Tour Down Under 2018 – GC Preview

Tour Down Under 2018 – GC Preview

So with the women’s race now finished, it is time for the men to take centre stage over the coming week with the riders battling it out to take home Ochre. A race that has been dominated by the Australians in recent years, with the last 4 GC titles going to the home riders; expect to see some fast racing coupled with sweltering temperatures.

It might not have the best race route in the grand scheme of the cycling season but given its position as the season opener, I think most of us will take it!

Richie Porte - Willunga Hill 2017

After finally getting his hands on the GC win last year the King of Willunga (a.k.a Richie Porte) is back here to defend his crown along with a strong BMC team. In fact, the last 3 winners of the race are all riding for that outfit this year, which is very ominous for the rest of the field. However, they won’t have it all their own way and there are certainly some other riders out there who could challenge their dominance.

First, let’s have a quick look at what is in store for the riders over the six days of action.

The Route

I won’t bore you here though, as I’ll have plenty of time over the coming week to drain you with an in-depth route analysis of each stage. This will simply be more of an overview!

There are three stages that are most likely to have the biggest impact on GC, although that could change if the wind blows strongly on some of the more exposed days. We saw the women’s peloton battered by cross winds through the Barossa Valley.

Stage 2 is the first important day with the traditional finish in Stirling.

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A rolling circuit that will see the peloton whittled down, some of the stronger sprinters will be happy to see that the organisers have reduced the number of laps that they will complete. Back in 2016 when Jay McCarthy won this stage, the riders had to contest with 6 laps, but this time it will just be 4. In theory, this should make it easier and see the stage switch from a puncheurs finish to more of a strong sprinters day. However, this of course all depends on how aggressively the teams race. If the fast men of the peloton are eliminated from the group then it is a great chance for the likes of Haas and McCarthy to pick up some valuable bonus seconds in their fight for GC.

Stage 4 will see the peloton tackle a new finish here at the Tour Down Under, featuring a climb that is well-known by the local Aussies.

Santos Tour Down Under 2018 - Stage 4

Norton Summit is not a new climb for the Tour though, with it being used right at the start of Stage 4 in 2016. It took the riders roughly 11’30 to complete the climb that day but I imagine that time will be faster this year round given it’s position on the course. Once over the “summit” the riders will have 7.5km left but instead of a drop straight down, they’ll instead face a kilometre or so of false flat before an uncategorised ramp up Woods Hill Road. Could this be a launchpad for a late attack? With only 3.5km of shallow descending all the way to the line, it certainly could be.

Stage 5 will once again play host to the summit finish of Willunga Hill.

Santos Tour Down Under 2018 - Stage 5

If the GC is still close at this stage, then it will all come down to the final ascent of Willunga. Porte has owned this climb for the past four years and he’ll hope to make it five in a row this time. Will it be enough for the overall title though? From a tactics point of view, it is much easier to ride a defensive race on Willunga than attacking one, as it is a difficult climb to make massive gains on. Although lil’ Richie might have something to say about that…

GC Contenders

Given the recent form of the Australians at this race, they’ve won 6 out of the last 7 years, then it is really hard to back against them on their own turf.

Porte comes into the race as the bookmakers favourite and rightly so given his performances on Willunga the past few years. If everything is kept together on stages 2 & 4, with his opponents not gaining any bonus seconds, the race is his to lose. However, this is the least suited route to Porte for a while and I think he’ll desperately miss the Paracombe finish that we had last year. He might well win on Willunga again, but I don’t think it will be by as big a margin as he has done in previous years.

McCarthy will be waiting in the wings, hoping to capitalise on the new stage and sprint for some bonus seconds on days 2 and 4, feasibly giving himself a 20 second buffer going into Willunga. He’s a rider that I have grown fond over and one that I had backed when he took out the stage in Stirling in 2016. At the Aussie Nationals recently, he looked incredibly strong, sprinting away from the chase group in the closing few hundred metres. His trajectory in this race has been on the up as well, with a 4th in 2016 and a 3rd last year. Will he go one or two steps higher this time around?

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Haas is a rider similar to McCarthy and he too will be looking to nab some bonus seconds on stages 2 & 4. With a winter move to Katusha, the former Dimension Data rider comes here in some good form with a 5th place finish in both the road race and time trial at the Aussie Champs. An attacking rider, he will no doubt give it a go on Stage 4 in an attempt to get clear. However, I sometimes think that he is too attacking; using up a lot of his resources before it is necessary. Will that be his downfall again?

Can a non-Aussie win?

Probably not.

Some might suggest Sagan has a chance, especially after his strong showing in today’s criterium. However, he will be here for training more than anything, possibly getting involved in a few sprints but nothing more than that.

Ulissi is a very solid finisher and will no doubt again be in or around the top 5 but I can’t see him having enough form early in the year to take the win. Yet, he is the type of rider who could well prove me wrong! His team-mate Rui Costa might be another to watch, he was flying at the start of last year.

Bernal arrives here as Team Sky’s best chance on paper, the young rider is truly exceptional. His form will be unkown but as we’ve seen with Henao in the past, Colombians seem to go well here. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him go with the best on Willunga, but his lack of a sprint might let him down for the overall.

Prediction

I’ll go for none of the above to win though.

Instead, I’ll suggest that Rohan Dennis will take home another Tour Down Under title.

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The current Aussie TT champion blitzed away his opposition recently, putting over a minute into a very lean Luke Durbridge and almost two minutes into team-mate Porte, regaining his title with ease. He DNF’d the road race, but I think he was using that race as training more than anything else.

Almost have way through his “4-year GC plan”, this should be the year where he takes another step forward in that quest. He certainly looks very fit going by some of the pictures I’ve seen floating around social media over the past week. There has also been a lot of to-ing and fro-ing between himself and Porte as to who the leader of BMC will be for the week, both downplaying their own chances and talking up their team-mate. First race mind-games!

With the introduction of the interesting finish on stage 4 this year I think it is very beneficial for a team to have two possible winners in their squad and I’m sure BMC will use that to their advantage. Norton Summit looks ideal for the powerhouse and Dennis certainly has the TT engine to attack and hold a gap, especially with Porte and possibly Gerrans behind marking out any efforts to close him down.

Being in Ochre going into Willunga means BMC will be able to ride a defensive race, and who wouldn’t want the King of Willunga himself to act as a super-domsetique for you that day?! Porte should be able to keep things together and Dennis won’t lose enough time to be toppled, with Porte even nabbing the bonus seconds away from his competitors on the line.

Simple!

Betting

First race of the season so it would be rude not to have a flutter on the GC market. I tweeted it out a few days ago but…

1pt EW Dennis @ 20/1 with Coral/Ladbrokes.

Thanks as always for reading and any feedback is greatly appreciated. I hope you enjoyed my first men’s preview of the season. I’ll be back with daily stage previews of the Tour Down Under starting from tomorrow. Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

Tour de France 2017 – GC Preview

Tour de France 2017 – GC Preview

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

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

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

The Route

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

GC Battle As A Whole

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

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

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

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

GC Contenders

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

Chris Froome.

chris froome wins 2016 tour de france

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

Richie Porte.

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

Is he unbeatable? No.

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

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

Nairo Quintana.

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

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

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

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

Alberto Contador.

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

Alejandro Valverde.

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

Fabio Aru.

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

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

Romain Bardet.

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

Dan Martin.

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

Esteban Chaves.

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

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

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

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

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

Right, I think that’s everyone…

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

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

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

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

Prediction

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

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With Aru coming second and Quintana third.

Betting

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

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

 

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

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

Giro d’Italia 2017 Stage 14 Preview; Castellania -> Oropa

Today’s Recap

A day where all the action was in the final few kilometres and that once again saw Gaviria win the sprint. He didn’t have it all his own way this time though, as he had to come from 20m back, delivering a truly impressive turn of speed to pip Bennett before the line.

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Stuyven came home in a very respectable third place.

As for Ewan, I thought he had the win in the bag with roughly 300m to go. Richeze was giving him the perfect lead-out but the Aussie rider seemed to hesitate and got boxed in by both Richeze and the Bora lead-out rider (I’m assuming Selig). It looks to me as he’s lost some confidence over the past week as the Ewan we saw at the start of the year would have squeezed his way out of that one or committed to going around the other side.

With the chances for the sprints over for the rest of the race, most will now leave this evening, with our attention focussing on the stage hunters and GC riders for the rest of the race.

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

The Route

The third stage in a row that is all about the closing 20km. Not exactly prime viewing for a Saturday afternoon!

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Thankfully it’s the shortest stage of the race so it shouldn’t be too long until we get to the main event of the day which is the climb to Oropa.

The road actually rises for around 15km before the climb properly starts once the peloton passes through the town of Biella.

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11.75km long averaging 6.2%, it is a fairly tough climb but it is the second half that is the most difficult. After the opening 5km, the gradient barely dips below 7% for the rest of the climb, although there are a few false flats and shallower sections involved.

With these steep ramps near the top, you would expect the climb to suit a more diminutive rider/mountain goat who can manage a more explosive kick on the tougher stuff. However, with the easy run in to the climb, everyone should arrive fresh and I wouldn’t expect the gaps to be too big at the end of the day.

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The climb was last used in the 2014 edition and that saw a break stay away after a much harder run in to the foot slopes. Quintana managed to take a few seconds over his GC rivals but the gaps were not massive. Will we see something similar this year or will Movistar close down any breakaway in the hope to set up Quintana to take some bonus seconds?

How will the stage pan out?

It is one of those 50/50 days where it could go to either the break or the GC guys.

In favour of the GC guys, it is a short stage with a lot of flat which should in theory make it easy for them to control.

However, a lot of the riders will know Quintana will fancy it so I’m not sure if their teams will want to assist with any work to help chase down the breakaway.

I imagine Sunweb will be quite happy to ride it defensively and let the break get up the road to take the stage win. Dumoulin himself said in his post-race interview that tomorrow will be a relatively easy day with a 20-minute climb at the end. He sounds confident in his abilities to follow everyone else and to be honest, I am too.

Originally I was 100% behind this being a definite GC day, but the more I think about it (which is never a good thing) the more I am leaning towards the break staying away. It all depends on the number of riders to make the break and the teams represented, but also on Movistar’s attitude. They tried something on stage 11 but that didn’t really work out for them so they might keep their powder dry for later in the race and just hope to tire Sunweb out by allowing them to control the pace.

So with that being said, it’s time to play everyone’s favourite game…

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Candidates

The issue now is that for a rider to win then they need to be a good climber, but to get into the break they also need to be strong on the flat as well. A good slice of luck is important too! Nonetheless, I shall throw a few names into the proverbial hat. With the stage starting in the Coppi’s hometown I’m sure the Italians will want to feature in the move…

Valerio Conti – Bitterly disappointed to have crashed when in with a chance of the win on stage 8, he’s bound to have another go over the next week or so. He looked great on the climbs that day, although a little too lively at times, but with it being only one big effort so to say he should be in with a chance.

Manuel Senni – The Italian was struggling at the start of the race but he seems to have recovered from that. With Van Garderen struggling, BMC will be attacking for the rest of the race and the young Italian climber might salvage something for the American outfit.

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Michael Woods – After Cannondale overcame their World Tour drought in California, they could well go on to pick up another win here. The Canadian is far enough down on GC not to be a threat and the steep gradients look great for him. He also has the possibility of maybe contending for the stage from the bunch as well if he’s given freedom that way.

Vasil Kiryienka – Sky are most definitely chasing stages now so I’ll be very surprised not to see them in the move tomorrow. Kiryienka is a strong enough on the flat to make the move but he will need to attack solo before the steep parts of the climb if he wants to have a chance of winning.

No #Wongshot from me today as I don’t have enough time!

If it comes down to the GC contenders, it is hard to see past Quintana.

Prediction

I’ll go for a surprise breakaway victory and Woods to continue Cannondale’s World Tour dominance…

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Betting

As I’m not convinced either way how it will play out tomorrow then I’ll have a few small punts on the breakers;

(All with Bet365)

0.75pt WIN Woods @ 80/1

0.6pt WIN Conti @ 80/1

0.4pt WIN Kiryienka @ 150/1 

0.25pt WIN Senni @ 300/1

Quintana at 2/1 is a great price if you think it is a definite GC day but because of the nagging doubt in my head, I can’t be backing that!

Thanks as always for reading! Who do you think will win tomorrow? Will a break make it or will Quintana be victorious? Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

 

 

Volta Catalunya 2017 Stage 5 Preview; Valls -> Lo Port (Tortosa)

Today’s Recap

The opening 50km was chalked off due to bad weather so we had a shortened stage. There were some probing attacks on the final climb but it did end up coming down to a sprint. Nacer Bouhanni managed to haul himself over the rise and duly won the stage with ease!

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Stage one winner Cimolai finished second this time, with Impey rounding out the podium. Let’s have a look at what’s in store for the riders tomorrow.

The Route

Flat -> hill -> smaller hill -> BIG hill.

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Source: @LasterketaBurua

A relatively easy day out in the saddle apart from the final 20km. Even the Cat-2 climb is simple in comparison to some of the other climbs we get in this region. The only reason it’s probably categorised so highly is due to its length, with an average gradient of 2.8% it is certainly not steep!

Tomorrow is all about the final climb.

If you take into account the build up to the official start of the ascent it is actually 13.3km long at 7%. However, the official profile would lead you to believe that the climb is only 8.4km at 8.8% average.

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A very tough end to the day and we could and more than likely will see some large gaps between some of the GC riders. Although we could see a case of riders marking each other out of it, but I fully expect some of the teams to attack it hard from the bottom (Sky, Movistar & Trek) leaving a select group of favourites near the front. From there, not only who’s the strongest on the day, but team tactics will also be important.

Will they be fighting for the win though?

How will the stage pan out?

Normally this would be a GC day 100% of the time but last year we saw a break make it all the way to the line. Could that happen again?

Probably not.

There will be enough interest behind to chase for bonus seconds that any break will be nullified. Or at least you would imagine so!

I’m intrigued to see if having team-mates will be of any benefit to the riders here. The finishing climb is a lot like Terminillo (that we saw in Tirreno recently) so it could be a case of strongest on the day wins. However, if a team has a few good climbers they can always send one up the road and sit back to mark attacks from behind, a la Contador and Mollema in Abu Dhabi. Equally, we could easily just see a big battle between the favourites, which is what I think is most likely to happen.

Contenders

If we do get a massive GC blowout, there are only 4 riders who can win this stage in my opinion.

Alberto Contador.

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El Pistolero was incredibly unlucky in Paris Nice, giving it his all but falling short once again. On the final stage he looked very strong but that was on climbs where the average gradient was around 6%, not the 8% we’ll see here. Contador does sometimes struggle on the steeper stuff, but if he’s still going as he did in PN, it will be hard to beat him!

Alejandro Valverde.

Returning from his illness that caused him to miss PN, he returned with a bang to win stage 3 on Wednesday. That day suited him ideally but tomorrow might be a little long for him. Yet, I keep thinking of his ridiculous long rang attack up Penas Blanacas in Ruta del Sol last year, and that something similar might be on the cards here. He’ll be hoping to emulate what Quintana did on Terminillo and take the GC lead, if not, get very close to it before the next few stages.

Speaking of the Terminillo…

Geraint Thomas.

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The Welshman was able to match Quintana almost blow for blow up the final climb, but the Colombian was just too good for him in the end. That result will have given Thomas the confidence that he can climb with the best in the world. As I said in my Tirreno GC preview, I think he’ll podium or get very close to in the Giro, so another big result here will set him in good stead. Froome may feature but he still doesn’t seem up to speed.

Adam Yates.

He was a very credible third on the Terminillo stage behind Quintana and Thomas. Even more credible when you think he DNF’d the next day after withdrawing due to illness. On the climb to La Molina he looked comfortable and should go well tomorrow on the steep stuff he seems to love. I wouldn’t discount him!

Prediction

I think we’ll see the four I’ve listed get a gap but there will be the usual unwillingness to work, particularly between Contador and Valverde. This will leave it open for the two Brits to attack and due to Thomas being the closest rider on GC, he’ll be left to do the majority of the work. Yates will then attack him in the final 500m, using his more explosive nature to take the stage victory!

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Will it go to plan?

Betting

1pt EW Yates @ 12/1 with B365 (would take 10s)

 

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

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

 

Tirreno-Adriatico 2017 GC Preview

Tirreno-Adriatico 2017 GC Preview

The second stage race of the week and before the madness of the first few days in Paris Nice, it was the one I was looking forward to more!

Last year we saw the bad weather really hit this race hard and the mountain top finish on stage 5 was cancelled. This meant we had a really weird-looking top 10 for a week-long stage race and it was Greg van Avermaet who took the overall win, one second ahead of Peter Sagan.

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I can’t imagine we’ll get the same controversial outcome this year as the weather seems to be much better this time round.

Let’s see what’s in store for the riders over the coming week.

The Route

Like always, this will be a brief run through as I’ll be doing daily stage previews!

Stage 1.

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A pan flat 22.7km team time trial should open up some GC gaps and set the racing up nicely for the coming week.

Stage 2.

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A long day in the saddle for the riders with a tough finale. Looks to be one for the strong puncheurs!

Stage 3.

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A rolling day that should end in a sprint. The last 1.5km does average 3.5% though!

Stage 4.

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With the TTT setting the GC order, this stage will shake things up, that’s for sure with the very tough finish up Terminillo. On a bad day here and you can lose a lot of time.

Stage 5.

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Arguably a tougher day due to the relentless up and down nature of the second half of the stage. Will we see a team go crazy, à la Giro 2015 – Astana vintage?

Stage 6.

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Another rolling day with a little kicker near the finish. Will it be a bunch sprint, or will we see a morning break or late attack succeed?

Stage 7.

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Another pan flat time trial, this time of the individual variety. Will the GC be close enough for movement in the overall standings?

GC Contenders

Where else to start than with the best climber in the peloton, Nairo Quintana. The Colombian looked insanely strong in Valenciana but was marked out of the race brilliantly by Contador in Abu Dhabi. The Movistar squad looks geared towards giving him the best possible start in the TTT and with Moreno and Amador he should have some good support in the mountains. The Terminillo stage is perfect for him, but like others, I think his lack of one-day racing might let him down on Stage 5. He’ll really need his team to be strong then. It could well come down to the final day TT!

Thibaut Pinot will be hoping to build on his good showings in Andalucia and Strade with a real tilt at the GC here. His team produced one of the surprises of the season last year in the opening TTT, highlighting the change in attitude from the squad towards the time trialling discipline. They should perform well once again there and Pinot should be near the front in the mountain stages. Does he have enough to win?

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Tom Dumoulin will relish the pan-flat individual time trial and his Sunweb team looks OK for the TTT. The Dutchman has been in good shape at the start of this season, performing well on Saturday in Strade Bianche. He did well to finish 5th, considering the great form that those in front of him are in. The length and steepness of Terminillo could be a struggle for him, it’s right on his limits, but he will enjoy the climb being fairly regular in gradient. With a solid sprint on him too, we could see him challenging for bonus seconds on a couple of the punchy stages. If he’s within 30 seconds on the final day he’ll fancy his chances!

Last year Vincenzo Nibali was left bitterly disappointed after the cancellation of the Queen stage. He’s back again this year, looking for vindication possibly? Starting the year much better than he normally would, I’m intrigued to see how well he goes here in respect to his Giro preparation. A solid TTT will set him nicely for the week.

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Team Sky arrive with a ridiculously stacked team but I imagine Landa and Thomas will be co-leaders, on paper at least. The Spaniard looked strong in Andalucia, doing a lot of work for the team but still managing to finish off stages relatively high up in the standings. Whereas Thomas has not raced since the Tour Down Under, but has instead been away training with Froome in South Africa. It’s yet to be seen how that will have affected him, but wanting to be co-leader with real ambitions at the Giro, he will need a good performance soon. If not here, then possibly in Trentino. On a slight side note, I think he’ll go very well in the Giro! A third rider may well be up on GC for Sky too – Rosa. Like Landa, the Italian did a lot of the donkey work in Andalucia but still finished the race in a high GC position. Having three riders close on GC during stages 4 and 5 will give Sky a massive tactical advantage and he could well be the one benefiting from it. His TT is weak, but with the stage being short he shouldn’t lose more than 45 seconds.

Rui Costa has been the form rider in this early part of the season and he certainly can’t be discounted because of it. However, the finish to Terminillo isn’t his cup of tea at all, the climb is far too long for him in my opinion. He’s also bound to lose time in both of the TTs, so I can’t see him taking another victory here, or even a podium. I am prepared to eat my words though.

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Van Garderen was ill in Abu Dhabi so failed to produce anything noteworthy there. He’s bound to have a good performance in the TTT but can he hold onto that for the rest of the race. No. I don’t think so.

Aru has had a good start to the season by his standards. The Astana team are worried about the TTT so they’ve drafted in some strong riders to support him and I think they’ll put in a fairly good effort and not lose as much time as might be expected. He will enjoy the stage to Terminillo but the ITT will be a struggle. A podium result would be good.

A winner this weekend just gone, Yates will be hoping of putting in a solid performance here at this race. Orica bring a strong team of flat riders, mainly in support of Ewan so they should put in a decent TTT effort. The Brit will enjoy the stage to Fermo but the ITT could be where he ships a lot of time.

Mollema is a dangerous outsider for this race. He’s another who’s started the season very well and will hope to get some leeway as the favourites mark each other. Trek are going well in the TTs this year so he’ll hope to be put in a good position. He’s not one to be discounted.

Majka, Roglic and Uran could all surprise but it will take that, a surprise, for them to win this race in my opinion.

Prediction 

The GC here really comes down to how much time Quintana can take on Terminillo. There is a chance he might get marked out of the race, as he did in Abu Dhabi, but is anyone in good enough form to be able to follow him as easily as Contador did?

As I’m really struggling to nail this one down, I’m going to revert to type and go with a bit of an outsider, with some hopefully sound logic!

I really think having numbers up on GC  will be very important for a team, especially considering how manic the stage to Fermo could be. We don’t have the Astana of 2015 here, but we do have two of their riders in one squad; Team Sky. The Terminillo stage should see them have three riders within a minute of the lead and I expect them to go wild the following day. Diego Rosa looks like the ideal candidate to benefit from this, as Landa and Thomas mark those behind. The Italian loves one day racing and the type of terrain we get in this race seems to suit him perfectly. He’ll just need a good margin before the final stage!

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Betting

0.5pt EW Rosa @66/1 with Ladbrokes. (Would take down to 50/1)

 

Thanks for reading as per! This will be the first of three previews out tonight so keep an eye out for the others. I intend to have Tirreno Stage 1 out next but like always, that will depend on what gets priced up/and when by the bookmakers. They both might be out at the same time. Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

Paris – Nice 2017 GC Preview

Paris – Nice 2017 GC Preview

The rather aptly nicknamed, The Race to the Sun, stage race starts again this Sunday. Often attracting a good mix of Tour de France hopefuls, wanting to test their legs, and some Ardennes specialists doing similar, we’re regularly treated to some exciting racing with a fairly stacked start-list.

Last year saw Geraint Thomas just edge out Alberto Contador for the title by the small margin of 4 seconds.

13-03-2016 Paris - Nice; Tappa 08 Nice - Nice; 2016, Team Sky; 2016, Tinkoff; Geraint, Thomas; Contador, Alberto; Nice;

Luck may have been on the Welshman’s side though as the steep finish up Mont Brouilly, which most definitely would have favoured Contador, was cancelled due to snow. That finish is back this year, speaking of which…

The Route

Like normal, as I’ll be doing daily previews for the stages this segment will be fairly short.

Stage 1.

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Fairly flat day with an interesting 5% rise from 2km -> 1km to go. Will we still see a sprint or will a late attack prevail?

Stage 2.

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Another flat day, this one is definitely a sprint!

Stage 3.

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Slightly more of a rolling day but this one should also be another sprint.

Stage 4.

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Our first GC day and a 14.5km TT with a finish up Mont Brouilly. Is this one for the specialists or will the GC guys prevail?

Stage 5. 

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Another likely sprint day but with more rolling terrain a break could well make it.

Stage 6.

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Brutal start to the stage, boring middle, followed by a tough finale with a double passage of the Col de Bourigaille. There’s a nice little kicker to the finish in Fayence too.

Stage 7.

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The Queen stage of the race in terms of its finale, with a Cat 1 climb of the Col de la Couillole to finish. Will the GC be decided here?

Stage 8.

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A short and sharp stage to finish the race! Could be action packed if the GC is still close, if not, definite break stage.

GC Contenders

In theory, the TT and mountain top finish are the two main GC days but as we’ve seen in the past at this race, Stages 6 & 8 could also have an impact. Will the winner be someone who puts in a strong TT and finishes in the first 3 on stage 7, or will someone be rewarded for some aggressive racing on the other two days?

Richie Porte should start as the favourite for this race: he absolutely creamed everyone at the Tour Down Under. Since then he’s a bit of rest, followed by slowly ramping up the intensity in training and his team say that he’s in great shape for this race. A two-time winner of this event, he certainly knows what it takes to go well here. One of the best GC TT-ers, I would expect him to gain a bit of time there and I can’t really see him losing much time on the mountain top finish. The only concern with him would be the two unpredictable stages as Porte seems to have a habit of being unlucky, or making a mistake and crashing himself.

Alberto Contador has to be his main rival for this title. Without a win this season, yet, he’s still looked very good and this is his first major target of the season. He seems to have re-found his TT form and is clearly climbing well. I hope he’s within 20 seconds of Porte going into the final day as I’m sure we’ll see an attacking race like always from him!

Behind those two clear favourites, there are another two riders who can TT and climb well but maybe just not to the same caliber.

Ilnur Zakarin looked strong in Abu Dhabi, bridging the gap to Rui Costa fairly comfortably. He was very consistent last season and was set for a top 5 at the Giro before his unfortunate crash on stage 19. He returned to the action later in the year and managed to pick up a great stage win at the Tour. If Porte and Contador start to play games, the Russian may just be the one to profit from it.

Ion Izagirre was having a very solid Andalucia before a bizarre crash in the time trial forced him to abandon. With the resulting injuries being nothing serious, he’s back here and wants to be at the pointy end of the race. These types of climbs suit him well and as we saw at the Tour, he’s a handy descender in bad conditions. A definite danger-man!

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One rider I am keen to keep an eye on this week is Sergio Henao. Recently winning the Colombian National Championships, he seems to have been building some nice form while over there. Wout Poels was meant to be leading the team but he’s had to pull out with injury so Henao becomes de facto leader. Not a great TTer normally, a hilly finale to the course will suit him, he did come 3rd in the TT at Pais Vasco last year. If he can minimise his losses to less than 30 seconds this time round then he has a great chance at the podium.

Julian Alaphilippe is fast becoming a very dangerous one-week stage racer, particularly in this type of parcours. He seems to struggle in big mountain days so stage 7 could be an issue. However, he’ll love the look of the finish in Fayence and could gain some bonus seconds there. Likewise, as a fearless rider I’m sure he’ll be on the attack on stage 8, especially if we get some bad weather.

There are others who could feature but their missing something at the moment in my opinion, whether that be a poor TT or they just don’t seem to have the form.

Prediction

I’m being boring, but this is Porte’s to lose.

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I would be wary if the weather turns for the worse though. I think Henao is a good outside shot for the podium and could profit in an attacking, aggressive race.

Betting

Personally, I have something on Henao at 33/1 which is a good EW price, but I wouldn’t advise backing him at the 18/1 he is just now. Instead, keep your money in your pocket until after the TT and see what his price is then!

NO BET.

Thanks as always for reading and any feedback is greatly appreciated. Do you think it’s a two-horse race between Porte and Contador? I’ll be back later this afternoon/evening (depending on when more bookmakers price up/I wake up from my nap) with a stage 1 preview. In the meantime, I’ll be watching both the women’s and men’s Strade! Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

 

Abu Dhabi Tour Stage 3 Preview; Al Ain -> Jebel Hafeet

Today’s Recap

Another drab stage that ended with a very exciting final 10 minutes. For a while it looked as if it was going to be Ewan or Cavendish who took the win, but the perfectly-haired German came from way back, pipping Ewan on the line.

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I’m lamenting the bookmakers not over reacting and pricing Kittel at the 2/1 I was hoping for, would have gladly taken that. As it turns out, the H2H double lost as well so not a great day on that front, but we move on!

Onto tomorrow and the day that will decide the GC.

The Route

Boring flat, some more boring flat, even more boring flat…MOUNTAIN!

Well, can it be classed as a mountain? It’s certainly a very large hill at the least!

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This stage is all about the climb up Jebel Hafeet.

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10.8km long and averaging 6.6%, it is a fairly challenging climb; especially when you consider that the middle 7km average 8%. This is the section where proper time gaps can be made!

We will see attacks here as those climbers without a good sprint will want to drop everyone on the toughest parts, i.e Quintana! Although, we could easily be in for a lot of stopping and stalling as favourites mark each other, leaving the opportunity for a “lesser” rider to get away.

Contenders

You probably know by now the very stellar climbing line-up we have here and without repeating all of that again, here’s a link to my GC preview to remind you.

*I’d advise you to read that as I won’t be adding much more here*

So has anything changed since I wrote that preview on Tuesday?

Well, Contador seems to be up for playing more than a team role here! I can imagine he’ll be used as the guy to try to follow Quintana or go on the attack himself, allowing Mollema to follow behind and counter.

I still think Bardet will go well and is a serious challenge if there is some looking about. My feelings towards Aru finishing top 5 have got stronger and I think he’s a proper podium contender too. He seemed lively on the first sprint stage and seems in good spirits.

Aside from that, nothing else has change really.

Prediction

Quintana is still the rider to beat though but I don’t think Contador will be that far off of him. Therefore, I can see the two of them messing around, allowing for another couple of riders to get back (Bardet and Aru), and I’ll go for the Frenchman to win!

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Betting

1pt EW Bardet @14/1

0.75pt EW Aru @ 20/1

Both with Bet365.

Apologies for the briskness of this but I don’t want to needlessly spend some time writing out the same stuff again and I wouldn’t want you to read that either!

If you haven’t seen it already, then check out my Omloop preview that is on the blog. Thanks again for reading, tomorrow will be another double preview day with the final stage of this race and Kuurne. I know which one I’m looking more forward to! 😉 Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

 

Abu Dhabi Tour 2017 – GC Preview

Abu Dhabi Tour 2017 – GC Preview

Started back in 2015, the Abu Dhabi Tour in its first two editions was an end of season filler. Typically consisting of 3 sprint stages and one mountain top finish that decided the GC, it was a race for those winding down at the end of the year; trying to get one final result.

However, that changes ever so slightly this year with its move to the start of the season in February as riders look to build form for their up and coming objectives. Its swanky new World Tour status means that teams will be hunting those elusive WT points so I expect the race to be a little more intense than it has been in the past.

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The defending champion, Tanel Kangert, is back here to defend his crown but it may be hard for him to do so considering some of the climbing talent that we have here for this edition.

First however, let’s have a look at what the riders will face over the coming week.

The Route

Stage 1 features an “out and back” course through the desert, starting and finishing in Madinat Zayed.

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A day that will end in a sprint and the fight for the first leader’s jersey. There is a roundabout at roughly 700m to go that will cause the bunch to be very spread out so positioning will be important. Can the wind have any impact on the stage?

Stage 2 and yep, another sprint.

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This time the riders travel around the outskirts and suburbs of Abu Dhabi itself, before finishing along the marina. A right-hand turn at 300m to go can shake things up.

Stage 3 sees the day that will decide the GC battle with the finish up Jebel Hafeet.

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10.8km long and averaging 6.6%, it is a a fairly challenging climb; especially when you consider that the middle 7km average 8%. This is the section where proper time gaps can be made! Who will be the rider to take the stage and GC glory?

Stage 4 and what is in my opinion, one of the worst stages in the calendar year. 26 laps of the Yas Marina motor racing circuit.

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If you watch more than 10 minutes of this on Sunday instead of Kuurne, we can’t be friends! It does have some technical turns going for it in the final kilometre which may liven things up. But yeah, I despise this stage with a passion.

GC Battle

As I’ve mentioned above, the GC battle for this race all comes down to the climb up Jebel Hafeet. With there being no time-trial or rolling stage to contend with, it is possible for a pure climber to be involved in the shakedown too. The step up to World Tour level has increased the number of contenders here and we should have an exciting battle on our hands! I’ll just run through the start list in order.

Starting with the defending champion Kangert and his Astana team. Unfortunately for the Estonian I can’t see him repeating last year’s performance this season. Instead, the Kazakh outfit will turn to Fabio Aru as their main charge here. Off the back of a solid performance at Oman, Aru will be looking to continue his preparation for the Giro with another good outing here. He many not be at his best to win the race, but he should at least be aiming for a top 5 finish. (Or at least I’m hoping so for my fantasy team!)

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Bardet comes here after a disappointing race in Oman. He was positioned relatively well going into the Green Mountain stage but was one of those riders involved in the crash that day, which really hampered his end result. Making an attack on the final day shows to me that he was frustrated and that his form is good. Certainly don’t discount him after one performance.

Nibali makes his first World Tour outing with new team Bahrain Merida after finishing 8th in San Juan back in January. Always a hard one to judge form wise, I would not be surprised if the Shark wins here, or if he finishes down in 23rd!

After their success in Oman, BMC will be hoping that Tejay Van Garderen can continue the winning streak in the Middle East. Going off of recent history, the American does seem to start of the season very well; finishing 2nd on GC at his opening stage race of the year for 4 seasons in a row. Can he make it 5 here or even finish one place higher?

Rafał Majka will get his first taste of GC leadership with Bora at this race. Another who starts off the year fairly well, he’s only had two race days so far in Spain so it is tough to gauge where he is at. However, with it being only a mountain top finish and no time trial, he certainly has a chance of a podium.

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Quintana obviously starts as the big favourite here after blowing everyone away in Valenciana. The Colombian doesn’t just race to come 7th, he races to win and very rarely misses out on at least a podium at a stage race. If he’s continued that from from Spain, it should be no different here!

Quickstep will turn to Alaphilippe or Brambilla as their GC prospects here. Unfortunately though, they’ll either need to be in excellent form or get a massive dose of luck to challenge for the title here. A top 10 is manageable though!

Kudus will hope to go better than he did in Oman. A great talent, he really needs to develop the race management and tactical nous to his riding. Often he seems to attack too early which costs him in the closing kilometres. If he finally gets that right here then he could sneak onto the podium with a bit of luck!

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Kruijswijk and Gesink will lead a two-pronged attack for Jumbo. On a climb like this, I’d almost say Gesink is better than his counterpart. Can they compete with Quintana and co this early in the season? Meh, probably not. Or maybe they will. I don’t know!

Another rider making his season debut is Tom Dumoulin. The Dutchman had a disappointing end to last year and I’m intrigued to see if he’s recovered mentally from that. It’s once again guesswork as to where his form is. Do you have any idea?! I think he’ll go OK, but not great, maybe 6th or something similar.

Trek come here with two great GC candidates; Contador and Mollema. They’ve both shown good early season form with Contador coming second in Ruta del Sol, and Mollema winning the GC in San Juan. The former says that he is going to work for the latter here, focussing more on Paris Nice which starts in just under two weeks time. An elaborate ruse, or is he telling the truth? Contador does seem like a team player so it is certainly plausible, but I’m more intrigued to see the logistics behind it. Will he attack to force others to follow, with Mollema sitting on? Or will he be the guy chasing attacks down? Either way, I’ll be very surprised if one of them is not on the podium by the end of the week!

Finally, “local” team, UAE Fly Emirates have two riders who can challenge the top 10, in Costa and Ulissi. But I can’t see them doing any better than that.

There are some teams/riders that I’ve missed out, but I don’t want to keep you here all day!

Prediction

Quintana more than likely wins. Boring I know, but I’m hardly ever like this so I’m allowed to do it at least once or twice a season, right?

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Bardet and Mollema to round out the podium!

Betting

Think there is a bit of value away from the top of the order and with my 2 podium shouts. The debate I’m having with myself is if it’s worthwhile backing them for GC, or just waiting until Stage 3?!

Will Bardet start as a 10/1 shot on Stage 3, likewise, will Mollema start at 18/1 (current GC prices with Betfair)?

Hmmmm. I think I’ll just leave it until Saturday: unless of course odds elsewhere are much better! If Bardet is 14s anywhere I’ll take that, the same with Mollema at 22/1.

So a no bet, for now.

 

Thanks for reading and as per usual, any feedback is greatly appreciated. Who do oyu think will win? Can anyone beat Quintana? I will have a Stage 1 preview out later today, most likely evening some point when we get more odds available. Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vuelta Ciclista a Andalucia (Ruta del Sol) 2017 – GC Preview

Last year we saw an exciting race where it looked as if Tejay Van Garderen was going to win his first European Stage race and break that duck. However, Valverde absolutely blew everyone away on the final day of racing and won the GC title by almost 30 seconds! With Van Garderen and Mollema rounding out the podium.

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Valverde is back again this year: looking to make it 5 wins in 6 years, but can he do it? Let’s have a look at what is in store for the riders.

The Route

Stage 1 and the organisers have decided to start off with a nice “rolling” day.

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Tough start to the race, with an interesting climb at the end of the day. Should be a great watch, with a lot of potential outcomes!

Stage 2 and another rolling day, but this time with a mountain top finish.

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A tough 5km climb with some steep sections in it and a kilometre or so of false-flat at the end. Solo winner or a sprint between the climbers?

Stage 3 and a short individual TT.

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An interesting profile once again, we are in Spain after all! A nice climb for the riders to open their legs before a long shallow descent, another slight rise, followed with a steeper descent and a kick up to the line. Will the specialists or GC riders prevail here?

Stage 4.

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Finally a stage for the sprinters or will the breakaway have their say? Word of warning, it is a very technical finish!

Stage 5.

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Another day for the fast men? No doubt we’ll get a strong breakaway with that tough start!

GC Contenders

The greatest GT rider of his generation is here, Alberto Contador, and this race marks his first outing for new team Trek Segafredo. He had a fairly solid season last year, winning Pais Vasco and Burgos GC but solid is all I can really say about it. In comparison to his lofty expectations and performances in the past, it was almost a disappointment! Will the change of team and a new (possibly better) working environment revitalise him? With only one mountain top finish he’ll have to be on good form to get a race winning gap as I imagine he’ll lose a bit of time on the TT.

Team Sky arrive with a very strong squad with Poels, Landa and Rosa all potentially being leaders of the team. The latter pair haven’t done any racing so far this year so their form is a bit unknown but Poels finished 4th on GC at Valenciana. He had an off day on stage 2, but was fairly strong on stage 4. He was flying at the start of last year and this could be his only GC chance this season. I expect a good performance from him!

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The man with the secret to eternal youth, Alejandro Valverde, is back to defend the title he won last year. A commanding win in Almeria on Saturday he clearly is in great shape already at the start of the season. He’ll hope to be close on the time trial and smoke everyone up the mountain top finish. Certainly not out of the question!

Former Movistar rider Ion Izaggire will be looking to beat his old suitors here. Over the past couple of seasons he has grown into a great one-week stage racer and will hope to be in or around the podium places here. His strong TT abilities will be key to that. Sixth place on his first race back, he seems to be going ok but there is a big difference between a 5-stage race and a one-day effort.

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FDJ are another team with a couple of options here. Pinot was way off the pace in Valenciana but that was due to him being ill. We saw last year just how good he can be in these types of week-long stage races, so he can’t be discounted if back in reasonable nick. With him, he has two lieutenants who both could achieve a top 10 on GC if luck goes their way, in the form of Reichenbach and Ludvigsson. I do have a soft spot for the Swede and it won’t be the last time I’ll be mentioning him this year!

Uran, Barguil and even Wellens are others to keep an eye out for.

Prediction

In the form that he’s in just now, El Bala wins the race comfortably and another race/number is added to his already incredibly tally!

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Betting

Only SkyBet have the race priced up so far and have Valverde just ahead of Contador. Bet365 will be offering odds for the race, but only tomorrow…

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I doubt they’ll be offering anything spectacularly different price wise though. So that being said

0.5pt EW on a Valverde/Costa/Roglic (giving away my Algarve preview here) treble at 54.45/1 with  Skybet. I wouldn’t normally go EW on this but I think they should all podium so it covers the stake in that case.

 

Thanks for reading, as usual any feedback is greatly appreciated. How do you think the race will pan out; can anyone beat Valverde and Contador? Anyway,

Thos 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.

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Stage 2 and a summit finish at Alto da Fóia.

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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.

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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.

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

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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.