Pais Vasco 2017 Stage 6 Preview; Eibar -> Eibar (ITT)

Today’s Recap

The break was kept on a tight leash all day and was brought back before the 50km to go mark. Orica were the team taking on the brunt of the pace making duties, but when we got to the final climb Yates looked a bit flat. Instead, for a while it looked as if Meintjes and Woods were going to surprise the favourites, but they were brought back just before the summit.

That left a couple of kilometres of false flat/descent which saw Sanchez spectacularly fall off while no-one was around him. According to reports apparently he hit a stone! He looked pretty bashed up when crossing the line.

Reducing the front group by two (the crash distanced Contador by a few seconds), Valverde used his knowledge of the finale (he won on this finish in the 2012 Vuelta), beating Uran and Bardet to the line.

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Too easy in the end for him!

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

The Route

Climb -> Descent -> Flat. A real mixed bag of a TT!

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@LasterketaBurua

No Strava profile from me today as I’m short of time.

As you can see above, the opening climb isn’t exactly easy; 5.2Km long at 7.3%. The riders will be fairly happy that the gradients are relatively consistent. Saying that, the first 3.5km of the climb averages closer to 9%, with the remainder of it tapering out.

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The Strava profile of the climb can be viewed here.

There are a few twists and turns on the descent but there is nothing too crazy.

The second half of the stage is mainly flat, but there are a few short kick-ups, with 700m at 9.7% looking to be the toughest. We finish with a couple of kilometres of false-flat to the finish line.

Thankfully for the riders, the conditions appear to be similar all day so there’s no need to worry about that!

I’m intrigued to see how many riders start on a road bike and switch to a TT bike later on, the latter part of the stage is certainly long enough for the aerodynamics of the TT bike to have an effect. Or if we’ll just see them ride a road bike with bars? Who knows!

Contenders

After his stage win the other day, Roglic has to start as one of the main contenders for tomorrow’s TT. After all, it is the discipline he shot to prominence in at the Giro last year, taking a great stage win! He has the climbing ability and flat power to contend on a course like this. Yet, I’m concerned with how far he finished today. The last climb isn’t properly suited to his abilities but to lose over a minute isn’t great. He can’t be ruled out though!

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Ion Izagirre is arguably the favourite though. Losing only 15 seconds today, he is within distance of stealing the overall title. A great all round, one-week stage racer, he should be close to the times of the better climbers on the mountain and hope that his good descending and rouleur skills will be enough to take victory.

Valverde will be high on confidence after his win today, looking exceptionally strong on the climb. The inclusion of a long climb suits him tomorrow, likewise does the descent. The question is, can he hold onto any lead on the flat? He looks powerful at the moment and seemingly in the form of his life, so I would be surprised if he didn’t.

After several bits of bad luck in this race, Contador can count his blessings to be only 3 seconds behind the leaders at this moment in time. Like the rest of that front group today, he looked good on the climb, trading blows with Valverde as if it was the Vuelta. He’s re-found his TT form again this season and is certainly in with a chance of the win tomorrow. Let’s just hope he doesn’t get impeded by a dog this time!

Sky have a few options tomorrow but I fear Henao might struggle on the flat and Kwiatkowski seemed to be struggling today. Will they let Kiryienka have a go? I would image so because Sky will want one of their earlier guys to give feedback to the later starters. The length of the course is more to his liking than recent TTs and he’ll hope to be within touching distance after the climb and eat up the flat final 2/3rds of the route!

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Apart from those guys I can’t really see anyone competing!

Uran has looked great this race so far but hasn’t put in a decent TT time in donkey’s years!

Bardet will love the climb but struggle on the flat.

One outsider who might break the mould tomorrow is Spilak. After a truly awful 2016, he seems to be returning to form. He was the eternal second place in tough TTs in 2015 and he may surprise again tomorrow.

Predicition

You can never trust Kiryienka being let off the leash so it looks set to be a toss-up between Izagirre v Contador v Valverde.

I think the former will lose too much time on the climb and struggle to regain it back on the flat. Which means we are left with the age-old Contador/Valverde battle.

Without much to seperate them on the flat, I think the longer climb will play a part and it will be Contador who will take the win!

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Watch out for a certain Solvenian though, and not the one you are thinking about!

Betting

Sitting on 3pts profit for the race so far, so just going to play up that here.

2pts WIN Contador @ 5/2

0.5pt EW Spilak @ 25/1

 

It’s early but I’m adding a couple of Roubaix long shots before tomorrow’s preview;

0.25pt EW Groenewegen @ 250/1 with Bet365 (would take 150/1)

0.25pt EW Theuns @200/1 with Bet365/Coral (would take 150/1)

 

Thanks as always for reading! Who do you think will win the stage, and with it possibly the GC too? I’ll be back again tomorrow with my Paris Roubaix preview for stay tuned for that. Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

Pais Vasco 2017 Stage 5 Preview; Bilbao -> Eibar (Arrate)

Today’s Recap

A flying and ever-attacking Roglic denied those hoping for a reduced bunch sprint. After what seemed his fifth dig off the front, the Slovenian finally got away in the closing couple of kilometres and held on to the line.

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Behind, Matthews sprinted to second, with Visconti re-finding his form from a few years ago to get up for 3rd.

The 2 second margin Roglic gained at the line sees him move up to 2nd on GC, but that will no doubt change after tomorrow’s Queen Stage. Let’s have a look at what’s in store for the riders.

The Route

A short but very intense stage!

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@LasterketaBurua

With 6 climbs in only 138km, it’s sure to be a lively affair.

However, we have almost 40km of flat to start the day off with, and I expect the fight to get into the break to be quite tough. Then again, the first attempt of the day might go!

The first climb of the day comes too far from home to be of any danger, but from our first passage of Ixua, then the race could well be on. Officially the climb is 6.2km long at 7.02%, but as you can see on the profile from the guys at Lasterketa Burua, the final 3.8km of the climb averages 9.7%. Tough!

From thereon, the rest of the stage is either climbing, descending or short valley roads.

The Cat-3 climb isn’t that tough, but the second passage of Ixua crests at only 32km to go. We then have a fast descent before the penultimate climb of the day.

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Only a Cat-3 and with a steady gradient, it shouldn’t be too tough for the peloton. However, that all depends on how the peloton approaches the preceding ascent of Ixua. If they tackle it as fast as I expect, then a few riders might even get dropped here. Or we’ll only be left with the best climbing talents in the peloton.

Another quick descent follows before a slow drag in the valley road and through Eibar itself before the final climb of the day.

4.7km at 9.3% or 3.8km at 10.5%; take your pick, either way it’s not easy!

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A couple of kilometres of false flat at the top will give those dropped a chance to regroup if a rider ahead implodes. However, that seems unlikely and we have a very short drop down to the finish line.

How will the stage pan out?

Normally, I’d be all over a break on a stage like this. No bonus seconds on the line certainly increases the breakaway’s chance of surviving as it doesn’t matter if the leading GC contender to cross the line is 1st or 7th. All that matters is the gap to the other challengers. We saw that last year when Rosa won from the break (crazy long-range attack) on the stage that is very similar to this one, there was still GC movement behind.

A break is what I had in mind for this stage when I first looked at the profiles but, that’s now changed!

My reasoning behind it is mainly due to the stage being around 20km shorter than I had originally thought. At only 140km with 6 categorised climbs, that’s a lot of climbing in a short space of time. Particularly when you consider that the first 30km are flat!

With so many riders still in contention, and some good TTers to boot, the better climbers in the race won’t want to give everyone an easy ride.

I’m looking at Movistar to light the race up.

Valverde is a competent TTer (especially in Spain), but he’ll still be wary of those around him! The finish climb looks great for him and the short steep ramps will suit him down to the ground. Considering how well he was climbing in Catalunya, he will be confident of dropping everyone, even Contador.

Getting rid of domestiques of the other GC favourites will also be of interest to Movistar. Along with Sky, they have the best climbing squad with them. Both teams should be able to turn the pace on and churn out some of the opposition riders. I would expect this to happen on the second passage of Ixua. From there, it will be a race of attrition and an explosive finale up the final climb.

Contenders

I think I’ve made it fairly clear above that Valverde is my favourite for the stage! He was unreal in Catalunya and I can’t see that being any different here.

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Contador will more than likely be one of his biggest challengers, although he might be suffering after his two crashes from today. Nonetheless, he’s one of the toughest riders around and will no doubt bounce back and give it his all.

Henao offers Sky their best opportunity on this type of finish. The Colombian is exceptional on relatively short, but steep climbs and he’ll be looking to gain some time before the TT. Kwiatkowski is a good second option but the climb looks too steep for him in my opinion.

Yates may finally get some freedom but even though he’s over a minute down, he has been heavily marked so far. That could well change tomorrow if there is a moment’s hesitation in the front group.

Alaphilippe would normally love this type of climb but he’s been terribly unlucky so far this race and will more than likely be on super domestique duties for De La Cruz.

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There are a couple of outsiders I’d like to throw into the mix.

Kudus performed spectacularly well on the steep climb of Llucena back in Valenciana in February. He seems to be getting back to top shape after going off the boil for a while. With a poor TT, he will want to attack here and may benefit from being a lesser name. He just needs to attack at the right time for once!

Valverde is not the only Movistar rider who I think might go well here. Ruben Fernandez burst into the general public’s consciousness last year with a great second place on the brutal finish on stage 3 of the Vuelta last year, which resulted in him taking the leader’s jersey. A former Tour de l’Avenir winner, he is an exceptionally classy rider and it is good to see him start to fulfil his potential. After a slow start to the year due to an injury sustained in the offseason, he is my dark horse for this stage!

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Prediction

Crazy stage where it’s full gas from the gun and a race of attrition throughout the rest of the day. Sky and Movistar will set a tough pace, but in the end we all know the outcome, Valverde wins!

Betting

Cojones on the line tomorrow;

Valverde 4pts WIN @ 7/2 with Bet365 (would take 3/1)

Fernandez 0.5pt EW @ 33/1 with Bet365 (would take 25/1)

 

Thanks for reading as always. A bit of a different focus in the preview today, with more of an emphasis on me trying to explain my logic behind how I think the stage will pan out. What do you think will happen? Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.