Men’s Road Race World Championships Preview – Bergen 2017

After finding success on the rolling course in Richmond back in 2015, Peter Sagan went on defend his title a year later in Doha; winning a reduced bunch sprint.

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Can the Solvakian make it an unprecedented three wins on the trot tomorrow? Let’s take a look at what is in store for the riders.

The Route

Long, at a total of 276.5km! But that is what you would expect for the World Championships.

The riders don’t actually start in Bergen, instead, they’ll start in the town of Rong before heading south along a 40km stretch of exposed road and reaching the finish town. Thankfully or not, depending on what way you look at it, the wind forecast is for it to be very low so we won’t see any echelon action. Much to my disgust!

BergenRR Circuit

 

You can view the interactive version of my profile here.

If you’ve watched any of the action over the past few days then you’ll be familiar with the circuit above.

11 laps will certainly wear down the riders legs, with the total elevation gain for the day being roughly 3500m.

The key focal point for attacks over the past few races has been Salmon Hill and the small climb that comes just before it.

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Taken as a whole it is 3.7km at 4% which doesn’t sound much, but after 200km+ of racing then it certainly can cause some splits. The stronger climbers will be looking to put in their stinging attacks on the steeper ramps; either just before the “top” of the uncategorised climb, or halfway through Salmon Hill. This is where big gaps can be made.

The issue though is that after the summit there are still 10.4km of the course remaining. Any riders that make it away need to work well to ensure that they stay away from the chasers, especially with the final few kilometres being into a head wind.

I’m not going to bore you with any more route analysis though, as we’ve had plenty of that this week already. Instead, I’m going to jump straight into trying to figure this race out and what possible scenario we might see unfold tomorrow afternoon.

How do you stop Sagan?

A question many teams and riders ask themselves throughout the season but it is once again the case here.

Option 1 – Outsprint Him.

With a lot of nations bringing a rider who get involved in a reduced sprint at the end of the day, then there is a chance we might see it held all together to the line. Sagan is obviously fast in these types of situations, especially after a tough days racing. However, he has shown at MSR this year that he is certainly beatable.

Option 2 – Drop Him.

A tough task but some squads will certainly try it. If strong teams such as the Dutch, Belgians and French make constant attacks on Salmon Hill in the closing 80kms, then Sagan might get tired out trying to cover everything. That is of course assuming that he won’t have any team support left to work for him. The pace needs to be high from far out for that to happen though.

Option 3 – Refuse to work, hope your rider gets lucky.

We saw this recently in Quebec where no one wanted to co-operate with Sagan after he attacked in the closing stages. If they did, then there was a good chance they would have caught the group ahead, consequently fighting it for the win. They didn’t though and Sagan just shrugged and moved on. Although this is less likely to happen tomorrow as the Slovak will try to chase everything, it still might just do so. It is a very Sagan thing after all!

Option 4Illness

Bilogical warfare is probably a step too far, but there are rumours flying around on Twitter that he is currently suffering from illness and hasn’t been on the bike in a few days. I’m sure this was the case last year and has been for a few of his other races that he has went on to win. All mind games? We’ll just have to wait and see tomorrow.

Option 4 – Accept defeat.

He can follow almost any rider on the climb and he can match any rider here in a sprint after 200+km. Is there any point in trying?

Of course, and I think we won’t see him take a third title!

Definitely.

Maybe.

Possibly.

Ah who am I kidding, he probably will.

Contenders or Pretenders? The infamous Five

Like with my women’s preview, I’m only going to name a handful of riders here who I think could go well in a variety of situations. So once again apologies if I have not named someone you were hoping for; repeating the names you’ll no doubt have heard of a lot over the week such as Kwiatkowski, Matthews and Gaviria doesn’t appeal to me much!

Alex(bae)ey Lutsenko.

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The first punt I had committed to for this race and it was always going to happen, it was just a matter of time. If you’ve followed the blog over the past year and a half since its inception then you’ll know I have a lot of admiration for the talented Kazakh. He was strong at the start of the year; finishing a very respectable third in Dwars. Yet, it is his recent form at the Vuelta that impressed me most. He was super strong there to get a stage win and a second place finish on two tough breakaway days. The climb tomorrow is probably on his limit if the likes of Dumoulin go crazy in the final lap, but he has the quality to be close and he might infiltrate an earlier move. Will the former U23 champion take the step up?

Petr Vakoc.

My second punt for the race and another rider that was always going to be backed. A brute of a rider, he hasn’t taken as big a step forward in 2016 as I was expecting and hoping for but his performances have been solid. To win he’ll most likely have to go early and hope to be there if the strong climbers attack from behind. Packing a solid sprint from a very reduced group, he might fancy his chances in an 8 rider gallop.

Now that the two “long-term” selections are out of the road, it is time to move on to some other riders who I think could do well. Some are certainly more obscure than others.

Danny Van Poppel.

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Yup, you read that right. The Dutch have been on fire at these Championships so far and I wouldn’t be surprised to see them get a medal again tomorrow. Dumoulin is obviously one of their stronger guys and will be attacking early but if it all comes back for a 40 rider sprint then Van Poppel has a good outside chance. He’s impressed me a lot this season and certainly seems to becoming a more versatile rider. On the short bergs he can follow some of the stronger one-day riders, as was highlighted at BinckBank, but it will be interesting to see how it goes tomorrow. Given the instruction to not waste any energy at all and wait for a sprint, will he get his chance to shine?

Tony Gallopin.

A strong one-day racer, he arrives here in good form after taking two top-10s in Canada which were swiftly followed up by a second place in Wallonie. In terms of career he should be hitting his peak soon and given how strong he looked at San Sebastian in July, I think he’s in for a good couple of years; he just needs some luck. His last two appearances at the World’s have seen him finish 7th in 2015 and 6th in 2014. This course tomorrow in theory suits him very well, and packing a fast sprint he could fancy a small group of favourites battling it out at the line. It will be interesting to see how France approach tomorrow in general, with no “proper sprinter” they will no doubt be attacking throughout the day and making the race tough. Something that will help Gallopin a lot!

Daryl Impey.

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Last man on the list, Impey has had a fairly solid season in support of other riders at Orica. However, when presented with his own chances he has taken them, including a reduced bunch sprint in Catalunya earlier this year. A rider who’s climbing is very hit or miss, he showed some great form in the final week of the Tour, supporting Simon Yates deep into some of the stages. If he has those kind of legs tomorrow then he could be a real dark horse!

Prediction

We’ll see some fairly serious attacks around 50km out as teams try to make the race tough and ensure we don’t see a sprint. This will thin the bunch out going into the final 30km and the penultimate climb of Salmon Hill. Much like the women’s race, a smaller group will get away here but will be brought back due to a lack of cohesion ahead. This will then allow some riders to escape on the run-in before we hear the bell. A lot of the strong teams will be represented and with no impetus from behind, they stay away to the line.

Tony Gallopin to, erm, gallop home and take the win from a 7 rider sprint!

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#SuperGallopinFantastic

Betting

Certainly a day to spread some punts around!

0.25pt EW Lutsenko @ 100/1 (would take 80s)

0.25pt EW Vakoc @ 200/1 (would take 150s)

0.25pt EW Impey @ 200/1 (would take 150s)

0.5pt EW Van Poppel @ 80/1 (would take 66s)

1pt EW Gallopin @ 66/1 (would take 50s)

 

Thanks as always for reading! Who do you think will win tomorrow? Could we see an upset on the cards, or will it be the cream rising to the top? Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

Grand Prix de Wallonie 2017 Preview

I was going to wait for the World’s to do another preview but after a couple of days of not writing, I’m bored. So here we are again, with a nice race on a Wednesday in Belgium. A time and place where the stars seem to align for me…

Last year’s edition of GP Wallonie saw a reasonably sized group of 35 riders come to the foot of the final climb together. Gallopin launched his attack at 1.1km to go and with a bit of looking around behind, he built up a gap that was too much to close down. Not that Vakoc didn’t try, as the Czech rider surged up from behind and almost stole the win on the line. Jerome Baugnies of Wanty followed home in third place.

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The timing of Gallopin’s attack was important but oddly enough, it was the exact same spot where his team-mate (Debuscherre) went on the offensive and won the race the previous year. Will we see the Lotto 1.1km to go attack this year?

First, let’s have a look at what is in store for the riders.

The Route

Although ever so slightly different to last year’s route, it follows pretty much the same pattern with the normal climbs at the end of the race.

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The road rolls for most of the day, but it is the final 50km that things will get interesting. We have a lot of up and down before the Côte d’Ermeton. The 8kms of rolling roads before the descent to the foot of the climb average 2%. Not leg-breaking, especially compared to the recent Vuelta, but it is certainly leg-sapping!

The Ermeton itself is only a short climb; at 1.6km in length.

Ermeton

The 4.5% average is enough to see some attacks, but like a lot of the climbs around here, they are suited to the power climbers, not mountain goats.

The riders will then face almost 15kms until the bottom of the next categorised climb; Côte de Lustin.

Lustin

Longer and tougher than the Ermeton, it is much more suited to a thinning out of the peloton. Expect to see some of the stronger riders come to the fore here. They might not attack themselves, but I’m sure some team-mates will. An aggressive team can make the end of this hard!

With only 6kms or so from the top to the next climb, the riders won’t have much time to recover if they went deep with their previous effort.

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Tienne aux Pierres is the penultimate climb of the day and it is one of the toughest the peloton will face. At 3.2km long and averaging 5.2% it will be attacked at a fast pace and is a great platform for some riders to launch a late move.

Riders will be dropped here, but it all then depends on who is up front as to how the race unfolds from there as there is an opportunity for a regrouping on the run in to Namur.

The riders will then climb in the closing 3kms up the snaking road to the Citadelle de Namur.

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As you can see, it isn’t a crazily tough finish, with the final kilometre almost being false flat. Therefore, if you’re a better climber than some others in the group, you have to attack early. Some of the steepest ramps come at just over 1km to go; no wonder that is why Lotto Soudal have launched their attacks at that exact moment over the past two years. Both moves have been winning moves. Will someone be savvy to it this time?

Weather Watch

The race is normally a fairly attritional one, with the stronger guys coming to the fore over the closing 50km.

This could be exacerbated more than normal tomorrow due to the forecasted bad* weather…

*Depends who you ask.

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Source: Windfinder.

The above image is the forecast for just south of Dinant, i.e. roughly 2/3rds into the race.

carte parcours 2017

The section as they head towards Dinant will be a headwind, with a little cross-head thrown in. However, there are plenty of other areas out on course where the riders will be cycling into a pure crosswind. For example, just before they come to the feed zone in Havelange you have roads such as these…

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Interesting!

Or on the road north as we head towards the Côte d’Ermeton…

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Some climbing and crosswinds you say? Very interesting!

Throw in too, the potential for some showers and we have a manic day on the bike on our hands. It might not be Le Samyn crazy, but it could be pretty close.

How will the race pan out?

Normally the race can be a relatively controlled affair, where some of the stronger teams look to reduce the peloton slowly; leaving roughly 30-40 riders somewhat in contention going into Namur itself. Other times, we see some strong attackers get away on the preceding climbs s a break and fight out the finish themselves.

However, I think the history book will be thrown out of the proverbial window tomorrow.

The conditions will cause some carnage out on the roads and we’ll have a lot of guys DNF after being distanced. In the sections where the wind comes from the side, the riders won’t have to really force to make echelons, they’ll almost happen naturally.

I imagine that the 6 World Tour teams will be well aware of that so they’ll want to be at the front. In theory they should be stronger, but a lot of the PCT and CT teams here are no mugs at cycling in bad, windy conditions.

Consequently, the nervousness in the bunch will make the echelons even more likely (not that they need to be made any more likely!)

This then leads to the next question; will a team have enough riders up the road to control things? Possibly, but the best form of defence is attack . Or so they say.

Therefore I think we’ll see a select group drive clear at some point. As to when that may be? Who knows! The peloton could be completely decimated by the wind and the lead group will form that way, or it may be done on the climbs. We could even see some escape in between the climbs!

Candidates

In a slight change to normal, I won’t go through everyone because in a race that could be all over the road; no one will be able to tell you with confidence how it will pan out.

So this list will be more of a “who to keep an eye on” kind of thing!

The Lotto Soudal triple threat of Wellens/Benoot/Gallopin. It will be interesting to see how they go tomorrow given that they have all been over in Canada racing recently; so jet lag might be a factor. Nonetheless, on paper they are arguably the strongest riders here and they will hope to use that to their advantage. Expect them to be attacking throughout the day! If it does turn wet, then Wellens will have a field day!

Montreal Grand Prix, 2015

Bakelants is another rider who’s been enjoying himself in Canada lately but this is a race where he always goes well. His record here is rather remarkable actually, having won it in 2013 and finishing in 11/2/3/5 in the other 4 years. Not bad! He doesn’t seem like the best rider in crosswinds though and that might come back to haunt him.

Gerts may not be the first name that stands out to you from the BMC line-up but “the Florist” has been building some nice form in Britain over the past week. This is the type of one day race that should suit the youngster and it might finally be the time for him to step up into a leadership role. Could his solid sprint and attacking nature see him take a great win?

Gaviria might have something to say about that. The Colombian returned to racing in Britain after a spell off the bike. He’s hit the ground running since then, picking up a stage win and a string of good placings. A deceptively good rider in tough conditions, he could be the strongest on Quick Step if the likes of Vakoc and Brambilla are suffering from jet lag.

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Van der Hoorn.

 

We’re now getting to the stage of the preview where I’m plucking slightly more obscure names out of the hat and guys that you might not have heard of yet. If you haven’t heard of the best named rider in the peloton, Taco, then you will over the next few years. The young Dutchman recently took the win at a brutally tough Schaal Seis to go with a lot of solid results in various other one day races. Can he take advantage of this purple patch?!

Peyskens.

The WB Veranclassic rider has been a consistent performer in one-day races this season, picking up several top 10s. A good climber on his day, he should be able to cope with the lumps towards the end of the race. His team always seem to go well in the tough races (Kirsch’s second at Le Samyn is an example of that) and tomorrow should be no different!

Backaert.

An eternal breakaway candidate at the Tour this year, the Wanty rider seems to have continued off from where he left of there, attacking in a lot of his subsequent races. He’s picked up a few decent results but nothing overly impressive. However, it is his early season results in Le Samyn and Omloop that have got me thinking for tomorrow. He seems to go well in tough conditions and he might just be able to slip away if some of the bigger names mark each other.

Prediction

I think tomorrow is going to be an incredible day’s viewing.

We’ll have very tough conditions that will wear down the riders but then team tactics will also play a massive part in the outcome of the race. I’ll go for someone in form and a non-WT rider to upset the apple cart again.

That man is the rider with the best first name in the peloton; Taco van der Hoorn.

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His form is great at the moment and he should be close to the front in the splits. Being more of an “unknown” will work to his advantage as the WT teams mark each other out of it. Can we get another GVK-style prediction right on what looks set to be a very similar day?!

Unfortunately, there seems to be nowhere pricing up the race, in the UK anyway. I know Kirolbet are offering odds and I assume a few Belgian bookmakers will be too. We might get something here after this! 😉

Thanks for reading as always! Cycling isn’t about the big races 100% of the time so it was nice to preview a smaller event – they often tend to be the most exciting! Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

 

 

 

Clásica Ciclista San Sebastian 2017 Preview

One of my favourite races of the year returns this weekend for its 37th edition. The Klasikoa marks the shift in the season from post-Tour blues to pre-Vuelta hype! An exciting Spanish one-day race that offers those a chance at glory for Ardennes style riders along with GC talents looking to prove a point after La Grand Boucle.

In 2016 we saw the latter, with Mollema taking a great solo victory.

Cycling: 36th Clasica San Sebastian 2016

He crested the final climb of the day along with Gallopin, Valverde and Rodriguez but the Trek rider decided to seize his opportunity and attack; not looking back until the finishing straight.

Given the two Spaniards discontent for each other, Gallopin was stuck with the world’s hardest negotiating job trying to get the trio to work together. In the end, he did the majority of the work but it was too late. He managed to sprint for 2nd, a slight consolation but it was a case of what could have been for the Frenchman, with Valverde following wheels into third.

Will we see something similar this year?

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

The Route

The organisers have stuck with a very similar route to what we had last year, although there seems to be a lot more climbing earlier in the day compared to 2016.

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@LasterketaBurua

However, I don’t expect the racing to get exciting until the first passage of the Jaizkibel at 127km, just over halfway through the race. Saying that, it probably won’t be until the second passage at roughly 60km to go that we will see the race liven up as this is a potential for a race winning move if the group contains the right riders and teams.

More than likely though, it will come down to the final climb of the Murgil and the descent/run to the line that follows.

Now, I wouldn’t call the climb Tontorra and I’m sure there was a similar issue last year where the organisers labelled the climb Murgil Tontorra when it should be called Murgil Bidea. That’s just me nitpicking though!

The climb itself is short but very sharp. However, its severity does depend on the source you are looking at. On the profile above it is a 1.9km long climb at 10.2% average. That’s close to the 1.7km at 10.3% that Strava suggests it is.

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The profile of which you can view here.

Yet, the organisers on their website claim it is 2.5km at a 9% average. The road does rise a little bit before the climb starts properly but to say it is that length is probably a bit generous. So I think there might be a mistake on their website!

Last year Devenyns managed the Bidea climb in 5’42 according to the Strava segment above. Watching the footage from the race, he seems to crest the summit ~18 seconds after the front 4 so that gives you an idea of the time of the ascent for the front group; 5’24.

Borderline between tipping the scales towards the pure climbers and away from those Ardennes specialists, it should produce an exciting finish.

The race doesn’t end at the summit though and we are often treated to a tactical battle on the false-flat/descent/flat run in to the line.

With no Valverde and Rodriguez here this year, we might actually see a group co-operate if they get away off the front!

Tour Legs?

A big cause of debate is how much does completing a Grand Tour help a riders legs and form. We often hear of riders saying that they feel the benefits of it the following year, but there are also short-term benefits too.

If the race isn’t too hard, then riders can carry their form over to some races the following months and we often see riders use the Vuelta as preparation for the World Championships for example.

The same can be said for the Tour and some of the races that follow at the end of July/start of August.

In fact, the last 10 editions of San Sebastian have been won by a rider who has came from the Tour.

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The table above highlights the top 3 at the last 10 editions of Klasikoa with their GC positions at the Tour in brackets. NR means that the rider did not compete at the Tour.

Looking at the table in more depth, it seems that riding the Tour is key for a good result in San Sebastian with only 6/30 of the podium places occupied by those who didn’t race La Grand Boucle. That trend seems to be even more prevalent as of late as only Meersman and Gilbert have podiumed in the last 5 years without having completed the Tour.

The average GC position of the winner for the last 10 years is 26.8 and with Romain Hardy’s Fortuneo team not competing here, we’ll round-up and go with Dani Navarro for the win…

Joking aside, it does seem that those coming from the Tour have an advantage but these “rules” can be broken!

Let’s have a look at who’ll be in the mix come the end of the race.

Contenders

Mollema.

One of the first four riders to crest the climb and eventual race winner, he returns back this year to defend his title. Having taken his first ever Tour win a few weeks ago he will be buoyed with confidence. Being able to take it “easy” during some of the stages should mean that he is fresher here than he was last year, where he seemed to be dead on his feet by the end of the race. Maybe that will have the opposite effect than what was expected?

Gallopin.

Second place last year, the Frenchman has a very impressive record at this race and it seems to suit him very well. I thought the climb might have been on his limit last year but it is proof that the race suits those who can put out a lot of watts for a short period of time! After his crash in the opening TT he was really attacking in the second half of the Tour, getting into the breakaway every few days. He’s a good candidate for another top 5 result. Team-mate Benoot could also be in the mix.

Kwiatkowski.

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So close to a win in the final TT of the Tour, Kwiatkowski was arguably the best domestique of the whole race. The length and quality of turns he did on the front of the race was incredible. Interestingly though, he lost the majority of his time during the TT on the short climb. So I’m beginning to wonder if he was lost some of his explosivity in exchange for more endurance. Will he be able to follow the best tomorrow?

Landa.

If Kwiatkowski isn’t there, then you would expect Landa to be there or thereabouts. He was incredible for the majority of the Tour but he did seem to tire at the end. Is doing the Giro and Tour finally taking a toll on his legs? I wouldn’t be surprised to see him ride everyone off his wheel tomorrow, or blow up early. I’m leaning towards the latter happening.

Uran.

The Colombian rode the Tour of his life to finish second overall, notching up a stage win along the way. He is clearly in scintillating form but how much has that race taken out of him? This season he seemed to be transforming into more of a one-day racer and he goes well on courses like this; he really should have won Lombardia at the end of last year. He has shown in the past few weeks he has the power to follow the best on the climbs and the speed to finish it off, can he do it again tomorrow?

Barguil.

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The rider who was the focal point of one of my favourite photos from the whole Tour arrives here as Sunweb’s leader, or does he? Dumoulin might have a say in that! Nonetheless, Barguil was incredible over the past three weeks; two stage wins, the KOM jersey and a top 10 on GC. In that final week of the race, he was putting out climbing numbers only the top guys on the overall standings could match. If he has kept that form up, then he should be in the front group on the final climb. Like Uran, he also packs a handy sprint from a small group. This looks like his best opportunity in a while to take a one-day race win!

Van Avermaet.

Bookmaker’s favourite, he is another rider with a good history at this race. He famously crashed into a motorbike while attacking away from everyone in 2015, while last year he couldn’t follow the best on the climb. Fairly disappointing at the Tour, I think we might see a repeat of last year’s performance from him. The same can be said for another rider of a similar build, Gilbert. I think it’s too early after his illness at the Tour for him to go well.

Yates.

Hoping to repeat his brother’s success, the White Jersey winner will come into the race with some pressure on his shoulders. His team tried to set the race up for him last season but he couldn’t follow the pace on the climb, probably because he didn’t have the Tour in his legs! This year he has, but he did look a little bit jaded towards the end of the race. Is he going to do a Mollema though?

There are a handful of possible outsiders who could go well such as Roglic or even Lammertink (Maurits).

As for those who weren’t at the Tour, they’ll find it hard to compete. Nonetheless, I think we could see Lopez, Dumoulin and possibly Fraile be in or around the top 10.

Prediction

Tour legs will shine through so I’ll go for one of the form riders of the race, it is just a case of who…

I have two in mind, either Barguil or Uran.

Hmmmm.

Given his better sprint, I’ll go for Uran to take the win, he is flying just now and a result here will top off a great July for him!

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Betting

I wouldn’t normally go EW on the two of them at their current odds but given that both could sprint for second or third behind a solo winner then I think it is worth it.

1pt EW on them both;

Uran @ 16/1 with Boyles (paying 4 places) would take 14/1 elsewhere

Barguil @ 20/1 with Ladbrokes/Coral

 

Thanks as always for reading, who do you think will win tomorrow? Will we see a small sprint to the line or will a solo rider take the day? Anyway,

They were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

 

 

 

Critérium du Dauphiné 2017 Stage 1 Preview; Saint-Étienne -> Saint-Étienne

GC Overview

No stand-alone GC preview from me but it looks set to be a showdown between Porte and Froome. The former won their battle in Romandie, looking imperious. However, the Dauphinè is Froome (and Sky’s) race. They’ve taken the title in 5 out of the last 6 editions and I’m sure the Brit will be here to put down a marker before the Tour.

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The TT should suit both of those guys and with the amount of climbing on offer, then they both should end up on the podium.

However, there is the potential that they could be caught out on the tough stages at the end of the race, particularly the explosive 115km Stage 8 test. We saw that in 2014 when Talansky went on a raid to win the overall. The Cannondale rider looked good in California, is a repeat performance on the cards?

Of course, we have several other contenders such as Valverde, Contador, Bardet, YatesMartin and Chaves (if he’s recovered from his injury) who might spring a surprise and catch the big-two napping on that last day.

Nonetheless, I’ll be boring/safe (delete as appropriate), this is Froome’s Duaphiné to lose. The parcours suits him very well and he seems to go better on the longer climbs in comparison to his former team-mate.

He needs a commanding performance, otherwise the Australian will go into the Tour buoyant and as a very, very serious title contender, if not the favourite!

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

The Route

A tough, tricky and very interesting route to start the race off.

Duaphinest1

Lots of small climbs throughout the day but particularly in the circuit on the outskirts of Saint-Étienne which will no doubt shape the race.

I don’t envisage any of the early climbs being attacked aggressively enough for the sprinters to lose contact, so I’ll just skip them! However, they will no doubt stretch the legs of the riders for what is to come.

Instead, I’ll focus on the final 44km and the “interesting” finale.

According to the roadbook, the Côte de Rochetaillée is 3.4km at 5.4%. However, that doesn’t really tell the whole story, so out of interest I made a Strava profile of the final circuit that you can view here.

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They make the climb to be 3.8km at 5.8%. Either way, it’s not what I would call short and not what I would call extremely easy!

Moreover, the little lump/prelude of a climb is roughly 2.5km at 3.5%. It means for the final 44kms the peloton will be climbing for approximately 18km of them, totalling 1350m of elevation gain (~450 per lap according to Strava).

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The majority of the descent towards the line is fairly straightforward and the riders will be thankful to get a few looks at it. However, there is a pair of tight 90-degree right-hand turns just after the Flamme Rouge which could cause some issues.

Positioning will be very important.

The road even rises ever so slightly to the line, but it’s minimal!

How will the stage pan out?

This is a really exciting stage on paper because it is so tough to call.

Will the sprinters make it? Will the punchier riders fight it out? Will we see a late attack stick? Or none of the above?

I’ll stick my neck on the line and suggest that it will actually be a relatively selective bunch that comes to the line, maybe 30-40 riders. A few of the GC teams with fast riders who aren’t as strong in a TT might want to gain a few bonus seconds tomorrow!

My reasoning for this is that tomorrow’s stage reminds me an awful lot of the Barcelona circuit (Stage 7) we had at the Volta Catalunya earlier in the year. On that day they admittedly did many more laps (8 compared to 3), but the climb was actually easier (only 2.2km at 5.1%).

That stage ended with a front group of only 16 riders, but I imagine tomorrow might be just over double in size.

Therefore, that means I’m ruling out the majority of the sprinters, with possibly only Boasson Hagen and Colbrelli making it. Even then though I’m not too sure!

Contenders

Valverde is obviously the first name to spring to mind for a finish like this. He won the stage in Catalunya and has been his usual imperious self this season! Having not raced for a while his form is a bit unknown, but the Spaniard always turns up at the big races. Taking a few bonus seconds here could set him in good stead for an assault on the GC title.

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Kwiatkowski could be the Spaniards biggest challenger. Another rider who has not raced for a while, the former World Champion seems to have returned to his glory days this season having already won Strade Bianche and Milan San Remo. In Pais Vasco he was competing in the flatter reduced sprints and he certainly packs the speed to go well tomorrow.

Ulissi is a rider who on paper would relish this type of finish. Yet, with so many others, it is tough to know where his form currently is! I would not be surprised to see him in the top 5.

Gallopin should like the punchy circuit and with his fast kick he could be another rider challenging for a podium place.

There is one outsider who I would like to mention.

Dan Martin.

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He’s no slouch in a sprint from GC contenders and if we do get a properly reduced group like I think we will then he could sneak a podium place. Will he be given the chance if some of his team-mates make it? Hopefully!

Prediction

A tougher day than some might predict, but Valverde will continue his incredible 2017 with another win!

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With Dan Martin not too far behind him!

Betting

I think the 25/1 on Valverde looks massive value at the moment, it is a shame that I’ve just realised that Bet365 are offering win only ;

SkyBet are offering EW places though so bet with them if you can. I’m not too fussed with having to take Valverde straight up as I’m not allowed more than 0.5pt on with them Sky, so 365 it is for Valverde.

As for Martin, he is “EW value” so only bet if you can get him EW!

2pts WIN Valverde @ 25/1 with Bet365 (same price with SkyBet)

0.5pt EW Dan Martin @ 150/1 with SkyBet.

 

Thanks as always for reading and any feedback is greatly appreciated! Who do you think will win tomorrow and by what means? Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

 

E3 Harelbeke 2017 Preview

E3 Harelbeke 2017 Preview

E3 Harelbeke has the illustrious history of being named after a road. Don’t let its dull naming history put you off though, as this race is often heralded as a “mini Flanders” and the action normally lives up to that billing!

Last year saw Kwitakowski and Sagan attack with 30km to go and they were not to be seen again! The Pole caught Sagan napping in the sprint, taking it up early and ended up winning with relative ease.

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The recent MSR winner is not here to defend his title, but we still have a whole host of talented riders looking to take centre stage.

First though, let’s have a look at what’s in store for the them.

The Route

A day packed with hills and cobbles. My kind of race!

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Profile once again courtesy of @LasterketaBurua.

Like Dwars, the day slowly builds to a crescendo, although we do have some difficulties earlier in the stage. The first challenge of the day is the Oude Kruisberg and from there we have an obstacle every 10 kilometres or so on average.

However, the decisive point of the race will probably be between the 45km-35km to go with the triple threat of; the Kapelberg; Paterberg; and Oude Kwaremont.

If there is no made on the first two climbs, there will certainly be an explosion on the Kwaremont.

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View the Strava segment here.

The 4% average gradient on Strava doesn’t do it justice because as you can see in the image above, it’s mainly flat or false-flat for the first 600m. It then pitches up from 0.8km to 1.5km, averaging 7.9%. Remember, this is all on cobbles as well! If you’re not on a good day here then you’ll be out the back in no time.

Once over the Kwaremont the bunch will have little time for rest as they’ll soon be on the Karnemelkbeekstraat at just over 30km to go. This is where last year’s duo made their move!

From there, we only have one more hill and cobbled section so it will be a frantic chase home and run to the line in Harelbeke.

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It’s not an overly difficult run in but the twisting nature of it does give the group up ahead the advantage of often being out of sight.

Contenders

Without the defending champion here, I guess we better start with that average cyclist who finished 2nd last year…

Peter Sagan obviously comes into this race as favourite, like he does for almost every one day race he starts! His team looks fairly poor, but Postlberger looked good in Dwars so maybe he can protect Sagan for a while. However, the World Champion is used to riding races unaided. The one problem with Sagan being Sagan, is that very few riders will want to ride with him in a group that might be chasing the leaders. Therefore he will be leant on to do a lot of the work. Yet, if he’s in a similar mood to his San Remo outing then he may well just attack himself and his opposition will have to be in exceptional form to follow!

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Quick Step will be hoping to use strength in numbers to beat the Slovak and everyone else. They bring their crack squad of classics riders with them, although Lampaert will sit this one out. In Boonen, Gilbert, Stybar, Terpstra and even Trentin they have potential winner candidates. With this type of parcours though, I would have to favour Stybar and Terpstra as their best options. They both looked very strong in Dwars to attack from the 3rd to the 2nd group on the road, halting that groups progress and helping their team-mates ahead build up a lead. Stybar looked good, but I think the Dutch rider looked even better, bridging across to his team-mate relatively comfortable even though Stybar was going full gas.

Greg Van Avermaet will be hoping to repeat his Omloop victory earlier in the season tomorrow. After looking very strong in Strade, he was a bit disappointing in Tirreno and MSR. His BMC team looks strong, but I’m still not convinced by how many of them can be there at the end and offer much support. Nonetheless, as one of the best classics riders in the peloton, he certainly can’t be discounted!

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Sky bring a solid squad but it will no doubt be up to the diamond duo of Rowe and Stannard for them. Both riders are exceptional on their day but I’m sure they would have hoped for some worse weather! They each won a stage in the Herald Sun Tour but the Welshman performed much better in the opening semi-classics. Sky have not finished off the podium in the past three editions, can they make it 4-in-a-row tomorrow?

After a disappointing Dwars, Trek bring Degenkolb and Stuyven into the team. It’s good to see the German back to near his best and he certainly can contend here. My one concern is that he struggled to follow Sagan in MSR on the Poggio, maybe Paris Roubaix is more suited to him than a Flanders style course. Stuyven has looked very impressive this season so far and is certainly living up to the hype surrounding him. Having numbers near the pointy end of the race will be important for any team, but Trek should have at least two. Felline might even turn himself into a third option.

Lotto Soudal are another team that had a disappointing Dwars. They only had Wallays up the road but he wasn’t able to follow the big move when it counted. Benoot and Gallopin were left frustrated behind, with the young Belgian sprinting to 7th place. I think he’ll go a lot better tomorrow! Could he win his first professional race?

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In the three Belgian races he’s competed in so far this season, Naesen has finished in the top 10 of them all. He was terribly unlucky in Dwars with a mechanical but showed just how strong he is right now, managing to get back to the second group and sprint for 6th. With Vandenbergh by his side, they can certainly roll over a few hills and cobbles!

There are obviously lots of other riders who could have a chance, such as Vanmarcke, Durbridge and Lutsenko but I think I’ll stop the list there as I could go on for a while.

Prediction

A very tough race where numbers will once again be important. Sagan will more than likely be forced to do a lot of the work chasing others and to be honest, I don’t think he cares for winning this race. So he might just call some riders’ bluff and sit on. Conversely, he could easily just romp away from everyone!

Nonetheless, I don’t think he wins.

Instead, it will be Niki Terpstra who this time will solo away from the opposition.

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I was impressed with the way he was riding in Tirreno, and have had him shortlisted for this race (and Flanders next weekend) since then. His tandem attack with Stybar has convinced me that his form is in the right place, and I think he can make it two from two for Quick Step, and everyone will forget about their poor opening weekend in February!

Betting

Other than Terpstra there are two riders I want on my side and after Wednesday, I’m being a bit gung-ho with the stakes. The odds are shorter than Lampaert after all!

2pts WIN Terpstra @ 16/1 with Bet365 (would take 12s)

1pt WIN Naesen @ 28/1 with B365 (would take 22s)

1pt WIN Benoot @ 25/1 with B365 (would take 20s)

Prices might be better else where but I can’t be bothered looking!

Also,

1pt WIN Terpstra for Flanders @ 25/1 with various bookmakers

Thanks as always for reading and as usual any feedback is greatly appreciated. Who do you think will win E3 and how? Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

Paris Nice 2017 Stage 4 Preview; Beaujeu -> Mont Brouilly

Today’s Recap

An annoying day prediction wise. The peloton decided to take it easy, letting a small group get up the road, ensuring a sprint finish.

It was Sam Bennett who took an excellent win at the end of the stage, surging past his competitors to a comfortable victory!

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He finally has a big result to show for his good early season work. Certainly one to watch in Milan San Remo if Sagan isn’t feeling up to it.

Anyway, let’s move on to tomorrow’s stage and what was supposed to be the first GC shake-up of the race.

The Route

A 14.5km individual time trial finishing atop Mont Brouilly.

As is tradition with TTs I’ve made the route profile on Strava that you can view here.

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The first two-thirds of the stage will be  fast. The riders start on a shallow descent before a false flat rise before they descend again towards Saint-Lager. A little kicker just as they come into town (800m at 4.25%) will slow their progress a bit before they then start the irregular climb up Mont Brouilly.

We have two different official profiles for the climb with the one from this year’s road book suggesting that it’s 3km at 7.7%, with the profile from 2014 suggesting 3km at 8.4%. Strava has it as 2.9km at 7.6%.

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In my opinion, this year’s profile is correct in terms of average gradient, but the 2014 edition gives a much better idea of the inconsistencies in the steepness of the slopes. So yeah, you just need to combine the two really!

I’m really intrigued by this route. The start of it really favours those who are masters of the discipline and are able to power along on the flat, but obviously the finale is a fairly steep 3km climb where the climbers can make up ground. It’s a similar route to the traditional final TT that we see in Etoile de Besseges every year, but with a slightly harder final climb.

I wonder if we’ll see any bike changes?

Another thing to consider is the weather.

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Forecast for Saint-Lager (Source: Wunderground)

We should get roughly similar conditions all day, although those who start later may benefit from a slight drop in the wind speed. I’m also particularly interested in the wind direction, as it looks to be a head/cross-head wind for the majority of the “flat” section. This certainly won’t help the small climbers, favouring the strong TTers. Once we get onto the climb itself the wind direction will change a lot due to the several hairpins the riders go round, but it will mainly be a crosswind.

Contenders

As I mentioned above, this stage reminds me a lot of the final TT we get in Etoile de Besseges ever year, except with a slightly harder climb. Riders who’ve won there in the past few years include; Gallopin (2017), Coppel (2016), Jungels (2015), Ludvigsson (2014).

A variety of riders, although they all fit roughly the same mould. Guys that are good climbers (not mountain goats) but they are also very solid on the flat.

Now the debate I’ve been having with myself for the past half hour or so is if the slightly steeper climb negates the strong flat start that we have. Then you throw in the potential for a head-wind which hinders the climbers more and I’m back at square one! Right, I’ve made my mind up…I think…

Porte could go crazy on this day and smash the TT, or he could quite easily keep his powder dry for later in the week and go for a mountain stage instead. He’ll have lost a bit of confidence in himself after the first two stages but tomorrow presents a good opportunity to relight the spark. I think he’ll struggle in the first part but dance up the climb. Will that be enough to take the win?

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Contador will fare similarly to Porte but he’s in the position where he’s at least guaranteed to give it 100%. The flat section into the headwind will be tough but he’ll love the climb. However, I think there will be riders who will go better than him on the day.

Two of those are very similar; Zakarin and Izagirre. They both need to make up some time after losing a minute on the first day. The pair of them are solid TTers on the flat and are obviously good climbers too. They in theory should have a lead over Porte/Contador going onto Mont Brouilly. If they have 10 seconds at that point then they have a great chance of taking the stage!

Gallopin isn’t known for his TT ability but he did take his first professional victory in the discipline at Etoile earlier in the year. Obviously going well in this race, making all of the splits so far, he is a real danger-man for stage honours. With the climb only being 3km long he should be able to put out power close to that of the proper mountain goats. I’m very intrigued to see how he does.

You can’t have a TT preview without mentioning Tony Martin. The World Champion has had an up-and-down start to the season; winning a stage in Valenciana, coming second in a TT in Algarve but crashing heavily in Kuurne. He also crashed in yesterday’s stage but it supposedly wasn’t anything too serious, however, it’s yet to be seen if he’s back at 100%. I have been impressed with the bits of work he’s done at the front of the race, particularly on stage one. He looked really strong there, single-handedly closing the gap to the group up front by around 30 seconds. The climb at the end might be an issue, but he was going well uphill in Valenciana for his stage win!

I don’t think Alaphilippe will go well here. That’s all I have to say about him!

Lampaert might get involved in the top 10, but he could also be told to save himself for team duties later in the week. Kruijswijk is very hot or cold in TTs and could pull something out of the bag tomorrow. As a super joker, I’m going to keep an eye on how Michael Matthews does. In theory he should be strong on the flat and the climb won’t be too challenging for him, it all just depends on how he approaches the day. He was impressive on a tough course in Switzerland last year!

Prediction

I’m still not entirely convinced about what way this is going to go. Which hopefully should make it a great time trial to watch! But I think the head-wind at the start of the stage will have a larger impact on the small climbers, than the climb at the end will have on the bigger all-rounders at the end of the day. I’ll go for the World Champion (Tony Martin) to take his first victory of the season in his Rainbow Bands!

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Betting

Tough stage to call and not one to get heavily involved with.

1pt EW Martin @ 9/1 with Betfair/PP (Would take the 8/1 available elsewhere). My thinking behind going EW is that he hopefully should at least place and we get some kind of return.

 

Thanks for reading my third preview of the day, I’m sure it’s been a slog for you! How do you think the TT will play out tomorrow? Will it be a GC winner or do the specialists have a chance? You can read my Tirreno previews on the site if you haven’t seen them already! Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

 

 

Volta ao Algarve Stage 2 Preview; Lagao -> Alto a Fóia

Today’s Recap

What a sprint from Gaviria, the boy is fast! (Not that we didn’t know that already!)

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He managed to hold off Bouhanni and Greipel with the German being his main challenger. Greipel got close to him but never looked as if he had the speed and power to get round the Colombian, who now moves into the leader’s jersey. Unfortunately for him, there’s no chance he’ll be able to hold onto it tomorrow as we head uphill. Let’s take a look at what’s in store for the riders.

The Route

A stage that is all about the closing 20km.

Print

At 3.7km in length and averaging a tad over 8%, the Alto da Pomba will weaken the legs and probably see the sprinters unhitch from the peloton. From there, we have some valley roads before the summit finish.

Fóia isn’t an overly challenging climb. Going off what I can see on Strava (not on the profile above), it is 7.7km long averaging 5.9%. There are some ramps above 10% but conversely we get a couple of false flats and shallow descents. In fact, the toughest section is probably the final 200m where it averages close to 9%.

Last year saw the top 21 coming home in under 25 seconds behind the winner on that day: Luis Leon Sanchez. With the likes of Stybar and Tony Martin being in that front selection you get the idea of who can make it to the top at the head of the race.

With there being bonus seconds on offer, there will be no chance for the break tomorrow and it will be over to the climbers and strongmen to fight it out.

Contenders

Guess we better start with last year’s winner; Luis Leon Sanchez. The Spaniard already has some racing in his legs this season already, finishing a solid 16th on GC at the Tour Down Under. Before his great win last year however, he did have even more racing than he has this time, taking part in Valenciana. He could well go on to repeat the victory tomorrow but I don’t fancy his chances as much this time round! Astana have a handful of options (Scarponi, Moser and Bilbao) and I imagine it will be down to form as to who gets leadership.

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I do think that the rider who came third that day has a good chance though. Primoz Roglic was very impressive in Valenciana after a poor first day, managing a 3rd and 5th place on the two tougher stages. He can climb well and in seemingly better form than he was last year, he has to start as one of the favourites for the win tomorrow.

Dan Martin has to do something on this stage if he wants to have any chance of overall glory. He certainly won’t get dropped on the climb and his punchy finish should be of an advantage to him. However, his favourite status may see him have to follow a lot of attacks which could tire him out. Nonetheless he probably is the favourite on paper!

Lotto have their two-pronged attack in the shape of Benoot and Gallopin. They both finished around 15 seconds back on Sanchez last year but seem to be climbing better this year in comparison. If we get a sprint from 5 riders or so then they’ll be tough to get rid of!

The rest of the GC guys I mentioned will be there or thereabouts too, i.e. the likes of Tony Martin, Kwiatkowski, Guerreiro and Spilak.

There are a couple of riders who won’t have a chance on GC that may fancy their chances here too though…

As I’ve mentioned in the route analysis above, the final climb isn’t overly difficult and there is a chance a strong rider will hold on.

Edvald Boasson Hagen had a cracking start to the season last year; winning a stage in Qatar (should have been the overall too if it were not for a mechanical) and two stages in Oman, plus a 10th place on the Green Mountain. The climb is possibly on his limits but the less severe gradient will be great news for him. With Cav seemingly working for him today on the sprint stage, I think the team must have a lot of confidence in where is form is just now. Certainly a dark horse!

Carlos Barbero may not be a household name yet but the 25-year old Movistar certainly has some talent. With a lot of racing in his legs already this season he should be coping well with the pace in the peloton. He’s a bit of an unusual rider to place as he can climb quite well, winning the tough Philly Classic for example, but he also has a decent turn of speed – Very much a poor man’s Valverde. If he turns out to be half as good as El Bala, then he should have a good career at Movistar. This climb tomorrow, like Boasson Hagen, will be on his limits but from a small 5-10 man sprint he has a chance!

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Regular readers of the blog during the Vuelta will know of a certain Portuguese rider who I have a slight soft spot; Jose Goncalves. He may be here as a support rider for Tony Martin but this type of finish looks perfect for him and I would love to see him get given the opportunity to play his own cards in the finale.

Prediction

I can’t see the top 20 being split by more than 30 seconds and it could come down to a small sprint to the line from some of the better climbers. I’ll go with a man who’s in form and will enjoy the shallower gradients…

Tony Gallopin to take the stage win!

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Betting

Skybet priced up today’s stage this morning, so it might be the same case with them tomorrow morning. Keep an eye out though!

 

Thanks for reading as usual, any feedback is greatly appreciated! Who do you think will win? Fancy an outsider? I should have my Andalucia preview out by 9pm GMT at the latest. See you all then! Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

Volta ao Algarve 2017 – GC Preview

The riders are certainly spoilt for choice at this time of year for stage races to compete at! This year is the 43rd edition of the Volta ao Algarve, but this is the first time the race has been given 2.HC status. Much like it’s competitor in Spain, Algarve has a varied profile with a couple of sprint stages, 2 summit finishes and an individual time trial.

Cycling: 42nd Volta Algarve 2016 / Stage 5

 

For the past two years Geraint Thomas has won the overall, however, he won’t be returning this year to defend his title. That doesn’t mean the race is lacking in talent though and we still should see a good fight for the overall GC. First though, let’s have a look at what is in store for the riders.

The Route

Stage 1 should see an opportunity for the sprinters to fight it out for the win and the first leader’s jersey.

Print

Stage 2 and a summit finish at Alto da Fóia.

Print

This is the same finish that we had last year, on which Luis Leon Sanchez won the day. It’s not an overly difficult climb, with the steepest section coming right at the start. Don’t expect the time gaps to be too big here!

Stage 3 see an individual effort against the clock.

Print

Another copy of a stage from last year, this is a very flat TT and suits the power riders. Climbers can lose a reasonable amount of time if they’re not in good condition.

Stage 4 will give the sprinters who missed out on stage 1 another opportunity to go for the win.

Print

Stage 5 presents one last chance to shake up the GC.

Print

Contador danced away from everyone here last year but it wasn’t enough to take the title away from Thomas. Will the stage winner manage to take overall glory this time round?

GC Contenders

It would be harsh to call this a second-rate GC field compared to the likes of Oman and Andalucia but that’s close to what it is. Don’t get me wrong, we still have some great talent here and some riders who can spring a surprise but there are no Grand Tour winners on the start line.

Dan Martin arrives here as arguably the best one week stage racer. He’ll like the look of the two mountain-top finishes, especially the steeper/irregular gradients of Malhão. However, the TT could be of detriment to him but he’ll be thankful that it’s only 18km long. With some racing already in his legs, he has to start as one of the favourites for this race!

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Astana come here with two potential leaders in the shape of Luis Leon Sanchez and Scarponi. The former won the opening mountain stage here last year but struggled for the rest of the race. He is capable of a top 5 in good form, and the TT should be of advantage to him. As for Scarponi, on his day he is arguably one of the best climbers in the world. However, those days seem to only come during the Giro! Nonetheless he still may surprise and get a top 5 on one of the stages.

I expect Andrey Amador to be Movistar’s GC contender here and on paper he has a decent chance. A very solid all round rider this will be one of the few times he gets leadership duties this year. My only concern is that he’s an always “kind of there” guy and not a winner, he does only have one pro win to his name after all. Could that change this week?

A rider yet to pick up their first professional victory is Tiesj Benoot. It might be a bit odd to name him as a GC contender but he did climb exceptionally well here last year and with the sparsity of the field he has a chance of a top 10. He would need a lot of luck to get a lot higher up than that. His team-mate Gallopin is also in with a chance of a good result here. Finishing 2nd on GC at Bessegès recently, he took his first ever pro TT win along the way. This indicates to me that he is in rather good shape and a top 3 is firmly within his grasp.

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After arriving late to the sport, Primož Roglič certainly had a very good first year in the World Tour ranks, managing to notch up a stage win at the Giro and a 5th place on GC at this very race. This year he’ll have his sights set further up the pecking order! A disastrous opening day in Valenciana ruined any chances of a good GC there, but he recovered to pick up a 3rd place and 5th on the Queen Stage so the form clearly is there. He should gain time in the TT and it will be hard for his competitors to gain it back!

Kwiatkowski would once be the clear favourite for a race like this, in fact he won here back in 2014, but he has since gone off the boil in these types of races after joining Sky. However, he did seem in OK shape in Valenciana and due to his sheer quality you can’t rule him out going well if he’s fired up for this one.

Tony Martin could go well here like he has done in the past. There is the possiblity that he beats everyone by 30 seconds in the TT and holds on on the final stage, but I just can’t see that happening.

As for others who might get involved in the mix, I’m intrigued to see how Spilak, Guerreiro and Antunes go.

Prediction

Roglic wins his first ever GC title!

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Gallopin to finish somewhere on the podium too.

Betting

Looks as if Algarve isn’t going to be priced up anywhere aside from SkyBet and they might not even to stage bets. Going with what I wrote in my RdS preview;

0.5pt EW Treble on Valverde/Roglic/Costa @54/1 with SkyBet.

 

Once again, thanks for reading and any feedback is greatly appreciated! Who do you think will win here? I’ll be back again tomorrow with another double header of previews, with both the first stages of the European races. Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

TDF Stage 9 Preview: Vielha val d’Aran -> Andorre Alcalis

Today’s Recap

Well, where do I start?

The stage started off frantically again and we only got a proper break on the Tourmalet itself. Only Pinot, Majka and TMartin managed to get any kind of gap. However, they were reeled in on the penultimate climb and Team Sky did their thing. On the Peyresourde we got some attacks near the top, with Henao and Quintana probably looking the strongest. Yet, it was Froome who made the winning move just over the summit of the climb. He made a daring descent (although was helped by those stalling behind, Quintana will be kicking himself as he should have covered the move) and held on for the win.

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I remember hearing a while ago that Sky had a “secret training camp” during the Winter. I think we can all agree that it was descending (among other things) that their main focus was on. They’ve made a real improvement in that area this year.

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As for the stage itself, the length of time that the break took to form was its own downfall. If it was established after only 30kms then the pace wouldn’t have been as high for the rest of the day. As it took until the Tourmalet to form, only the best riders could get away. It also meant that the time they could build up was limited. The blog picks never really had any chance because of this. Plaza and Clement were with the peloton over the Tourmalet but weren’t there for long.

Onto tomorrow’s stage.

The Route

The final stage in the Pyrenees will see the riders cross the border into Andorra, and another tough climbing route awaits them.

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Starting off with a Cat-1 ascent straight out the blocks will not be music to the sprinters ears. Once again, there is no profile of this climb in the road book, but there is a Strava segment for it that you can see here. Going off the strava segment it’s 19.4km long at 6% with a fairly steady gradient. However, the stage profile seems to start further up the climb, and suggests it’s 13.7km at 6.1%. Either way, it’s a long and potentially (most likely) painful start to the day.

Once over the summit they have a long descent followed by another long period of flat/descending before the 2nd Cat-1 of the day: Port del Cantó. Again, there is no profile in the road book, so strava once again becomes useful. View the profile here. Both stage profile and strava seem to agree that it’s around 19km in length and a shade over 5% in average gradient. Not the most difficult but it will sap the legs. The sprinters will hope the peloton is on a go slow and that they can make it over the climb with the bunch. If not, they’ll have difficulties on the following sections.

After they reach the valley from the descent the road constantly rises up the intermediate sprint point. Three climbs are then tackled over the closing 50km.

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The first two of these climbs both have tough stretches (over 9%) within them and average out at over 8%. However, the battle tomorrow will more than likely be left until the final climb of the day. Officially 10.1km at 7.2% this a very tough end to the day. There are a couple of sections of “respite” on the way up where the gradient goes below 6%, however these will only offer a small bit of recovery. It is interesting to note that the final km is shallower than a lot of the rest of the climb but it’s still not flat (averaging 5.3%). Will we see gaps made before here?

How will the stage pan out?

After the electric pace the past few days, I hope the peloton takes it easier tomorrow. To put it into perspective, the average speed of today’s stage where there was over 4000m of climbing came in at 37.1km/h. The previous days speed was 42.7km/h. Stage 6 (a sprint stage) was 40.2km/h. We’ll have a very dull 2nd week at this rate.

But with the race starting on a Cat 1 climb I fear we could be in for another fast day. Hopefully the senior riders see sense and call some kind of truce. Although I’m probably being wishful.

The stage tomorrow is a good one on paper for a break to get away. The long descents and flats are great to build up a lead. On the contrary, if someone dangerous gets up the road Sky could in theory control it quite well too with Stannard and Rowe doing the work. It really is 50/50. We could see a situation like Stage 20 of this years Giro where it all guns blazing from the flag drop, but I think it’s too early in the race for that. Remember, the Tour is won in 3 weeks, not 1.

I’ll lean towards my favoured outcome of two races, meaning that a break gets away and manages to stick this time. Sky already have their stage win and are in Yellow so won’t be concerned by the stage getting away. The only team I think who will stop a break tomorrow is Movistar. Mainly because the way Froome and Quintana were climbing today, I don’t think any of the other GC guys will fancy their chances against them up the final climb.

This of course all changes if we do get a GC threat away then Sky will have to chase.

Who are the break contenders?

Pretty much the same type of rider as yesterday’s preview so I’ll keep this fairly short and sweet!

Plaza. It would be sods law that the time I don’t mention him he gets into the break.

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Diego Rosa. The Italian had a very easy day today rolling in with the gruppetto almost 40 minutes down on Froome. He’s a very classy bike rider on his day, and won a very impressive breakaway stage at Pais Vasco earlier in the year. Furthermore, he had a good showing at the Dauphiné too, finishing 8th on GC. He’s not done much here, I think that changes tomorrow.

Clement. Made one of the breaks today that was pulled back. I think he’ll give it another go tomorrow.

Tony Gallopin. A disappointing start to the Tour, he’ll now be targeting stage wins. Mountain top finishes aren’t his forte, but he definitely would be a tough one to beat out of the right break.

Tony-Gallopin

Prediction

I’ll not heed the advice and thoughts of others and say that the correct breakaway stays and wins the stage. With a GC battle behind them. The rider who I think can stay out on this type of course is Diego Rosa. Maybe we’ll even see a similar celebration this time round?

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Betting

Rosa 0.6pt EW @ 125/1 with Bet365

Plaza 0.3pt EW @150/1 with Betfair/PaddyPower

Gallopin 0.2pt EW 150/1 with PaddyPower/Betfair/Bet365

Clement 0.2pt EW 300/1 with Bet365/PP/Betfair

 

I’m hoping for some exciting racing tomorrow but on two fronts. Let’s just hope one of the guys above makes it into the break! Enjoy the race wherever, you’re watching it from. The whole stage is to be broadcast on TV so that’ll be good! Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

TDF Stage 5 Preview: Limoges -> Le Lioran

Today’s Recap

Another day, another fest on my words for dinner. Kittel produced an incredibly strong sprint to win the day. Etixx definitely got his lead out right this time! My two favourites for the stage finished 2nd and 3rd. However, the blog “outsiders” were nowhere to be seen. I have to admit and hold my hands up when wrong, I just thought the stage/finish was going to be tougher. Fair play to those who backed Kittel! Onto tomorrow’s stage.

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The Route

The most difficult stage of the Tour so far, there are six categorised climbs out on the course.

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Looking at the left of the profile map, you can see that the riders actually reach a reasonalbe altitude. There is a lot of ups and downs on the stage, with the highest point being the 2nd Category Pas de Peyrol at 1589m.

With the climbs back-loaded towards the end of the stage, this promises to be tough day out in the saddle. The Ardennes riders will be licking their lips at the profile!

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However, the two cat 2 climbs are brutes. The Pas de Peyrol averages just over 11.5% for its final 3kms, with the Col du Perthus also having segments over 11%. The saving grace for the Ardennes riders and Peter Sagan is that the Col du Font de Cère isn’t an overly difficult climb. If they make it there, they will fancy themselves on the sprint up to the line, which has a very similar profile to today’s finishing ramp.

How will the stage be won?

Tomorrow is the first stage that I can feasibly see being won by a breakaway. There are plenty of riders far enough down on GC not to worry Sagan’s lead as long as they aren’t given too much headway. Furthermore, one of the Tinkoff DS reiterated the fact that they were still here to win the GC with Contador, so they don’t want to waste any extra energy in preserving Sagan’s lead.

Etixx could feasibly chase in the hope to set up Alaphilippe in a finish that looks to suit him well. However, if he’s there I’m sure that Sagan and Valverde will be there too and they can definitely challenge/beat him for the stage.

Consequently, I think if the right break gets away then it could make it. (50/50 chance)

Break Candidates

Realistically you need to look to riders who are 3mins+ down on the GC for the break to succeed because I’m not too sure on how keen Sagan will be on losing the jersey. Although saying that, he is a very laid back guy!

Furthermore, they have to be able to climb well to make it over the Cat 2s with the rest of the break.

Some riders who fit this category are Herrada, Albasini, Cummings, Navarro and De Gendt to name a few. Like normal, I’m going to highlight three riders who I think can go well.

First up is my main KOM hope and mountain break specialist Ruben Plaza. It may be too early in the race for him to go on the attack, but after losing over on 12mins on the GC then he could quite well have been targeting this early stage. A great climber from the break, he should be able to cope with the two Cat-2 climbs and then he’d hope to solo away to the finish.

Second is Alexey Lutsenko.

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A strong baroudeur, the Kazakh won a stage at Paris Nice earlier in the year by making a solo attack after the final climb on the day. He may not be the best climber ever, but he’s certainly strong enough to make the break on the flat. If he gets in it, I wouldn’t back against him! Furthermore, he has a decent turn of speed as well.

The final rider is one that has been in the break already this Tour, Jan Barta.

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Bora have been very active so far this Tour and I expect that to continue tomorrow. A strong TTer, Barta can make the break on the flat. Furthermore, he’s a fairly solid climber so could be capable of finishing it off, depending on his breakaway companions!

If it’s not a breakaway?

As I’ve mentioned above, this is a tough stage to call straight up and I think there’s a 50/50 chance of the break making it. If not, look towards those who featured on stage 2. The trio I said earlier: Sagan, Alaphilippe and Valverde all have very good chances of taking the result. However, there is one rider that I like outside those three favourites. That man is Tony Gallopin. He was very disappointed after Stage 2 to only finish 8th. His form is clearly very good after coming 3rd in the French National TT plus finishing 2nd in the road race. I think the TT result is more evident of that because he’s not known for going great in that particular discipline.

The likes of Matthews could make the finish as well and it’s not beyond the realm of possibility that we see a late attack sticking if people sit up and look at each other.

Prediction

I’m going to have to cheat here and give two predictions: one for the break and the other for a favourites showdown.

I have fond memories of Plaza winning Stage 20 at the Vuelta last year. I had him at 80/1 that day, he’s the same price for tomorrow. The omens are good. He looked strong in the Giro and he’s the type of rider who can maintain a solid level of form for a while. If he makes it into the break, everyone else will be worried! He’s my breakaway man.

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But at the end of the day, the breakaway is a lottery so my guess is as good as yours! Speaking of which…

For the favourites I think it’s fairly obvious who I’m going to pick. Yes, Sagan/Alaphilippe/Valverde all rightly start as the trio to beat, but I have a feeling that big Tony will go well here. He’s my man if it comes back together for some kind of bunch finish!

Tony-Gallopin

Betting

0.75pts EW Gallopin @20/1 with Various bookmakers

0.25pts EW Plaza @80/1 with PP (paying 5 places)

0.125pts EW Lutsenko @200/1 with SkyBet

0.125pts EW Barta @300/1 with PP (5 places again)

 

Hope you all enjoyed the preview, we should be in for the most exciting stage so far tomorrow in my opinion! Watch this become a borefest now haha. Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.