Milano-Torino 2018 Preview

Another day, another Italian race and this time it is the oldest one-day event in the country: Milano Torino.

Last season saw a barnstorming Rigoberto Uran take the win after attacking quite early on the final climb of the day and holding on to the finish.

Cycling: 98th Milano - Torino 2017

A fast finishing Adam Yates could only manage second with Aru, who attacked even earlier than Uran, rounding out the podium. Will the Colombian manage to make it two in a row this year and three for his nation? Let’s have a look at what is in store for the riders tomorrow.

The Route

Fans of the old adage “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”, the organisers have once again came up with a pretty similar route this year. There is a slight change in the middle of the day with a few more hills and an extra 14kms of riding to boot.

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Nonetheless, it should all come down to the final 30kms and the two ascents of Superga.

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On the first effort the riders will complete only 4.29km of the climb, making it ever so slightly steeper than when the climb is taken as a whole. Well, when I say that, the average gradient is 9.137% for that part of the climb. Compared to the 9.081% for the ascent as a whole then there isn’t much difference, I’m just being pedantic!

That’s about it for the route, nothing too exciting but the riders do make the race.

How will the day pan out?

The race tends to be very formulaic until we get to the first ascent of the Superga: a breakaway makes it up the road and is then controlled by the teams of the favourites and of those without a rider in the move. Fairly standard procedure.

However, we then have a few potential outcomes as to what could happen from there.

Given that the first passage crests with just under 20km to go, then it is very feasible that a counter attack launched here could make it all the way to the line. Of course, for it to succeed then many of the favourites’ teams would need to be represented. If not, there will probably be enough firepower behind to bring it back, but it will have a lasting impact as to how the race is controlled from there.

In 2016, we saw Kennaugh hold on from the original break until the flat 5km section that bridges the descent and the climb. Once he was caught, the impetus went from the peloton and a splinter group made it off of the front. As the majority of teams were represented, there was very little cohesion behind (although there was little up ahead too to be fair), the front group managed to gain a reasonable time gap. Our top two on the day ended up being from that selection and there is a possibility something like that happens again this year; where the “second in command” riders get up the road while the favourites stay behind and mark each other out.

Of course, the final option is that everything is held together until the final climb and that the best rider on the day wins. That’s what happened back in 2015 when Diego Rosa took off at 2.6km to go and was never seen again. To make that win even better, he managed to make the move in front of his own fan club!

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Similarly, it is the same option/race outcome that we had last year when Uran won.

So how will it pan out this year?

I’m not entirely sure, both the splinter group getting away or a main contender showdown are almost equally likely in my opinion. What is interesting is that we have a few of the big names for Saturday deciding to skip this race; Nibali, Uran, Woods, Bardet and Roglic to name a few. Will that make their teams ride more aggressively? Will other squads try to seize the opportunity and hold things together knowing some of the better guys aren’t here. We saw today that Pinot is in great form at the moment and Valverde was there where he needed to be too. A win for either of them would be great but I’m sure they’ll be confident enough of there form and might just have one eye on Saturday. Consequently, that tips it ever so slightly in favour of a splinter group getting away and fighting it out for the win so that’s the option I’ll go with.

Four to Watch

Like with my preview for Tre Valli Varesine, I’m just going to highlight some guys to keep an eye out for throughout the day and who will hopefully be active, even if they don’t win.

Tiesj Benoot.

After what seems like an injury plagued second half to the season, Benoot has performed well in the two one-day races he has completed since the Vuelta. He had a poor day at the Worlds but showed that there is still form there with a good 6th place in Paris Tours. A possible “what could have been day” had he not punctured and have to chase back on. Arriving at this race as co-leader with Wellens, I would expect them to animate the race on the first ascent of Superga. Despite his original career trajectory as a one-day Classics rider, Benoot has shown so far this season that he can more than handle his own on the climbs too. Will this be another “breakthrough” ride in that sense?

Diego Rosa.

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A former winner of this race and with his fan club no doubt at the 2.6km to go mark (see above), the Sky rider will be motivated for this one tomorrow. However, the issue lies with the fact his form hasn’t exactly been sparkling as of late. He looked a bit lacklustre in Tre Valli and struggled to close a gap to the head of the race but he seems fairly positive in his latest Instagram post so who knows. One thing he has going for him is before that great win in 2015, his form was arguably equally as uninspiring so who knows. I’d expect him to go on that attack at some point but will he have enough to take the win? Probably not.

Gianluca Brambilla.

Oh so close to a great result in Emilia before he fell foul of the #HaugheyCurse and punctured at the bottom of the San Luca climb. Brambilla was so enraged at that he didn’t even bother to finish the race and if I’m honest, I don’t blame him – the win was his for the taking. Returning to racing today in TVV, he looked solid and finished in the chase group behind our winner, sprinting to 10th place. I would like to see him go on the attack early because I don’t think he has the legs to win it from the peloton, unless there is some looking around, but he seems in great shape just now and I wouldn’t underestimate him.

Jan Hirt.

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Now where did I put my overused “Hirt locker” joke? Astana arrive here with a strong squad that on paper has several options, with Fuglsang and Lopez as the arguable leaders. However, Hirt is a very good card to play and the Czech rider came out of the Vuelta with some decent shape; finishing a very respectable 17th at the Worlds. He’s not had many chances to chase his own results in what is his first year with the world tour outfit but he showed in 2017 just what he can do on the steep slopes. I think he is a danger man. Just waiting for that inevitable DNF now…

Prediction

A tactical race where a lot of the main players want to keep their powder dry for Saturday, allowing for a group to escape clear before the final ascent and fight out for the win. I’ll go with a lively Brambilla to make it two from two for Trek.

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

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

Volta a la Comunitat Valenciana 2018 Stage 2 Preview; Bétera › Albuixech

Today’s Recap

We got the expected sprint finish into Peñiscola with the lead-out trains battling it out on the run-in.

It was Lotto Jumbo who came out on top, delivering Van Poppel excellently into the home straight. He did have to start his sprint ever so slightly earlier than he would have liked, but the Dutchman showed enough power to hold on for the victory.

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Mezgec looked as if he was going to come round him at some point but he just couldn’t manage it, nonetheless, he held on strongly for 2nd. Roelandts came home third, pipping a few other riders in an almost blanket finish for the minor places.

Will Van Poppel be able to hold onto his lead tomorrow?

Let’s have a look at what is in store for them.

The Route

A really interesting stage that could cause a GC shake-up.

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Five categorised climbs jammed into only 155km of racing makes this stage a stern test for the riders given how early into the season we are.

I can’t see the opening 4 climbs have any major impact on the outcome of the stage, but they will definitely wear down the riders legs for the second half of the day.

The focal point of the stage though is the climb of El Garbi.

Alto Garbi

This was the climb that Alberto Contador used to decimate the peloton on stage 6 of last year’s Vuelta, with only a select group of riders making it over the crest with him.

Unfortunately he’s not here so it will be interesting to see if we have the same aggressive racing.

The climb as a whole averages only 5.6% for 9.2km, which in the grand scheme of things isn’t too difficult. However, it is the almost 3km section at pretty much 10% where the real damage can be done.

Riders will be all over the road if someone attacks this one aggressively. The key word being if.

Once over the crest, the riders will descend for almost all of the remaining 30km into the finish town of Albuixech. It is not a descent where you can free-wheel on though, as the percentages only max out at around -5% or so. A strong and organised group could gain time on others here.

How will the stage pan out?

I’m really hoping for some fireworks on the Garbi. I have a feeling we might see Valverde try to light it up to reduce the group down significantly to 8 riders or so. However, the issue with that plan for him is he might be left with very few team mates and that then leaves the door open for Sky Harlem Globetrotters to attack him from all angles.

The stage is similar to the opener in Andalucia last year that Valverde won from a group of 7, although the final descent that day was 10km shorter.

Instead, we might see a slightly easier pace, where a group of 25 riders crest the climb together.

Same rules still apply though and attacks will go off the front and we could then see a splinter group make it to the line. As to who makes that group, your guess is as good as mine but one thing is for sure, they have to climb well!

As I’m short on time, I’m just going to throw a few names into the hat so the list isn’t going to be exhaustive.

Contenders or Pretenders?

Any Team Sky Rider.

Well, maybe not all of them. Seriously though, everyone on their team apart from Kiryienka and Stannard could win this stage given the right situation. I think they’ll try to make the pace hard to reduce the peloton as much as possible, isolating other riders. The old 1-2, will be turned into the old 1-2-3-4-5 as they constantly send riders up the road on the run-in. Take your pick for them, I’ll go with a lively Diego Rosa.

Alexis Vuillermoz.

The AG2R man had a great end to 2017 with a very respectable 4th place in Il Lombardia. He copes well on the steep gradients and if the pace is not pushed too hard, then he’ll hope to make it over with the main group. If the race splits up from there, he won’t be marked too much as Ag2R won’t be massive threats in the TTT so he could slip away. Furthermore, he packs a solid sprint from a reduced group so he could challenge that way.

Pello Bilbao.

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I’m a big fan of the Spanish rider and it was great to see him really take a step up in level towards the end of the Vuelta last year. This season he’ll no doubt be working for his leaders at some point, but this is the type of race where he might get leadership in. If he’s climbing like he did in the Vuelta, he should be able to follow the front group. Packing a punch, he could be a threat from a reduced sprint.

Jaime Roson.

I’m intrigued to see what the new Movistar man does this season and I think he’ll have a lot of expectation on his shoulders at this race to help Valverde. He’s a strong climber but is still a bit raw so to speak. Anyway, while everyone has their eyes firmly on El Bala, Roson manages to slip away in the closing few kilometres. He has a bit of kick to his sprint but I’m not entirely sure the flat run-in will be ideal for him, nonetheless he has a chance in a very tactical finish. Or he just works tirelessly to keep everything together.

Prediction

A climbing selection to be made on El Garbi and it all to kick off from there. I think we’ll see a counter move go and a small sprint to the line of about 5 riders, with a group of 20 or so coming in not so long after.

Vuillermoz to take the day!

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There is absolutely no season long fantasy league bias here at all. Ok. Maybe there is a bit…

Thanks as always for reading and apologies for the slightly truncated preview. I’m looking forward to what should be an interesting, tactical finale tomorrow. Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

 

 

 

Milano-Torino 2017 Preview

After an exciting finale in Varese on Tuesday, the riders will turn their attention to Milano-Torino tomorrow as they make their final preparations before Lombardia on Sunday.

In 2016 we saw a great battle between Woods and Lopez on the final climb after they broke free from a group that had attacked on the flat run in to said ascent. They traded blows but ultimately it was the Astana rider who came out on top after Woods went too early and mistimed his effort.

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Uran bolted from the peloton behind to finish third, leaving Lopez in a Cannondale sandwich on the podium.

With the defending champion not returning to defend his crown, will we see a new winner? Let’s have a look at what is in store for the riders.

The Route

It seems as if the organisers have adopted the “if it is not broke, why fix it?” adage, as we have the exact same route as the past few years.

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Flaaaaaaaaat then two tough ascents up to the Basilica de Superga to decide the day.

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On the first effort the riders will complete only 4.29km of the climb, making it ever so slightly steeper than when the climb is taken as a whole. Well, when I say that, the average gradient is 9.137% for that part of the climb. Compared to the 9.081% for the ascent as a whole then there isn’t much difference, I’m just being pedantic!

And that’s pretty much it really, there’s nothing else to know about the route.

How will the race pan out?

The race tends to be very formulaic until we get to the first ascent of the Superga. A breakaway makes it up the road and is then controlled by the teams of the favourites and of those without a rider in it. Fairly standard procedure!

However, we then have a few potential outcomes as to what could happen from there.

Given that the first passage crests with just under 20km to go, then it is very feasible that a counter attack launched here could make it all the way to the line. Of course, for it to succeed then many of the favourites’ teams would need to be represented. If not, there will probably be enough firepower behind to bring it back, but it will have a lasting impact as to how the race is controlled from there.

Last year we saw Kennaugh hold on from the original break until the flat 5km section that bridges the descent and the climb. Once he was caught, the impetus went from the peloton and a splinter group made it off of the front. As the majority of teams were represented, there was very little cohesion behind (although there was little up ahead too to be fair), the front group managed to gain a reasonable time gap. Our top two on the day ended up being from that selection and there is a possibility something like that happens again this year; where the “second in command” riders get up the road while the favourites stay behind and mark each other out.

Of course, the final option is that everything is held together until the final climb and that the best rider on the day wins. That’s what happened back in 2015 when Diego Rosa took off at 2.6km to go and was never seen again. To make that win even better, he managed to make the move in front of his own fan club!

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So, what will we see happen this year?

With no Nibali here, then quite a few teams might be happier to take it all the way to the final climb. However, we witnessed in Tre Valli that teams are keen to race aggressively and try not to lean heavily on their star-cards.

Therefore I think we could see a similar outcome to last season; where a smaller group escapes either over the top of the climb or on the flat section. They will then stay away as the majority of the strong teams will be represented.

Contenders

Due to my logic above, I’m not going to go through the “favourites” as I think they might be fighting for lower places as 3-4 riders from the group ahead will stay away until the end. Maybe!

Once again though, this list won’t be extensive, just a few outsiders to keep an eye on!

David Gaudu.

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A rider who produced an incredible result earlier in the year that has barely been talked about since; when he finished 9th at Fleche aged just 20 years old. He is a talent, that’s for sure! After that performance he’s continued to feature in races here and there, including his first pro win in the Tour de l’Ain. A natural climber by body-type, he is incredibly light, tomorrow’s summit finish looks good for him and given the right company he can contend. After Pinot’s very strong showing in Tre Valli, I think teams will be wary of bringing him to the final climb with the bunch together, so FDJ will have to go on the counter. Can the former Tour de l’Avenir winner cap off a good first season as a pro?

Diego Rosa.

The local hero will no doubt have his fan club cheering him on roadside, but will it once again be the catalyst to spur him on to victory? In his recent races he’s done a lot of work for his team-mates so it is hard to tell where his form truly is at the moment, but it is normally at this time of year where he comes good. Really good. With this being his local race, I think Sky might have him as a co-leader, in the hope that he will be more willing to help Poels/Landa/Kwiat in Lombardia on Sunday. He is one to watch.

Primoz Roglic.

He’s certainly not a one-day specialist, but given the way he flew up the climb at the TT in the World’s then I think he has recovered from his illness that thwarted his late season. On his day, he can climb with the best as we saw at the Tour de France when he took a great win. I’m intrigued to see how he goes tomorrow, but I think he can surprise.

Pello Bilbao.

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It is basically a rule of thumb that an Astana rider has to go well here, they’ve won it the past two years! Both the riders that have won on those occasions have been the rider who is not the clear leader of the team, so sorry Aru it is not going to be you. Bilbao finished well here last year, taking a fine 7th place for Caja Rural. He is a rider I like a lot and it is good to see him take a step up this year now that he’s riding at World Tour level. At the Vuelta he was climbing as well as I have ever seen from him so it will be interesting to see if he can repeat that here. If so, he is a big danger!

Sam Oomen.

A case of which Sunweb rider to go for, they have brought an embarrassment of riches to this race. I thought Oomen would be tired after his first Grand Tour but he certainly proved me wrong and was part of the very impressive TTT winning outfit. In Tre Valli he followed that up with a very commendable sixth place so he’s clearly doing something right! Like Gaudu, he is a small rider who packs a mean punch and he could dance his way up Superga tomorrow.

Prediction

The local hero to take another victory though, with Rosa to make it two wins at this race in three years!

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As I’ve said above, I think we’ll see a similar outcome to the previous edition where a smaller group will breakaway on the flat run in to fight out the race.

The real question for the day though is; where will the Diego Rosa fan club be positioned out on course?

Betting

As of yet, only the likes of Unibet are offering odds for the race. Tempted with something on Rosa for the win and top 3, and then also “Any other rider” as this covers Bilbao and Gaudu too. Nothing wild with the stakes though!

Thanks as always for reading! Who do you think will win tomorrow? Could we be in for an upset? I’ll be back on Friday with my Lombardia preview. Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

Tour de Pologne 2017 Stage 3 Preview; Jaworzno -> Szczyrk

Today’s Recap

Another day that ended up in a bunch sprint but it was the odd one that was expected. Again, for some weird reason the peloton caught the break very early, creating an opportunity for some attacks.

Oss, Haas, Jungels all tried their hand but were reeled back in. Then as I thought might happen, Vakoc launched an attack at roughly 2kms to go. He quickly had a bit of a gap which seemed to grow as the sprint trains behind stalled. However, Paterski came to the front and sprinted all the way up the drag, catching Vakoc just as they completed the turn at the roundabout.

It was a frenetic run to the line with the riders amassed all over the road. In the end, Modolo just had enough left in the tank to hold on for the win.

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A fast finishing (again) Van Poppel charged at the line but it was only enough for second, with Walscheid taking third. His second place was enough to se Van Poppel move into the GC lead ahead of Sagan, based on their stage placings so far.

Will he be able to hold onto that lead tomorrow?

No way!

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

The Route

A stage that actually resembles its official profile!

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Nonetheless, I’ll still be using my own one as the go to.

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You can view the profile itself on VeloViewer here.

It’s taken me a few days but I’ve finally figured out how to rotate the profiles so that we get them at a side on angle…anyway…

The stage starts off fairly innocuous with a lot of flat roads in the opening 60km or so. However, once through the second intermediate sprint of the day the road rises all the way until the summit of the first climb; some 28km at 2.2% on average.

If I’m honest, I’m not entirely sure where the climb officially starts (I can’t be bothered to look it up again in the road book), but to me it seems to be 5km from the summit.

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As you can see, the closing 5km averages 6% with a max gradient of 13.2%. Not too difficult but not easy either, it depends on the pace of the peloton whether we’ll see any riders dropped here.

Once over the top the riders descend all the way to the foot of the following climb; Zameczek.

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Split into two parts, the climb as a whole averages 5.2% for 5.3km. Once again, not too difficult but it can be made hard. The second half of the climb is a lot more challenging than the first, averaging 8.1% for the final 2.2km.

On the first passage of the climb I can’t see there being much action here but the riders will summit for a second time with 33km left, so we might see a few probing attacks launched on the steeper slopes.

The riders will then face the penultimate climb; which is the descent off the first categorised climb they tackled. Like that first climb, I could dispute how long it actually is. You could argue the road rises from the 135km gone mark, which would make the climb 12km long at 4%. However, the opening sections most likely won’t be raced too aggressively. The same can’t be said for the latter parts though.

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This is a proper climb and with the closing 4km averaging 7%, we could see some of the early GC players come to the fore.

With 9km of descent to follow, will we see any rider(s) who has escaped on the climb stay away before the rise to the finish? Well, the start of the descent is steep and technical but that only lasts for a couple of kilometres before it then runs along the side of the valley on a much straighter road.

They will descend all the way until 1.5km to go where they will make the following left hand turn and start the climb for home.

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The climb itself averages 10.3% for 1.25km, however that doesn’t tell the whole story.

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As you can see in the profile above, the opening 479m are a rather “leisurely” 3.6%. All hell will break loose soon after though, as the final 700m averages a leg-breaking 15% and that includes a crazy 26% maximum gradient!

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I’m not even sure the streetview does it justice. Whoever wins here tomorrow will have deserved it!

How will the race pan out?

It could be a really disorganised and messy stage.

The climbs are tough enough to make it a selective day in the saddle but they aren’t difficult enough so that we only see a group of 5-6 guys come to the finish climb together.

Furthermore, there are quite a few teams here with a few GC candidates, such as Sky/BMC/Bora who might decide to play the numbers game rather than control the bunch all day.

Feasibly, we could see a winning move go away on the second ascent of Zameczek if it contains the right teams and riders.

As the descent over the top of the penultimate climb isn’t too hard and doesn’t really favour a lone rider, I would be surprised if a team really pushes it on that penultimate climb to reduce the peloton drastically.

So i present two situations;

  1. An attack goes on the last ascent of the Zameczek that includes some strong riders from the main teams. It will most likely need a Bora, Sky, BMC, Katusha and Orica rider involved if it is to succeed. Obviously, other teams might be there too or not involved, but those squads listed look the strongest to bring any break back. That group stays away and fights out the finish.
  2. A race of attrition where things get whittled down and we have a peloton of 20 riders or so approach the foot of the final climb to the line and its every man for himself on with a finish very reminiscent of Flèche Wallonne.

Hmmm.

I think Situation 1 edges it.

As I’ve already rambled a bit, I’ll not be extensive with my riders in the following section!

Contenders

For a bit of fun, this is who I think could possibly be in that near end of stage move (watch none of them be in it now);

Hermans, Haig, Anacona, Rosa, Konrad*, Oomen, Spilak, Visconti, Costa and Hirt.

*I had grand ambitions for Konrad on this stage given his climbing ability and good result at Fleche, but alas he finished 1’55 down today so that’s out the window.

I’ll highlight a couple of others I like for this stage though.

Rui Costa.

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The UAE rider has had a good season so far; picking up a GC win in Abu Dhabi and a few podium placed finishes at the Giro. He was solid at the recent Tour de Suisse, finishing 5th on GC there. Like a lot of the peloton, he hasn’t raced in over a month but he’ll surely fancy his chances here as these week-long stage races are his bread and butter. He’s faired well at FW in the past which is a good indication for this finish. If he arrives in a small group his punchy nature could see him take a great stage win.

Diego Rosa.

Not normally given the chance to lead a Sky team for GC, this race looks like the perfect opportunity for both he and his team to test out that possibility. With Poels also in the squad, they have the ability to send someone on the attack early and play the waiting game behind. Rosa has only had one race day since the Giro, his National Championships but I still think he can go well here. He’s a strong hilly classics rider, as was shown towards the end of last season, and tomorrow’s terrain has that type of feel to it. Can he succeed?

I think yes…

Prediction

Diego Rosa to win!

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Betting

1pt EW on them both (with B365)

Rosa @ 33/1

Costa @ 22/1

 

Thanks as always for reading and I hope you enjoyed the in-depth route analysis. I certainly enjoyed writing it! Who do you think will win tomorrow? Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

 

 

 

Giro d’Italia 2017 Stage 20 Preview; Pordenone -> Asiago

Today’s Recap

So apparently I missed a lot while sleeping this morning after work!

I woke up to see the riders on the final climb and Dumoulin slowly losing contact, but a quick scroll down Twitter also suggested that something else happened earlier in the stage. Either Dumoulin lost time and was gapped on a descent or the others attacked him while he was stopping for a nature break. Reading what the Sunweb director said, I think it was the former.

Up the road, Landa finally took a deserved stage win while simultaneously securing his KOM jersey.

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With Costa and Rolland following him home.

We did get some GC gaps and Quintana moves into Rosa after Dumoulin suffered on the final climb. Pinot has handily moved himself up to within a minute of Quintana and his certainly not out of it either. We should be in for an interesting final two days.

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

The Route

A tough day out but certainly not the hardest that the riders have faced.

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We have almost 100km of flat before we get the start of the climb to Monte Grappa.

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At 24.1km it’s long but only averages 5.3%. However, that doesn’t tell the whole story as the first 8.5km of the climb averages 7.8%, which is certainly difficult enough to shed some riders out the back of the group.

The only issue with that is once we get to the summit of the climb, there is just under 70km to go to the line. With no Contador here, I think it’s unlikely we’ll see any kamikaze GC attacks on Grappa but you never know. I would love it if there was!

The riders will have to tackle a descent that is as long as the climb they’ve just been up, before traversing some valley roads to reach the foot slopes of Foza.

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A more regular climb than Grappa, Foza averages 6.7% for 14km. It is long/steep/close enough to the finish to put some riders into difficulty.

The only issue for some riders is that we have a 15km section of undulating road after the peak, with the last 5km being downhill.

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I’m sure a few riders will be happy to know that the downhill isn’t too technical aside from the last kilometre where it starts to flatten out anyway.

How will the stage pan out?

Another day where we have the conundrum of break or no break?

The first 100km of the stage in theory are easy to control for a team but who will take up the mantle? The onus will obviously be on Movistar to set tempo for the stage but Quintana has looked underwhelming so far this race, although he has managed to get into Pink!

Nibali today didn’t look great either, shipping a couple of seconds on the line. In fact, the two riders who looked the strongest were Pinot and Zakarin, both of whom are very much in podium contention now.

Are any of these teams dedicated/strong enough to set tempo all day to keep the break within touching distance?

I’m not so sure.

I think they’ll see how the race unfolds on the day and if the break is within touching distance over Monte Grappa, they might start pulling. If not, I think it will be another day to play…

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Contenders

The flat start makes it a difficult stage for the climbers to get into the break so we might get a mixed bag.

As I’m losing the will to live in terms of recycling names for this, I’ll come up with a couple of new names;

Diego Rosa.

The Italian was very strong in helping Landa on Stage 18, driving the break for the majority of the first three climbs. With the Spaniard now having a stage win and the KOM secured, Sky will now most likely turn to their other riders and give them a few opportunities. Rosa is strong enough on the flat to make the break, but he is an exceptional enough climber to win from a group as well.

Omar Fraile.

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With a stage win already in the bag, Fraile can go into this stage without any pressure. Brutishly strong on the stage he won, the Spaniard has the engine to join the break on the flat, but also the climbing ability to win. An attacking rider, he certainly won’t give up if he makes the move, taking the approach of finishing last is the same as 2nd.

GC Contenders

I think it will be hard to drop a lot of the GC favourites, but as I said above, Zakarin and Pinot look the strongest just now. In theory, the “flat” final 15km should suit those two and I wouldn’t be surprised to see them attacking over the top of Foza when the lighter climbers are isolated and weak.

If we do get a GC battle, I’ll go for a Zakarin win.

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Prediction

However, I think we’ll once again see a race on two fronts and the break will stay away. Sky will take back to back wins, with Diego Rosa coming out on top.

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Betting

The usual 2pts spread across the break duo as odds on Zakarin won’t change much when they go in-play.

1pt WIN Rosa @ 33/1

1pt WIN Fraile @ 40/1

Thanks for reading as always. Apologies that this is shorter than normal but I’m suffering from preview burnout! Who do you think will win tomorrow? Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

Liège-Bastogne-Liège 2017 Preview

La Doyenne or “the Old Lady” for the Anglicised among you, returns on Sunday for its 103rd edition!

Normally a very attritional race in its own right, last year’s race had the added dimension of truly awful weather with snow and rain throughout the day. In the end it was Wout Poels who took the victory from a small group that had escaped on the penultimate climb and stayed away until the end, sealing Sky’s first Monument win. Albasini and Rui Costa rounded out the podium.

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Poels isn’t here this year to defend his crown so it opens the door for a new winner, or one of the previous champions to step up to the mantle again.

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

The Route

258km of rolling road through the Ardennes awaits the peloton.

 

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Don’t let the fact that there are only 10 categorised climbs on course fool you, this is a tough and attritional race where the road is up and down a lot throughout the day.

The first 160km will serve as a warm-up for the riders and we’ll see our usual relatively large break go composed mainly of the Pro-Conti teams with a handful of World Tour representatives in their for good measure.

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Credit: Velorooms

Once we get to 90km to go, the climbs start in earnest, beginning with the Côte de Pont. But it’s the Col du Rosier which could be the site of the first potentially race winning attack I think. At 4.4km in length it is the longest ascent of the race and averaging 5.9% it is steep enough to gain some distance with a strong attack.

From there they tackle a descent before the Maquisard. However, it is probably the final three climbs that this race is famous for.

The Côte de la Redoute comes at roughly 40km to go.

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Short and steep, it’s one that might entice the punchy riders into a move depending on the race situation.

Next up after that is the Roche-aux-Faucons, with the Côte de Saint-Nicolas coming at under 10km to the finish line.

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There’s little time for the race to regroup once over the summit as they descend before starting the approach into Ans.

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The closing climb up to the finish line averages 5.3% for the 1.5km so isn’t overly difficult but at the end of a tough day riders will still need something left in the tank to cope with it.

How will the race pan out?

I think our aggressive Spring racing will continue here and we’ll see a similar race to Amstel. Plenty of teams have several options in their ranks and I would be very surprised to see them all happily wait for the final climb like they do in Fleche.

So we could well see some relatively serious attacks come on the Rosier. Who makes it and what teams are represented will then shape the rest of the race.

If we get strong enough riders from Movistar/Sky/BMC/Orica/Quick Step then it stays away in my opinion. Well, that is of course if they continue to work hard while out in front and everyone co-operates. Although we did see that the front group managed to stay ahead at Amstel even with JJ Rojas sandbagging them.

From there it’s just about being not only one of the strongest riders but one of the most tactically astute.

Or of course, it could all come back together and we get an aggressive final couple of climbs like we had in last year’s edition.

Contenders

With it being such an open race there is no clear favourite in my opinion, but Valverde is most definitely the closest to one that we have. Imperious on the Huy midweek, he seems to get better with age which is ridiculous when you consider his already illustrious career. In Amstel his Movistar team was caught out and probably would have preferred a different rider up the road. I’m sure they won’t make the same mistake twice but their team still doesn’t look that great. Having already won this race 3 times, he knows what it takes and it wouldn’t surprise me to see him on the top step of the podium again come Sunday afternoon!

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Team Sky in theory pose the biggest threat to the Spaniard as they have the great 1-2 punch of Kwiatkowski and Henao (Sergio), heck, you could even through Rosa into that mix too. This race looks best suited to the former world champion though. He’s really regained his footing as one of the best one-day racers in the world this year. With a monument win already under his belt this season he could well go on to make it two!

Dan Martin is QuickSteps leader for this race and rightly so. A former winner here, this is one of his favourite races in the calendar and he always seems to find himself at the pointy end of the day. Finishing 2nd to Valverde (again) on Wednesday, he’ll be hoping to go one better this Sunday. Yet, I have my eye on one of his team-mates and there is certainly some fantasy-league bias to this one; Petr Vakoc. With no Gilbert or Alaphilippe the Czech rider is co-leader elect and has all the abilities to go well on Sunday in my opinion. The way he easily bridged across to Wellens in Brabantse shows how well he is going because Wellens isn’t exactly short of form at the moment. He was unlucky to have suffered a mechanical at a bad time in Amstel and I get the feeling that we haven’t seen the last of him over this past week…

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BMC will have two leaders in this race who aren’t clear favourites according to the bookmakers, although I’m unsure as to why one of them isn’t. Those two riders are of course Teuns and Van Avermaet! The former was excellent in La Fleche, taking a great third place. It’s nice to see him living up to the lofty expectations that were put on him after his breakthrough performance in the 2014 Tour of Britain. He certainly has a good opportunity on Sunday to repeat that result. However, it’s his team-mate GVA that interests me more. According to the bookmakers he’s a relative outsider and I just can’t get my head around why! Yes, he was only 12th place in Amstel and looked jaded chasing the front group, but that’s because he was the rider shouldered with most of the workload. The climbs here aren’t too tough and the Olympic Champion has a very, very good chance of taking his second monument of the year.

I expect an attacking race from Orica as they have plenty of good climbers in their team. Likewise the same can be said for Cannondale and Astana. Yet, I just don’t see any of their riders winning this race.

I would love to see Haas go better than his 4th in Amstel for Dimension Data, but he was struggling with illness in Fleche. Maybe it was just a small bug and he’s managed to turn it around?

Izagirre is dangerous for Bahrain, so too are the UAE duo of Costa and Ulissi. I think the Italian will have a really good race here as he prepares for the Giro.

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He impressed me a lot in Pais Vasco, especially his 8th place in the TT. Since then he was in the second group in Amstel and finished in 10th place in Fleche. Not bad form!

Bardet and Barguil will hope to top 10, but this is me just filling up some words and naming some more names as I’ve already suggested my winner…

Prediction

Greg Van Avermaet to show that Amstel was just a blip and he rounds out one of the best spring classics seasons of all time with a fine victory in Liege!

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Betting

Set my stalls out with this tweet earlier this week and again this morning;

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I’ll be marking him down as 200/1 with 0.5pt EW on. He’s into 150/1 now with most places and I still think there’s value to be had with that, especially if you can get the 4 places available.

I went a bit heavy-handed on Vakoc thinking I’d only have two picks and that would be it, but I’m going to have three now so the stakes have risen. It is the last monument for a while though so YOLO as the kids these days say…

0.5pt EW Vakoc @ 200/1

1pt EW Ulissi @ 66/1 with Bet365 (take the 50/1 and 4 places available elsewhere)

2pts EW GVA @ 22/1 with Coral who’re paying 4 places. (would take 20s)

 

Thanks as always for reading and any feedback is greatly appreciated like normal. Who do you think will win La Doyenne? Will we see an attacking race or will it come down to a relatively large group heading towards Liege? I’ll be back again with my Liege Femmes preview so please return for that! Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

Tirreno Adriatico 2017 Stage 4 Preview; Montalto di Castro ->Terminillo

Today’s Recap

A hectic finish that was tough but maybe not as tough as I imagined. I have to apologise as I thought it was a slightly different finish to that of last year but it was exactly the same, doing too many previews for my own good! Or that’s my excuse anyway. 😉

Anyway, it was Peter Sagan who took a dominate sprint win, ahead of Viviani and Debuscherre.

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It was a really, really weird top 10 as a crash behind took out or at least severely hindered some of the favourites for the day.

Nonetheless, let’s have a look ahead at what the riders can expect tomorrow.

The Route

A tough GC day and an ascent of the famous Terminillo.

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The opening part of the stage really acts as a prelude, this is all about the final climb.

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It’s a very similar climb to the one we’ll see in Paris Nice but is made harder in my opinion by the irregularity of it. Most of the climb is close to 8%, but there are a few kilometres that are roughly 4% and this lowers the average gradient quite a bit. The top of the climb does “flatten out” so if riders arrive together we might see some kind of sprint, but I can’t see that happening.

Weather Watch

Oh boy, looks a bit nippy out there!

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Weather forecast for Terminillo (Source: Accuweather)

That real feel of -5°C looks like a real killer. Especially when you consider the strong winds forecast and the finish tomorrow looks horrible. The wind will more than likely be a cross-head for most of the climb so it might nullify some of the attacking we could see, which would be a real shame. Conversely though, once you lose the wheel it will be hard to get back on!

How will the stage pan out?

There is a chance we could see the breakaway go all the way. This will only happen if the riders in the peloton are fearful of what might happen on the Terminillo and they don’t want to chase all day.

However, I do think we will see some type of GC battle on the Terminillo. There in theory should be enough firepower and motivation behind to close down the break and set up the overall contenders to battle it out for bonus seconds and more!

Contenders

Nairo Quintana has to start as the clear favourite. After being marked out of the competition in Abu Dhabi he’ll be here to exact revenge. Movistar brought a crack TTT squad with them to put him in the best possible GC position going into this stage and they’ll expect him to deliver. He won a truly epic stage in the snow at this race back in 2015 and a repeat of that feat is more than on the cards!

Who can challenge him?

Honestly, no one in my opinion. Everyone else will more than likely be fighting for second place unless there is some crazy tactical battle or Nairo pops.

Geraint Thomas looked very strong on his way to the win on stage 2. This climb is a completely different beast but given his immediate lack of a GC threat he is a rider who could squirrel away from the bunch. As I said in my overall preview for this race, I think he’s going very well at the moment and is a genuine threat for a podium in the Giro. A good result tomorrow would go a long way to solidifying that thought.

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Of course, his Team Sky team-mates Landa or Rosa may also profit from the awful TTT and be given some freedom. They both have the abilities to do well here and are naturally better climbers than Thomas. If one of them manages to get a 30 second gap on Terminillo they could be tough to bring back.

Thibaut Pinot, much like his wine namesake, prefers the temperature cooler. He often seems to struggle when things get toasty, so a day in the cold, wet break of Strade Bianche will have set him up nicely for this stage. He is clearly going well in this early part of the season. Anyone who beat Contador in Valenciana is going strongly!

Vincenzo Nibali normally copes well in awful conditions but his own personal condition is a bit unknown. He’s gone better at the start of this year than he has done in the past, but does that mean that he is capable of finishing on the podium here?

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BMC will be looking to hold onto the GC lead with Tejay Van Garderen but it will be tough. The American had a difficult Abu Dhabi, struggling with illness, but has arrived here as their GC leader. He seems to struggle in poor conditions at times and I fear that may be the same outcome for him tomorrow.

The rider who finished second to Quintana in 2015 on this stage is here again. Bauke Mollema will have been disappointed with his team’s TTT but a good performance here puts him back in contention for the overall podium. He’s a real slogger, so to say, and will certainly give it his all.

Tom Dumoulin appears to have started this season in great form and I’m sure he’ll be up there again tomorrow but it’s just the length of the climb that worries me with him.

Fabio Aru has been relatively attentive at the front of the bunch in the past two finishes, not wanting to lose any time in splits. He’s started his season solidly with a third and eighth GC placings in his first two stage races. His time trial on the final stage will most certainly let him down, so he needs to make the most of his good climbing legs tomorrow, if he has them!

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Adam Yates will want to try to replicate what his brother managed today in Paris Nice. Finishing 7th in 2015, two years stronger now and a 4th place finisher at the Tour, he certainly has a chance of getting a better result this time round. His win in Industria last Sunday certainly was very impressive!

Rui Costa is the form rider of the season so far, but I think a good result here will be a step too far. Yet again though, after a poor TTT like many others, he has a chance of being gifted a bit of freedom.

Rafal Majka is another who could be gifted some freedom. The Polish rider is one of the more under-appreciated climbers in the peloton and this long slog looks as if it will suit him!

Prediction

The GC field in this edition is a lot stronger than when Quintana last won here in 2015. However, barring some kind of miracle I feel we might get the same result. Do I believe in miracles? No, but I do believe in outsiders and crazy things happening! Team Sky to profit from having three strong guys but not considered GC threats, yet. I’ll give Rosa another chance!

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Or Quintana just wins by 30 seconds…

Betting

Rosa 1pt EW @ 25/1 with Bet365.

You might get better as more places price up later on but I don’t have the time to be waiting around!

Thanks for reading and any feedback is greatly appreciated! Who do you think will win? Can anyone stop Nairo? Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

 

Tirreno Adriatico 2017 Stage 2 Preview; Camaiore -> Pomarance

Today’s Recap

Easy win for BMC in the end!

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I did say Team Sky were my outsiders if something crazy happened, but I did not expect a wheel explosion! It was an awful TT for them, with Landa and Rosa also suffering punctures, resulting in them losing 1 minute 42 seconds on the day. They’ll have to have an attacking race to salvage something now.

Could tomorrow offer an opportunity? Let’s take a look.

The Route

A long, long day in the saddle for the riders at 228km. Good practice for Milan – San Remo I guess though?!

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Nothing really happens in the first 120km of the stage but once they’re into the final 100km the road is up and down all day.

The longest climb of the day is up to Volterra.

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9.85km in length, it averages 4.45% in gradient so not overly difficult. It will be interesting to see if any team comes to the front and increases the pace.

After that, we have a descent followed by some valley roads before we reach our penultimate climb of the day. There’s no official information in the road book about it, but I’ve managed to locate the Strava segment (I think!). View it here.

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It’s 4.4km long, averaging 5.2% in gradient. However, as you can see, the climb itself is very irregular with some ramps above 15%. Cresting at just over 20km to go, will it be a launchpad for an attack?

Another fast descent follows as we head to our uphill finish in Pomarance.

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A punchy finish is what I’d certainly call it; a few steep ramps separated by a lot of false flat. It’s the same finishing town that we had last year, with Stybar winning, but it’s a slightly different finale this time round.

How will the race pan out?

This stage in theory could suit a multitude of riders, with the likes of Sagan and EBH potentially fancying their chances at the line. However, I think after the events that we saw today, tomorrow will be a much more explosive and attacking day than initially thought.

Late attack? Reduced sprint? Group of 5 or so get away? They’re all possibilities!

Sky will be really bitter and embarrassed after today and with almost being out of the race already they will have to change their approach to a more aggressive one. Not something they’re used to! I reckon they’ll get Kiryienka to set a fairly tough pace on the penultimate two climbs to try and get rid of the fast finishers such as Sagan and co. Or at least some of their squad mates.

So in my scenario we might have a peloton of 75 riders or so approaching the run in to Pomarance and then we get some fireworks.

I’m going to do my usual in this situation where the stage outcome is tough to call and name a few riders and how they can win it…

Mattia Cattaneo.

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The Italian has started the season very well with his new team, picking up the win in the final stage of La Provence. He was on the attack again in Industria mid-week, but could only manage 4th there. Nonetheless, he still seems to be on good shape! As part of the Androni squad, no doubt Giani Savio will be demanding that his riders are attacking throughout the stage. They’ll put someone in the break but save Cattaneo and Gavazzi for the end of the day. It would be bad for the peloton to underestimate him when he makes his move in the final 5km!

Rohan Dennis.

The rider who finished second on the stage Cattaneo won in La Provence, Dennis managed to hold on for the overall title. He seemed in scintillating form today in the TTT so he should manage this climb easily. Apparently he wants to be a legitimate second GC option here for them, so a win and some bonus seconds would help his cause! With his TT prowess, if he gets a 10 second gap then he will be tough to reel back in. Also, if the race is made too tough for GVA (will need to be ridiculously fast paced), then he will be the teams sprint option.

Diego Rosa.

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As I mentioned above, Sky will not be very happy after today and will want an immediate response. With 4 potential options on a stage like this, I imagine Rosa will actually be the one least marked. He is a brute of a rider and is capable of riding away from everyone behind on the tougher lower slopes of the climb. With a lack of co-ordination behind he could manage to hold on!

Prediction

I’ll go for an outsider from a favourites team, Rohan Dennis to win!

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Betting

After today’s big stakes, I don’t want to get overly involved in tomorrow’s stage. Swithered about going EW but have decided against it!

Dennis 0.6pt WIN @ 100/1 with Betfair/PP (Would take 80s)

Rosa 0.6pt WIN @ 50/1 with Bet365 (Would take 33s)

Cattaneo 0.3pt WIN @ 66/1 with Betfair/PP

 

Thanks for reading like always! How do you think tomorrow is going to play out? I’m hoping for an exciting last 100km. Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

 

 

Tirreno-Adriatico 2017 GC Preview

Tirreno-Adriatico 2017 GC Preview

The second stage race of the week and before the madness of the first few days in Paris Nice, it was the one I was looking forward to more!

Last year we saw the bad weather really hit this race hard and the mountain top finish on stage 5 was cancelled. This meant we had a really weird-looking top 10 for a week-long stage race and it was Greg van Avermaet who took the overall win, one second ahead of Peter Sagan.

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I can’t imagine we’ll get the same controversial outcome this year as the weather seems to be much better this time round.

Let’s see what’s in store for the riders over the coming week.

The Route

Like always, this will be a brief run through as I’ll be doing daily stage previews!

Stage 1.

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A pan flat 22.7km team time trial should open up some GC gaps and set the racing up nicely for the coming week.

Stage 2.

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A long day in the saddle for the riders with a tough finale. Looks to be one for the strong puncheurs!

Stage 3.

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A rolling day that should end in a sprint. The last 1.5km does average 3.5% though!

Stage 4.

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With the TTT setting the GC order, this stage will shake things up, that’s for sure with the very tough finish up Terminillo. On a bad day here and you can lose a lot of time.

Stage 5.

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Arguably a tougher day due to the relentless up and down nature of the second half of the stage. Will we see a team go crazy, à la Giro 2015 – Astana vintage?

Stage 6.

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Another rolling day with a little kicker near the finish. Will it be a bunch sprint, or will we see a morning break or late attack succeed?

Stage 7.

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Another pan flat time trial, this time of the individual variety. Will the GC be close enough for movement in the overall standings?

GC Contenders

Where else to start than with the best climber in the peloton, Nairo Quintana. The Colombian looked insanely strong in Valenciana but was marked out of the race brilliantly by Contador in Abu Dhabi. The Movistar squad looks geared towards giving him the best possible start in the TTT and with Moreno and Amador he should have some good support in the mountains. The Terminillo stage is perfect for him, but like others, I think his lack of one-day racing might let him down on Stage 5. He’ll really need his team to be strong then. It could well come down to the final day TT!

Thibaut Pinot will be hoping to build on his good showings in Andalucia and Strade with a real tilt at the GC here. His team produced one of the surprises of the season last year in the opening TTT, highlighting the change in attitude from the squad towards the time trialling discipline. They should perform well once again there and Pinot should be near the front in the mountain stages. Does he have enough to win?

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Tom Dumoulin will relish the pan-flat individual time trial and his Sunweb team looks OK for the TTT. The Dutchman has been in good shape at the start of this season, performing well on Saturday in Strade Bianche. He did well to finish 5th, considering the great form that those in front of him are in. The length and steepness of Terminillo could be a struggle for him, it’s right on his limits, but he will enjoy the climb being fairly regular in gradient. With a solid sprint on him too, we could see him challenging for bonus seconds on a couple of the punchy stages. If he’s within 30 seconds on the final day he’ll fancy his chances!

Last year Vincenzo Nibali was left bitterly disappointed after the cancellation of the Queen stage. He’s back again this year, looking for vindication possibly? Starting the year much better than he normally would, I’m intrigued to see how well he goes here in respect to his Giro preparation. A solid TTT will set him nicely for the week.

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Team Sky arrive with a ridiculously stacked team but I imagine Landa and Thomas will be co-leaders, on paper at least. The Spaniard looked strong in Andalucia, doing a lot of work for the team but still managing to finish off stages relatively high up in the standings. Whereas Thomas has not raced since the Tour Down Under, but has instead been away training with Froome in South Africa. It’s yet to be seen how that will have affected him, but wanting to be co-leader with real ambitions at the Giro, he will need a good performance soon. If not here, then possibly in Trentino. On a slight side note, I think he’ll go very well in the Giro! A third rider may well be up on GC for Sky too – Rosa. Like Landa, the Italian did a lot of the donkey work in Andalucia but still finished the race in a high GC position. Having three riders close on GC during stages 4 and 5 will give Sky a massive tactical advantage and he could well be the one benefiting from it. His TT is weak, but with the stage being short he shouldn’t lose more than 45 seconds.

Rui Costa has been the form rider in this early part of the season and he certainly can’t be discounted because of it. However, the finish to Terminillo isn’t his cup of tea at all, the climb is far too long for him in my opinion. He’s also bound to lose time in both of the TTs, so I can’t see him taking another victory here, or even a podium. I am prepared to eat my words though.

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Van Garderen was ill in Abu Dhabi so failed to produce anything noteworthy there. He’s bound to have a good performance in the TTT but can he hold onto that for the rest of the race. No. I don’t think so.

Aru has had a good start to the season by his standards. The Astana team are worried about the TTT so they’ve drafted in some strong riders to support him and I think they’ll put in a fairly good effort and not lose as much time as might be expected. He will enjoy the stage to Terminillo but the ITT will be a struggle. A podium result would be good.

A winner this weekend just gone, Yates will be hoping of putting in a solid performance here at this race. Orica bring a strong team of flat riders, mainly in support of Ewan so they should put in a decent TTT effort. The Brit will enjoy the stage to Fermo but the ITT could be where he ships a lot of time.

Mollema is a dangerous outsider for this race. He’s another who’s started the season very well and will hope to get some leeway as the favourites mark each other. Trek are going well in the TTs this year so he’ll hope to be put in a good position. He’s not one to be discounted.

Majka, Roglic and Uran could all surprise but it will take that, a surprise, for them to win this race in my opinion.

Prediction 

The GC here really comes down to how much time Quintana can take on Terminillo. There is a chance he might get marked out of the race, as he did in Abu Dhabi, but is anyone in good enough form to be able to follow him as easily as Contador did?

As I’m really struggling to nail this one down, I’m going to revert to type and go with a bit of an outsider, with some hopefully sound logic!

I really think having numbers up on GC  will be very important for a team, especially considering how manic the stage to Fermo could be. We don’t have the Astana of 2015 here, but we do have two of their riders in one squad; Team Sky. The Terminillo stage should see them have three riders within a minute of the lead and I expect them to go wild the following day. Diego Rosa looks like the ideal candidate to benefit from this, as Landa and Thomas mark those behind. The Italian loves one day racing and the type of terrain we get in this race seems to suit him perfectly. He’ll just need a good margin before the final stage!

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Betting

0.5pt EW Rosa @66/1 with Ladbrokes. (Would take down to 50/1)

 

Thanks for reading as per! This will be the first of three previews out tonight so keep an eye out for the others. I intend to have Tirreno Stage 1 out next but like always, that will depend on what gets priced up/and when by the bookmakers. They both might be out at the same time. Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

Strade Bianche 2017 Preview; Siena -> Siena

Strade Bianche 2017 Preview; Siena -> Siena

One of my favourite races of the year, hands down! It has the mix of everything really; awesome parcours; great start-list; amazing scenery; and some pretty aggressive racing.

Cancellara broke the heart of Brambilla last year, and managed to out-fox Stybar into the final corner, taking a quite excellent win.

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Cancellara is obviously not here this year, so that leaves the door open for a new victor or one of the three former winners that are here to regain their crown.

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

The Route

I’m going to make this section a lot, lot shorter than normal because there are already several previews out there with this information so I don’t want to bore you with it again!

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There you go…

Basically lots of short sharp punchy hills, although there are a couple of longer ones earlier on, interspersed with gravel sections. Rolling terrain for most of the day means there is little time to rest and the action is always on.

A tough closing 20km can see someone get away solo, but there is also the possibility that it all comes down to a sprint up to the Piazza del Campo!

One thing that may have a say in that is the…

Weather

After the brutal conditions in Samyn mid-week, I’m sure the peloton would have been hoping for something less miserable here. The fans certainly want the opposite and it looks as if the weather gods are going to appease the crowds.

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Weather in Siena (Source: Wunderground)

Nothing concrete but there is a very good chance we’ll get rain at some point during the race, which would make it even more of a spectacle. I’m sure a lot of you will remember the Giro in 2010…

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It probably won’t get as torrid as that, but even a smattering of rain could cause some issues for the riders!

Anyway, who’s got a chance of taking the crown this weekend?

Contenders

Where better to start than with the current world champion, Peter Sagan. The Slovak shredded the race to bits in Omloop last Saturday and once again was in the thick of the action on Sunday, managing to win Kuurne. He clearly is in very good form at the moment and he has gone well here in the past. My one issue with him is that he always seems to struggle on the final climb up to the Piazza so he’ll need to ride everyone off of his wheel before then. Not impossible, but I can’t see it happening. Am I being too bold discounting him?

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After me playing up his chances for Omloop, Zdenek Stybar, was left bitterly disappointed at the end of the race, visibly shaking his head as he crossed the line. That to me indicates that he knew he could and should have been a key protagonist in the outcome of the race. Held up in the crash that took out Boonen, he tried attacking later on in the race to bridge across to the lead group but couldn’t manage it. I’m sure he’ll want to bounce back this weekend in a race that suits him very well, he did win it in 2015 after all! With Brambilla and Vakoc, he has a strong support team which could very well be crucial.

Picking up the win in Omloop while still not at 100% form shows what a great cyclist Greg Van Avermaet is. The Belgian has done fairly well here in the past but hasn’t managed to win this race yet, with the closest being a second place finish to Stybar in 2015. Good on short, steep climbs and rough terrain, he has all of the characteristics to win this race. Yet, like Sagan, I just have a feeling he won’t and I’m not sure why. BMC do have a very strong team with them and an in-form Hermans could be a very useful second card to play in a tactical race.

Without Cancellara, Trek will turn to Fabio Felline as their main charge for this race. After an explosive start to his season, winning Il Laigueglia, he’s followed that up with a 5th place in the TT at Andalucia and a 4th at Omloop last weekend. This race should suit him perfectly and if he can follow the best over the gravel, he certainly has a very good chance up the punchy climb to the Piazza.

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Sky arrive here with a very solid squad; Kwiatkowski, Rosa and Puccio all have a chance of going well. The Pole seems to slowly be returning to the rider he once was before he joined Sky, finishing 2nd on GC in Algarve earlier in February. However, he still didn’t seem in tip-top shape so this race might be too early for him. On the other hand, Rosa looked very strong in Andalucia and had he not been working for others (again!), could have finished higher up himself. He seems to love one-day racing in Italy and may very well go on to win here, but he’ll need to come to the line alone! Puccio is a bit of a wild-card, but this is his home race and he always manages a fairly decent result here. Well, apart from last year when I had backed him and he had 3 mechanicals while in the front group. I won’t put the #HaugheyCurse on him this year, but I shall be watching with interest.

Benoot and Wellens will lead the charge for Lotto Soudal. Both riders are capable of winning here if they get a bit of luck, but both will need a different type of race to play out. Benoot will be the one happier waiting until the finish line whereas Wellens is much more likely to go on the attack from far out. He’s certainly a danger if given too much leeway!

I’m really intrigued by the selection that Astana bring to this race, because on paper it looks a very strong, well-rounded team. They have a former winner in the shape of Moser and a podium finisher with Gatto. Not to mention Amstel Gold runner-up Valgren, solid one-day racer and climber Sanchez, and Grand Tour winner Aru. The last of those makes his second appearance at this race after finishing 20th here way back in 2013. Often slated for his one-day racing, he’s not as bad at these types of races as he’s made out to be in my opinion, and I’m hoping to be pleasantly surprised by Aru tomorrow. The race only being 175km certainly helps him.

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FDJ arrive with a solid squad and it seems to be the same riders that are following Pinot around all year. Thibaut himself has had a good start to the season, picking up a very impressive stage win in Andalucia. Anyone who managed to beat Contador there must be going well! Making his debut in this race, he might struggle with some of the surfaces but I think his form will overcome that and he is my dark horse for the win. His team-mate Reichenbach is another good outside candidate if we get a very tactical race where the “second string” riders get sent up the road and manage to end up staying away. Like Pinot, he was also impressive in Andalucia and can’t be discounted.

Roglic, Haas, Dumoulin and Vanmarcke could all go well with a bit of luck.

Prediction

Like my women’s preview (shameless plug, view it here) I’ve had this rider in mind all week for this race. Unlike that preview though, I have had my doubts about him but that’s been purely based off of his odds being shorter than I would have liked. Nonetheless, after much deliberation I still think he’ll take the victory, capitalising on some good early season form. If we get bad conditions, that makes it even better for him. Stybar to win!

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Betting

As mentioned above, I was almost backing out of this one purely because I would have hoped for something like 10/1 on Stybar. But the more I think about it, the 6-7/1 on offer in places is still good value IMO.

Stybar 2pts WIN @7/1 with PaddyPower (would take 6/1 available elsewhere)

I tweeted these two out yesterday after prices were released but they have subsequently been shortened;

Pinot 0.25pts EW @200/1 with Bet365 (would still take 125/1 with PP or the 100/1 with William Hill)

Reichenbach 0.25pts EW @ 300/1 with Bet365 (would still take the 200/1 with PP or the 150/1 widely available)

I don’t really like any of the H2H available at the moment. Might change my mind later.

 

Once again, thanks for reading and any feedback is greatly appreciated. Who do you think will win this incredible race? I’ll be back again tomorrow with a Paris-Nice GC and Stage 1 preview so keep an eye out for them. Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.