Giro d’Italia 2017 Stage 15 Preview; Valdengo -> Bergamo

Apologies again, but this will be swift as I’ve been away out this afternoon for my Granddad’s birthday so don’t really have enough time do a massively in-depth preview. Unfortunately that means no time for the #Wongshot.

Today’s Recap

Wow, wow, wow!

I didn’t think Dumoulin would lose much time today, less than ten seconds or so but instead the Dutchman gained time on his rivals. Zakarin was closest, with a valiant Landa finishing third on the day.

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As for Quintana, he came home fourth in the end. Maybe in hindsight it would have been better for him to sit in until around 2km to go and use his explosive kick there as he seemed to go too early, allowing for Dumoulin to TT his way back up to him.

It leaves the Dutchman in a commanding position going into the final week with tomorrow’s breakaway stage unlikely to cause any GC splits.

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

The Route

A stage similar today in the sense that it starts relatively flat, before the majority of the climbing action happens in the final third.

The route also pays homage to Il Lombardia, with the final 50m being the same that we saw in the 2016 edition of that race.

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With that being said, it is actually undulating for most of the stage tomorrow and at almost 200km long, I’m sure a lot of the riders will be looking at it and hoping for another rest day.

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The Miragolo San Salvatore is the first major obstacle of the day and the Cat-2 climb averages almost 6.9% for its 8.7km. Although that average is brought down due to an easier start, the majority of the climb is over 7.5%.

We could see an early selection from the break here.

Once over the summit there is a fast descent before the Cat-3 climb of Selvino.

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An easier climb at only 5.4% average for 6.9km. It will be ridden at a steady tempo but it will be tough to drop anyone, unless of course they’re still struggling from the pressure on the previous ascent.

The riders will then descend (although a lot less severely in some parts) to the final kicker of the day before the run in to the line.

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Short, sweet, but tough! Averaging 7.9% for 1.6km, but including a ramp at 12% and a 500m stretch at close to 10%, this is where any remaining break will explode. If you get over the summit with a few seconds then you should be able to hold it all the way to the line!

As I mentioned above, the stage isn’t difficult enough for any GC action but is too tough for the sprinters so you guessed it, time to play everyone’s favourite game…

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Contenders

Like today’s stage, the quandary is that to win the stage you need to be a good climber, but to get into the break you need to be solid on the flat and also have a large slice of luck. I like to call it the breakaway cocktail! Anyway, I’ll throw a few names into the hat of riders that definitely won’t be making it into the move after I curse them.

Winner Anacona – The other Movistar Colombian looks electric right now and I have been very impressed with the power he’s been putting down at the front of the race. He even put his own team-mate Amador into difficulty today. With Quintana struggling today, Movistar will look to bounce back with a stage win tomorrow and Anacona could be that man. Far enough down on GC not to be an issue in the break, I’m not sure anyone will be able to drop him on the uphill.

Jan Hirt – I was pleasantly surprised to see the CCC rider finish in 12th place today, indiciating that he has some good form towards the end of this second week. He’s been fairly anonymous this Giro so far after a good showing in Croatia but that may be due to saving himself for stage wins. Sitting 20th on GC, he’s still far enough behind the top 10 to be given some leeway tomorrow and he could well surprise again! Can he put the Hirt on everyone else?

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Rudy Molard – With Pinot struggling a bit today, the FDJ DS might give the nod for a couple of their “second-tier” domestiques to chase a stage win. Molard has had a solid debut season for the French outfit after switching from rivals Cofidis at the end of last year, picking up a top 10 at Fleche and a top 20 at Liege along the way. I like his explosive kick and would fancy him to hold his own on the steep closing ramps tomorrow. Can he solo away for victory?

Sebastian Henao – There has to be a Sky rider on every list from now until the end of the race and I’ll go with my second Colombian! He lasted fairly long on the climb today, helping Landa get positioned near the front of the peloton, in fact, I think he was the last helper for the Spaniard. Small in stature, he might struggle to get into the break on the flat-lands but he was up there fighting today so I think he’ll give it another go tomorrow. It will be a massive opportunity for him to ride for his own glory for once, can he take it?

Prediction

Definite break winner, both the rider and I just have to be lucky about getting in it!

I’ll go for Movistar to bounce back and Anacona to take the win. He has looked exceptional on the climbs so far and it will be tough for anyone to beat him if he makes the move!

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Plus, he gives me the best “headline”!

Betting

Small punts on each of the riders (0.5pt on them all);

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Would take 80/150/150/200 at the lowest price for all of them.

Right, thanks for reading as always and apologies that this is slightly more skimmed than normal. Although saying that, it is still pretty much 1000 words long! Any feedback is greatly appreciated as normal. Who do you think will take the win tomorrow? Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

Liège-Bastogne-Liège 2017 Preview

La Doyenne or “the Old Lady” for the Anglicised among you, returns on Sunday for its 103rd edition!

Normally a very attritional race in its own right, last year’s race had the added dimension of truly awful weather with snow and rain throughout the day. In the end it was Wout Poels who took the victory from a small group that had escaped on the penultimate climb and stayed away until the end, sealing Sky’s first Monument win. Albasini and Rui Costa rounded out the podium.

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Poels isn’t here this year to defend his crown so it opens the door for a new winner, or one of the previous champions to step up to the mantle again.

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

The Route

258km of rolling road through the Ardennes awaits the peloton.

 

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Don’t let the fact that there are only 10 categorised climbs on course fool you, this is a tough and attritional race where the road is up and down a lot throughout the day.

The first 160km will serve as a warm-up for the riders and we’ll see our usual relatively large break go composed mainly of the Pro-Conti teams with a handful of World Tour representatives in their for good measure.

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Credit: Velorooms

Once we get to 90km to go, the climbs start in earnest, beginning with the Côte de Pont. But it’s the Col du Rosier which could be the site of the first potentially race winning attack I think. At 4.4km in length it is the longest ascent of the race and averaging 5.9% it is steep enough to gain some distance with a strong attack.

From there they tackle a descent before the Maquisard. However, it is probably the final three climbs that this race is famous for.

The Côte de la Redoute comes at roughly 40km to go.

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Short and steep, it’s one that might entice the punchy riders into a move depending on the race situation.

Next up after that is the Roche-aux-Faucons, with the Côte de Saint-Nicolas coming at under 10km to the finish line.

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There’s little time for the race to regroup once over the summit as they descend before starting the approach into Ans.

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The closing climb up to the finish line averages 5.3% for the 1.5km so isn’t overly difficult but at the end of a tough day riders will still need something left in the tank to cope with it.

How will the race pan out?

I think our aggressive Spring racing will continue here and we’ll see a similar race to Amstel. Plenty of teams have several options in their ranks and I would be very surprised to see them all happily wait for the final climb like they do in Fleche.

So we could well see some relatively serious attacks come on the Rosier. Who makes it and what teams are represented will then shape the rest of the race.

If we get strong enough riders from Movistar/Sky/BMC/Orica/Quick Step then it stays away in my opinion. Well, that is of course if they continue to work hard while out in front and everyone co-operates. Although we did see that the front group managed to stay ahead at Amstel even with JJ Rojas sandbagging them.

From there it’s just about being not only one of the strongest riders but one of the most tactically astute.

Or of course, it could all come back together and we get an aggressive final couple of climbs like we had in last year’s edition.

Contenders

With it being such an open race there is no clear favourite in my opinion, but Valverde is most definitely the closest to one that we have. Imperious on the Huy midweek, he seems to get better with age which is ridiculous when you consider his already illustrious career. In Amstel his Movistar team was caught out and probably would have preferred a different rider up the road. I’m sure they won’t make the same mistake twice but their team still doesn’t look that great. Having already won this race 3 times, he knows what it takes and it wouldn’t surprise me to see him on the top step of the podium again come Sunday afternoon!

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Team Sky in theory pose the biggest threat to the Spaniard as they have the great 1-2 punch of Kwiatkowski and Henao (Sergio), heck, you could even through Rosa into that mix too. This race looks best suited to the former world champion though. He’s really regained his footing as one of the best one-day racers in the world this year. With a monument win already under his belt this season he could well go on to make it two!

Dan Martin is QuickSteps leader for this race and rightly so. A former winner here, this is one of his favourite races in the calendar and he always seems to find himself at the pointy end of the day. Finishing 2nd to Valverde (again) on Wednesday, he’ll be hoping to go one better this Sunday. Yet, I have my eye on one of his team-mates and there is certainly some fantasy-league bias to this one; Petr Vakoc. With no Gilbert or Alaphilippe the Czech rider is co-leader elect and has all the abilities to go well on Sunday in my opinion. The way he easily bridged across to Wellens in Brabantse shows how well he is going because Wellens isn’t exactly short of form at the moment. He was unlucky to have suffered a mechanical at a bad time in Amstel and I get the feeling that we haven’t seen the last of him over this past week…

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BMC will have two leaders in this race who aren’t clear favourites according to the bookmakers, although I’m unsure as to why one of them isn’t. Those two riders are of course Teuns and Van Avermaet! The former was excellent in La Fleche, taking a great third place. It’s nice to see him living up to the lofty expectations that were put on him after his breakthrough performance in the 2014 Tour of Britain. He certainly has a good opportunity on Sunday to repeat that result. However, it’s his team-mate GVA that interests me more. According to the bookmakers he’s a relative outsider and I just can’t get my head around why! Yes, he was only 12th place in Amstel and looked jaded chasing the front group, but that’s because he was the rider shouldered with most of the workload. The climbs here aren’t too tough and the Olympic Champion has a very, very good chance of taking his second monument of the year.

I expect an attacking race from Orica as they have plenty of good climbers in their team. Likewise the same can be said for Cannondale and Astana. Yet, I just don’t see any of their riders winning this race.

I would love to see Haas go better than his 4th in Amstel for Dimension Data, but he was struggling with illness in Fleche. Maybe it was just a small bug and he’s managed to turn it around?

Izagirre is dangerous for Bahrain, so too are the UAE duo of Costa and Ulissi. I think the Italian will have a really good race here as he prepares for the Giro.

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He impressed me a lot in Pais Vasco, especially his 8th place in the TT. Since then he was in the second group in Amstel and finished in 10th place in Fleche. Not bad form!

Bardet and Barguil will hope to top 10, but this is me just filling up some words and naming some more names as I’ve already suggested my winner…

Prediction

Greg Van Avermaet to show that Amstel was just a blip and he rounds out one of the best spring classics seasons of all time with a fine victory in Liege!

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Betting

Set my stalls out with this tweet earlier this week and again this morning;

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I’ll be marking him down as 200/1 with 0.5pt EW on. He’s into 150/1 now with most places and I still think there’s value to be had with that, especially if you can get the 4 places available.

I went a bit heavy-handed on Vakoc thinking I’d only have two picks and that would be it, but I’m going to have three now so the stakes have risen. It is the last monument for a while though so YOLO as the kids these days say…

0.5pt EW Vakoc @ 200/1

1pt EW Ulissi @ 66/1 with Bet365 (take the 50/1 and 4 places available elsewhere)

2pts EW GVA @ 22/1 with Coral who’re paying 4 places. (would take 20s)

 

Thanks as always for reading and any feedback is greatly appreciated like normal. Who do you think will win La Doyenne? Will we see an attacking race or will it come down to a relatively large group heading towards Liege? I’ll be back again with my Liege Femmes preview so please return for that! Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

La Flèche Wallonne 2017 Preview

The second of the Ardennes classics this week and we’re finally in the Ardennes! A race dominated by the famous Mur de Huy ascent and the sprint up it, the day is often won by some of the best climbers in the world.

Last year an imperious Valverde won it for the third time in a row (his 4th in total), beating Alaphilippe and Dan Martin.

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I’m not going to beat about the bush here though, this is one of my least favourite races of the year. A long afternoon waiting for one short effort up the final climb, not my idea of fun. Maybe that will change this year though after all the attacking racing we’ve had so far this Spring?

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

The Route

A shade over 200km, with most of the challenges packed into the latter half of the race.

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The road is up and down for the last 80km but more than likely it will be the final 30km that will settle the day.

With the second passage of the Huy, some teams might look to increase the pace and shed some domestiques of the main favourites, or even send attackers up the road.

It’s then around 12km until they hit the Côte d’Ereffe, cresting with only 15km remaining. At 2.1km in length and averaging only 5%, it’s not a hard climb, but I expect the pace to be high and a few riders might get dropped from the peloton.

Once over the peak, we have a quick descent and an unclassified rise before a gradual drop to the penultimate climb of the day.

The Côte de Cherave is an easier Mur, averaging just over 8% for 1.3km. Last year saw Izagirre, Jungels and Wellens attack on the climb and we could well see some similar moves this year. With its proximity to the finish, if the peloton behind is not co-operating then there is a chance that riders make it all the way to the Mur with a gap. However, they’ll need to have something left in the tank before tackling the famous climb.

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The 9.6% average gradient is a bit deceitful because we have a kilometre that averages closer to 11%, with much shallower slopes at the bottom and right at the end of the climb.

It will be a strong rider who wins tomorrow!

Weather Watch

It looks like a nice day out in the saddle for the riders, but it also looks to be a relatively windy day.

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Source; Windfinder

The above image is the forecast for a town called Maillen which is just north of the route near Yvoir (at the 63km gone mark).

It’s a similar story for the rest of the region tomorrow, with a brisk North-Easterly wind which means that it will be a head or cross-head wind for most of the day until we reach the closing circuit around Huy.

Combining the wind direction, speed and road direction then echelons are certainly a possibility but I fear there is a greater chance of it just being a block head-wind instead.

There are some exposed roads in the area though, so if the wind would turn ever so slightly, then that would be great!

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I’m just thinking wishfully again though.

How will the race pan out?

I’m really hoping that the attacking racing of the Spring continues here. The route has a lot of potential, especially the closing 15km, it just requires some teams to be risky for once. Otherwise, we’ll end up with another damp squib of a race again.

The onus is really on Movistar to do most of the work as Valverde is the man to beat on this climb, going for his 5th win and considering his form, no one else will win if the bunch comes to the foot slopes together. Barring any mechanical or other incident of course.

Therefore it’s up to other teams to make the race hard and wear down Movistar as the Spanish team here is solid, but not great. Potential race winning attacks will need to come further out than 15km to go though because they should still be able to cope with them then.

In theory, no one should help them and that’s how I would certainly play it if I was a DS of a team. Yet as we know, some teams don’t seem to think that way and I fear that Sky/QuickStep will crack and help do some work.

However, if Sky sent someone like Rosa up the road on the penultimate passage of the Huy then that would set alarm bells ringing in the Movistar camp and soften them up for the last trio of climbs. Joined by some allies from other teams, then we could have a race on our hands. It would need to be a meaningful attack though because the route isn’t tough enough to cause any damage if it’s a half-hearted effort.

With all that said though, I fear it may come down to a sprint up the Mur.

Contender(s)

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Anyone else?

Team Sky duo of Henao and Kwiatkowski should be up there. Both have finished well in the past at this race and they were strong in Amstel which will give them a lot of confidence going into tomorrow. A 1-2 punch might see them beat Valverde but Quick Step tried that last year and failed, so we could see a similar outcome again.

No Gilbert is a blow for Quick Step but they still have Dan Martin who will be in contention. He wasn’t great in Catalunya but that could turn around here, he won’t win though.

Albasini will top 10 again, possibly top 5.

Uran has looked good this season and should be up there again. His team-mate Woods should like this type of finish but his tactical ineptness lets him down at times. I guess there aren’t many tactics to a 1.3km uphill effort!

Several other GC riders/climbers will feature in and around the top 10, such as Bardet, Pantano and Costa.

As for outsiders;

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My logic still stands with Matthews for tomorrow, or at least it does in my head anyway! He seems to be going exceptionally well this year and he’s survived some steep climbs when I’ve not expected it. With the race only being 200km he should be fresh at the finish so in a 3-minute effort, why can’t he compete with the best GC riders in the World?

I’m also intrigued to see how Kudus goes. The Eritrean will benefit from the shorter race distance and I keep thinking back to how impressive he was in February on the climb to Llucena. The issue is that, that result was February and we’re now in April when riders are almost in peak condition and Kudus hasn’t shown so much recently. Nonetheless, as a proper outsider, he’s one to keep an eye on!

If we get a late attack succeed or a group of riders get away then Vakoc is my man for that situation.

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As QS’ join second best option IMO (along with Brambilla), he could be a good foil to send up the road in an attacking race. He looked incredibly strong in Brabantse, bridging the gap to Wellens and then to the leaders fairly comfortably. Peaking for this part of the season, I don’t think we’ve seen everything from him yet this week…

Prediction

An exciting/attacking race? Hopefully! But…

Cycling is a sport where 180 guys ride around on their bikes for 5 hours and in the end, Valverde wins.

Betting

I fear #HaugheyWednesdays will be coming to an end tomorrow. Some really small punts for interest but they are already a hiding to nothing and almost being marked down as a loss before the start…

0.125pt EW Matthews @ 300/1 (As I tweeted this I’m counting it, and I would maybe take the 200s still available. The 150 is a push)

0.125pt EW Kudus @ 500/1 with Betfair/PP (would take 300s lowest)

0.125pt EW Vakoc @ 250/1 with Bet365 (150/1 lowest but again, that’s at a push).

 

Thanks as always for reading and any feedback is greatly appreciated. Who do you think will win? Will it be a walk in the park for Valverde? This is the first of three previews I’ll have out today, with Women’s Fleche out next then Tour of the Alps out later, so do return for those! Although the latter may be cancelled due to the weather. Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

 

Pais Vasco 2017 Stage 6 Preview; Eibar -> Eibar (ITT)

Today’s Recap

The break was kept on a tight leash all day and was brought back before the 50km to go mark. Orica were the team taking on the brunt of the pace making duties, but when we got to the final climb Yates looked a bit flat. Instead, for a while it looked as if Meintjes and Woods were going to surprise the favourites, but they were brought back just before the summit.

That left a couple of kilometres of false flat/descent which saw Sanchez spectacularly fall off while no-one was around him. According to reports apparently he hit a stone! He looked pretty bashed up when crossing the line.

Reducing the front group by two (the crash distanced Contador by a few seconds), Valverde used his knowledge of the finale (he won on this finish in the 2012 Vuelta), beating Uran and Bardet to the line.

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Too easy in the end for him!

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

The Route

Climb -> Descent -> Flat. A real mixed bag of a TT!

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@LasterketaBurua

No Strava profile from me today as I’m short of time.

As you can see above, the opening climb isn’t exactly easy; 5.2Km long at 7.3%. The riders will be fairly happy that the gradients are relatively consistent. Saying that, the first 3.5km of the climb averages closer to 9%, with the remainder of it tapering out.

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The Strava profile of the climb can be viewed here.

There are a few twists and turns on the descent but there is nothing too crazy.

The second half of the stage is mainly flat, but there are a few short kick-ups, with 700m at 9.7% looking to be the toughest. We finish with a couple of kilometres of false-flat to the finish line.

Thankfully for the riders, the conditions appear to be similar all day so there’s no need to worry about that!

I’m intrigued to see how many riders start on a road bike and switch to a TT bike later on, the latter part of the stage is certainly long enough for the aerodynamics of the TT bike to have an effect. Or if we’ll just see them ride a road bike with bars? Who knows!

Contenders

After his stage win the other day, Roglic has to start as one of the main contenders for tomorrow’s TT. After all, it is the discipline he shot to prominence in at the Giro last year, taking a great stage win! He has the climbing ability and flat power to contend on a course like this. Yet, I’m concerned with how far he finished today. The last climb isn’t properly suited to his abilities but to lose over a minute isn’t great. He can’t be ruled out though!

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Ion Izagirre is arguably the favourite though. Losing only 15 seconds today, he is within distance of stealing the overall title. A great all round, one-week stage racer, he should be close to the times of the better climbers on the mountain and hope that his good descending and rouleur skills will be enough to take victory.

Valverde will be high on confidence after his win today, looking exceptionally strong on the climb. The inclusion of a long climb suits him tomorrow, likewise does the descent. The question is, can he hold onto any lead on the flat? He looks powerful at the moment and seemingly in the form of his life, so I would be surprised if he didn’t.

After several bits of bad luck in this race, Contador can count his blessings to be only 3 seconds behind the leaders at this moment in time. Like the rest of that front group today, he looked good on the climb, trading blows with Valverde as if it was the Vuelta. He’s re-found his TT form again this season and is certainly in with a chance of the win tomorrow. Let’s just hope he doesn’t get impeded by a dog this time!

Sky have a few options tomorrow but I fear Henao might struggle on the flat and Kwiatkowski seemed to be struggling today. Will they let Kiryienka have a go? I would image so because Sky will want one of their earlier guys to give feedback to the later starters. The length of the course is more to his liking than recent TTs and he’ll hope to be within touching distance after the climb and eat up the flat final 2/3rds of the route!

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Apart from those guys I can’t really see anyone competing!

Uran has looked great this race so far but hasn’t put in a decent TT time in donkey’s years!

Bardet will love the climb but struggle on the flat.

One outsider who might break the mould tomorrow is Spilak. After a truly awful 2016, he seems to be returning to form. He was the eternal second place in tough TTs in 2015 and he may surprise again tomorrow.

Predicition

You can never trust Kiryienka being let off the leash so it looks set to be a toss-up between Izagirre v Contador v Valverde.

I think the former will lose too much time on the climb and struggle to regain it back on the flat. Which means we are left with the age-old Contador/Valverde battle.

Without much to seperate them on the flat, I think the longer climb will play a part and it will be Contador who will take the win!

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Watch out for a certain Solvenian though, and not the one you are thinking about!

Betting

Sitting on 3pts profit for the race so far, so just going to play up that here.

2pts WIN Contador @ 5/2

0.5pt EW Spilak @ 25/1

 

It’s early but I’m adding a couple of Roubaix long shots before tomorrow’s preview;

0.25pt EW Groenewegen @ 250/1 with Bet365 (would take 150/1)

0.25pt EW Theuns @200/1 with Bet365/Coral (would take 150/1)

 

Thanks as always for reading! Who do you think will win the stage, and with it possibly the GC too? I’ll be back again tomorrow with my Paris Roubaix preview for stay tuned for that. Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

Pais Vasco 2017 Stage 5 Preview; Bilbao -> Eibar (Arrate)

Today’s Recap

A flying and ever-attacking Roglic denied those hoping for a reduced bunch sprint. After what seemed his fifth dig off the front, the Slovenian finally got away in the closing couple of kilometres and held on to the line.

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Behind, Matthews sprinted to second, with Visconti re-finding his form from a few years ago to get up for 3rd.

The 2 second margin Roglic gained at the line sees him move up to 2nd on GC, but that will no doubt change after tomorrow’s Queen Stage. Let’s have a look at what’s in store for the riders.

The Route

A short but very intense stage!

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@LasterketaBurua

With 6 climbs in only 138km, it’s sure to be a lively affair.

However, we have almost 40km of flat to start the day off with, and I expect the fight to get into the break to be quite tough. Then again, the first attempt of the day might go!

The first climb of the day comes too far from home to be of any danger, but from our first passage of Ixua, then the race could well be on. Officially the climb is 6.2km long at 7.02%, but as you can see on the profile from the guys at Lasterketa Burua, the final 3.8km of the climb averages 9.7%. Tough!

From thereon, the rest of the stage is either climbing, descending or short valley roads.

The Cat-3 climb isn’t that tough, but the second passage of Ixua crests at only 32km to go. We then have a fast descent before the penultimate climb of the day.

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Only a Cat-3 and with a steady gradient, it shouldn’t be too tough for the peloton. However, that all depends on how the peloton approaches the preceding ascent of Ixua. If they tackle it as fast as I expect, then a few riders might even get dropped here. Or we’ll only be left with the best climbing talents in the peloton.

Another quick descent follows before a slow drag in the valley road and through Eibar itself before the final climb of the day.

4.7km at 9.3% or 3.8km at 10.5%; take your pick, either way it’s not easy!

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A couple of kilometres of false flat at the top will give those dropped a chance to regroup if a rider ahead implodes. However, that seems unlikely and we have a very short drop down to the finish line.

How will the stage pan out?

Normally, I’d be all over a break on a stage like this. No bonus seconds on the line certainly increases the breakaway’s chance of surviving as it doesn’t matter if the leading GC contender to cross the line is 1st or 7th. All that matters is the gap to the other challengers. We saw that last year when Rosa won from the break (crazy long-range attack) on the stage that is very similar to this one, there was still GC movement behind.

A break is what I had in mind for this stage when I first looked at the profiles but, that’s now changed!

My reasoning behind it is mainly due to the stage being around 20km shorter than I had originally thought. At only 140km with 6 categorised climbs, that’s a lot of climbing in a short space of time. Particularly when you consider that the first 30km are flat!

With so many riders still in contention, and some good TTers to boot, the better climbers in the race won’t want to give everyone an easy ride.

I’m looking at Movistar to light the race up.

Valverde is a competent TTer (especially in Spain), but he’ll still be wary of those around him! The finish climb looks great for him and the short steep ramps will suit him down to the ground. Considering how well he was climbing in Catalunya, he will be confident of dropping everyone, even Contador.

Getting rid of domestiques of the other GC favourites will also be of interest to Movistar. Along with Sky, they have the best climbing squad with them. Both teams should be able to turn the pace on and churn out some of the opposition riders. I would expect this to happen on the second passage of Ixua. From there, it will be a race of attrition and an explosive finale up the final climb.

Contenders

I think I’ve made it fairly clear above that Valverde is my favourite for the stage! He was unreal in Catalunya and I can’t see that being any different here.

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Contador will more than likely be one of his biggest challengers, although he might be suffering after his two crashes from today. Nonetheless, he’s one of the toughest riders around and will no doubt bounce back and give it his all.

Henao offers Sky their best opportunity on this type of finish. The Colombian is exceptional on relatively short, but steep climbs and he’ll be looking to gain some time before the TT. Kwiatkowski is a good second option but the climb looks too steep for him in my opinion.

Yates may finally get some freedom but even though he’s over a minute down, he has been heavily marked so far. That could well change tomorrow if there is a moment’s hesitation in the front group.

Alaphilippe would normally love this type of climb but he’s been terribly unlucky so far this race and will more than likely be on super domestique duties for De La Cruz.

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There are a couple of outsiders I’d like to throw into the mix.

Kudus performed spectacularly well on the steep climb of Llucena back in Valenciana in February. He seems to be getting back to top shape after going off the boil for a while. With a poor TT, he will want to attack here and may benefit from being a lesser name. He just needs to attack at the right time for once!

Valverde is not the only Movistar rider who I think might go well here. Ruben Fernandez burst into the general public’s consciousness last year with a great second place on the brutal finish on stage 3 of the Vuelta last year, which resulted in him taking the leader’s jersey. A former Tour de l’Avenir winner, he is an exceptionally classy rider and it is good to see him start to fulfil his potential. After a slow start to the year due to an injury sustained in the offseason, he is my dark horse for this stage!

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Prediction

Crazy stage where it’s full gas from the gun and a race of attrition throughout the rest of the day. Sky and Movistar will set a tough pace, but in the end we all know the outcome, Valverde wins!

Betting

Cojones on the line tomorrow;

Valverde 4pts WIN @ 7/2 with Bet365 (would take 3/1)

Fernandez 0.5pt EW @ 33/1 with Bet365 (would take 25/1)

 

Thanks for reading as always. A bit of a different focus in the preview today, with more of an emphasis on me trying to explain my logic behind how I think the stage will pan out. What do you think will happen? Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

Vuelta al Pais Vasco 2017 Stage 1 Preview; Iruñea -> Eguesibar-Sarriguren

GC Overview

No time for a full length preview so here are a few thoughts.

The race in general seems easier than previous editions, but the riders can always make it tougher through aggressive racing. The most decisive stages are the last two, stages 5 & 6. With the steep gradients of Arrate, the more lightweight, explosive climbers will look to maker their mark. Whereas the more all-round GC contenders will hope to gain time back on the TT the following today. It should be a close race!

Contador won the race last year and is clearly going well just now. He’ll fancy his chances to make it back to back wins overall!

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His main rival looks to be the flying Valverde. He was exceptional in Catalunya and has to start the race as favourite in my opinion.

Behind those two there are several riders who will be hoping to make the podium. Alaphilippe, Henao, Roglic, Yates and Spilak are just a few names to conjure with. Out of that selection, I would fancy Alaphilippe. There are no big mountain days and long 16km climbs which he hates, instead, he’ll find the short 6-7km climbs to his liking. As we saw in Paris-Nice, he packs a fairly good TT as well! Spilak is a dark horse, especially if he is on the level that he was climbing in Tirreno and if it rains, of course!

No bonus seconds for the stage winner etc tilts the importance of attacking racing to drop opponents, but also the TT is even more key.

Right, now that’s out the way, let’s have a look at what’s in store for the riders on Stage 1.

The Route

A fairly dull stage to start the race off.

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Profile once again courtesy of @LasterketaBurua

We do have a few Cat-2 climbs but they come too far from the finish to be of any consequence. The little rise of 1.4km at 3.4% which crests at just over 4km to go is interesting, but I can’t see it having a huge effect on the race. It may be the launchpad for a probing attack, though even I think it will be hard for one of them to stick! Yet, with no real sprinters in the race, it might just do…

The run in to the line is quite technical, and we have two sharp turns in the closing 2km.

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The 90-degree turn with 300m to go will ensure for a manic end to the day. You need to be in the first 5 riders out of it to have any chance of winning.

“Sprinters”

We have barely any of the top-level sprinters here this week so expect a few surprise results and things not going to plan!

Matthews probably starts as the favourite. The Aussie looked good in Paris Nice, and rode very well on the unfamiliar cobbles of Gent Wevelgem recently. Like most of the “sprinters”, he doesn’t have a great lead-out with him and will be relying on Geschke to deliver him into position.

Bennett arrives as the other sprinter who’s a cut above the rest. The Irishman took a great stage win in Paris Nice, beating some of the fastest riders in the world. He pulled out of De Panne so it will be interesting to see if he’s recovered from whatever it was that caused that. If he has, then he is certainly a big favourite for the win!

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It says a lot when you have Swift and Lobato as the next best sprinters in the peloton. Both have looked a bit “meh” as of late but if there was ever a chance for them to take a win and get some confidence back, this is it. I just wouldn’t have any confidence in them at the moment!

Then we have normal lead-out men who will be sprinters at this race, such as Van der Sande and Richeze. I would favour Richeze out of those two and he seems to have a fairly good sprint train (by this races standards) to support him. Delivering two wins in San Juan earlier in the year can he win in Spain a few months later?

Orica have a few options and they could go with either Albasini or Gerrans both of whom could contest, especially with the other rider leading out.

Heck, Valverde and Alaphilippe (if Richeze isn’t up for it) might fancy a sprint!

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Bole will fancy his chances but he’s been poor so far this year.

I’m intrigued to see what card Astana play. They obviously have blog favourite Lutsenko, who’s clearly going well just now and in a sprint like this he certainly has a chance. Although it remains to be seen how he has recovered from his crash in Gent Wevelgem and how finishing Flanders today will have affected his legs. Instead they might turn to Basque rider, and another favourite of mine, Bilbao. He’s had a quiet start to the year but he’ll want to go well in his home race. Packing a fast sprint, he might surprise!

Prediction

A real crapshoot of a stage where a late attack might stick as controlling the bunch will be tough, or we’ll get one of the craziest sprints of the season.

I think we will get a sprint, but having a good lead-out will be important and there aren’t many of them here! Orica have the best contingent of riders for that in my opinion. With Power and Plaza they have two riders who can take it up from a few kms out, letting Gerrans/Albasini sit in behind. Choosing between those two is tough, but after his second place today in La Rioja, Albasini is clearly going well. Gerrans won’t mind doing the work for him if he’s rewarded with his own chances later in the week. If the Aussie leads Albasini into the last turn, very few riders will have the strength to come past him!

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Betting

Nothing for me on GC, odds are too short on the favourites for my opinion. With stage 1 being so difficult to predict I’m having a relatively conservative, 2pt kinda day…

Albasini 1pt WIN @50/1 with Betfair/PaddyPower (would take the 33s with Bet365)

Bilbao 0.25pt EW @200/1 with Bet365 (would take 125s)

Lutsenko 0.25pt EW @125/1 with Bet365. (would take 80s)

 

Thanks for reading as always. Apologies that this is on the shorter side but there’s not that much to talk about for this stage! Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

Paris Nice 2017 Stage 7 Preview; Nice -> Col de la Couillole

Today’s Recap

A rather exciting stage and we saw a GC showdown up to the finish in Fayence. It was Simon Yates who took advantage of his lower overall position, attacking over the top of the penultimate climb of the day, managing to hold on to the finish.

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Behind, Henao attacked and cracked Alaphilippe, with Porte returning to some form to take third place behind the Colombian. It leaves the GC nicely poised and we should be in for an exciting stage tomorrow. Let’s have a look at what’s in store for the riders.

The Route

The penultimate day and the Queen stage of the race!

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Two big climbs in the final 50km will be the main focal point of the day as the first two ascents of the day come way too far from the finish to be a launchpad.

The Col Saint-Martin will start off the GC proceedings.

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Officially 7.5km at 7.2% in gradient, the climb is long enough to stretch things out. Well, that is when you consider that the road actually rises for a long time before we get to the official start of the climb.

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Instead, the full length of the climb is 20.4km long and averages a very solid 4.2% gradient. You can view the Strava segment here. If a couple of teams co-operate here, they really could put the hurt on Alaphilippe and try to isolate him.

Once over the summit we have a long descent followed by some valley roads before we start the final climb of the day; the Col de la Couillole.

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A long and steady climb, it barely goes below 6.5% or above 7.5% in gradient. If the pace has been injected on the previous climb, it is very possible for a GC rider to pop here and lose a lot of time.

How will the stage pan out?

I thought today may have been a breakaway stage, with the finish potentially suiting Alaphilippe I wasn’t confident of other teams bringing the escapees back. I’ve had tomorrow marked down as a GC day for the majority of the week and today’s showing makes me think we’ll see a GC rider win  the stage tomorrow too.

Watch it be a breakaway win now…

Contenders

Sergio Henao certainly looked one of the strongest today and Team Sky seem up for a fight for the GC title. My suspicions about the Colombian building some form at home over the past few weeks seem to be correct and he is now Alaphilippe’s main GC rival. The long climbs up to altitude will certainly suit him and with a very strong support team they are dangerous. I expect them to keep the break in check all day, then really ramp the pace up on the Col Saint-Martin. Henao’s point of attack will be interesting. Will he go early on the Saint-Martin, hoping to find some allies, or will he wait and leave it all for the final climb? The way he seemed to open up a gap today over Alaphilippe on a finish that suited the Frenchman more, I think Henao might just be confident enough to wait until that final climb.

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One man who is sure to take it up early is Alberto Contador. The Spaniard tried something today along with Henao but was quickly marked by Dan Martin. He struggled on the final slopes today but it was not a climb that really suited him whereas tomorrow’s long, steadier ascents do. He looked sprightly on the lower slopes of Mont Brouilly where we get similar gradients to that we’ll get tomorrow. You can’t forget how well he was climbing in Valenciana and following Quintana for fun in Abu Dhabi. Not being an immediate threat on the GC, he may just be given some leeway.

If Contador is not an immediate threat on GC, then Richie Porte is not an immediate threat on next year’s GC! The Aussie finds himself way down on the overall but seemed bullish and up for the fight today. Again, like Contador, Porte is not suited to the short punchy climbs and tomorrow’s 7% stuff looks great for him. If he’s climbing anywhere close to his form in the Tour Down Under he certainly has a chance of a stage win, which will certainly boost his morale!

After his stage win today, Simon Yates could well go on to bag another tomorrow. He’s in a similar GC position to Contador and those two may form a very exciting, attacking duo. Will he have enough left in the tank for another assault tomorrow?

I’m intrigued to see how Ilnur Zakarin does on this stage. The Russian has slowly plodded along this race after disappointingly losing time on the opening day. He did an OK time-trial but not as good as some were expecting. Yet, he seemed to be coping alright on the climbs today so maybe that was just a blip. He looked very impressive in Abu Dhabi, chasing down Rui Costa and will be looking for a similar performance on stage 7!

Izagirre and Barguil might try to utilise their lowly GC positions to their advantage but they haven’t looked great so far in this race.

Prediction

We’ll get a crazy final half to the stage with a few long-range probing attacks. Alaphilippe will only initially need to follow Henao and Gallopin and that will benefit those further down on GC. Henao may well bridge up to others, but I fancy Alberto Contador to take the stage. He will have been very disappointed after a poor first stage, considering this was his first main goal of the season. The way he climbed in Valenciana and the effortless nature he followed Quintana was incredibly impressive. El Pistolero will fire a warning shot that he’s not dead and buried yet!

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Although I do think it will be very close between him and Henao, with the Colombian moving into the GC lead after the stage.

Betting

Normally I wouldn’t back GC riders for a stage like this but…

2pts WIN on Contador @ 9/2 with BEt365.

Also,

4pts WIN on Henao for GC at 9/4 with PaddyPower

Thanks again for reading, who do you think will win tomorrow? Will someone further down on GC benefit or will Henao make his mark? Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

 

Paris – Nice 2017 GC Preview

Paris – Nice 2017 GC Preview

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

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

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

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

The Route

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

Stage 1.

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

Stage 2.

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Another flat day, this one is definitely a sprint!

Stage 3.

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

Stage 4.

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

Stage 5. 

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

Stage 6.

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

Stage 7.

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

Stage 8.

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

GC Contenders

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Prediction

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

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

Betting

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

NO BET.

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

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

 

Tour Down Under Stage 5 Preview; McLaren Vale -> Willunga Hill

Today’s Recap

Jack Bauer almost made it all the way but was caught within the final 5km and we did end up with a bunch gallop to the line after all. Like GroundHog Day, it was once again Ewan who took out a great sprint victory, beating Sagan and Van Poppel to the line.

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Is he unbeatable on current form? Pretty much yeah, but we’ll have to wait until Sunday to find out as tomorrow is the classic TDU GC finish up Willunga Hill.

The Route

Link to the Strava stage profile

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There’s not really much to talk about the route for this stage. The laps around McLaren Vale are very straightforward, so like every year, this day comes down to the double passage of Willunga Hill.

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A fairly steady climb, it averages 7.6% for the 2.9km with it’s steepest sections coming in the first half and it “flattening out” in the final kilometre.

On the first ascent we normally see some thinning out of the peloton and are maybe left with 30-40 riders or so coming into the final run up Willunga. The past few years has seen the leading GC teams control the climb until roughly 1km left where we normally see a full-out sprint from Porte all the way to the top.

He did the same thing in 2016 too…

Both attacks are made at 1.2km to go and amazingly he fully drops Dennis/Henao at the exact same S-bend. More of the same this year?!

How will the stage pan out?

With the commanding lead he has, Porte will be able to ride a more defensive race here than he’s used to. But will he want to? The King of Willunga could potentially make it three in a row here and with the way he soared up Paracombe on Stage 2 I wouldn’t put it past him. He’s not really giving any hints as to how he’ll race it, suggesting he can ride conservatively but if the option is there to go for the win he will. Hmmm.

You never know, he might be happy to let a break take the win and bonus seconds, but that’s very unlikely! Or at least the other teams will chase the break down to fight out for the win if BMC don’t play ball.

With the 20″ gap over his nearest rivals, Porte could just mark Chaves/Izagirre/McCarthy out of the race. Therefore, I think there is a good chance he might give a bit of leeway to those who are further behind, i.e. 30 seconds plus.

Henao was very unlucky on stage 2 with a double puncture and did remarkably well to still get up for 12th on the stage. So he clearly has very good form at the moment. Second here last year to Porte he definitely has a good chance to go one better this year!

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Woods was third here last year and like Henao currently sits 33″ behind Porte on GC. I can imagine there will be a lot of people who fancy his chances but he wasn’t overly impressive on Paracombe in my opinion. Especially in comparison to his explosive nature that he showed last year at this race. So it’s a no from me, but I am willing to be surprised and proven wrong (again)!

Ulissi sprinted to 4th on this finish in 2016 and came home in the main group on Stage 2 so clearly has some decent form. Probably not a rider who will win solo, he could win a 2 or 3 man sprint of lesser riders.

Haas seems to be riding better than ever here but this climb is on his limit so he’ll have to pull a remarkable performance out the bag to podium. As we have him for GC I’m quite happy to just leave him be for this stage.

There are a lot of other riders who could potentially pull off an early attack that goes unmarked and stays away to the end but I won’t name the entire top 20 on GC. Nobody’s got time for that! So a usual here are a couple of outsiders to keep an eye on during the coverage.

If Izagirre is struggling look to another Movistar rider, Jesus Herrada, as their man for the day. A very solid climber with a good sprint he will need to catch the others napping as he probably won’t be able to ride the likes of Chaves/Porte etc off of his wheel. Nonetheless he does have the class to finish a race off as was shown at the Dauphiné last year.

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One outside Aussie who I do like for this kind of surprise, un-marked attack is Nathan Earle. Finishing 11th on Paracombe was a great result and he certainly is flying right now. A rider who may not be as respected in terms of his climbing ability by the rest of the peloton, he is a danger if he gets an easy 15 seconds. I do expect the Uni-SA team to go a bit berserk this stage!

Prediction

I’ll go for a Sergio Henao win. He was terribly unlucky on stage 2 and will want to justify his good form with victory! Coming back from a double puncture to finish in the main bunch is no mean feat and being 33 seconds down on Porte will only be to his advantage. If he gets a 5 second gap he’ll win. Vamos!

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Or Porte decides to go for the win and creams everyone…

Betting

2.3pts WIN Sergio Henao @9/2 with Boylesports (would take 4/1)

0.1pt WIN Jesus Herrada @80/1 with Betfair (would take 66s)

0.1pt WIN Nathan Earle @150/1 with various bookmakers

Plus this “fun” H2H treble with Bet365. 0.5pt

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Thanks again for reading! Who do you think will win up Willunga? Will Richie still be the King? As usual any feedback is greatly appreciated! Anyway,

Those are My Two Spokes Worth

 

 

 

 

 

Tour Down Under Stage 2 Preview; Stirling -> Paracombe

Today’s Recap

I told you it was simple! The pocket rocket Caleb Ewan wins and takes the opening Ochre jersey of the race.

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Although it wasn’t all plain sailing for the Aussie as Van Poppel and Bennett ran him very close with Ewan winning by about half a bike length. Saying that, he never looked as if he was going to be overhauled.

Unfortunately from a punting side, Theuns went a bit early and never got near the podium. He was even overhauled on the line by Planckaert which ruined the H2H double, but oh well, moving on!

Ewan has no chance of retaining Ochre after today/tonight/whatever day this is stage, so let’s have a look at what’s in store for the riders who want to win this race overall.

The Route

The Queen stage and the toughest in Tour Down Under history. The riders will be thankful that it appears if it will be a lot cooler than the searing heat of stage 1 and we might even get a small rain shower.

Here’s a link to the Strava profile

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At just over 3,300m of elevation gain over 150km,  this will be a sore one for the peloton. The laps around Stirling won’t see any major action aside from movement in the breakaway, it will just be a case of a slow increase in pace back in the peloton.

Unlike 2015, the riders approach the Paracombe ascent via a different route. Instead of the fast descent in that edition, this year they climb for the majority of it, with a few minor descents thrown in. This certainly changes how the riders will approach the finish.

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Link to the above Strava profile can be found here

The finish can be split into three sections; 4.6km at 1%; 4km at 4.1%; and 1.8km at 7.8%.

The pace will be high in Section 1 as the riders will still be carrying a lot of speed from their descent away from the Stirling circuit. I wouldn’t expect anything too crazy to happen here but this is where we will most likely see the sprinters unhitch as they look to conserve some energy. Unless of course they’ve already been dropped on the circuit!

Section 2 will see the GC teams come more to the head of the peloton. With some segments of the climb being around 8% it is certainly possible for a few riders to try to go for a long attack and get a gap. Satellite riders could be sent up the road here from teams that have two GC candidates (i.e. Gerrans/Chaves) and cause panic behind. Or those who won’t fancy their chances coming to the bottom of Paracombe with the GC group may also give it a dig.

Finally we reach the big test and with an opening 500m at 10.2% some time can be lost if you’re on a bad day. The climb does get easier afterwards and as we saw in 2015 there is a chance it can regroup. If that happens a well-timed late attack, à la Dennis, can succeed or we could get a small group sprint.

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This really is a tough stage to call which hopefully should make it a great one from a viewing perspective but it’s not so great for me just now trying to write this!

Contenders

The GC favourites for the race such as Porte, Henao, Chaves and co are all short odds with the bookmakers and you’d expect that with this being the Queen stage. However, from a racing stand point I find it quit hard to split them on this climb. We saw back in 2015 Porte give it a nudge but he was marked by Evans and Pozzovivo with no real inroads being made. I think something similar is likely to happen here and unless someone puts in a massive attack the favourites may well mark each other out of the race. Consequently, this will open it up for a “lesser” rider to take the stage. My favourite type of preview to write!

Annoyingly, it’s still not clear-cut as this could be done by an attack on Section 2 and staying away, or with a late surge on Section 3.

I guess we should start with the Aussies!

One of my outside punts for GC, Nathan Haas has already taken himself one bonus second out on the road on stage 1 so clearly he feels up to challenging for the overall title. I’m not too sure what the best approach would be for him, but with a fast sprint he could risk holding out for a re-grouping at the end of the stage. He’s looking very thin just now and can definitely surprise!

Vuelta a Burgos 2016  stage 4

Also, Haas’ team-mate Lachlan Morton could be used as a satellite rider that may well just hold on to the end. An even better climber than Haas, his performances in the Tour of Utah were very impressive last year and if he’s in similar shape I wouldn’t give him too much leeway.

Jay McCarthy is another who took bonus seconds out on the road today. A rider of similar ilk to Haas, McCarthy possesses a fast sprint (his surge on Stage 1 was very impressive) but I’d say he’s naturally a better climber than Haas. Someone who won’t be as heavily marked by the peloton, he has a big chance of taking this stage.

Chris Hamilton is here as Sunweb’s leader and is a great young Australian talent. The Hurricane as he’s affectionately known has been doing recon of this stage over this past week. Finishing 14th on GC here last year was a great result and he’ll want to step up this year. A good result on this stage will go a long way to do that!

An even younger Hamilton (Lucas) could well be another that springs a surprise. Winner of the KOM jersey at the Tour de l’Avenir and 3rd on GC at the Ras, the boy is strong! He’ll hope to use his anonymity to his advantage. I wouldn’t give him too much space, that’s for sure!

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Away from the Australians, some outsiders to look out for are Luis Leon Sanchez, Petr Vakoc and Jose Goncalves.

There are the other obvious Europeans such as Ulissi etc, but I don’t think they’ll win here. Unless of course Diego has brought his inhaler with him!

Prediction

We’ll get an Aussie victor that will continue to please the home crowds. It won’t be the obvious Gerrans or Porte but instead, it will be young Jay McCarthy. I liked what I saw from him on stage 1 in that intermediate sprint, it was a very powerful surge to overhaul Goncalves. Furthermore, he finished 12th on the stage which highlights to me that he’s being attentive and doesn’t want to lose time which in turn means that he’s going very well and really wants to challenge the GC this year. He rolled the dice at the Aussie Nats and I’m intrigued to see how he plays this one, but he certainly has the strength/speed to pull off either approach!

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I do also have fond memories of him winning at 100/1 on the Stirling stage last year which led to this post student night out tweet. Aptly in my uni-town of Stirling too…

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Betting

0.8pt EW McCarthy @ 25/1 with Betfair/PP (I’d take down to 20/1)

0.25pt EW Chris Hamilton @150/1 with Betfair/PP (I’d take down to 100/1)

0.1pt EW Morton @ 150/1 with Bet365/Ladbrokes (I’d take down to 100/1)

0.1pt EW Lucas Hamilton @250/1 with Bet365 (I’d take down to 200/1)

H2H Double; McCarthy v Gerrans and Hamilton v Meintjes @2.3/1 with Bet365. 1.5pt.

Keep an eye out later as more bookmakers price up, there might be better odds available!

 

Thanks again for reading, hopefully the stage lives up to the hype! As usual, any feedback is greatly appreciated. Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.