Tour de France 2018 Stage 5 Preview: Lorient -> Quimper

Today’s Recap

It finished in a bunch sprint, just, after the break of the day were caught just under 2kms to go. The frantic chase to catch them combined with the wide open road saw some riders go down as people tried to move up, with Zakarin being the main GC loser, shipping a shade under a minute.

The sprint was really messy but it was Gaviria who came out on top again thanks to some great work from Richeze, with Sagan and Greipel rounding out the podium.

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Will the fast Colombian be a feature tomorrow? Let’s have a look at what is in store for the riders.

The Route

A day where a lot of things could potentially happen, it looks as if the route has taken inspiration from the Tour du Finistère but has made the parcours a lot more difficult. There are no massive climbs or anything overly challenging gradient wise, but the constant up and down on narrow roads might make things nervous.

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As you can see on the profile, the final 50km of the day are very undulating and include two Cat-3 climbs along with many small uncategorised rises. Potential places for a counter attack depending on the race situation? Interestingly, the time bonus sprint comes at the top of a hill, the Côte de la chappelle de la Lorette which itself averages a very punchy 9.1% for 700m.

I’ve made a Veloviewer profile of the final 15km that you can view here.

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The first rise on the road is the Bonus sprint point and it features ramps of almost 15% on narrow roads. I’m intrigued to see if any of the GC contenders will try to push on and take a few seconds. Will it be worth the effort or will they even get the freedom to do so?

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A small descent and another short ramp follow before several kilometres of flat and descent. After that we then reach the second and easier climb in the final 15km.

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At only 4.7% for close to 1.3km it shouldn’t cause too many issues but it will depend on how splintered the peloton is as to how easy it is to control. The wider road should help in that respect.

The fighting for position will be very intense once we are into the final 2kms as the riders will want to be near the front for when they turn off the two-lane main road onto a narrower one-track street.

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470m at 8.2% sees the riders into the last 400m where the road itself constantly rises and falls ever so slightly as they twist and turn towards the finish line.

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The last corner comes at roughly 200m to go and given its quite sharp nature and road furniture on exit, I don’t think the organisers expect a big group to be coming to the line together. Being in second or third wheel at that point gives you a great chance for the win.

The final kilometre is the exact same as in the Tour de Finistère so you can have a look on the video above to get an idea of what it is like.

How will the stage pan out?

One of those days where a lot of things can happen.

We could see the break go early and stay away to the line if there is no one of real danger for the overall in it, or if BMC are happy enough to let the jersey slip. Although with the team in difficulty for next year then I don’t think that will be the case.

Dependent on how tough the day is race we might actually have some small GC time gaps at the end of the day if people are caught behind splits on the run in, similar to what we had in the Giro stage that Wellens won, albeit that was a much tougher final climb. We might even see some GC attacks if someone is feeling lively: Yates and Valverde could be two protagonists as they are the type to go for it on this finish. The bonus seconds might turn out handy at the end of the race.

Which brings me nicely to the time bonus sprint at the top of the steep 700m hill. Will we see the aforementioned GC guys go for it there? If they do then the race will be incredibly stretched out and difficult to control with only 12km to go once they pass through the point. A small escape group might form there and make it to the line.

If not, it will come down to a gallop up the finish hill with some no doubt trying to string it out on the steeper opening part, hoping to put the faster riders into difficulty. In theory, the likes of Colbrelli, Matthews and Sagan should be able to fight for the victory with the latter starting as the big favourite for the day. However, if the pace has been high on the earlier climbs it might take the sting out of their sprints. Likewise, if we see a massive attack on the final ascent it could be difficult for them. I wouldn’t put it past Sagan being that guy to attack though!

I could name countless riders and the different situations in which they *might* win but I’m going to keep it simple and just go with two. So in the words of Ciara…

One-Two Step

Julian Alaphilippe and Philippe Gilbert.

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There’s no point even separating the two of them here because they are both a very similar type of rider for this finish. Both of them are incredibly explosive and pack a punchy effort in the sprint just after a climb. After their success in two of the four stages so far I think Quick Step will want to continue their dominance at the race tomorrow by trying to take the yellow jersey, again. There is a possibility that they might save their efforts for the Mur de Bretagne on Thursday but this is Quick Step we are talking about: they only know how to win! It will be interesting to see how they approach the finale and if one of them attacks early. I think we might see Gilbert used as an early attacker on the time bonus climb, with Alaphilippe waiting to go all out at the finish. Or the other way round, who knows!

Prediction

Gilbert to be rewarded for his season so far where he has been a super team-mate for others by taking the win and spending another day in the yellow jersey.

TOUR DE FRANCE - STAGE ONE

Betting

Tweeted out my picks when the market went live and prices have shortened a little but would still take what they are at now.

1pt WIN Gilbert @ 20/1 (now 18/1)

1pt WIN Alaphilippe @ 20/1 (now 16/1)

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

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

 

BinckBank Tour 2017 Stage 6 Preview; Riemst -> Houffalize

Today’s Recap

An eventful day, although not as eventful as I thought it might be!

In the end though, we had an elite group of riders escape towards the end of the stage. Some missed out originally (Keukeleire / GVA / Gilbert / Greipel) but managed to bridge across not long after.

However, there was no real co-operation in the group with around 6kms to go, resulting in a flurry of attacks.

Vanmarcke tried his luck with 1.5km to go or so but it wasn’t the best timed move. Not long after his acceleration he had to slow down for a sharp, technical turn. This gave Sagan, arguably the best bike handler in the peloton, a relatively easy chance to close him down.

Almost instantly though, Boom counter attacked and that was that. Sagan, who by this point was fed up with doing the donkey work, just sat up to let others chase. Wellens came to the front but it was too late. Boom took not only the stage win but also the GC lead as well!

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Sagan sprinted to second with Van Avermaet taking some bonus seconds in third.

It leaves the GC race still relatively wide open with the top 10 only separated by 36 seconds. Let’s have a look at what’s in store for them tomorrow.

The Route

Another rolling day in the saddle but in Liege-Bastogne-Liege country this time.

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@LasterketaBurua

At 204km, it is the longest stage of the race and it will certainly tire the riders out. The climbing today was a lot more frequent but less severe, whereas tomorrow the gradients of some of the climbs are a lot steeper, or the climbs themselves are longer.

Tomorrow does feature the longest climb of the race; aptly named Mont Rigi. However, it is more than likely too far out to be of any major significance but I live in hope we see a crazy day of racing with early attacks.

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There is a chance of rain throughout the day but whether it materialises or not is a different matter. If the heavens do open though, it could make the stage more selective.

Like I’ve mentioned above, we could see some early moves from some strong GC contenders which would be great. However, the most likely place for the first blow to be landed is the Mur de Saint Roch. Averaging 9.7% for 1.3km it is certainly long and steep enough to cause some issues for the riders.

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According to Cols Cyclisme the climb itself is actually 1.1km and averages 11.5% with a max gradient of 18%. Either way, it is steep!

As you can see in the image above, the steepest sections come right near the start which will seriously knock any speed out of the bunch and consequently make it even tougher. It acts as a great launchpad for the stronger climbers to launch a move to distance the rouleurs.

Once over the summit there is roughly 30km of racing left and it should be full gas to the finish!

The road rolls for the next 20km, featuring three climbs of note and the Golden Kilometre.

The placement of the Golden Km follows a similar pattern to today’s stage, with it just startting after the summit of the Rue Bois de Moines; a 1.2km climb at 7.2%. With the GC being decided by seconds, I’d be very surprised not to see some of the overall candidates go for the bonuses.

The following two climbs aren’t too tough, they’re more similar as to what we had today. However, after a hard days racing, they could be the perfect launchpad for a late attack.

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As for the finish, it is not overly technical, but the hairpin turn they do at roughly 350m out is quite tight.

Furthermore, that last 350m is uphill at an average of 5.7% according to the data on Strava. It should be an exciting finish!

How will the race pan out?

Beats me!

I think we’ll see something similar to what happened today, but it will be selective earlier. The big moment is the climb of Rue Saint Roch and the following few kilometres. If a strong group forms there and they work well together, that could be them away for the day.

There is a chance though that we might see a regrouping in which case another counter-attack will go.

Again though, the race all depends on Sagan.

Everyone seems scared to tow him to the line but on an uphill finish like this, some will fancy their chances. If a group of 5 gets away that involves the World Champion then I think they’ll work together and wait until later into the stage to play games, if at all. However, if we have a group similar in size to today’s stage, then the Slovak will be left with the brunt of the work. Ultimately, he’ll then allow a rider up the road once he gets fed up with their lack of co-operation.

So with that being said, I won’t name an extensive list of favourites, just two riders to cover the above situations.

MyTwoPicksWorth™

Gilbert.

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Unbelievable in the Spring, the Quick Step rider really has had a season to remember and arguably one of his best to date. However, he has gone off the boil a bit really. Well, a stage win in Suisse was his most recent win back in June. Truly appalling by his standards…After having to pull out of the Tour due to illness, he then DNF’d at San Sebastian. I think he is over that illness now though and should be a force to be reckoned with tomorrow. Missing the initial move of big favourites today wasn’t great, but the way he came across with some others indicates that the form is there. I reckon it was just some bad positioning that cost him initially. He’ll love the look of the rise to the finish and is one of the riders who I think will happily ride with Sagan until the sprint. Can he win it? If he’s back to near his spring form then certainly!

Wellens.

The strongest rider of the day in my opinion. He was the first GC rider to launch an attack and looked ever so impressive while doing it. Strong on the flat run in that followed; he covered a few of the moves (closing down a very strong Sagan) and put a probing dig in himself. Not afraid to attack and clearly in good form, I think he’ll try to go solo from around 10km out, if he’s not already tried that earlier! A former winner of this race overall, the predicted bad weather is ideal for him. He loves a bit of rain!

Prediction

I’ll go for a solo winner and Wellens to take the spoils in the rain.

Montreal Grand Prix, 2015

Betting

1pt WIN Wellens @ 9/2

1pt WIN Gilbert @ 9/1

2pts Gilbert to beat Sagan at 5/2

 

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

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

 

 

 

 

Clásica Ciclista San Sebastian 2017 Preview

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

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

Cycling: 36th Clasica San Sebastian 2016

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

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

Will we see something similar this year?

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

The Route

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

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@LasterketaBurua

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

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

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

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

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The profile of which you can view here.

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

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

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

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

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

Tour Legs?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Contenders

Mollema.

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

Gallopin.

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

Kwiatkowski.

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

Landa.

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

Uran.

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

Barguil.

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

Van Avermaet.

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

Yates.

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

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

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

Prediction

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

I have two in mind, either Barguil or Uran.

Hmmmm.

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

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Betting

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

1pt EW on them both;

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

Barguil @ 20/1 with Ladbrokes/Coral

 

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

They were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

 

 

 

Tour de France 2017 Stage 12 Preview; Pau -> Peyragudes

Today’s Recap

Zzzzzzzzzz.

I’m all for having sprints in the Tour as every rider needs some type of terrain to showcase their talents, but I’m definitely glad we don’t have another one tomorrow.

With regards to what the other sprint teams were doing today, I’m not angry, I’m just disappointed. No guts or courage to try something different. Instead Katusha and Lotto Soudal were happy to help pull all day and they were duly rewarded with 12th and 7th place finishes respectively.

Of course Kittel won again, he’s just too good at this moment!

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Groenewegen finished fast to come home second, with Boasson Hagen rewarding his strong lead-out with a third place. A good day in one sense as I tweeted out to back EBH in-play as I thought the technical run in might suit his team and it did, but I would loved to have seen something more gutsy from the sprint teams.

A big “fair-play” though must go to Bodnar who held off the bunch for oh so long, only to be caught within sight of the finish line.

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

The Route

After three rest-days, we finally have a stage that might entice some action.

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A long day out in the saddle, the riders will have to contend with some rolling roads for the first 55km of the day before they hit the first categorised climb. However, it won’t really be until after 120km that things get serious. The Col de Menté averages a very steep 8.1% for 6.9km. This is where we could see some of the GC teams come to the fore, maybe hoping to apply some early pressure but I think that’s unlikely. Instead, it is more likely to be where the break splits up, especially if we have a larger group.

Once over the summit the riders will tackle 10km of descent, along with 10km of valley roads before the road starts rising again up the Port de Balès. Officially 11.7km at 7.7%, the riders will actually be climbing for ~20km at 5.7%.

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Considering the riders descend almost all the way from the summit, there are only a few flat sections, to the foot slopes of the Col de Peyreseurde, it will be interesting to see if any riders attack early.

The Peyreseurde itself is shorter than Balès and is a lot more consistent, making it more suited for riders who are able to get themselves into a steady pace. Will we see some attacks? I sure hope so and I think we will, it’s just a case of when?!

The descent from the Peyreseurde is very straight forward, I’m sure the riders will be glad to know that, and they’ll hope to carry as much speed as possible into the tough final 3kms. A final kilometre at 13% is a brutal way to end the stage and with all the climbing that comes before riders can blow up massively here and lose a lot of time.

How will the stage pan out?

A classic 50/50 stage where the breakaway could stay away, but there is also a chance that the GC teams control it for the final few climbs and hope to get some bonus seconds.

There are faults with both plans though.

Firstly for the break, it will no doubt be a massive fight to get into the move and I wouldn’t be surprised if we only see the elastic snap after an hour of racing. The issue that lies here is that it will more than likely be strong rouleurs who make the move, with the flatter start being difficult for climbers to get in. No doubt there will be a few who sneak their way into it but it will certainly be tough. The steep gradients of the climbs make it hard for a rouleur to win so in a cruel twist of fate, while the break might be easier for them to make it into, it will be harder for them to win!

There are obviously riders in the peloton who can do both and they’ll be eyeing up this stage.

As for the GC riders going for stage victory; it depends on Sky’s attitude. If they are in their usual controlling mood then there is a good chance we’ll see a GC winner. Froome looks strong just now and is growing into the race but will he feel ready enough to attack the stage? I’m not sure. It is an easy day for Sky to control if they want to, with the tough climbs coming in the second half of the stage.

The crashes of Bardet and Fuglsang today might have a negative impact on the GC riders willingness to go for the win.

Furthermore, with a crazy stage coming the following day, I think we’ll see the break take it tomorrow. So time to play everyone’s favourite game again…

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Candidates

Names in hat time, so I’ll highlight a few possible contenders like always.

Andrew Talansky.

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One of those riders who might not be allowed away if he is to protect team-leader Uran, but on the other hand he could be sent up the road to help later on. If the break gets a big lead then Talansky is a strong enough climber to take the win.

Diego Ulissi.

The UAE rider has been very quiet so far this race, maybe saving his energy to attack on a stage? The steep gradients tomorrow should suit the punchy Italian and he is in relatively good form, finishing 2nd at the recent Italian National Championships. Although the length of the climbs might be tough, but he has went well in hard stages at the Giro in the past. Meintjes has struggled a bit on GC so far, and I think UAE will allow Ulissi to go on the offensive tomorrow, will he take his chance?

Fabio Felline.

Another rider who hasn’t been able to take his own chances so far due to having to help team-leader Contador. Yet, the Spaniard hasn’t been great this Tour (as was almost expected) and I think we’ll see Trek adopt an aggressive approach to the rest of the race. Felline isn’t known for his mountain climbing, but like Ulissi he is good on the punchy stuff. He’s a strong rider who’s having a great season and a good result tomorrow would take that even further.

Philippe Gilbert.

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Talking about riders who’ve had great seasons…Gilbert has had an incredible 2017 so far and he is surely targeting a Tour stage win at some point. He was active in the break on Planche des Belles Filles and was actually the last man standing, putting in a very impressive display of climbing. Tomorrow is a whole different ballgame but he is certainly not a rider to be discounted. Like many others, it all depends if he’s given the freedom and doesn’t have to work for his team leader. He did a lot of work today pulling at the front of the bunch, stretching his legs for a good hit-out tomorrow! Or that’s what I’m making of it anyway. 😜 A wild card given the climbing talent here but you never know.

Prediction

Break stays away by around a minute and Diego Ulissi takes a memorable victory.

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Betting

0.4pt EW Ulissi @ 100/1 (Boyles – 4 places)

0.25pt EW Talansky @ 150/1 (Ladbrokes/Coral/PP/Betfair)

0.25pt EW Felline @ 150/1 (Boyles – 4 places)

0.1pt EW Gilbert @ 300/1 (PP/BF)

 

Thanks as always for reading and any feedback is greatly appreciated. Who do you think will win tomorrow? Will the break survive all the way or will we see a GC battle for the stage win? I’m just hoping for a good day’s racing! Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tour de France 2017 Stage 3 Preview; Verviers -> Longwy

Today’s Recap

I’ll be honest, I only caught the last 5km of the stage today. There was a crash earlier in the day involving Froome, Porte and Bardet but given early reports I don’t think it’s too serious for any of them.

We did end up with a sprint, no echelon action unfortunately, and it was a very messy sprint at that. No team was able to take control in the final kilometre and a few of the fast men were left on the front too early.

In the end, Kittel produced an incredible sprint to win comfortably. Well, as comfortable as you can be in a sprint like that! He was in the wind from about 400m to go then latched onto Colbrelli when the Italian launched, coming round him in the final 150m.

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Démare and Greipel rounded out the podium, with Cavendish finishing a promising 4th. Hopefully we’ll see more of him over the coming week.

The result sees Kittel move up to third place on GC. Will he be fighting for stage honours tomorrow and a stint in the yellow jersey? Let’s have a look at what’s in store for the riders.

The Route

Another long day in the saddle at 212km, the terrain is definitely more rolling than today’s stage.

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There are 4 categorised KOM points out on course (a 5th if you include the finish) so no doubt we’ll see Phinney try to get into the morning break and defend his lead in that competition. However, it’s not just the categorised climbs that will sap the legs of the riders, there are several uncategorised bumps for them to deal with as well.

It all depends on the pace of the peloton but it could be a more wearing day than expected.

We might see a couple of riders try an attack within the final 10km if the break is brought back but more than likely it will come down to a battle up the final climb.

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At first look at the official profile I thought some of the tougher sprinters would have a good chance on a finish like this as they would carry a lot of speed into the climb due to the descent that ends with roughly 4km to go.

However, there actually appears to be a small rise just after the descent that we don’t see on the official profile.

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Link to the Strava profile can be found here.

Not long at 500m, it does average ~6.8% and it could be another springboard for someone to try to catch the peloton out.

Furthermore, the road seems to rise almost from the 4km mark on the above graphic to the finish line. Using the numbers from that, the final 2.4km average 5% which definitely makes it too tough for some sprinters!

It reminds me of the finish to Terme Luigiane (Stage 6) at the Giro this year, although that day is inverted to this one with the tougher gradients coming right at the end, whereas the steeper slopes come at the bottom tomorrow.

The difference from that day is that the run in at the Giro had a few slightly harder climbs, but fewer of them. You would also expect the riders to be a lot fresher here as those at the Giro had already climbed Etna two days before.

How will the stage pan out?

This is a really tough one to call.

Originally, I had this down as a nailed on Sagan stage like I’m sure a lot of people did/still have! However, since looking at the finish more I think it could be on the limit of the World Champion. No doubt he will be there or thereabouts but on a finish like this, Matthews looks like a better contender to me. The Australian is a better climber than him, although slower in a sprint, but this is nullified due to the uphill nature of the finish.

We could of course see someone attack early and try to catch the bunch out, looking at you Wellens, but it will be tough for any move like that to succeed.

The more I think about it though, the more I liken this finish to Amstel Gold Race of old where the day ended right at the top of the Cauberg.

Therefore, I’m leaning more towards puncheurs for the stage. In fact, I think with all of the climbing in the day beforehand, we might even see some GC riders put their nose into the wind.

Contenders

As there are a lot of possible riders who could win tomorrow I’m only going to name a few, so apologies if I miss someone out you were hoping for.

The King of the Cauberg, Gilbert is here and I imagine he will be given free rein tomorrow to chase the stage. In remarkable form this Spring, he returned to racing towards the end of May and looked as strong as he did before his enforced break. I’ll be very surprised not to see him feature in the top 10 tomorrow!

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Van Avermaet also has to be considered a favourite for tomorrow and is another rider who had a spectacular spring campaign. The climb could be on his limit but I think his one-day prowess should see him there or thereabouts.

Away from those two though, I think we could see a few “surprise” names in the mix. I really think it will be quite a selective day so here goes my trio of “outsiders”…

Carlos Betancur.

The Colombian tore the race to bits at the recent Hammer Series and rode a very solid Tour de Suisse, coming home in the top 20 on GC. Great for him considering where he was at the start of the year! Here to rider the race in support of his leader, I think he may just be given the nod to go for it tomorrow. The climb suits the Betancur of 2014/ down to the ground and I think we could see him fly up it like he did at the Hammer Series. I’m sure a lot of fans would love to see that!

Fabio Aru.

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After winning the Italian Championships last Sunday the Astana rider will be full of confidence. He’s looked back to his 2015 best as of late, packing a real punch when he attacks out of the saddle. The finish might be too easy for him, but given his aggressive nature and the fact he already finds himself 40 seconds down on Froome, he could well test the water. If so, he is a real danger for the stage.

Thibaut Pinot.

Not here for GC and only stage hunting, supposedly, tomorrow looks like a good day for the Frenchman. His form is a bit unknown as he’s only completed the French TT Championships after his efforts at the Giro d’Italia. Nonetheless, he is arguably one of the fastest out of the GC guys so if it becomes a really selective gallop to the line then he has a great chance of winning if his legs are good.

Prediction

Having been let loose from the shackles of my season-long fantasy team after scoring me 0 points in the first few months, Betancur will repay me here and take the win!

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I mean someone from Movistar has to do what Valverde would have done?!

Betting

Outsider central here…

0.5pt EW on them all;

Betancur @300/1 with PP/BF (would take 150s with Boyles who are paying 4 places, even 100/1 elsewhere).

Pinot @ 400/1 with various bookmakers.

Aru @ 300/1 with various bookmakers.

 

Thanks as always for reading and any feedback is greatly appreciated! Who do you think will win tomorrow? Is it as tough a day as I think or have I read far too much into it? We should be in for an exciting finale either way. Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

 

 

 

Amstel Gold Race 2017 Preview

Amstel Gold Race 2017 Preview

The Ardennes classic that isn’t in the Ardennes!

Amstel Gold Race returns once again this year as the opener for our Ardennes classic week, with the 52nd edition of the race. The cobbled classics in the north of France and Belgium are finished with the attention now turning to the rolling hills of the Ardennes and Limburg regions. We’re in the latter on Sunday for Amstel!

Last year saw a late attack over the top of the Cauberg from Gasparotto and Valgren. They managed to just hold on to the line, with the Italian taking an emotional victory, dedicating the win to team-mate Demoitié.

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Behind, it was Colbrelli who won the bunch sprint for third place.

If I’m honest, the reason I prefer the Cobbled Classics over the Ardennes is because the cobbled races are much more attacking (they’ve been even more attacking this year) whereas the likes of Amstel come down to a sprint up the final climb. However, that might change this year due to two reasons; teams seem more keen to attack from far out, and the fact the final ascent of the Cauberg has been taking out.

Speaking of which…

The Route

At 261km in length and with 35 ascents in total, it’s not for the faint-hearted!

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@LasterketaBurua

Although they go over a lot of climbs in the first three-quarters of the route, I expect those climbs to more sap the legs than anything else and for the race to really heat up when we’re into the last 50km of the day.

The fast passage of 4 climbs in succession; Kruisberg; Eyserbosweg; Fromberg; and Keutenberg between the 220km and 235km will be a launch point for some “early” attacks in my opinion. We’ve seen this in the past with the likes of Nibali surging away at this point to put the hurt on the riders behind. Considering the way that the one-day races (aside from MSR) have gone this year so far, it is probably advised for most teams if they stay attentive and try to get at least one rider up the road at this point. Preferably it should be at least a second or third favourite in the team and one they would be relatively confident in winning the race so they have to do no effort whatsoever behind.

I say “early” as it would be early for this race considering its history but there would only be roughly 30km to the finish from that point. We’ve had winning moves go from further out this Spring so far!

The almost 10km of flat between the Keutenberg and the Cauberg will be important in the race. Good co-operation ahead could see that group build a large gap if a lot of the favourites teams are represented and there is an unwillingness to chase behind. Likewise, the opposite scenario has an equal chance of playing out.

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The Cauberg still could play a significant part in the race as it could be another launchpad for attacks. Once over the top, there’s only about 18km left in the race and not long until the penultimate climb; the Geulhemmerberg.

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Not an overly difficult climb, it does have some steepish ramps but it’s position at the end of the race is the main challenge. We then end with the Bemelerberg.

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Again it’s not an overly difficult climb, but depending on the racing before hand, we could see some small gaps here. There are then roughly 5km or so of flat before the sprint to the line, or will it…

How will the race pan out?

I expect an attacking race, although that might be wishful thinking more than anything else.

With the change of finish, the puncheurs can’t sit and wait because if they do, it’s game over as the “sprinters” we have here should be able to cope with the last two climbs easily.

Therefore, I expect attacks to come on the section of 4 climbs I highlighted above (at around 40km left), but I would not be surprised to see something relatively dangerous go even earlier than that.

It all then depends on who and what teams have made the split. As we saw in Brabantse on Wednesday, Direct Energie were very keen to chase to help Coquard but Sunweb were very disappointing in support of Matthews. The latter have a much stronger team here in support of the Aussie but they aren’t the type of riders you would rely on to chase down attacks all day.

The race is delicately poised between being a great afternoon of attacking cycling, or a snoozefest that’s controlled for a reduced bunch sprint. But if there is one race this week that has a chance of being won by what I would call a proper outsider, it is Amstel.

Contenders

There are obvious candidates for the win such as sprinters Matthews/Coquard/Colbrelli and Ardenne’s specialists like Gilbert/Valverde/Kwiatkowski, but as I think there is a chance we might get a relative shock of a winner and I’m nearly at 900 words already, I’m going to just name a shortlist of riders to keep an eye on in varying circumstances. So apologies if you were wanting an exhaustive list!

Lilian Calmejane.

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Aside from Van Avermaet, the Frenchman is arguably the form rider of the year; picking up 6 wins so far this season if you include his three GC wins. Most of his successes have come on rolling terrain and Amstel is the perfect platform for him to continue his outstanding season. Admittedly, this is a step up compared to the races he has been winning, but with a GT stage win already to his name, he must be confident! For him to win, he’ll need to be one of the riders involved in a far out attack and with a lot of teams represented, they stay away. He’s got an OK sprint compared to some other climbers, but more than likely he’ll have to come to the line solo. Allez Lilian!

Nathan Haas.

The Aussie had a great start to the year, finishing a very impressive 4th in the Tour Down Under and coming home 10th on the Green Mountain stage in Oman. Since then he’s struggled with allergies, particularly in Catalunya where he had to withdraw but his return to racing in Brabantse was promising. In fact, he looked good and was attentive at the front of the peloton in the final lap. The race on Wednesday will hopefully have opened the legs up and he’ll be an even greater fighting force come Sunday. I’m sure he’ll just be hoping for a bit more luck…

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Alexey Lutsenko.

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The Astana rider won the U23 World’s on this course back in 2012 after catching everyone by surprise and opening up his sprint early. Funnily enough though, it’s the change of course this year that gives him another chance of victory. The removal of the Cauberg helps the Kazakh as the professional peloton ride the climb more aggressively in Amstel than they did in that U23 2012 Worlds. With a solid sprint he has a chance of being up there in a reduced bunch gallop, but it’s his attacking nature that gives him the best chance of taking victory; whether that be from a breakaway or making a move in the final 3km as everyone hesitates behind. With his third in Dwars this season he’s highlighted his abilities as a rider and that big win is just around the corner for him I think.

Jens Keukeleire.

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A talented rider for a while who seemed to be hampered by bad luck or just underperformed when called upon. However, that changed in the second half of last season when he first of all won a stage in Slovenia but then followed it up with a very impressive sprint victory in the Vuelta. This year he’s been a bit off again so far, but it looked as if he was back to his best in when second in Gent Wevelgem. This change of course in theory should suit him and it will be interesting to see what role he takes in the Orica team along with Albasini/Gerrans/Impey. Definitely not a favourite, but he has a slim outside chance!

Prediction

I’m still torn between this race being great or extremely dull. Obviously I hope if it’s the former! The route change really throws a cat amongst the pigeons in terms of predictions and you’ll struggle to find anyone predicting the race with confidence.

Nonetheless, I’ll go for an exciting race and a win for a rider who’s been chasing that big win for a while, and his first part of the season has been aimed at this event. Nathan Haas to win!

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Betting

Definitely not a race to get heavily involved with;

Haas 0.5pt EW @50/1 with various (take the 4 places at Coral if you can)

Keukeleire 0.25pt EW @200/1 with Bet365 (take 150/1)

I tweeted out the Calmejane and Lutsenko picks midweek but they’ve since shortened.

Calemjane 0.25pt EW @250/1 (take 100s available but no less)

Lutsenko 0.25pt EW @200/1 (take 125s available but no less)

 

Thanks for reading and always any feedback is greatly appreciated. Who do you think will win? Will it be an open race or a dull one where everything stays together until the end? I’ll have my women’s Amstel preview out tomorrow so return for that! Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

De Brabantse Pijl 2017 Preview

De Brabantse Pijl 2017 Preview

With the cobbled classics now finished, the peloton’s attention now turns to the Ardennes with the “warm-up” event of De Brabantse Pijl.

However, it’s offensive to just call it a warm-up race as it is an exciting race in its own right!

Last year after some probing and strong attacks throughout the day, it all came down to a charge up the final climb from an elite group of five. Vakoc stormed up it, dropping everyone, and holding on to the line to take what was his third win of the season.

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It was a good day for me as I had Vakoc at 33/1. I’m not sure we’ll see those type of prices on him again though, but I may be wrong. You’ll just have to find out at the end of this!

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

The Route

More of the same as we saw in the 2016 edition with a route that remains mainly unchanged, although this year the race is 6km shorter.

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A relatively tough day out in the saddle with 26 climbs, some of which are cobbled. Although there is more often than not space to avoid the cobbles themselves and go up the paved section at the side!

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The climbs on the day aren’t too tough, but if they are ridden aggressively gaps certainly can be made. Almost as important is the flat section just after the summit, because riders will be on the limit. Last year the winning move was made at the 4km to go mark, right at the top of the penultimate climb.

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The Bora rider was unable to follow the five out ahead once they rounded the corner and that was race over.

I’m not going to run through all of the climbs individually, but there is a nifty website that lists all 26 of them that you can view here!

The final climb of the day, Schavei, is 500m long and averages roughly 6%.

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There is time for a regrouping once over the top, but on the contrary, riders can maintain a gap all the way to the finish line.

Will it be a reduced sprint or solo winner this year?

Well, there is one factor that could have an influence…

Weather Watch

Yep, you guessed it; more racing in Belgium and more windy conditions!

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Source: Windfinder

With a constant and fairly strong Westerly wind, the riders will face a variety of wind directions as they go through the race.  Starting mainly with a cross-headwind, before some cross winds, then a cross-tail on the run in to the closing circuit.

As a viewer this has amped up my excitement for this race even more, not so much as a preview writer though because it adds another element of unpredictability to it all. I’m sure the peloton will have a similar view with some wind-natives licking their lips at the prospect.

How will the race pan out?

Before I had looked at the forecast I thought the race would be an attacking one this year, with the peloton continuing their aggressive racing from the cobbles classics onto the lumpier events.

The wind should ensure that it is aggressive and there will be plenty of teams looking to take advantage and I think we’ll see some large splits out on the road before we reach our final circuit.

Which in turn should make the last 60km of the race even more attacking because there in theory should be less team-mates to control things.

Or at least I’m hoping so!

Contenders

Quick Step come here with two big favourites in the form of Vakoc and Gilbert. The reigning champion looked good in Catalunya, building some nice form for his assault on the Ardennes. A brute of a rider, he really comes into his own on this type of terrain and certainly has a chance to double up tomorrow. Of course in Gilbert they have a rider who is on exceptional form. He’s won this race twice in the past (2011/2014/2017?) so knows what is required here! They have some strong domestiques and I expect them to be one of the main teams to try to split things up in the wind, hoping to drop the “sprinters”.

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QS aren’t the only strong Belgian team here, Lotto Soudal also have a stacked team with them! I imagine Wellens and Benoot will be team leaders and they are a duo that can certainly challenge for the race win. The former has had a quieter part in his season recently but he looked good following the moves on the stage into San Sebastian in Pais Vasco, and I think he’ll go well this coming week. His lack of explosivity is a downfall, but he is sure to go on the attack at some point. If no one follows quickly, then he could be tough to bring back!

I was disappointed to see Benoot not picked for Paris Roubaix after he has had a terrible cobbled classics campaign due to bad luck. This type of course suits him though and he is much more explosive than his team-mate and I think he’s a dark horse for this race.

Matthews has a great chance to finally win this race after being close on several occasions. In cracking form, his 6th on the TT in Pais Vasco was incredible, he might approach this race differently than in previous years. Normally would hold off for the sprint, but this year he might have to attack as his team doesn’t look that great. However, I fear for him in the wind!

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His old team Orica have a few good options to play tomorrow. In Gerrans and Impey they have two strong riders who can follow attacks but also pack a fast sprint after a tough day. I can’t see them chasing everyone down like they did last year!

BMC have a team packed full of young talent who will be looking to impress, lead by a relative veteran compared to his team-mates; Ben Hermans. After a barnstorming start to the season, he’s went off the boil recently but will be hoping to go well in the Ardennes so he should be getting back to his best shape here. If not, keep an eye out for Vliegen as a Kirby inspired, “cheeky side bet”.

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Bahrain bring with them a team to support Gasparotto and Colbrelli. Well, when I say support they might be there for the first 100km. The two Italians can mix it up in the sprint after a tough day and both finished in the top 6 last year. Gasparotto has been disappointing this year and has recently returned from a training camp so it will be interesting to see how he goes. Conversely, Colbrelli has been going well for most of the year so you would expect him to decline in form soon, but that probably won’t happen until after Amstel. Like Matthews, I fear for both of them in the windy conditions!

I don’t think Coquard will have a chance this year.

A few other, some less well-known, names to conjure with are Haas and Sbaragli (Dimension Data), Meurisse (Wanty), Bouet (Fortuneo) and Tusveld (Roompot).

Prediction

We’ll get a hectic first half of the race before we get to the circuit and the peloton will be split in the wind. That will then make the closing laps even more aggressive than normal and luck will be as important as form, and so will having strong team-mates.

I’ll go for a rider who’s been down on luck recently, but that will change here. He’s a great punchy classics man and this route suits him perfectly, but will just have to hope Gilbert isn’t the QuickStep representative up front…

Benoot to win his first pro race!

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It also gives me a good opportunity to share my favourite cycling related Instagram post…

View this post on Instagram

Forza Tiesj Benoot! 🎉 @tiesj #ohn

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

Betting

Hoping #WinningWednesdays can continue…

1pt EW Benoot @40/1 with Bet365

0.5pt EW Vliegen @28/1 with Bet365

 

Thanks for reading as always and any feedback is greatly appreciated. Who do you think will win the race and how will they do it?! Amstel men’s and women’s previews will be next for me this weekend. Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

 

Ronde van Vlaanderen 2017 Preview

Ronde van Vlaanderen 2017 Preview

It’s time for my favourite event of the year and a special race as it marks one year of this blog! To thank you all for your continued support I’ll be doing a competition tied in with my women’s preview (that will be out tomorrow), for a chance to win one of The Handmade Cyclist’s artworks. Well, more specifically their “De Ronde” one, obviously. So yeah, make sure you return tomorrow!

Right, now that those formalities are out of the road, let’s focus on this incredible race.

Last year saw an imperious Peter Sagan just ride away from Sep Vanmarcke on the Paterberg and even with a surging Fabian Cancellara the duo could not catch the Slovak.

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Will Sagan be able to double up this year? Let’s have a look at what’s in store for the riders.

The Route

I’m not going to bore you with a massive route analysis (like I normally would), as I’m sure if you’re anything like me you’ll have read plenty about it already this week!

The route in general is pretty much more of the same that we had last year, apart from they have added the Muur at around 90km to go. Although iconic, it will more than likely be too far out for a race winning move to be made there. Instead, we might see some lesser riders attempt to get up the road before it all kicks off.

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It’s once we pass the Paterberg for the first time at around 70km to go that the race starts to kick into action and theoretically a race winning move could go from this point onwards. However, the second passage of the Paterberg, which swiftly follows the Oude Kwaremont, will desolate the peloton if it’s still together.

From there, we’ll have attacks go up the road; groups working; groups not working; solo moves; teams having wrong riders in the right move, etc etc. It all gets a bit hectic to say the least!

With only 17km to go the riders then tackle the Oude Kwaremont once again.

This is where Sagan dropped everyone from the group in front apart from Vanmarcke, likewise Cancellara dropped those behind as he motored ahead trying to catch up. The open highway that follows the Kwaremont can see a regrouping, before they tackle the final climb of the day; the last ascent of the Paterberg.

Sagan blew the wheels off of Vanmarcke here last year.

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Once over the top it’s a 13km TT between the leaders and any chasers, before the traditional finish in Oudenaarde.

Normally the weather will play a part in this race but it looks pretty benign just now so I’m going to completely skip that section!

How will the race pan out? Team tactics.

Flanders is arguably the race in which the winner is more often than not the strongest rider on the day who gets a bit of luck. The reason for this in my opinion is due to the relentless nature of the cobbles and climbs in the closing third of the race, and due to the severe length of the event itself! A strong rider can create a massive gap on the Kwaremont and Paterbeg combination and with only 13km left, it’s hard to get a concerted chance organised.

Last year you could say without doubt that Sagan and Cancellara were the strongest riders in the peloton. Sagan in a sense you could argue got lucky that Cancellara didn’t follow the attacks at 31km left, and it’s hard to say how the race would have panned out if those two arrived at the bottom of the Paterberg together.

A similar situation may occur this year between Van Avermaet and Sagan, who are one step ahead of everyone else in my opinion, and probably yours too!

The only thing that can stop them is the attitude of Quick-Step. The Belgian outfit need to ride as aggressively as they did in Dwars and E3 if they want to have a good chance of success. They need to be in every move that goes up the road, either by following every move or attacking themselves. But more on that later!

Contenders

As I’ve just mentioned above, there are two clear favourites going by the bookmakers and anyone who watches this sport!

Defending champion Peter Sagan has looked his usual exceptional self this year. His attack in Milan San Remo was incredible, as was his stage win in Fermo during the Tirreno Adriatico, but oddly enough there are some people who suggest he’s not going well. He has only won one one-day race this season so far, Kuurne Brussels Kuurne, which is pretty poor from him so they might be right…

Is he suffering from being Sagan? Yeah, I think so, but this is the one race a year where being Sagan doesn’t matter as much. If he’s feeling good, he can simply ride away from everyone on the final double ascent of the Kwaremont/Paterberg like we saw last year. The issue for him will be ensuring that he’s in contention going into that final 15km. Therefore, he’ll need to attack/follow the attacks from where he did last year. Re-watching last week’s Gent Wevelgem, he clawed back almost 8 bike lengths on his main rival Van Avermaet on the Kemmelberg. That’s Flanders winning form!

Talking about Van Avermaet, he was the number one performer of the week just gone by and is Sagan’s main challenger.

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Three one-day World Tour wins already this season, the Olympic champion is flying. He’s beaten Sagan in a sprint (Omloop); won against tough opposition in another sprint (E3); and outsmarted his opponents (Gent Wevelgem). Results wise, he is the rider to beat! He doesn’t seem to pack the same punch up the cobbled climbs as Sagan does, but he benefits tactically from not being Sagan. He seems not to have the same aura amongst the peloton and riders are more inclined to work with him.

However, I think that might change going into this weekend and he’ll struggle with being Van Avermaet. If you’re going to lose to Sagan in a sprint, you’re more than likely going to lose to Van Avermaet in a sprint as well. So why work with him more than the Slovak?

But hey, as you know if you’ve read this blog for a while, DS’ don’t seem to think as outside the box as I do!

Quick-Step have the best chance of beating the two favourites, due to the number of riders in their team that theoretically could have a chance of winning this race, sorry Keisse and Vermote! The rest, all on their day and given the right group could win. Gilbert will be their pre-race favourite and given his scintillating form, he certainly looks the rider best suited to challenge Sagan and GVA.

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He will be able to follow them for the majority of the race and that’s what I would have him do. Let him sit in for most of the race, marking those two out of it. It’s a defensive strategy, using their form rider to mark others, but that’s the teams best chance of winning.

Boonen hasn’t looked in tip-top shape but with only two races left in his career, you would expect him to go well. As much as he would love to win this, I think it might be all about for Roubaix with him. I would save him all-day, hoping he can get close on the Paterberg and that it comes back for a reduced sprint.

Therefore, QS should be attacking from around 70km left with the rest of their riders. Although Lampaert did great in Dwars for the blog, he’s just not strong enough yet on the cobbled climbs to compete here in my opinion. Like Boonen, he is more of a Roubaix kind of guy. I’m not saying he won’t try to get up the road, but he’s not their best option for that.

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So that leaves the triple header of Trentin, Stybar and Terpstra, the three riders who made the front group of around 16 in Gent Wevelgem. Trentin is probably the weakest on this terrain and his past results haven’t been that great. Yet, he’s looked very good this season so far and seems to have taken a step up on the cobbled climbs so he can’t be ruled out, especially if he goes in a move at around 50km to go that stays away until the end. Stybar and Terpstra are their aces in the pack though for long-range moves and I would suggest they both need to be up the road before GVA and Sagan make their attack. If they are, I would be confident enough in Gilbert nullifying them before we get to the last 17km and by then it might be too late to bring back.

The only issue with that is if another big team misses the move and has enough firepower to chase. Who will that team be working for?

Kristoff looks the best of the rest on current form. He’s been unlucky in the first few cobbled classics but his efforts in De Panne were exceptional. In particular, it was his TT that stood out for me. Not a discipline he favours, he lost only 2 seconds to Durbridge who himself is going very well just now. The Norwegian loves this race, having finished 15th/4th/5th/1st/4th in the past 5 years. He will be there or thereabouts at the end of the race!

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Trek have one of the strongest teams here so they will likely aid in a chase if they miss a move. Degenkolb has looked OK so far this season, but it pains me to say, that he is still missing that extra 5% after his crash last year. I can’t see him winning here unless he goes early, but I think he’ll be marked out of it in that situation. Theuns looked tired towards the end of De Panne and Stuyven has been struggling the past week or so with his form. Time for Felline to step up and make that crucial early move!

Naesen (AG2R) has performed exceptionally well over the past 6 months but this could be a tough ask for him, he’s bound to dip in form soon. Surely?!

Lotto have been awful but their saviour Benoot returns this weekend after missing Gent Wevelgem. He almost guarantees a top 10 result but needs to be attacking to get higher up the pecking order, which he might just do.

Sky have been awful the past week and I haven’t seen anything to think they’ll turn that around here. Which is always when they seem to go well!

Boasson Hagen and Thwaites have been going well, albeit quietly, the past few weeks. Like so many others, they’ll need to be up the road before the fireworks kick off behind.

Durbridge will hope to continue his good form but he seems more of a Roubaix man. The same goes for Demare.

I’d love to see Lutsenko get a top 10 placing which I think is a possibility. He’s been 22nd then 14th in the past two editions.

Vanmarcke still doesn’t look great after his injury and illness.

Prediction

I’m really stuck on the fence with this one because I don’t know if I can trust Quick Step to use the same tactics I would. If they do, the race is theirs for the taking, as long as they get some help from other teams to beat GVA and Sagan.

If not, the race is Sagan’s to lose. I know GVA is in great form but even he will fear what Sagan can do on the Paterberg. If there is a 3 second gap at the top, then it’s race over!

Hmmmmm.

Right…

I think the teams will take a similar approach to GVA as they do to Sagan and will not want to work with him 100%. Therefore, various teams will be keen to get numbers ahead before the final 20km. With Gilbert shadowing the Big 2, QS will get Terpstra and Stybar up the road, along with Felline and a few others, with maybe the likes of Oss there for BMC.

He and his team didn’t get it right in GW, but they won’t make that mistake here. Terpstra to win!

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Betting

Already have 1pt WIN on Terpstra from the other week at 25/1 (would take 22s)

Adding;

Stybar 1pt WIN @25/1 with various bookmakers (would take 22s)

Felline 0.5pt EW @ 80/1 with various bookmakers (would take 66s)

Kristoff to beat Degenkolb at 11/10 with PaddyPower (would take it at 4/6 elsewhere Betfair/Bet365). 6pts.

 

Thanks for reading as always and any feedback is greatly appreciated. Who do you think will win and how will they manage to do so? Remember to return tomorrow for my women’s preview and the competition! Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

 

 

 

E3 Harelbeke 2017 Preview

E3 Harelbeke 2017 Preview

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

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

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

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

The Route

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

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Profile once again courtesy of @LasterketaBurua.

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

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

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

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View the Strava segment here.

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

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

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

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

Contenders

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Prediction

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

Nonetheless, I don’t think he wins.

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

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

Betting

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

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

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

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

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

Also,

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

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

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

Dwars Door Vlaanderen 2017 Preview

Dwars Door Vlaanderen 2017 Preview

The 72nd edition of this race returns tomorrow and marks the start of the run up to the Tour of Flanders a week on Sunday. Dwars Door often provides exciting racing and the route is finely balanced between a small bunch sprint or a group of strong men making it to the line. Plus it’s midweek Belgian cobbled racing! Who doesn’t like midweek Belgian cobbled racing?!

Last year saw a prematurely celebrating Coquard beaten to the line by Debuscherre, with Theuns rounding out the podium.

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That was one of the larger bunch sprints for a while but still only 34 riders crossed the line in that front group. It gives you an idea of how tough and attritional this race can be!

Let’s have a look at what’s in store for the riders in 2017.

The Route

Much the same as the route we’ve had the past few years, apart from an 800m cobbled section has been added around 7km from the finish line.

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Profile once again by @LasterketaBurua.

An easy start to the day, the second half of the route is pretty challenging. There is either a hill or some cobbles to traverse roughly every 10 kilometres from 90km to go until the finish. This makes it a battle of attrition at times, and is why we often don’t see a bunch sprint into Waregem.

Several of the famous cobbled climbs are raced over here, such as; the Taiienberg; the Oude Kwaremont; and the Paterberg. It is these famous stretches of road that can tear the peloton in to bits and help a group of strong riders escape.

Once through the Varent cobbled section at roughly 23km to go, the chase could well be on from the remnants of the peloton but only if there are enough teams interested in bringing a break back and if they cooperate together.

The run in to the line is fairly simple with only a few roundabouts to negotiate.

One factor that often can play a massive part on this race is the…

Weather

The riders I’m sure, well apart from the Belgians, will be happy to know it looks as if it won’t rain during the day. Even if it does, it should only be a sprinkling! Much to the viewers disappointment.

However, it does look as if we will get reasonably strong winds. Now that’s more promising and what I like to hear!

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Forecast for Wevelgem. Source: Wunderground.

25km/h crosswinds aren’t crazily strong, but they are enough to cause splits and echelons in the peloton if the pressure is on. Here’s hoping!

 How will the race pan out?

I think we’ll see a more attacking race than we got last year and the day won’t come down to a 40 rider sprint.

The reason I say this is similar to my reasoning for an attacking MSR; so many of the puncheurs and cobbled riders seem to be in form at the moment and going very strongly. Most teams arrive with sprint and attacking options, so I think it’s very unlikely that we’ll just see them settle for a nice-group ride and a sprint to the line.

However, this all depends on the composition of the group that makes it up the road and the strong teams will need to be there. I imagine that the attack will need to contain riders from at least the following teams; Lotto Soudal, Quick Step and Trek. You can probably add Orica, FDJ and BMC to that list too!

So for the contenders I won’t be including sprinters.

Contenders

Defending champions Lotto Soudal have a strong team with them but I imagine Benoot and Roelandts will be their co-leaders. The former was unlucky with a crash earlier in the season but he is exceptionally talented and I’m sure will be looking to bounce back before the Ronde and Paris Roubaix. With a solid sprint after a tough day he has a chance of taking his first pro win, but he will need some luck. Like his younger counterpart, Roelandts’ packs a good kick and he’ll be counting on experience to pull through for him!

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Quick Step have a ridiculously strong squad with them and the race itself probably hinges on their attitude. Looking down the start list I could quite feasibly argue for most of their squad making any split in the race. From there, it’s just a case of how they play it. In the past they’ve been quite defensive (the 3 on 1 against Stannard springs to mind) but they should in my opinion approach this aggressively. Or at least I would, which probably means they won’t! Terpstra is the obvious choice to send up the road, but Gilbert and Lampaert offer good options as well. I think Stybar will be saving himself for later in the week.

Theuns will be Trek’s main card to play here, but he’ll be ably supported by Felline. Both of the riders are similar in style, but the Belgian is better on the cobbles with Felline being the better climber. Theuns has finished 2nd and 3rd here the past two years and will be hoping to go one spot higher this time round. I sure would love that as he’s in my season long fantasy team! A very capable rider, he should make the splits on the cobbled climbs and from there it’s a case of making the right moves and getting a bit lucky.

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Orica have a few riders who could challenge here if their on a good day, and in particular Durbridge and Keukeleire. I always think Durbridge is older than he is, I’m amazed he’s only 25, he’s been around for what seems an eternity! Once just a TT specialist, he has really transformed in to a great all round rider, his 6th place in Strade is testament to that. Certainly not a guy that should be given much leeway off the front of the bunch. As for Keukeleire, it was good to see him back challenging at the pointy end of a race in the Vuelta last year, after a few seasons of underperforming. With a fast sprint after a tough day, he could certainly take victory if a small group comes to the line!

A few other riders to keep an eye out on who could well go on the attack and be up there at the finish are Naesen (AG2R), Lutsenko (Astana), Backaert (Wanty), Ligthart (Roompot) and Petit (Direct Energie).

Prediction

As I’ve stated above, I think with the wind conditions we’ll get this edition, the race will be harder than last year and we won’t see a reduced bunch sprint of around 40 riders. Instead, there will be a couple of selections throughout the day and having numbers near the end of the race will be important. I can guarantee Quick Step will have numbers and if Gaviria is not in the group they won’t be waiting around for a sprint. Conversely, they may also even attack if he is in the group as they will be leant on by the other teams!

So I’m going to go for a Quick Step rider who can time trial and sprint from a very reduced group to cover both options of a late attack or sprint. Yep, that’s right, local hero Yves Lampaert to win!

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The rider from Izegem is one that I rate highly and mentioned during the earlier cobbled semi-classics. Heralded as the next big Belgian cobbled talent, he has failed to live up to the mark so far, but that might just well change tomorrow!

Betting

Difficult race to predict and one I don’t want to overly get involved with so a few bets for interest;

1pt WIN Lampaert @ 66/1 with various (would take 50s)

0.5pt EW Keukeleire @ 66/1 with various (would take 50s)

 

Thanks for reading! Who do you think will win tomorrow? Will we get a big bunch sprint, reduced sprint or a sol attack?! Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.