Tour de France 2018 GC Preview

Tour de France 2018 GC Preview

In 2017 we saw a rather dominant Chris Froome win by ‘only’ 54 seconds ahead of Rigoberto Uran with Romain Bardet edging Landa by one second to round out the GC podium.

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I say ‘only’ above as it was actually Froome’s smallest winning margin in all 4 of his victories so far, but he never looked in that much trouble throughout the three weeks. Obviously it was a measured effort so that he could go on to win the Vuelta later in the year, then the Giro this year. Can he make it an incredible 5th Tour win and 4th GT win in a row?

No fancy business here because as I’ll be doing daily stage previews I’m just ducking any route analysis here and just jumping straight into the favourites. I would recommend this preview from Road.cc though as they cover each stage in concise paragraphs. Much better than my ramblings!

I’m also going to be blunt with some riders as I don’t really rate their overall chances. Also you’ll have read many previews by now and if I’m honest, I can’t really bothered to rehash what others have said.

Anyway, onto the contenders and pretenders…

The Favourite 

Chris Froome.

Despite what your opinion is (I’m sure you all know mine by now) on the whole salbutamol case, the bottom line is that Froome is cleared and is here to race. Nothing like a bit of pre-Tour drama though with ASO apparently going to ban him before UCI/WADA announcing the following day that his case was dropped. More drama than Love Island!

At the Giro Froome was seemingly way off the pace but two remarkable days on the bike, Zoncolan and Stage 19, saw him claw back an almost 3 minute deficit to Dumoulin with some more left in the bag. With an extra week between the Giro and Tour, he should have recovered reasonably well. His team is super strong, as you would expect, and he will have a lot of support on the flat and in the mountains. It will be interesting to see how he can handle the cobbled stage – it will certainly bring back bad memories from crashing out in 2014. No doubt he starts as the favourite and will gain time in the efforts against the clock but can we really expect a rider to win four Grand Tours in a row? I hope not, for the sake of the sport.

The Waiting for Froome to falter-ers

Richie Porte.

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Can Richie survive a Grand Tour without a bad day? That is the million dollar question. If he does, then he will play a massive role in the outcome of this race. Arguably the best rider on a 15 minute climb in the World, he will hope to display some of that trademark out of the saddle “sprint-climbing” in this race. At the Tour de Suisse he was strong and took home that race but I get the sense that he still wasn’t at 100%, there is still room for improvement from him. Compared to what he has been used to in the past couple of seasons this looks like his strongest BMC support team. They have all terrain covered to shepherd Porte around France and he should be able to rely on Van Garderen and Caruso deep into many of the mountain days. I started off this season thinking that Porte would win the race and although my mind has been slightly changed, he still starts as one to beat if he stays on his bike.

Romain Bardet. 

The AG2R man has finished on the podium the past two years and will be hoping for a similar result this year, if not better. A third in the recent Dauphiné was a good and highlights that his form is heading in the right direction but that he has not peaked too soon. In last year’s edition of the race I loved the way AG2R attacked Sky in the mountains and they bring an even stronger squad with them this time out. He shouldn’t lose a crazy amount of time in the TTT as a result but I do have a slight worry for him on the cobbled stage. Then again, who of the GC contenders will truly be comfortable then? A big day is needed from Naesen! In the mountains he (alongside Porte) is one of the few riders I am confident can actually challenge Froome. With a few stages ending in descents from climbs, he will be in his element and certainly put pressure on the other GC contenders.

Nairo Quintana.

Is the Colombian back to his climbing best? It looks like it after his strong showing in the Tour de Suisse and he was particularly impressive holding off the group of GC contenders on the shallow drag before the final steeper ramps of Arosa. He forms a very strong attacking trident with Valverde and Landa and I’m really looking forward to see how they approach the race. I just hope that at least two of them are in contention after the cobbled stage. We saw in 2015 just how strong Nairo can be in the final week of the race in the high mountains and the rest of his challengers will be concerned if he is within 2 minutes going into the closing stages. No doubt we’ll certainly see some enthusiastic Colombian fans at the side of the road!

The Podium Outsiders

Right, shorter musings from now on.

Vincenzo Nibali.

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Winner of the Tour when the race last visited the cobbles, the Bahrain rider has had a pretty average year so far. However, he knows how to peak for a race and he can never be discounted. With a strong team to support him, we will probably see him on the attack as he will no doubt have to claw some time back after the TTT.

Rigoberto Uran.

A surprising second place last year, I think it will be hard for the Colombian to repeat the feat this time around. He found some race sharpness in Slovenia recently but I just don’t think he has enough to do it. Then again, no one really mentioned him last year and look what happened.

Alejandro Valverde.

Mr Evergreen, Valverde has been incredibly strong this season so far, having won the GC of every stage race he has competed in. It was scary how easy things were for him in the recent La Route d’Occitanie, using the attacks of Elissonde and Navarro as training – deliberately letting gaps grow so he could close them down. He’s another that will probably be chasing time after the TTT but I look forward to his venture onto the cobbles – he didn’t do too badly in Dwars this year.

Adam Yates. 

Have Mitchelton learnt from his brother’s epic collapse at the Giro? In strong form after his second in the Dauphine (the gap to Porte would have only be a handful of seconds if it was not for the TTT), he will be able to rely on a well-rounded squad focussed solely on him. Can he handle the pressure?

Jakob Fuglsang.

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If there was ever a year when Fuglsang could seriously challenge for a podium spot then this would be it. He has a solid team built around him that should be able to support him on most terrain. Back in 2014 he was the one doing the majority of the work when Nibali gained a load of time on the cobbles so no doubt he’ll be licking his lips at that stage. We saw in the Tour de Suisse that he was stronger than Porte on the last day of climbing and he followed that up with a blistering TT. Has he managed to hold form?

Top 10 Fillers

Ilnur Zakarin.

The Katusha man is one of those riders that could really fall into a couple of categories in this preview. I fear he’ll lose some time in the TT and given his poor bike handling the cobbles will be an issue too. However, we saw in the Vuelta last year that he was one of the best climbers in the last week. It all depends on the opening 9 days though.

Geraint Thomas.

Team Sky Plan B but when has a Team Sky Plan B ever actually won a race? I certainly can’t recall a time. Needs Froome to drop out within the opening 9 days for him to get a dedicated team around him. Will he wait for his captain on the cobbles as theoretically he should be one of the strongest GC riders. It will be interesting to see how it plays out within the team.

Bob Jungels.

I rate him as a rider but I feel he’s just going to be a “he’s there” kind of rider this Tour. Top 10 would be a good result.

Daniel Martin.

Terrible team means he will lose a lot of time in the TTT and he will lose a lot of time on the cobbles too. Stage hunting later in the race would be a good idea if he just doesn’t want to ride for a top 10.

Steven Kruijswijk.

See Jungels.

Bauke Mollema.

See Kruijswijk.

The Pretenders

Riders that won’t top 10 despite a lot of people thinking they will. Ready to eat my hat here.

Primoz Roglic.

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He seems to be everyone’s favourite wildcard for the race but I just can’t see it. Having won both Itzulia and Romandie he then returned to racing recently and took the crown at his home tour. Unproven and untested, I think he will once again go for stage wins and focus on contending for the GC in a GT next year.

Tom Dumoulin.

The Sunweb rider has never done two GTs back to back while going for GC. After the brutally tough Giro I think he will fall short here and instead focus on going for some stage wins. The way that Sunweb approached this race to me seemed that Kelderman was going to be their GC candidate with Dumoulin acting as a decoy to deflect attention but unfortunately Kelderman crashed and can’t take the start.

Mikel Landa.

The boldest of the three riders listed here, I just can’t get behind the Landa train. I think something will go wrong for him on one of the days and with the two more established Movistar riders possibly getting a little extra support, Landa will lose his hopes on the cobbles. If he is in contact though I would love to see Rogue Landa again.

Egan Bernal.

Exceptional talent but he’ll fall into line, a.k.a behind Thomas and Poels. We might see something similar to Moscon at the Vuelta where he is exceptional for a while but due to his age he won’t be consistent.

Prediction

Probably Froome, innit.

But after resigning myself to that fate at the Giro I’m going to predict a more fairytale result here and go with Bardet to take home the first French win in a long time.

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Allez Romain!

Betting

Three pre-Tour bets for me, all that I’ve tweeted out over the past couple of weeks.

2pts EW Bardet @ 18/1 for GC (he’s actually out to 20/1 with Betfair Sportsbook but I would take the 16/1 widely available elswhere)

1.5pt Valverde Top 3 at 7/1 (available at Bet365 and Will Hill)

1pt EW Demare Points Classification at 20/1 (with Coral/Lads)

I had set aside 10pts for outright market bets but this is not the year to bet on KOM pre race but I might fancy something during the race.

Let’s just hope for a better Tour than Giro punting wise, I’ll be sticking to my favourite rule: 2pts a day keeps the debt collector away!

Thanks for reading as always and hope you enjoyed the preview. Who do you think will go on to win the race overall? Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

Vuelta a Andalucia 2018 Stage 2 Preview; Otura › La Guardia de Jaén

Today’s Recap

A bit of a quieter stage than what I expected, Astana decided to finally take up the pace making at around 50km to go. This was enough to thin the peloton down and catch the break, but we still had plenty of fast-men left to compete for the win.

In the end, Boudat just pipped a prematurely celebrating Modolo for the win. Although it has to be said, we’ve not yet seen the photo finish so I’m sure some might feel aggrieved! Ag2Rs Venturini finished in third.

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With the sprinters having their chance to shine on today’s stage tomorrow will give the mountain goats an opportunity.

The Route

We’re only on the second day of racing but we’re treated to the Queen Stage of the race.

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At only 141km in length, it is a fairly short day in the saddle for the riders but some of the climbs to pack a punch. The opening two-thirds of the stage will see the breakaway form and build up an advantage as although some of the climbs are reasonably long, they’re not steep enough for any crazy early attacks.

That might however change on the Puerto de Valdepeñas. At an average of 7.5% for 3.7km it is steep enough for a team to really up the pace and put some of the domestiques in opposition squads into difficulty. Cresting at 40km to go it is too far out for any serious move but I would expect to see a thinning of the bunch here.

The following 30km before we hit the final climb of Allanadas consist mainly of descent or climbing.

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The climbs that split up the descent aren’t too tough, but 3.3km at 5.5% and 5km at 4.2% will certainly disrupt the rhythm in the peloton. They’ll continue through the town of La Guardia de Jaén before starting the brutally steep final climb, although to be fair, the road even climbs through the town itself.

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Source: Altimetrias

5.5km at 9.6% is tough enough if it was a steady climb but the closing 3.3kms average close to 12%. This will be a sufferfest for most of the bunch!

If we get some tough racing earlier in the day then expect the time gaps to be massive come the end of the stage. The finish climb was last used in the 2015 edition of this race when Froome motored away from Contador and won by a resounding 29 seconds which was enough to lead the GC by 2 seconds. Behind riders lost a shed-load of time, with 10th place finisher Van den Broek coming home 1’38 down for example.

Contenders

Only the best climbers and those who are in form will be able to compete here. The result of this stage will go a long way as to shape the GC so a lot of the contender here will be the same as I mentioned in my GC preview. So I’m not going to waste your time with a massive speel about the candidates; I’ll keep it short and sweet!

Landa – If he’s in good form this is his stage to lose. Great on steep ramps he’ll want to gain as much of an advantage before the TT. His form is the unknown though.

LL Sanchez – His form is definitely known and he is flying. Normally a finish like this would be too tough for him but he seems to be in the shape of his life. It will still be difficult for him to win it, but coming home within 20 seconds is a good result.

Fuglsang – If LLS isn’t going well then no doubt the Dane will be up there for Astana as a ready replacement. In surprisingly good early season form by his standards he’ll be aiming for a top 3 at least.

Poels – Terribly disappointing in Valenciana, with a race in his legs will he go any better? On paper this is a good stage but we’ll just have to wait and see.

Antunes – He’s shown in the past to be explosive enough but can he compete on terrain like this? He might be the type of rider to benefit from not being too well-known and having a good awful TT.

Prediction

I’ll just stick with what I said in my GC preview; form is king at the moment so LLS to win.

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Or we see #AFreeLanda ride away from everyone on the aptly named Allanda climb. Or He Who Must Not Be Named just takes the piss.

All of which are likely possibilities.

Betting

6pts on LLS to beat Hermans at 5/6

 

Thanks as always for reading! I’m looking forward to the end of the stage, should be a great spectacle. Who do you think will win? Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

Vuelta a Andalucia 2018 GC Preview

A race that has been dominated by Alejandro Valverde in the past, he’s won 5 out of the last 6 editions, it was the same last year where he just pipped Alberto Contador to the title by one second.

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Thibaut Pinot was third at only 6 seconds back but with none of those riders here this week, we have a chance for a new winner.

First though, let’s look at what is in store for the riders over the week.

The Route

As I’ll be doing in-depth daily stage previews, this section will be a little truncated. All of the following profiles are thanks to @LasterketaBurua.

Stage 1.

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An interesting opening stage with a lot of climbing in the third quarter of the day. This could turn into a GC day but the likely outcome will be a reduced sprint of some kind.

Stage 2.

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Only the second day but we have the Queen stage of the race. At only 141km of racing the stage is short but it is filled with climbs. The finish up to Alto de Las Allandas could see some massive gaps. Those with a poor TT will have to go full gas here, it should be a great watch!

Stage 3.

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The only stage the should see a full bunch sprint but we do have a lack of quick-men here. Who will control the day?

Stage 4.

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A long day in the saddle but it is all about the final 1.5km; a short but steep ramp. Both the climbers and puncheurs will fancy it.

Stage 5.

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A TT to finish that has a 5km section of gravel that averages just over 2%. It should be one for the more traditional TT riders, but it is short enough for some surprise names to get in the mix. Will the GC title be decided on the final day?

With the stages briefly covered, let’s have a look at who might be challenging for the win at the end of the week.

But first…

The Elephant in the Room

This is Froome’s first race after his AAF was announced/leaked. Now, the decision to have him race is one that divides opinion amongst cycling fans but I’m fairly certain you will all know what side of the argument I am on. It will be interesting to see how he and Sky approach the race. Will they take it easy and hope to slip under the radar (well, as much as they can) or will they continue on as if nothing has happened?

Either way, there is no way that they can come out of this one, ahem, cleanly.

If Froome takes it easy then the accusations will fly suggesting that he needed medication to go well etc. Whereas if he goes full gas and features at the head of the race then a lot of people will take offence as to the audacity of the team considering all that is going on at the moment. They are stuck between the proverbial rock and a hard place.

It will also be interesting to see how the riders in the peloton treat him. Will he be given the same respect as before?

No doubt the Brit will still have his fans that will cheer him on. In fact, I would suggest that they’ve become even more fanatical since the AAF finding so we can expect them to be vocal no matter what.

The voices of dissent will be as vocal as the cheers this week but I just hope no-one does anything stupid out on the road to take the situation into their own hands. Cycling’s image is already being made a mockery of, we don’t need stories of piss being thrown at him etc.

Personally I don’t think Froome will feature here. He’s essentially completed an extra Grand Tour while in South Africa as they attempt to recreate the situation and find a scientific reason as to why his salbutamol levels were so high. Surely he is spent after it all? Plus, I don’t think Sky can risk the outrage if he does win until the case/investigation is over. If he does, then it is a big “fuck you” to the sport.

So with that said, I’m going to discount him for this race. Let’s have a look at who else might compete though!

(Again though, this all opinion and shouldn’t be taken as fact. Plz don’t sue. I’m poor. 😐)

Contenders

Mikel Landa.

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Starting his first race for Movistar he’ll want to get his season up and running with a good result. On paper this looks ideal for the Spanish climber. He’ll love the steep and relentless finish on Stage 2 and he should be able to put in a solid time in the time trial. In fact, he should be the class act of the race but with his form being so unknown he could well win it or come home in 20th.

Jakob Fuglsang.

A rider that we do know the form of, the Astana man has started the season well with a 3rd place on GC in Valenciana. He followed that up with a solid 6th place in Murcia at the weekend. Astana have a very strong team here and they’ll hope to have a few guys near the head of the race in the important stages. Numbers could be crucial.

Luis Leon Sanchez.

The second Astana candidate for the race win, the Spaniard has started the European season in sensational form. After returning from the Tour Down Under where he finished a respectable 8th on GC, he’s since went on to finish second behind Valverde in Valenciana and then beat him in Murcia at the weekend. A strong TTer, he should have an advantage over some competitors in that stage and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him go well on some of the steep ramps, he did well in Valenciana on similar terrain.

De La Cruz / Poels.

With Froome taking this one easy (see my reasoning above) then Sky will turn to other riders for success. I’m not sure how either of them will go here though as their crack squad in Valenciana was extremely disappointing. Was it just a slow start to the season or is no-one in form yet as they all secretly want to lead at the Tour…I think it is too tough for De La Cruz to win GC, but if Poels has upped his game since a poor Valenciana then he of course is a contender for the win. We’ll find out on stage 2 where he is at!

Steven Kruijswijk.

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After pulling out of the Giro last year the Dutchman finished the season with a 9th place in the Vuelta. A rider who never really starts the season well I am intrigued to see if that changes this season given he is hoping to go to the Tour. On his day he can climb with the best and he can produce a good time against the clock. Yet, I don’t think he’ll be up and running yet so a top 10 would be a solid result.

Ben Hermans.

With three top 10s already in 2018, the Israel Academy rider will hope for a similar, if not better, result here. Juxtaposed to Kruijswijk, Hermans is a rider who normally does start his season well. I wouldn’t have him down as one of the best climbers here but given form is important at the start of the year he could surprise just like he did on the Green Mountain last season.

Amaro Antunes.

One of my favourite riders from 2017, it was great to see his season rewarded with a step up in level to ProConti with CCC. An explosive climber he’ll like the steep ramps that we have on a couple of the stages. In this field, he will fancy his chances to go well on those days. His TT definitely needs some work but his team have improved in the discipline over the past half a year, so I’m intrigued to see if it has had a positive effect on Antunes over the winter. Another top 10 on GC like Valenciana is certainly a possibility.

Prediction

Form is King early in the year so I have to go with Luis Leon Sanchez as the winner here.

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Part of the strongest team, he and Fuglsang should be at the head of the race on the toughest stages and that will be of massive benefit to them. Sanchez has looked the strongest on the climbs in the previous races so it will take a lot for someone to drop him. Furthermore, he possesses a strong TT which could see him seal the win on the closing day.

No odds are out as of yet but I might back him depending on the price.

Thanks as always for reading! Who do you think will win the GC? I’ll be back later this evening with my stage 1 preview. Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

Il Lombardia 2017 Preview

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

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

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

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

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

The Route

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How will the race pan out?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Three Clear Favourites?

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

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

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

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

Will the three of them get the chance though?

Azure Attacks?

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

Jakob Fuglsang.

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

Pello Bilbao.

A pick based on a favourite rider?

*Pretends to be shocked*

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

Prediction

None of the above riders will win though…

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

Wout Poels.

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

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

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

Betting

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks again for reading.

Thos were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

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.

chris froome wins 2016 tour de france

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.