Volta a la Comunitat Valenciana 2018 Stage 2 Preview; Bétera › Albuixech

Today’s Recap

We got the expected sprint finish into Peñiscola with the lead-out trains battling it out on the run-in.

It was Lotto Jumbo who came out on top, delivering Van Poppel excellently into the home straight. He did have to start his sprint ever so slightly earlier than he would have liked, but the Dutchman showed enough power to hold on for the victory.

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Mezgec looked as if he was going to come round him at some point but he just couldn’t manage it, nonetheless, he held on strongly for 2nd. Roelandts came home third, pipping a few other riders in an almost blanket finish for the minor places.

Will Van Poppel be able to hold onto his lead tomorrow?

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

The Route

A really interesting stage that could cause a GC shake-up.

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@LasterketaBurua

Five categorised climbs jammed into only 155km of racing makes this stage a stern test for the riders given how early into the season we are.

I can’t see the opening 4 climbs have any major impact on the outcome of the stage, but they will definitely wear down the riders legs for the second half of the day.

The focal point of the stage though is the climb of El Garbi.

Alto Garbi

This was the climb that Alberto Contador used to decimate the peloton on stage 6 of last year’s Vuelta, with only a select group of riders making it over the crest with him.

Unfortunately he’s not here so it will be interesting to see if we have the same aggressive racing.

The climb as a whole averages only 5.6% for 9.2km, which in the grand scheme of things isn’t too difficult. However, it is the almost 3km section at pretty much 10% where the real damage can be done.

Riders will be all over the road if someone attacks this one aggressively. The key word being if.

Once over the crest, the riders will descend for almost all of the remaining 30km into the finish town of Albuixech. It is not a descent where you can free-wheel on though, as the percentages only max out at around -5% or so. A strong and organised group could gain time on others here.

How will the stage pan out?

I’m really hoping for some fireworks on the Garbi. I have a feeling we might see Valverde try to light it up to reduce the group down significantly to 8 riders or so. However, the issue with that plan for him is he might be left with very few team mates and that then leaves the door open for Sky Harlem Globetrotters to attack him from all angles.

The stage is similar to the opener in Andalucia last year that Valverde won from a group of 7, although the final descent that day was 10km shorter.

Instead, we might see a slightly easier pace, where a group of 25 riders crest the climb together.

Same rules still apply though and attacks will go off the front and we could then see a splinter group make it to the line. As to who makes that group, your guess is as good as mine but one thing is for sure, they have to climb well!

As I’m short on time, I’m just going to throw a few names into the hat so the list isn’t going to be exhaustive.

Contenders or Pretenders?

Any Team Sky Rider.

Well, maybe not all of them. Seriously though, everyone on their team apart from Kiryienka and Stannard could win this stage given the right situation. I think they’ll try to make the pace hard to reduce the peloton as much as possible, isolating other riders. The old 1-2, will be turned into the old 1-2-3-4-5 as they constantly send riders up the road on the run-in. Take your pick for them, I’ll go with a lively Diego Rosa.

Alexis Vuillermoz.

The AG2R man had a great end to 2017 with a very respectable 4th place in Il Lombardia. He copes well on the steep gradients and if the pace is not pushed too hard, then he’ll hope to make it over with the main group. If the race splits up from there, he won’t be marked too much as Ag2R won’t be massive threats in the TTT so he could slip away. Furthermore, he packs a solid sprint from a reduced group so he could challenge that way.

Pello Bilbao.

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I’m a big fan of the Spanish rider and it was great to see him really take a step up in level towards the end of the Vuelta last year. This season he’ll no doubt be working for his leaders at some point, but this is the type of race where he might get leadership in. If he’s climbing like he did in the Vuelta, he should be able to follow the front group. Packing a punch, he could be a threat from a reduced sprint.

Jaime Roson.

I’m intrigued to see what the new Movistar man does this season and I think he’ll have a lot of expectation on his shoulders at this race to help Valverde. He’s a strong climber but is still a bit raw so to speak. Anyway, while everyone has their eyes firmly on El Bala, Roson manages to slip away in the closing few kilometres. He has a bit of kick to his sprint but I’m not entirely sure the flat run-in will be ideal for him, nonetheless he has a chance in a very tactical finish. Or he just works tirelessly to keep everything together.

Prediction

A climbing selection to be made on El Garbi and it all to kick off from there. I think we’ll see a counter move go and a small sprint to the line of about 5 riders, with a group of 20 or so coming in not so long after.

Vuillermoz to take the day!

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There is absolutely no season long fantasy league bias here at all. Ok. Maybe there is a bit…

Thanks as always for reading and apologies for the slightly truncated preview. I’m looking forward to what should be an interesting, tactical finale tomorrow. Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

 

 

 

Vuelta a España 2017 Stage 9 Preview; Orihuela -> Cumbre del Sol

Today’s Recap

Once again the breakaway stayed away to contest the stage. I really thought that some of the other GC teams would chip in and help Sky chase but it was not to be! As much as I love a breakaway, it is going to make the remaining two weeks long in terms of preview writing. Although I guess we can view it as getting to watch a race on two fronts, if we’re trying to be positive about it all!

Majka and Alaphalippe were the strongest riders on Xorret de Catí in the break, but they played a very tactical game; constantly stalling and then attacking. This allowed Polanc to come back on the descent but in the end, the outcome was inevitable in a sprint finish to the line.

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The Frenchman won the stage with Polanc pipping Majka for second.

Behind, Froome made his way up the GC group on the climb and ended up dropping everyone except Contador, with the Trek rider regaining contact just as they crested. While their attacks were strong, they only gained 17 and 28 seconds on the majority of their competitors. It leaves the top 5 within a minute of the race lead, with all of the top 10 less than 2 minutes behind Froome.

Plenty still to play for as we head into our final stage before the first rest day.

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

The Route

Lots of flat ->short, steep climb -> flat -> longer version of short, steep climb.

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The riders won’t face many difficulties in terms of terrain tomorrow apart from the Alto de Puig Llorança. Although with this being the Vuelta, a fairly flat day still has almost 2000m of elevation gain.

On their first passage, they’ll almost complete the full climb but continue straight on instead of turning off.

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The final ascent averages 10.2% for 3.7km with maximum ramps of 23%. It’s another steep one!

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Used back in the 2015 Vuelta, tomorrow’s route is pretty much a carbon copy of that route.

Dumoulin won that day with Froome second, will the Brit go one better tomorrow?

How will the stage pan out?

With the stage travelling along the coast, I had high hopes for some crosswinds and echelon action.

However, that doesn’t appear to be on the cards. We will get some crosswinds at points on the route, but at only 12km/h or so, I can’t see them being of any effect.

There will be a headwind in parts too tomorrow which could be bad news for the break. Although that was apparently the conditions they were facing today and that didn’t hinder their motivation and ability to fight out for the stage.

As mentioned above, I was shocked that we didn’t get a team like Trek help Sky chase down the break so that Contador could go for the stage win. I guess in the long run it is a good tactic, as it will wear the current leader’s team-mates down; with the aim of hoping to benefit from it later in the race.

I also thought Sky would want Froome to get a stage win, but they seem fairly content at doing the bare minimum to retain the jersey to counter-act the tactics employed by the other teams (see above point). Maybe they’ll hope he’ll take the TT? We can’t have a Tour-Vuelta winner not take home a stage in either race!

Nonetheless, tomorrow will be probably be a rinse and repeat of today’s stage.

Big fight early on to get into the break -> assess who is there -> no one of real danger then Sky will let the gap grow -> no other team takes up the chase with them -> race on two fronts.

Time to play that game. Again.

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Break Candidates

The issue with tomorrow’s stage is that the first part of the race is conducive for a completely different rider to make the move compared to one who would excel on the final climb. Well, traditionally that’s how it is!

With the flat start we should see a lot of strong men in the peloton make the move, with a few more natural climbers littered in the mix too.

Tactics will then important as there are almost 40kms from the summit of the first passage until the foot slopes of the final assault. We could well see a situation where someone attacks from further out and holds on a la Lutsenko.

So once again I’ll throw a few darts into the mix…

Jaime Roson.

Strong in Burgos recently, the Caja rider was somewhat in GC contention a few stages earlier so would never have been allowed much freedom to go on the attack. However, he now sits at 5 minutes down and should be given a lot more leeway. A punchy climber who should be able to cope with this type of ascent. He packs a fast sprint at the top of a climb which could see him take the win!

Luis Leon Sanchez.

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The term “pissed off” was probably an understatement as to how the Astana rider was feeling after his complete miscalculation on Stage 6. The legs are clearly there but he’ll have to more astute this time around. A rider who fits the bill of “good rouleur but strong on the climbs” perfectly, I’d be surprised not to see him up the road tomorrow.

Jack Haig.

He was Orica’s 4th rider in the top 16 at the close of yesterday’s stage, but an untimely puncture at the bottom of the final climb today saw him drop way out of contention. Orica have been relatively conservative in terms of their tactics so far, not even making it in the break yet. But with their triple threat not firing on all cylinders, they might have to change things up.

Marc Soler.

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Arguably the strongest rider in the break on the final climb Stage 5, it is a shame he started so far behind Lutsenko. He’s stuck with the GC group the past few days and he even put in a couple of digs early on the climb today. His form seems to be on the up and if he comes to the climb in a group then he will be tough to beat on the ascent!

Vuelta Picks

Safe Pick – Aru (Any GC rider)

Same logic as for today’s stage, pick someone who will be finishing near the front of the GC riders and forgot about a possible break win. This also applies to those who are hoping to play it more conservatively for the KOM competition.

Wongshot – Soler (Any Break rider)

Once again, same as today. Be bold, chase those stage wins and let me win that KOM prize 😉

Lanterne Rouge Pick – Vanbilsen

Name in a hat.

Prediction

Orica to be attacking and Haig to take the win!

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With the way that Orica are riding just now, they are on course for a bit of a “close but no cigar” Vuelta. Chaves/Yates/Yates aren’t cuasing Froome too much concern at the moment. The Colombian is doing well sitting in second place, but he seems to almost be content with a podium and I can’t see him taking any leaps forward tomorrow. Hunting for a stage win and getting it will take the pressure off the team and the confidence could help their leaders. Haig himself was very impressive in Poland, taking his first ever pro win. He was an exceptionally talented junior and it seems to have now translated into his professional career. Will his first win soon be followed up by his first GT stage?!

Betting

Soler and LLS are too short for my liking with an unpredictable stage so I’m going to change them out for a couple of longer shots…It’s also the weekend so yolo…

0.8pt EW Haig @ 150/1

0.4pt EW Roson @ 150/1 

0.3pt EW Ludvigsson @ 400/1

0.5pt EW Bennett @ 125/1

Thanks as always for reading! Who do you think will win tomorrow? Will we once again see a break make it all the way? Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.