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.

Santos Tour Down Under 2018 - Stage 2
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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.

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

Today’s Recap

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

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

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

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

The Route

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Credit to @ammattipyöräily for the image above!

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

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

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

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

How will the stage pan out?

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

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

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

Contenders

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

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

Contador.

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

Froome.

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

Woods.

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

Chaves.

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

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

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

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

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

Vuelta Picks

Safe Pick – Contador

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

Wongshot Pick – Any Break rider

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

Lanterne Rouge Pick – Jelle Wallays

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

Prediction

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

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

Betting

Keeping it simple;

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

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

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

Tour de France 2017 Stage 17 Preview; La Mure -> Serre-Chevalier

Today’s Recap

A day where I had 99% of the stage planned out to perfection, it’s just a shame about the final 1%!

The action was on from the start as riders tried to jump away and we had several strong moves that looked as if they could stick. However, with Matthews attacking, Quick Step were keen to chase it down, even having Dan Martin as the man following the Aussie’s moves. In hindsight though, it was a terrible idea. Kittel blew up on the climb and that was his day done and as several of his team-mates waited to pace him back, Martin was left exposed at the end of the stage.

Speaking of which, we had echelons in the closing 15km. Naesen did an incredible job to bring Bardet to the front group as they were initially distanced. The Frenchman was even quoted post-race saying that “Naesen saved my life”.

Dan Martin and Meintjes were less fortunate though and both ended up shipping 51 seconds, with Contador losing 1’33.

Matthews took the stage with a strong sprint win, beating a fast finishing Boasson Hagen and Degenkolb.

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A deserved victory for the Sunweb rider after his team did the majority of the work all day; I’m sure their DS will be pleased! The result now moves him closer to Kittel in the Green Jersey competition, only 29 points behind the German.

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

The Route

The day that in my GC preview I heralded as arguably the Queen stage.

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Starting off fairly tamely, the riders will face a shallow descent before 10km of uncategorised rising roads before the first official climb of the day begins. At only 5.1km and averaging 6.7% it’s not too difficult an opening test and I’d be very surprised if we saw some GC movement here. Well, there is one rider I think might give it a go but I’ll get to that later. What could be more interesting though is if Matthews makes the split, which I think he has a very good chance at doing.

Once over the top of the climb, the riders will descend into the valley where we have the intermediate sprint point of the day. If Matthews is capable of winning that, then he reduces the gap to Kittel in the Green Jersey competition to only 9 points.

That would certainly spice things up for the following stages!

Soon after the sprint point the riders will face the first of two HC climbs on the day; the Col de la Croix Fer. The paltry average of 5.2% is quite deceptive as the climb goes up in steps, with several kilometres above 9% but also false-flat or descending kilometres. However, it is too far out to be of any major issue and will more than likely be a place where some riders get shed out of the back, rather than anyone go off the front.

The riders will have just over 40km from the summit of the Croix Fer until they hit the foot slopes of the climbs that will shape the day; the double-header of Télégraphe and Colombier.

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I don’t really need to go into detail about those climbs too much, the graphic above tells you enough! One thing is for sure, I think the Télégraphe is harshly categorised as a Cat-1 as it certainly could be an HC climb.

The steep closing ramps combined with high altitude of the Galibier provide the perfect launchpad for an attack from the GC favourites.

Will they be able to make it stick on the run in? It depends on who they are/who is behind and if they are co-operating. The descent averages -4% for the final 28km but it is a lot steeper at the start and flattens off a bit in the final 6kms.

Could we see a reduced sprint contest the stage?

How will the stage pan out?

With the first half of the stage not being conducive to a big GC hit-out there is a chance that a big breakaway forms on the Cat-2 climb and builds up a massive advantage. It of course depends on who makes that move as to how big the gap will be, while also depending on the attitude of Sky. Will they want to chase the stage win?

Having conducted a Twitter poll, the most popular selection is a break win but the verdict is split, with there being no majority. Another hung vote!

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I’m really unsure as to how I think it will go as well. On one hand, I really fancy the break to get a big lead over the first two climbs and that be that. Yet, I have a nagging suspicion that we could see a GC battle as people attempt to put Froome under pressure.

Right…

We’ll see a strong break go with representatives from a lot of teams up there but Sky will outfox them all by letting the break get too far ahead so that having team-mates up the road will become redundant.

Therefore, we’ll see the break fight out for the stage.

(Maybe).

B is for Breakaway and…

Bakelants.

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A rider who as impressed me in the past few Grand Tours that he has been in, the Belgian has been active so far this race, making the breakaway on a few occasions. AG2R will want men up the road for both the team classification but also for the possibility to help Bardet later but if his advantage is too big then Bakelants might be given the nod to go for the win. He’s the right mix of strong climber but far enough back on GC not to be a real threat. Compared to some of the purest climbers he might struggle, but in the final week of a Grand Tour you always get some shock results.

Buchmann.

0161 Manny on the map? Well, the German has been a bit off the radar so far this race after his very impressive display at the Dauphiné. An attacking rider, I’m surprised not to have seen him in more breakaways. Instead, he seems to have tried to follow the GC guys as long as possible before fading away. On his day though, I think he could contend for a stage and no doubt Bora will be looking to infiltrate any move, with Buchmann being their best hope for a result.

Of course there are plenty of other riders who could feature tomorrow, depending on what type of stage we get.

Barguil will no doubt be attacking off the front chasing mountain points and securing that title, along with another stage win.

I also have a feeling that Contador might try something but he’ll struggle to win the day as the finish isn’t great for him. He would have to drop everyone on the final climb, which is certainly possible if he has re-found his climbing legs from somewhere.

There then is of course the chance that the GC teams do actually close things down and we get a showdown between the favourites on the Galibier.

Prediction

I’ll go for Buchmann to take the win from the break, sprinting from a small selection that regrouped on the descent.

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Betting

0.25pt EW on both of the selections;

Bakelants @ 250/1

Buchmann @ 125/1

Tomorrow is definitely a day for in-play though once the race situation has settled, hence why I’ve only spread 1pt across a couple of longshots.

 

Thanks as always for reading. Who do you think will win tomorrow? Will it be the break, or will the GC riders come out to play? Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

 

 

 

 

Tour de France 2017 Stage 9 Preview; Nantua -> Chambéry

Today’s Recap

A crazy stage and I only saw the last 40km!

We had a big group (of 50 riders) finally escape after a lot of racing but it was eventually whittled down to 8 after the penultimate climb.

On the last climb of the day Calmejane launched a very strong attack that managed to see him hold on for the rest of the stage, despite getting cramp in the final few kilometres.

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Doing his YMCA impression

Gesink tried to follow the Frenchman on the climb but didn’t manage it. However, he was able to hold on ahead of the GC group, finishing 2nd on the day. A very impressive sprint from Guillaume Martin saw him pick up 3rd, with all of the GC riders coming home safely.

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

The Route

Arguably the toughest stage of the whole Tour.

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The day starts on a climb which is not good news for those struggling today! Split into two separate climbs, it really is just one long slog at 11km in length and averaging 5%. The steeper sections could see some more sprightly climbers get a gap on the bunch and I expect several riders to be dropped from the gun.

Once over the summit, the road continues to rise ever so slightly for 6kms before plunging down the other side. A short Cat-3 climb breaks up the descent, but again, the road continues to climb after that.

At 50km gone the road slowly rises again but it’s at 56.5km that the start of the first HC climb of the Tour begins. The Col de la Biche is a taster for what’s to come with its average gradient of 9% for 10.5km. A brute of a climb, I imagine the riders might give it too much respect and we could see a slow pace given what they have to face afterwards…

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The Grand Colombier is shorter than Biche, but averages almost 1% more, coming in at 9.9% for 8.5km. That even includes a kilometre at 3.4%! We could see a few of the GC riders in difficulty here if they are on an off day. With there being 50km from the summit to the start of the next climb, it will be interesting to see if we get any attacks from the overall favourites.

What a climb it is as well; the Mont du Chat is arguably one of the hardest in France.

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It ripped the peloton to shreds at the Dauphiné and that was after an easier stage than what we have tomorrow. With some accumulated fatigue from today’s racing there is a good chance we’ll get some reasonably large time gaps between the GC favourites.

The riders will face a very treacherous descent and 13km of flat until the finish line in Chambéry. Will this put off some of the GC riders from attacking?

Weather Watch

After having some glorious weather conditions over the past few days there is a chance things might turn sour tomorrow.

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Source: Wunderground

The above forecast is for Culoz which comes in the long stretch of flat road between the Colombier and Chat. A nagging head-wind will make the stage feel even longer tomorrow and could certainly hinder a breakaway or any GC rider that tries to attack from far out. Furthermore, with a good chance of rain/thunderstorms at some point, the technical descent off of Mont du Chat will be made even more treacherous.

How will the stage pan out?

The tactics of tomorrow’s stage are what I would call “fluid” as whatever I write here could be completely out of the window after 10km and the race situation will constantly change throughout the day.

One thing is for certain and that is that we will see a big fight to get into the breakaway. We’ll have a mix of stage hunters who will hope that they can hold on all the way to the finish and team-mates of GC riders sent up the road to help later on.

Will we get someone deemed too dangerous for the overall make the morning move and throw a spanner in the works and ruin the party for the break?

I’m really torn as to how the stage will play out. The first part of the stage is great to rip things up, but the 50km from Colombier to Chat is a real killer for any GC rider looking to go early. Furthermore, the longer flat section after the Chat isn’t great for any solo GC rider looking to put time into a group behind. Unless of course they happen to be a great TT rider!

The headwind also isn’t great for that as any team-mate coming back to do some work will drain their resources quicker. Although the headwind isn’t ideal for a break, if the GC riders are all together behind then it becomes almost irrelevant.

It will either be on full gas for the overall contenders from the start, or it will stall until later on in the day. With the possibility of rain in the stage and knowing just how tough the Mont du Chat is, I think it will be the latter.

Therefore, I think we will see a race on two fronts with the break fighting out for stage glory and GC guys going crazy a few minutes behind them. Time to play that game again…

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Break Candidates

A mixture of luck and good legs will see the riders make the break tomorrow. It will also depend on where it goes that as to who will be up there but they will certainly have to be a good climber to do so. I’ll throw a few names into the hat as to who could be there;

Robert Kiserlovski.

A rider who probably still wishes it was 2014, he has never really matched that season since. However, there were signs at the Giro that he was in some good form. In particular on stage 18 he did a shed load of work for Zakarin. A proper outsider, if he finds his legs then he can climb with the best. Or he could just hope that somehow a group of rouleurs makes it away!

Primoz Roglic. 

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The rider I cursed as my outside shot at a top 10 and first stage victory has had some terrible luck so far. Crashing on the opening day and taking a further two tumbles yesterday, he took today’s stage relatively “easy”. His meteoric rise this year certainly hasn’t gone un-noticed within the peloton and he’ll certainly be feared if he makes the move. Possibly still not the strongest climber on the really steep stuff compared to the current GC guys, he only has to beat his breakaway companions. One thing is for certain, he will make 30 seconds on every descent!

Steve Cummings.

 

Having won a stage at the past two Tour’s you wouldn’t bet against him winning another this year. Often the guardian at the back of the peloton, just rolling along, he normally picks one or two stages and targets them. Having shown some very impressive form recently after returning from injury, winning the UK National Championships double, he should have the horsepower to compete tomorrow. The steep gradients might not be ideal for him but he is strong enough to surprise. I didn’t expect to see him gain time on Nibali etc last year on the Aspin!

Tiesj Benoot.

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The young Belgian has come on leaps and bounds this season in regards to his proficiency on the long climbs. Finishing 12th on GC at the recent Dauphiné was a stand-out performance and he’s continued that progression here, beating the likes of Chaves and Kreuziger on 5. He lost a lot of time today but I think that was a deliberate ploy so that he can get more leeway to hunt stages now. It wouldn’t be a bad stage to take your first pro win!

 

Prediction

Anything could happen and nothing that does happen will surprise me!

I think we could see the break stay away after things calm down between the Colombier and the Chat. With an easier day today, I think he’s been eyeing up a big performance tomorrow. Benoot to take his first pro win!

This also means I can share my favourite cycling related instagram video…

View this post on Instagram

Forza Tiesj Benoot! 🎉 @tiesj #ohn

A post shared by Sporza (@sporza.be) on

Betting

Already tweeted out my selections earlier.

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Still available at;

Roglic 125/1 (Unibet)

Cummings 80/1 (Bet365)

Benoot 125/1 (PP)

Kiserlovski 300/1 (Unibet)

 

Thanks as always for reading! Who do you think will win tomorrow’s crazy stage? Will the break hold on or will it be a day for the GC guys?! It should be an open day of racing! 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.

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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.

 

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

GC Overview

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Route

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Positioning will be very important.

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

How will the stage pan out?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Contenders

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

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

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

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

There is one outsider who I would like to mention.

Dan Martin.

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

Prediction

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

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With Dan Martin not too far behind him!

Betting

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

 

Giro d’Italia 2017 Stage 20 Preview; Pordenone -> Asiago

Today’s Recap

So apparently I missed a lot while sleeping this morning after work!

I woke up to see the riders on the final climb and Dumoulin slowly losing contact, but a quick scroll down Twitter also suggested that something else happened earlier in the stage. Either Dumoulin lost time and was gapped on a descent or the others attacked him while he was stopping for a nature break. Reading what the Sunweb director said, I think it was the former.

Up the road, Landa finally took a deserved stage win while simultaneously securing his KOM jersey.

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With Costa and Rolland following him home.

We did get some GC gaps and Quintana moves into Rosa after Dumoulin suffered on the final climb. Pinot has handily moved himself up to within a minute of Quintana and his certainly not out of it either. We should be in for an interesting final two days.

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

The Route

A tough day out but certainly not the hardest that the riders have faced.

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We have almost 100km of flat before we get the start of the climb to Monte Grappa.

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At 24.1km it’s long but only averages 5.3%. However, that doesn’t tell the whole story as the first 8.5km of the climb averages 7.8%, which is certainly difficult enough to shed some riders out the back of the group.

The only issue with that is once we get to the summit of the climb, there is just under 70km to go to the line. With no Contador here, I think it’s unlikely we’ll see any kamikaze GC attacks on Grappa but you never know. I would love it if there was!

The riders will have to tackle a descent that is as long as the climb they’ve just been up, before traversing some valley roads to reach the foot slopes of Foza.

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A more regular climb than Grappa, Foza averages 6.7% for 14km. It is long/steep/close enough to the finish to put some riders into difficulty.

The only issue for some riders is that we have a 15km section of undulating road after the peak, with the last 5km being downhill.

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I’m sure a few riders will be happy to know that the downhill isn’t too technical aside from the last kilometre where it starts to flatten out anyway.

How will the stage pan out?

Another day where we have the conundrum of break or no break?

The first 100km of the stage in theory are easy to control for a team but who will take up the mantle? The onus will obviously be on Movistar to set tempo for the stage but Quintana has looked underwhelming so far this race, although he has managed to get into Pink!

Nibali today didn’t look great either, shipping a couple of seconds on the line. In fact, the two riders who looked the strongest were Pinot and Zakarin, both of whom are very much in podium contention now.

Are any of these teams dedicated/strong enough to set tempo all day to keep the break within touching distance?

I’m not so sure.

I think they’ll see how the race unfolds on the day and if the break is within touching distance over Monte Grappa, they might start pulling. If not, I think it will be another day to play…

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Contenders

The flat start makes it a difficult stage for the climbers to get into the break so we might get a mixed bag.

As I’m losing the will to live in terms of recycling names for this, I’ll come up with a couple of new names;

Diego Rosa.

The Italian was very strong in helping Landa on Stage 18, driving the break for the majority of the first three climbs. With the Spaniard now having a stage win and the KOM secured, Sky will now most likely turn to their other riders and give them a few opportunities. Rosa is strong enough on the flat to make the break, but he is an exceptional enough climber to win from a group as well.

Omar Fraile.

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With a stage win already in the bag, Fraile can go into this stage without any pressure. Brutishly strong on the stage he won, the Spaniard has the engine to join the break on the flat, but also the climbing ability to win. An attacking rider, he certainly won’t give up if he makes the move, taking the approach of finishing last is the same as 2nd.

GC Contenders

I think it will be hard to drop a lot of the GC favourites, but as I said above, Zakarin and Pinot look the strongest just now. In theory, the “flat” final 15km should suit those two and I wouldn’t be surprised to see them attacking over the top of Foza when the lighter climbers are isolated and weak.

If we do get a GC battle, I’ll go for a Zakarin win.

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Prediction

However, I think we’ll once again see a race on two fronts and the break will stay away. Sky will take back to back wins, with Diego Rosa coming out on top.

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Betting

The usual 2pts spread across the break duo as odds on Zakarin won’t change much when they go in-play.

1pt WIN Rosa @ 33/1

1pt WIN Fraile @ 40/1

Thanks for reading as always. Apologies that this is shorter than normal but I’m suffering from preview burnout! Who do you think will win tomorrow? Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

Giro d’Italia 2017 Stage 19 Preview; San Candido -> Piancavallo

Today’s Recap

A hectic stage that was perfectly poised all the way to the finish line. In the end, the breakaway managed to just stay away, with Tejay Van Garderen taking his first ever Grand Tour win, pipping Landa who finished second yet again after being forced to lead-out.

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It was great to see TVG win, and much like Rolland yesterday, it is almost like a redemption ride/performance from them.

Behind, Pinot came home third to claw some time back on his GC rivals and move within touching distance of the podium.

As for Dumoulin, he looked effortless today even giving it a little nudge himself. However, unfortunately for the punting side, he ended up just riding a relatively defensive race in the closing couple of kilometres. I would really have liked to see him go full gas after his attack with about 5km left, but it was not to be!

Quintana and Nibali looked cooked/not strong enough. I noted that it was the first time I’ve seen the Colombian with his jersey unzipped so he must not be feeling 100%. They both just rode to mark Dumoulin in the end and both are now under threat from Pinot/Zakarin.

Dumoulin himself said in a post race interview that he would be happy if they lost their podium slots because of that. Nibali fired back by saying that there is karma and that Dumoulin will pay for what he said on the road.

The Giro is simultaneously hotting up while also cooling down, as I think the Dutchman has it in the bag barring any major misfortune.

Anyway, let’s have a look at what’s in store for the riders tomorrow.

The Route

A long day in the saddle at nearly 191km. However, compared to some of the previous stages, it’s a relatively benign day out for the peloton.

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We start off with a Cat-3 climb. Although, the riders will be climbing from the gun and taking it as a whole the climb is 13.9km at 3.2%, with the categorised segment coming in at 7.9km at 4.3%, but that does include some steeper ramps.

We then have a long descent that is interrupted with the rise for the intermediate sprint point, before the road once again continues downwards to the foot slopes of the second categorised climb of the day.

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A relatively long climb, the average gradients are quite deceptive due to the several sections at less than 5% and there’s even a bit of downhill thrown in. A lot of the actual climb is closer to 7%.

Will we see any movement in the breakaway here? It is certainly too early for any of the GC guys to come out and play.

From the summit, it is another 70km before we start the final climb of the day.

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At 15.4km long and averaging 7.3%, the Piancavallo is a brute of a climb. The steepest sections come in the first 6km so it will be interesting to see if a team really drills it from the bottom. It does start to ease ever so slightly within the final 5km but there are still some steep enough gradients (7%+) to launch an attack.

With the “flat” (1.4km at 1.4%) run in, will we see a solo rider make it to the line or a very reduced and very tired sprint?

How will the stage pan out?

After today, I think a few of the GC favourites will be demoralised, namely Quintana, knowing that Dumoulin will be tough to crack and instead they might change their focus to stage wins.

Nibali might want to get involved in a dick-measuring contest with Dumoulin after the comments that they both made but I think Nibali knows he only has a very slim chance of dropping Dumoulin.

It will take a lot of effort from a team to control the stage all day to set it up for the final climb so once again, I think we’ll see a breakaway rider take the win.

How big will the break be? Well that depends on where it goes and it once again could be another 20+ rider day.

Like normal though, I’ll throw a few names into the hat to watch out for (or not, as they inevitably won’t make the move).

Breakaway Candidates

Anacona – For what I think is the third time in the space of a week, I’ll name the Colombian as a contender for the stage. He’s made the break on at least two of those occasions but has been called back to work for his leader. However, after today’s stage and Quintana underperforming, I think he will FINALLY be given the freedom to actually chase the win. Clearly one of the top 15 climbers in the race at the moment, he has a very good chance if he makes the break.

Carthy – We’ve not seen much of the Brit so far this race, his best finish position being 21st on Etna way back in week one. However, I think that’s probably due to him attempting to save himself for the final week. Cannondale have been very active in the breakaways the past few stages and I would not be surprised to see a few of them up the road again tomorrow.

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Woods – The other Cannondale rider to make my list, he was instrumental in Rolland’s win on stage 17, marking all of the other contenders to help his team-mate grow his advantage. Like Carthy, Woods took it relatively easy today, coming home over half an hour down on eventual stage winner Van Garderen. The punchy Canadian should enjoy the steep ramps of the final climb but does he have the endurance to match?

Rodriguez – Another rider to make his return on this list. I was very impressed with the Wilier rider at the start of the race, but he has been a bit anonymous recently. Fatigue or saving himself? I’ll hope for the later! A talented bike rider, he was 10th at the Tour de l’Avenir last year but seems to have taken a step up this season. Is a big win on the cards?

Prediction

Just as I’ve finished writing this I see that there are rumours circulating on Twitter that Quintana and Nibali will form a pact to try and beat Dumoulin.

Hmmm, I still can’t see that happening/ending well for them and I’m not convinced that both teams will work on the front all day, draining their resources. Especially when you consider that Dumoulin really just needs to follow them and ride defensively.

So with that said, I still think it will be a breakaway win and I’ll go for arguably the strongest Colombian to take the win…

Anacona to take stage glory.

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I mean, I can’t not use that picture of him again!

Behind, we might see some GC fireworks but Dumoulin won’t lose the jersey.

Betting

Small stakes again for interest on the breakers (All 365);

0.7pt WIN Anacona @ 125/1

0.5pt WIN Carthy @ 200/1

0.5pt WIN Woods @ 150/1

0.3pt WIN Rodriguez @ 300/1

Thanks as always for reading. Who do you think will win and how? Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

Giro d’Italia 2017 Stage 18 Preview; Moena -> Ortisei

Today’s Recap

Just like buses…

After waiting almost two years for a World Tour win, Cannondale got their second in one week with Pierre Rolland taking a fine stage victory today!

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He was not only the strongest in the break but also the tactically most astute, attacking the big group at the perfect time. With a disorganised chase behind, the Frenchman had enough time to sit up and properly celebrate his win.

Costa won the “bunch” sprint for second with Izagirre third.

All the GC contenders rode home safely, keeping their powder dry for tomorrow. Let’s tae a look at what’s in store for them.

The Route

A short but very sharp stage!

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At only 137km the riders will be in for a fast day in the saddle, albeit with five categorised climbs to contend with.

The road rises steadily from the gun (14.1km at 1.7%) before the peloton will tackle the first climb of the day. The Passo Pordoi is a fairly steady climb, averaging 6.7% for 11.85 kilometres.

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The same can be said for the following Cat-2 climb of Passo Valparola which averages a shade over 6.4% for almost 13km.

The riders then descend again before tackling the third climb of the day. However, by then a break will have been formed and it’s not difficult enough for the GC riders so I’m just going to gloss over it!

On the long descent that follows, the road does rise back up briefly for the Cat-3 climb and it could cause some issues with a peak gradient of 15%.

However, the stage should come down to the Cat-1 climb of Pontives and the run in to the line that follows it.

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At only 9.3km, it is not the longest climb the peloton will face, but after a stage that is constantly up and down it certainly won’t be easy. Averaging 6.8%, it is the final 3km which could cause some splits as it averages a more stinging 9.3%. This is where we could see some attacks from the GC favourites and those on a bad day might crack and go backwards.

Once over the summit, the riders won’t be at the finish line just yet and will have to contend with another 4km of rising road.

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A tough drag, riders struggling over the KOM could really struggle here as false-flats after a big effort can be a massive challenge. The road pitches up to 13% with 450m to go and any riders looking to avoid a sprint to the line will no doubt attack here.

How will the stage pan out?

With it being such a short day, it will be hard for a breakaway to build up much of a lead. Particularly when considering the way that Bahrain Merida have been riding over the past few stages. They set a fierce pace in the peloton over the first two climbs today and I expect them to do the same tomorrow.

Consequently, it will be another chance for the GC riders to go for stage glory on the day!

Contenders

It’s tough to see past those who were near the pointy end on Stage 16.

Nibali –  Obviously won that stage and is riding himself into form in the final week of a grand tour and in classic week-three Nibali style, he looks like he can follow anyone. On the steepest section of the closing climb, only Quintana was able to stick with the Shark and he will be hoping for something similar on the steep ramps towards the top of Pontives. Will the shark take a second bite out of the GC lead?

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Quintana – Supposedly still not at 100% after his crash, the Colombian looked relatively comfortable following Nibali but lost some time on the descent. He’ll be happy the stage ends with only a little descent! My only issue with him is that the finish isn’t ideal for him with the few kilometres of false flat after the steepest parts of the main climb. He’ll struggle to maintain any gap there.

Zakarin – Will be very glad that the stage ends on the top of a mountain after he lost over 30 seconds on the descent during stage 16. He’s always willing to attack (not always at the correct times morally), so he is sure to give it another go tomorrow.

Pozzovivo – It was nice to see him at the head of the race again but like Quintana, his light frame isn’t ideal for tomorrow’s finish. He’ll no doubt give it a go off the front though if he senses an opportunity.

Landa – Although not a GC candidate as such, the Sky rider was very strong on Stage 16 and it was only his naivety/poor cornering that allowed Nibali to win. Not being a GC threat, he will hope to be given some leeway.

As for the riders in the second group on Stage 16, I like Yates the best for a finish like this.

Prediction

However, I’ll go for none of the above.

Instead, I think current Maglia Rosa Tom Dumoulin will take another stage win.

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His nature break was clearly a freak occurrence because he climbed the Umbrailpass in an almost identical time to his rivals. That’s very impressive considering he rode most of it on his own while others were paced for a lot of the way! Taking tomorrow’s final climb on it’s own, it looks very similar to the finale into Oropa that Dumoulin won. After no one waited for him on Stage 16, I think he won’t be holding anything back and will want to re-stamp his authority on this race.

Betting

I was going to go EW on him, but his price has fallen from 18/1 to 12/1 when I’ve been finishing this off so the EW value has diminished a bit. So I think with that in mind I’ll just go;

2pts WIN Dumoulin @ 12/1 (with Bet365).

 

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

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

Giro d’Italia 2017 Stage 16 Preview; Rovett -> Bormio

Recap

My hopes were raised when I woke up to see Molard in the break, but they were quickly diminished when I saw Orica chasing and the small gap that they had!

Things were eventually brought to heel just as the peloton entered the final 3km and we were treated to a small flurry of attacks from the GC favourites. However, it came down to a very fast sprint and Jungels came out victorious.

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I wonder if he had that massive chain-ring on again?!

Quintana of all people got up for second, with Pinot third.

Let’s have a look at what’s in store for the riders after the final rest day.

The Route

I imagine some riders wish they could have the rest of the week off looking at the profiles and the action all kicks off tomorrow.

Not exactly an easy day for the riders to ease themselves back into racing after the rest day, with 222km ahead of them and three massive mountains that all go above 1800m.

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The riders start with a nice bit of descending before the road gradually rises for the next 60km before they start the climb of the Mortirolo officially.

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12.6km at 7.6% average, the climb will certainly be a leg opener for the peloton. It *probably* comes too early in the stage to be of any real significance for the day, but you just never know! Expect those who are after KOM points to be battling it out here.

Once over the top, the riders will face a 14km descent before they start the approach towards the Stelvio. Again, the road rises for those 30km but the climb officially begins with just over 100km to go.

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21.7km at 7.1%, the passage also acts as the Cima Coppi for the race. A brutally tough and draining climb, the steep pitches in the final few kilometres look great for an attack from the bunch.

A long descent follows before the peloton re-climbs the Stelvio but this time from the Swiss side. The first time this has ever been done in the Giro!

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13.4km at 8.4%, the organisers have cruelly left the toughest climb of the day until the end. With very little respite, a rider on the limit can lose a massive amount of time here if they go too far into the red and pop.

The race then ends with a descent into Bormio.

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Almost as important as the climb, a rider can lose a lot of time here if they aren’t fully switched on because they’re tired from their previous efforts. With how technical the closing few kilometres are, let’s just hope a rider arrives solo or a group of three at most!

Weather Watch

Many of you will have memories of that stage back in 2014 when the Stelvio was covered in snow and Quintana didn’t see that the race was being neutralised…

Thankfully, the weather doesn’t look that bad this year.

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Source: Wunderground

The forecast for Bormio suggests that it will be a relatively pleasant day in the saddle with only a small chance of rain. However, as we know, this can change pretty quickly, especially in the mountains!

With the wind coming from the North, it will be a slight headwind for the traditional passage of the Stelvio, before being a tailwind for the Swiss ascent.

How will the stage pan out?

This is a tough one to predict on the best of days but it is made even more difficult after the rest day. Some riders might come out firing, whereas others might take a few climbs to get going!

It really depends on the composition of the morning break as to the size of an advantage the move can get. There are lots of riders way down on GC who will be given plenty of freedom. Even someone like Rui Costa who is 16 minutes behind in 17th place might get some leeway. However, if a rider such as Ben Hermans infiltrates the move, then a few other teams might start riding defensively to protect their top 10 position.

I imagine teams will be very keen to get riders up the road for later in the day so we could see a large breakaway of 20 guys or so. The issue is the amount of flat at the start of the stage which makes it more difficult for climbers to be there.

Ultimately though, it depends on Movistar’s attitude to the stage. They need to take a few minutes out of Dumoulin and I’m very intrigued to see how they approach that job. No doubt they’ll get someone ahead of the peloton to work for Quintana later, but when will the Colombian attack? Most likely near the top of the Stelvio I think.

Will the gap to the break be too big for the Colombian to win the stage after then, quite possibly and like always, I’m leaning towards that being the case.

What Sunweb need to do in my opinion is completely sit up when the break goes so that it gets a huge advantage of 10mins plus so that it becomes nigh on impossible for Quintana to attack and bridge to his team-mates, or any other GC rider for that matter. Play their contenders at their own game, and just trust Dumoulin to be able to follow his competitors’ wheels.

So once again, I think we’ll see a race on two fronts with the breakaway taking stage honours and a massive GC battle behind.

Breakaway Candidates

There will obviously be riders chasing the KOM jersey who try to get into the move, such as Fraile, Rolland and Landa, but I’m going to take a slightly different approach.

With the GC teams wanting to get riders up the road, we should see a few strong climbers from the big teams represented. If Sunweb are then ballsy enough to not properly chase, then a few of those riders might be given the chance to go for stage honours rather than be told to sit up and help their leader.

Winner Anacona.

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The Colombian seems to be in better form than Amador at the moment and I think would be more of an aid to Quintana than the Costa Rican. However, if the gap is too big for Quintana to bridge, then Anacona could be given the green light to go for the stage. He is in exceptional form at the moment and I think that there won’t be many riders capable of beating him.

Sebastien Reichenbach.

Another left-hand man for a GC contender, the Swiss rider has had a very solid race so far in aid of Pinot, often being one of the last domestiques standing amongst the GC guys. He seems to be slowly finding some form this race, building for a big last week. With the stage crossing into his home country, I’m sure he’d like to put on a show!

Carlos Verona.

The Spaniard has been mostly anonymous so far this Giro, but he showed on the front on the previous stage, doing a lot of work for Yates. He’s another rider who seems to building some form nicely. A very strong climber, he should like tomorrow’s terrain and could well take the day. With Yates not too close to the head of the GC order, I think Orica will be happy to let Verona or Plaza go for the stage with the Brit doing what he can behind.

Joe Dombrowski.

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Third week of a Grand Tour so time to start backing the American again! One of the strongest riders in the peloton going by numbers, he still has to master some racing craft. Nonetheless, if he gets into the break it will be tough for a lot of riders to follow him on the climbs.

GC Contenders

It is hard to see past Quintana for this. Although I am bitterly aware I said that on the finish to Oropa! Nonetheless, when considering the altitude the riders will be over, it really does benefit the Colombian over the likes of Dumoulin.

The Dutchman has been strong so far but this is his acid test. If he comes through the day relatively unscathed, losing roughly a minute, he will be very confident of taking the Giro overall.

As for the other contenders, who knows! Nibali always goes well in the final week and after his bad day on Oropa, you would expect Pinot to hopefully bounce back here on a stage with a lot more climbing that is suited to him. Zakarin is also looking strong and will hope to cement his podium charge.

Prediction

I think the break will build up a big enough gap to take the stage honours, it is a 222km long day after all so the GC teams won’t want to go too crazy early on.

I say hesitantly before we get a full gas stage from the start and half the peloton OTL.

Nonetheless, with a few strong climbers up the road and a couple of GC riders cracking behind, I think we’ll see a good climbing domestique take the win. Reichenbach to take the day after the stage goes through his home country!

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Betting

Small stakes on the breakaway punts as it’s too risky to be backing Quintana for the stage.

0.5pt WIN on them, all with Bet365 as well (although also available with PP/BF);

Reichenbach @ 125/1

Anacona @ 125/1

Dombrowski @ 150/1

Verona @ 250/1

Thanks as always for reading and any feedback is greatly appreciated as normal! Who do you think will win? Will we see a breakaway make it all the way to the line, or will a GC rider take the stage? Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.