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

Today’s Recap

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

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

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

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

The Route

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Credit to @ammattipyöräily for the image above!

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

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

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

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

How will the stage pan out?

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

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

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

Contenders

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

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

Contador.

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

Froome.

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

Woods.

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

Chaves.

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

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

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

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

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

Vuelta Picks

Safe Pick – Contador

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

Wongshot Pick – Any Break rider

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

Lanterne Rouge Pick – Jelle Wallays

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

Prediction

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

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

Betting

Keeping it simple;

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

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

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

Vuelta a España 2017 Preview – The BFOG

Vuelta a España 2017 Preview – The BFOG

In a slight change-up to previous races where I’ve rolled out separate previews for the various jerseys, this year I’m going to include GC/Sprint/KOM all in one, in a Giro Rosa style BFOG.

Last year’s Vuelta saw some very aggressive racing with Quintana beating Froome by 1’23, with Chaves finishing in 3rd.

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Most of the time Quintana had over Froome was gained on a crazy stage 15 and I hope we see some similar tactics deployed this year.

I’ll be disappointed if my favourite Grand Tour of the year is a let down.

Over the coming three weeks expect some bold tactics, super steep finishes, messy sprints, random breakaway days and some surprising results!

The Route – What You Need To Know

To some it up in a word: tough.

Again, as I’ll be doing daily stage previews then I won’t be going over the route in massive detail here, just the key stages. Although this is the Vuelta, so any stage can almost become a key stage…

The opening day sees a TTT around Nîmes (yes, we start in France) which should set the GC order for the following few days. Thankfully, at only 13km long, the time gaps between the overall contenders shouldn’t be too big at the end of the day.

It is not long before we’ll get a rough idea of who has some early climbing form as Stage 3 features two Cat-1 climbs and a Cat-2 all within 158km. With a slightly technical downhill run I don’t expect to see any of the GC favourites try to attack 100%, maybe an aggressive top 20 candidate can escape to take the spoils?

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Stage 5 offers us our first hill-top finish with the Cat-3 climb of Ermita Santa Lucía. It doesn’t sound much, but remember that this is a SPANISH Cat-3 climb; 3.7km at 8.58% with max gradients of around 15-20%. It’s a shame Reijnen isn’t here so he can get Spained…

We then have a couple of rolling days that give the sprinters or opportunists a chance at stage glory.

The weekend before the first rest day sees two stages that both have Cat-1 climbs in the closing 10kms of the race.

Stage 8 will have riders summit the brutally steep Alto Xorret de Catí. Officially 5kms at 9%, the crux of the climb is more 4km at 11%! From there, they will then face a short but steep descent into town for the finish.

vuelta-a-espana-2017-stage-9-cumbre-del-sol-1484252526Stage 9 finishes atop the Alto de Puig Llorença which is another short but steep climb, averaging 8.8% for 4.1km. It certainly seems the organisers designed a route hoping that Valverde would be here! With a rest-day to come, expect the GC contenders to be full gas here and we could see some surprising time gaps.

After the rest day we should see a break survive on Stage 10, but the following day is the most challenging one so far with back-to-back Cat-1 climbs.

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Climbing or descending from pretty much 60km out, this could be a fairly brutal day in the saddle. With the finish above 2000m, we might see a GC favourite suffer from the altitude. One thing is for sure, this Vuelta isn’t a race you can ease yourself into for week 3!

Another couple of “who knows what these stages could turn into” days follow, before we get out first Especial finish of the race on Stage 14.

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Once again the riders are pretty much climbing for the last 25km of the race with the Cat-1 before the Esp finish. However, the two can be combined to form the climb below.

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It’s not a crazy average gradient at only 5.3%, but the 23km could see some weary legs by the top. Not great then when the toughest 3kms come within the final 5km! Someone could go pop. With a “flat” finish though, a small 5 rider sprint could be likely.

Either way, it will certainly stretch the riders legs for what is to come the following day.

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This is the type of Vuelta stage I love as a spectator. Pretty sure the riders might not think the same. Pure madness!

It finishes with a Cat-1 then Especial climb, but like a few of the stages here, they can be pretty much rolled into one.

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Ouch. Ouch indeed!

With the last rest-day to follow, expect the riders to leave everything out on the road.

After their day to recuperate and recover, the riders will be faced with a decisive 40km TT. It does climb and roll a little bit but it is certainly an effort that should suit a specialist. This stage will scare a lot of the pure climbers who will be gunning for a good GC position.

The GC days continue to come as Stage 17 finishes atop the now viral Alto de los Machucos.

Who knows what the GC composition will look like before the stage, and who knows what it will look like after! Those who lost time on the TT the day before hand will certainly be hoping to bounce back with a good performance.

Stage 18 finishes on one of those classic Vuelta Cat-3s; 2.3km at 8.3%. I wouldn’t expect any major splits between the GC guys but you just never know…It could be a day for the break, likewise is stage 19. Although a few teams might control it and hope for a sprint.

The last huzzah GC wise comes on Stage 20 where the riders will finish atop the mythical Angliru.

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Four categorised climbs in a 119km stage, including the three major ones in the last 50km. A very Vuelta-y stage to finish the Vuelta GC battle with!

Any sprinters that we have left will then fight it out for stage honours in Madrid on the final day. Although considering we don’t have many here already, could a late attack succeed?

GC Contenders and Pretenders

With the defending champion Quintana finally deciding to have a Grand Tour off after doing 4 in a row, we could well see a new winner this September. I’ll have a look at some of the contenders and outsiders for the title below, some in much more depth than others!

Chris Froome.

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This years Tour winner is gunning for a famous Tour/Vuelta double. He has tried to pull off the feat in the past but this year could be his best shot, given the 40km worth of individual time trialing. Starting as the bookies favourite, his form is massively unknown going into this race. In fact, he hasn’t made an appearance at any UCI event since the end of the Tour, instead, opting to earn a couple of extra quid with some post Tour crits. Not ideal preparation in my opinion for a race where you need to be on good form in the first week!

One of the things he does have going for him though is that he won the Tour not looking his best. In previous editions he has cruised the Tour but never had just enough left to win the Vuelta, so maybe that was in the back of his mind going into that race. Or is he on the decline in general? I thought the latter before the Tour, but I’m not so sure now. His team is strong, not as good as his TDF hit squad, but bloody close to it! He is still the rider to beat once the dust has settled.

Vincenzo Nibali.

Arguably Froome’s biggest contender for the crown, the Italian is a much more rounded Grand Tour rider than the Brit, showing consistency across all three of the races. I mean he has won them all! He finished third at this years Giro, a result I’m sure he’ll be disappointed with but it wasn’t a bad performance and he did beat some good riders. Traditionally, Nibali doesn’t show much form before a Grand Tour but that seems to have changed this season. A solid 9th place in Poland, where he looked fairly skinny, was good for him and he will no doubt be gunning for no less than the win here. The only issue is that his team is fairly weak, with the missing Izagirre a big blow. I can’t see him winning the race, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he does in the end.

Alberto Contador.

I said at the Tour last year he was past his best and his performance this year highlighted that even more. I’m sure he’ll go on a few hail mary attacks which could see him move up the standings. Will it be enough for a podium? Probably not. But a stage win and a top 10 is very much achievable.

Fabio Aru.

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Another rider who comes straight here with no other racing in his legs after La Grand Boucle. A former winner of this race, as more of a pure climber some of the very tough stages should suit him well. However, the long 40km TT could be his downfall in his overall title bid. I have no idea where his form is at, considering he was apparently struggling with bronchitis at the end of the Tour. He could be great, or he could be awful! Being near the top on GC is helpful, especially when Astana have another potential GC card to play…

Miguel Angel Lopez.

My outsider/dark-horse/whatever you want to call it for the podium and possibly even more. Which now inevitably means he is going to fall by the wayside after picking up an illness on stage 4.

The young Colombian is a super talented, all-round GC star of the future. He can climb very well, but he is also a deceptively good TTer for someone of his stature. It is a tough ask to see him compete at the pointy end of the race in what will be the first Grand Tour that he should hopefully complete. Nonetheless, I think he has the pedigree to do just so. Having been raced lightly this year after spending the first 6 months of the season sidelined due to injury, he should have plenty of juice left in the tank to go well here. He warmed up with a good showing in Burgos recently, winning the final stage. Coping well with the heat there is a promising sign for what will no doubt be a scorching Vuelta. Can Superman fly?!

Ilnur Zakarin.

After Froome, the Russian is arguably the best TT rider of the GC contenders here. He’s an attacking rider and in a race that is known for its crazy moments, he might just prosper. I’m still not 100% sold on his ability to climb with the best, especially at altitude but you just never know. He’ll be hoping for at least a top 5!

Yates / Yates / Chaves.

Thought I’d just combine Orica’s three-pronged attack into one here! Out of the Yates brothers, I imagine it would be Adam who will be going for the higher GC placing, but that doesn’t mean Simon can be discounted completely. However, Chaves should be their main charge. The only issue with that is the Colombian has struggled with injuries this season and took a big knock to his mental confidence after one of his friends tragically died back in Colombia while he was riding at the Tour. I’m sure his form will be a lot better at the Vuelta as that was the plan during the Tour anyway, to get up to race speed for this event. If he is firing on all cylinders, he could be a danger. The only issue for all three of them is the massive 40km of TT, it is by far their worst discipline and they could all lose bucketloads of time. Which should make for an exciting few mountain stages if they have to chase the race…

I feel like I have already named a load of riders but the list of quality top 10 contenders could continue for a while yet! Other guys we have here include but not limited to; Bardet, Jungels, Kruijswijk, Poels, Pozzovivo, Majka and Kelderman.

Prediction

Froome is the guy to beat but Sky are never as convincing at the Vuelta compared to their dominance at the Tour and there is a chance the Brit could be isolated on a few occasions. We saw in France that he didn’t seem to be at his best and he can’t chase everyone down when it is just the group of GC favourites. If Froome is to win, he needs a massive race from Poels.

I just can’t help shake the feeling that some of the teams will look to isolate him at some point, like the famous Stage 15 from last year. Will they succeed?

 

Hmmm, I don’t know. Surely Sky will be more alert this year…

Froome probably wins the race but you’ll read that a lot this week so I’ll go for young pretender turned young contender Miguel Angel Lopez to pull off a shock result!

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I’m really looking forward to the double act with Aru over the coming weeks.

Watch out for the Shark though, he’s lurking ready to strike.

King of the Mountains

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Unlike the Tour, the Vuelta’s KOM competition is much more traditional in the sense that climbs at the start of the stage are weighted equally compared to those at the end. None of this final climb double points nonsense!

Given the amount of summit finishes at the Vuelta you would think that a GC rider has a good chance of taking the jersey. However, there are bound to be several breakaway days during the race which makes it difficult for someone high up on the overall to challenge. In fact, you have to go back to 2007 when a proper GC guy won the jersey.

Omar Fraile has won the jersey the past two years; can he make it three in a row?

As for points distribution, it is as follows:

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Thanks to Velorooms/@Searchhhh for whom I tea leafed the table from.

Overall, there are 315 mountain points available, with 91 of those coming at the end of stages. You can therefore see how it is tough for the GC favourites to compete.

However, unlike recent years, there are no nailed on breakaway days that garner a lot of points. Instead, we have 6 stages where there are between 15-25 points available during the stage, not including the finish climb, and they are Stages 3/5/12/17/19/20.

You would expect the break to take the majority, if not all of the points on those days. However, there are a few mountain top finishes where the break could stay away until the end as well.

Stage 14 is an example of that where we finish with an Especial climb, meaning that a rider could potentially take 28 points if they win the stage.

The following days action is similar too if the break manages to stay away and take the stage/Cima Alberto Fernández, totalling 40 points if they can do that.

How will the KOM race pan out?

It is tough to name a favourite for a competition such as this given the huge amount of variables. At the Tour, Barguil lost a lot of time in some of the early stages so that he was given the freedom to hunt KOM points later in the race. Whether that was intentional or not, I’m not too sure. Equally, Landa turned to the KOM jersey once he was out of GC contention at the Giro.

However, the difference between those two races and the Vuelta is that a lot of the KOM points were back loaded towards the end of the Grand Tour. Here, they’re much more evenly spread out.

In fact, on stage 3 (25pts) and stage 5 (21 pts) a rider can put their name into the mix with a strong early lead in the competition. If you look at the past couple of seasons the highest winning points total has been 82 by Fraile in 2016.

Therefore, a rider could take 43 points (not including the Cat-3 summit finish on stage 5) and be in a very commanding position at the end of the first week. I wonder if we’ll see some riders roll home at the back of the pack on Stage 2 to get some freedom the next day….

A poor TTT could set things up nicely to allow a rider the freedom to go into those moves. It’s also important to consider that the Pro-Conti teams will be gagging to get away in breaks for TV exposure, so a rider from their roster could be the one to take up the charge.

So with all that said, I’m going to suggest three names who might be there or thereabouts in the competition. Or probably not…

Merhawi Kudus.

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I’m a big fan of the talented Eritrean rider, he’s really taken a step up this season in terms of performance. A traditional mountain goat, he should be able to cope with a lot of the steep ramps and rises that the Vuelta has to offer. Now, Fraile is the most likely candidate on the Dimension Data squad to chase the KOM jersey, but there is a chance that the Spaniard might want to go for stage wins and leave the KOM hunting to someone else in the team; Kudus might be that man.

Jetse Bol (2.0).

The new and improved climbing Jetse Bol has found his passion for racing again with Colombian Wild Card team Manzana Postobon. They are guaranteed to lose a lot of time on the opening day TTT and will no doubt be chasing the breaks from therein. Given his sublime performance at the recent Vuelta Burgos, Bol seems to be in rather good shape at the moment. A jersey win for the Pro-Conti team would be incredible and the Dutchman might just be the guy to deliver it for them.

Larry Warbasse.

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There would be something poetic about Captain America taking the KOM jersey at the Vuelta. It was at this race last year that Warbasse gained a lot of my respect, so much so that I think he was the most heavily featured rider in my previews! He couldn’t manage a breakaway win but impressed enough to gain a contract with Aqua Blue for this season. I think it is fair to say he has delivered for them, taking their first ever win. Not bad considering it was at WorldTour level! Another team who are bound to be on the attack throughout the race Warbasse is their best climber and I would be surprised not to see them go for the jersey; they’ve done so in a lot of smaller races throughout the season so why not here too.

You know what, Warbasse is my KOM winner for this race!

Points Classification

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Much like the KOM jersey, the Vuelta keeps things simple for the points classification and does away with the hassle of stage categorisations etc. Instead, riders will be given the same points for winning one of the sprint stages or the mountain top finish up the Angliru.

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Again, the table is tea leafed from the same sources as above!

Therefore, it is very rare that a sprinter wins this jersey. It will be even harder this year given the parcours and the lack of proper sprint stages. Consequently, it will be a rider who can compete on multiple types of finishes that will win the jersey.

Valverde has dominated this competition and it is clear to see why. Packing a fast sprint, he can pick up a few points on the flatter stages but his climbing ability allows him to challenge for stage wins on the tougher days.

We could see a GC winner take the crown by being consistent on all of the mountain top finishes but I think we might see a few breakaways deny them the opportunity of competing for points.

Unlike the KOM competition, I only have one rider in mind for this competition.

A guy who is very much built-in the ilk of Valverde, albeit he is not as good a GC rider. Yet.

Julian-Alaphilippe-time-trial

There are several stage finishes that seem to suit the explosive French climber down to the ground. He’s had to miss both the Ardennes and the Tour for various reasons which would have been a massive disappointment for him. Nonetheless, I’m sure that means he’ll turn up here ready to perform well. On his return to racing in Burgos he was good, not great, more promising than anything else. With the cobwebs blown out now, I think he’s in for a big race. If he is performing to his Paris Nice level, then the Points jersey is his to lose!

Vuelta Picks

After continuing on from initial success, we had the highest numbers ever play the Tour Picks game back in July and I’m hoping to entice you to join Vuelta Picks for this coming month.

The premise of the game is simple; pick a separate rider for every stage, with their position on the day counting as your points. With the lowest cumulative score at the end of the Vuelta winning the prize pool.

However, one bad day does not mean that you’re completely out of it, with a prize on offer for the most stage wins too. In fact, at the Tour there were enough participants to introduce a KOM prize (lowest accumulated score over certain stages).

It’s also a good way for you to laugh at my awful, or terribly unfortunate picks. Picking an ill Sam Bennett on stage 2 of the Giro didn’t really go well for me…

I’ll also be adding a little segment at the end of each day’s blog section to cover; a “safe” pick, a risky pick (wongshot) and a deliberate Lanterne Rouge pick. Just to add a bit of spice to the game!

Think you can beat me and take my money?!

*Hint – the answer is probably yes*

Then follow the Cycling Picks Twitter handle @cycling_picks and simply put your name into the spreadsheet if you wish to play!

https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/14U89El-B7h05tRgB5Lw8ml9pkF5v0ROvxH96-dk3w7o/edit#gid=0

Spreadsheet above^^^

Betting

Not a fan of betting ante-post on GC riders normally, but I’ll gladly back Lopez as an EW bet for this race.

Outright – 2pts Lopez EW @ 25/1 with Lads/Coral. (would take 20/1 lowest)

As for the KOM competition, I’m spraying some small stakes around on the riders I’ve mentioned above. Nothing too crazy.

0.75pt EW Warbasse @ 50/1 with various (Wouldn’t take any lower)

0.5pt EW Kudus @ 150/1 with Betfred (would take 100/1 lowest)

0.25pt EW Bol @ 300/1 with Betfred (would take 250/1 lowest)

As for the Points jersey, it’s simple.

2.5pts WIN Alaphilippe @ 6/1 with Lads/Coral.

I think I’ll leave it at that for the pre-race bets.

 

Thanks as always for reading and any feedback is greatly appreciated! Who do you think will win the various competitions? I hope we’re in for an exciting 3 weeks of racing and I’m optimistic that we will be! Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tour de France 2017 Stage 5 Preview; Vittel -> La Planche des Belles Filles

Today’s Recap

I thought the Tour was supposed to be the more mundane and less drama packed of the three Grand Tours…

A quiet day quickly turned into a manic one in the final 10km as the fight for position was crazy. Riders were swerving all over the road and the peloton should have taken heed when the Astana rider (I think it was Grivko) came up to the front to berate Dimension Data for sweeping across the road and causing a concertina effect on the bunch. Somewhat of an irony in the way they sweeped across the road considering what happened later.

Once onto the technical run in we had a fairly large pile up at just over 1km to go. Oddly enough though, it was on a straight-ish bit of road. Then, we had the well documented crash between the remaining sprinters that saw Cavendish go down and take out Swift and Degenkolb.

The result of it all is that Sagan has now been DQ’d from the race for causing danger to his colleagues. While he did act dangerously and has previous (just ask Vantomme), I think it is a bit absurd that he is thrown out from the whole thing. Disqualified from the stage would possibly have been a “fair” punishment, but Cavendish knew the risk of trying to come up the inside. The whole thing is just a mess really!

#TourdeFarce

Démare ended up taking a strong victory but he himself swerved in front of Bouhanni a bit, so that could even be disputed as an infringement.

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Kristoff and Greipel rounded out the podium.

With that now over with, let’s have a look at what’s in store for the riders tomorrow.

The Route

An easy-ish stage that gets tougher as the day progresses.

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The riders will face some small uncategorised rises in the first half of the stage but nothing too substantial. However, not long after the intermediate sprint the road begins to rise and we have the first categorised climb of the day. Officially 2.3km at 8%, the road actually continues to climb once the riders pass the “summit” of the Côte d’Esmoulières. With no figures to go by on the profile it’s hard to judge but it looks as if there is roughly another 10km at ~2%.*

* Disclaimer – I’m just guessing the figures going by the profile so they aren’t 100% accurate! Looks to me that the climb crests at ~780m.

From there we have a long descent and travel through some valley roads before the road kicks up again. Again, the uncategorised climb isn’t tough, averaging roughly 2% for 11kms.

Therefore, the stage will inevitably come down to who is the strongest on La Planche des Belles Filles.

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A tough climb with some steep gradients we could see some reasonable time gaps if a few riders struggle to find their mountain-goat legs.

The past two finishes here have seen roughly a minute separate the top 10 but both of those days had much harder stages preceding them and on the day itself they were tougher.

So with that being said, we should in theory see a more tightly bunched up finishing order, but who knows!

How will the stage pan out?

Well, there is a chance that the break might stay away like we saw with the first mountain top finish at the Giro this year. However, I think that’s unlikely here as Sky will be willing to chase but so other teams will more than likely offer assistance as well, hoping their team leader can take some bonus seconds at the end of the day.

Contenders

There are really only a few riders I can see winning this.

Chris Froome.

It’s the first mountain top finish of the race, one of only three, so a big performance here from the Brit will really demoralise his opposition. He normally goes incredibly well on the first GC stage of the race and that could well be the case tomorrow. Having won on this exact finish before, his first ever Tour win in fact, he’ll know every inch of the road and will be looking to set his stall out as clear favourite for this race. Climbing poorly by his standards in the Dauphiné it will be intriguing to see how he does. Maybe we should take heed of his new contract with Sky, and assume that they know he’ll be firing on all cylinders tomorrow.

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Richie Porte.

 

The obvious challenger to Froome and Sky, the Australian has been unbelievable on the climbs this year; his Watts have been insane! Tomorrow is the type of day where he could do a Dumoulin on Oropa and just ride away from everyone due to simply being the most powerful rider. I have said it many times this year, these 15-20 minute climbs are his bread and butter and I would not be surprised to see him ride everyone off of his wheel!

Fabio Aru on form looks like the only other rider who could possibly get close to the two mentioned above. Simply stunning in his win at the Italian Championships, he is capable of putting in a very explosive attack that few can follow. Seemingly back to his best, can he take advantage of Froome/Porte marking each other out of it and take his first Tour stage win?

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Dan Martin could be close to the podium as well. He was strong on stage 3 and the steep gradients certainly suit the Irishman. The shorter the climb, the better for him, so he’ll have his mind-set on trying to take some time in the opening week before we get to the really long climbs later in the race.

What about Quintana? No one knows what the Colombian can do just now. If in good form, he can ride away from everyone, even Porte. The question is if is on form. I’ll guess we’ll know come half 4 tomorrow.

I’m not too sure that anyone else is capable of the win tomorrow, maybe only Thomas. He does seem to be going very well at the moment.

Prediction

First mountain stage of the Tour and we’ll see the best climber from this year take the stage. Porte to win!

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Aru to sneak onto the podium, with Froome most likely taking the other spot.

Betting

Tempted with something on Porte outright for the stage but I’ve went for the longer odds rider/better EW value in;

1pt EW Aru @ 14/1 (would take 10s lowest)

Considering a few H2H but I’ll post them on my Twitter later if I do take them on.

Who do you think will win tomorrow? Will we see a break stay away, or will the GC guys fight it out? Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

 

 

 

 

Tour de France 2017 Stage 3 Preview; Verviers -> Longwy

Today’s Recap

I’ll be honest, I only caught the last 5km of the stage today. There was a crash earlier in the day involving Froome, Porte and Bardet but given early reports I don’t think it’s too serious for any of them.

We did end up with a sprint, no echelon action unfortunately, and it was a very messy sprint at that. No team was able to take control in the final kilometre and a few of the fast men were left on the front too early.

In the end, Kittel produced an incredible sprint to win comfortably. Well, as comfortable as you can be in a sprint like that! He was in the wind from about 400m to go then latched onto Colbrelli when the Italian launched, coming round him in the final 150m.

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Démare and Greipel rounded out the podium, with Cavendish finishing a promising 4th. Hopefully we’ll see more of him over the coming week.

The result sees Kittel move up to third place on GC. Will he be fighting for stage honours tomorrow and a stint in the yellow jersey? Let’s have a look at what’s in store for the riders.

The Route

Another long day in the saddle at 212km, the terrain is definitely more rolling than today’s stage.

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There are 4 categorised KOM points out on course (a 5th if you include the finish) so no doubt we’ll see Phinney try to get into the morning break and defend his lead in that competition. However, it’s not just the categorised climbs that will sap the legs of the riders, there are several uncategorised bumps for them to deal with as well.

It all depends on the pace of the peloton but it could be a more wearing day than expected.

We might see a couple of riders try an attack within the final 10km if the break is brought back but more than likely it will come down to a battle up the final climb.

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At first look at the official profile I thought some of the tougher sprinters would have a good chance on a finish like this as they would carry a lot of speed into the climb due to the descent that ends with roughly 4km to go.

However, there actually appears to be a small rise just after the descent that we don’t see on the official profile.

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Link to the Strava profile can be found here.

Not long at 500m, it does average ~6.8% and it could be another springboard for someone to try to catch the peloton out.

Furthermore, the road seems to rise almost from the 4km mark on the above graphic to the finish line. Using the numbers from that, the final 2.4km average 5% which definitely makes it too tough for some sprinters!

It reminds me of the finish to Terme Luigiane (Stage 6) at the Giro this year, although that day is inverted to this one with the tougher gradients coming right at the end, whereas the steeper slopes come at the bottom tomorrow.

The difference from that day is that the run in at the Giro had a few slightly harder climbs, but fewer of them. You would also expect the riders to be a lot fresher here as those at the Giro had already climbed Etna two days before.

How will the stage pan out?

This is a really tough one to call.

Originally, I had this down as a nailed on Sagan stage like I’m sure a lot of people did/still have! However, since looking at the finish more I think it could be on the limit of the World Champion. No doubt he will be there or thereabouts but on a finish like this, Matthews looks like a better contender to me. The Australian is a better climber than him, although slower in a sprint, but this is nullified due to the uphill nature of the finish.

We could of course see someone attack early and try to catch the bunch out, looking at you Wellens, but it will be tough for any move like that to succeed.

The more I think about it though, the more I liken this finish to Amstel Gold Race of old where the day ended right at the top of the Cauberg.

Therefore, I’m leaning more towards puncheurs for the stage. In fact, I think with all of the climbing in the day beforehand, we might even see some GC riders put their nose into the wind.

Contenders

As there are a lot of possible riders who could win tomorrow I’m only going to name a few, so apologies if I miss someone out you were hoping for.

The King of the Cauberg, Gilbert is here and I imagine he will be given free rein tomorrow to chase the stage. In remarkable form this Spring, he returned to racing towards the end of May and looked as strong as he did before his enforced break. I’ll be very surprised not to see him feature in the top 10 tomorrow!

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Van Avermaet also has to be considered a favourite for tomorrow and is another rider who had a spectacular spring campaign. The climb could be on his limit but I think his one-day prowess should see him there or thereabouts.

Away from those two though, I think we could see a few “surprise” names in the mix. I really think it will be quite a selective day so here goes my trio of “outsiders”…

Carlos Betancur.

The Colombian tore the race to bits at the recent Hammer Series and rode a very solid Tour de Suisse, coming home in the top 20 on GC. Great for him considering where he was at the start of the year! Here to rider the race in support of his leader, I think he may just be given the nod to go for it tomorrow. The climb suits the Betancur of 2014/ down to the ground and I think we could see him fly up it like he did at the Hammer Series. I’m sure a lot of fans would love to see that!

Fabio Aru.

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After winning the Italian Championships last Sunday the Astana rider will be full of confidence. He’s looked back to his 2015 best as of late, packing a real punch when he attacks out of the saddle. The finish might be too easy for him, but given his aggressive nature and the fact he already finds himself 40 seconds down on Froome, he could well test the water. If so, he is a real danger for the stage.

Thibaut Pinot.

Not here for GC and only stage hunting, supposedly, tomorrow looks like a good day for the Frenchman. His form is a bit unknown as he’s only completed the French TT Championships after his efforts at the Giro d’Italia. Nonetheless, he is arguably one of the fastest out of the GC guys so if it becomes a really selective gallop to the line then he has a great chance of winning if his legs are good.

Prediction

Having been let loose from the shackles of my season-long fantasy team after scoring me 0 points in the first few months, Betancur will repay me here and take the win!

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I mean someone from Movistar has to do what Valverde would have done?!

Betting

Outsider central here…

0.5pt EW on them all;

Betancur @300/1 with PP/BF (would take 150s with Boyles who are paying 4 places, even 100/1 elsewhere).

Pinot @ 400/1 with various bookmakers.

Aru @ 300/1 with various bookmakers.

 

Thanks as always for reading and any feedback is greatly appreciated! Who do you think will win tomorrow? Is it as tough a day as I think or have I read far too much into it? We should be in for an exciting finale either way. Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

 

 

 

Tour de France 2017 – GC Preview

Tour de France 2017 – GC Preview

Well, here we are again. Just over half-way through the season and La Grand Boucle is upon us. The race that your non-cycling friends know about and are somewhat interested in. It’s also the one where you most likely have to explain why Chris Froome isn’t competing in a sprint (we’ll just gloss over stage 11 from last year) or why the peloton have let a group of riders 12 minutes up the road. Firstly though, you will have to explain what a “peloton” is!

Speaking of Froome, the Brit is here to defend his crown and looking to win his fourth title. However, he’ll have to look over his shoulder a lot more this year as there are certainly a few contenders who could knock him from his pedestal…

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Let’s have a quick look at what’s in store for the riders over the next 3 weeks.

The Route

I’m not going to mince my words here, this year’s Tour route is arguably one of the dullest in recent memory. Several long flat sprint stages and only three mountain top finishes, eugh!

However, I’m hoping (probably in vain) that the ASO have pulled a blinder and that the less challenging route will lead to some more aggressive racing. We have seen in the past that ridiculously tough stages often lead to a boring day as too many riders are scared to go too early and run out of steam by the end of the stage.

The opening day’s TT will see some time gaps between the GC favourites but they shouldn’t be too significant, although they could be around 30 seconds or so.

Stage 5 plays host to the first summit finish of the race: La Planche des Belles Filles.

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Having been a stage finish in 2012 and 2014 a lot of the riders will know what to expect. Without any major difficulties in the first two-thirds of the stage it should all come down to the final climb. At 5.9km long and averaging 8.5%, it is tough enough to create some gaps. However, I don’t expect them to be too big between the GC favourites. Will someone who’s lost time in the TT manage to sneak away?

We then have a couple of sprints stages followed by a mountainous double-header before the first rest-day. Stage 8 kind of finishes atop a mountain at Station des Rousses but with 8km from the summit of the climb to the finish line we can’t really call it that! Stage 9 has a flat finish but there are several tough climbs out on the course. Most notably the last climb of the day; the Mont du Chat.

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The toughest climb in France according to some, it played a pivotal part in the recent Dauphiné. While the climb is exceptionally hard, the descent off of it is very technical and it is also a place where riders can attack to try to make some time. They’ll have to hope for a lack of co-operation behind as the 13km to the finish line will seem to take an eternity! With a rest day to come, the riders certainly won’t be holding anything back.

Another two sprint stages will give them time to recover before the second summit finish of the race on stage 12.

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One of the longest stages in the race, it is back loaded with climbing. It could be one of the more exciting stages because depending on the composition of the GC, we could see some early attacks on the Porte de Balès as there are no flat roads for the riders to contend with from kilometre 172.

The organisers have decided to juxtapose the longest mountain stage with the shortest one the following day.

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Seemingly wanting to take a leaf out of the Giro and Vuelta with their explosive/crazy days, I don’t think they’ve managed it. On paper anyway.

First of all, the key to these stages is to finish on a mountain, not have 30km of descending/flat after the summit. Secondly, you have a climb from the gun to try to entice GC men into a very early move and catch those out who’ve not warmed up correctly. The three climbs on the stage are tough enough to cause some chaos, don’t get me wrong, but I can’t help but think if they’d made the stage start or finish on a climb it would be a whole lot better. I hope the riders make the most of it though and produce a very attacking day. For that we need Contador and the Movistar duo to be in contention still at this point.

The GC riders then have 4 days off (including a rest day)  heading into the final week of the Tour. Traditionally packed with mountains, this year’s race is a bit “meh”. Stage 17 is arguably the Queen Stage in my opinion, although it finishes with a descent.

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The Col du Télégraphe / Col du Galibier combination is crazy. Taking the climb as a whole from the foot slopes of the Télégraphe it is ~35km at 5.5%. That’s tough on its own but when you consider the Galibier crests at 2642m then it makes it a whole different ball game. If riders blow up and struggle at altitude, they really could lose a lot of time here. Once over the crest, the riders will descend almost all the way to the finish (28km at -4% avg), although the last 3km are relatively flat. It means we could see a small group come to the line, but I don’t see that happening as I expect the climb and the descent that follows to be tough enough to create gaps.

The following day plays host to the final mountain stage and a summit finish on the Col d’Izoard.

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There’s nothing much to say about this stage really, it is all about the final climb. A last huzzah for the mountain goats to move up on GC before losing time in the TT two days later. Will a rider further down the order be given leeway to take a memorable victory, or will the riders at the top of the GC standings show no mercy and further stamp their dominance on the race?

As for the final GC stage, we have a TT around Marseille on the penultimate day of racing. I’m sure the riders will love the transfer from the South of France all the way to Paris…

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Anyway, the TT is almost pan-flat apart from one short but very steep climb. I knew I recognised the climb from somewhere and it turns out it was used in the final stage of La Provence earlier in the season. However, that day they approached it from the “easier” south side. At the Tour it will be the much harder approach. Sticking out like a sore thumb on the profile, it will certainly hamper the rhythm of the pure TT specialists. Can the climbers gain enough time on those 1.2kms to negate the other 21?

Once the stage is finished we’ll know our GC winner, before we finish with the traditional lap-circuit around the Champs-Élysées on the final day.

GC Battle As A Whole

I’m intrigued to see how the race pans out given the easier parcours compared to previous editions. Fewer mountain top finishes and fewer TT kms, I think the ASO have tried to make the route as anti-Froome as possible and make it a more open race.

In theory, they’ve done that well. There should be smaller time gaps in the TTs due to their shorter nature, although both are pan-flat almost and should suit the specialists. The lack of mountain top finishes should see the climbers closer together because there are less stages where they can drop their rivals and put massive amounts of time into them.

However, the race can definitely favour those willing to take risks. Several of the stages finish with descents off of mountains and I think we’ll see those descents being of almost equal importance to the climbs themselves. Technical descents could see riders lose 20-30 seconds if they’re nervous and if we get bad weather, time gaps could be exacerbated even more. We saw Froome attempting to drop Porte at the recent Dauphiné when coming off the Mont du Chat and I think we’ll see similar moves throughout the race, from riders in or around the top 10.

In trying to make it anti-Froome though, the organisers are playing a risky game because they’ve made it very pro-Sky. If Froome performs like he has in previous seasons and takes Yellow early (on stage 5), then Sky have the strength to be able to control the race for the majority of stages.

GC Contenders

As I’ve already ranted and rambled for a long time, I’ll keep this section “relatively” short. I imagine you will already know a lot about the favourites etc anyway…

Chris Froome.

chris froome wins 2016 tour de france

The 3-time champion is gunning for his 4th title but he seems to have lost his way this season. Is he on the decline or playing a masterful bluff? He has looked a shadow of his former self lately and most concerningly for him: he’s failed to take a win so far this season. In his past triumphant Tour years he’s managed 5 (2016) / 5 (2015) / 9 (2013) wins (including GC titles) before the start of the race. I think he’s on the decline, but has he realised that and focussed fully on preparing for this race and only this race? Possibly. However, I think it will be hard for him to retain his title but I won’t be surprised if he did! He does have the advantage of having the strongest overall team.

Richie Porte.

Froome’s former team-mate is his biggest threat. The Australian has been on fire this season, winning or challenging for almost every race he’s entered. As I’ve said before, give him a race of 15 minute climbs and you’ll be hard pressed to find someone in the world who can beat him (maybe Dumoulin). There used to be question marks over his ability on the long climbs but he seems to have stepped up in that respect again this season with some big performances. He’ll gain time on his rivals in the TT and more than likely will do on the climbs.

Is he unbeatable? No.

We saw at the Dauphiné that his team is pretty weak and they’ll struggle to protect him in the mountains throughout the race. It’s not so much stages such as the one that finishes on the Izoard that he’ll have problems with. Drop him off at the bottom and he’ll do the rest himself. It’s the days where we have several mountains in quick succession and I am concerned for him on Stage 13.

Nonetheless though, he is the rider to beat this season and that should be no different here.

Nairo Quintana.

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After failing to win the Giro, the Colombian comes here looking for redemption. I have to admit I do have a soft spot for him, although that’s the case for a lot of Colombians, must be something to do with the coffee! I admire a rider that can have a “poor” Tour last year and finish third, while similarly have a terrible Giro this year according to some and finish second. I wish I was that good at something while simultaneously being “rubbish”.

Quintana did look under-cooked at the Giro and I think he had half an eye on the Tour at the time, but like a lot of us, he underestimated how strong Dumoulin was going to be. We could well have been talking about the possibility of him doing the Giro-Tour double.

The route isn’t great for him with a lack of summit finishes, but if he can stay in contention for the final week then he has a great chance to take time on the Galibier and Izoard.

I am concerned though about his level of fatigue though as this is set to be his 4th straight Grand Tour. Maybe he’s got some tips from Adam Hansen?

Alberto Contador.

The most succesful active Grand Tour rider in the peloton, his season has been built around winning the Tour de France. He’s had a string of second places on GC this season, cruelly missing out on Paris-Nice and Andalucia wins by a cumulative margin of 3 seconds. He will no doubt animate the race and it is good to see him enjoying his racing more than when he was at Tinkoff, but I still think he’s past his prime and I can’t see him contending for the win. The same can’t be said for the next rider…

Alejandro Valverde.

Mr Evergreen (not the Green Bullet) as I have decided to call him, has had an astonishing season for a 37-year-old. He’s picked up 3 GC wins this season so far, but they’ve all came in Spain. Finishing 9th at the recent Dauphiné after a month and a half out of racing wasn’t a bad result and he’ll be hoping to have progressed in form since then. This year’s Tour route looks ideal for him and it is crucial for Movistar’s chances to have both him and Quintana in contention going into the last week. He will be close to the podium, but I think he’ll suffer in the final week as he has one eye on the Vuelta where he’ll be outright leader of the team.

Fabio Aru.

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The newly crowned Italian champion has been flying as of late and he will be Astana’s main rider here. According to their press release Fuglsang will be co-leader but I expect he’ll eventually fall by the wayside. However, like Movistar, Astana can benefit massively from having two riders close on GC. They put on an attacking masterclass at the Dauphiné and I expect something similar here. Aru looks back to his 2015 best and after missing the Giro he’ll be wanting to make amends. A podium finish is well within his capabilities and with some luck, he could possibly go a bit better!*

* I am a bit biased though as he is in my season long fantasy team. Think I’ve been brainwashed as well by my neighbours personalised number plate that ends in ARU.

Romain Bardet.

After his spectacular second place last year, the French rider will be hoping for a repeat performance this season. He’s had a relatively quiet season but has been slowly peaking for this race. He’ll love the lack of TT kms (although he’ll still lose plenty of time) and the descents will be to his liking as well. I just don’t think he’ll be up there competing again, and the pressure of being the big French hope might get to him.

Dan Martin.

Another rider who will benefit from the fewer TT kms, he will be looking to improve on his 9th place last year. The route does suit the attacking Irishman who will no doubt squirrel off the front on some stages. His fast sprint could see him pick up some bonus seconds. A dark horse for the podium, I think he’ll fall short.

Esteban Chaves.

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The Smiling Assassin is a rider I’m sure a lot of fans have a soft spot for. Making his Tour debut this year, he returned to racing at the Dauphiné after almost 4 months out with a knee problem. Considering his performances in the Giro and Vuelta last year, if he came into this race fully fit then people would be talking up his chances for the podium Right now he has a question mark beside him, but I think he could surprise again.

If not, team-mate Simon Yates could be Orica’s GC hope. An attacking rider, he will no doubt launch himself off the front on the penultimate climb of a stage, looking to gain time before the final summit. He finished a very respectable 6th at the Vuelta last year but it was a pretty lacklustre field and I’m still not convinced he’s a fully fledged GC rider in a Grand Tour.

Rafal Majka will lead the charge for Bora who look to be trying to win every jersey possible at the race. A quality rider, don’t expect him to see him attacking out of the bunch too much, he’ll just be there in the background, almost anonymously. Free from the shackles of working for another rider, he could well find himself in the top 5 of another GT.

Louis Meintjes a.k.a the ticket collector, will no doubt be seen at the back of the mountain train every time the road goes uphill. A gutsy rider who will hang on for a top 10 at least by the end of the race, I think he might possibly sneak even further up the pecking order.

Ion Izagirre gets his first shot at riding a Grand Tour as leader. A super domestique for Valverde and Quintana in the past, he’s been solid this season but hasn’t set the scene alight. Will he perform consistently throughout the race to be there at the pointy-end come the final week?

Right, I think that’s everyone…

(Yes, I’ve missed out Uran but that’s because I don’t think he’ll be there).

As for an outsider to finish in the top 10, I like the look of Primoz Roglic.

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The Slovenian has upped his game this season and has turned himself into a fully fledged GC rider. An excellent TTer who can also climb well, the lack of mountain top finishes this year will really suit him as the really long climbs are his undoing. The guy can descend as well, rather apt considering his downhill skiing background, which will be very handy during this race.

Watching him fly down the descent during the final TT at Romandie was a thing of beauty. He managed to put 26 seconds into Porte over 11km of descending/flat, it was crazy! It is only his second Grand Tour so there is a chance he’ll be left wanting come the end, but I think he’ll be there fighting for a top 10.

Prediction

Porte will finally shake that “3-week consistency” monkey off his back and take the overall win to continue an unbelievable season!

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With Aru coming second and Quintana third.

Betting

I’m not a huge fan of betting on GC, but I am tempted with something on Aru EW, but I think I’ll wait until after he loses time in the opening TT!

As for now though, I’ve got 2pts on Roglic Top 10 @ 3/1 with Betfred (would take 11/4 that’s available elsewhere)

 

Thanks as always for reading and any feedback as usual is greatly appreciated. Who do you think will win the Tour overall? Will we see any surprises? Or will it be the usual suspects competing for victory? I’ll be back tomorrow with my look at the Green Jersey battle and I promise it will be a lot shorter! 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 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.