Volta a la Comunitat Valenciana 2019 Stage 1 Preview: Orihuela -> Orihuela (ITT)

European stage racing starts this Wednesday with the Volta a la Comunitat Valenciana in Spain and the Etoile de Bessèges in France. Both races attract a solid line up of teams but given that it is early in the year, form is often difficult to figure out so we could see a surprise result. Or of course, Valverde just wins like he did last year.

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GC Overview

With a route tailor-made for him and a bonus second system in place, it does look hard for anyone to topple the reigning champion. The opening day TT will see some time gaps but they shouldn’t be too significant given the short nature of the race against the clock. Saying that, a climber who has started the season a little slowly could see the race already slip away from them if they don’t hit the ground running. Stage 2 could be a surprise GC day but it is more than likely going to be a reduced bunch sprint, with stage 3 the first day we should see some kind of selection and an uphill sprint finish that looks perfect for Valverde. The overall will be decided on the penultimate day of racing though with a tricky climb out of the town of Alcossebre where the better climbers will hope to come to the fore and steal the race title.

Valverde starts as the obvious favourite but there are certainly some strong teams here with multiple options that could put the World Champion under pressure. Firstly, we have an Astana trio of Izagirre, Sanchez and Bilbao who all should be there or thereabouts with the tough to control stage 3 a day where they will hope to utilise those numbers with aggressive racing. Likewise, UAE (Martin and Costa), Mitchelton (Yates and Haig) and Sky (Thomas and De La Cruz) have a couple of options to ensure that this isn’t a walk in the park for Valverde.

However, like night follows day, Valverde wins his “home” stage race again.

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Let’s take a look at what is in store for the riders on the opening day of racing.

The Route

An almost pan flat 10.2km individual time trial awaits the riders but they need to be wary as it does have a sting in the tail.

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The route can really be split into three sections. First, we have the largest section which comprises of the opening 7.8km and is a pure test of power.

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There are a few roundabouts on course through that section but they are few and far between, with the majority of the corners being able to be taken at full speed. This is where the stronger and more traditional TT riders will hope to build up an advantage.

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Next is a shorter section which has quite a few roundabouts and tight corners to traverse, so good technique and line choice here will be important. As the cliché goes, you probably can’t win the stage here but you can certainly lose it.

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Finally we have the closing 700m and a climb to the line. The strava/veloviewer profile that I made for the whole stage above is quite deceptive as there is no “descent” in the final climb. Instead, it is more of a false flat than anything else, so this Strava segment is a much better indicator of what it actually looks like.

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The riders will face some “cobbles” as they leave the town and onto the hill but it would be offensive to the Spring Classics to call them anything serious, more like slightly bumpy paved stones.

The steep gradients will be a bit awkward on a TT rig but nothing the riders haven’t dealt with before. At 600m it is short enough for the traditional TT riders to fancy their chances of powering up it, but it is also at a length where the climbers/puncheurs will hope to gain back some time.

I really like this TT course because there will be quite a few in the bunch that will fancy their chances due to the varied parcours.

Contenders

Tony Martin.

After a pretty disappointing two years at Katusha, by his normal standards, the German made a switch of teams in the off-season to Jumbo Visma. I for one am really looking forward to seeing what he can do this year on the Bianchi bike, as Jumbo have their TT rigs properly dialled in. A 10km TT that is mostly about pure power with a short climb at the end would be perfect for Martin of 2014/2015 but have his legs waned in recent years? We’ll just have to wait and see.

Geraint Thomas.

Last year’s Tour winner arrives here early in the season but with his main goal to try to retain his crown in France this summer, will he be at a high enough level to challenge? On paper this course is ideal for him and Team Sky are one of the top TT teams around so no doubt he’ll put in a pretty solid time but I think this will be more of a training race for him. He had a festive off-season by the looks of it with some photos of him appearing a little podgy compared to the skeletal standards of most GT contenders. Since then he has seemed to lose a some weight so he could well hit the ground running but I just can’t see it.

David De La Cruz.

Conversely, I think it will be Sky’s Spaniard that will be the best finisher for their team tomorrow. A solid debut season for the outfit last year saw De La Cruz take home the TT win in Andalucia as well as the final stage in Paris Nice. Going to the Vuelta as co-leader for the team, he will have been disappointed with the final outcome and hope to hit the ground running. His results in efforts against the clock last year were fairly consistent with him being in or around the top 15 for the majority of them. Tactically for Sky it will be useful for them to have two riders near the head of the race before we head to the more mountainous stages so I expect a good result.

Alejandro Valverde.

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Although the race isn’t technically a “home” race for the current World road champion, the opening stage in Orihuela is only a 20km cycle from his home in Murcia, so the Movistar man will want to do well here. In fact, on a training ride recently he did some reconnaissance of the final ramp so he is most definitely preparing well and taking it seriously. Normally you wouldn’t consider Valverde for a traditional TT but given the short nature, he always starts the season well, that kicker at the end, plus some friendly Spanish motos: he has a very good chance of taking the stage and holding the GC jersey throughout the race.

Nelson Oliveira.

Likewise, his Movistar team-mate will no doubt be looking forward to this hit out as well, with Oliveira starting the season well over in Mallorca; doing some good work for his squad and managing to bag a 6th place in Trofeo de Tramuntana. Still only 29, he’s very consistent in efforts against the clock with a 15th place finish being his worst result in 2018. My one concern about him is that he doesn’t win too much and he’s never tasted victory in a TT aside from his national championships. Is this the year he finally breaks that duck?

Ion Izagirre.

From one dud of a TT bike to another, Izagirre will hope that his legs can do the talking rather than the bike. Astana arrive here with a very strong squad to challenge for the overall so they need as many of them as possible to be near the top of the standings after tomorrow. Izagirre looks the most likely to challenge for the stage as he has the best TT out of the lot of them. Saying that, he wasn’t as strong last year as he had been in previous seasons so it will be interesting to see what he can pull off tomorrow.

There are a couple of Katusha riders who I’m looking forward to seeing how they fare: Tanfield and Goncalves. The former will get his first chance to show his mettle in a TT for his new WT team, while the latter on occasion has produced a great TT and the short but punchy climb should suit his characteristics. I don’t think either of them will win, but they should turn in decent performances. Van Emden is also another one who should do well but given that his climbing ability is pretty abysmal, he might lose quite a bit of time on that final rise. Tratnik steps up to the WT this year as well but how will he fare on that Merida bike? He’s one to watch for a top 10 anyway. Finally, I have my eyes on the young Portuguese rider João Rodrigues who rides for W52 and their new-found Pro Conti license. If this was La Grandissima he would be a shoe-in for a good result but it’s not, so we’ll see how he goes.

Prediction

Tony to roll back the clock? Sky to keep up that great TT record? Valverde to smash his “local” 10km? Nope, I’ll go with the Oliveira to get his first pro TT win narrative!

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After a good hit out in Mallorca, I think he’s ready to start his season proper with a bang. I’ll go for De La Cruz to finish second with Valverde in an ominous third.

Zweeler

Once again I’ll plug the blog sponsor Zweeler and their fantasy sports games. For Valenciana they have a competition open for the race, with the top 23 finishers (there are 200 teams entered already) guaranteeing themselves a return on their entrance fee. You can sign up to play it via this link here (which helps the blog out a little).

If you fancy yourself as more of a long-term prospector of cycling talent, their “1st period” game starts with Valenciana too. For that you have to pick a total of 30 riders from 6 different categories, with points being scored right through from Valenciana to the Tour of California. Due to the amount of entrants for the game so far the total prize pool has increased from €1500 to €1900, with the overall winner guaranteed a cool €350 from their €7 entry fee. If that tickles your particulars, then you can sign up to that via this link!

Betting

As for tomorrow’s stage, I’m going to keep it simple-ish as TTs early in the season can often be a bit tricky.

2pts WIN Oliveira @ 6/1 (With Betway)

1pt WIN De La Cruz @ 16/1 (With SkyBet)

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

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

 

 

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Tour de France 2018 Stage 16 Preview: Carcassonne › Bagnères-de-Luchon

Rest Day Recap

Stage 15 was a bit of an eventful day for the three blog breakaway candidates. Mühlberger got involved in one of the more promising early moves but given that he was in just a trio they were never going to be allowed away. Unfortunately that meant he didn’t have the energy to make the decisive break which happened to involve Valgren.

Majka attacked on the main climb of the day but was brought back on the run to the line by a chasing group of seven. Team tactics were played out and the three squads who had numbers in the group kept attacking and eventually they got away, unfortunately the Astana man who made the split wasn’t Valgren. Instead it was his team-mate Cort who would ultimately go on to win the sprint for the stage win!

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Some unusual tactics from Izagirre and Mollema (who finished 2nd and 3rd respectively) as they pretty much just towed the Astana man, a known sprinter, to the line. Izagirre tried once to attack but that was it. Maybe they were just happy with the podium? A bit of a frustrating day though with Valgren looking so strong, another “what if?” scenario.

Then of course the third break pick Gesbert was involved in some drama during the stage when Moscon swung at him. A new and odd #HaugheyCurse that one. The Sky rider has subsequently been sent home by the organisers. Not ideal for the squad as they enter a tough few stages where having him to control the early part of the day would be vital.

Speaking of which, let’s take a look at what is in store for the riders tomorrow.

The Route

Mainly flat then some tougher climbs later on in the day.

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With 140km of mainly flat, slightly rolling terrain before we get to any serious climbing it will be interesting to see what the composition of the breakaway will be like. Given the tougher climbs to come then ideally a team would like a natural climber to get into the move but it isn’t exactly easy given the terrain!

The peloton will hit the first “proper” climb of the Col de Portet-d’Aspet at almost 150km into the stage. With an average of 7.1% it is fairly steep and typical of the region but at only 5.4km long it shouldn’t see any exciting attacks. The riders will then dive down the other side before climbing straight away once they hit the valley floor. The Col de Menté is a steep climb averaging 8.1% for a shade under 7km and this could be the scene of some long-range hail mary attacks from guys further down the bunch. With 47km to go from the summit and a lot of dragging valley roads to contend with, I’ll be watching along like…

Bold strategy cotton

After those said valley roads the peloton will tackle the final climb of the day with roughly 18km of the route remaining.

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The Col du Portillon isn’t the toughest climb ever and the gradients are fairly consistent which should suit those looking for a steady pace. However, it is steep enough still that some damage can be done with a few stinging attacks. Arguably more important than the climb itself though, is the descent off of it.

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With 10kms to lost ~650m of altitude it is going to be a fast run in. There are several tight hairpin turns on which the better descenders can put pressure on their rivals. This is all going to be exacerbated though given the weather forecast…

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It’s meant to rain from mid-afternoon onwards with a few thunderstorms in the area causing heavy showers at points – not exactly sure how this 17.8mm of rain is going to fall in an hour, that is crazy!

How will the race pan out?

Pfffft, it could be a day for the break but it could also be a GC day. It all just depends on who wants to control the afternoon. If it is just Sky that set tempo then they will no doubt be happy to let the break gobble up the bonus seconds ahead and then let the GC battle happen behind. However, with the 140km of relatively flat roads then it is easier for teams to control the break, especially if it is not that big. Do Ag2R, Jumbo and Sunweb come to an agreement and keep tabs on the move? We might even see a rogue UAE rider help out in the hope of a Dan Martin stage win.

If none of those teams decide they want to work then it should be a day for a break. The issue with choosing some riders to make the move is the amount of flat roads before the climbs will make it difficult for a mountain goat to be at the head of the race. Their best hope is that the break goes on the first Cat-4 climb but even then it will be difficult to snap the elastic.

We could see a really weird composition of 14 riders or so with one or two lucky climbers who make it. Of course, none of the other guys in the move will want to tow them to the climbs, especially the last one, so an attack in the valley roads is likely.

I’m not overly convinced with either outcome for the day but I do lean towards the GC riders fighting out for the stage. However, it would be foolish not to consider a couple of potential break threats, both of whom I have backed before.

Gregor Mühlberger.

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I still think he has a big win coming at some point in the near future. Unfortunate not to make the second decisive move after being in the initial attack trio that had escaped. Majka will probably be Bora’s go to man tomorrow but I think he might find it difficult to join the break on the flat. If so, the Austrian is a much better all-rounder and better equipped to do so. If we do get one of those weird week 3 breaks where no real climber makes it, then he is certainly one to watch. A demon descender, the rain will be of no issue to him.

Gorka Izagirre.

Despite me saying never trust a man with two hooped earrings, here I am again. If only the Bahrain rider had stuck with Stuyven rather than complaining about Slagter’s work rate then he might have had a stage win. A strong climber who can descend well, he’s not too bad on the flat either. Bahrain will be keen to get several riders into the move as they aren’t too far off Movistar’s lead in the team classification. That could be an interesting battle over the coming days.

Prediction

I think that Jumbo, Ag2R and Sunweb will combine forces to keep tabs on the break and try to attack Sky on the wet descents later on in the race. We’ve already seen one rider escape from a Sky based peloton on the descent and I think we’ll se the same tomorrow. Tom Dumoulin to win!

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Betting

Want to cover the two break shots but also Dumoulin EW too as I think his price is too big so foregoing the 2pt rule. Was never really going to last, was it?

1pt WIN Gorka @ 66/1 with various, although he’s 75s on the exchange

0.5pt WIN Muhlberger @ 125/1 with various

1pt EW Dumoulin @ 28/1 with Betfred/Boyles (Would take down to 22s lowest)

Thanks as always for reading! How do you think tomorrow’s stage is going to go? Will we see a break stick or will the GC riders contend for the win? Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

Tour de France 2018 Stage 14 Preview: Saint-Paul-Trois-Châteaux -> Mende

Today’s Recap

FDJ and Bora decided they weren’t playing ball today as neither tried to get a man in the break. Once the 4 men went up ahead they controlled it, not letting the gap grow out much further than 2 minutes. Despite Gilbert’s late attack we had a sprint day with the best sprinter here, Sagan, taking the win.

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He edged out Kristoff who in turn edged out Démare to round out the podium. Pretty dull day, let’s hope for some more exciting racing tomorrow. Speaking of which…

The Route

A rolling day that sees a lot of climbing in the latter part.

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A flat start to the afternoon sees an uncategorised drag (roughly 2.9% for 8kms), come after 10kms into the day. The road then goes over several small bumps and some more flat roads for the following 60km before the Cat-4 climb. Will the break have gone by then?

After that, the road goes up from pretty much 95 -> 129km, meaning the average gradient is 2.5% for those 34kms. That of course includes the “proper” climb of Col de la Croix de Berthel which officially clocks in at 5.3% for 9.1kms. The riders will then face a descent before a climb, which will then be rinsed and repeated again.

With a descent and some valley roads, everyone will turn their attention to the closing climb of the day.

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It’s the same finish climb that was used in 2015 when Pinot and Bardet dropped everyone else from the break but they were caught up by a storming Cummings while they were playing games. The climb is tough and it is possible we see some splits in the GC group if it is rode at a crazy pace. Nothing major but a few seconds here and there.

I can’t see anyone wanting to keep this one together so…

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Break Contenders

Every man and his dog will be trying to get into the break if they can and the fight will be tough. It will take some luck to make the right move but also having good legs is important. Will any GC rider allow a domestique the chance to go for a stage win?

I’m also breaking a few of my rules today as I’ll be naming five guys below, shocking, I know. Here goes nothing…

Gorka Izagirre.

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He looked strong in the breakaway during stage 11 before an untimely mechanical or bout of cramp (still don’t which it is) ruined any chance of going for stage glory. With Nibali no longer at the race Bahrain will be very active over the remaining stages and Gorka looks their best bet for tomorrow. As I mentioned in the preview for stage 11, this season is the best I have ever seen him ride; his climbing is exceptional. He was just unlucky not to be able to showcase it that day. With his good kick he could win a gallop to the line.

Julian Alaphilippe.

The current King of the Mountains has been very smart with his energy use over the past few stages, going hard for the first HC or Cat-1 climbs of the day and then swiftly exiting the break. He’s clearly planned this one out in advance. With only a few points available on Stage 15, I think he might chance his arm and go for the stage win tomorrow. If there was one rider in the peloton (not a GC contender) that you had to pick for this final climb then it would be Alaphilippe. If he makes the break then not many will want to drag him to the bottom of it so he might be susceptible to longer range attacks. Nonetheless, he starts the stage as favourite.

Gregor Mühlberger.

On the attack during the Alpe d’Huez stage, Mühlberger is fast becoming one of my under rated (favourite) domestiques in the peloton – he’s a classy bike rider. He has a bit of everything as he can go well on the flat but can also cope well with hilly terrain. During the Tour de Suisse he was close to a stage win, well kind of, but was brought back by some flying GC riders. Nonetheless, he still managed to hold on for 4th place that day. One who could possibly attack before the final climb and use his good descending skills to advantage. He has a great chance if he starts the ascent with a 30 second advantage.

Jelle Vanendert.

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Lotto Soudal only have half of their roster left in the race but they have been active despite that. One of their riders that has been quiet though is Vanendert. Maybe he has been targeting this stage for a while? His Spring campaign was successful with a string of strong results in the Ardennes classics. Will saving those legs reap the benefits against a tired peloton?

Simon Geschke.

Bit of a wild card here because it requires Dumoulin to allow the German on the attack. His performance on the Alpe d’Huez stage was nothing short of phenomenal though and he was one of only a few domestiques left at the foot of the climb. It is the best I’ve seen him go up some hills since his win at this race in 2015. Has he found his mojo again? A danger man that shouldn’t be underestimated.

Prediction

Alaphilippe, all day.

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Betting

Even as much as I think Alaphilippe has a great chance I just can’t back him at that price for a stage with many variables.

1pt WIN G Izagirre @ 33/1

0.5pt WIN Mühlberger @ 150/1

1pt WIN Vanendert @ 40/1

0.75pt WIN Geschke @ 66/1

Again, you could possibly wait for the Exchanges to open, most likely get better prices there.

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

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

Tour Down Under 2018 – Stage 4 Preview; Norwood -> Uraidla

Stage 3 Recap

After a couple of questionable days, it was nice to finally get off the mark and up and running for the season!

A long hot day in the saddle for the riders (even with the shorter distance), we saw the expected bunch sprint into Victor Harbor. For most of the closing kilometre it looked as if Ewan had it in the bag but he seemed to delay his final sprint. I’m not too sure as to why, but he possibly thought it was too far out to go. That opened the door for a charging Viviani who took home a very impressive win. Bauhaus came late as well nabbing second place with Ewan eventually finishing third.

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Ewan still holds onto Ochre but even by his own admission he’ll find it tough hanging on to it after Stage 4. Let’s have a look at what is in store for the riders.

The Route

With the temperatures set to soar again I feared that they would shorten this stage; which would be particularly annoying as this was the day I was looking forward to most! However, the organisers have decided to move the start forward by 1 hour to avoid the worst of the extreme conditions. That means the stage is predicted to finish at 2pm local time, or 3:30 UK, although I have a feeling it might be closer to 4.

So, what have we got to look forward to?

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@LaFlammeRouge

The riders will face a fairly benign start to the day, with a few lumps and bumps out on the course, but this stage is all about the closing 15kms once the peloton reach the town of Rostrevor.

It starts with the 5.5km ascent of Norton Summit Road that averages 5.1% for its duration.

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It is a steady rise with a few ramps of 7%, but it very rarely differs from 4.5% -> 6% so a team can set a good tempo up it if they want to. I will be intrigued to see who takes up the challenge!

Interestingly, De Gendt holds the Strava record from when they rode the climb almost from the gun back in 2016 on Stage 4. That day De Gendt went up it in 11’06, so we could expect a roughly 10 minute time up it on this stage. Maybe. I’m never great at guessing climbing times!

Norton Summit officially crests at the 120.5km mark, or the 6.5km to go mark. However, the climbing doesn’t stop there…

Norton to Uraidla

The riders will enjoy the road flattening out over the summit and have just over 1.5km to gather their breath if they can, before the road kicks up properly on the aptly named Woods Hill Road. It’s a shame a certain Canadian isn’t here!

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It’s a very tough kicker, especially the first 2/3rds as it starts to flatten out near the top. In fact, the opening 800m average 9.9% and in the searing heat that is expected, it will feel like a lot more for some.

Once over the top of Woods Hill, the riders will be offered a little respite with a slight descent but considering the road does roll continually, they won’t be offered much time to gather their thoughts; the final 4km averages -1.25%.

The final place to make a meaningful attack is the section that I’m going to call the “Big Double Dipper”.

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Going with a lot of momentum into the steep downhill will mean a rider will be able to carry their speed out the other side of the dip and catch those behind off guard. Once they get to the second peak the road turns left and from there it is a 1km downhill all the way to the line. A 5 second gap at the Flamme Rouge should see the rider hold off any chase behind.

How will the race pan out?

Pfffft, who knows!

I imagine we’ll see a very conservative day up until Norton Summit. However, that doesn’t mean the finish won’t be explosive though. I think the heat will make Norton harder than it actually is, making it ride more like a 6.5% climb than a 5.1% climb. In theory, that should mean the elimination of the likes of Sagan, but you never really know.

I can’t see anymore than 30 riders being in the first group over the summit of Norton. From there, it really will be hard to keep control.

Woods Hill is steep enough for the stronger climbers to make some gaps if they sprint up the opening 800m but equally, it is short enough that some of the puncheurs will hope to hang on if the pace isn’t mental.

This has the hallmarks to be an incredibly exciting stage, so let’s watch it end up a damp squib…

I’m really not sure what option I favour; late solo attack, late group attack, GC guys attack on Woods Hill and stay away, small sprint. Who knows!

With having Dennis already covered for GC, I’m just going to throw a few darts with the following riders and hope they’re there or thereabouts…

The Three Darter

Rui Costa.

Flying at the start of the season last year, this type of finish looks great for the Portuguese rider. He’s been solid this week so far, but not exceptional. However, I think he must be feeling fairly good as he’s been on the hunt for bonus seconds in the earlier stages so he obviously must have one eye on GC as well. Both he and Ulissi should make it with the main selection and it will then be up to Costa to make an attack to force others to chase while Ulissi sits in for the sprint. He might drag some riders with him, but I’m sure the UAE rider would be confident from a group of 5.

Robert Gesink.

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This is the Jumbo rider’s first race back after his crash at the Tour and he’s quietly going about his business well. Throughout the first few stages he’s been very attentive at the front of the bunch during the sprint finishes, and he sits “second” behind Consonni on GC in the group of riders that have no time bonuses. The TDU seems to be a good race for the Dutchman, with solid finishes here in the past. One of the best climbers in this race on paper, he packs a surprisingly good sprint from a small group. If the race becomes very selective and we see 5-8 of the best climbers come to the line, he definitely has a chance.

Gorka Izagirre.

Another rider who always seems to go well here; he finished 2nd on the tough finish to Paracombe last year before an unfortunate fall the next day. Reunited with his brother again on Bahrain, it will be interesting to see what they can manage along with Pozzovivo. I would expect the three of them to be close to the head of the race and having numbers in the front group certainly is an advantage. Gorka could manage a late solo attack with Ion and Pozzovivo marking behind, otherwise, he packs a solid sprint from a small group.

Prediction

A small group to get away on after Norton Summit and before the kick up Woods Hill Road. From there it fragments leaving Dennis, Costa and McCarthy.

In the end, the more experienced Costa rolls the pair of them as they are too focussed on each other, taking a great win to better his start than last year!

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Maybe.

I really have no idea what will happen, which is probably a good thing!

Betting

No odds for Gesink at the moment which is a shame. He might appear later on, but I’ll go with the two riders just now;

1pt EW Costa @ 20/1

1pt EW Izagirre @ 28/1

Both Bet365.

Actually, to get around the whole Gesink situation I’m going to back him for GC

0.5pt EW Gesink @ 125/1 (FOR GC)

 

Thanks as always for reading! Who do you think will win the stage? Can someone like Sagan hold on, or will it be a lot more decisive GC wise than some people think? Am I completely wrong? Likely. Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

 

 

Tour de Pologne 2017 Stage 6 Preview; Wieliczka -> Zakopane

Today’s Recap

A shorter stage that delivered a few surprises.

We had a strong break of 5 get up the road early on in the day but they were never given more than 3 minutes, with a few teams helping Bora control the gap. There were some splits on the early climbs, but nothing too major.

However, the pace was really increased on the last climb of the day and the peloton was reduced to around 50 guys, with breakee Van Garderen still up the road. The American was ultimately brought to heel with about 3km to go. A crash just before the Flamme Rouge saw only 12 or so riders contest the sprint with Van Poppel finally getting his reward for strong performances all week.

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Mezgec ran him very close in second, while Sagan gained some more bonus seconds in third place.

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

The Route

Arguably the Queen Stage of the race with just over 4000m of elevation gain according to Strava/Veloviewer.

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I think this is the first stage that the Veloviewer profile undersells the day, whereas the official profile is actually pretty bang on.

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You can view the full profile here.

The first 100km of the day start off relatively innocuously, with only a few small rises and nother too serious. The action kicks off though with an uncategorised rise of 3% for 3km; a nice way for the riders to warm up and stretch their legs for the remainder of the stage.

Bystryk is the opening categorised climb.

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At 5.6% for 5.9km it certainly is not Alpine, but this is where we could see the sprinters un-hitch and pack in the race altogether.

The riders won’t get much respite as after a few kilometres of false flat and descending, they’ll face the second categorised climb of the day; Butorowy Wierch.

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Any speed the riders carry into the climb will be knocked off by the very steep ramps that come right at the bottom. From there, it will be a drag to the top with some light relief on some flatter sections.

The categorised climbs are put on the back-burner for the intermediate sprint point, although that cruelly is located on top of a 3.3km (3.9%) drag itself.

Next on the climbing menu is Głodówka which tops out with 48km left.

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One of the easier climbs of the day, it shouldn’t be of any major difficulties for the riders and I can’t imagine anyone who’s not dropped already, will be dropped here.

The road then plunges down the valley before some more uncategorised climbing that is actually pretty tricky. According to Veloviewer the climb is 4.4km long and averages 5.1%; making it tougher than our previous Cat 1! I guess they had to give the highest point on the stage a mountain category. From there the riders will face a really short descent before the second bump which is 1.4km at 7%. A sting in the tail if you’re not prepared for it!

A 5km descent follows before the riders start the final 22kms of the day, and arguably the most crucial as they face two-categorised climbs in quick succession with very little downhill in between.

The riders actually climb to Bystryk again for the penultimate KOM, but from a slightly different route.

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It’s a steady climb, well, aside from the two sections of very steep gradients!

The climb of Butorowy Wierch is then the same as it is on the image above. With it cresting 8.5km from the finish, will we see a rider solo at this time, or will a small group crest together?

Those final 8.5km look as follows…

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A quick descent and a 2km rise up to the line averaging 2.5%. That small incline could see a riders legs seize up if they put too much in earlier on, although that is unlikely!

How will the stage pan out?

There is a chance the break makes it if none of the GC teams decide to play ball and chase the move. However, I think we’ll see some kind of GC showdown on the roads and a strong winner at the end of the day.

I expect an aggressive race, or at least I hope for one. Sagan has looked imperious so far and if I was a DS of an opposing team, I wouldn’t want to risk taking all the time back from him on the final stage.

Unfortunately for them, Bora also have Majka positioned rather nicely in third place. So if Sagan is dropped, the Pole is more than likely going to be there as a replacement!

Nonethless, I would still be sending/attempting to send my strong riders up the road with around 50km to go, on the 3rd categorised climb of the day. This is where having two riders on the team that are genuine GC threats comes in very handy as the person behind doesn’t have to work while other teams who have missed the move burn matches to try to close it down.

Looking at teams that have two serious candidates we have;

Bora – Sagan (1st) and Majka (’20 seconds down)

Sunweb – Kelderman (24 seconds) and Oomen (1’50)*

Sky – Poels (33s) and Rosa (1’14)

Orica – Yates (33s) and Haig (1’58)*

Movistar – Izagirre (39s) and Oliveira (1’02)

UAE – Costa (42s) and Conti (47s)

Lotto Soudal – De Clerq (44s) and Marczynski (1’05)

*These two are borderline non-threats but could be brought into the mix still.

Will a DS be brave enough to send someone up the road to risk losing their current GC standing? I hope so, this isn’t a Grand Tour so I can’t see teams riding to defend 7th etc. As for who that might be? I’m not too sure!

I’ll give it a go though and name a couple of riders who I fancy to go well and who might be given freedom to do so.

MyTwoPicksWorth™

Valerio Conti.

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After taking a Grand Tour stage win at the Vuelta last year, the UAE rider has really taken a step up this season. Constantly attacking throughout the Giro, he was in contention for stage victory from the breakaway on Stage 8 until he crashed going round one of the final hairpins. He looked strong that day on the uphill kick and I’m sure he would have managed to get on the podium at least. On stage 3 he was the first rider to start proceedings on the final climb but unfortunately for him, he was clawed back in. An attacking rider who might not be deemed an instant threat, he will be the UAE guy who I imagine is sent up the road. If he senses stage victory is there, he might just take it…

Gorka Izagirre.

The rider who beat Conti on that stage in the Giro, the “lesser” Izagirre brother has really broken through this season now that Ion has moved on! A loyal domestique, when given the chance to shine he often does. Earlier in the year he produced his best ever GC result when finishing 4th in the overall at Paris-Nice. He’s certainly no mug! Strong on this type of uphill drag to the line, if he arrives with a small group that doesn’t include Sagan, he’ll no doubt fancy his chances in the sprint.

Prediction

We’ll see an attacking, but relatively cagey day rolled into one.

A group of “lesser” GC guys will escape with Majka, while Sagan sticks with those behind. In the sprint to the line, Gorka will continue his impressive year and take the win. The Spaniard was pushing the pace on during the final climb today so he must be feeling sprightly!

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Betting

I don’t know why, but I have a good feeling about Izagirre for tomorrow. Good enough to disregard Conti completely from the equation? It would kill me if he did go on to win so no!

1pt EW on them both with B365;

Conti @ 20/1

Izagirre @ 40/1

Also;

6pts on Izagirre to beat Visconti @ 4/6.

Thanks as always for reading and as usual any feedback is greatly appreciated. Who do you think will win tomorrow? Will we see some GC attacks from afar, or will it be a relatively dull day? Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

 

 

 

Tour de France 2017 – GC Preview

Tour de France 2017 – GC Preview

Well, here we are again. Just over half-way through the season and La Grand Boucle is upon us. The race that your non-cycling friends know about and are somewhat interested in. It’s also the one where you most likely have to explain why Chris Froome isn’t competing in a sprint (we’ll just gloss over stage 11 from last year) or why the peloton have let a group of riders 12 minutes up the road. Firstly though, you will have to explain what a “peloton” is!

Speaking of Froome, the Brit is here to defend his crown and looking to win his fourth title. However, he’ll have to look over his shoulder a lot more this year as there are certainly a few contenders who could knock him from his pedestal…

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Let’s have a quick look at what’s in store for the riders over the next 3 weeks.

The Route

I’m not going to mince my words here, this year’s Tour route is arguably one of the dullest in recent memory. Several long flat sprint stages and only three mountain top finishes, eugh!

However, I’m hoping (probably in vain) that the ASO have pulled a blinder and that the less challenging route will lead to some more aggressive racing. We have seen in the past that ridiculously tough stages often lead to a boring day as too many riders are scared to go too early and run out of steam by the end of the stage.

The opening day’s TT will see some time gaps between the GC favourites but they shouldn’t be too significant, although they could be around 30 seconds or so.

Stage 5 plays host to the first summit finish of the race: La Planche des Belles Filles.

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Having been a stage finish in 2012 and 2014 a lot of the riders will know what to expect. Without any major difficulties in the first two-thirds of the stage it should all come down to the final climb. At 5.9km long and averaging 8.5%, it is tough enough to create some gaps. However, I don’t expect them to be too big between the GC favourites. Will someone who’s lost time in the TT manage to sneak away?

We then have a couple of sprints stages followed by a mountainous double-header before the first rest-day. Stage 8 kind of finishes atop a mountain at Station des Rousses but with 8km from the summit of the climb to the finish line we can’t really call it that! Stage 9 has a flat finish but there are several tough climbs out on the course. Most notably the last climb of the day; the Mont du Chat.

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The toughest climb in France according to some, it played a pivotal part in the recent Dauphiné. While the climb is exceptionally hard, the descent off of it is very technical and it is also a place where riders can attack to try to make some time. They’ll have to hope for a lack of co-operation behind as the 13km to the finish line will seem to take an eternity! With a rest day to come, the riders certainly won’t be holding anything back.

Another two sprint stages will give them time to recover before the second summit finish of the race on stage 12.

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One of the longest stages in the race, it is back loaded with climbing. It could be one of the more exciting stages because depending on the composition of the GC, we could see some early attacks on the Porte de Balès as there are no flat roads for the riders to contend with from kilometre 172.

The organisers have decided to juxtapose the longest mountain stage with the shortest one the following day.

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Seemingly wanting to take a leaf out of the Giro and Vuelta with their explosive/crazy days, I don’t think they’ve managed it. On paper anyway.

First of all, the key to these stages is to finish on a mountain, not have 30km of descending/flat after the summit. Secondly, you have a climb from the gun to try to entice GC men into a very early move and catch those out who’ve not warmed up correctly. The three climbs on the stage are tough enough to cause some chaos, don’t get me wrong, but I can’t help but think if they’d made the stage start or finish on a climb it would be a whole lot better. I hope the riders make the most of it though and produce a very attacking day. For that we need Contador and the Movistar duo to be in contention still at this point.

The GC riders then have 4 days off (including a rest day)  heading into the final week of the Tour. Traditionally packed with mountains, this year’s race is a bit “meh”. Stage 17 is arguably the Queen Stage in my opinion, although it finishes with a descent.

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The Col du Télégraphe / Col du Galibier combination is crazy. Taking the climb as a whole from the foot slopes of the Télégraphe it is ~35km at 5.5%. That’s tough on its own but when you consider the Galibier crests at 2642m then it makes it a whole different ball game. If riders blow up and struggle at altitude, they really could lose a lot of time here. Once over the crest, the riders will descend almost all the way to the finish (28km at -4% avg), although the last 3km are relatively flat. It means we could see a small group come to the line, but I don’t see that happening as I expect the climb and the descent that follows to be tough enough to create gaps.

The following day plays host to the final mountain stage and a summit finish on the Col d’Izoard.

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There’s nothing much to say about this stage really, it is all about the final climb. A last huzzah for the mountain goats to move up on GC before losing time in the TT two days later. Will a rider further down the order be given leeway to take a memorable victory, or will the riders at the top of the GC standings show no mercy and further stamp their dominance on the race?

As for the final GC stage, we have a TT around Marseille on the penultimate day of racing. I’m sure the riders will love the transfer from the South of France all the way to Paris…

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Anyway, the TT is almost pan-flat apart from one short but very steep climb. I knew I recognised the climb from somewhere and it turns out it was used in the final stage of La Provence earlier in the season. However, that day they approached it from the “easier” south side. At the Tour it will be the much harder approach. Sticking out like a sore thumb on the profile, it will certainly hamper the rhythm of the pure TT specialists. Can the climbers gain enough time on those 1.2kms to negate the other 21?

Once the stage is finished we’ll know our GC winner, before we finish with the traditional lap-circuit around the Champs-Élysées on the final day.

GC Battle As A Whole

I’m intrigued to see how the race pans out given the easier parcours compared to previous editions. Fewer mountain top finishes and fewer TT kms, I think the ASO have tried to make the route as anti-Froome as possible and make it a more open race.

In theory, they’ve done that well. There should be smaller time gaps in the TTs due to their shorter nature, although both are pan-flat almost and should suit the specialists. The lack of mountain top finishes should see the climbers closer together because there are less stages where they can drop their rivals and put massive amounts of time into them.

However, the race can definitely favour those willing to take risks. Several of the stages finish with descents off of mountains and I think we’ll see those descents being of almost equal importance to the climbs themselves. Technical descents could see riders lose 20-30 seconds if they’re nervous and if we get bad weather, time gaps could be exacerbated even more. We saw Froome attempting to drop Porte at the recent Dauphiné when coming off the Mont du Chat and I think we’ll see similar moves throughout the race, from riders in or around the top 10.

In trying to make it anti-Froome though, the organisers are playing a risky game because they’ve made it very pro-Sky. If Froome performs like he has in previous seasons and takes Yellow early (on stage 5), then Sky have the strength to be able to control the race for the majority of stages.

GC Contenders

As I’ve already ranted and rambled for a long time, I’ll keep this section “relatively” short. I imagine you will already know a lot about the favourites etc anyway…

Chris Froome.

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The 3-time champion is gunning for his 4th title but he seems to have lost his way this season. Is he on the decline or playing a masterful bluff? He has looked a shadow of his former self lately and most concerningly for him: he’s failed to take a win so far this season. In his past triumphant Tour years he’s managed 5 (2016) / 5 (2015) / 9 (2013) wins (including GC titles) before the start of the race. I think he’s on the decline, but has he realised that and focussed fully on preparing for this race and only this race? Possibly. However, I think it will be hard for him to retain his title but I won’t be surprised if he did! He does have the advantage of having the strongest overall team.

Richie Porte.

Froome’s former team-mate is his biggest threat. The Australian has been on fire this season, winning or challenging for almost every race he’s entered. As I’ve said before, give him a race of 15 minute climbs and you’ll be hard pressed to find someone in the world who can beat him (maybe Dumoulin). There used to be question marks over his ability on the long climbs but he seems to have stepped up in that respect again this season with some big performances. He’ll gain time on his rivals in the TT and more than likely will do on the climbs.

Is he unbeatable? No.

We saw at the Dauphiné that his team is pretty weak and they’ll struggle to protect him in the mountains throughout the race. It’s not so much stages such as the one that finishes on the Izoard that he’ll have problems with. Drop him off at the bottom and he’ll do the rest himself. It’s the days where we have several mountains in quick succession and I am concerned for him on Stage 13.

Nonetheless though, he is the rider to beat this season and that should be no different here.

Nairo Quintana.

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After failing to win the Giro, the Colombian comes here looking for redemption. I have to admit I do have a soft spot for him, although that’s the case for a lot of Colombians, must be something to do with the coffee! I admire a rider that can have a “poor” Tour last year and finish third, while similarly have a terrible Giro this year according to some and finish second. I wish I was that good at something while simultaneously being “rubbish”.

Quintana did look under-cooked at the Giro and I think he had half an eye on the Tour at the time, but like a lot of us, he underestimated how strong Dumoulin was going to be. We could well have been talking about the possibility of him doing the Giro-Tour double.

The route isn’t great for him with a lack of summit finishes, but if he can stay in contention for the final week then he has a great chance to take time on the Galibier and Izoard.

I am concerned though about his level of fatigue though as this is set to be his 4th straight Grand Tour. Maybe he’s got some tips from Adam Hansen?

Alberto Contador.

The most succesful active Grand Tour rider in the peloton, his season has been built around winning the Tour de France. He’s had a string of second places on GC this season, cruelly missing out on Paris-Nice and Andalucia wins by a cumulative margin of 3 seconds. He will no doubt animate the race and it is good to see him enjoying his racing more than when he was at Tinkoff, but I still think he’s past his prime and I can’t see him contending for the win. The same can’t be said for the next rider…

Alejandro Valverde.

Mr Evergreen (not the Green Bullet) as I have decided to call him, has had an astonishing season for a 37-year-old. He’s picked up 3 GC wins this season so far, but they’ve all came in Spain. Finishing 9th at the recent Dauphiné after a month and a half out of racing wasn’t a bad result and he’ll be hoping to have progressed in form since then. This year’s Tour route looks ideal for him and it is crucial for Movistar’s chances to have both him and Quintana in contention going into the last week. He will be close to the podium, but I think he’ll suffer in the final week as he has one eye on the Vuelta where he’ll be outright leader of the team.

Fabio Aru.

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The newly crowned Italian champion has been flying as of late and he will be Astana’s main rider here. According to their press release Fuglsang will be co-leader but I expect he’ll eventually fall by the wayside. However, like Movistar, Astana can benefit massively from having two riders close on GC. They put on an attacking masterclass at the Dauphiné and I expect something similar here. Aru looks back to his 2015 best and after missing the Giro he’ll be wanting to make amends. A podium finish is well within his capabilities and with some luck, he could possibly go a bit better!*

* I am a bit biased though as he is in my season long fantasy team. Think I’ve been brainwashed as well by my neighbours personalised number plate that ends in ARU.

Romain Bardet.

After his spectacular second place last year, the French rider will be hoping for a repeat performance this season. He’s had a relatively quiet season but has been slowly peaking for this race. He’ll love the lack of TT kms (although he’ll still lose plenty of time) and the descents will be to his liking as well. I just don’t think he’ll be up there competing again, and the pressure of being the big French hope might get to him.

Dan Martin.

Another rider who will benefit from the fewer TT kms, he will be looking to improve on his 9th place last year. The route does suit the attacking Irishman who will no doubt squirrel off the front on some stages. His fast sprint could see him pick up some bonus seconds. A dark horse for the podium, I think he’ll fall short.

Esteban Chaves.

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The Smiling Assassin is a rider I’m sure a lot of fans have a soft spot for. Making his Tour debut this year, he returned to racing at the Dauphiné after almost 4 months out with a knee problem. Considering his performances in the Giro and Vuelta last year, if he came into this race fully fit then people would be talking up his chances for the podium Right now he has a question mark beside him, but I think he could surprise again.

If not, team-mate Simon Yates could be Orica’s GC hope. An attacking rider, he will no doubt launch himself off the front on the penultimate climb of a stage, looking to gain time before the final summit. He finished a very respectable 6th at the Vuelta last year but it was a pretty lacklustre field and I’m still not convinced he’s a fully fledged GC rider in a Grand Tour.

Rafal Majka will lead the charge for Bora who look to be trying to win every jersey possible at the race. A quality rider, don’t expect him to see him attacking out of the bunch too much, he’ll just be there in the background, almost anonymously. Free from the shackles of working for another rider, he could well find himself in the top 5 of another GT.

Louis Meintjes a.k.a the ticket collector, will no doubt be seen at the back of the mountain train every time the road goes uphill. A gutsy rider who will hang on for a top 10 at least by the end of the race, I think he might possibly sneak even further up the pecking order.

Ion Izagirre gets his first shot at riding a Grand Tour as leader. A super domestique for Valverde and Quintana in the past, he’s been solid this season but hasn’t set the scene alight. Will he perform consistently throughout the race to be there at the pointy-end come the final week?

Right, I think that’s everyone…

(Yes, I’ve missed out Uran but that’s because I don’t think he’ll be there).

As for an outsider to finish in the top 10, I like the look of Primoz Roglic.

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The Slovenian has upped his game this season and has turned himself into a fully fledged GC rider. An excellent TTer who can also climb well, the lack of mountain top finishes this year will really suit him as the really long climbs are his undoing. The guy can descend as well, rather apt considering his downhill skiing background, which will be very handy during this race.

Watching him fly down the descent during the final TT at Romandie was a thing of beauty. He managed to put 26 seconds into Porte over 11km of descending/flat, it was crazy! It is only his second Grand Tour so there is a chance he’ll be left wanting come the end, but I think he’ll be there fighting for a top 10.

Prediction

Porte will finally shake that “3-week consistency” monkey off his back and take the overall win to continue an unbelievable season!

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With Aru coming second and Quintana third.

Betting

I’m not a huge fan of betting on GC, but I am tempted with something on Aru EW, but I think I’ll wait until after he loses time in the opening TT!

As for now though, I’ve got 2pts on Roglic Top 10 @ 3/1 with Betfred (would take 11/4 that’s available elsewhere)

 

Thanks as always for reading and any feedback as usual is greatly appreciated. Who do you think will win the Tour overall? Will we see any surprises? Or will it be the usual suspects competing for victory? I’ll be back tomorrow with my look at the Green Jersey battle and I promise it will be a lot shorter! Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

Tour de Romandie 2017 Stage 5 Preview; Lausanne -> Lausanne (ITT)

Today’s Recap

Porte made the final climb his Swiss Willunga, but it was Yates who managed to take the win, holding on to the coattails of the Aussie and beating him in the sprint.

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Buchmann came home a very credible third. There was a big time gap back to a large group of GC contenders who will have been disappointed to have to lose time going into tomorrow’s last stage.

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

The Route

A tough rolling individual time trial where the overall will be won or lost.

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As is tradition for a TT, I’ve made a Strava profile that you can view here.

Although I somehow seem to have missed 300m compared to the official profile. I think it’s at the end of the stage the distance is missing so it shouldn’t make too much difference. Oh well!

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Aside from the climbing, one thing to note is how technical the route is. The road seems to constantly change direction and it’s only really in the final third of the stage where the riders can settle into a rhythm. Even then though, there are several 90-degree turns in the final few kilometres!

As for the climbing, they do that once they leave the start straight and take a left-hand turn. Taking it as one big ascent, it’s a 6.4km climb averaging 4.6%. However, that doesn’t tell the whole story.

There are a few false flat drags in between the major rises of which the toughest comes near the top of the climb. That part of the climb is 1.4km at 9.6%. A good amount of time can be lost here on a bad day!

Contenders

With the lack of flat this is a TT for the GC men and the very best climbing TTers.

Primoz Roglic.

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Arguably the GC revelation of the season, the Slovenian is also a very handy time-trial rider. He smashed the recent climbing TT in Pais Vasco but oddly enough he gained most of his time on the flat run to the line. He won’t have that advantage tomorrow so it will be interesting to see how he goes.

Richie Porte. Flying today and former Aussie TT Champ, the BMC rider will eat up the climb. It’s just a question of him holding it together on the descent and run home.

Chris Froome. You can never count out the British rider. He had a similar performance in this race last year on a mountain top finish, before turning out a very good TT ride. He often seems to go well when you least expect it.

Jonathan Castroviejo. Great TTer who’s not been in that great shape recently but did come home just behind the group of GC favourites today. He can turn that around in a TT.

Bob Jungels. Powerful rider who should be there or thereabouts tomorrow. Will probably want one final hit out before the Giro.

Ion Izagirre.

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The rider who apparently had a great chance of winning this race overall before today’s stage, due to his TT prowess. However, like Roglic, he now finds himself chasing and it will be hard for him to win the GC title but he may just sneak the stage win.

Ilnur Zakarin. Joker of the bunch, the Katusha rider has been hit or miss with his TTs recently. Yet, he was attacking today and like a few others, will want to have one last hit out for the Giro.

Simon Yates. Has to be respected after today’s performance and although his TT has improved over the past year, I still can’t see him do enough to win the title tomorrow.

Prediction

Froome turns things around and takes the day.

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While Porte takes overall glory!

Betting

1pt EW Froome @ 10/1 with Bet365 (would take 8/1 lowest)

*UPDATE*

1pt EW Porte @ 6/1

Thanks for reading as always and any feedback is greatly appreciated. Who do you think will win? Next up for me preview wise is the Giro and Chongming Island. Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.