Trofeo Laigueglia 2019 Preview

Now a yearly staple for my blog, the Italian Cup starts this weekend with the 56th edition of Trofeo Laigueglia on Sunday. A tricky race for this early in the season given the punchy climb on the closing circuit, it is often a race decided by a reduced bunch sprint or a solo rider escaping over one of the climbs and arriving at the finish ahead of the rest. In 2018 we saw a rather electric attack from Moreno Moser on the penultimate climb, which completely blew everyone else away. By the end the Astana man, riding for the Italian national team on the day, finished with a 43 second buffer over the remnants of the peloton: the biggest winning margin in recent years.

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Moser arrives here to defend his title and looking to complete a hat-trick of wins at this race. First though, let’s have a look at what is in store for the riders.

The Route

Identical to 2018’s parcours, the organisers obviously liked the one extra lap around the closing circuit that they added last year.

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The early climbs of the Paravenna (6.6km at 5.9%) and Testico (8.47km at 3.7%) won’t be decisive but they’ll certainly sap the legs of the peloton. I’m thankful for the figures on the profile above as trying to find the length/gradients of the latter climb was a real ball-ache last year…

Moving swiftly on, the crux of the race is the circuit that we have around Laigueglia itself.

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The toughest part on the course is the climb of Colla Micheri and that is the point at which Moser launched his winning attack last year, with Felline doing the exact same before going on to win in 2017.

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Averaging almost 8% for 2kms it will be attacked at a ferocious speed. Not long enough for a pure climber to make a difference, it certainly suits a puncheur that can hold a good amount of power for the 5 minutes it takes to get up it. Last year showed that the differences can be much greater on the final time up the ascent because of the extra lap and the more tired legs because of it. With the final 500m being the most important part and the area where the most hurt can be put on.

A fast descent follows before a few kilometres of flat and a final little kick up Capo Mele. It’s not a tough climb averaging only 3.5% for 1.9km but there are a few steeper ramps that can act as a launchpad if riders are stalling and looking at each other; just like Andrea Fedi did in 2016 before going on to win the race.

Once over the crest of Mele, the riders only have 2kms left of shallow descent and a flat run in to the finish.

Contenders

Despite the race being .HC in category, we only have two World Tour teams at the start of the race. Although to be fair, that is an improvement on last year’s one! Consequently, it could potentially be an open race that is difficult to control but I think we’ll see things kept in relative check until the closing couple of laps as some of the Italian Pro Conti teams will more than happily share the pace making.

Marco Canola.

On the team of the defending champion, I think Canola offers Nippo their best chance of taking the race. A consistent rider after his return to the European peloton, his 2018 failed to live up to the incredible 2017 he had, although several top 10s and podium places to his name so it wasn’t too bad a year; it was just a win that eluded him. He can climb well on the short slopes and with his fast sprint, he is a good candidate for this type of parcours. Having already got some racing in his legs over in Valenciana, he’ll be wanting to put that to good use tomorrow.

Anthony Roux.

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The current French champion will most likely be Groupama’s man for the day but without any racing for him so far this year, it is hard to know where his form is at. Last season was re-breakthrough (if I can call it that) year for the 31-year-old with him managing to take three victories and some other strong results including an impressive 3rd place in San Sebastian. If he is close to a similar level like he was on that day, then he should be in the mix here. I’m just not too sure if he will be.

Benoît Cosnefroy.

The 2017 U23 World Champion had a solid neo-pro year with AG2R in 2018, with the highlight being a 3rd place in his last race of the season at Paris Tours. Spending the opening part of the season in Australia saw the Frenchman get some racing in his legs, where he picked up an 11th place finish in Cadel’s race. A bit of a punchy all-rounder, he theoretically should be able to go well here and I imagine he’ll lead the AG2R squad.

Fabio Felline and his Trek buddies.

Winner in 2017, the Italian will once again ride for the national team and as a “squad” they are looking for their third win in a row at this race. With a mix of youth and experience in the team to help him, Felline will be confident of being at the pointy end of things come the finale. His 2018 wasn’t as strong as his 2017, but he did seem to finish the year off well and pick up a few good results. This season he’s already been racing in Spain and France, with a 9th place finish overall in Bessèges. One of the massive advantages that Felline has is the strength of his team, with both Ciccone and Brambilla potential winners of this race as well. With all three of them riding for trade-team Trek Segafredo, they should be able to communicate and work well together on the day. Whether that admitting your legs aren’t good, or bouncing attacks off of each other. I would be very surprised if we didn’t see one of them on the podium.

The whole of Androni, basically.

Looking at the teams, Androni have the most amount of riders who I think could win this race with Gavazzi, Cattaneo, Busato and Montaguti all potential candidates. Without any real fast climbing-sprinters at the race, I think Gavazzi would be the team’s best shot at winning in a reduced gallop to the line. However, I do expect them to be one of the teams to animate the race so they might try to avoid that outcome if possible, with maybe Cattaneo or Montaguti riding solo to the line.

Giovanni Visconti.

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In the twilight of his career, Visconti switched teams in the winter and returned to his former PCT outfit now known as Neri Sottoli, in the search for some more personal success and to help the younger Italian riders. On paper, this is a parcours that is made for the Italian with the short punchy climbs suiting his characteristics. He made a slow start in Argentina but now back on home soil he is a threat and one that most of his opposition will have an eye on.

Given the large amount of Continental teams here, there are a few riders who could pull out a surprise performance. Others to watch include Paolo Totò of Sangemini who was second here last year; Marco Tizza of Amore & Vita; plus youngster Andrea Bagioli (Team Colpack) who I think will be a star of the future.

Prediction

Looking at the strength of their team, I would be surprised not to see the Italian Trek conglomeration make it three wins in a row and I’ll go with Felline to be that man.

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

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

Tour de France 2017 Stage 12 Preview; Pau -> Peyragudes

Today’s Recap

Zzzzzzzzzz.

I’m all for having sprints in the Tour as every rider needs some type of terrain to showcase their talents, but I’m definitely glad we don’t have another one tomorrow.

With regards to what the other sprint teams were doing today, I’m not angry, I’m just disappointed. No guts or courage to try something different. Instead Katusha and Lotto Soudal were happy to help pull all day and they were duly rewarded with 12th and 7th place finishes respectively.

Of course Kittel won again, he’s just too good at this moment!

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Groenewegen finished fast to come home second, with Boasson Hagen rewarding his strong lead-out with a third place. A good day in one sense as I tweeted out to back EBH in-play as I thought the technical run in might suit his team and it did, but I would loved to have seen something more gutsy from the sprint teams.

A big “fair-play” though must go to Bodnar who held off the bunch for oh so long, only to be caught within sight of the finish line.

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

The Route

After three rest-days, we finally have a stage that might entice some action.

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A long day out in the saddle, the riders will have to contend with some rolling roads for the first 55km of the day before they hit the first categorised climb. However, it won’t really be until after 120km that things get serious. The Col de Menté averages a very steep 8.1% for 6.9km. This is where we could see some of the GC teams come to the fore, maybe hoping to apply some early pressure but I think that’s unlikely. Instead, it is more likely to be where the break splits up, especially if we have a larger group.

Once over the summit the riders will tackle 10km of descent, along with 10km of valley roads before the road starts rising again up the Port de Balès. Officially 11.7km at 7.7%, the riders will actually be climbing for ~20km at 5.7%.

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Considering the riders descend almost all the way from the summit, there are only a few flat sections, to the foot slopes of the Col de Peyreseurde, it will be interesting to see if any riders attack early.

The Peyreseurde itself is shorter than Balès and is a lot more consistent, making it more suited for riders who are able to get themselves into a steady pace. Will we see some attacks? I sure hope so and I think we will, it’s just a case of when?!

The descent from the Peyreseurde is very straight forward, I’m sure the riders will be glad to know that, and they’ll hope to carry as much speed as possible into the tough final 3kms. A final kilometre at 13% is a brutal way to end the stage and with all the climbing that comes before riders can blow up massively here and lose a lot of time.

How will the stage pan out?

A classic 50/50 stage where the breakaway could stay away, but there is also a chance that the GC teams control it for the final few climbs and hope to get some bonus seconds.

There are faults with both plans though.

Firstly for the break, it will no doubt be a massive fight to get into the move and I wouldn’t be surprised if we only see the elastic snap after an hour of racing. The issue that lies here is that it will more than likely be strong rouleurs who make the move, with the flatter start being difficult for climbers to get in. No doubt there will be a few who sneak their way into it but it will certainly be tough. The steep gradients of the climbs make it hard for a rouleur to win so in a cruel twist of fate, while the break might be easier for them to make it into, it will be harder for them to win!

There are obviously riders in the peloton who can do both and they’ll be eyeing up this stage.

As for the GC riders going for stage victory; it depends on Sky’s attitude. If they are in their usual controlling mood then there is a good chance we’ll see a GC winner. Froome looks strong just now and is growing into the race but will he feel ready enough to attack the stage? I’m not sure. It is an easy day for Sky to control if they want to, with the tough climbs coming in the second half of the stage.

The crashes of Bardet and Fuglsang today might have a negative impact on the GC riders willingness to go for the win.

Furthermore, with a crazy stage coming the following day, I think we’ll see the break take it tomorrow. So time to play everyone’s favourite game again…

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Candidates

Names in hat time, so I’ll highlight a few possible contenders like always.

Andrew Talansky.

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One of those riders who might not be allowed away if he is to protect team-leader Uran, but on the other hand he could be sent up the road to help later on. If the break gets a big lead then Talansky is a strong enough climber to take the win.

Diego Ulissi.

The UAE rider has been very quiet so far this race, maybe saving his energy to attack on a stage? The steep gradients tomorrow should suit the punchy Italian and he is in relatively good form, finishing 2nd at the recent Italian National Championships. Although the length of the climbs might be tough, but he has went well in hard stages at the Giro in the past. Meintjes has struggled a bit on GC so far, and I think UAE will allow Ulissi to go on the offensive tomorrow, will he take his chance?

Fabio Felline.

Another rider who hasn’t been able to take his own chances so far due to having to help team-leader Contador. Yet, the Spaniard hasn’t been great this Tour (as was almost expected) and I think we’ll see Trek adopt an aggressive approach to the rest of the race. Felline isn’t known for his mountain climbing, but like Ulissi he is good on the punchy stuff. He’s a strong rider who’s having a great season and a good result tomorrow would take that even further.

Philippe Gilbert.

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Talking about riders who’ve had great seasons…Gilbert has had an incredible 2017 so far and he is surely targeting a Tour stage win at some point. He was active in the break on Planche des Belles Filles and was actually the last man standing, putting in a very impressive display of climbing. Tomorrow is a whole different ballgame but he is certainly not a rider to be discounted. Like many others, it all depends if he’s given the freedom and doesn’t have to work for his team leader. He did a lot of work today pulling at the front of the bunch, stretching his legs for a good hit-out tomorrow! Or that’s what I’m making of it anyway. 😜 A wild card given the climbing talent here but you never know.

Prediction

Break stays away by around a minute and Diego Ulissi takes a memorable victory.

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Betting

0.4pt EW Ulissi @ 100/1 (Boyles – 4 places)

0.25pt EW Talansky @ 150/1 (Ladbrokes/Coral/PP/Betfair)

0.25pt EW Felline @ 150/1 (Boyles – 4 places)

0.1pt EW Gilbert @ 300/1 (PP/BF)

 

Thanks as always for reading and any feedback is greatly appreciated. Who do you think will win tomorrow? Will the break survive all the way or will we see a GC battle for the stage win? I’m just hoping for a good day’s racing! Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tour de Romandie 2017 Stage 2 Preview; Champéry -> Bulle

Today’s Recap

It looked for a while as if the weather was going to hold out, but it started tipping it down towards the end of the day. Which made for very grizzly conditions going up the last climb. I’m sure if that made the stage easier or not, as the peloton rode it slightly more defensively than I thought, or if the climb was too easy for any gaps to be made.

In the end, it was Albasini who took a great win (a day too late for me)! With Ulissi and Herrada rounding out the podium.

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A damp squib of a stage on the punting front but I’ll soldier on!

The Route

A “sprinters” day tomorrow in Romandie, which means that there is still a fair amount of climbing involved.

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@LasterketaBurua

You can view an interactive profile of the stage here.

There is a chance that they might move the start of tomorrow’s race off the mountain at Champéry and onto the flat valley below. Either way, it shouldn’t have a big impact on the stage.

We do have some relatively tough short climbs out on the course but they come too far from the finish to cause any stress for the sprinters so we should end with some type of bunch kick again.

As there is nothing useful in the road-book, I’ve resorted again to making a Strava profile, this time of the final 5km. You can view that link here.

I’ve went off what information I could take from the interactive profile made by the same guys behind LasterketaBurua as there is no useful information in the RB as to where turns etc are in the finale so apologies if this isn’t 100% correct. But again, I do trust them so I’m assuming it is correct!

Anyway…

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The closing 2.8km averages 2.29% all the way to the line. Not tough, but certainly a long drag! The amount of twists and turns in the closing kilometre should also add to the excitement.

However, it was the 900m lump that starts just before the 4km to go mark that caught my eye. As Strava sometimes doesn’t cope with the contouring on maps that well, especially when the road runs very close to a contour, I thought I’d check it out on Google Streetview to see if the climb was actually that steep.

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View one…
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View two…

It’s definitely a hill, that I’m sure of… 😜

As for how steep it is, I’m still undecided!

Facing up the road, it looks like quite a tough drag but then when looking parallel to the road it doesn’t seem as bad at all. We’ll just have to wait and see tomorrow I guess as to how steep it actually is. I’m holding out that it is the 900m climb at 7% that Strava promises! My instinct though is that it’s probably closer to a 4% average.

Weather

We’re set for another cold day in the saddle.

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Source: Wunderground

Thankfully the riders will be happy to see that there is only a “chance of rain” in the afternoon, but I’m sure they’re bound to get soaked at some point.

There are plenty of riders far enough down on GC to warrant a break win, but I think that’s unlikely and we’ll more than likely see some type of sprint into Bulle.

Contenders

We don’t have many proper sprinters here so a lot of them should be able to compete on this finale.

Viviani is arguably the biggest name here. He’s been climbing a lot better this year, in fact, the best I’ve seen in his whole career. Tomorrow’s finish might be right on his limit but with the Giro looming, you would expect him to be in good shape. Without a win this season, it’s a great chance for him to take victory, but I just can’t see it. Nonetheless, he does surprise occasionally with a great result.

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Albasini is a man in form and he can certainly roll over any of the hills tomorrow. The up-hill finish puts him on a similar level to the really fast guys and I would not be surprised to see him double up. At the very least, he is a safe shout for a podium

Colbrelli in theory should be the favourite for this race, but he seems to be tiring after his great start the year. If he still has some strength in his legs then he will be tough to beat.

This type of finish would have been bread and butter for JJ Lobato circa end of 2014. After switching to Jumbo, the Spaniard has failed to deliver a win for his team so far but that could be put down to the injury that plagued him at the start of the year. An 11th place in Amstel shows that some form is there, but can you put any faith in the enigmatic fast man?

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Race leader Felline will like the look of the drag towards the finish line tomorrow. Clearly in scintillating form, the Italian is taking advantage of it and looks strong in the lead. If he takes the win and 10 bonus seconds tomorrow, he might fancy his chances at winning this race overall…

What about Samuel Dumoulin? The Frenchman has had a fairly solid year but has only picked up one win so far. One of the most consistent riders on an uphill finish, he certainly has a chance if the form is there.

Van der Sande climbed well to finish 17th today but was disappointed to have missed out on getting close to the win. He is clearly going well at the moment and should be Lotto Soudal’s main charge tomorrow as Hofland seems to have fallen by the wayside. A good outsider.

Bilbao will hope to be up there again for Astana. He was close today in 6th place but with the finish being on the climb this time, I’m sure that will suit his abilities more.

Likewise, it will suit former team-mate Goncalves. A favourite of mine, the Portuguese rider has performed OK in the opening part of the season with his new team Katusha, an 11th place at Strade being his best result. Tomorrow’s finish is one that he would eat for breakfast so to say when he was with Caja Rural and I expect to see him up there fighting for the win tomorrow.

Smith, Swift and Richeze might all get involved as well.

Prediction

A tough stage to predict the winner of as firstly I’m still not 100% sure of that penultimate ramp, but it’s also difficult to tell how the peloton will approach the drag to the line.

I do think we’ll see a reduced bunch sprint in the end and I’ll go for a guy who was disappointed today to take the win tomorrow; Tosh van der Sande to step up to the plate and start fulfilling his potential!

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Betting

0.5pt EW Van der Sande @ 22/1 (would take 16s)

0.5pt EW Goncalves @ 400/1 (would take 150s)

 

Thanks as always for reading and any feedback is greatly appreciated. Who do you think will win stage 2? Tomorrow might be a triple preview day with another Romandie stage and potentially Yorkshire Stage 1 and GC, although I might miss the latter if I’m short of time. Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tour de Romandie 2017 Stage 1 Preview; Aigle -> Champéry

Today’s Recap

A wet and miserable TT rewarded the risk takers of the peloton. In the end it was Fabio Felline who took a great win. He was putting down a serious amount of power in the closing straight, with the back wheel sliding all over the road. Possible flat tyre? Impressive either way!

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Alex Dowsett was the last rider down the ramp but kept things interesting, only losing by 2 seconds to the Italian, with an impressive ride from youngster Alexander Edmondson to take third.

As for Albasini, he looked to be going okay on the first part of the course, but seemed to lack the confidence in the second half. Probably didn’t want to fall after knowing I had put the curse on him. Oh well!

The GC guys took as few risks as possible, trying to keep themselves upright going into the rest of the week. Let’s have a look at what’s in store for them tomorrow.

The Route

We get the first open road stage of the race on day two and we are already treated to what is arguably the Queen Stage. Although I do think that is still going to be stage 4!

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@LasterketaBurua

An interactive profile can be viewed here.

With only 2700m of elevation gain, it’s certainly not the most wearing day, but the vast majority of the climbing does come in two big sections.

First, we have the Cat-2 climb of Vex that starts around the halfway point in the stage. Averaging a solid 6.3% for 8.9km it will tire the peloton for what’s to come later but I can’t really see it having any impact on the race. If anything, the descent might have a bigger say in the outcome if it is wet and dangerous.

Following the descent there is a long 40km period of flat before a little 2.1km long, 9.1% average kicker. This could see some of the deadwood dropped from the peloton if a team turns the pace on here. If not, the bunch will be grouped together as they start the final climb of the day.

According to the guys @LasterketaBurua the climb is 14.5km long and averages 4.2%, but that’s it topping out with just over 1km to the finish line.

As we get nothing in the road book at all about the climb I’ve made a Strava profile for the whole thing. View that here.

Interestingly, the rider who holds the Strava record for the climb is Adrien Costa (30 minutes) who set that back in the junior race of Pays Vaud back in 2015. I’m sure that will fall tomorrow!

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You can split the climb into three parts, with some false flat and shallow descending in between.

The first section is 5.5km at 5.4% but this does include some double figure ramps. Three km of said false flat/descending follows before the second section; 3.2km at 5.8%. We then have almost a kilometre of descending before the final kick up which is 1.3km at 7.7%. A flat-ish run to the line then follows.

Will we see a solo winner, or a group of GC favourites come to the line?

Weather Watch

Looks set to be another grim day for the peloton, a recurring theme this week!

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Source; Wunderground.

Thankfully it’s supposedly only raining at the finish line tomorrow in Champéry (above forecast), but the riders will certainly be cold and wet either way. Hopefully the organisers won’t need to change the route!

The same can’t be said for the climb of Vex as there is a good chance we’ll have sleet on it and that could make the descent dangerous. I don’t think it will have a massive impact on the day if it is included or not.

How will the stage pan out?

It will all come down to the final climb and how aggressively the riders approach it. With only one other mountain top finish, I’m sure the better climbers will want to put as much time into their competitors with a long TT looming.

The weather will play as big a part as any with some riders feeling the cold more than others, and potentially underperforming.

However, I just don’t think the final climb is hard enough to create some serious time gaps. The toughest section is the 1.3km (@7.7%) segment that comes near the end of the climb. We could see some strong attacks here from the likes of Porte and Froome but will they really distance everyone on it? I’m not so sure.

The flat run in to the line could scarper any moves that were made on the slopes, but of course it could work conversely where those behind don’t work together.

Ultimately though, I think the stage will be won either from a late attack on the flat closing 1.5km or in a sprint between GC favourites.

So I’ll throw some names into the proverbial hat.

Proverbial Hat of Contenders (Outsiders)

Jarlinson Pantano.

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A man ahead of the times in bad weather…

But no, in all seriousness Pantano has all the credentials and abilities to go well tomorrow. He’s been climbing strongly in support of Contador all season but now has his own chance to chase a result. Or does he? There is a chance of him riding for race leader Felline, but I think Trek are best to keep their options open. Packing a fast sprint, he can certainly win the stage from a reduced group.

Diego Ulissi.

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The climb is possibly just on the limit for the Italian, considering the length of it, but with its relatively shallow gradients he could hang on. Not afraid to attack or hold out for the sprint in that situation, it will be interesting to see how he plays it if he’s still there!

Wilco Kelderman.

Going to the Giro in support of Dumoulin, Kelderman hasn’t had many race days so far this year, only 11 in fact! Two of those were at the Ardennes and he’s slowly regained his race speed and form. He put in a fairly solid TT today and will want to test himself at some point in the mountains. Tomorrow could be as good a day as any!

Prediction

I’ll go for Mary Poppins himself, Jarlinson Pantano to take the win! We’ll see an attack on the final ramp by some of the favourites and Pantano will mark it out, with Felline behind. The Colombian will then win the ensuing sprint. Valverde’s not here to beat him this time!

Tour de France stage 15

Betting

1.5pt EW Pantano @10/1 with Bet365

0.25pt EW Bilbao @80/1

Thanks as always for reading and any feedback is greatly appreciated. I hope we get an unaltered stage and an exciting days worth of racing! Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

 

 

Tour de Romandie 2017 Prologue Preview; Aigle -> Aigle

Tour de Romandie 2017 Prologue Preview; Aigle -> Aigle

GC Overview

Short of time again so there’s no full GC preview from me but here are a few quick thoughts.

The weather forecast for the week looks grim, so that certainly suits some riders more than others and wet roads could make some of the descents very treacherous. Nonetheless, it looks to be a two-horse race this between Porte and Froome.

Porte hasn’t raced in over a month since Paris Nice, where he was left bitterly disappointed after losing time in the crosswinds on the opening stages. However, he was sublime and put 21 seconds into a flying Contador on the Queen Stage. It’s the best I think I’ve seen the Australian climb and he’ll want to show well here again to gain a psychological advantage over his old team-mate.

Likewise, Froome also hasn’t raced for close to a month, with his last outing being in Catalunya where he once again was caught out in splits near the start of a stage. None of that matters though to Froome and his season starts here. Without a win this year, he’ll want to change that here and look to seal the title before going to the Dauphiné. Thomas was flying when he came back from South Africa and I expect the same from Froome this time too.

Can anyone stop them? Not really, no! However, Izagirre, Roglic, Spilak, Yates and Pantano will hope to go close and take 3rd place on the podium.

I’ll go for a Porte win. That climbing display in Paris Nice was truly impressive and he’ll just edge Froome, before the tables are turned at the Dauphiné.

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Right, let’s have a look at what’s in store for the riders on the opening day.

The Route

Short, but sharp opening prologue for the riders to tackle.

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@LasterketaBurua

You can view an interactive profile of the route here.

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With a few technical turns this prologue isn’t all about raw power, with good bike handling skills also being essential if you want to set a very fast time.

There’s not much to the terrain with it mostly being flat, but we do get a kilometre long drag of roughly 2% from 1.8km -> 2.8km. From there, the riders descend quickly before another few hundred metres at 2% before the flat run to the line.

And that’s that for the route, short and sweet like the effort!

Weather

As is often the case in Romandie, bad weather looks set to play a part in the race.

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Source: MeteoCentrale

It doesn’t look like it will be too bad tomorrow, with most of the rain supposedly falling in the evening. However, there is a chance for a few showers as we get later into the afternoon. Will some of the GC riders go out earlier hoping to avoid them?!

Contenders

A prologue like this is incredibly wide open. Getting my excuses in early! TT specialists will fancy their chances but so will sprinters and strong all rounders.

This list could be very long if I wanted it to, but since I’m in a bit of a rush and I’m not a fan of naming 20 riders, I’ll pick a select few and try to give reasons as to why they can win the stage. Several favourites will be left out but what else would you expect?!

Ion Izagirre.

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Once of the riders blessed by going out in better conditions last year, he avoided the rain which made the descent treacherous, taking the win on the opening day. There isn’t as much climbing in the prologue this year but I would argue that he’s going in much better shape than this time last year. After a very successful Ardennes week (12th was his worst finish) he seems to be bang in form and will be looking to equal last year’s performance.

Michael Albasini.

Another man who has been plagued by the Haughey Curse, I had picked him for the prologue last year at 200/1.

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He was going well too, until he came to grief on the rainy descent. This year he seems to be in equally impressive form with no worse than a 7th place in the Ardennes this week. Known as Mr Romandie, he has 6 stage wins to his name here and he should make it seven at some point this week. Will that be tomorrow?

Stefan Küng.

The second Swiss rider to make the list and a former trackie, the BMC man won the Individual Pursuit World title in 2015. This type of short course should suit him perfectly and he’ll be fired up for his home race. Not having raced since Roubaix, it will be interesting to see what his form will be like, but he has every chance when the winning margin should be small!

Fabio Felline.

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Not a known TT rider, Felline has improved at the discipline over the past year and he finished a very respectable 5th in the TT in Andalucia back at the start of the season. An explosive rider who seems to be going reasonably well, he has a good chance of upsetting the applecart.

Of course there are many others who could get involved and we might even see Porte and Froome feature at the head of the field.

Prediction

Mr Romandie to take his seventh stage win, smashing the TT and hopefully staying up-right this time!

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I think we might see the two big GC favourites get close to the podium as well.

Betting

I wouldn’t normally bet on the GC but because of the price I will;

2pts EW Porte at 9/2 with Bet365. 

He has a good chance of winning, but should podium barring any disaster. Safe in the sense that stakes are returned if he does.

Prologue picks, all with B365 as well;

Albasini 1pt EW @ 28/1

Froome 0.25pt EW @40/1

Porte 0.25pt EW @50/1

 

Thanks for reading as always, I should have a longer preview out for the first road stage. Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

Ronde van Vlaanderen 2017 Preview

Ronde van Vlaanderen 2017 Preview

It’s time for my favourite event of the year and a special race as it marks one year of this blog! To thank you all for your continued support I’ll be doing a competition tied in with my women’s preview (that will be out tomorrow), for a chance to win one of The Handmade Cyclist’s artworks. Well, more specifically their “De Ronde” one, obviously. So yeah, make sure you return tomorrow!

Right, now that those formalities are out of the road, let’s focus on this incredible race.

Last year saw an imperious Peter Sagan just ride away from Sep Vanmarcke on the Paterberg and even with a surging Fabian Cancellara the duo could not catch the Slovak.

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Will Sagan be able to double up this year? Let’s have a look at what’s in store for the riders.

The Route

I’m not going to bore you with a massive route analysis (like I normally would), as I’m sure if you’re anything like me you’ll have read plenty about it already this week!

The route in general is pretty much more of the same that we had last year, apart from they have added the Muur at around 90km to go. Although iconic, it will more than likely be too far out for a race winning move to be made there. Instead, we might see some lesser riders attempt to get up the road before it all kicks off.

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It’s once we pass the Paterberg for the first time at around 70km to go that the race starts to kick into action and theoretically a race winning move could go from this point onwards. However, the second passage of the Paterberg, which swiftly follows the Oude Kwaremont, will desolate the peloton if it’s still together.

From there, we’ll have attacks go up the road; groups working; groups not working; solo moves; teams having wrong riders in the right move, etc etc. It all gets a bit hectic to say the least!

With only 17km to go the riders then tackle the Oude Kwaremont once again.

This is where Sagan dropped everyone from the group in front apart from Vanmarcke, likewise Cancellara dropped those behind as he motored ahead trying to catch up. The open highway that follows the Kwaremont can see a regrouping, before they tackle the final climb of the day; the last ascent of the Paterberg.

Sagan blew the wheels off of Vanmarcke here last year.

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Once over the top it’s a 13km TT between the leaders and any chasers, before the traditional finish in Oudenaarde.

Normally the weather will play a part in this race but it looks pretty benign just now so I’m going to completely skip that section!

How will the race pan out? Team tactics.

Flanders is arguably the race in which the winner is more often than not the strongest rider on the day who gets a bit of luck. The reason for this in my opinion is due to the relentless nature of the cobbles and climbs in the closing third of the race, and due to the severe length of the event itself! A strong rider can create a massive gap on the Kwaremont and Paterbeg combination and with only 13km left, it’s hard to get a concerted chance organised.

Last year you could say without doubt that Sagan and Cancellara were the strongest riders in the peloton. Sagan in a sense you could argue got lucky that Cancellara didn’t follow the attacks at 31km left, and it’s hard to say how the race would have panned out if those two arrived at the bottom of the Paterberg together.

A similar situation may occur this year between Van Avermaet and Sagan, who are one step ahead of everyone else in my opinion, and probably yours too!

The only thing that can stop them is the attitude of Quick-Step. The Belgian outfit need to ride as aggressively as they did in Dwars and E3 if they want to have a good chance of success. They need to be in every move that goes up the road, either by following every move or attacking themselves. But more on that later!

Contenders

As I’ve just mentioned above, there are two clear favourites going by the bookmakers and anyone who watches this sport!

Defending champion Peter Sagan has looked his usual exceptional self this year. His attack in Milan San Remo was incredible, as was his stage win in Fermo during the Tirreno Adriatico, but oddly enough there are some people who suggest he’s not going well. He has only won one one-day race this season so far, Kuurne Brussels Kuurne, which is pretty poor from him so they might be right…

Is he suffering from being Sagan? Yeah, I think so, but this is the one race a year where being Sagan doesn’t matter as much. If he’s feeling good, he can simply ride away from everyone on the final double ascent of the Kwaremont/Paterberg like we saw last year. The issue for him will be ensuring that he’s in contention going into that final 15km. Therefore, he’ll need to attack/follow the attacks from where he did last year. Re-watching last week’s Gent Wevelgem, he clawed back almost 8 bike lengths on his main rival Van Avermaet on the Kemmelberg. That’s Flanders winning form!

Talking about Van Avermaet, he was the number one performer of the week just gone by and is Sagan’s main challenger.

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Three one-day World Tour wins already this season, the Olympic champion is flying. He’s beaten Sagan in a sprint (Omloop); won against tough opposition in another sprint (E3); and outsmarted his opponents (Gent Wevelgem). Results wise, he is the rider to beat! He doesn’t seem to pack the same punch up the cobbled climbs as Sagan does, but he benefits tactically from not being Sagan. He seems not to have the same aura amongst the peloton and riders are more inclined to work with him.

However, I think that might change going into this weekend and he’ll struggle with being Van Avermaet. If you’re going to lose to Sagan in a sprint, you’re more than likely going to lose to Van Avermaet in a sprint as well. So why work with him more than the Slovak?

But hey, as you know if you’ve read this blog for a while, DS’ don’t seem to think as outside the box as I do!

Quick-Step have the best chance of beating the two favourites, due to the number of riders in their team that theoretically could have a chance of winning this race, sorry Keisse and Vermote! The rest, all on their day and given the right group could win. Gilbert will be their pre-race favourite and given his scintillating form, he certainly looks the rider best suited to challenge Sagan and GVA.

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He will be able to follow them for the majority of the race and that’s what I would have him do. Let him sit in for most of the race, marking those two out of it. It’s a defensive strategy, using their form rider to mark others, but that’s the teams best chance of winning.

Boonen hasn’t looked in tip-top shape but with only two races left in his career, you would expect him to go well. As much as he would love to win this, I think it might be all about for Roubaix with him. I would save him all-day, hoping he can get close on the Paterberg and that it comes back for a reduced sprint.

Therefore, QS should be attacking from around 70km left with the rest of their riders. Although Lampaert did great in Dwars for the blog, he’s just not strong enough yet on the cobbled climbs to compete here in my opinion. Like Boonen, he is more of a Roubaix kind of guy. I’m not saying he won’t try to get up the road, but he’s not their best option for that.

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So that leaves the triple header of Trentin, Stybar and Terpstra, the three riders who made the front group of around 16 in Gent Wevelgem. Trentin is probably the weakest on this terrain and his past results haven’t been that great. Yet, he’s looked very good this season so far and seems to have taken a step up on the cobbled climbs so he can’t be ruled out, especially if he goes in a move at around 50km to go that stays away until the end. Stybar and Terpstra are their aces in the pack though for long-range moves and I would suggest they both need to be up the road before GVA and Sagan make their attack. If they are, I would be confident enough in Gilbert nullifying them before we get to the last 17km and by then it might be too late to bring back.

The only issue with that is if another big team misses the move and has enough firepower to chase. Who will that team be working for?

Kristoff looks the best of the rest on current form. He’s been unlucky in the first few cobbled classics but his efforts in De Panne were exceptional. In particular, it was his TT that stood out for me. Not a discipline he favours, he lost only 2 seconds to Durbridge who himself is going very well just now. The Norwegian loves this race, having finished 15th/4th/5th/1st/4th in the past 5 years. He will be there or thereabouts at the end of the race!

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Trek have one of the strongest teams here so they will likely aid in a chase if they miss a move. Degenkolb has looked OK so far this season, but it pains me to say, that he is still missing that extra 5% after his crash last year. I can’t see him winning here unless he goes early, but I think he’ll be marked out of it in that situation. Theuns looked tired towards the end of De Panne and Stuyven has been struggling the past week or so with his form. Time for Felline to step up and make that crucial early move!

Naesen (AG2R) has performed exceptionally well over the past 6 months but this could be a tough ask for him, he’s bound to dip in form soon. Surely?!

Lotto have been awful but their saviour Benoot returns this weekend after missing Gent Wevelgem. He almost guarantees a top 10 result but needs to be attacking to get higher up the pecking order, which he might just do.

Sky have been awful the past week and I haven’t seen anything to think they’ll turn that around here. Which is always when they seem to go well!

Boasson Hagen and Thwaites have been going well, albeit quietly, the past few weeks. Like so many others, they’ll need to be up the road before the fireworks kick off behind.

Durbridge will hope to continue his good form but he seems more of a Roubaix man. The same goes for Demare.

I’d love to see Lutsenko get a top 10 placing which I think is a possibility. He’s been 22nd then 14th in the past two editions.

Vanmarcke still doesn’t look great after his injury and illness.

Prediction

I’m really stuck on the fence with this one because I don’t know if I can trust Quick Step to use the same tactics I would. If they do, the race is theirs for the taking, as long as they get some help from other teams to beat GVA and Sagan.

If not, the race is Sagan’s to lose. I know GVA is in great form but even he will fear what Sagan can do on the Paterberg. If there is a 3 second gap at the top, then it’s race over!

Hmmmmm.

Right…

I think the teams will take a similar approach to GVA as they do to Sagan and will not want to work with him 100%. Therefore, various teams will be keen to get numbers ahead before the final 20km. With Gilbert shadowing the Big 2, QS will get Terpstra and Stybar up the road, along with Felline and a few others, with maybe the likes of Oss there for BMC.

He and his team didn’t get it right in GW, but they won’t make that mistake here. Terpstra to win!

BELGIUM CYCLING DWARS DOOR HET HAGELAND 2016

Betting

Already have 1pt WIN on Terpstra from the other week at 25/1 (would take 22s)

Adding;

Stybar 1pt WIN @25/1 with various bookmakers (would take 22s)

Felline 0.5pt EW @ 80/1 with various bookmakers (would take 66s)

Kristoff to beat Degenkolb at 11/10 with PaddyPower (would take it at 4/6 elsewhere Betfair/Bet365). 6pts.

 

Thanks for reading as always and any feedback is greatly appreciated. Who do you think will win and how will they manage to do so? Remember to return tomorrow for my women’s preview and the competition! Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

 

 

 

Gent – Wevelgem 2017 Preview

Gent – Wevelgem 2017 Preview

The final race of our Belgian triple-header this week is upon us, and we finish with the longest outing yet; the 249km long Gent Wevelgem. Shame, as this is my favourite week of cycling in the whole calendar year!

Last year saw Peter Sagan get revenge for being bested in E3, taking a superb win ahead of Vanmarcke, Kurznetsov (who survived from the morning break) and Cancellara.

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Will we see another exciting day of racing? Let’s have a look at what’s in store for the riders.

The Route

Long day in the saddle that like most of the cobbled races, builds slowly for an eventful final 100km.

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Profile once again courtesy of @LasterketaBurua.

This is both the easiest and hardest of the 3 races. There are barely any cobbled sections in comparison to the other races, but the sheer length of the race and repeated nature of hills in the final third take their toll.

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We might see some action up the Kemmelberg first time round, but if not, the plugstreets could cause some damage.

They are pretty much loose gravel roads (for the uninitiated amongst you 😉).

There is often a lot of wind and open landscape around that area which can often lead to splits when the pressure is on.

The Kemmelberg will be the last major obstacle for the riders to tackle and its second ascent comes at around 35km to go. In fact, they approach the climb from the steeper side the second time round. The organisers decided to change it from the “easier” ascent which they tackle earlier in the race, to this tougher approach (max 23%) to make the race more open and exciting. You can see how difficult it is from the highlights of last year’s edition.

From the summit, it’s a TT effort between those who make it over ahead and the chase from behind.

Weather

The weather can often play a massive part in how the race pans out here but it certainly won’t be as bad as it was in the 2015 edition…

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Nonetheless we look to have a consistent 20km/h Easterly wind for most of the day, with some stronger gusts blowing up.

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Source: Windfinder

Now that doesn’t mean that we’re guaranteed to get crosswinds but on the open and exposed areas of road they are certainly a possibility. It may also affect the end of the race as we could have cross-head winds for most of the run in. Which will tire out both those riders ahead and the chase!

How will the race pan out?

I think once again we’ll see an attacking race and there won’t be many teams wanting to hold it together for a sprint.

As we have witnessed in the first two race this week, it is much better to have at least one rider up the road so that you can just follow the moves behind. Therefore there is a chance an early move makes it, but I think instead we’ll see one selection on the plugsteets, followed by a further selection on the final ascent of the Kemmelberg. From there, it will be a case of who’s made the front group and who’s left to chase behind.

I fancy there to be enough fire-power up the road for it not to be brought back for a sprint. Or sorry, I’ll rephrase that, there won’t be enough power and willing workers behind to bring it back for a sprint!

Contenders

Peter Sagan missed out in E3 due to being held up by a crash, but as I said in that preview, I don’t think he really cares that much for that race. Instead, he’ll do something similar to last year where he’ll now want to test his legs here, and test his legs I’m sure he will. He was the rider who put in the killer attack on the Kemmelberg last year and he will no doubt do the same this time round. He will make the front selection and he will more than likely win this race! Sagan also will have the benefit of knowing Bennett will be in the group behind to sprint, so the Slovak can leave it all out on the road up ahead.

So who can beat him?

Quick Step probably have the best chance. In Boonen and Gaviria they have two riders who will fancy their chances of beating Sagan in a sprint, but I just can’t see that happening. Instead if I was DS, I would do my upmost to try to get Stybar and Terpstra in a move with Sagan and try to work him over. Those two riders are the only one’s who can follow him on the Kemmelberg (I’m assuming Gilbert will be tired after his first two races). They can co-operate for a while with Sagan, but then take turns attacking the group at the end. Because if they hold things together for a sprint, they won’t win. Even though he didn’t win, I was still incredibly impressed with Terpstra in E3. There were a few  times he missed the front split due to crashes etc, but soon after he was up front again and looking content. He is going very, very well but is without a result yet. That could come here!

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Fresh from his victory in E3, Greg Van Avermaet will be hoping to repeat that feat here. He was exceptionally strong on Friday and there is no reason to believe that won’t continue at this race. One of the only guys who can follow Sagan and has a proven track record of beating him. Van Avermaet certainly won’t be scared to take the Slovak on in a sprint from a reduced group.

After a terrible first two races, Trek bring their A-squad to this one. Stuyven, Degenkolb, Theuns and Felline are all potential winners if they play their cards right and get a bit of luck on the day. I imagine they’ll keep either Degenkolb or Theuns as a designated sprinter, but the remaining three will be used to attack throughout the day. Stuyven popped in E3 but Felline looked strong all day and was left frustrated in the group behind. He’s my dark horse for this race.

Another rider left frustrated behind in the second group in E3 was Tony Martin. The German comes here as Katusha’s main protagonist for this race and he certainly can go well. It will be tough for him to follow the best on the Kemmelberg, but if a selection is made before that then he certainly has a chance to TT away from everyone.

Sky have their duo of Rowe and Stannard here but they were a bit disappointing in E3. Rowe looked the better of the two but he looked a far cry from his attacking self that we saw in Omloop and Kuurne earlier in the year.

Prediction

I’m being boring here, but Sagan wins. I had similar thoughts last year to this race and Sagan went on to win after a “poor” E3. Now this year’s E3 was actually poor results wise, but that was due to him being held up by a crash. If he can be bothered, no one here can beat him!

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There are a few riders though who do have a chance if things get tactical and they’ll be covered below.

Betting

Big day to end an exciting week and I’m playing up some of the Lampaert winnings before I return to a more conservative approach in the next few weeks!

Sagan 4.5pts WIN @11/4 with Betfred (Would take the widely available 5/2 though)

Terpstra 1.25pt EW @ 50/1 with Bet365/PP/BF (Would take 40s)

Felline 1.25pt EW @ 50/1 with Bet365 (Would take 40s)

Martin 1pt WIN @ 100/1 with various (Would take 80s)

 

Thanks for reading as always! Who do you think will win? Can anyone stop Sagan? Check out my women’s preview if you haven’t already. 2 out of 3 previews done for today…Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.