Vuelta a España 2017 Stage 2 Preview; Nîmes -> Gruissan

Today’s Recap

I should never have doubted them, should I?!

BMC win yet another TTT, being the only team to best the 16 minute mark.

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Dennis was the first man across the line so he is the first rider in the leader’s jersey of the race.

With a sprint finish likely tomorrow, there is a good chance he will hold onto it for a few days.

Let’s have a look at what’s in store for the riders.

The Route

A flat jaunt along the Mediterranean coastline, with a little change of direction inland before turning back towards the sea for the finish in Gruissan.

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In terms of altimetry, there is nothing much to talk about at all. The highest peak of the day is just over 40m above sea level…

It could be a fairly benign day, but the finish could cause a surprise or two.

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They will tackle a roundabout at 2.5km to go, taking the sharp left.

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Said sweeping roundabout. The riders will have to knock a little bit of speed through it and it will certainly stretch out the peloton.

Will a team then have enough firepower to keep the pace high over the next 2 kilometres? If not, there could be a lot of jostling for position with things getting scrappy.

Especially when the road narrows at ~1km to go as the riders head off the main road and towards the town.

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The slip-road only lasts for 150m or so but it will certainly be a point some of the teams will be racing for. It is much more realistic for a team to control it from there to the finish with a few riders.

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It wouldn’t be the Vuelta without some type of “challenge” in the final kilometre. Tomorrow’s is a roundabout with roughly 350m to go. It’s not too tight, but the riders won’t be able to smooth out the corner completely.

Having one man peeling off just out of the roundabout and leaving the “pilot fish” with the sprinter is the ideal tactic here. Can anyone pull it off?

Weather Watch

We spend a lot of the day travelling parallel to the coast line so of course I have to mention the prospect of crosswinds.

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Although oddly enough, the wind isn’t coming from the sea. Instead, it comes from in-land and pushing towards the coast.

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That makes it less likely for echelons early on in the day but not improbable. There are some exposed sections as we head in land though, such as this part of the D-37 as we head towards Sérignan.

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At around 80km to go, is it too early for a team to try to split it?

They will turn more into a cross-head-wind afterwards so a lot of the riders might not fancy it. But the wind direction is pretty organic, much like the teams attitudes towards crosswinds. If they sense a chance to push it, I’m sure some will try!

If we do see splits then those dropped will hope that the wind direction becomes more of a headwind to deter the teams pushing on. It will be a race to the 30km to go banner in that case as once the riders turn to home, they’ll have a stonkingly big tailwind for the remainder of the day. Anyone gapped will find it difficult to get back.

So do I think we’ll see echelons? I’m hopeful, but not overly confident.

Sprinters

We don’t exactly have a long list of guys here and a the majority of them don’t have much help. Things could be messy…

Degenkolb.

On paper he is the most experienced/best sprinter here but he hasn’t raced since the Tour. Rolling home today makes me think that he still might be finding his legs and tomorrow’s long stage could be a struggle for him this early on. Of course, he could have been conserving energy after giving his all in the first part of the TTT but the signs aren’t good.

Theuns.

If Degenkolb isn’t sprinting then Theuns will be Trek’s main man. Full of confidence after his first World Tour win at the BinckBank Tour, he looked lightning quick then. He is off to a new team so there could be some tension within his current squad but as professionals I wouldn’t expect that to play too big a part. With a lot of helpers for Contador, whoever sprints for Trek will most likely only be able to rely on De Koert and possibly Pantano. A late charge to the front à la Lampre of old?!

Cort Nielsen.

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A double stage winner last year, he certainly enjoyed his first Grand Tour. Fast after a tough, long day, tomorrow’s stage looks good for him and I’m sure he’ll be hoping for crosswinds to reduce the bunch. Although maybe he won’t, as he is supposedly on team help duty before getting his own opportunity if the Orica GC riders are safe within the last 10km. It will be interesting to see how it plays out for him with no lead-out.

Modolo – Won a sprint in Poland but DNF’d that race. He is a really hit or miss rider so who knows how he’ll go tomorrow!

Trentin – He’ll more than likely be QS rider of choice for tomorrow. If they dedicate a lead-out to him then they have a fairly strong team with several strong rouleurs to push things on for him. Looking strong lately, I think he has a good chance of a result.

Blythe – The Brit will be hoping for echelons tomorrow to reduce his opposition. A good classics rider, he should make the first split if he’s being attentive and will fancy his chances in a reduced bunch. He could struggle in a big bunch gallop though, but with it being messy he could seize the opportunity.

Lobato – Seems to be finding form again but this pure flat sprint isn’t great for him. Almost guaranteed to be dropped if the wind picks up.

Van Genechten – Just a bit of a “meh” sprinter and typifies this field we have here. Will struggle to repeat his win from last season.

Debuscherre – Will be praying for echelons as he seems to have lost his way as a big bunch sprinter this year. That lack of confidence won’t help in the slightly sketchy finish.

Schwarzmann – Arguably has one of the strongest sprint lead-outs here in terms of pure power. Often a lead-out man himself, will he grasp his opportunity to shine?

Vuelta Picks

Safe Pick – Cort.

It’s tough to choose a “safe” pick for this stage as anything could happen out on the road with possible echelons and a messy sprint. Not knowing which of the Trek riders will be sprinting, it is wise to avoid them, although I would lean towards Theuns. Cort should be sprinting and as one of the fastest here he should guarantee a top 5.

Wongshot Pick – Theuns.

On form he is arguably the fastest rider here, it just depends if he sprints or not. Hence why he is the wongshot.

Lanterne Rouge Pick – Zurlo.

Fell today so he might be tasked with doing some work early on for Modolo and roll home at the end of the day.

Prediction

Trek to take advantage of Theuns is great form just now, letting him sprint, with the Belgian duly delivering!

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Betting

1pt EW Theuns @ 22/1 with Bet365 (would take 14/1 lowest – others might actually price up higher later on)

Also for a bit of fun I’ve doubled that up Sam Bennett for the Cyclassics at 528/1…

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

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

Tour de Pologne 2017 Stage 1 Preview; Kraków -> Kraków

GC Thoughts

As I don’t have enough time to do a full GC preview I thought I’d include them at the start of this preview.

Last year we saw Tim Wellens secure the overall title in absolutely horrendous conditions on Stage 5.

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He won that stage by almost 4 minutes and it highlights how bad the weather can get in the region. There is some rain forecast for this week but it changes severity and when/where it will fall every day so there is no point looking too far ahead.

As for the stages themselves, it will be stages 3, 6 and 7 that decide GC. Although it will mainly be 6 and 7. Stage 6 is almost a carbon copy of the stage Wellens won last year, with Stage 7 very similar to the day that was cancelled last year due to the weather.

The bookmakers have made Sagan their favourite, which is hilarious. I know that we will most likely see Tour Sagan here,  meaning that he can climb better than Spring Sagan, but the final two days will be too tough for him, even with the bonus seconds he should get. They’re proper GC days.

However, calling an actual winner of the race will be tough. Riders arrive all over the place in terms of form and looking towards the end of the season. We have no real dominant teams with stand-out riders so to speak, and most squads have a couple of guys who could theoretically challenge. Therefore, I’m hoping that we see some aggressive and unpredictable racing over the coming week!

As for a name to throw into the hat, I think Jan Hirt could go well here. With a breakthrough performance at the Tour of Croatia, swiftly followed up by an even more outstanding 12th on GC at the Giro, he really is having the best season of his career so far. Riding for Polish Pro-conti team CCC Sprandi Polkowice, I imagine they’ll have targeted this race to go well at. Looking at their squad, Hirt looks like the rider best suited for a GC push and if he picks up where he left off at the Giro, he is a dark horse here.

Enough of me throwing about wild outsiders for the overall, let’s have a look at what’s in store for the opening day of racing

The Route

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You might be tricked into thinking that tomorrow is a day that wouldn’t look out-of-place in the Ardennes. However, once you realise that they Y-axis is completely messed up then you’ll realise it is a straight forward sprinters stage!

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Like I have done for throughout the Tour of Poland, I have made a profile of the opening stage. (The one you see above).

It is almost pan-flat throughout the day with very little to worry the sprinters. The only thing that might cause them some concern is the little 6.7% kicker in the closing circuit, but I mean that is really stretching things as it only lasts for 135m!

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The closing circuit itself is very straightforward with only a few tight turns. Once the riders pass under the Flamme Rouge it is a straight run in to the line. There is one traffic island that splits the road briefly at ~800m to go but that is all there is by means of difficulties for the riders.

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We should see a really fast sprint and a big fight for position between the lead-outs. Unfortunately, this could lead to a crash as it often seems to be on the most simple run-ins that riders come into difficulty.

Sprint Contenders – A Two Horse Race?

Ewan.

The Aussie pocket rocket starts as the bookmakers favourite and I can understand why. A flat stage with a criterium style finish sounds right up the Orica riders street. He’s proven himself to be one of the fastest sprinters in the world on these types of finishes and in a lacklustre field he will fancy his chances. Having Mezgec as last man for him could be crucial.

Sagan.

Bitterly disappointed to be kicked out of the Tour, he will no doubt be here with a point to prove. With his season’s goals now shifted ever so slightly; I wouldn’t be surprised if we see him go to the Vuelta. This race will be ideal for him to keep his legs ticking over. He was flying in the pure sprints at the Tour de Suisse and I see no reason for that to be any different here. He’ll be Ewan’s biggest rival.

Away from those two we have several riders who will be hoping to challenge for the podium and with a bit of luck, possibly sneak the win. I won’t talk much about them as I don’t really know what to expect after most of them not having raced for a while.

Modolo.

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Has shown a lot of promise this year, including a fairly strong cobbled campaign. God-awful at the Giro (I’ll blame myself for that one), he bounced back fairly strongly to win d’Argovie, yet he was trounced by Sagan in Suisse. I think the latter might happen again.

Bonifazio – A hot and cold sprinter. Sometimes seems like he could be the next big thing, but more often than not is out of position and finishes fast.

Van Poppel – Hasn’t really had an opportunity to shine at Sky this season but on his day he has a good turn of speed.

Walscheid – Has taken 5 pro sprint wins in his career, all of which were at Hainan last year. Can he make the step up at World Tour level? In this field he has a chance.

Sbaragli – Would prefer something tougher but the Dimension Data rider has one of the best lead-outs here. Will that be enough to see him onto the podium?

Debuscherre – Not really taken the step forwards that I had hoped this season. A fast rider on his day, he doesn’t have much support so will have to freewheel.

Minali – Fast young Italian sprinter who should enjoy the pan-flat nature of the route. Could surprise like he did at the start of the season.

Prediction

Two horse race and going purely off of form, I have to give this one to Sagan!

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He was on another level in Suisse and who knows what he could have done at the Tour. After losing out to Ewan in January, he’ll want to remind him and everyone that’s watching of how fast he is!

Betting

GC wise I’m going to have a small one on;

Hirt 0.25pt EW @ 150/1 with various.

Stage 1;

2.5pts WIN Sagan @ 3/1 with SkyBet. (Would take 11/4 with others)

 

Thanks as always for reading. Who do you think will win tomorrow and the race overall? If you haven’t already, please do check out my Ride London Classique and San Sebastian previews that are on the site already. Thanks! Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

Dwars Door Vlaanderen 2017 Preview

Dwars Door Vlaanderen 2017 Preview

The 72nd edition of this race returns tomorrow and marks the start of the run up to the Tour of Flanders a week on Sunday. Dwars Door often provides exciting racing and the route is finely balanced between a small bunch sprint or a group of strong men making it to the line. Plus it’s midweek Belgian cobbled racing! Who doesn’t like midweek Belgian cobbled racing?!

Last year saw a prematurely celebrating Coquard beaten to the line by Debuscherre, with Theuns rounding out the podium.

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That was one of the larger bunch sprints for a while but still only 34 riders crossed the line in that front group. It gives you an idea of how tough and attritional this race can be!

Let’s have a look at what’s in store for the riders in 2017.

The Route

Much the same as the route we’ve had the past few years, apart from an 800m cobbled section has been added around 7km from the finish line.

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Profile once again by @LasterketaBurua.

An easy start to the day, the second half of the route is pretty challenging. There is either a hill or some cobbles to traverse roughly every 10 kilometres from 90km to go until the finish. This makes it a battle of attrition at times, and is why we often don’t see a bunch sprint into Waregem.

Several of the famous cobbled climbs are raced over here, such as; the Taiienberg; the Oude Kwaremont; and the Paterberg. It is these famous stretches of road that can tear the peloton in to bits and help a group of strong riders escape.

Once through the Varent cobbled section at roughly 23km to go, the chase could well be on from the remnants of the peloton but only if there are enough teams interested in bringing a break back and if they cooperate together.

The run in to the line is fairly simple with only a few roundabouts to negotiate.

One factor that often can play a massive part on this race is the…

Weather

The riders I’m sure, well apart from the Belgians, will be happy to know it looks as if it won’t rain during the day. Even if it does, it should only be a sprinkling! Much to the viewers disappointment.

However, it does look as if we will get reasonably strong winds. Now that’s more promising and what I like to hear!

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Forecast for Wevelgem. Source: Wunderground.

25km/h crosswinds aren’t crazily strong, but they are enough to cause splits and echelons in the peloton if the pressure is on. Here’s hoping!

 How will the race pan out?

I think we’ll see a more attacking race than we got last year and the day won’t come down to a 40 rider sprint.

The reason I say this is similar to my reasoning for an attacking MSR; so many of the puncheurs and cobbled riders seem to be in form at the moment and going very strongly. Most teams arrive with sprint and attacking options, so I think it’s very unlikely that we’ll just see them settle for a nice-group ride and a sprint to the line.

However, this all depends on the composition of the group that makes it up the road and the strong teams will need to be there. I imagine that the attack will need to contain riders from at least the following teams; Lotto Soudal, Quick Step and Trek. You can probably add Orica, FDJ and BMC to that list too!

So for the contenders I won’t be including sprinters.

Contenders

Defending champions Lotto Soudal have a strong team with them but I imagine Benoot and Roelandts will be their co-leaders. The former was unlucky with a crash earlier in the season but he is exceptionally talented and I’m sure will be looking to bounce back before the Ronde and Paris Roubaix. With a solid sprint after a tough day he has a chance of taking his first pro win, but he will need some luck. Like his younger counterpart, Roelandts’ packs a good kick and he’ll be counting on experience to pull through for him!

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Quick Step have a ridiculously strong squad with them and the race itself probably hinges on their attitude. Looking down the start list I could quite feasibly argue for most of their squad making any split in the race. From there, it’s just a case of how they play it. In the past they’ve been quite defensive (the 3 on 1 against Stannard springs to mind) but they should in my opinion approach this aggressively. Or at least I would, which probably means they won’t! Terpstra is the obvious choice to send up the road, but Gilbert and Lampaert offer good options as well. I think Stybar will be saving himself for later in the week.

Theuns will be Trek’s main card to play here, but he’ll be ably supported by Felline. Both of the riders are similar in style, but the Belgian is better on the cobbles with Felline being the better climber. Theuns has finished 2nd and 3rd here the past two years and will be hoping to go one spot higher this time round. I sure would love that as he’s in my season long fantasy team! A very capable rider, he should make the splits on the cobbled climbs and from there it’s a case of making the right moves and getting a bit lucky.

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Orica have a few riders who could challenge here if their on a good day, and in particular Durbridge and Keukeleire. I always think Durbridge is older than he is, I’m amazed he’s only 25, he’s been around for what seems an eternity! Once just a TT specialist, he has really transformed in to a great all round rider, his 6th place in Strade is testament to that. Certainly not a guy that should be given much leeway off the front of the bunch. As for Keukeleire, it was good to see him back challenging at the pointy end of a race in the Vuelta last year, after a few seasons of underperforming. With a fast sprint after a tough day, he could certainly take victory if a small group comes to the line!

A few other riders to keep an eye out on who could well go on the attack and be up there at the finish are Naesen (AG2R), Lutsenko (Astana), Backaert (Wanty), Ligthart (Roompot) and Petit (Direct Energie).

Prediction

As I’ve stated above, I think with the wind conditions we’ll get this edition, the race will be harder than last year and we won’t see a reduced bunch sprint of around 40 riders. Instead, there will be a couple of selections throughout the day and having numbers near the end of the race will be important. I can guarantee Quick Step will have numbers and if Gaviria is not in the group they won’t be waiting around for a sprint. Conversely, they may also even attack if he is in the group as they will be leant on by the other teams!

So I’m going to go for a Quick Step rider who can time trial and sprint from a very reduced group to cover both options of a late attack or sprint. Yep, that’s right, local hero Yves Lampaert to win!

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The rider from Izegem is one that I rate highly and mentioned during the earlier cobbled semi-classics. Heralded as the next big Belgian cobbled talent, he has failed to live up to the mark so far, but that might just well change tomorrow!

Betting

Difficult race to predict and one I don’t want to overly get involved with so a few bets for interest;

1pt WIN Lampaert @ 66/1 with various (would take 50s)

0.5pt EW Keukeleire @ 66/1 with various (would take 50s)

 

Thanks for reading! Who do you think will win tomorrow? Will we get a big bunch sprint, reduced sprint or a sol attack?! Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

Tirreno Adriatico 2017 Stage 3 Preview; Monterotondo Marittimo -> Montalto di Castro

Today’s Recap

Right idea, wrong Sky rider!

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It was Geraint Thomas who managed to solo to the line, after we had a flurry of attacks at the front of the bunch in the closing 10km. The Welshman did look very strong and it could be a case of what might have been for him this week.

Let’s have a look at what’s in store for the riders tomorrow.

The Route

Another 200km plus day in the saddle for the riders, good training for MSR at least!

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One of the few chances the sprinters will get in this race, so I imagine that’s what we’ll see. There are some tricky hills out there but I expect it to come back together for a bunch kick.

Therefore, it’s all about the closing kilometres tomorrow and the overall profile is a slightly deceptive one! If you just had a quick glance at the image above, you would be forgiven if you didn’t notice the little kick at the end.

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With the final 750m averaging 3.5%, it’s certainly not a straightforward sprint.

Throw in a few sweeping turns and things get a bit hectic.

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So positioning will have to be important but also the timing of the effort will be key as well.

Contenders

For a finish like this, Peter Sagan has to start as the favourite. The Wold Champion should cope easily with the sweeping nature of the last 1km, but the rise at the end of the stage shouldn’t be an issue to him either. After sprinting to third place today, he seems to have recovered from his sickness that saw him DNF Strade. Can anyone beat him in an uphill drag?

I’m sure Greg Van Avermaet would be offended if I said no! This type of finish looks great for the Belgian rider who is in exceptional form at the moment, which will be a concern for other riders as he will only get better going into April. He’ll be able to rely on a strong lead-out and he certainly has a great chance of winning the stage.

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Dimension Data have a couple of options here but this finish will be right on the limit of Mark Cavendish so instead I imagine it will be Edvald Boasson Hagen that they will be working for. The Norwegian is in fairly good form at the moment, building himself up towards the classics. This type of power sprint really suits him and he’ll be hoping for a good result looking ahead to the rest of the Classics.

With no proper sprinter to speak of here, Trek will most likely turn to Fabio Felline as their main charge for this stage. After a disappointing performance today, I’m sure he’ll want to bounce back and bag a good result tomorrow. Not a slouch in a tough sprint, I image that he’ll want the racing to be hard to tire the legs of his contenders.

A team that do have a proper sprinter with them are Quick-Step and they bring young Colombian sensation Fernando Gaviria to the party. Touted as the “New Sagan” by some, there currently seems to be no ends to his talents whether that be sprinter or classics man. He was up there for a long time on today’s stage, doing a bit of work for Jungels, so he seems to be climbing well. I think he will surprise some tomorrow!

Francesco Gavazzi certainly surprised me today with his 5th place finish, I thought the finale would be too hard for him, preferring tomorrow’s stage. Therefore, if he went well today, he has a chance of equalling or bettering that result tomorrow! A rider much like everyone else listed, he packs a fast kick on a testy finish. Without a win yet this season, he’s finished in the top 10 of all of his one-day races so far, which isn’t a bad record. Another top 10 should be a certainty here, but can he go better?!

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Jens Debuscherre might fancy his chances of maintaining contact with the head of the peloton on this finish. Much more than a fast finisher, he is a rider in the mould of EBH and Sagan. After a disappointing crash in Omloop, he’s picked himself up with a top 10 in West Vlaanderen midweek. It might be tough, but he’s not one to discount.

Old fox Daniele Bennati might just have a run at it tomorrow. He’s the fastest on his squad and the tougher finish will bring him closer to the likes of Sagan and co. It will still be a tall order for the win but a top 10 is possible.

Likewise, Oscar Gatto might like the look of the finish. The Astana rider had a very solid Omloop and is clearly in reasonable shape at the moment. One to keep an eye out for but again, a top 10 would be a good result.

With Caleb Ewan abandoning the race, Orica will probably turn to Luka Mezgec or Daryl Impey. Both present a good option for a top 10 finish.

I think the climb will be too tough for the likes of Viviani etc.

Prediction

The new Sagan beats Sagan. Fernando Gaviria to take a brilliant win!

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With Gavazzi springing a surprise in the chaos and sneaking a podium and GVA in there as well.

Betting

 

Would back Gaviria but not at that price so GVA actually becomes the value bet.

1pt EW GVA @50/1 with Bet365 (would take down to 25/1)

0.25pt EW Gavazzi @ 80/1 with Bet365

Thanks again for reading, I shall be back again tomorrow with another preview double-header. Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

 

 

GP Le Samyn 2017 Preview; Quaregnon -> Dour

GP Le Samyn 2017 Preview; Quaregnon -> Dour

The racing in Belgium continues this Wednesday with GP Le Samyn. Unlike the Ardennes races we’ll see in this area later in the year, Samyn is much more like its Flandrien counterparts, with tough cobbles and testing conditions.

Last year’s edition was one of the most brutal yet (highly recommend you watching it if you missed it), with only 28 riders finishing! Strong winds and rain battered the peloton into submission from the off and only the toughest survived. It was bad weather expert Niki Terpstra who came away with the win, attacking the small group left at the front with around 14km to go.

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Scott Thwaites was the only rider who could follow Terpstra initially but he was dropped when the Dutchman attacked again. Nonetheless, he held on for a spirited second place and it was Florian Sénéchal who won a three-up sprint to complete the podium.

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

The Route

A race split into two parts with the first section featuring some hills before the cobbles start in the second part of the race.

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The closing circuit is a tough one, featuring no less than 16 cobbled sections; 4 per lap of the circuit.

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Credit again to @LasterketaBurua for the profile.

This is where the race normally starts to shell riders out the back as the pace increases; 12km of cobbles in 100km of racing isn’t ideal for some!

Depending on how the race is unfolding, the final section of cobbles “Rue de Belle Vue” at roughly 2km from the finish could be decisive for one last shake-up. The finish itself isn’t overly technical but does drag up to the line so not opening up the sprint too early is very important.

However, the race may not come down to a sprint at all and it all really depends on one factor…

The Weather

After last years mud-bath the riders will be hoping for something a bit calmer this year, well, maybe some Belgians won’t be! And it looks as if the Belgians will be happy, as the finish town of Dour seems to be living up to its name.

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Dour weather forecast (Source: Wunderground)

So it looks as if we’re going to get some wet cobbles and relatively horrible conditions. Not as bad as last year but still pretty grim.

Looking at the wind speed and direction (source – Windfinder) for just north of Dour in a town called Hornu it looks as if we’re going to get a constant 25km/h wind all day with some strong gusts.

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The direction differs slightly from the first forecast source, but the point remains the same, it looks good for echelons!

Combining the strong winds, rain and cold conditions, I for one am going to be happy watching the riders battle it out from the comfort of my living room.

Who’s going to be at the head of the race though?

Contenders

With the change of the calendar this year, we only have 3 World Tour teams competing compared to 7 last season. However, that should not diminish the excitement as the Pro Conti and Continental teams will more than make up for it with some attacking racing and we’ll get to watch some unfamiliar names duke it out. Nonetheless, I’ll start my run through with the WT guys.

Quick Step don’t bring the defending champion with them but they do have a relatively strong line-up but there’s no superstar name. Bauer, Keisse or Devenyns may be their best bet at achieving back to back wins. The New Zealander was incredibly strong at the start of the year and I’m intrigued to see if he can carry that on here. He did some great domestique work in Abu Dhabi and that may be a downfall for him here; the fact that he was there and has to travel back. Therefore, Keisse and Devenyns look their most likely options. On this type of relatively flat, rouleurs terrain, I would have to favour Keisse out of the two. He has a good sprint from a small bunch and certainly has the abilities to hold off a chase if he gets a gap out in front!

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Lotto Soudal arrive with former winner Boeckmans, but he still seems to be struggling to return to the rider he once was before his crash in the 2015 Vuelta. Instead, I imagine they’ll turn to De Buyst and Van Der Sande as their protected riders for the race. Both are fast sprinters after a tough day so if the race comes down to a reduced bunch sprint they have a chance. Van Der Sande is also an attacking rider so I imagine he’ll be present whatever race situation we get.

*Debuscherre has been added to their squad typically now that I’ve just finished writing this. On paper he should be there at the end, but he had crashed in Omloop and failed to start Kuurne. I don’t think he’ll be going full gas here.

Without their star-rider Boom, Lotto Jumbo come here with quite a weak team. I would guess that Van Emden and Wynants will be their leaders but I can’t really see them doing much. Well, saying that, Van Emden does have the TT prowess to be able to make his way to the finish solo but that will be tough for him to do considering he doesn’t seem in great form at the moment. Maybe new signing Van Hoecke can do something?!

Cofidis actually look like they are sending one of the strongest teams here. They have two very good options in Claeys and Sénéchal. The former had a breakthrough 2016, picking up a stage in Wallonie and finishing a very impressive 9th at Flanders. If he is in a similar vein of form then he is one to watch. Likewise, Sénéchal could well have won this race last year. He was exceptionally strong on the day, closing down almost every attack single handedly. It was those efforts that cost him in the end, as he didn’t have enough left in the tank to close down Terpstra when he made his move. With a bit more guile about him this time round, he has the class to beat this field. He is a Junior Roubaix winner after all!

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Florian Vachon will most likely be Fortuneo’s best hope here. Third at Tro Bro Leon last year highlights that he doesn’t mind the rough stuff, although he hasn’t really got going so far this year.

After a disappointing Omloop, he was held up in the big crash, Pim Ligthart will be hoping to go better at this race. The Roompot rider must fancy his chances in this quality of field and he certainly won’t mind the bad weather. A strong cobbles rider with a fast sprint from a reduced bunch, I’m hoping to see him turn his week around here. Roompot also have Asselman as another potential candidate if the race is tough, or Kreder if we get a big bunch sprint. Although I can’t see that happening!

Dupont and Kruopis are the bigger names on the Verandas team. However, they’ve been poor so far this season and I can’t see them competing here, instead, Duijn is their best bet to finish top 10.

Sport Vlaanderen have a good outside candidate in the form of Van Lerberghe. The Belgian rider is a great talent and like most of his compatriots he’s at home on this type of surface. A similar rider to Edward Theuns, Van Lerberghe is capable of sprinting fast but is also comfortable attacking in tough conditions. With team-mate Sprengers, they’ll form a tough duo!

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In-form Frederik Backaert arrives here as Wanty’s leader for this race. Fresh off the back of an 11th place finish at Omloop, he’ll be brimming with confidence! I think he would have preferred some climbs closer to the finish but he certainly can’t be discounted. I really like the look of Wanty’s team as a whole and they really should feature at the pointy end of race tomorrow. Van Keirsbulk is a rider I’ll be watching with interest. The former QuickStep man was for a while touted as the next big cobbles rider, but he failed to live up to the hype. There were stories floating about that he got too happy in his surroundings at QS so this transfer to Wanty looks like a move to reinvigorate his career. Finishing 21st in Omloop hints at a return to a career that might have been!

The final Pro-Conti team here, WB Veranclassic, have a former winner (2014) in their midst; Maximme Vantomme. However, I think they’ll look to Ista as their man here but I don’t expect too much from him. A top 10 would be a good result! They do have a favourite of mine, Roy Jans, but he normally struggles in tough conditions.

Considering I’ve already wrote a short novella for this preview, I’m just going to highlight some names to look out for from a few of the Continental teams, rather than doing anything in-depth.

Armée de Terre: Gaudin and Tronet.

Roubaix: Pouilly.

AGO: Arimont.

Pauwels: Van Dingenen.

Tarteletto: Ruijgh.

Prediction

I think we’ll see a tough and fairly selective race tomorrow. Maybe not as tough as last year’s edition but the race will still be blown to bits. Therefore I fancy a rider who can handle bad conditions very well but also has the abilities to solo to the line. I alluded to him in the section above, but I think Van Keirsbulk is on the road to redemption so to speak and a win here will kickstart that!

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Betting

No UK odds as of yet which is disappointing. I’m sure we got something last year! Belgian bookmaker Bingoal has some up.

I’d be tempted with Van Keirsbulk Win at 25, and top 3 at 7.

Also Keisse win at 80 and top 3 at 16.

*UPDATE – SkyBet have Prices; 0.25pt EW on both of them at 50/1*

Hopefully the UK bookies get their act together and there’s something out later or tomorrow morning.
Nonetheless thanks for reading and as always, any feedback is greatly appreciated! Who do you think will win tomorrow? Will it be a selective race? My next blog post will be the Women’s Strade Bianche which I’m very much looking forward to! Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

TDF Stage 10 Preview: Escaldes-Engordany -> Revel

Rest Day Recap

Stage 9 saw a break make it all the way to the line and we got the battle on two fronts with the GC contenders duking it out behind. It was Tom Dumoulin who took the win up ahead, attacking just before the final climb, not to be seen again. It was a bit of a weird move from his breakaway companions. All of the other moves were marked and closed down, yet the best TTer in the group was allowed to get away. His winning margin was made up on the few kilometres leading up to the climb. That’s not to take anything away from the Dutchman, it was still a great win, especially because he looked to be struggling on the previous climb!

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I’m still confused as to what happened to our pick of Diego Rosa. He looked very strong on that penultimate climb and I was feeling pretty confident going into the last ascent. I went for a drink, which maybe took a minute at most, came back through to where my tv was and he was gone. All of the other riders were there. It was very odd. Anyway, moving on!

Behind, we got a bit of a GC shake up, but nothing crazy. The two big guns came in together, along with Adam Yates. Who’s looked very impressive so far. Dan Martin and Porte trailed in just a couple of seconds behind them. With a group including Mollema and Meintjes not too far down either. The worst off were Aru and Barguil who lost a minute to Froome and Co. Leaving us with a top 20 that looks like this going into the second week.

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Onto tomorrow’s stage then!

The Route

Another tough opener for the riders, starting off with a Cat-1 climb. Anyone who’s not warmed up properly on the rollers could end up in some difficulty!

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It’s important to note that the climb isn’t overly difficult in terms of gradient, it’s just very long!

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Although saying that, the second part of the climb is much more difficult than the first. Also, with it being the Souvenir Henri Desgrange, I expect there to be quite the fight to get into the break, especially from the French riders. With there being next to no chance the GC riders will attempt to make any moves on this stage then it won’t be as crazy as Stage 9. Instead, the attention will turn to the sprinters teams to control the break.

Once over the climb it should be fairly easy for them to do so. A long gradual descent and over 100km of flat follow.

The main focal point of the stage is the Cat 3 Côte de Saint-Ferréol that’s located within the final 10km.

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A short but sharp test for the peloton to face, the climb itself is very irregular. Some steep ramps over 11% followed by false flats and even a short descent. This is a lot clearer on the Strava profile which can be viewed here. Credit goes to Arjan who sent me the link to that! You can follow the climb on Google Streetview here as well.

I’ve made a profile of the last 10km on Strava. I personally prefer using it compared to relying 100% on the Tour graphics as they sometimes are a little bit off. Check that out here! I also like being able to scroll over the map and see the altimetry at each certain point etc. Anyway, I digress.

Once over the crest, the riders face a period of “flat” before making a left turn to start the descent. The downhill itself should see a very fast pace in the bunch. There are a few technical turns but more or less it should be taken quickly. In the final 3km the route descends ever so slightly (25m going off of the Strava profile. 0.8% average.) Nothing substantial, but it should ensure that the pace is high.

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That could then be an issue with this roundabout/90° corner combo within the last kilometre. If we do get a sprint, then positioning and lead outs will be key here as the high pace will mean the race will be strung out, but also because the concertina effect could well be evident here. If you’re further down than 10-15th place then you have no chance.

So a sprint finish?

Well, before the Tour I had this marked down as a reduced bunch sprint and that is the most likely outcome on the day. It could be difficult for the pure sprinters such as Kittel and Greipel to make it over the final climb if some of the teams attack it at a fast pace. I would expect Sagan to be there along with Coquard and Matthews.

However, there are several situations that could unfold tomorrow!

Situation 1.

The first of these regards the make-up of the breakaway. I would not be surprised to see a few of the sprinters teams attempt to get a rider into that move, meaning they wouldn’t have to chase behind. I’m not sure how confident Kittel and co will be of making the finish line so I expect some of the following teams to be represented Ettix/Lotto S/Jumbo/DD. If they all make it into the break then it will be down to Orica/Tinkoff/Direct Energie to chase.

Now, Orica are usually very canny in these types of situation. We’ve seen it before at the Giro even when they’ve been in Pink they send someone up the road, so I could envisage them getting someone in the move. It’s all over to Tinkoff/Direct Energie then. Both of the teams would fancy their riders in a reduced bunch sprint but do they put someone in the break, just in case? If they do, then the break makes it all the way.

Situation 2.

Although some of these teams get riders in the breakaway, the likes of Etixx/LS/Movistar want to set an incredibly fast pace on the final climb to get rid of all the “sprinters” and set up the likes of Alaphilippe/Gallopin/Valverde for the stage win.

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Situation 3. 

The climb is taken at a controlled pace because the break has been caught and we see Kittel etc make it over. I think this is very unlikely.

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Situation 4.

The break has been caught, the climb is attacked, reducing down the peloton. However, there is a stall in pace at the top and someone makes an attack that sticks to the finish.

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I think we can discount situations 2 & 3 as they are the least likely to happen in my opinion. Situations 1 & 4, along with a reduced bunch sprint could all easily happen.

If we get a reduced sprint I’d have to say that Sagan is the favourite for the stage, Coquard to get a podium too. If some of the “heavier” sprinters get dropped, look out for Jens Debuscherre. He might get a chance to sprint if Greipel isn’t there.

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If Situation 1 comes true then it’s another case of the breakaway lottery. As I said above, look to riders from sprint teams such as; Teklehaimanot, Lindeman, Hansen. One rider I like for this situation is Orica’s Daryl Impey. He’s been climbing incredibly well this Tour and has been in the break already. He should have the explosiveness/speed to finish it off.

For a late attacker look towards the likes of Steve Cummings, Adam Hansen or LL Sanchez.

Prediction

Sprint – Sagan Wins

Break – Impey Wins

Late attack – Hansen Wins

Who’ll Revel in stage glory?

Betting

A day not to get heavily involved with. Screams out “in-play” once the Cat 1 climb is covered. Few small break picks for me and then I’ll probably back someone during the stage. If I do, I’ll say so on my Twitter!

0.1pt Outright on the following

Hansen @150/1 with Betfair (I’d take 100/1)

Debuscherre @350/1 with Bet365

Impey @125/1 with PaddyPower (I’d take 80/1)

Vanmarcke @125/1 with various bookmakers

Maté @300/1 with PP (I’d take 200/1)

 

Hope you enjoyed a more “in-depth” preview. I think we could get a few outcomes for tomorrow, what do you think? It will inevitably now be a straightforward sprint stage! Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dauphiné Stage 4 preview: Tain-l’Hermitage – Belley

Today’s Recap

The morning break didn’t stay away, but we did get a solo winner like I predicted would happen if the early break was reeled in. Except, I don’t think I would have ever envisioned that it would be Aru who would squirrel off the front!

A group of 8 strong riders got away after the KOM point. Their gap yo-yoed but stayed roughly around 10 seconds. However, they stopped co-operating fully on the plateau and Aru made what seemed a fool-hardy attack off the front. And that was it. A hairy descent allowed the Italian to even increase his gap, with enough left to celebrate as he crossed the line 2 seconds ahead of the pack.

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Let’s look ahead at tomorrow’s stage!

The Route

Dauphine St 5

Another rolling day in the saddle for the riders, but nothing too extreme!

With the sprinters not getting any joy today, then this looks to be a nailed-on sprint tomorrow. The finish itself will be another messy one.

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The organisers seem to enjoy putting a few roundabouts in the final 5kms. After today’s roundabout at 300m to go, we get one tomorrow at around 900m left. Positioning as normal will be key. However, it’s not a flat sprint, the final km is all uphill.

If you want to look at the final km on Google Streetview, click here. Take the left at the roundabout and follow the road round from there.

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The gradient isn’t too severe. Using the above profile, it’s safe to assume a 26m vertical over the final kilometre, which makes it a 2.6% gradient on average. Nothing overly challenging (as you can see on Streetview) but it definitely changes the sprint.

Weather Watch

Similar to the forecast all week really. Warm but with a chance of a thunderstorm and showers. Luckily, it’s not rained so far this week, will it change tomorrow? Who knows?!

Sprint Contenders

The type of sprint tomorrow will mean that a few riders might fancy their chances more than on Monday. This is because the gradient will neutralise the raw speed that some of the riders have.

Bouhanni and Kristoff will still probably start as favourites and rightly so. However, in this type of power sprint you’d probably have to favour the Norwegian. As we saw on Monday, Bouhanni won’t go down without a fight. He just needs to keep his head!

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I’m not going to go through all of the sprinting options again, considering almost every team has some type of sprinter at the Dauphiné. Have a look at my stage 1 preview if you want a list of them all! Like other previews, I’m going to pick a couple of sprinters who could challenge the main guys.

First up is Edward Theuns. The Belgian has really stepped his game up after his move from the Pro-conti talent conveyor belt that is Topsport Vlaanderen, to Trek Segafredo. He’s showed that he can match the best in the world on flat sprints, with a 2nd on stage 4 of Paris-Nice and 4th at Scheldeprijs. This finish would seem to suit him even more than those races. He really can power up an incline. This was shown with his win at the Baloise Belgium Tour just under a fortnight ago. Or his attack that I alluded to in the overall preview. The big question is if it will be him or Bonifazio sprinting. The Italian finished 3rd today whereas Theuns finished in 154th place, over 11 minutes down. It turns out he had a mechanical at the bottom of the climb and rolled home after that, saving energy for tomorrow. I think he’ll be given the nod.

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The second rider is another young Belgian talent, Jens Debuscherre. He finished 2nd on stage 1, but also finished in the same group as Theuns today. Unless he’s caught an overnight cold/illness, then I’m going to assume he was saving energy for this finish tomorrow. A very classy rider that is unfairly under-rated in my opinion, he has the flat-out strength and speed to match the favourites. After crashing out of his classics campaign, his goals for this season will have changed. That 2nd place earlier in the week has highlighted that his form is there. Definitely not one to be underestimated.

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Prediction

I’m not overly convinced by the two favourites on this finish and after picking one of them for the first stage, I’m not going to here. I do love an outsider after all 😉 I think Theuns will follow-up his first victory for Trek with his first WT win and I wouldn’t put it past Debuscherre to podium too!

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Betting

I’m willing to take a bit of a risk on both of the highlighted riders. 1pt EW on both of them.

Theuns @ 50/1 with Paddy Power or Betfair

Debuscherre @ 40/1 with Paddy Power or Betfair

As usual, hunt around later when more bookmakers have prices up, you might get a better price!

Hope you enjoyed today’s frenetic stage and this preview. With a bit of luck we could be celebrating a winner tomorrow evening, I really like the look of these two, slightly left-field picks. Enjoy watching the stage wherever that may be from. Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.