Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race 2019 Preview

The race with the second longest name in the calendar (nothing on the Amgen Tour of California Women’s Race empowered with SRAM) returns this Sunday for its 5th edition. A quite unpredictable race to call, last year we saw Jay McCarthy take the win after a small group managed to escape over the top of the last ascent of Challambra.

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However, that doesn’t tell the full story as some strong sprinters managed to come back to the lead group in the final 500m, with Viviani storming his way through the front group to come home second, while Impey rounded out the podium in third. It does show that the fast men can make it to the finale but it all just depends on the pace at the head of the race and of course team tactics. Before we get to all that, let’s have a look at what is in store for the riders.

The Route

Fans of the adage “if it’s not broke, don’t fix it”, the organisers have decided to go with the exact same parcours we had last year.

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Although there a few climbs early on, this race is all about the circuit around Geelong.

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The riders will join the circuit for the first time just before the foot of the Challambra Crescent climb, an ascent that they will have to take on 4 times throughout the race and the most focal point of the afternoon.

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The climb is short but very punchy with some of the steepest gradients coming near the top. It is actually very important to keep something in the tank for the summit as things flatten out for a few hundred metres before heading downhill and a rider in the red can really lose a lot of time here if they can’t turn the pedals. Likewise, someone who has measured their effort can power on and gain quite a substantial gap.

A quick 2km descent follows Challambra before the last real hill of the day and attack point.

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At only 500m long, it will be tough for some to get a gap but the steep gradients in the second half do make it possible. With it only being a shade over 6km to the finish after the rise, those chasing behind will need to co-operate well to bring any attack back.

The final kilometre is a very simple with a sweeping left hand bend along the Geelong waterfront but it could see a tactical finish depending on the race situation.

How will the race pan out?

A very unpredictable race to call, it all depends on the attitude of the teams.

Last year the front group would have stayed away properly from the peloton had there been more co-operation, but with constant attacks and no one wanting to work fully, they just managed to hold on from the chase behind. In fact, it was only the race winner McCarthy who “stayed away” with Viviani coming through for second.

There are three possible ways the teams can approach the race: put the pressure on in the early laps and hope to split things up there; save it all for the final ascent of Challambra and try to get a group away; try to hold things together for their sprinter. Last year’s result will give the likes of Viviani confidence that they can make it back to the peloton but he’ll need some team mates with him to pace things and for those up ahead to not work together again – both of which are strong possibilities.

Looking at the teams who might want a larger sprint we only really have Deceuninck for Viviani, UAE for Philipsen and Lotto Soudal for Ewan: although I’m not too sure the latter two will make the finish. As for those wanting a reduced bunch sprint we have Mitchelton (Impey), Dimension Data (Gibbons), Lotto Visma (Van Poppel), Astana (Ballerini) and Bora (McCarthy). The rest of the teams will be looking to break things up early on, or on the final passage of Challambra so that a select group can stay away.

Up until a couple of days ago I was confident that things would be controlled here and that it would come down to a reasonable sized bunch gallop to the line. However, I’m not entirely sure of that now. Last year we had a few teams willing to help set the pace and control the breakaway but given the form of the riders, I can only really see Mitchelton and Deceuninck taking an active role to try to keep things together. We might have the likes of Visma and Dimension Data chip in but the majority of the work will be left to the aforementioned teams. Instead, I think we’ll see an attacking race because as stated, the form of Viviani and even more so Impey,  no one will really want to bring them to the line. The cooler temperature compared to last year could also entice some earlier attacks as the riders won’t be afraid of blowing up in sweltering conditions.

Saying all of that, some teams need to take things up before the last climb because although I think they can drop Viviani there and make sure he doesn’t come back, there is no chance Impey gets dropped there. The only way to beat him then is to have numbers to attack or to be confident in your fast man who has made the front group.

It would be interesting to see the reaction of Mitchelton if a strong move attacked on the penultimate ascent of Challambra – would they try to get someone in it or commit to a chase?

Four to Watch

Darly Impey.

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The rightful favourite for the race, Impey once again seems to find himself in great condition during the Aussie summer of cycling. I’m still not entirely sure if he would have won the TDU had Bevin not crashed on the penultimate day but given that he still managed to come home third on Willunga – he’s not going badly either. Mitchelton Scott will be 100% focused on controlling this race for him and I think they’ll try their best to keep things together until that final climb of Challambra. Dion Smith does offer the Aussie squad a plausible second option to play though. Getting a team-mate over the top with Impey will be crucial as they can just ride tempo and hope to keep things together for the sprint. With his current form though, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Impey going on the attack himself if he senses things are slowing down and a group coming up from behind. Everyone will have their eyes on him, but can he deliver under the pressure?

Danny van Poppel.

A switch of focus to the tougher sprints and classics for Van Poppel this year, he tested out his form in the TDU with a strong performance in Uraidla and a day in the break for the Willunga stage. We saw at the Vuelta last year, which was quickly followed up by Binche, that Van Poppel can handle the 2 minute power climb efforts very well and this race has been a target of his while in Australia. Lotto Visma has a team capable of keeping things together and with the likes of Bennett and Gesink they should have a couple of guys in the front group to work for the Dutchman. I think he’ll make the front split or not be too far off so that he can come back on the descent but he might suffer from the same fate as Impey – where no one will want to work with him and his team because of his far superior sprint. Ideally for both Van Poppel and Impey is that their teams have a couple of guys in the front split and they decide to share the work load, but will that be the case?

Dylan van Baarle.

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The first of my wildcard picks, I was impressed with van Baarle’s performance in the TDU and he seemed to be climbing very well. A rider for the classics, the 1km ascent of Challambra shouldn’t see him gapped too much by the proper climbers and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him right near the front. Sky don’t really arrive with a sprinter as such so I expect them to be one of the main driving forces for an aggressive race, pinging attacks off the front on every lap. As the Dutch TT champion, van Baarle has a good engine and if he gets a gap in the closing 5km it could be tough for a disorganised group to bring him back. Packing a decent sprint, he wouldn’t mind arriving at the line with a group of riders who escaped early on.

Gregor Mühlberger.

A blog favourite, it was good to see a few coming of age performances from the Bora rider in 2018 including a strong win in the Binck Bank Tour. With the defending champion on their team you might expect them to be working for McCarthy but with the Aussie suffering from a slight chest infection during the TDU, he might not have fully recovered for here. Mühlberger offers a solid option as he should be there or thereabouts on the climb and he might manage to slip away unmarked. He’s a longshot, but we’ve seen crazier things happen!

Prediction

Despite the best efforts from teams to break away in the closing two laps, things are controlled by Mitchelton and Lotto Visma and we get a select sprint of around 15 riders, with no Viviani and van Poppel powers home to take the win.

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Betting

3pts WIN Impey @ 5/1 with Ladbrokes/Coral (Would take 4/1)

2pts WIN Van Poppel @ 9/1 with SkyBet/Ladbrokes/Coral (Would take the 7/1)

1pt EW Van Baarle @ 50/1 with various bookmakers

0.5pt EW Muhlberger @ 200/1 with Bet365 (would take 150/1 elsewhere)

Thanks as always for reading, who do you think will win? Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

 

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Tour Down Under 2019 Stage 6 Preview: McLaren Vale -> Willunga Hill

Today’s Recap

A nervous stage throughout saw Mitchelton Scott control the early break of the day so that Impey could sprint for some bonus seconds. The plan worked well with the South African picking up 5 bonus seconds but it also meant the current race leader Bevin picked up 5 too. Things died down a little after that but with the constant threat of wind and echelons, it wasn’t quiet for too long. There were a couple of splits but nothing serious and everything re-grouped, but a crash at around 9km to go saw Bevin go down hard. Mitchelton tried to slow down the group but that only lasted for a kilometre so as the pace was already high and the sprint teams were already in full swing. The Ochre jersey did manage to make it back to the peloton and finish on the same time as everyone else and with nothing broken, he’ll only know how sore he’ll be on the bike tomorrow.

In the sprint Ewan crossed the line first but he was ultimately relegated by the commissaires for using excessive force with his head to nudge Philipsen off of Sagan’s wheel. To my non-expert sprinting perspective, it did look a little bit harsh but we’ve seen people relegated for similar things in the past so I guess it is fair.

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Philipsen consequently won the stage after Ewan’s relegation, with Sagan and Van Poppel rounding out the podium.

With the sprinter’s having had their last day to play today, everyone will be turning their attention to the last stage and GC battle that will occur tomorrow.

The Route

Nothing overly exciting to see here, it is pretty much just a carbon copy of the recent Willunga Hill stages.

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Expect to see the peloton thinned out a little on the first ascent of Willunga but I would be very surprised to see a Hail Mary attack from anyone near the top of the GC. Once over the plateau and descent, the riders will need to be wary of potential cross winds on the flat section of road before they head into the town of Willunga again. We’ve seen in the past things split up a bit here but the wind doesn’t look strong enough for that, however, you never know.

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A fairly consistent climb, the steeper slopes of Willunga come in the opening third before the gradient drops ever so slightly in the final two-thirds. At close to an 8 minute effort, the gaps aren’t normally too big but given how close the GC normally is here, they can often be decisive.

Can anyone stop the King of Willunga?

One thing to note for this year is that the wind will be blowing directly in their face for the climb, which will certainly make it more difficult for those looking to go on the attack. Although conversely, once you are out of the slip stream from the rider in front then it will be harder to make an effort.

I do think this will hinder the better climbers though, i.e. the quartet that escaped on the Corkscrew, as there will be a definite advantage of sitting in the wheels. Porte, Bennett and Woods all looked pretty solid on the Corkscrew and Poels managed to hang with them despite pulling some faces. Therefore, it would make sense if they were the main quartet contesting for the stage win come the end of the day.

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Porte always manages to ride everyone off of his wheel on this climb, he has his attack point dialled down to a fine art: a little S-bend with 1km to go. However, I don’t think that will happen this year due to the head wind, I just can’t see him dropping Woods. The other two possibly, but not Woods. The EF Education rider has a better kick than Porte and I would fancy him to beat the Aussie to the line.

I am intrigued to see what Chris Hamilton can do, he was a bit too slow to react to the accelerations on the Corkscrew but he wasn’t too far behind. A top 5 is definitely a possibility.

Does the break have a chance?

A little, but not really. Mitchelton and CCC will be more than happy to see a move get up the road to take away the bonus seconds for the day, ensuring that Impey and Bevin have a great chance to take the overall win. However, I would expect there to be enough impetus from Trek, EF, Sky and Lotto Visma to ensure that they don’t stay away – after all, if their leader is going to win the race then they need the bonus seconds.

Speaking of which…

How will the GC play out?

Things look as follows heading into the final stage:

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@ProCyclingStats

All of the riders there are within touching distance but it will take a spectacular effort for the majority of them to win. If there was no headwind on the climb, then I would say that the race was between Bevin, Impey, Porte and Woods for the GC, with Bennett and Poels also possible contenders. However, given the headwind, it will be hard for those 26 seconds behind to gain the 16 on course seconds needed to overhaul Bevin, assuming they also get the stage win.

It might be slightly more likely, if one of them is on a flyer that they can take the 9 seconds out of Impey that they would need to win, assuming that Bevin cracks because of his fall yesterday. Which would be a real shame but it is a possibility and no one will know how he copes until later on in the stage.

If Bevin hadn’t fallen this was his race to win/lose, depending on how you looked at it. He’s in sensational form at the moment and he would have been able to maintain that gap to Impey, as I think the big bonus seconds will go to a few of the more traditional climbers.

So if Bevin is well and recovered with only some flesh wounds, then he wins GC. However, if he has struggled to sleep last night and cracks later on, then Impey will double up.

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Stage Prediction

Porte is the one to beat on this climb and it wouldn’t surprise me to see him just ride away from everyone, like he normally does. However, I think the wind will hinder him and that Woods will be able to stick with him and out sprint him to the line!

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The King is dead, long live the King!

Betting

In a good position after this week so happy to have a little flutter on Woods for the stage win.

2pts WIN Woods @ 11/4 with Betway (would take 5/2 elsewhere)

3pts Hamilton to beat Pozzovivo @ 8/11 with Bet365

Thanks as always for reading! I hope you’ve enjoyed the opening week of World Tour racing? I’ll be back again for the Cadel race next weekend. Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

Men’s Road Race World Championships Preview – Bergen 2017

After finding success on the rolling course in Richmond back in 2015, Peter Sagan went on defend his title a year later in Doha; winning a reduced bunch sprint.

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Can the Solvakian make it an unprecedented three wins on the trot tomorrow? Let’s take a look at what is in store for the riders.

The Route

Long, at a total of 276.5km! But that is what you would expect for the World Championships.

The riders don’t actually start in Bergen, instead, they’ll start in the town of Rong before heading south along a 40km stretch of exposed road and reaching the finish town. Thankfully or not, depending on what way you look at it, the wind forecast is for it to be very low so we won’t see any echelon action. Much to my disgust!

BergenRR Circuit

 

You can view the interactive version of my profile here.

If you’ve watched any of the action over the past few days then you’ll be familiar with the circuit above.

11 laps will certainly wear down the riders legs, with the total elevation gain for the day being roughly 3500m.

The key focal point for attacks over the past few races has been Salmon Hill and the small climb that comes just before it.

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Taken as a whole it is 3.7km at 4% which doesn’t sound much, but after 200km+ of racing then it certainly can cause some splits. The stronger climbers will be looking to put in their stinging attacks on the steeper ramps; either just before the “top” of the uncategorised climb, or halfway through Salmon Hill. This is where big gaps can be made.

The issue though is that after the summit there are still 10.4km of the course remaining. Any riders that make it away need to work well to ensure that they stay away from the chasers, especially with the final few kilometres being into a head wind.

I’m not going to bore you with any more route analysis though, as we’ve had plenty of that this week already. Instead, I’m going to jump straight into trying to figure this race out and what possible scenario we might see unfold tomorrow afternoon.

How do you stop Sagan?

A question many teams and riders ask themselves throughout the season but it is once again the case here.

Option 1 – Outsprint Him.

With a lot of nations bringing a rider who get involved in a reduced sprint at the end of the day, then there is a chance we might see it held all together to the line. Sagan is obviously fast in these types of situations, especially after a tough days racing. However, he has shown at MSR this year that he is certainly beatable.

Option 2 – Drop Him.

A tough task but some squads will certainly try it. If strong teams such as the Dutch, Belgians and French make constant attacks on Salmon Hill in the closing 80kms, then Sagan might get tired out trying to cover everything. That is of course assuming that he won’t have any team support left to work for him. The pace needs to be high from far out for that to happen though.

Option 3 – Refuse to work, hope your rider gets lucky.

We saw this recently in Quebec where no one wanted to co-operate with Sagan after he attacked in the closing stages. If they did, then there was a good chance they would have caught the group ahead, consequently fighting it for the win. They didn’t though and Sagan just shrugged and moved on. Although this is less likely to happen tomorrow as the Slovak will try to chase everything, it still might just do so. It is a very Sagan thing after all!

Option 4Illness

Bilogical warfare is probably a step too far, but there are rumours flying around on Twitter that he is currently suffering from illness and hasn’t been on the bike in a few days. I’m sure this was the case last year and has been for a few of his other races that he has went on to win. All mind games? We’ll just have to wait and see tomorrow.

Option 4 – Accept defeat.

He can follow almost any rider on the climb and he can match any rider here in a sprint after 200+km. Is there any point in trying?

Of course, and I think we won’t see him take a third title!

Definitely.

Maybe.

Possibly.

Ah who am I kidding, he probably will.

Contenders or Pretenders? The infamous Five

Like with my women’s preview, I’m only going to name a handful of riders here who I think could go well in a variety of situations. So once again apologies if I have not named someone you were hoping for; repeating the names you’ll no doubt have heard of a lot over the week such as Kwiatkowski, Matthews and Gaviria doesn’t appeal to me much!

Alex(bae)ey Lutsenko.

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The first punt I had committed to for this race and it was always going to happen, it was just a matter of time. If you’ve followed the blog over the past year and a half since its inception then you’ll know I have a lot of admiration for the talented Kazakh. He was strong at the start of the year; finishing a very respectable third in Dwars. Yet, it is his recent form at the Vuelta that impressed me most. He was super strong there to get a stage win and a second place finish on two tough breakaway days. The climb tomorrow is probably on his limit if the likes of Dumoulin go crazy in the final lap, but he has the quality to be close and he might infiltrate an earlier move. Will the former U23 champion take the step up?

Petr Vakoc.

My second punt for the race and another rider that was always going to be backed. A brute of a rider, he hasn’t taken as big a step forward in 2016 as I was expecting and hoping for but his performances have been solid. To win he’ll most likely have to go early and hope to be there if the strong climbers attack from behind. Packing a solid sprint from a very reduced group, he might fancy his chances in an 8 rider gallop.

Now that the two “long-term” selections are out of the road, it is time to move on to some other riders who I think could do well. Some are certainly more obscure than others.

Danny Van Poppel.

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Yup, you read that right. The Dutch have been on fire at these Championships so far and I wouldn’t be surprised to see them get a medal again tomorrow. Dumoulin is obviously one of their stronger guys and will be attacking early but if it all comes back for a 40 rider sprint then Van Poppel has a good outside chance. He’s impressed me a lot this season and certainly seems to becoming a more versatile rider. On the short bergs he can follow some of the stronger one-day riders, as was highlighted at BinckBank, but it will be interesting to see how it goes tomorrow. Given the instruction to not waste any energy at all and wait for a sprint, will he get his chance to shine?

Tony Gallopin.

A strong one-day racer, he arrives here in good form after taking two top-10s in Canada which were swiftly followed up by a second place in Wallonie. In terms of career he should be hitting his peak soon and given how strong he looked at San Sebastian in July, I think he’s in for a good couple of years; he just needs some luck. His last two appearances at the World’s have seen him finish 7th in 2015 and 6th in 2014. This course tomorrow in theory suits him very well, and packing a fast sprint he could fancy a small group of favourites battling it out at the line. It will be interesting to see how France approach tomorrow in general, with no “proper sprinter” they will no doubt be attacking throughout the day and making the race tough. Something that will help Gallopin a lot!

Daryl Impey.

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Last man on the list, Impey has had a fairly solid season in support of other riders at Orica. However, when presented with his own chances he has taken them, including a reduced bunch sprint in Catalunya earlier this year. A rider who’s climbing is very hit or miss, he showed some great form in the final week of the Tour, supporting Simon Yates deep into some of the stages. If he has those kind of legs tomorrow then he could be a real dark horse!

Prediction

We’ll see some fairly serious attacks around 50km out as teams try to make the race tough and ensure we don’t see a sprint. This will thin the bunch out going into the final 30km and the penultimate climb of Salmon Hill. Much like the women’s race, a smaller group will get away here but will be brought back due to a lack of cohesion ahead. This will then allow some riders to escape on the run-in before we hear the bell. A lot of the strong teams will be represented and with no impetus from behind, they stay away to the line.

Tony Gallopin to, erm, gallop home and take the win from a 7 rider sprint!

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#SuperGallopinFantastic

Betting

Certainly a day to spread some punts around!

0.25pt EW Lutsenko @ 100/1 (would take 80s)

0.25pt EW Vakoc @ 200/1 (would take 150s)

0.25pt EW Impey @ 200/1 (would take 150s)

0.5pt EW Van Poppel @ 80/1 (would take 66s)

1pt EW Gallopin @ 66/1 (would take 50s)

 

Thanks as always for reading! Who do you think will win tomorrow? Could we see an upset on the cards, or will it be the cream rising to the top? Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

Tour de France 2017 Stage 15 Preview; Laissac-Sévérac l’Église -> Le Puy-en-Velay

Today’s Recap

First of all, apologies for no preview yesterday. I felt absolutely shattered and had to have another few hours sleep before work so there was no time to write anything. Feeling a bit better today but still awfully tired, I need this rest day as much as the riders just now!

Today’s stage saw a fairly strong break escape but with BMC and Sunweb not represented and working from the get go, we were always going to get one outcome. Matthews sprinted to a superb victory with van Avermaet following home in second.

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Boasson Hagen rounded out the podium with a fine third place. Rather annoyingly, one of my picks for the day McCarthy flew up the hill, only to finish in 5th. He was out of shot for most of the climb so he’s clearly going well. A case of what could have been, if he was positioned better!

While we’re talking about poor positioning, Aru managed to find himself isolated and towards the back of the peloton at the bottom of the climb and managed to ship 24 seconds to Froome. It’s good in some ways for him as Astana don’t have the team to defend the jersey, but to lose that much time isn’t ideal.

Anyway, let’s have a look at what’s in store for the riders tomorrow.

The Route

A stage that looks destined to be fought out between the breakaway.

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With a fairly flat start, I wouldn’t expect the break to form until we hit the first categorised climb of the day. It’s not exactly an easy climb either, as the Montée de Naves d’Aubrac averages 6.4% for 8.9km. Only climbers and very strong all-rounders should be able to make the move here! With that being said, the gradient isn’t too tough, so there is a chance we might see some odd riders up there who are on a good day.

Once over the top, we have a short descent before an inconsequential 3rd Cat climb. From there, the riders will face a long period of flat road before the intermediate sprint and an uncategorised 11km drag at ~3%.

The action part of the stage will most likely be the penultimate climb of the day: the Col de Peyra Taillade.

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The steep ramps will no doubt see a selection made in the breakaway, with the better climbers and those feeling strong pushing on. However, with there still being almost 32km to the line over the summit, it will be interesting to see if those dropped behind get back on, or of those ahead can work together to maintain an advantage.

Either way, it will be a very tactical final 45 minutes of racing as riders will be attacking the group hoping to get a gap. Maybe the Cat-4 could act as a launchpad? Luck and good legs will both play an equal part in it for the day’s winner though!

Breakaway Candidates

I am fairly confident tomorrow will be a breakaway day. In fact, it is probably the most obvious one of the race we’ve had so far. Just waiting for a reduced bunch sprint day to happen now…

There are several usual suspects that you can expect to try to make the move but as that’s no fun (and they’re all terrible odds) I’ll be naming those more eccentric picks who are further down the order.

Tony Martin.

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He had a little hit off the front towards the end of today’s stage, stretching out the bunch so that Lammertink could launch a counter attack. During his “attack” the German looked in complete control and it seemed to be more of a tempo ride than anything else. He always seems to find himself in the breakaway on one mountain stage of a Grand Tour and he has won more testing days than tomorrow; Stage 9 in 2014 is an example of that. Now, I do think he will probably be dropped on the steeper slopes of the penultimate climb, that is unless of course he has attacked solo before. Nonetheless, he can certainly make it back in the remaining time and attack over the top. If he gets a gap, not many will be able to catch him.

Daryl Impey.

One of the riders who I backed for today’s stage (thinking a break might stay away) the South African has been very quiet so far this Tour. Considering how strong he was last year, it is a bit of a surprise to be honest! With Yates not really needing too much support tomorrow, Howson will be able to stay with him anyway, I think Impey might be given a free role. On his day, he can surprise!

Rudy Molard.

With Pinot supposedly suffering from stomach problems, Molard looks like FDJ’s best candidate for a stage like this. Strong on steep climbs, he was close to a win in the Giro but the breakaway he was in were caught 4kms from the line. I backed him then and I’m willing to do so again! He has been quiet since Démare left the race, possibly eyeing up a stage to go on the attack. With a fairly strong kick from a reduced group, he could even win the sprint!

Prediction

Impey to find his 2016 form and take a great win for Orica Scott!

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Betting

I can see Impey and Molard coming to the line for a sprint so they could place, but Martin will have to attack from afar so with that being said;

0.4pt WIN Martin @ 125/1 with Bet365 (would take 100s)

0.4pt EW Impey @ 250/1 with PP/BF who are offering 4 places (would take 150s)

0.4pt EW Molard @ 150/1 with Bet365 (would take 100s)

 

I’m refusing to take any less than 100/1 for a day such as tomorrow!

Thanks as always for reading. Who do you think will win tomorrow? Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

De Brabantse Pijl 2017 Preview

De Brabantse Pijl 2017 Preview

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

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

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

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

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

The Route

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Weather Watch

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

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Source: Windfinder

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

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

How will the race pan out?

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

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

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

Or at least I’m hoping so!

Contenders

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Prediction

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

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

Benoot to win his first pro race!

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

View this post on Instagram

Forza Tiesj Benoot! 🎉 @tiesj #ohn

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

Betting

Hoping #WinningWednesdays can continue…

1pt EW Benoot @40/1 with Bet365

0.5pt EW Vliegen @28/1 with Bet365

 

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

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

 

TDF Stage 10 Preview: Escaldes-Engordany -> Revel

Rest Day Recap

Stage 9 saw a break make it all the way to the line and we got the battle on two fronts with the GC contenders duking it out behind. It was Tom Dumoulin who took the win up ahead, attacking just before the final climb, not to be seen again. It was a bit of a weird move from his breakaway companions. All of the other moves were marked and closed down, yet the best TTer in the group was allowed to get away. His winning margin was made up on the few kilometres leading up to the climb. That’s not to take anything away from the Dutchman, it was still a great win, especially because he looked to be struggling on the previous climb!

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I’m still confused as to what happened to our pick of Diego Rosa. He looked very strong on that penultimate climb and I was feeling pretty confident going into the last ascent. I went for a drink, which maybe took a minute at most, came back through to where my tv was and he was gone. All of the other riders were there. It was very odd. Anyway, moving on!

Behind, we got a bit of a GC shake up, but nothing crazy. The two big guns came in together, along with Adam Yates. Who’s looked very impressive so far. Dan Martin and Porte trailed in just a couple of seconds behind them. With a group including Mollema and Meintjes not too far down either. The worst off were Aru and Barguil who lost a minute to Froome and Co. Leaving us with a top 20 that looks like this going into the second week.

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Onto tomorrow’s stage then!

The Route

Another tough opener for the riders, starting off with a Cat-1 climb. Anyone who’s not warmed up properly on the rollers could end up in some difficulty!

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It’s important to note that the climb isn’t overly difficult in terms of gradient, it’s just very long!

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Although saying that, the second part of the climb is much more difficult than the first. Also, with it being the Souvenir Henri Desgrange, I expect there to be quite the fight to get into the break, especially from the French riders. With there being next to no chance the GC riders will attempt to make any moves on this stage then it won’t be as crazy as Stage 9. Instead, the attention will turn to the sprinters teams to control the break.

Once over the climb it should be fairly easy for them to do so. A long gradual descent and over 100km of flat follow.

The main focal point of the stage is the Cat 3 Côte de Saint-Ferréol that’s located within the final 10km.

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A short but sharp test for the peloton to face, the climb itself is very irregular. Some steep ramps over 11% followed by false flats and even a short descent. This is a lot clearer on the Strava profile which can be viewed here. Credit goes to Arjan who sent me the link to that! You can follow the climb on Google Streetview here as well.

I’ve made a profile of the last 10km on Strava. I personally prefer using it compared to relying 100% on the Tour graphics as they sometimes are a little bit off. Check that out here! I also like being able to scroll over the map and see the altimetry at each certain point etc. Anyway, I digress.

Once over the crest, the riders face a period of “flat” before making a left turn to start the descent. The downhill itself should see a very fast pace in the bunch. There are a few technical turns but more or less it should be taken quickly. In the final 3km the route descends ever so slightly (25m going off of the Strava profile. 0.8% average.) Nothing substantial, but it should ensure that the pace is high.

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That could then be an issue with this roundabout/90° corner combo within the last kilometre. If we do get a sprint, then positioning and lead outs will be key here as the high pace will mean the race will be strung out, but also because the concertina effect could well be evident here. If you’re further down than 10-15th place then you have no chance.

So a sprint finish?

Well, before the Tour I had this marked down as a reduced bunch sprint and that is the most likely outcome on the day. It could be difficult for the pure sprinters such as Kittel and Greipel to make it over the final climb if some of the teams attack it at a fast pace. I would expect Sagan to be there along with Coquard and Matthews.

However, there are several situations that could unfold tomorrow!

Situation 1.

The first of these regards the make-up of the breakaway. I would not be surprised to see a few of the sprinters teams attempt to get a rider into that move, meaning they wouldn’t have to chase behind. I’m not sure how confident Kittel and co will be of making the finish line so I expect some of the following teams to be represented Ettix/Lotto S/Jumbo/DD. If they all make it into the break then it will be down to Orica/Tinkoff/Direct Energie to chase.

Now, Orica are usually very canny in these types of situation. We’ve seen it before at the Giro even when they’ve been in Pink they send someone up the road, so I could envisage them getting someone in the move. It’s all over to Tinkoff/Direct Energie then. Both of the teams would fancy their riders in a reduced bunch sprint but do they put someone in the break, just in case? If they do, then the break makes it all the way.

Situation 2.

Although some of these teams get riders in the breakaway, the likes of Etixx/LS/Movistar want to set an incredibly fast pace on the final climb to get rid of all the “sprinters” and set up the likes of Alaphilippe/Gallopin/Valverde for the stage win.

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Situation 3. 

The climb is taken at a controlled pace because the break has been caught and we see Kittel etc make it over. I think this is very unlikely.

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Situation 4.

The break has been caught, the climb is attacked, reducing down the peloton. However, there is a stall in pace at the top and someone makes an attack that sticks to the finish.

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I think we can discount situations 2 & 3 as they are the least likely to happen in my opinion. Situations 1 & 4, along with a reduced bunch sprint could all easily happen.

If we get a reduced sprint I’d have to say that Sagan is the favourite for the stage, Coquard to get a podium too. If some of the “heavier” sprinters get dropped, look out for Jens Debuscherre. He might get a chance to sprint if Greipel isn’t there.

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If Situation 1 comes true then it’s another case of the breakaway lottery. As I said above, look to riders from sprint teams such as; Teklehaimanot, Lindeman, Hansen. One rider I like for this situation is Orica’s Daryl Impey. He’s been climbing incredibly well this Tour and has been in the break already. He should have the explosiveness/speed to finish it off.

For a late attacker look towards the likes of Steve Cummings, Adam Hansen or LL Sanchez.

Prediction

Sprint – Sagan Wins

Break – Impey Wins

Late attack – Hansen Wins

Who’ll Revel in stage glory?

Betting

A day not to get heavily involved with. Screams out “in-play” once the Cat 1 climb is covered. Few small break picks for me and then I’ll probably back someone during the stage. If I do, I’ll say so on my Twitter!

0.1pt Outright on the following

Hansen @150/1 with Betfair (I’d take 100/1)

Debuscherre @350/1 with Bet365

Impey @125/1 with PaddyPower (I’d take 80/1)

Vanmarcke @125/1 with various bookmakers

Maté @300/1 with PP (I’d take 200/1)

 

Hope you enjoyed a more “in-depth” preview. I think we could get a few outcomes for tomorrow, what do you think? It will inevitably now be a straightforward sprint stage! Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth