Women’s Herald Sun Tour 2018 Preview

Women’s Herald Sun Tour 2018 Preview

Originally I wasn’t intending on writing a preview for this race, but then I thought it would be rude not to cap off the Aussie summer of racing with another blog piece. Plus, it keeps me on track with my new years resolution of writing more about women’s racing.

2018 will be the first year of the Herald Sun Tour in the women’s peloton. Calling it a “Tour” might be a bit farfetched though, as we only have two days worth of racing, but at least it is something I guess!

Anyway, let’s have a look at what is in store for the riders over the next two days.

The Route

Stage 1.

On paper the more decisive of the two days; the peloton will tackle the longest and arguably toughest climbs that they will have faced over their fortnight of racing in Australia.

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@LasterketaBurua

The opening 50km or so will see the riders attack some fairly flat terrain, with a few sparing rises in the road. It is possible that we’ll see a conventional breakaway form on this stage, which is something that doesn’t often happen in women’s racing, but the parcours is certainly suited to it.

Old Warburton Road (4.4km at 4.5%) marks the first test for the riders, but given it only crests halfway through the stage, I can’t see anything crazy happen here.

Instead, the real racing will start once they pass through the finish line in Healesville for the first time, with the pace ramping up and riders jockeying for road position. Why?

Well, the climb of Myers Creek Road starts not long after the passage of the line.

MyersCreek

It is not the steepest of climbs, but given its length, it is probably as close to Alpine as you’re going to get in the region. The average of 5.8% will wear down the peloton and I’m sure we’ll start to see gaps appear, possibly just after the 2km mark where the road pitches up to 9-10% for a few hundred metres.

I’m really intrigued to see how the teams approach this climb. Will we see some early attacks, forcing other riders to chase?

This exact route was used in the first stage of the men’s race back in 2016; which saw Froome and Kennaugh attack on the climb, opening up a 20 second or so gap.

Once over the top, they managed to hold off the pursuing bunch as the road descends almost all the way back into Healesville.

Will we see something similar tomorrow?

Stage 2.

If there aren’t significant gaps on the opening day, then it will all come down to the short, pan-flat TT the following day.

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At only 1.6km in length it is more of a prologue than a normal TT, in fact, the same course will be used as the men’s prologue later in the day. Does that make it an epilogue for the women then? I’m calling it an epilogue.

It will all be over in a flash, but some technical corners will create gaps, along with the pure power sections.

Will the leader from the previous day have enough of a lead to hold on?

Contenders

The list of contenders all depends on how aggressively the opening day is raced. We should see the race blown to bits on Myers Creek but there is the slight chance that things stay more compact than expected, especially if we have a headwind on the climb.

Furthermore, if there is a lack of co-operation up the road, then riders who have been dropped on the climb can make it back on the long run in back to Healesville. If that is the case, then look out for the podium to look very similar to what we saw in Cadel’s Race, with Hosking, Elvin and Bronzini all looking very sharp at the moment.

Nonetheless, it looks set to be a race for the climbers.

Katrin Garfoot.

Garfoot

Arguably the strongest rider on the climbs in both of the races so far (TDU and Cadel’s  Race), Garfoot will love the look of Mylers Creek. The average gradient should suit her characteristics very well, allowing her to set a solid tempo, trying to ride everyone off her wheel. Given her TT prowess, she has the potential to maintain a gap of 20 seconds once over the top if there are only a few riders behind her. The same can be said for the “epilogue” the following day where you would expect the veteran rider to shine. Ably supported by a strong Aussie selection, she has to start the race as favourite.

Annemiek van Vleuten.

Along with getting to show her climbing legs, this race will be the first time the newly crown TT world champion will get to wear her rainbow stripes. I am intrigued to see how she goes on the longer, shallow climb of Mylers Creek as she seemed to struggle on the steep slopes of Challambra on Saturday. Packing a good sprint from a reduced group, she has a good chance if 5 riders come to the line. Bonus seconds could be crucial in shaping the GC. Well, at least I think there are bonus seconds?!

Lucy Kennedy.

This race is possibly the reason as to why the Mitchelton rider was left out of Cadel’s Race on Saturday, which kind of makes my dismay in the previous preview look a bit stupid now! The climb of Mylers Creek is well suited to the rangy Australian and it will be interesting to see how she goes against Garfoot on this type of ascent. Admitting she can’t sprint, then she’ll more than likely have to arrive alone to win. But if Mitchelton play the numbers game well, then there is every chance she can do so.

Sabrina Stultiens.

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One of the stand-out performers on Saturday, much to the surprise of Phil Liggett. However, any knowledgeable cycling fan would know that Stultiens has a lot of class and showed great promise back in 2014/15 when breaking onto the scene. 2016 was a write off for her due to a long-term knee injury that plagued her, which meant 2017 was a year where she had to re-find her feet but I think she’ll come good this year. Marianne Vos wanted her on WaowDeals which speaks a lot about the type of rider Stultiens is! She is a rider to watch out for and one that shouldn’t be given a lot of leeway.

Audrey Cordon.

The French rider is known as a good time trial rider but she can also climb well too. The fairly shallow gradients of Myers will suit her style and rhythm and she’ll hope to be near the front of the bunch when things start to split up. Sprinting to 4th on Saturday, she has a good turn of speed from a small group and might surprise a few people if we get a 5-8 rider gallop to the line.

McIlroy, Brown and Malseed are other names to look out for if we get some chaotic and fast paced racing on Myers.

Prediction

I’m still really torn as to how this one will play out. Myers is long enough to create some gaps but the fairly shallow gradient does allow for some of the “less-climby” types to hold on.

Nonetheless, I think we’ll see the Korda-Mentha team and Mitchelton Scott attempt to rip it up from the bottom, dropping the likes of Hosking etc.

We’ll be left with a select group including the 5 main contenders I’ve mentioned above. Team tactics will play a part with Mitchelton Scott constantly attacking and counter-attacking, trying to get away.

Kennedy will get away, but she’ll be followed by Cordon and Stultiens, as van Vleuten and Garfoot mark each other out behind.

The trio work together well, but Cordon eventually rolls them in the sprint taking home the opening stage. The bonus seconds (if there are any) and her strong TT, will be good enough to see her take home the overall crown.

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Allez Audrey!

Coverage

There is no live coverage of the race but there will be highlights on SBS which I’m sure will be available at some point.

Thanks as always for reading! Who do you think will win? Will Mylers be as explosive and decisive as I think, or will some of the sprinters hold on? Anyway,

Those have been My Two Spokes Worth.

 

 

 

 

Women’s Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race 2018 Preview

2018 marks the third edition of the Women’s Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race (CEGORR) as a UCI event, with the riders set to face the famous Challambra Crescent climb for the first time.

Both of the races have been won by Mitchelton Scott (formerly Orica), with Amanda Spratt taking home the spoils in the inaugural race in 2016 and team-mate Annemiek van Vleuten winning last year. Will the Australian outfit manage to make it a three-peat, or will we see someone else assert their dominance?

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

The Route

At only 113km long, it isn’t exactly the longest race the women will face all season but given the Australian heat, some of the Europeans will be very happy about that. The obvious main change from last year is the addition of the famous local ascent; the Challambra Crescent climb.

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@LasterketaBurua

The opening 80km will act as almost a warm-up for the riders, but it will be the final 35km where we could see a potential race winning move go.

The first place we might see shakeout is at 30km to go where the riders will be greeted by a small drag in the road. Fairly innocuous, averaging only 3.1% for 2.1km, it will be interesting to see how the riders attack it. Furthermore, as it is placed on a fairly open stretch of road, the wind direction and strength will also add another factor that has to be considered.

Once over the top of that climb, the riders will have to contend with almost 10km of flat/slightly descending roads before the quick double climb into Ceres.

Climb to Ceres

The first ramp is only 500m long but it averages 4.6%. A stinging attack here could certainly line out the bunch before a fast descent and the second, longer part of the climb begins. At 1.8km in distance and averaging 4.4%, it is tough enough for some of the stronger riders in the race to create some gaps. Who will be brave enough to go all in 16km from the finish?

If gaps are made, then they should be held or even extended with the short flat section before the road plummets all the way down for the next 4kms as they approach Challambra.

There is a little 300m kicker (6%) which will disrupt their rhythm 600m or so before the start of Challambra itself.

Challambra

Not an easy climb as you can see, with it going up in various ramps. Not ideal for those who like to keep a steady pace. If a few riders attack this hard then we will no doubt see some fairly large time gaps at the top of it. We saw the 6.8% gradient of Mengler’s Hill do some damage in the Tour Down Under and although Challambra is shorter, I think we’ll see a similar outcome due to the steepness.

From there, the road mainly heads downwards for the remaining 9km, albeit there is one last kick up and a chance for a climber to try to distance someone. That comes just after they cross the small bridge with the 800m section averaging 4%.

If we don’t have a solo rider in the lead by then, it will all come down to team tactics and a potential reduced bunch sprint along the Geelong harbour.

How will the race pan out?

With the tricky final 35km, I expect to see a very tactical race with lots of attacks and counter-attacks throughout the closing hour of racing.

We could feasibly see the winning move go at any time, but the likelihood is that it will come on the climb to Ceres or the ascent of Challambra Crescent.

As stated above, the weather conditions will play a part in the outcome of the race. Thankfully, the initial heat wave that was predicted won’t be as prominent, with a “cool” 30 degrees forecast.

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Source: Bureau of Meteorology

The direction of the wind is important, and a southeasterly wind means cross-tail for the majority of the run in to Geelong. Consequently the racing will be fast but also dangerous, as a cross-tailwind tends to cause some mild panic in the bunch as they are pushed along. It might not be “cross” enough for some echelons, but who knows!

One thing is for certain, it should increase the willingness of attackers compared to if it was a headwind.

Garfoot vs Mitchelton Scott – Part 2

After their great battle during the women’s Tour Down Under, Katrin Garfoot will hope to get one over her old team this time round.

She was arguably the strongest rider in that race, but got worked over by the numbers that Mitchelton Scott had close to her on GC. That is less likely to happen here due to it being a one-day race, but the same principles do still apply, apart from there is one thing missing; Kennedy.

Mitchelton arrive with Spratt and van Vleuten as leaders, but they don’t have the third prong that they had in the TDU, and that will make it harder for them here. I’m confused as to why Kennedy isn’t racing, her results at this race over the past few years have been solid and with the introduction of Challambra, the course should suit her even more. At the TDU, she was the only rider who managed to hold onto Garfoot’s wheel on the summit finish and that will be missed massively here. Illness is the only reason I can think of as to why she is not starting!

The change to Challambra suits a flying Garfoot, who climbed impeccably during the TDU. Others will know this and will need to go beforehand. However, I think they’ll find it hard to shake her off, but it can be done.

Spratt lost 8 seconds to Garfoot on Mengler’s Hill, with van Vleuten losing 15. I am intrigued to see what they’ll do during the race to wear down their former team-mate.

Can anyone else compete against those three? On paper no, but races aren’t won on paper! We could see a tactical stalemate between Garfoot and Mitchelton, which allows for some others to take a somewhat surprise victory.

Other Riders to Watch

Lauren Stephens – The Cylance rider was runner-up in the TDU and is evidently on some good form. She’s probably not the best climber here but her strength lies against the clock. If she is able to get a gap while others sit up and argue behind as to whom is going to chase, then she might be very difficult to bring back!

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Grace Brown –  After a strong showing at the nationals where she picked up a third place, the Holden Gusto rider continued that on with a solid 5th place overall in the TDU. A bit of an unkown quantity, she might benefit from the bigger riders looking at each other. Another top 10 is on the cards, but she might just go a bit better…

Linda Villumsen – You would get short odds on the New Zealand rider launching a solo attack at some point during this race! She is a good climber, but not great, so will struggle up Challambra against the pure mountain goats. However, she does have a big engine so if she gets a gap she will be hard to chase down, especially with a disorganised effort. Can the former world TT champion outsmart 2017’s winner?

A few more names to keep an eye out for are Cordon, McIlroy and Anderson.

Prediction

I just can’t see anyone other than Garfoot winning this!

Garfoot

The Uni-SA team is strong enough to keep the race together until we get to the final few climbs. From there, Garfoot should be able to track any moves from the Mitchelton pairing or any of the other contenders. Once onto Challambra, she’ll fly, and leave everyone in her wake!

Consequently leaving Mitchelton ruing not letting Kennedy race as she is the only one who could possibly follow on Challambra. (I’m not bitter at all given she’s in my season long fantasy team, although I can’t imagine you can tell…)

Coverage

The race will be streamed live on 7plus here  from 10am local time (11pm UK time on Friday/tonight). The feed itself might be geo-restricted, but I’m sure some helpful people will sort it out and there will be other streams available online no doubt.

Thanks as always for reading though! Who do you think will win? Can anyone stop the flying Garfoot? Will we see a surprise winner this year? Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth

 

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

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

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

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

The Route

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

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

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

Rolling Section Women's TT

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

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

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

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

Weather Watch

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

However, that might change tomorrow.

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

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

*famous last words.

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Source : YR.no

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

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

You can view the full start list and times here.

Contenders

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

Lauren Stephens.

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

Anna van der Breggen.

World Championships - Womens TT

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

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

Annemiek van Vleuten.

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

Ellen Van Dijk.

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

Amber Neben.

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

Olga Zabelinskaya.

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

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

Katrin Garfoot.

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

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

Prediction

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

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

EuropeanChampionships_Ellen

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

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

Betting

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

 

La Flèche Wallonne Feminine 2017 Preview

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

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

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Behind, Guarnier rounded out the podium.

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

The Route

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

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

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

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

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

Contenders

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

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

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

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

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

Pauline-Ferrand-Prevot-winner-Womens-Fleche-Wallonne

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

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

Prediction

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

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

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

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

 

Women’s Amstel Gold Race 2017 Preview

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

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

The Route

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

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@LasterketaBurua

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

geulhemmerberg

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

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

bemelerberg

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

Cauberg_Valkenburg_profile

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

Is a sprint on the cards…

How will the race pan out?

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

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

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

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

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

Contenders

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Prediction

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

Emma Johansson, Anna Van De Breggen

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

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

Women’s Trofeo Alfredo Binda 2017 Preview

Women’s Trofeo Alfredo Binda 2017 Preview

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

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

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

The Route

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Contenders

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

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

Flèche Wallonne Femmes 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Prediction

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

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Coverage

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

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

 

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

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

Women’s Ronde van Drenthe 2017

Women’s Ronde van Drenthe 2017

After the rip-roaring success of last weekend’s race and preview, I’m back this weekend to look at a one-day race and its rubbish climb…

No, seriously! The riders have to traverse the VAM-berg which is genuinely just a grass and road covered rubbish dump. How scenic!

Last year the race was won by Chantal Blaak after a group of 4 made it clear on the final cobbled section. Managing to work well for the remaining 60km of the race, before duking it out in a sprint.

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

The Route

More of the same this year in terms of parcours and route, with the race being extended by 14km to 152km in total.

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We are treated to an official profile from the organisers that appears as if it was made on Microsoft Paint.

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One ascent of the VAM-berg is followed by 7 sectors of pavé, totalling 13.2km of cobbled action! As we saw last year, this is one of the places where a race-winning move can be made. However, it is more often than not the double passage of the VAM-berg which is a launchpad for an attack.

The climb itself is short and sharp, but it’s the location at the start of the season which means it causes a lot of damage to the peloton.

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It’s only a few hundred metres long but does kick up to 20% in some places!

The finishing circuit around Hoogeveen is pretty simple and it’s all about either working well to maintain a lead, or the peloton co-operating to bring the race back together for a sprint.

There is one other factor that normally has an impact on the race and that is the wind.

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Wind forecast near Hoogeveen (Source: Windfinder)

The wind direction is favourable for cross-winds but the speed isn’t. Although you never know, a determined (and tired) peloton can still be ripped apart.

I’m fairly confident that the racing will be aggressive and we won’t see a full bunch sprint. There might be a situation where we have a group of 20 riders coming to the line together but that will be the most!

Contenders

Where better to start than with the defending champion and her team?! Boels are still without a win this season, a far cry from last year’s dominating start. However, they once again arrive with the strongest team on paper and 4 potential winners. Chantal Blaak will obviously be wanting to retain her crown and she seems to have started the season in good form, finishing 2nd at Omloop. She’ll probably want a tough selective race like last year, hoping to win a sprint from a small group. Or of course like all the Boels riders, they may play the numbers game up front and she might solo to the win. A rider very much similar to Blaak is Amy Pieters. The Dutchwoman has been exceptional form at the start of the year and without bad luck hampering her, she could have picked up a few better results by now. I imagine she’ll be reeling with herself after only managing second in Le Samyn and this would be a good race to turn it around! World Champion Amelie Diedriksen will be kept as the sprinter for the team, so I think it will be tough for her to win. Likewise, Anna van der Breggen may struggle in her first race of the season after skipping Strade due to illness. However, you can never write off the European and Olympic champion and she will certainly find the VAM-berg to her liking, she has won La Flèche the past two years in a row!

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Anna van der Breggen winning La Flèche

Team Sunweb send a very balanced squad with them and one that could certainly challenge Boels. Rider of the season so far (an award I have made up just now) Lucinda Brand will arrive as their main charge. She was strong in her opening race, winning Omloop, and was very unlucky in Strade to finish off of the podium. Clearly in great form, you would have to expect her to be near the front whatever happens tomorrow! Ellen van Dijk has had a very consistent start to the season, finishing in the top 10 of all three races she’s started. An incredibly tough all-round rider, she has the time trial abilities to get and maintain a gap on the bunch. Young classic prodigy Floortje Mackaij is a good option for a sprint after a tough day, but as we saw in Strade, she’s not afraid to go on the attack either. Likewise, Leah Kirchmann can mix it up over the climbs and in the sprint, I imagine she’ll play a similar role to van der Breggen.

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Floortje Mackaij winning Gent Wevelgem

Marianne Vos will be hoping for a winning return to a race that she’s not attended since clinching the title in 2013. With the climb not being too long, she should be able to follow any attacks and if she makes the front group then she’s an obvious danger. In Lauren Kitchen and Anouska Koster she has two strong team-mates who can help keep her protected for a lot of the race.

Orica Scott arrive with another strong team but it seemed to be a case of “too many chefs” at Strade. Unlike Boels, they haven’t managed to get the great rider to keen worker balance right. However, with the likes of Garfoot, Van Vleuten and Elvin they will certainly still be in contention for a good result.

Canyon SRAM also arrive with a few options for the race but I think Hannah Barnes will be the protected rider. The Brit has started the season well, grabbing a top 10 in Le Samyn after attacking late in the race with Van Dijk. She has a fast sprint on her, but has been turning herself into a very good classics rider as of late and is certainly one to keep an eye on.

We do have the likes of Hosking, D’Hoore and Wild here, but as I’ve said above, I think it will be very unlikely if we get a bunch sprint here.

Prediction

This race really hinges on the attitude of Sunweb and Boels, they both have incredibly strong teams. Brand and Blaak are the obvious favourites for the race, but I think they could mark each other out of it and instead that will open the door for their team-mates. I think we’ll see a similar race to last year where a selection is made on the cobbles, rather than the VAM-berg. If the group contains a rider from Boles, Sunweb, Orica, Canyon, WM3 and one of the sprinters teams then that will be it gone for the day. Obviously there might be more than one rider from each of those teams and then we get a really tactical battle!

After being horribly unlucky in her first two races, and picking up a second place just over a week ago, I fancy Amy Pieters to pick up Boels’ first win of the season here. She’s clearly in good form and loves the cobbles. Not only packing a strong sprint after a tough day, she’s a very attacking rider so won’t be afraid to take it up from far out.

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Coverage

You should be able to follow the race live on Saturday at 1pm GMT, either here or here.

 

Thanks for reading as always and any feedback is greatly appreciated! Who do you think will win? Will we see a dominant display from Sunweb and Boels? Or will an outsider sneak away? Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

Women’s Strade Bianche 2017 Preview; Siena -> Siena

Women’s Strade Bianche 2017 Preview; Siena -> Siena

The second season of the Women’s World Tour kicks off and what a race to start it with! Strade Bianche itself has been ran as a women’s race alongside the men’s event for the past two years, with this year being the third edition. It’s a hard race to predict (getting my excuses in nice and early) with it being the first race for many riders and form being a bit unknown. Nonetheless, Strade is always action packed with crashes, attacks and some testing conditions at times. Whoever wins is more than deserving of their crown!

Boels Dolmans are undefeated in this race, with Guarnier winning in 2015 and Deignan (then Armitstead) winning last year’s event.

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Can they make it three in a row this year?

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

The Route

*Word of warning, these profiles are a train wreck and none of them match up. But I’ll persevere!*

A tough day from the off as the riders face some rolling terrain as they head out on their loop from Siena.

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In fact, they face their first section of dirt roads after only 11.4km!

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I’m not sure if there is an issue with the profile or the route map, but the two don’t match up together, we have two extra dirt-road sections at the start of the race. Going off of Google Maps, the 4.7km and 4.4km sections are paved, normal road. So just ignore the 2nd and 3rd bits of Strade on the profile!

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That doesn’t look like Strade Bianche to me! (The first major climb of the race after 17km – just before Fontazzi)

Typical of Italian road books and profiles, the climb just looks like a little blip. Yet, it’s 5.7km long and averages 5.3% in gradient (Strava segment can be viewed here). It’s not the toughest ascent the women’s peloton will face this year but considering it’s position so early on in the race and how aggressively the bunch rides in these types of races: I would not be surprised if some riders get spat out the back.

Once over the top we have a descent -> plateau (no gravel here either) -> descent (there is gravel here).

The most challenging section of white roads comes at 58.5km into the race and is 9.5km long. This part features several sharp, short ascents mixed in with fast descents and some false flats. Taking it as a whole, it’s 9.5km at 1.8% but that certainly doesn’t tell the whole story!

We then have a lot of undulating normal road (how boring eh?!), before reaching the final 20km. Again, the following profile does not match what’s on the map, or even the other profile above. In fact, the profile below has the race ending at 121km, whereas the other profile has it as 127km long. Eugh.strade-bianche-we-2017-1480508255

There are two short sections of strade before we get to this final 20km profile that we see above.

This part of the course is constantly up and down, and it will really sap the riders legs. A big attack can be made on the final section of gravel, with the steep gradients on offer. From there, any riders left together at the front will possibly leave it to a showdown up the final climb to the square in Siena like we saw last year.

With some ramps of 16%, it’s a real grind at the end of a tough day!

How will the race play out?

As I mentioned above, women’s racing is often very attacking from the gun and I expect that to be no different on Saturday. It’s very unlikely we’ll see a breakaway get a substantial lead, if at all! With the first climb (5.7km at 5.3%) coming after only 17km, I think we’ll see the first selection made here, with the pace of the peloton being slowly ramped up.

From there on, it will be a race of attrition and teams attentively following any moves at the head of the race, making sure to try to get someone up the road whenever there is an attack. Therefore having a strong team is very important so that you can rotate attacks and share the work.

However, the race will more than likely be won by the strongest rider on the day, who’s also had their fair share of luck! Speaking of which…

Contenders

Boels Dolmans have won this race on both occasions and will be looking to make it three in a row this year. They have an incredibly talented squad with three very plausible winners in their line-up. Defending champion Lizzie Deignan will be hoping for a repeat of last year’s great performance. She was exceptionally strong that day, riding Johansson and Niewiadoma off her wheel on the final climb. However, she didn’t seem the same rider in the latter half of last year and without any racing so far this season, I’m just not sure if she’ll manage a repeat win. Oddly enough, I do think Anna van der Breggen can go well, even with no racing in her legs!

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The Dutchwoman continued on from here breakthrough 2015, with an equally brilliant 2016; managing to win La Flèche, the European Road Championships and the Olympics! Win wise, it was actually a worse year, so I’m sure she’ll be motivated to get back onto the top step of the podium more this year. This race presents a great opportunity to start off on the right foot. One of the best climbers in the peloton, she’s not a rider you can give much leeway!

Finally, to finish off the trio of Boels’ riders is inaugural World Tour Winner, Megan Guarnier. Like her team-mate AVB, Guarnier is one of the best natural climbers in the peloton but she also packs a good sprint after a tough day. Already with some racing in her legs she won’t want to go much longer without a win.

Away from Boels, the most successful current rider in the peloton, Marianne Vos, returns to road racing with her new team WM3. She’s an exceptionally strong rider, yet she’s not the best climber so this race doesn’t suit her perfectly. I’m sure she’ll love the gravel sections, considering her cyclo-cross background but instead I think it will be her younger team-mate who takes the limelight. Kasia Niewiadoma is arguable the biggest climbing and one day talent in the peloton at the moment. At just 21 years old, last season she managed to finish 2nd at this race, 4th at Flèche and picked up a few GC wins to boot. Finishing in the second group at Omloop (a race that doesn’t really suit her), highlights to me that she is starting this season well and can’t be discounted!

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Elisa Longo Borghini will arrive as Wiggle High5’s protected rider. The Italian has started the season in splendid form, picking up a solid 5th place at Omloop and like Niewiadoma that race doesn’t suit her characterisitcs. What I found more impressive though was her display the next day in Hageland. She seemed to be in every move that went off the front on the climbs and she still had enough energy left to attack in the final 10km, nearly holding off the bunch. Having finished 3rd and 4th here in the past and with Claudia Lichtenberg to support her, I think she’s a shoe-in for the podium again.

Those riders are the favourites but there are certainly others who can upset the apple-cart. Like with my men’s Samyn preview, I’ve written a lot more than expected already, so I’ll just briefly highlight some names to watch out for!

Canyon SRAM: Amialiusik, Cecchini (Think it’s too early for Ferrand-Prevot).

Cervélo-Bigla: Moolman.

Orica-Scott: Van Vleuten, Garfoot.

Sunweb: Kirchmann.

Prediction

I’ve had this rider in mind for this race for the past week and I’ve seen/heard nothing to convince me otherwise. Boels’ dry spell will continue and instead it will be Italian, Elisa Longo Borghini who takes the win! As I’ve said above, she looked exceptionally strong on the climbs in Hageland so she must already be in scintillating form. Having not finished outside the top 4 in this race, she knows what’s in store and now a year older and more experienced she ticks all the boxes for me.

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Coverage

According to the UCI website, an hour of the race is supposed to be televised…

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but I haven’t seen anything on the Eurosport schedule to suggest it will be. It might be on the Player rather than the actual channel? I hope we do get something as it’s going to be a very exciting race! Furthermore, it would be a disappointment for the first WWT race not to have coverage, considering that is one of the main improvements touted for this year. If we do get something I’ll most certainly tweet it out!

Nonetheless, thanks for reading and as usual, any feedback is greatly appreciated! Who do you think will win? I don’t normally beg for RTs and Shares but if you could be ever so kind and help to raise the profile of the race and some discussion on social media then that would be great 👍 . Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

 

Women’s ITT World Championship – Doha 2016

Women’s ITT World Championship – Doha 2016

Last year saw an incredibly close race, with the top 4 riders separated by less than 10 seconds. It was New Zealand rider Linda Villumsen who came out on top edging Anna Van der Breggen to the title, with Lisa Brennauer rounding out the podium.

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With Villumsen not here this year, there is a chance for someone else to step up and win the Rainbow Jersey. It won’t be an easy task for the riders though as they’ll have to contend with tough conditions. Let’s take a look at what’s in store for them.

The Route

The Elite women tackle the exact same course that we saw the U23 Men complete today. Almost two full laps of the Pearl circuit, totalling 28.9km.

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There a few tight roundabouts and corners, but most of the circuit is fast and sweeping with very little elevation gain. Being able to carry speed through the corners will help massively so good bike handling skills are essential, but also a bit of bravery to take more risks out on course will help to set a good time. That’s about it really, nothing much else to say!

However, the main challenge for the riders will be the conditions.

Weather Watch

As we’ve witness in both the team time trial and the U23 TT today, the heat plays a huge part in the outcome of the race. Heat management and efficient use of energy are crucial in the 35 degree plus weather. The riders will be bitterly disappointed to see that they’re in for more of the same tomorrow, but what else can be expected when the World Champs are held in a desert!

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Windfinder data for Doha

With the temperature set to be even hotter than today there could be more riders struggling tomorrow. The late starters will benefit from a slight drop in temperature but the wind appears to pick up for them. The section of the course furthest from the start (most easterly) will be the area where those riders will face a stiff headwind. However, for the rest of the course it should even itself out and as we saw today, the wind direction and speed can change almost instantaneously.

The start order can be found here.

Contenders

My unsuccessful pick for the Olympic TT, Ellen Van Dijk, starts as the bookies favourite and deservedly so. Aside from running off the road in Rio, where she would have finished on the podium otherwise, and third at the Chrono Champenois, Van Dijk has looked incredibly strong this year. This type of power course will suit here well but her sometimes lackadaisical bike handling could be of detriment. If she stays upright and is confident in the corners then she will be tough to beat. Not impossible, but tough!
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Her Dutch team-mate Anna Van der Breggen will be hoping to do just that. Arguably one of the riders of the season, the Olympic and European road race champion is a very solid TTer too, having made the podium at both those events in the individual discipline. She would probably want a hillier course to have a better chance but she can’t be ruled out because of her form. I just think there are riders more suited to this terrain than her.

One of those is Olympic silver medalist Olga Zabelinskaya. The 36-year old Russian is in the twilight of her career but has pulled off some remarkable rides this season and if she has continued that form then she is a real contender. She recently finished 2nd at the Chrono Champenois, beating Van Dijk.

The rider who beat them both that day? Katrin Garfoot. The Aussie champion has had one of her best seasons on the bike to date. She’s a solid climber but her area of expertise is time trialling. Finishing just off the podium at last year’s event, she’ll be here for revenge and looks in good form. Keep an eye out for her!

The third prong in the Dutch arsenal is Annemiek van Vlueten. After her horror crash at the Olympics she bounced back to win the Lotto Belgium Tour which was great to see! Another rider who can do a bit of everything the current Dutch TT champ will be aiming for nothing less than the top spot! She goes out the earliest of her team-mates so could benefit from the weaker wind or conversely suffer more in the heat.

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As for the other riders?

I’m not confident of Lisa Brennauer‘s chances. Third last year, her time trialling has been a bit hit and miss so far this year and she’s yet to win an event. Managing to pick up numerous podiums, maybe I am being a bit on harsh on her, but the signs aren’t great. Nonetheless, Canyon performed better than expected in the TTT, so maybe she can turn it around too?

Amber Neben and Carmen Small could be in or around the top 5 for the USA as well.

There is one outsider I like the look of and that’s Ashleigh Moolman. The South African is in great form at the moment and will relish the tough conditions. She rode well for her team on Sunday which will have given her confidence for this event. Another rider who would probably prefer a hill or two, she certainly will give it her all!

Prediction

Now for that time I cast the #HaugheyCurse upon some poor soul. There is a great chance we could see a Dutch 1-2-3, but it’s bad enough me ruining one riders chances, let alone a whole nation’s 😉

Van Dijk rightly is favourite, but I do really rate the chances of Katrin Garfoot for this course. Out of the top 5 favourites, she’s probably the rider who will benefit most from the flat course. Performing well in the Tour of Qatar earlier this year, she will be no stranger to the tough conditions and combining that with her good recent form, I think she’s on the cusp of a great victory!

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Sincerest apologies Katrin!

Betting

1pt WIN Garfoot at 5/1 with Unibet (I’d take the 9/2 with Bet365/Ladbrokes/Skybet)

0.25pt EW Moolman at 50/1 with Bet365/Ladbrokes

*Update* Added this H2H treble with B365 that I like.

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0.5pt on at 4.37/1

 

Thanks for reading! Can you see past the Dutch trio and will the #HaugheyCurse finally be over? Who do you think will win? As usual, any feedback is greatly appreciated. I shall have the men’s TT preview out tomorrow evening. Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

 

Rio Olympics 2016 – Men and Women’s ITT Preview

Rio Olympics 2016 – Men and Women’s ITT Preview

Mixing things up with a joint preview!

After the dramatic events over the weekend, the riders have a couple of days rest before the Individual Time Trial on Wednesday.

The Route

The TT takes place over the Grumari circuit that was used during the Road Race.

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As you can see, the route is a mixed bag of short climbs and long periods of rolling roads. This really opens up the type of rider who can win, as some climbers will fancy it but so will some of the TT specialists. I guess nowadays though, a lot of good climbers are solid TTers as well and vice versa!

The few uncategorised lumps at the start of the route will sap the legs before the first “official” climb on the route; the Grumari Climb. Don’t let the short length deceive you (1.3km long), the average gradient is steep at 9.4%. However, this isn’t the whole story, as the second half of the climb is much tougher, with peaks of 24%. The second climb (Grota Funda) is a much steadier affair, clocking in at 2.1km long and only averaging 6.8%.

Neither of these climbs are alpine, but they will certainly pose a test, especially on a TT bike. As will the descents.

However, it’s not only the climbs that will worry the riders. They will be concerned about the section of cobbles that runs along the coast. This stretch of road caused issues in both the men’s and women’s races with riders dropping chains etc. The stronger riders will certainly be hoping to take advantage of it as the lighter riders struggle to get power down.

After the final descent, the riders will have around 8km of flat road left. They’ll need to save some energy for this as it is possible to lose a lot of time here.

The men follow the exact same route as the women, but complete the circuit twice!

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Female Contenders

Fresh off her RR win, Anna van der Breggen comes into this race as the bookies favourite. She’s had a great season so far, and has performed well in TTs, recently finishing 2nd at the Giro Rosa time trial. Furthermore, finishing 2nd at last years World’s shows that she can last the distance. I would not be surprised if she doubles up!

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Current World Champ Linda Villumsen was on the attack yesterday on the Grumari circuit, obviously wanting to test her legs and have a look at the course at race speed. With her racing in America, it’s hard to gauge her form, but I don’t think she’s quite there.

Lisa Brennauer was also on the attack and this lumpier course will suit her more than a flat effort. However, she’s not been great in TTs this year and that’s enough to put me off her.

USA will turn to Evelyn Stevens as their main hope. She won the tough TT at the Giro Rosa not so long ago and looked good doing work for her team-mates in the road race. A real danger!

I think the course will be too tough and hilly for the likes of Armstrong and Garfoot. Although the latter may surprise me.

One rider I do like for this is Ellen van Dijk. I didn’t manage to catch all of the RR, but from what I saw she looked very, very strong. Constantly attacking, she played a great role for the team. She’ll love the cobbles and the flatter sections, but as was proven yesterday, she seems to be climbing very well too!

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Some outsiders (odds-wise) to look out for are Ashleigh Moolman, Elisa Longo-Borgini and Karol-Ann Canuel. They’ll be hoping to challenge the podium and will want to top 5 at least.

Male Contenders

The length of the TT really makes this one for the specialists, those who can manage their efforts well. On paper, this is a two-horse race.

Froome rightly starts as favourite after his impeccable showing at the Tour. He seems to be back to his best in Time Trials. He should be able to gain time on his rivals on the climbs, and will hope to maintain that on the flat. He will be hard to beat, but has he maintained his form?

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Tom Dumoulin would have been favourite for this if he had not crashed at the Tour. Supposedly he’s recovered well, but is still on painkillers for the race. You never know in cycling if someone is bluffing pre-race, until they get out on the road, but everything combined together is enough to put me off him.

Aside from those two, the podium is wide open. My favourite for making the podium is Vasil Kiryienka. The Sky rider hasn’t been great this year, in fact he’s been terrible, but long TTs are his bread and butter. With no domestique duties to be concerned about, he’ll be going full gas here. Finally. The cycling community rejoices! When in full flight he is something special to watch.

I’d normally be very much raving about Rohan Dennis‘ chances on a course like this, but he seems to be out of sorts as of late. The same goes for Tony Martin, who hasn’t won a race this year (aside from the German TT national championships). They could turn it around here but I’ve seen nothing to suggest that they will.

The two Spaniards; Izagirre & Castroviejo, both seem to be riding well and can challenge here. They will hope to podium but it will be a tough ask. A top 5 is certainly achievable!

Roglic, Cancellara, Oliveira, Phinney and Bodnar will be fighting for top 10 spots, anything better would be great.

*Of course, writing ahead of time means that I’m unsure of how accurate the forecast is. It looks set to be even conditions all day, but this could change quite quickly. Then, we might see riders getting an advantage depending on their start times.*

Predictions

For the women’s race, I think it will be a Dutch rider that will win. It won’t be the favourite though! Instead, we’ll see Ellen van Dijk romp away to victory. She’s won both of the ITTs she’s entered this season and I fancy that to continue. Van der Breggen and Stevens will round out the podium.

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In the men’s race it would be easy to pick Froome but I’m not going to do that. I think the distance will be the key and that will massively benefit a certain rider from Belarus. Kiryienka pulled out early from the road race to focus 100% on this and I say he’ll 100% deliver. The World Champion’s class will shine through! Froome will podium, probably finishing 2nd, with Izagirre claiming the bronze for Spain.

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Betting

Backing both of my riders individually (1.125pt EW) and as a double (0.25pt).

Kiryienka best priced at 16/1 with various bookmakers. 3 places at 1/4 odds.

Van Dijk 9/1 with Boylesports. 3 places, 1/4 odds. If you can’t bet there then Sky/Ladbrokes/Betway are all offering 2 places (1/3 odds). If not there, then straight up is good.

The double is 186/1 at Betvictor straight up. I can’t bet there so have placed it at Betfair instead (at 135/1). Boyles offer the double at 130/1 and that can be placed EW.

 

Hope you enjoyed the double preview?! I thought I’d save everyone’s time as the route is the same, and there isn’t enough to write to stretch it over two separate previews! Who do you think will win both races? I just hope we get equal conditions for all. Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.