Tour Down Under 2017 – GC Preview

Tour Down Under 2017 – GC Preview

The curtain raiser for this year’s cycling calendar will once again be the Tour Down Under, a race which I’ve grown fond over the past few years. I’m not sure if that’s because we’ve been starved of action over the winter break or if it is becoming one of the more exciting races of the season. Probably a mixture of both, if not slightly more the former!

Nonetheless, the organisers have made a few tweaks to the normal parcours and we have what is arguably the toughest TdU route in history. So let’s have a look at what’s in store for the riders over the coming week.

The Route

Stage 1 sees the riders tackle 145km from Unley to Lyndoch.

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Three laps around a large finishing circuit with a few hills could create a surprise. However, with the gradients being so small on these climbs and only 1,600m of elevation gain, then this should be one for the sprinters. With a very simple-run in, this should be a fast finish to the opening road stage!

Stage 2 is the Queen stage of this years TDU in terms of climbing metres, seeing the riders return to the finish in Paracombe that Rohan Dennis won back in 2015.

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The laps around Stirling will certainly sap the legs before the tough finale. Unlike 2015, the riders approach the climb differently and the road actually heads upwards for around 10kms, with the main section before the climb to Paracombe itself coming in at 3.9km averaging  4%. Could this make all the difference? I guess we’ll just have to wait and see, but expect some fireworks!

Stage 3 sees the peloton head south from Adelaide towards Victor Harbor.

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Potential cross-winds and a committed team could see a GC shake up. A tired peloton could be put under stress on the closing circuit’s climbs (1.7km at 2.5% and 1.3km at 3.7%) but it should end in some type of bunch sprint.

Stage 4 is an up and down day and actually has the second largest amount of elevation gain at the TdU.

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Nonetheless it should be a sprint at the end of the stage, but it could be the only breakaway day we get if no one wants to work behind. Interestingly, the finish kicks up at around 2.1% average for the final kilometre.

Stage 5 and the traditional stage finish up Willunga Hill.

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Nothing else to say really, this stage is all about that 6-7 minute effort at the end.

Stage 6 once again sees the race close with a 90km criterium around Adelaidescreen-shot-2017-01-14-at-15-46-43

I can’t wait for the couple of sheer walls that the riders face 😉. Also, this is just one lap as I have neither the time nor patience to repeat the route 20 times! We might see some GC riders go for time bonuses if the race is that close but this stage is all about the sprinters as you’d expect. Who’ll close the race with a win?

So overall it is a tougher race than previous years but it’s still very much in the balance between the proper climbers and the puncheurs. Willunga is tough, but ultimately it is only a 7 minute effort and the same goes for Paracombe. There are no 30 minute climbs here on which the really light guys can make a massive difference, this race will once again come down to seconds and I expect the top 10 to be separated by no more than a minute. Who’s going to be in contention for the title then?

GC Contenders

Richie Porte (a.k.a The King of Willunga) is the favourite and rightly so.

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He’s untouchable on that climb when in good form and he will find the extra climbing before Paracombe to his liking. The problem with Richie is that he doesn’t have the ability to pick up bonus seconds elsewhere and that the steeper gradients of Paracombe aren’t his cup of tea. Nonetheless, if he is in form then he should win on Willunga and possibly podium up to Paracombe which should be enough to win the race. However, we don’t know where his form is at due to him skipping Nationals. If he really wants to challenge at the Tour de France, is it not too early to be at 90% here? Hmmm, it could go either way with him! Supporting him will be Rohan Dennis who is capable of taking up the leadership role if Porte isn’t at the top-level.

Orica come in with two leaders; Esteban Chaves and Simon Gerrans. This will be the Colombian’s first time racing in Australia and he’ll be competing at the Herald Sun Tour later in the month. This route would be ideal for him if he was in top form but I get the feeling that this could be more of a PR stunt from him and the team. Instead, it will be Gerrans who will lead the main charge for Orica as he looks to pick up his 5th Overall victory here. This will be the last chance to do so as he finally appears to be dwindling as a rider going by his form last year. I’m not convinced he can manage it but he’s sure to leave everything on the road! Plus it is January and we are in Australia so you never know!

Sky also come into the race with a two-pronged attack of Geraint Thomas and Sergio Henao. The latter was 3rd overall here last year and I’d expect him to be their main rider again, although Thomas may stretch is legs at some point. Henao is the main challenger to Porte in my opinion.

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The other rider in the above photo is also a contender for this race, Michael Woods. After coming to the sport late, he took a breakthrough 3rd place on Willunga last year. If he’s improved from then he can certainly contend once again this year, plus he’s been putting in some impressive rides on Strava. Will that translate to results? I’m not so sure as he still seems to be lacking the tactical awareness needed for bike racing, but hey, if he can ride everyone off his wheel then he doesn’t need to!

I can’t see Sagan doing anything GC wise here, instead his teammate McCarthy looked very strong and more importantly lean at the Bay Crits and Road Nats and certainly could contend.

Aside from these guys, it is a fairly open field and I do think there is a chance that an outsider could sneak onto the podium so in MyTwoSpokesWorth tradition I’ll highlight 3 to watch out for.

(There is a slight bias as 2 of them are in my Fantasy Team for this season. This may be a recurring theme and I can only apologise 😜)

Nathan Haas.

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Another who was testing his legs at the Bay Crits and took 3rd place at the Road Nats. He seems really fired up for this and it’s his main goal early on in the year before taking a break and going to the Giro. A bit of a stop start season in 2016, his performances in Canada looked a return to form and he seems to have continued that over the Australian summer. Not the best natural climber in the field, he’ll need a bit of luck to go his way but I wouldn’t write him off! His fast kick could be crucial to pick up bonus seconds.

Petr Vakoc is the second of my fantasy riders and there’s good reason for that; he’s an incredible talent!

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After an OK TdU last year, his opening to the European season was amazing. Having been out in Australia since before New Year he seems fired up to lead Etixx at the first race of the season. A proper brute of a rider, his strength should see him be able to match some of the lighter climbers and with a Tour de France now in his legs he should be even better this year. I’m intrigued more than anything to see what he can do.

My final rider is one had a solid year and I was very impressed with on several occasions but his results didn’t quite show it; Jan Bakelants. Top 20 in the Vuelta followed some good showings in the Tour he just didn’t take any big wins. Like Vakoc, he was very strong at the start of the European cycling calendar and I’m hoping that will translate to something here!

Prediction

A toss-up between Porte and Henao for the win I think and it’s quite tough to call. Porte could well be peaking for the Tour but will want to make a statement here and Henao hasn’t raced since the Olympics so both of their form really is unknown. I’ll go for the King of Willunga himself to take the win, with Haas rounding out the podium!

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I just hope the racing is exciting and unpredictable as it could potentially be! Although saying that, easy stages make my job easier. 😏

Betting

I distanced myself from GC betting towards the end of last year and it’s something I’ll probably be doing this year too. Nonetheless, I think there is a bit of value in small stake punts on my 3 outsiders.

0.1pt EW Vakoc @80/1 with various bookmakers (would go to 66/1)

0.1pt EW Haas @ 66/1 with Bet365 (would go to 50/1)

0.1pt EW Bakelants @ 80/1 with Bet365 (would go to 66/1).

 

Thanks everyone for reading, it’s good to be back! Any shares/RTs would be much appreciated as usual and any feedback via Twitter is always more than welcome. Who do you think will win? Does an outsider have a chance of sneaking onto the podium? I shall be doing daily previews of the stages, aside from the People’s Choice Crit as I have no time for that! Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

 

Vuelta Stage 12 Preview: Los Corrales de Buelna -> Bilbao

Today’s Recap

For once the break didn’t make it and we got back-to-back GC stage winners. This time round it was Froome who pipped Quintana in a sprint to the line. The Brit always goes well after a rest-day as I highlighted in yesterday’s preview!

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The gaps were not big to the rest of the GC contenders but if it wasn’t a two-horse race before today, it definitely is now, and boy do we have a race on our hands!

GC action should be put on pause tomorrow and we’re set for a really interesting stage.

The Route

An up and down day with a flat finish.

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An un-categorised climb to start the day will be a bit of rude awakening for some. If it’s anything like today’s stage then the break may not go until the Cat-1 climb.

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Not the toughest cat-1 climb, it probably is given that categorisation due to it’s length. The average gradient of 6% should be manageable for the riders, unless of course the pace is still on and the break hasn’t formed. If it does form here, it will be awfully strong.

The stage though is defined by the double ascension of the Cat-2; Alto El Vivero.

The road book is back to it’s best today, with no graphic for the final climb. The directions and diagrams are also a bit vague, but I’m sure I have the right approach…

After a few days off, the Strava profile makes a return. View it here.

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Profile of the final 20km.

The final climb itself is 4.2km long at 8.4% average gradient. Like a lot of the climbs in this area, it is very irregular. The toughest section comes almost right at the start, with a kilometre (0.3 -> 1.3km) averaging 11.8%. There are a couple of false flats along the way for the riders to recompose themselves and push hard again.

The same finale was used in the opening stage of the Vuelta al Pais Vasco in 2015:

That day saw Michael Matthews take a reduced bunch sprint finish.

How will tomorrow’s stage pan out?

The stage itself is a nightmare to predict, with a few options that are very feasible.

We could well see the morning break stick and fight out for stage glory as there is a reasonable amount of climbing and the sprint teams won’t be confident of their riders making it over. Saying that, it’s not impossible for a team to control the race and go for a sprint (as we saw in 2015). Felline, Sbaragli, Van der Sande, Valverde & Gilbert will all probably fancy their chances in that situation. However, it is a lot more difficult to control the finale of a grand tour and if the break is brought back, we could well see a late attack stick.

See, it’s not easy!

The sprinters above that I’ve mentioned are the only ones I can really see make it over the final climb. Out of them, I’d probably say that Felline has the fastest flat sprint after a tough day, so he should be the guy to look out for in that situation.

As for late attackers, Luis Leon Sanchez would be the perfect candidate. He looks incredibly strong just now and has the TT engine to hold off the bunch. So could Tobias Ludvigsson who’s climbing better than ever and should make it over the climb if we’re getting set for a reduced sprint.

Breakaway Candidates

There’s a template of rider who I’m going with here. Someone who can climb, but also packs a decent sprint!

JJ Rojas.

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The Movistar road captain may be told to get in the breakaway to defend their lead in the Team classification. Sky (who looked strong today) and Cannondale (who will have at least two men in the move) are both less than 10 minutes behind. The Spanish team do love to win that competition, so will start defending it soon. It could start tomorrow. Rojas has turned himself in to a jack of all trades and should be able to cope with the final climb. He has a good turn of speed and would probably be the favourite if a small group of escapees came to the line together.

Pello Bilbao.

The Caja rider, like a lot of them, is local to the area. He’s been a bit lost in this race so far, having a few crashes etc. However, he does seem to be slowly re-finding himself and building some form. A guy who on his day can climb with the best, he really should have won the GC in Turkey this year but had to withdraw due to illness. This type of profile suits him very well.

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Nathan Haas.

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I’ve already highlighted him for a stage earlier in this Vuelta but he didn’t make the move that day. The climb will be on his limit but considering his performance on stage 4, then he has a chance of being in contact with the lead riders as they summit. Like Rojas, he has a very solid sprint after a tough days racing. You don’t want to be leading him out in the finale!

Prediction

I’m unsure how the stage will go, but I lean towards a breakaway. That of course all depends if there are a few of the “sprint” teams who co-operate and bring the break back. Nonetheless, I’ll stick my neck out on the line and say that the break will win.

I think you know where I’m going with this one. Especially considering my fondness with suggesting riders for whimsical reasons…

Bilbao to win in Bilbao. Simple and poetic.

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I can’t pass up a rider who has the same surname as the finish town and is from the region!

Betting

Small punts on the three breakaway guys

0.3pt Bilbao at 40/1 (Various)

0.1pt Haas at 100/1 (Various)

0.1pt Rojas at 200/1 (Bet365 & BF)

After today’s successful H2H I’m hoping to find one for tomorrow, but nothing has caught my eye/I’ve not done enough research. If I do find something, I’ll update it on my Twitter!

Hope you enjoyed the read, apologies for it being shorter than normal! How do you think the stage will play out? As usual, any feedback is greatly appreciated. Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

 

 

 

 

Vuelta Stage 7 Preview; Maceda -> Puebla de Sanabria

Today’s Recap

What a stage, it was full gas from the start! Omar Fraile represented us very well out the front bringing that attacking gusto that I was looking forward to seeing. However, it was not to be for him, or any of the original break in fact. Instead, Simon Yates made a fantastically timed move to follow Dani Moreno on the final climb, going on to pass him before the summit and then finishing solo!

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Let’s have a look at tomorrow’s stage.

The Route

Surprise surprise, another stage with a fair bit of climbing. Especially considering this is supposedly a sprinter-friendly day!

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* No Strava profile today from me as I’m in more of a rush than usual. So climbs & %s made up from the road book*

The climbing tomorrow is spread out a lot more evenly throughout the stage, with the three Cat-3s almost equidistant from each other. Depending how the riders are approaching the stage, the break may not have gone until the first climb; Puerto de Allariz (6.3km at 4.7%). If it does go here, it will certainly be a strong one.

The second categorised climb is a longer affair, 11.2km at 4.4%. The road here-in rises and falls all the way to the start of the final official climb of the day. Alto de Padornelo averages 3.3% for it’s 7km. The sprinters will hope to make it over this.

A long descent comes next, followed by a flat run to the line.

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The run in itself is fairly technical, with a few sweeping bends mixed in with sharp turns within the final few kilometres. Positioning and lead-outs will be key.

How will the stage pan out?

This another stage marked down as a sprint, but after today’s very hot and tough day there might be a few teams feeling the effects. There is more of a chance than normal that a break makes it.

Felline was angry after crossing the line today and is clearly going well at the moment. He’s one of the riders who will get his team to work and will want this stage to end in a sprint. Likewise, so will Etixx who will be hoping that Meersman can complete a hat-trick of victories. Others may well join in, such as Orica and Giant. The latter took the day easy after missing the break, targeting tomorrow’s stage.

Conversely, the classic tactic of sending a man up the road so you don’t have to work behind could well be used tomorrow by a few teams. If 3 out of the 4 sprint teams I’ve mentioned above have a rider up the road, the break makes it.

It’s very much 50/50 if that happens. If today wasn’t so tough and teams weren’t slightly weakened/tired, then tomorrow would be a definite sprint.  Then again, tomorrow is the last chance the sprinters have for several stages so they will not want to miss another opportunity!

Contenders

In-form Meersman looks like the rider to beat, he’s been very impressive so far this race. It’s good to see, because for a while he was a bit off the boil.

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Felline going off of the last sprint seems to be the rider who will challenge him. He’s climbing very well and is very fired up! Cort Nielsen will hope to go better than his third on stage 2. I’m sure he’s capable of that! While Arndt and Giant will be looking to finally getting to compete in the sprint.

Other’s to look for include Prades, Reza, SbaragliVan der SandeRestrepo and Drucker.

A proper sprinting outsider would be Romain Hardy. The Frenchman made it over the climbs today with the GC group and if the bunch gets whittled down tomorrow he may sneak onto the podium.

Breakaway riders? If we’re taking part in the Spanish lottery again, then look to strong all-rounders. Guys like Hansen, Terpstra and Haas all have the capabilities of winning from the break. Their team as said above then has the added bonus of not chasing.

#RandomRider

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Patrick Bevin is the chosen man for tomorrow. Going into this Vuelta I would have assumed that he  would be Cannondale’s sprinter of choice, but he’s failed to break into the top 100 on a stage yet. Potentially ill at the start of the race, he may have been taking it easy until now? He has a good turn of speed from a reduced group and could well podium tomorrow if it comes down to a sprint. If not, he’ll have to try his luck in the break. In either situation, there is more than likely to be someone better than him, but the Vuelta is full of surprises!

Prediction

As you all know by now, I do love to suggest that a break makes it and I’m very much on the fence for tomorrow’s stage. So I’m going to cop-out and give two predictions. If the break makes it, Nathan Haas wins. The Aussie did well in the break on stage 5 on a finish that didn’t particularly suit him. Tomorrow’s stage is more his cup of tea and he would expect to go well in a sprint from a breakaway group.

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If we do get the (probably more likely) bunch sprint, then I think Giant and Nikias Arndt will turn it around. He didn’t seem to badly hurt in his crash the other day, and they’ve highlighted how they saved their legs today for a sprint tomorrow. They have the best lead-out train here and in tomorrow’s tricky finale that will be the crucial factor.

Betting

Going against my rule and backing both a sprinter and a breakaway.

Arndt 0.5pt EW 33/1  (Bet365)

Haas 0.2pt WIN  80/1 (PP)

Hansen 0.15pt WIN 80/1 (PP)

Terpstra 0.15pt WIN 150/1 (PP)

 

Thanks for reading! Do you think we get a sprint? As usual, any feedback is greatly appreciated. Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.