Innsbruck 2018 World Championships – Women’s ITT Preview

Last year saw clear favourite for the day Annemiek van Vleuten take home the rainbow jersey for the first time in her career with a strong performance but one that might not have been as dominant as some expected. Nonetheless, she got the job done and returns this year once again as the rider to beat.

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Compatriot Anna van der Breggen won the silver medal while Australia’s Katrin Garfoot took home bronze in her last World Championships. Both came home within 20 seconds of Van Vleuten and van der Breggen will be desperate to finally get one over her this year. First though, let’s have a look at what is in store for the riders throughout the afternoon.

The Route

A rolling course but how much it “rolls” depends on what resource you consult. According to the organisers there are 262m of total ascent over the 27.8km whereas with the Strava/Veloviewer profile I made has it at 396m. Bit of a discrepancy there!

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Given how much Strava over exaggerates some of the tiny little changes in altitude, I would have to agree that it will be closer to the official profile – maybe around 300m at most.

Either way, you can view the interactive VV profile here.

The route can really be split into two parts with the first 15km very straight forward aside from a couple of small bumps and rises before the more challenging second half.

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As witnessed in the men’s U23 this afternoon though, it isn’t that challenging compared to what it could have been, with the riders able to hold a lot of speed coming off of the descents. In fact, some riders hit 100km/h in sections so you can effectively nullify some of the rises by carrying enough speed. Therefore, having the right gearing will be important and it will be interesting to see what approaches the riders take.

Weather conditions look set to be similar-ish all day, although the wind might get slightly stronger later on, albeit by only 1km/h or so. That means over 3km of headwind before the crossing the river and turning left, with the majority of the rest of the course being aided by a slight cross/tail wind.

You can view the start list/times here.

Can anyone stop van Vleuten?

The reigning champion skipped the trade team event on Sunday so that she could be fully focussed and rested for tomorrow, and given her results in the individual events this year, who can blame her. In 2018 she has taken to the start for 4 TTs (not counting prologues or epilogues, see the TDU), with the Dutch woman winning 3 of them. In fact, the only race she didn’t win was her national championship where she finished 4th and behind the other three compatriots that are going to be here competing too.

In an interview with CyclingNews van Vleuten explains that she came into the season with three intended peaks. One smaller peak during the Spring Classics before a bigger peak for the Giro and then the Worlds. It is safe to say that the peak for the Giro was certainly “bigger”! She blew away the competition in that race and followed it up with my favourite finish to a race of the year, when she pipped van der Breggen in the closing 100m of La Course. I don’t think it is possible for her to be in even better shape than she was at the Giro, but if she arrives here in a similar vein of form then she is rightly the favourite.

The course tomorrow isn’t bad for her, but I think she would have preferred the climbs to be more challenging than they are, so she can really make a difference compared to some of the more traditional power TT riders.

Nonetheless, she has a big say in the outcome of the day and it will require her to be at less than 100% and for one of the other riders to be flying for her to lose.

It was all…Oranje?

We could feasibly see an all Dutch top 4 tomorrow.

Ellen van Dijk.

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The current and back-to-back European Champion will arrive here wanting to redeem herself after what was a disappointing 5th place in last year’s edition. The Sunweb rider is one of the most powerful in the women’s peloton and the mix of flat and rolling hills looks very good for her. She actually goes out quite early on in the day in what is a strong group of riders around that time. Guess that’s what happens when numerous nations have more than one person here!

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Said group of strong riders

Lucinda Brand.

The first Dutch rider down the ramp has the luxury of being the 5th rider out on the course. 2018 has been her best season to date and she has really developed as a rider, moving away from being just a strong one-day contender, into a much better climber. Her form doesn’t seem to be great at the moment though and I think she might struggle for a good result here: a top 10 would be solid.

Anna van der Breggen.

Arguably one of my favourite female cyclists so I am a bit biased but a lot has been made of her “poor season” in 2018. It says a lot that then considering she has won 5 races this year and numerous podium places. In the Spring she was untouchable and the only thing that stopped another Ardennes Triple happening was team tactics at Amstel. She has failed to win since Durango in May though and I think that has effected her a little bit. In TTs this season she has won 1 out of 4, finishing 2nd twice and third the other time. The course here looks great for her and she’s been slowly riding herself into form at the Boels Ladies Tour. If there is one rider who I think has a chance of beating van Vleuten, it is her.

Fight for the podium

If we’re to make the assumption that at least one, if not two of the podium spots will be secured by the Dutch, heck, even all three could as I’ve alluded to above, who is going to be the nearest challengers?

Amber Neben.

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A surprise winner of the 2016 edition, she was pretty atrocious by her lofty standards in 2017. A wax on wax off kind of rider though, she appears to be smashing it so far this year having won all 4 of the time trials she has entered. Maybe this is a wax on year?

Lisa Brennauer.

Disappointing in the European Championships, some of that can be attributed to her going deep on the track at the same competition. During the TTT event she looked to be the main driving force behind Wiggle’s strong time so there is definitely some form there. A bit hit or miss on road TTs, the 2014-champion can’t be ruled out on a rolling course.

Trixi Worrack.

Like her German compatriot, she seemed to be one of the main driving forces behind her teams sensational TTT win on Sunday. I’d have to say the course isn’t ideal for her but she did surprise and come third at the Euros so we could see something similar tomorrow.

Some outsiders to keep an eye on for finishing in or around the top 5 include; Thomas, Uttrup Ludwig and Cordon.

Prediction

For the TTTs I thought they were both two-horse races and in the end it was the third favourite who ended up winning. Tomorrow looks like a one-horse race but with a few riders who are ready to pounce. It will be incredibly tough to beat van Vleuten but I think it might actually happen and we’ll see van der Breggen take the win!

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I think she has timed her peak perfectly for this week and if she is at a similar level to her Spring campaign where she just rode away from everyone – the course will be a piece of cake for her.

Van Vleuten to come second with Neben rounding out the podium in third.

Betting

Another race that I can lose some money on!

Win only markets for the race and given that AVV is still the favourite, I don’t want to go wild with them.

1.5pt WIN AVDB @ 5/1 (Bet365/Ladbrokes)

Some H2H do entice me though.

4pts WIN van der Breggen to beat Van Dijk @ 3/4 (Unibet)

2pts WIN Neben to beat Van Dijk @ 7/2 (B365) – the price is just too big for a wax on year

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

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

Women’s Individual Time Trial World Championships Preview – Bergen 2017

After the somewhat of a shock win from Sunweb on Sunday in the team effort, our focus now turns to the individual race against the clock and riders are back to riding for their country, not trade teams!

The power course in 2016 saw Amber Neben of the USA take a surprise win, beating Van Dijk and Garfoot into the silver and bronze medal positions respectively.

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The 42 year-old is here to defend her title but there are plenty of others looking to take it from her. First though, let’s have a look at what is in store for the riders.

The Route

The women will complete just one “long lap” around Bergen, which is quite disappointing if I’m honest. Especially when you consider that the U23 men completed a “long” and “short” lap for their event today!

Anyway, as per usual I’ve made a Strava/Veloviewer profile of the route that you can view here.

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A fairly flat and not overly technical opening 5.6km will allow the power riders in the peloton to open up the taps and hopefully get into a rhythm. However, after that they will then face the toughest part of the course where that “rhythm” might get thrown out of the window!

Rolling Section Women's TT

Lots of small drags and fast descents for the riders to tackle, the term “rollercoaster route” describes this section perfectly. Averaging 2.7% for the 4.4km it isn’t too tough and the more traditional TTers would hope not to lose too much. Well, that is until we get to the climb that has put to bed some of the contenders chances over the past few days of action.

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A short but very sharp climb, it is important to pace it and not go too deep. The lighter riders will hope to make up some time here but given its length, they won’t be able to make up much. If only the women finish on Mount Floyen too!

The reason pacing is important, is because the riders still have more than half of their ride to complete.

That closing 11kms actually average -1% so it can be a place for riders to gain a lot of time if they nail the descents and put the power down on the flat. We saw this in the women’s TTT with Sunweb gaining roughly 15 seconds on Boels over that section. Can Van Dijk do it again?!

Weather Watch

Over the past few days it has hardly rained. We had a smattering during the women’s junior TT earlier but in the city that is apparently one of the wettest in the world it has been a lot less than expected.

However, that might change tomorrow.

Saying that different forecasts have different outlooks. You can’t trust meteorologists these days!

So I’ll go off of Yr.no (A Norwegian site) which hopefully should be the most accurate*…

*famous last words.

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Source : YR.no

It seems that we’re in for another sprinkling of rain in the afternoon, which in theory should affect those late on in the order.

Speaking of which, Lauren Stephens is first down the ramp at 15:35 local time, with defending champion Neben off last at 16:54.

You can view the full start list and times here.

Contenders

I’m really not sure what to make of this race tomorrow. We have a whole host of riders who in theory could compete on this course, but it all depends on their form!

Lauren Stephens.

First down the ramp, the American will no doubt set the fastest time early on but it could be one that might stand a while. She’s been very impressive so far this season, taking 3 wins to her name, including two-time trials. Possibly benefiting from better weather, can the strong all-rounder shock the peloton?

Anna van der Breggen.

World Championships - Womens TT

The rider who could potentially knock Stephens off that early hot-seat, the Dutchwoman has had a great season; winning a famous Ardennes Triple. Her efforts against the clock have been solid, but she’s failed to win a TT. The course tomorrow suits her as a strong all-rounder but I think she might prefer a few more hills.

We’ll then have to wait a bit for riders to challenge the times of the two above. There will be some who might come close but I can’t see anyone beating them for almost another hour…

Annemiek van Vleuten.

The bookmaker’s favourite for this race “Vleuty” has been incredibly strong this season, bouncing back form her horror crash in Rio last year. Everything she’s touched recently has turned to gold pretty much, it has been a truly remarkable effort. She will arrive her full of confidence after beating Van Dijk in the recent Boels Rental Tour and she has every chance to do that again. My one doubt about her is that as she has been so strong for a large percentage of the year, is she starting to tire now, while others have managed their peaks a lot better?

Ellen Van Dijk.

The third Dutch rider/potential winner on the start list, she was instrumental in helping Sunweb to the TTT title on Sunday. A powerhouse on the bike, the course looks almost ideal for her. She is one of the last riders down the start ramp so she’ll be hoping any rain holds off until after she has finished, but she will be up there fighting either way. I imagine she will be satisfied with nothing less than Rainbow at the end of the day.

Amber Neben.

Last year’s somewhat of a shock winner, we could well be in for another surprise again. I personally don’t know much about her as I only started following the women’s side of the sport a few years ago, but she apparently can put out some serious watts. At 42 years old though, surely this is a step too far? Then again, winning your first Worlds at 41 kind of negates that a bit…

Olga Zabelinskaya.

10-08-2016 Giochi Olimpici Cronometro Elite Donne; 2016, Russia; Zabelinskaia, Olga; Rio De Janeiro;

A strong TT rider with a “dubious” racing history, she always seems to go fairly well at the big events. Her form this season has been poor though and she disappointed at the Euro Champs. However, given her ability to surprise then who knows what we’ll get from her tomorrow!

Katrin Garfoot.

Not too far off the pace last year, where she somewhat avoided the Haughey Curse and managed to take third; she will obviously be hoping to go better this time round. Like Van Dijk, this course looks great for the naturalised Aussie who can manage on the climbs but also put the power down on the flat. She has been slowly building some form and a third place during the Tour of Norway is promising. Watch out for her!

Others to look out for to be in and around the top 10 include Villumsen, Brennauer, and Duyck.

Prediction

Hmmm, I’m still really torn on this one.

The course suits a rider who can climb fairly well but is strong enough on the flat to put the power down. Before the Championships started I had this down as van Vleuten’s to win, but after watching the opening few days of racing I’m not so sure. In fact, I’ve changed my mind and I think Van Dijk has the best chance for the Dutch team.

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The European Champion to add a World title to her collection!

Watch out for Garfoot though, I think she could sneak a podium place and possibly even better…

Betting

The 7/2 available for Van Dijk to win is very tempting but I’m still not overly convinced. So to take out any “shocks” we might see, I think that the 2/1 to beat Van Vleuten offers some value.

I’m also tempted to back the Garfoot to beat Villumsen H2H at 5/4 as on this course I would have the Aussie as favourite.

I also think Garfoot is way overpriced as an outside podium contender at 22/1. As a rider who turned pro late (back in 2014) she’s since gone on and finished 11th/4th/3rd over the past three World TT competitions. Not bad. I think she’ll be close again tomorrow and has to be backed at the price.

So with all that said (including some of me talking through my logic) my punts are as follows –

3pts Van Dijk to beat van Vleuten @ 2/1 (would take 13/8)

5pts Garfoot to beat Villumsen @ 5/4 (would take at 10/11)

1pt EW Garfoot to win @ 22/1 (would back down to 14/1)

 

Thanks as always for reading and any feedback is greatly appreciated. Who do you think will win tomorrow? I think we’ll be in for an exciting and close afternoon of TT action. Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

 

Ladies Tour of Norway 2017 Preview

Another race to step up to Women’s World Tour level this year, the Ladies Tour of Norway celebrates only its 4th edition in 2017.

Last year as a 2.1 race, we saw a very dominant Rabo-Liv team take all three spots on the podium at the end of the Tour, with Lucinda Brand finishing ahead of De Jong and Koster.

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The current champion isn’t going to be here to defend her crown but with the step up to WT level, the startlist is stacked with talent waiting to take over.

First of all though, let’s have a look at what’s in store for the riders over the next 4 days.

The Route

Prologue.

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Full profile viewable here.

The race starts with a short and explosive prologue on Thursday evening. Pretty much pan-flat, this is an effort that will suit the strong riders of the peloton, but also those who can hold a high power over a short period of time, i.e. some of the sprinters!

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The circuit is quite technical with a few tight turns involved over the course, meaning being able to power out of them and get back up to full speed quickly is a massive advantage. We’ve not seen a prologue at this race since back in 2014 when Vos won a very similar circuit in Halden. Can she repeat that on the opening day? Given her current form, it is definitely a possibility!

There is a chance of rain later in the day which could make things a bit of a lottery.

With such a short effort, there are a lot of riders who could be involved in the shake up at the end of the day.

I’ll go with Wiggle rider Annette Edmondson to take the win though. She won the prologue at the BeNe Tour earlier in the year, although that admittedly was half the length, but she is a rider with the perfect mix of explosiveness and sustained power to compete here. I mean, she is a pursuit medalist on the track after all!

Stage 1.

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Full profile viewable here.

A stage that is similar to what we saw in the Women’s Tour earlier in the year, where the road is constantly up or down all day. Now, these undulations normally aren’t too much in terms of length and gradient, but it is their repeated nature that could wear down the bunch.

Another thing that could make the day more selective than it may initially look on paper is the weather. Friday looks to be a pretty grim day and in the finish town of Mysen there is a chance of rain throughout the afternoon. The same can be said for elsewhere on the course and it could turn it into a race of attrition.

Once the riders reach Mysen they will face a 6.2km circuit that they will tackle three times.

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The circuit isn’t overly tough so some of the sprinters teams might want to control it but there are a few points where the opportunists might want to launch their attacks. It looks very balanced in that regard!

The most obvious launchpad is the 500m section (2.5 -> 3km) that averages 4.5%. With only 3km of the circuit left, if a strong trio or quartet of riders escapes here then they could be hard to bring back.

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As for the run in itself, the road does rise ever so slightly during 300m preceding the final turn you see above, where the riders will take a left and face then final 250m finishing straight.

Will it be a bunch sprint or a small escape group who fight out stage honours?

Given that there are only 4 stages in the race (including the prologue) then there isn’t much time for anyone wanting to make a tilt at the GC crown to make their move. Therefore I do think we’ll see a relatively attacking race on the opening road stage, where the bunch is whittled down due to the combination of a fast pace and bad weather. Once we get near the closing circuit we might have around 60 riders left at the head of the race.

From there, a group of riders from the “stronger” teams will escape and fight out the stage.

I’ll go with Leah Kirchmann for the win. After a breakthrough 2016 the Canadian has had a much slower 2017 so far, but her results have been steadily picking up some progress and headed in the right direction. She was third at the recent Vargarda and packing a punchy sprint she might just go better here!

Stage 2.

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Full profile viewable here.

A straightforward day, but a relatively long one at 144km. There is a lot more elevation gain than what we have on Stage 1, but the majority of it all comes early on in the stage, with the final 40km not featuring too much in the way of climbing.

The closing circuit looks as follows, with a few short rises in it.

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It is of course a possibility we could see someone try an attack on the circuit and hope to break the group up. The section between 3.5km and 5km on the image above will be crucial in terms of escape formation.

If the sprinters miss out the previous day, they won’t on this stage. The opposite situation is of course a possibility whereas the sprinters take the spoils on Stage 1 with an escape forming on Stage 2.

I still think that this stage is most likely to come down to a sprint though.

With that said, I’ll go with Lotta Leipistö to take stage honours. She is on incredible form at the moment and will be able to handle the few small lumps we have in the finale. Her finish (or should I say Finnish…I’ll get my coat) sprint in Vargarda was incredibly powerful. If she pulls off something like that again then there won’t be many who can beat her.

Stage 3.

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Full profile viewable here.

Arguably the Queen stage due to its length and elevation gain, the road seems to be constantly up or down all day. Just before the riders reach the final circuit, they will complete an 8km drag that averages 1.5%. Now, I don’t expect this to cause any gaps, although the final 300m do average 7%, instead, it should be a wearing down process if some of the stronger teams really push the pace on. With 120kms in their legs already, I think a few riders might be caught out by it.

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The closing circuit is very technical, with few really long straights. The old cliché of “out of sight, out of mind” rings true here! As for the altimetry, it can be split into; gradual rise, small hill, gradual descent, flat finish.

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Will anyone try to attack on the steep 10% ramps of the climb and use the twisting streets to stay away?!

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We even have some cobbles (well, paving stones) on part of the descent. This could become treacherous if the predicted bad weather arrives.

As for who might take stage honours? I’ll go with a Van Dijk late attack!

GC Battle

This is a tough race to call because the terrain itself isn’t overly difficult and all of the road stages in theory could end in a sprint if enough teams want it to.

Therefore the race could be decided by bonus seconds and how well a rider does in the opening prologue.

Yet, I think we’ll see some fast and very attacking racing this week, because the parcours isn’t too difficult. It is perfectly balanced in a position where a team can make some of the short climbs seem really hard due to the continuous rolling nature of the terrain. Furthermore, when the predicted rain and bad weather is thrown into the mix, we could see a tough race of attrition.

So for a rider to compete here they need to be good enough to be close to the head of the race after the prologue, fast enough to pick up some bonus seconds, and strong enough to follow any moves after an attritional day of racing.

Some riders to conjure with then are Pieters, Lepistö, Van Dijk, Kopecky and Bronzini to name but a few!

I’ll go with a Marianne Vos GC win though.

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The new European Champion is in sparkling form at the moment and she should be there on every stage. Her fast sprint means she should pick up bonus seconds and she’s not exactly a slouch in a prologue either. After all, she did win the opening prologue here back in 2014. A lot of riders will have her number marked, but with the way she is riding at the moment, it might be hard to stop her. She could feasibly win all 4 stages!

Coverage

Excellent news, we’ll be able to watch all of the road stages live with the final two hours of each stage being shown on Norweigian TV2. For those not in Norway, there should also be a stream on the UCI website and Youtube channel!

At the moment there is no information if we’ll see any of the prologue but the live images for the stages are as follows (local Norwegian time);

Stage 1: 16’30 – 18’30

Stage 2: 16’30 – 18’30

Stage 3: 14’30 – 16’30

The official hashtag looks to be #LTON17 so you’ll be able to follow race goings-on before the live images with that.

Anyway, thanks for reading as always and any feedback is greatly appreciated. Who do you think will win the race overall? Will we see an attacking race, or one where the sprinters teams control things? Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

OVO Women’s Tour 2017 Stage 5 Preview; London -> London

Today’s Recap

A very attacking stage by the sounds of it, with a few riders up the road throughout the day.

For a while it looked as if the break was going to win comfortably as Niewiadoma was shouldered with a lot of the work. However, some sprinters/GC teams came to the fore and helped to bring the gap down.

Nonetheless, a trio of riders managed to stay ahead until the end. With Majerus and Kirchmann doing a lot of the work pushing on for GC, it was Roy who took advantage in the end: taking a very strong sprint win!

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Majerus and Kirchmann move up to 2nd and 3rd on GC, mimicking their places on the stage. Niewiadoma has the GC sealed up though, with only one stage left in London tomorrow.

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

The Route

A pan-flat jaunt around London.

OVO Women's Tour Stage5

14 laps of a 6.2km long circuit, too long to be a crit, I’d say it’s more of a kermesse!

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Quite a technical course, positioning will be important coming into the last right hand turn before the slight drag to the finish line.

I’m not going to beat around the bush here, it should end in a sprint. There is of course a chance that we get some type of late attack, à la van der Breggen at La Course in 2015. But yeah, 99.99999% chance it ends in a sprint!

So, late attack? 😉

Contenders

Chloe Hosking.

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With a stage win under her belt already, the Aussie sprinter will be full of confidence going into tomorrow’s stage. She’s in great form this year but would probably prefer a slightly tougher course. The slight drag to the line will help her though!

Jolien d’Hoore.

Leader of the intermediate sprints competition, the Wiggle rider hasn’t had a chance to shine at the end of a stage yet. However, it is hard to deny that she is probably the fastest sprinter in the peloton at the moment, having won 2 stages in Chongming not too long ago. This type of circuit suits her down to the ground and with Bronzini as a pilot fish, she should be guided into the perfect position with 150m to go.

Hannah Barnes.

Leader of the Best Brit category (just ahead of her sister), I imagine the Canyon rider will be sprinting to keep ahold of that title. Cursed at the start of the week by me naming her as my GC favourite, she’s not down too badly to be in 5th place. On stage 2 where she finished second, I think she actually looked like the fastest rider but was just caught out of position. Obviously tomorrow’s stage is a lot easier but she should be up there again. Some bonus seconds on the line could see her move onto the podium!

Alice Barnes.

As much as they say there’s no sibling rivalry and that they get on well, the younger of the Barnes sisters will be gunning for victory tomorrow. Having taken a real step up this year performance wise and used to this style of racing due to her appearances in the Tour Series; I think she can feature prominently tomorrow.

Lizzie Deignan.

Women's Tour de Yorkshire 2017

With Majerus unlikely to move from second on GC, I think Boels will turn to the Tour de Yorkshire winner tomorrow. Well, unless they go for Blaak or Pieters, the latter could move into the top 10 if she gets some bonus seconds. Anyway, Deignan has been very quiet so far this race doing a lot of the work for the team, stating that she is here to build form for the national championships. I think she’ll want to test her legs in a sprint and what better to do so than at race pace tomorrow?! With the lead-out that Boels have, whoever they chose to be the sprinter has a great chance!

If we do get a late attack, look out for Ellen van Dijk. She’s looked very strong this week and is one of the few riders who can hold off a charging peloton.

Prediction

I’ll go for the Belgian Bullet Jolien d’Hoore to take the win!

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Thanks as always for reading and as usual any feedback is greatly appreciated! Hope you’ve enjoyed my take on this week’s racing. Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

 

 

 

OVO Women’s Tour 2017 Stage 4 Preview; Chesterfield -> Chesterfield

Today’s Recap

Gillow and Uttrup Ludwig did the blog some justice by getting in a mid-stage break but it was eventually clawed back by Sunweb who got a little bit of assistance from Boels.

We had a crash marred final 20km with several riders going down in various incidents, but the race ended in a relatively large bunch sprint.

Hosking took a great win, ahead of Barnes (Alice) and Van Dijk. The latter justified her teams hard-work all day, picking up some bonus seconds and moving into 2nd on GC.

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

The Route

The toughest stage of the race going off of elevation gain, the riders are set to face a lot of uncategorised climbs throughout the day.

OVO Women's Tour Stage 4

Here’s a link to the interactive version of the profile.

Most of the climbs come early but that doesn’t mean they won’t be attacked and we could see a significantly reduced group by the time the riders pass the second categorised climb of the day in Crich.

From there the route does get easier in the second half of the stage, allowing for some regrouping if the pace up ahead doesn’t stay constant. With some sore bodies after today’s stage, it will be hard to keep everything together.

There is a relatively long uncategorised drag of 3.1km at 3% that crests with just 6km to go and this looks like a perfect launchpad for some riders to put in one last dig!

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The finish into Chesterfield is quite technical with a few kinks in the road in the closing few hundred metres.

Will we see another sprint?

How will the stage pan out?

With this being the last stage where the GC order can really change, I expect a fast and attacking day throughout. The other teams will not want to admit it, but they’ll relish the fact that Vos has now unfortunately had to leave the race due to a broken collarbone that she suffered in a crash today. It means that Niewiadoma will be very exposed because as I said in my stage 2 preview; I’m not sure how long Kitchen and Koster will be able to hold onto the peloton for.

I think we’ll see strong teams such as Sunweb and Boels set a fierce pace early in the stage, looking to isolate the GC leader before the half-way point.

From there, I expect attacks to come thick and fast off the front of the peloton from several teams: forcing Niewiadoma to do a lot of the chasing.

Eventually, something will stick and as long as several of the main teams are represented, it won’t come back.

Will Niewiadoma make the split? Well, it all depends on where it goes. She’s clearly in stellar form at the moment and if they try to attack her on a climb she should be able to follow it. Whereas, if it goes on the flat then it reduces her chances. She may well adopt the adage of attack = best form of defense.

Depending on who makes the move will decide how important the final uncategorised climb will be. If there are a few strong climbers then they may want to try to distance others, not trusting their sprints.

The gap that they have will also be a factor. We might see them work together extremely well right until the end of the day to ensure they overhaul Niewiadoma’s GC lead.

Contenders

Hannah Barnes.

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Riding exceptionally well at the moment, my pre-race GC pick finds herself sitting 4th on GC but on the same time as her sister who is in third. Climbing well, she’s been prominent in all of the stages so far, with 14th being her worst result. A strong all-rounder with a fast sprint she will hope any group comes together to the line as that seems to be her best chance of winning. Nonetheless, the local rider isn’t afraid to attack either!

Ashleigh Moolman.

The South African is having a quiet but strong Women’s Tour so far, currently occupying 6th place on GC. She was one of the best on the climbs of stage 2, but it was a case of “too many cooks” that day. One of the only riders who I think can drop everyone on the rises tomorrow, she’ll co-operate with any group but hope to attack them on the final rise. I think she has a good chance of taking the win.

Amy Pieters.

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After her win on stage 2, Boels were intending to ride for the Dutchwoman today but unfortunately she was involved in a crash before the finish. Nothing too serious but a bit shaken up, she didn’t want to contend the sprint. If she has recovered from that then she has a good chance tomorrow. With 4 riders in the top 30, Boels will no doubt race the stage aggressively. Any of their riders could win, but Pieters seems to be climbing well and obviously sprinting well too so she covers both options!

Ellen van Dijk.

Second on GC and looking the most likely to usurp Niewiadoma, the Sunweb rider should like the look of tomorrow’s route. The climbs aren’t too tough and should suit her powerful riding style. Futhermore, if she makes it into a small group, she has the strength required to escape and TT her way to the line. I’m sure everyone will be very wary of her!

Of course, we could see plenty of other riders contend tomorrow’s stage. It could well be as we say in Scotland a “belter”! Just a shame it won’t be live…

Prediction

I’ll go for one of the form riders in the peloton at the moment, Ashleigh Moolman to take the win.

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No fancy hats as prizes here though! 😔

Thanks as always for reading and any feedback is greatly appreciated. Who do you think will win tomorrow? Will Niewiadoma hold onto her lead? Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth

 

 

 

La Flèche Wallonne Feminine 2017 Preview

The much more exciting race tomorrow, the women’s edition of La Fleche is often an attacking day in the saddle with the peloton blown to bits over the closing climbs.

Last year saw the peloton split from far out and we only had around 30 riders left in contention with 40km left. There were a flurry of attacks throughout the afternoon but a group of favourites managed to break clear on the penultimate climb of the day (Côte de Cherave). Before Van der Breggen made the most of the Rabobank numbers at the head of the race, escaping at just over 2.5km left only being followed by Stevens. Those two held on and it was the Dutch rider who took the win for the second year in a row.

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Behind, Guarnier rounded out the podium.

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

The Route

Similar to 2016 apart from the organisers have decreased the length by 17km which makes it one of the shortest events on the calendar at only 120km in total.

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We could see the race split up from far out again if the pace is increased over the Côte de Villers-le-Bouillet. Not a long climb, it was enough to do the damage last year when Deignan pulled at the front all the way up.

From there, we have one passage of the Mur de Huy, before the same closing circuit we see in the men’s race.

The Côte d’Ereffe comes at an awkward time in terms of race placement but it does have the potential to be a springboard for a move. However, I think the day will once again be decided on the Cherave and the run in to Huy. Boels will use their strength in numbers and hope to isolate some of the other favourites, leaving the door open for a similar attack to last year.

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The small group of escapees will then tackle the Mur and the strongest woman on the day will win! Well, the strongest from that group so they’ll also have to be tactically astute too.

Contenders

It seems Boels plan of taking it easier in the first month of racing so that they can peak for this week is going to plan. After landing a 1-2 in Amstel, they arrive at this race as hot favourites to take another win. They’ll be thankful to have Anna van der Breggen on their team this time as she looks like the rider to beat. I did say in my Amstel preview that she looked good at the Healthy Ageing Tour and she did not let me down, taking a superb victory on Sunday! This type of finish suits her perfectly and she has a good chance of taking a third win in a row.

If not, team-mate Deignan certainly has the abilities to be a great second option for Boels. She was strong in Amstel and rode a perfect, tactical race to help set VDB up for the win. The short punchy climb is on the limit for the Brit but in her current form, I wouldn’t bet against her!

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WM3’s Kasia Niewiadoma looks to be the biggest threat to Boels here. The Polish rider was impressive in Amstel, like she’s been all season but struggled due to the lack of team support as she can’t be expected to cover every move. Unfortunately, the same could well happen here but she has a very good chance if she comes to the bottom of the Mur with someone. A rider from Rabobank has won this race the past 4 years and as WM3 is the next incarnation of that team, can they make it 5 in a row?

Orica have a few riders who could go well here and they will hope to have numbers in the front group towards the end of the race. Van Vleuten was up there in Amstel on Sunday and will look to challenge here again. She seems to be in great form at the moment and the punchy climb will suit her. Team-mate Garfoot would probably prefer a longer, more gradual climb, but the Aussie champ can’t be discounted.

Ferrand-Prevot hinted at a return to form with her 8th in Amstel and as a former winner of the race, she knows what it takes to be successful here. The 2014 World Champion has struggled to replicate that year but she has every chance in the right group. However, I think that there will always be someone just better than her. I’m happy to be proved wrong though!

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Van Dijk could win for Sunweb but I think she might have to attack solo before they get to the Mur as the climb is on the limit for her. Nonetheless, she has been exceptional this season and the form is certainly there for her to spring a relative surprise. As for her team-mate Rivera, she’s improved massively on the climbs this season but this will be too hard for her. We saw her get dropped on the Cauberg in Amstel so you wouldn’t expect her to cope any better here!

Aside from those riders, I can’t really see anyone else take the victory but honourable mentions go to Lichtenberg (Wiggle), Gillow (FDJ), Beggin (Astana), Moolman (Cervelo) and Ensing (Alé).

Prediction

Van der Breggen and Boels to win again this week, with the Dutchwomen taking her third title at this race and setting up the potential Ardennes triple nicely for Liege this Sunday!

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I’ll go with Van Vleuten and Niewiadoma to come home second and third.

Thanks as always for reading and as usual any feedback is greatly appreciated. Who do you think will win? Will Boels continue their Ardennes superiority, or will another rider knock them off top spot? Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

 

Women’s Amstel Gold Race 2017 Preview

Only having been ran as a race three times in 2001-2003, the Amstel Gold race for women returns this year after a long hiatus. Defending champion Nicole Cooke is obviously no longer here (like the other previous winners), so we’ll have a new champion come Sunday afternoon!

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

The Route

At only 121km its shorter than several of the World Tour events we’ve had so far this year. However, don’t let its short nature fool you, the organisers have still managed to incorporate 17 ascents throughout the day.

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@LasterketaBurua

Three climbs form the focus of the event; the Geulhemmerberg, the Bemelerberg and the Cauberg.

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The Geulhemmerberg comes furtherst away from the finish on the last lap, at roughly 16km to go. Not an overly tough climb, it does have some steeper ramps of 8%, but it should be a big ring climb for most of the bunch. The false flat drag over the top can certainly cause some gaps, especially if those behind are on the limit and the pace is on at the front of the peloton.

We then have a fast descent and some flat before reaching the penultimate climb of the day, the Bemelerberg.

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Like the Geulhemmerberg it does have some steepish ramps, but it is not a tough climb. What will make it tough is it’s position in the race and how aggressively the day has been ridden beforehand. It does present a springboard for an attack because there are only 5km from the peak to the bottom of the Cauberg. Speaking of which…

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A climb that does have some properly steep gradients, the natural climbers of the peloton will hope to use them to their advantage to break the will of the all-rounders. There is a chance for a regrouping over the top, with 1.5km of false flat before the line.

Is a sprint on the cards…

How will the race pan out?

It’s difficult to say really. Covering my back here!

The route is obviously similar to that which we’ve seen in the men’s edition over the past few years, with the Cauberg coming so close to the finish line. Will that mean a conservative race where the peloton is kept together until then?

If this was last year I’d say no, due to how attacking the races were, with a lot of favourites making race-winning moves from relatively far out. However, things this year have changed. Teams and riders seem to be on a more level playing field. We’ve had 4 different riders (teams) win the 5 World Tour events so far, with only Coryn Rivera being the repeat winner. Compare that to last year where Boels had won all 5 races, with Deginan and Blaak sharing the spoils.

So there is a chance that the teams cancel each other out and we do get a sprint up the Cauberg for the final time.

Yet, I think we’ll see the women’s peloton return to the incredibly hectic racing from last season, with attacks all day. On a wearing course like Amstel, domestiques will get tired from having to chase which I think will lead to an open race on the final 20km lap, and a strong group will get away before the final time up the Cauberg.

Contenders

Even with their remarkably less dominant start to the season, you can’t start anywhere other than with Boels Dolmans for this race. The team wanted a slower start to the year, with more of a focus on this coming week than the opening few spring races, which they’ve certainly managed. They have a few riders who could win in certain scenarios, but Deignan and Van der Breggen look to be their best options.

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The former World Champion has had a lighter race schedule this year, after suffering from illness which saw her withdraw from a few events. However, she’s looked strong when racing so far and a 3rd place in Strade highlights that she can cope on the climbs with the best. I’m sure the Brit will fancy her chances in a sprint! As for her team-mate, I was very impressed with Van der Breggen in the Healthy Ageing Tour and she seems to be peaking very well for this week. A better climber than Deignan, the Olympic champion has all the credentials to take victory tomorrow afternoon. Numbers will be key for the Dutch team and if Guarnier is back to full fitness they even have a third great option to play.

Boels main threat could be Strade winner Elisa Longo Borghini. The Italian started the season in scintillating form and has top 10’d in four out of the 5 World Tour events so far. An aggressive rider, she’ll hope to force a selection earlier in the race to eliminate as many riders from other teams as possible, relying on climbing super-domestique Claudia Lichtenberg to stay with her for most of the day. Like a few others, she packs a handy sprint after a tough day.

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Sunweb will be hoping to continue their great start to the year with another win here. I’m not sure who their main card will be on the day but you would think Van Dijk has the best chance. She’s been very consistent this year so far, taking her first win in the recent Healthy Ageing Tour. Her lack of a really good sprint will mean that she’ll more than likely have to solo to the line. I think Kirchmann will also go better here than she has done throughout this season so far. The Canadian really burst onto the scene last year with a great debut on the European circuit. She trains in the Limburg area so will know the roads off by heart and is my dark horse for the race. I’m also intrigued to see how current WWT leader Rivera does. Transforming into much more than a sprinter, I would think the climbs here would be too tough for her, but you never know, especially when she has the leader’s jersey on her back!

You would expect Niewiadoma to be WM3’s leader as Vos has been out of action for a little while and still recovering. The Pole has continued on from where she left off in 2016 with a string of great performances in 2017 so far. She is still missing that elusive victory this year, but that may well change tomorrow with a bit of luck on he side. As much as I don’t think Vos will be up there at the end of the race, you can never discount her because she is Marianne Vos after all. Furthermore, the finish of the Cauberg was the scene of her World Championship win in 2012 and as a Dutch rider she’ll be fired up for this race!

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Orica once again arrive with their crack squad of riders who will no doubt animate the race. Garfoot or Van Vleuten have the best chance of winning the race but they do have strenght in numbers and will hope to use that to their advantage. However, I have said this in the past few previews, that I think they have “too many cooks” and will once again miss out on victory.

Canyon will hope to be up there at the pointy end of the race with FerrandPrevot or Cecchini. Likewise, so will Cervelo duo Moolman and young Danish sensation Uttrup Ludwig.

One rider I am keen to see go well is FDJ’s Shara Gillow (there may be some bias here as she is in my season long fantasy team). She crashed in Gent Wevelgem but bounced back with a 25th place in Flanders, coming home in the second group. An under-rated climber, she was very attacking Strade, eventually finishing 6th. Without a great sprint, she’ll more than likely need to come to the line alone, but given her TT credentials that is certainly a possibility!

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Prediction

The race will be broken up going into the final lap of the race and Boels will play the numbers game excellently. I’ll go for their rider who has shown to be in form just now; Anna van der Breggen to take the win and possibly the start of an Ardennes triple!

Emma Johansson, Anna Van De Breggen

Thanks for reading and as always, any feedback is greatly appreciated! Who do you think will win and how will they do it?! I’ll have Tour of the Alps (Trentino) daily stage previews over the next few days (no time for GC) along with men and women’s Fleche on Tuesday. Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

Women’s Ronde van Vlaanderen 2017 Preview

Women’s Ronde van Vlaanderen 2017 Preview

On the same day as the men’s event, the women’s Ronde may be 100km shorter but that doesn’t make it any less exciting!

Last year saw the race split up on the Kwaremont and Paterberg, and like most races in the spring of 2016, was dominated by Boels Dolmans. They had 4 riders in the front group of 10, and in the end it was Deignan (then Armitstead) and Johansson who gapped the rest on the run in. They duked it out for the sprint and it was Deignan who just pipped the Swede on the line, taking a great win!

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Blaak won the sprint behind (ahead of team-mate Guarnier), to give Boels a 1-3-4-6 on the day!

Will the Dutch super team have it all their way this year? Let’s have a look at what’s in store for the riders.

The Route

An “easy” opening 50km that only contains three cobble sections, before we get an action packed section of several hills and cobbled climbs.

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That section is rounded off by the Muur at 60km to go. Although there isn’t any major obstacle for the following 20km almost, the famous climb might play more of a decisive role than it will in the men’s race!

The race finishes off with the same Kwaremont and Paterberg double and it surely will see some action as the stronger climbers and classics riders try to make their mark before the 13km to the finish line.

Will we see a reduced sprint or a solo rider make into Oudenaarde alone?

Contenders

This is quite a tough race to predict as the balance between climbers and strong one-day racers is very fine. Also, this year of women’s racing has been the most open in recent years, with no repeat winners or even riders from the same teams in the World Tour!

Elisa Longo Borghini has been in exceptional form so far this year, winning Strade and finishing in the top 10 on two other occasions in the World Tour and currently leads the standings. She’s won this race in the past and is clearly suited to the terrain, coming 4th/4th/1st/5th in the recent 4 editions of the race. Not bad eh! You would expect her to be there or thereabouts again come the end of the race tomorrow.

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She won’t be the only card Wiggle High 5 have though, as they can also rely on Belgian one-day expert, Jolien d’Hoore. More of a sprinter than climber, that doesn’t take anything away from her ability to crush the short, cobbled climbs in this race. If the race is taken at a bit more of a mundane pace or there is a regrouping late on then she has a chance. However, with the chaotic day I can see playing out, unfortunately she might have to settle with sprinter for a top 10 from the third group.

Boels once again arrive with a very strong team to support last year’s winner Deignan. Or will they? Forced to miss Gent Wevelgem due to illness, i don’t think she’ll be back to 100% yet for this race and if she’s not at full fitness, she won’t win. They do have numerous other cards to play but Van der Breggen and Blaak look the best options. The European champion has had a slow start to the season but with her trying to peak more for the Ardennes, you would expect her to be going well just now. Blaak on the other hand has had a very good, consistent start to her season. Third here last year, she has a good chance of repeating that this time round.

In form Lotta Lepsito arrives with her Cervelo Bigla team. She is clearly climbing and riding better than ever, but this will be a completely different test for her. Like d’Hoore, it will be too fast up the climbs for her to cope, but if we do get a slowing of the pace and a bigger regrouping, she certainly would have a chance in the sprint.

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Instead, I would be looking towards team-mates Moolman and Uttrup Ludwig for a course like this.

Team Sunweb arrive here with options to animate this race like they have down in others over the past month or so. Van Dijk is bound to try a solo attack from far out and she is probably one of the only women in the peloton who could pull it off! In Rivera they have a fast finisher who is climbing the best I’ve ever seen from her and she certainly can’t be discounted. I would have her as more of a favourite than d’Hoore and Lepisto for example. Then in Brand, Kirchmann and Mackaij they have great options to pepper the front of the race with attacks or cover the moves of dangerous opponents. If this was at the start of March then I’d have Brand as one of the favourites for the race, but after doing a season of cyclocross during the winter, her form seems to have waned a bit.

Niewiadoma will lead the charge for WM3 who are missing Marianne Vos. It will be hard for the Polish rider to win with a lack of team support in the closing kilometres of the race but she will certainly feature in the top 10. Her best chance is to infiltrate a small group of 4 or 5 that escapes on the Kwaremont/Paterberg or even on the flat run in to the finish.

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Orica arrive with a good team, but they’re not as strong as they’ve been in the past few weeks. I imagine that Spratt and Van Vleuten will be co-leaders and they certainly have a chance if both of them make the front group. If not, the sole rider will be in a similar situation to Niewiadoma, where you have to be on a good day, but also get lucky.

Other riders to keep an eye out for include;

Cecchini (Canyon SRAM),

Ratto (Cylance),

Ensing (Ale)

Kopecky (Lotto)

Gillow (FDJ).

The latter on that list has a very good chance if she’s climbing as well as she was in Strade!

Prediction

The race will be determined by the tactics and numbers of Boels and Sunweb.

After a relatively poor season so far, by their standards, I fancy Boels to get it right this race. They’re likely to have more numbers in the front group than any other team and they’ll use it to their advantage. I’ll hedge my bets a bit and go for a Chantal Blaak win!

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She has the abilities to attack from far out and hold the gap to the line, or as we saw last year, she has a great sprint from a reduced group.

Coverage

We’ll get similar coverage to last year, where you can watch an unrestricted live stream of the race here. Or on the Flanders Classics facebook page.

Let’s just hope the quality is better than the 144p stream we had in 2016!

Competition

As I mentioned in the men’s preview, as a thanks for your continued support and to celebrate one year of blogging, I’ll be giving away one of the Handmade Cyclist’s pieces of artwork. More specifically, the Ronde one, duh!

All you have to do to be in with a chance of winning is comment on this post with who you think the winner of the Women’s RVV will be and make sure to leave your Twitter handle as this is how I’ll be contacting the winners.

If no one predicts the winner then it will go to second place and so on. Likewise, if we get more than one person who gets it correct, I’ll put the Twitter handles into a list on random.org and randomise three times to get our winner.

Good luck!

If you’re struggling to find the place to leave a comment, it should be at the end of this post and look like below

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*Also, depending on how the men’s race goes, I might be in a buoyant enough mood to upgrade it to a framed version!*

 

Thanks once again for reading and as always, any feedback is greatly appreciated. Next for the blog will be daily Pais Vasco previews (starting tomorrow), although I’m not sure if I’ll have enough time to do a full GC one. That might just be an after thought at the end of the stage 1 preview. Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

Women’s Gent – Wevelgem 2017 Preview

Women’s Gent – Wevelgem 2017 Preview

Last year saw this race take the step up to World Tour status along with a lot of other races in the cycling calendar due to the WWT. That meant that the field was even more stacked than normal and we had an incredibly tough, attritional race.

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It was Chantal Blaak who attacked from far out, winning by a comfortable margin in the end as her Boels team-mates marked any moves behind. Lisa Brennauer and Lucinda Brand rounded out the podium over a minute down.

More of the same exciting racing this year? Let’s take a look at what’s in store for the riders.

The Route

The organisers have taken advantage of the increased race distance that was permitted by the UCI so this year the riders will have tackle 146km, compared to the 115km in last year’s edition!

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The peloton will cover a lot of flat lands at the start of the race, but the most decisive section will be from 70-110km, when we tackle some climbs. Both cobbled and not! On the run in to home we also have some small rises that create an opportunity to attack. Even the flat run in can be a launchpad if we get a tactical finale.

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The run in to the finish line is pretty much pan-flat and dead-straight for the final 3km.

Weather

One of the major factors that can often play a part in the outcome of this race is the weather and in particular, the wind!

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Source: Windfinder.

It looks as if we’ll get a fairly constant wind throughout the day, with some potential for stronger gusts. The wind direction means that a lot of the middle of the race will be crosswinds, but as the road constantly changes, so will the affect that the wind has on the bunch; cross, tail, head wind etc.

It looks as if the run-in will be a cross-head wind, which would not favour a solo rider. But after a tough day on the bike, there might not be much left to chase behind!

Contenders

The defending champion, Chantal Blaak, arrives with a strong team on paper to support her. Yet, I am wary as to how well the Boels team will go because they had to pull out of Dwars mid-week due to widespread illness in the team. For example, Deignan has had to pull out of the race as she is still unwell. Blaak herself has yet to win this season, but she is very consistent over this type of terrain and I wouldn’t rule her out. Likewise, Amy Pieters has performed well but is without a win too. She pulled out Trofeo Binda due to not feeling well so she’ll be hoping to have recovered for this! World Champion Amalie Dideriksen picked up Boels’ first WT win of the season in Ronde van Drenthe and she may well be the teams best chance of another victory here. She is flying at the moment, and her sprint in the final of Van Drenthe was very similar to that of her male WC counterpart.

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Team Sunweb have been my team of the early season so far. They’ve animated every race that they have been entered in and I expect more of the same from them tomorrow! In Brand and Van Dijk they have great options to attack early and try to force splits in the peloton, which I can almost guarantee they will do. Whereas, I imagine Rivera will shadow moves from other teams and be an option for the squad if we get a reduced bunch sprint. She is exceptionally fast and took a dominant win in Trofeo Binda, more of the same here?

Elisa Longo Borghini will be hoping to maintain her WWT lead after this race. The Italian has been exceptional this year so far, finishing inside the top 10 of all three WT events. However, she seemed to struggle here last year, finishing over 2 minutes down. Will her great form compensate for that? I think so. Wiggle also have the luxury of Belgian sprinter come cobbles expert Jolien d’Hoore who I expect to be there at the pointy end of the race.

Orica have been very active in recent races but are without a win to show for it. They once again bring an attacking team, with Van Vleuten, Spratt and Elvin they’ll be hoping to go better here. I would suggest that Van Vleuten is their best option!

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After a 5th place in Dwars, Thalita De Jong has staked her claim for this race. The former Cyclocross World Champion loves tough terrain and I fancy her to go well here. Now riding for the Lares-Waowdeals she will be the de-facto leader and have the full support from her team. Can she cope with the pressure?

Another rider I’m keeping an eye on this season is Lotto’s Lotte Kopecky. The 21 year-old is a great talent and has featured near the front in all of the races she’s entered so far this year. Terribly unfortunate in Van Drenthe, crashing out of the lead group, I imagine she’ll be wanting to make amends here. With a good kick after a tough day, she’s not one to rule out!

There are several riders from other teams who I expect to feature in the top 20, but I don’t have enough time to go over them in-depth;

Uttrup Ludwig and Lepisto (Cervelo),

Hosking and Ensing (Ale Cipollini),

Barnes and Cecchini (Canyon).

Prediction

It will be another attritional race but the cross-head wind on the run in may be detrimental to lone attackers. Unless of course you are Ellen Van Dijk! Therefore, I think we might get a small sprint from around 5 riders and I’ll for a bit of an outsider; Kopecky to win. The extremely talented Belgian should have the speed required to beat her competitors at the end of a tough day!

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Thanks for reading the preview as always, and any feedback is greatly appreciated. Who do you think will win tomorrow? Unfortunately, there will be no live coverage but there should be highlights at some point. Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

Women’s Trofeo Alfredo Binda 2017 Preview

Women’s Trofeo Alfredo Binda 2017 Preview

The third round of the Women’s World Tour returns this weekend with the Trofeo Alfredo Binda. It’s the oldest race in the WWT and normally provides some very exciting racing. Last year’s edition saw Lizzie Deignan (then Armitstead) attacking on the final descent along with Jolanda Neff, before out-sprinting the Swiss rider in the uphill drag to the line.

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Neff was actually beaten to the line for second place by Armitstead’s team-mate, Megan Guarnier, who won the sprint out of the chasing group behind.

I expect we’ll see some more attacking and exciting racing this year so let’s take a look at what’s in store for the riders.

The Route

A tough parcours, with the road either going up or down for most of the day. There is no real respite!

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Credit to @LasterketaBurua for the profile – much better than the official one!

The first half of the day will act as a leg softener but this race is all about the final circuit around Cittiglio itself.

The official profile of the circuit is a bit rubbish if I’m honest, so I’ve made a Strava profile of the circuit that you can view here.

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Even it has its limitations though and the dramatic wall before the Orino climb should be taken with a pinch of salt!

Isolating the climbs themselves, the Casalzuigno climb is 1.9km long, averaging 4.1% in gradient. However, that does include a reasonably long false-flat drag at the start.

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As you can see, it kicks up at around 6.5% for the final 900m. Gaps can certainly be made here with some early attacks!

We then have a quick descent followed by a few kilometres of flat before the main test of the closing circuit, the Orino Climb.

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At 2.7km long and averaging 4.8%, like the Casalzuigno climb, that does not tell the whole story. There are a few hundred metre stretches, especially around the hairpin turns, that average over 9%! No doubt the pure climbers will be trying something here to distance the all-rounders.

There’s then a fast 4km descent before the final run to the finish line, with the closing 500m averaging 3.6%. Will we get a tough sprint like last year?

Contenders

Back to back champion Deignan returns this year and will be hoping for a hat-trick of wins tomorrow. She’s only had one race day this year so far, a very respectable 3rd in Strade, so I’m intrigued to see if she’ll be up to full race speed as of yet! I remember reading an interview (can’t remember where – apologies!) in which she wanted a more gradual start to the season compared to 2016 where she burned herself out by the end of the Spring Classics. A good climber with a strong sprint after a tough day, if she is on form already then she will be tough to beat!

However, as per usual, Boels send an incredibly strong team to not only support her but with plenty of other options for the race victory. Their best alternative to Deignan looks like Anna van der Breggen! After missing Strade through illness the Dutchwoman returned to racing last weekend, doing a lot of the hard work chasing for her team-mates. The parcours here suits her better than those races and being one of the best riders in the world, on one of the best teams, I wouldn’t be surprised to see her cross the line first!

Flèche Wallonne Femmes 2016

The main danger for Boels will more than likely be the current leader of the Women’s World Tour: Elisa Longo Borghini. The Italian is local to this area and has won here before, back in 2013. Already in scintillating form this year with a win in Strade and a 4th place in Ronde van Drenthe, you wouldn’t put it past her winning again tomorrow. She’ll be brimming with confidence and I’d be willing to put my metaphorically owned house that she will finish in the top 5, barring any misfortune caused by a crash or mechanical! Borghini will be ably supported by new team-mate Claudia Lichtenberg who could well feature herself at the pointy end of the race. More of a climber though, she would need to come to the finish solo.

Team Sunweb have arguably been the best performing squad of the season so far and the once again arrive at a race with a solid team. I imagine Ellen Van Dijk will be their leader as she has looked excellent this year so far. Unfortunate in Van Drenthe that Boels had their whole team pretty much to chase her down, she’ll be hoping to get a bit more leeway this race and solo to the line. Something that is certainly not a distant possibility! Leah Kirchmann has had a quiet start to the year in comparison to her breakthrough 2016 season. However, as a good all-rounder, she can’t be discounted if the proper climbers don’t make inroads on the hills. Packing a fast kick, the Canadian will fancy her chances in a 15 rider bunch gallop.

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Marianne Vos is the most successful rider in this race’s history, with three wins in total. She arrives here with a very strong team and in fact, she probably won’t be the teams outright leader. I imagine she’ll almost play a sandbagging type role, covering attacks and waiting for the sprint. Instead, I think it will be Katarzyna Niewiadoma who has the best chance for the WM3 team! The Pole was unlucky in Strade but was just beaten by the better rider on the day, although she still managed to finish a great second place. I’m sure she’ll want to exact some revenge over Longo Borghini in her home race!

Canyon SRAM arrive with Alena Amialiusik as their leader. The Belarusian has finished 3rd/5th/5th in the past 3 editions so she certainly seems to go well at this race! She doesn’t have a great sprint so will need to arrive at the finish alone if she wants to win. One of her team-mates does have a good sprint after a tough day – Elena Cecchini. The Italian champion has finished in or around the top 10 in her last three appearances at this race but she has never made the front group. Although she’s climbing better than ever just now, I think like Kirchmann, she might want a group of 15 to arrive together.

You can never discount Orica pairing Garfoot and Van Vleuten, or FDJ’s Aussie Shara Gillow.

One curveball of a rider I would like to highlight is Cervelo Bigla’s young Danish talent; Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig.

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She started the season off OK, but a breakthrough 9th place in Strade confirmed her talents. I mean, she was 9th at the European Champs and 10th at the Boels Rental Hills Classics last year so I guess it you could say it was coming! Following up from her great ride in Strade, she went on to take the overall title at the Setmana Ciclista Valenciana. She admits her main strength is climbing so it will be hard to win in a sprint but I will certainly be keeping an eye on her development this year.

Prediction

A tough race to call and having numbers in the final lap will be of a big advantage. I’ll go for a rider who is going to take some big wins this year, and having the most decorated female cyclist of her generation sandbagging behind certainly will help her here. Katarzyna Niewiadoma to win! She is fast enough to win a small sprint but also strong enough to ride away on the climbs.

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Coverage

We are expected to get a live stream of the final 68km from 14:50 CET, that you can view here.

However, do be warned if last year’s stream is anything to go by then we might just get a studio show followed by a zoom-lens camera shot of the final straight. I hope that they’ve stepped their game up though!

 

Thanks for reading as always and as usual, any feedback/likes/shares is greatly appreciated. Who do you think will win tomorrow? And will we see a solo winner or a small group sprint? I’ll have a lot of men’s previews on the site over the next few days but the next women’s preview will be Gent Wevelgem next Saturday. Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.