Tour Down Under 2018 – Stage 4 Preview; Norwood -> Uraidla

Stage 3 Recap

After a couple of questionable days, it was nice to finally get off the mark and up and running for the season!

A long hot day in the saddle for the riders (even with the shorter distance), we saw the expected bunch sprint into Victor Harbor. For most of the closing kilometre it looked as if Ewan had it in the bag but he seemed to delay his final sprint. I’m not too sure as to why, but he possibly thought it was too far out to go. That opened the door for a charging Viviani who took home a very impressive win. Bauhaus came late as well nabbing second place with Ewan eventually finishing third.

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Ewan still holds onto Ochre but even by his own admission he’ll find it tough hanging on to it after Stage 4. Let’s have a look at what is in store for the riders.

The Route

With the temperatures set to soar again I feared that they would shorten this stage; which would be particularly annoying as this was the day I was looking forward to most! However, the organisers have decided to move the start forward by 1 hour to avoid the worst of the extreme conditions. That means the stage is predicted to finish at 2pm local time, or 3:30 UK, although I have a feeling it might be closer to 4.

So, what have we got to look forward to?

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@LaFlammeRouge

The riders will face a fairly benign start to the day, with a few lumps and bumps out on the course, but this stage is all about the closing 15kms once the peloton reach the town of Rostrevor.

It starts with the 5.5km ascent of Norton Summit Road that averages 5.1% for its duration.

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It is a steady rise with a few ramps of 7%, but it very rarely differs from 4.5% -> 6% so a team can set a good tempo up it if they want to. I will be intrigued to see who takes up the challenge!

Interestingly, De Gendt holds the Strava record from when they rode the climb almost from the gun back in 2016 on Stage 4. That day De Gendt went up it in 11’06, so we could expect a roughly 10 minute time up it on this stage. Maybe. I’m never great at guessing climbing times!

Norton Summit officially crests at the 120.5km mark, or the 6.5km to go mark. However, the climbing doesn’t stop there…

Norton to Uraidla

The riders will enjoy the road flattening out over the summit and have just over 1.5km to gather their breath if they can, before the road kicks up properly on the aptly named Woods Hill Road. It’s a shame a certain Canadian isn’t here!

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It’s a very tough kicker, especially the first 2/3rds as it starts to flatten out near the top. In fact, the opening 800m average 9.9% and in the searing heat that is expected, it will feel like a lot more for some.

Once over the top of Woods Hill, the riders will be offered a little respite with a slight descent but considering the road does roll continually, they won’t be offered much time to gather their thoughts; the final 4km averages -1.25%.

The final place to make a meaningful attack is the section that I’m going to call the “Big Double Dipper”.

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Going with a lot of momentum into the steep downhill will mean a rider will be able to carry their speed out the other side of the dip and catch those behind off guard. Once they get to the second peak the road turns left and from there it is a 1km downhill all the way to the line. A 5 second gap at the Flamme Rouge should see the rider hold off any chase behind.

How will the race pan out?

Pfffft, who knows!

I imagine we’ll see a very conservative day up until Norton Summit. However, that doesn’t mean the finish won’t be explosive though. I think the heat will make Norton harder than it actually is, making it ride more like a 6.5% climb than a 5.1% climb. In theory, that should mean the elimination of the likes of Sagan, but you never really know.

I can’t see anymore than 30 riders being in the first group over the summit of Norton. From there, it really will be hard to keep control.

Woods Hill is steep enough for the stronger climbers to make some gaps if they sprint up the opening 800m but equally, it is short enough that some of the puncheurs will hope to hang on if the pace isn’t mental.

This has the hallmarks to be an incredibly exciting stage, so let’s watch it end up a damp squib…

I’m really not sure what option I favour; late solo attack, late group attack, GC guys attack on Woods Hill and stay away, small sprint. Who knows!

With having Dennis already covered for GC, I’m just going to throw a few darts with the following riders and hope they’re there or thereabouts…

The Three Darter

Rui Costa.

Flying at the start of the season last year, this type of finish looks great for the Portuguese rider. He’s been solid this week so far, but not exceptional. However, I think he must be feeling fairly good as he’s been on the hunt for bonus seconds in the earlier stages so he obviously must have one eye on GC as well. Both he and Ulissi should make it with the main selection and it will then be up to Costa to make an attack to force others to chase while Ulissi sits in for the sprint. He might drag some riders with him, but I’m sure the UAE rider would be confident from a group of 5.

Robert Gesink.

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This is the Jumbo rider’s first race back after his crash at the Tour and he’s quietly going about his business well. Throughout the first few stages he’s been very attentive at the front of the bunch during the sprint finishes, and he sits “second” behind Consonni on GC in the group of riders that have no time bonuses. The TDU seems to be a good race for the Dutchman, with solid finishes here in the past. One of the best climbers in this race on paper, he packs a surprisingly good sprint from a small group. If the race becomes very selective and we see 5-8 of the best climbers come to the line, he definitely has a chance.

Gorka Izagirre.

Another rider who always seems to go well here; he finished 2nd on the tough finish to Paracombe last year before an unfortunate fall the next day. Reunited with his brother again on Bahrain, it will be interesting to see what they can manage along with Pozzovivo. I would expect the three of them to be close to the head of the race and having numbers in the front group certainly is an advantage. Gorka could manage a late solo attack with Ion and Pozzovivo marking behind, otherwise, he packs a solid sprint from a small group.

Prediction

A small group to get away on after Norton Summit and before the kick up Woods Hill Road. From there it fragments leaving Dennis, Costa and McCarthy.

In the end, the more experienced Costa rolls the pair of them as they are too focussed on each other, taking a great win to better his start than last year!

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Maybe.

I really have no idea what will happen, which is probably a good thing!

Betting

No odds for Gesink at the moment which is a shame. He might appear later on, but I’ll go with the two riders just now;

1pt EW Costa @ 20/1

1pt EW Izagirre @ 28/1

Both Bet365.

Actually, to get around the whole Gesink situation I’m going to back him for GC

0.5pt EW Gesink @ 125/1 (FOR GC)

 

Thanks as always for reading! Who do you think will win the stage? Can someone like Sagan hold on, or will it be a lot more decisive GC wise than some people think? Am I completely wrong? Likely. 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 Stage 20 Preview: Benidorm -> Alto de Aitana

Today’s Recap

Wow.

Froome smoked everyone.

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He managed to beat the guy who smoked everyone else, Castroviejo, by 44 seconds. An utterly dominant display. I mean, he only beat him by 4 seconds at Rio on a much longer TT. Plus, all the local advantages that Castroviejo had, it’s just an insanely unbelievable, strong ride!

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Anyway, enough about today, on to tomorrow’s stage.

The Route

Last chance saloon for the GC riders as we reach the penultimate stage of the race. In typical Vuelta, and Grand Tour fashion, the organisers have created a tough-ish day out on the bike. It’s not the Queen stage, but probably the Princess!

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Four Cat-2 climbs followed by an Especial ascent.

With the GC battle now a lot closer after today, we could see all hell break loose on tomorrow’s stage. Sky might try to take it up early on the first climb of the day; Coll de Rates. 13km at 3% and it’s a Cat 2? Well a lot of the elevation gain (230m -> 505m) is made at the start; 5kms at 5.5%. Before a plateau (if you can call it that) then another kick up at the end.

I don’t think the following two climbs will have an impact on the outcome of the day so I’ll miss them out and get onto the penultimate climb. Although even then, the Puerto de Tudons isn’t overly difficult, coming in at 7.1km long, averaging 5.4%. Nothing the GC guys can’t handle.

So it looks as if it’s over to the final climb. The Alto de Aitana.

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Long, but not very steep with only a 5.9% average gradient. There are a few steeper sections within the climb but if anything will create gaps between the GC guys it’s the length of the climb, at 21km. Combine this with the amount of ascending we’ve had at the Vuelta so far and there could be some splits.

How will the stage pan out?

Before today’s reshuffling I had this down as a breakaway day. Like most days have been at the Vuelta and something we see commonly on the last “proper” day of a Grand Tour.

However, Froome’s time gain does throw somewhat of a spanner in the works in regards to a breakaway victory. Some people will suggest that Sky will go all guns blazing tomorrow to try and isolate/weaken Quintana and we’ll have another epic stage on our hands.

Yes, it is feasible, I mean, nothing is impossible but it seems implausible to me. Not that I’m controversial or anything 😉 Let me explain.article-2043608-0E278F2700000578-613_306x423

The only problem with that plan, is that in the mountains Quintana hasn’t been in trouble at all this entire race. He only lost small amounts of time to Froome on Stage 3, but since then he’s been at least on an equal footing with the Brit and has beaten him several times. As I’ve said above, the climbs tomorrow aren’t overly difficult (which actually favours Froome) but Quintana should have no issue following. Unless he cracks majorly. Heck, he can afford to lose a minute, which is an enormous amount of time for these guys.

Isolating Quintana through the use of Froome’s team-mates doesn’t make much sense either. If it’s left as a 1 v 3 then all the Colombian has to do is follow Froome’s wheel. Numerical advantage won’t make a difference. Bet they regret not having Konig up there on GC now!

Finally and most important of all, I think Froome knows that Quintana’s better than him in the mountains just now. He’s tried a couple of times to crack him and has failed. It would be a big loss mentally for next season if he tries again and it doesn’t work. As bad as it is, I think he might be happy with his 2 stage wins and 2nd on GC.

So once again, I think we’re left with a…

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Candidates

There are a lot of guys who’ll be keen to get in the move to showcase themselves but especially because they will fancy their chances on the final climb.

Look to your obvious guys, such as Fraile and Elissonde who both have to make the move to continue the KOM battle. Gesink will probably be there too. However, I’m not suggesting any of them. Coincidentally, the guys I am naming took it “easy” today as well, all finishing outside the top 100, saving their legs… (?)

Joe Dombrowski.

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A regular pick of mine at the Giro earlier in the year, he’s a great climber with a solid engine. One of the most naturally gifted cyclists in the peloton, much like Ryder Hesjedal, he’s someone who seems to get better as a race progresses. Before the Vuelta, Talansky said that Dombrowski would win a stage here. He’s not done so yet, and tomorrow is his only chance. 3rd on the penultimate stage in the Giro, he’ll be hoping for better tomorrow!

Darwin Atapuma.

2nd on that same stage, Atapuma has been very quiet since taking the leader’s jersey earlier in the race. With Sanchez’s unfortunate crash today BMC have lost their top 10 rider and will want to go on the attack. Hermans may be that guy, but Atapuma has a lot more time leeway to play with. An exceptional climber on his day, the final ascent should be a walk in the park for him.

Hugh Carthy.

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The Lancashire lad has had a Vuelta full of learning experiences. He was unfortunate enough to crash and need stitches to his hand earlier on in the race, but he did manage to make it into Froome’s group on that very chaotic Stage 15. This type of stage suits him perfectly (the climbs are consistent) and I hope he’s recovered and makes the break, just to remind everyone what he’s capable of!

Gianluca Brambilla.

The winner of that incredible stage 15, Brambilla has taken it relatively easy since. Rolling home a few minutes down each day, saving some energy. Coming into this race, I thought he was a decent outside shot of a top 10 on GC. However, that is obviously beyond him now, but it highlights the quality of rider that he is. He’ll be able to stick in on the final climb because it’s not so difficult and he could out-sprint anyone to the line.

Prediction

I say Brambilla takes his second stage win!

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Behind, we might see some GC action, but Quintana still wins the Vuelta. All he has to do is stick on Froome’s back-wheel all day and I’m confident he’s capable of that. Even if he does end up losing 20 seconds at most. There might be some more movement within the top 10 itself. The battles for 5th and 7th look exciting!

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Betting

0.45pt WIN Brambilla @ 22/1

0.25pt WIN Dombrowski @ 80/1

0.15pt WIN Atapuma @ 50/1

0.15pt WIN Carthy @ 125/1

All of these are with B365 as they’re the only bookie to price up by half 8. Hopefully others will be more favourable later!

Hope you all enjoyed the preview. How do you think the penultimate stage will go? Am I completely wrong, and will we see a massive GC fight throughout the stage? Does the break have any chance? Like always, any feedback is greatly appreciated. Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

Vuelta Stage 3 Preview: Marín -> Dumbria (Mirador de Ízaro)

Today’s Recap

Well, that was as chaotic as expected!

Experience shone through with veteran Gianni Meersman holding on to take the win after his Etixx team delivered him perfectly in the final kilometre. With it being a headwind finish, they timed the lead out so that Meersman did the shortest sprint possible. Furthermore, taking the quickest line around the last bend also helped. They had their tactics spot on. A great win for him and the team!

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Magnus Cort Nielsen came from miles back it seemed and got up for third. So still a profitable day for the blog at least! Stage favourite Arndt was nowhere to be seen but on a re-watch of the closing kilometres it looked like two riders got held up by Lagutin’s crash, so that could have been Arndt. Would make sense because he finished alongside lead-out man De Koert.

Anyway, moving on to tomorrow’s stage…

The Route

This is the type of stage that typifies the Vuelta. Not overly long and back ended with some steep climbs. I love it!

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We should all be very familiar with the Vuelta and their famous “Cat-3” climbs by now. They are brutal! Especially the short ones.

Tomorrow’s finish was used in the 2012 Vuelta, with Joaquim Rodriguez winning that day. As you can see in the video below, it is a real grind.

More about the final climb later…

Before they reach the finish they have a tough 70km to traverse, featuring over 1500m of elevation. The organisers have been kind and are easing the riders into the race… 😉

Just to get a better idea of the final 78km, I’ve made a Strava profile of it that you can view here. I promise I’m not sponsored by them, I just like the interactivity that the website allows!

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Strava profile of the last 78km

The first Cat 3 is 9km long, averaging 5%. However, the final kilometre is the toughest part with sections over 9%. This will sap some of the legs, but it is too far out for any real moves to be made.

However, the penultimate climb of Paxereiras is very interestingly positioned. This is a proper climb, 8km at 6.7%. But that doesn’t tell the whole story. The first 5.5km are a lot more demanding, average roughly 8.3%, with sections above 11%. Due to the climb being around 20km to the finish line, there is a chance we could see some satellite riders being sent up the road here so that their teams don’t have to chase.

Back to the final climb, sorry, I mean wall! It’s just ridiculous, 1.7km long at an average of 13.7%. There are even sections in it that top 30%!

You have to be a light and explosive climber to win here.

How will the stage pan out? Team Tactics?

As I’ve alluded to above, the penultimate climb may be used as a springboard for teams to send riders up the road and try to hold on for the win, but I think this is a relatively unlikely outcome. It’s still possible, but I favour this coming down to a battle on that brutal final climb.

Now, as we saw on the first summit finish at the Vuelta last year the “big” riders often mark each other which paves the way for a “second-tier” rider to take the win. Having a strong team in this situation is crucial.

Before he was pulled out, I had Landa penciled in for this stage. The situation would be that he would attack off the front and Froome would mark the attacks behind. Obviously he’s not here now but I expect something similar to happen, so let’s look at the teams and riders who could be allowed to get away.

Movistar – Quintana and Valverde are leaders/too high-profile, Moreno or Fernandez may be their options. I’d favour Moreno as he goes better on the steep stuff.

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Tinkoff – Contador will be watched. Kiserlovski could get away, but he hasn’t been great for a while. Only chance of them winning is Alberto blowing everyone away, which is certainly possible!

Sky – Froome will again be marked. Over to Konig or Kwiatkowski, both good candidates if they’re on form. Might be too steep for them though.

BMC- A team with a few options. Atapuma or Sanchez best plan as it’s too steep for TVG. One massive longshot to keep an eye on is Hermans, who seems to be climbing very well as of late. I think it’s too tough for Gilbert.

Jumbo – Gesink was 4th here in 2012, but has been off the boil since then, although could surprise! Kruijswijk not fit enough yet.

Orica – Chaves won because of this situation last year so he’ll be closely watched this time round. Instead, I think Yates has a real chance here.

Astana – They don’t really have a big name guy, but this climb suits Superman Lopez perfectly. The bunch can’t give him too much room!

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Etixx – Another team without a first-division GC rider, but Brambilla is capable of going well here.

I don’t think any other riders will figure at the pointy end of the race, but I would love for a Caja Rural rider to be up there. They have a good list of punchy climbers, I’m not entirely sure who the finish suits best. Possibly Goncalves (#GoOnCalves) or Bilbao.

Prediction

Like last year, I think we’ll see three “lesser” riders escape the main group. My selections for that situation would be Lopez, Yates & Brambilla, and they’ll make up the podium tomorrow! Now it’s just choosing the winner.

Lopez is a bit of an unknown and how far he can go, but he does have bags of talent. The steep gradients should suit his diminutive figure, but I think youthful exuberance might get the best of him.

Brambilla is probably the weakest of the three, but has been in great form. Plus, as was shown at the Giro, he’s not afraid to attack from distance. But I think this climb is on the limit for him.

Therefore, I think it will be Yates who goes on to win! He rode very well in the TTT and is evidently going well. He’s quietly gone about his business since his return with; a win in Spain; another podium; 7th at San Sebastian; and 4th on GC at Burgos. A rider who goes well in Spain, he is able to cope with the steep stuff.

Taking advantage of the rest of the GC guys marking each other, he’ll be able to repeat Chaves’ success from last year and in the process take the leader’s jersey!

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Betting

Annoyingly, it seems the trader at Bet365 has had a similar line of thought…

0.65pt EW Yates @12/1 (Bet365)

0.2pt EW Lopez @16/1 (Bet365) 22/1 with PaddyPower

0.15pt EW Brambilla @33/1 (Bet365) 50/1 with PaddyPower

Like usual, hunt around once more bookmakers have priced up later and there is a chance that you can get better odds. I’ll update the post/my twitter if I spot anything, I just want to get the preview published!

Hope you enjoyed the read, how do you think it will play out tomorrow? Will we get the 2nd tiered riders up the road, or will the big GC boys come out to play? As usual, any advice/feedback is greatly appreciated! Thanks for reading. Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.