tomorrow could well be that day.

GC Battle Behind

This stage is tough enough to create some GC gaps. Quintana doesn’t seem confident of holding off Froome later on in the race because of the long time trial. Instead, he suggests that he’ll need 3 minutes to be safe. Now, I think that required margin is a bit on the large side, but Quintana certainly won’t be riding defensively tomorrow. Froome normally goes well on the following stage after a rest-day, so the Colombian won’t have it all his way. I expect those two to be able to distance the rest of the field, I’m just not sure if they’ll distance each other!

Prediction

The break wins as no-one will chase hard behind and again we’ll get a race on two fronts.

I’ll go with Elissonde for the stage win. He won atop the famously steep Angliru back in 2013 and this climb suits his characteristics very well!

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Betting

0.4pt WIN Elissonde @50/1 Betfair or WH (I’d take 40s)

0.2pt WIN Peraud @ 150/1 widely available (I’d take 100s)

0.2pt WIN Mamykin @ 150/1 with PP (I’d take the 66s with others if you have to)

0.2pt WIN Latour @125/1 with PP (I’d take 100s)

Changing my approach slightly and moving shift more to H2H.

De La Cruz to beat Atapuma at 6/4 with PP. Betfair offering it at 5/4, B365 & WH go 6/5. I’d say it’s value down to evens.

DLC has beaten Atapuma 3:0 on the stages where they’ve both approached the final climb in the peloton. Atapuma is further down on GC (5mins back) and could possibly go in the break (which would be typical), but at 6/4 I’m willing to take the risk considering the price should be the other way round on a normal day.

4pts.

*Annoyingly, it was 7/4 but I placed my own bet and Betfair cut their price to 5/4. Spoilsports 😦 *

Hope you all enjoyed the preview and thanks for reading! Do you think it will be another break day and if so, who’s your favourite? It will be another day of waiting for the break to form, seeing if your rider is in it, then waiting for the action to unfold on the final climb! As usual, any feedback is greatly appreciated. Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.