La Classica delle foglie morte: Il Lombardia 2018 Preview

La Classica delle foglie morte: Il Lombardia 2018 Preview

The last monument of the year is upon us and the now almost year-round cycling season is winding down, albeit there are still some races left after tomorrow’s affair. However, il Lombaria marks the traditional end of the season and so this will be the last preview of the year. Before starting it properly though, I’ll get the soppy stuff out the road first…

Thank you for returning continuously throughout the year to read the posts and interacting with me on Twitter etc, it really helps to keep me motivated through the months where I’m churning out a preview a day or more! I’m proud to see the blog grow even more this year and thanks for being a part of that – I hope I’ve been able to deliver good and entertaining content, well, at least for most of the time.*

*We’ll just ignore the processional final GT stages…

I’m not sure what the off-season will bring, maybe some rider interviews but let’s be honest, who is really wanting to be interviewed here rather than one of the bigger sites so that is probably a no go. I’ll try to get some opinion pieces out or rider profiles for “ones to watch” or anything really. We’ll see how bored I get during the cold and dark winter months in Scotland!

I never thought at the start of the year I’d manage to get two pieces published in Cycling Weekly and once again that is down to you for sharing and engaging with the content on here/Twitter. Not bad for someone who is a “clueless” cycling blogger – shout out Mr Wong.

But yeah, cheers and enjoy the off-season.

Here goes nothing for one last time this year…


 

In 2017 we were treated to a tough and tactical race but it was a day that was really ever going to be won by one rider – Vincenzo Nibali.

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The Italian was one of the strongest riders on the climbs and only Pinot could match him, but it was on the descents where he proved his worth. He delivered a trademark masterclass and took 15 seconds off of the Frenchman on the penultimate climb’s descent before skipping up the final climb and riding solo to the finish. Behind, Pinot was caught by a group and thanks to some more dare-devil descending, Alaphilippe took second place – a sign of things to come for this year. The Pinot group then sprinted for the final podium spot and it was Moscon who took the spoils.

Will we see a similar outcome this year? Let’s take a look at what awaits the riders.

The Route

An almost carbon copy of the 2017 route, the only major difference is that the San Fermo climb has been removed due to a threat of landslides.

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At 241km and with almost 4000m of elevation gain, it is no easy day out in the saddle. It is even more difficult though when you consider the majority of the climbing comes in the closing 70kms. First up is the famous Madonna del Ghisallo climb (9.1km at 5.2%) and we can expect to see a thinning out process here and possibly some early probing attacks by second and third tier riders from the top teams.

Any rider who is in difficulty this early on won’t have much time to rest though as they will soon face the toughest climb of the day; the Colma di Sormano.

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At 7kms in length it averages a leg breaking 8.9% in gradient. That is hard either way you look at it, but it is the final 1.9km of the climb that averages close to 16% which is the real killer.

If a team really pushes on in the bunch, not many will be left in with a chance once the peloton is over the top. Back in 2015 we had around 20 riders who made it over together, with a few more getting back on in the descent and flat roads as they headed towards Civilgio. Those 15kms are pretty important because it is yet another place where teams with numbers can launch an attack and if there is only a group of 20 up ahead, a counter attack of 5-6 riders could easily gain a minute or so quickly before Civiglio.

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Anyone that went out the back door on the Sormano but managed to get back to the peloton, will unfortunately meet their maker for the second time in the race here. Steep and persistent is the best way to describe it, the climb will wear the riders down and only the strongest will be left at the head of the race. As a tough penultimate climb, it acts as the perfect launchpad. Will anyone manage to break free?

It is not only the climb that you can attack on but the technical descent provides a good place to distance rivals – as we saw last year with Nibali v Pinot. Thankfully it looks as if it will be dry tomorrow but the descent is still tricky nonetheless.

They descend all the way, albeit the gradients are less severe as they enter Como, before hitting the “new” climb of Monte Olimpino.

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Ignore the sudden rise at the start of the profile above as they go under the bridge and the contours on the map happen to be right beside there so it messes with it a bit. The climb is a lot more gradual but the 5.2% for 1.7km is enough for someone to launch a late attack – especially with what has come before. The route down the other side is almost a mirror image before a final 1.5km of flat sees the riders to the finish.

Will someone arrive solo or will we see a small group sprint?

How will the race pan out?

Last year saw a thinning of the peloton over the Ghisallo and Sormano climbs before the pace was really upped on the Civiglio by FDJ. I would expect something similar this year but with Olimpino being considerably easier than the San Fermo, we could have action earlier because it will be harder to create a gap on that last climb.

If that is the case, then it will be tougher to control those 15kms of flat between Sormano and Civiglio because few riders will have many, if any, domestiques left. Consequently, that could open it up for a cluster of “second string” riders to get away and if the majority of the main favourites have a team-mate there, then it could be the move of the day.

However, this is the last monument of the year and a big goal for many in this part of the season so I can’t really see it happening. It should be fought out between the favourites, it is just a case of who makes the move and when. Proceedings will be extremely thinned out on Civiglio and we could see some attack on either the climb or the descent – those without a good sprint will certainly want to shake their rivals off there.

If not, things will get very tactical in the closing 6 kilometres and we might get a bit of a surprise victor, albeit, from a group of favourites.

The Great Eight

There are only eight guys who I think can win this race.

Alejandro Valverde.

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The evergreen World Champion arrives at this race as main favourite because he can do pretty much everything but the main reason is that if things come together for a reduced bunch sprint, it will be very difficult for anyone to beat him. After doing a lot of media duty post-Innsbruck, he’s used Emilia and Milano Torino as good training and to get the race speed back in the legs with the main goal always being Sunday. He looked very comfortable in MT before cracking a little on the final climb and finishing third. Was it a real crack though? Or was it more a case of him being happy with his training for the day and riding home? Knowing Valverde, I think the latter.

Michael Woods.

After taking a great win at the Vuelta, the Canadian was a bit of a surprise package at the Worlds where he ultimately took the bronze medal. Arguably, he looked one of the strongest on the climb but cramped up at the finish. Since then he looked comfortable in Emilia with a 4th place finish but then disappointed with the same result in Tre Valli after his team-mate Uran did all the work for him. Woods has really developed this season in the tougher one-day races – can he take that big win?

Rigoberto Uran.

Like Woods, he skipped Milano Torino as he was more than happy enough with his form in the other two races. The way he skipped away from the bunch on both of those days was quite remarkable and I think he will have a big say in the outcome of the day tomorrow. He’s finished 3rd three times here before and will desperately want to go better. One of the few guys who might actually fancy his chances against Valverde in a sprint.

Thibaut Pinot.

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A spectacular climbing display in Milano Torino saw him take the title of a one-day race, something he has been desperately chasing this Autumn. He’s arguably been the most consistent rider of this final third of the season and has certainly looked a different beast compared to the early part of the year. Being able to rely on Gaudu and Reichenbach deep into the race will be important but I’m not sure either will be there when it really gets going so Pinot will have to do it on his own.

Romain Bardet.

Apparently working for Alaphilippe at the Worlds, finishing second to Valverde in the end wasn’t a bad result. Like most on this list, he was up there in Emilia and came home with the main group in Tre Valli. One of the better descenders in the peloton, Bardet may opt to attack on the downhill of Civiglio and hope to get a gap. A gutsy rider, expect to see him on the move at some point. A big ride from Gallopin tomorrow could be a great help.

Vincenzo Nibali.

Winner on this route two times before, can he make it three? After an unfortunate incident at the Tour forced him to abandon, he has been trying to chase a good level of form ever since. Content with his performances in Emilia and TVV, I think that form is coming. Nibali is known to pull one out of the bag and there won’t be anyone in the peloton who knows this finale better than him. Having a strong team around him should help and I’d expect to see Pozzovivo and Izagirre with him for most of the day.

Primoz Roglic.

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Is it possible to have two “breakthrough” years in a row? Because Roglic has certainly done that in my opinion. On paper this a route and race that is perfect for him: some tough climbs and gnarly descents. However, the Slovenian has still yet to prove himself as a one-day racer, although he has won plenty of stages that are reminiscent of tomorrow. His result at the Worlds will have been a disappointment but there is nothing he could do about the crash and the consequent chase/energy loss because of it. Since then his performances in the two Italian one-day races have been good and I think he’ll be there or thereabouts tomorrow.

Egan Bernal.

The wild card for tomorrow given his recent return after injury but you can never discount a talent like Bernal. Aged just 20 he finished in 17th place here which was a truly stunning result so he does have previous on this parcours. He’s been involved in a lot of the Italian races just so that he can regain the racing rhythm back into his legs and a 10th place in Milano Torino suggests he’s heading in the right direction. Is it too little too late though?

Prediction

Team mates will be incredibly important at the end and there are two guys on the list above from the same time. I think this is Rigoberto Uran’s time to finally get further up that podium. Vamos!

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Betting

I don’t just want to cover Uran though and I’m backing another two of the eight. End of the season so let’s have some fun:

2pts WIN Uran @ 12/1 (would take 10s)

2pts WIN Nibali @ 16/1 (would take 14s available with most)

2pts WIN Roglic @ 20/1 (would take 16s)

Thanks as always for reading! Who do you think will win tomorrow? Anyway, for the last time this season,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

 

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Il Lombardia 2017 Preview

The “Classica delle foglie morte” or “The race of the falling leaves” for those of us who speak little Italian, is arguably one of the most beautiful races of the year, and is the last Monument in the calendar. I don’t know if that is due to its position at the end of the season which makes everyone see it as one last huzzah as things wind down, or the very attacking racing we get. Probably both!

Last year saw Esteban Chaves take the win in a three up sprint against Rosa and Uran.

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More impressively though he managed to avoid the Haughey Curse, after I had backed him to the hilt in the preview. It was a good end to the year!

With 2016’s route taking the riders from Como to Bergamo, things will switch around this year as is tradition, with the finish being in Como.

Let’s have a look at what is in store for them tomorrow.

The Route

Almost a carbon copy of the 2015 edition. Are the organisers trying to be kind to a certain native?!

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There are a few tough ascents early on in the day but the race really starts to kick into action once we get to 70km to go and the famous Madonna del Ghisallo. We’ll see a thinning out process here and possibly some early probing attacks by second and third tier riders from the top teams.

Any rider who is in difficulty this early on won’t have much time to rest though as they will soon face the toughest climb of the day; the Colma di Sormano.

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At 7kms in length it averages a leg breaking 8.9% in gradient. That is hard either way you look at it, but it is the final 1.9km of the climb that averages close to 16% which is the real killer.

If a team pushes on in the bunch, not many will be left in with a chance once they are over the top. Back in 2015 we had around 20 riders who made it over together, with a few more getting back on in the descent and flat roads as we head towards Civilgio.

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Anyone that went out the back door on the Sormano but managed to get back to the peloton, will unfortunately meet their maker for the second time in the race here. Steep and persistent is the best way to describe it, the climb will wear the riders down and only the strongest will be left at the head of the race. As a tough penultimate climb, it acts as the perfect launchpad. Will anyone manage to break free?

If not, then the race could be decided on the last climb of the day, the short San Fermo. At only 7.2% for 2.7km it is one of the easier ascents. However, given its position in the race and the fact the riders will have already covered 235km+ then we could see some go pop all of a sudden.

Cresting with just over 5km to go, it will then be a charge down to the line if we have a solo rider with a frantic chase behind as there is very little time to get organised. There is a chance things could still be toghether, and we see an incredibly tactical finale, or even a small gallop to the line!

How will the race pan out?

I expect action and chaos from as far out as the Ghisallo, with Bahrain being the main driving force behind it all.

During this week of Italian racing they have been exceptional, putting other teams to the sword on numerous occasions. They’ve only came away with one win but it is their attitude on the road that has impressed me most.

I think we’ll see Gasparotto and Brajkovic set a tough pace on the Ghisallo but it will be the Sormano where they will go crazy; hoping to shed as many riders from the peloton as possible. They’ll hope to have Visconti and Pellizotti left with Nibali, and hopefully no more than 20 other guys there either.

Things will inevitably regroup on the descent and flat, but those who rejoined will once again go backwards on Civiglio.

One of the key parts that will decide this race is how some of the stronger teams approach the flatter roads. Do Bahrain, Sky, Astana etc send someone up the road so that they don’t have to chase the move behind? I think it would be wise to do so, but will they?!

We could see a front group made up of Visconti, Fugslang, Latour, Haig, Formolo and Henao for example, that might well stay away. I am really intrigued to see how the teams approach this part of the race.

If things are all together, and when I say all together I mean a group of 5 or 6 riders, then it will be very tough for anyone to drop the rest of the bunch on the final climb. Like in 2015, it will come down to a tactical attack and everyone looking at each other, or a small bunch gallop.

Three Clear Favourites?

Nibali, Uran and Pinot have all shown their credentials over the past week and are the most obvious riders who should be in contention come the end of the day.

The Shark has been excellent all week, particularly in Emilia where he looked effortless. He chose to skip Torino and will come here as fresh as possible. He’s clearly in great form, but is he strong enough to drop everyone on the climbs? I’m not so sure. That then leads to the issue of; “surely no one will be foolish enough to let one of the best descenders get a gap on a descent” again? He either wins solo by putting down some astronomical watts on the climb, or not at all.

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Uran seemed forever the nearly man, but he is having arguably his best season as a pro yet. Since the Tour he has built slowly towards this race, looking fairly good in Emilia but taking that up a step and putting in a strong performance in Torino. Will that have taken a lot out of him? Possibly. He cruised up the climb last year to a third place finish, but he then seemed to not have the same kick as Rosa and Chaves in the final of Lombardia. The Astana man had an easier time of it in Torino, while last year’s winner didn’t race MT at all. It probably won’t make much of a difference but it is something to consider. One advantage that Uran has is his speed; he would be confident of winning a 3 or 4 rider gallop to the line. We’ll just forget about last year’s sprint though…

Pinot is almost the unknown here. A great climber who seems to put in solid performances at this race, his second half of the season has been geared towards this race. He was the only rider who could follow Nibali’s vicious attack in Emilia, and the Frenchman never really looked in trouble. I wouldn’t read too much into his result in Torino, as he will have gained enough confidence from Emilia, that Torino would have been more a training ride than anything else. Before the start of the season I would say he would be in the middle of the trio in terms of sprinting, but I think he has the speed to challenge Uran.

Will the three of them get the chance though?

Azure Attacks?

Although Astana have Aru in their ranks, they might not 100% back the Italian Champion and instead play an aggressive tactic, getting riders up the road. There are two riders who given the right situation, I think could surprise and win this race.

Jakob Fuglsang.

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On fire at the Dauphiné, his season really went downhill from there. Crashing out of the Tour and then injuring his collarbone in a criterium. Not ideal! He has returned to racing as of late but his form is not overly promising; DNF’ing both of the Canadian races and a 61st in Torino. He did win the “hilly” stage in the Tour of Almaty, but given that is basically a criterium and the best Astana rider wins on the day, then I won’t read much into it. However, I have a feeling that he might go well. I don’t really know why, but he is a classy, classy bike rider and can’t be underestimated. In the hilly one day classics he is often a feature near the front and animating the race, so he has experience in that sense. Remember his Silver in Rio? I can’t wait to watch him pull out of the race tomorrow with 100km left!

Pello Bilbao.

A pick based on a favourite rider?

*Pretends to be shocked*

If you’ve read the blog for a while, then you’ll know I’m a big fan of the Spaniard and I’m really pleased to see him take a step up this season. As I pointed out in my Milan Torino preview, he was arguably one of the best domestiques in the final week of the Vuelta, he just was outshone by Moscon. The distance might be an issue for him, but in a very tactical race he might just be Astana’s trump card.

Prediction

None of the above riders will win though…

Instead, I’ll go for somewhat of an outsider, although he really isn’t.

Wout Poels.

Liege - Bastogne - Liege 2016 WTThe winner of Sky’s first Monument back at Liege last year, he has the ability to go well tomorrow. His 6th place in Torino on Thursday was slightly underwhelming, but promising. I would call it considered.

His racing schedule has been a bit sparse but he is someone who seems to really time his peak at the end of the season. Especially when he isn’t racing heavily in the early season. In theory, compared to his rivals he should be “fresh” due to his time off the bike and I think this will help him massively tomorrow.

While Nibali and co mark each other out of it, Poels will manage to sneak away and take the win. If not, as we saw in Liege, he packs a fairly decent sprint. I wonder if it will be as easy for him as Angliru was?!

Betting

End of the season so pushing the stakes out there a bit more.

0.5pt EW on Fuglsang @ 150/1 with Skybet who are paying 4 places (would take 125 and no less)

0.5pt EW Bilbao @ 250/1 with various (would take 200)

2pt EW Poels @ 33/1 with Ladbrokes/Bet365 etc.

 

This could well be my last preview for the year. I won’t be doing anything for Paris Tours and it is very unlikely I’ll do something Turkey. The new stage race in China might be a possibilty but it does look pretty dull…

I’m not entirely sure what will feature in this blog over the off-season. There are a couple of things I have in mind that I could do but any suggestions would be appreciated! Rider interviews could be a possbility but I’ll have to get my finger out for that.

Thanks though for your continued readership throughout the year. I’m pleased/proud/whatever you want to call it of the blog this season and the way it has grown. Il Lombardia marks my 209th preview of the season, more than double from last year, but I wouldn’t be as motivated to continue if you didn’t keep reading and interacting/offering feedback etc.

There have been some ups and downs this season, from the glory days of Lampaert’s win in Dwars and the famous Le Samyn preview, to the duldrums of the Giro and some other unnamed races. And what about the Wongshots?!

So that’s it for the previews in 2017. I might make an appearnce with a few features, and I might well be featured elsewhere…but if not, I’ll see you all for the Tour Down Under.

Thanks again for reading.

Thos were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

Il Lombardia 2016 Preview

Il Lombardia 2016 Preview

The race with the pretty name, the “Classica delle foglie morte”, is the final Monument of the year. Traditionally a race for the climbers and very strong Ardennes riders, the 2015 edition was won by a commanding Vincenzo Nibali, who attacked on the penultimate descent and managed to hold on to take the win.

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This year the organisers have taken the amount of climbing to a whole new level…

The Route

Ouch!

lombardiasp Just look at that profile, particularly the second half, it wouldn’t look out-of-place as a Grand Tour Queen stage. Saying that, they wouldn’t have a stage at 240km long!

The first real challenge the riders come to is the Valico di Valcava. I’m disregarding the iconic Madonna del Ghisalo purely because it comes too close to the start.valico-di-valcava

The Valcava as you can see is a real brute of a climb. If this was a GT, it would probably be defined as a Cat1/HC depending on what classification you use. The 3km section at 11.6% could rip the peloton to shreds if a team decides to take it up early.

Once the riders have reached the summit, I’m sure they’ll be glad to know that there is just under 100km and 5 climbs left!

Next is the Berbenno; 6.5km in length and at only 5.1% it doesn’t warrant a profile from the organisers. The riders will tackle a fast descent before they go climbing again up the Sant’Antonia Abbandonato.

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Another very steep climb, the average gradient of 8.9% is deceiving because the opening and closing kilometres are significantly easier than the  rest of the climb which averages over 10%. Another plunge into the valley follows before the Miragolo San Salvatore.

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A much steadier and not as harsh climb at only 7% for it’s 8.7km. With it topping out at 40km to go, I can’t see this climb being taken at a leisurely pace. The strong climbers will hope to distance any stragglers here!

A short 5km descent follows before they tackle the penultimate climb of the day.

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With the climb being relatively shallow, it will be tough for the riders to make any real inroads here. A strong group however, would be able to take back/ gain a good bit of time here if there was enough cohesion.

Once crested, the riders face a long 11km descent before roughly 10km of flat-ish road.

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The last place the climbers can hope to make a difference is the short 1.2km long drag that comes just over 4km to the finish line. With some steep ramps, if they distance those behind and have around 5 seconds at the top then they should hold on for the win.

It’s the exact same run in that was used in 2014, although the rest of that race was a lot easier!

Weather Watch

Initially, it looked as if the riders were going to miss the bad weather. However, inclement weather seems to be arriving in the area a day early!

As you know by now, meteorologists steal a living so you can’t trust everything completely. Therefore, I’ve tried to use a few sites to get a better idea.

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Good chance of rain in the afternoon at Lake Como (MetOffice).

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Weather.com has a similar outlook for Como.

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Possible thunderstorms a few hours after the race has finished in Bergamo (AccuWeather)

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The MetOffice also think there’s a good chance of rain in Bergamo, more likely in the evening.

Obviously these forecasts could change again by this evening but it’s definitely something to consider.

How will the race pan out?

With the final two climbs not being too difficult, the climbers without a sprint and those who are on an exceptional day will want the pace to be on early.

Looking at the teams, I would expect Astana to set a hard pace up the Valcava, shelling any deadwood and some opposition teammates. Movistar, Orica & AG2R may even lend a hand, and I would not be surprised if we only had around 60 riders left in the peloton after that climb.

A similar pattern will unfold on the Abbandonato. By this time, the bad weather and rain may have close in, which will make this race even more amazing!

A peloton of around 25-30 riders will then reach the Salvatore. With an average gradient of 7%, it is possible to make a difference here and the pace will be incredibly high. Cresting at 40km to go, there is a chance for those dropped to make it back in. The composition of the main group will then shape the rest of the race.

It is possible we get an escape of “lesser” riders forming at this point, while the main favourites mark each other behind. The group will have to include a rider from Astana/Movistar/AG2R/Orica/Sky if it hopes to survive to the end. Look to the likes of Kangert and Izagirre!

Favourites

My number one favourite for this race has to be Chaves. He was up here last year until cramps and a hunger knock took him out of contention. One of the best climbers in the race and not to mention he’s on good form, I’ll be shocked if he doesn’t make the top 3!

Uran arrives off the back of a very good series of races in September and has been unlucky not to take a win. That could well change here! He’s a danger-man.

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Aru is Astana’s main man for this. They’ll be hoping for a performance similar to Nibali from him. However, he’s not been anywhere near to that high standard this Autumn. I’m just not convinced by his ability to compete in a race like this.

Movistar’s main men will be Moreno and Valverde. Both performed very well here last year and Moreno looks in good form just now. Having Valverde in the final group changes the dynamic as no one will want to come to a sprint with him. His form/fatigue is also unknown as he’s done a lot of racing this year. I’d have Moreno as team leader!

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Alaphilippe is 3rd favourite with the bookies, but there is too much climbing for him in my opinion! He won’t be there at the end.

Bardet should be in the mix for AG2R and is a podium contender. On form, Ulissi and Costa will be in or around the top 10. The Italian was climbing exceptionally well in the Giro and will hope to do the same tomorrow.

There are some riders others will mention as potential favourites but their form hasn’t been good enough for me to fancy their chances; Martin, Mollema, Poels, Brambilla and Landa namely.

Outsiders?

There is always the opportunity for those further down the pecking order. I like the look of Majka for this. Completely contradictory to what I said above re-Martin and co, I just think this course suits the Pole very well. He normally goes well at the end of the year and can handle the distance.

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Majka’s reaction when he hears that the #HaugheyCurse has been set upon him

Others I like the look of are Reichenbach and Kelderman. The Swiss rider is going very well at the moment and has been attacking in his recent races. He’s a very good climber on his day, but probably isn’t the quality of the big favourites. This could work to his advantage as the others just watch each other. The same can be said for Kelderman, who seemed to be going nicely in the Eneco Tour and in Canada. Another danger man if given too much leeway! I do like the back-up Astana rider option and Kangert would be my man for that situation.

Prediction

Chaves should win, he’s arguably the best climber here, a good descender and in very good form!

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But we do get a surprise every so often, especially if the weather is bad. Keep an eye out for my 4 outsiders!

Betting

1pt WIN Chaves @ 6/1 with PaddyPower or Betfair

0.2pt EW Majka @ 80/1 with Bet365

0.15pt EW Reichenbach @100/1 with Bet365/PP/Betfair (or take 80/1 with Ladbrokes but 4 places)

0.1pt EW Kelderman @ 150/1 with Bet365/PP/Betfair

0.1pt EW Kangert @250/1 with Ladbrokes (4 places)

 

Hope you all enjoyed the preview and thanks for reading! How do you think the race will pan out? As usual, any feedback is greatly appreciated. Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.