Tour Down Under 2018 – Stage 5 Preview; McLaren Vale -> Willunga Hill

Stage 4 Recap

That didn’t disappoint, although I did think the race would be slightly more selective. We saw attacks from many riders throughout the closing 10kms, all of which looked at some point as if they might be “the one”. However, things were eventually brought back together for a super fast sprint into Uraidla, with Sagan showing his raw power by overcoming Impey in the closing 50m. Luis Leon Sanchez rounded out the podium.

DT4zzj4WsAABATb

That result means the World Champion is in Ochre heading in to the classic Willunga stage. Let’s have a look at what is in store for the riders; this will be brief!

The Route

If you’ve watched the Tour Down Under at any point then you’ll know what is coming.

Santos Tour Down Under 2018 - Stage 5
@LaFlammeRouge

Nothing all day really until we get to the final 25km and the first ascent of Willunga.

DT6iTV_WAAIF8n1

In the grand scheme of things it is not an overly difficult climb but the combination of the heat and the speed they ascend, makes it tougher than it seems.

Porte has flown up here the past few years, normally launching his attack from ~1.2km to go, and fully dropping everyone by the S-bends at ~800m to go. Will we see the same this year?

Weather Watch

After the ridiculously hot conditions of the past few days, it will ease in temperature a bit for Willunga. The following is the forecast for nearby Mount Terrible.

Screen Shot 2018-01-19 at 16.31.52
Source: Windfinder

There is one thing that has caught my eye though…Look at that wind. I didn’t expect to get the opportunity to speak about the possibility of echelons this early into the season!

They are unlikely, but given we’ve seen some teams try before, I’m hoping that might be the case this year. It all depends on what way the wind ends up blowing.

The 4kms along McMurtie Road could offer a prime opportunity if the wind does come from the south.

Screen Shot 2018-01-19 at 16.44.07

Likewise, the same can be said for the 3.5km of Main Road as the riders head directly south for town of Willunga, if the wind has swung round.

How will the stage pan out?

With so many riders still close on GC, there are 33 riders within 14 seconds, then I hope we see some aggressive racing early. Leaving it to the last ascent of Willunga really narrows down the list of riders who can win this race overall.

Ideally, I’d love to see a few teams set a very hard pace up Willunga the first time followed quickly by some counter-attacks over the top. This could create some really interesting, tactical racing.

Will we see that though?

I fear not and once again it will be a sprint up Willunga but the headwind will play a big part and we might not see as wide margins as we have in the past.

Can anyone stop Porte?

Probably not, he looked strong on stage 4 and seems as lean as ever going by the pictures floating around social media. However, there are reports that he was suffering from a bit of an illness on Friday, although that didn’t really show the other day! Yet, if that has matured into something worse, then it certainly could be highlighted on Willunga. Porte has attacking spot nailed down; putting in a strong dig at 1.2km and not slowing down until the finish. With the headwind though he might have to hold on until later, meaning his winning gap might not be as big in the end.

From what we’ve seen so far there are a few riders who might go close to the BMC rider.

McCarthy has been consistently strong throughout this race and he impressed me on the climb of Woods Hill in yesterday’s stage. He’s not a pure climber, but given his current form he certainly should be up at the pointy end on Willunga. The headwind is a massive advantage for him as it plays nicely into his good sprint. He’ll hope to finish no more than a few seconds behind Porte if possible, then pick up some bonuses on the final day.

Pozzovivo is lurking and has been climbing to the fore on the few tests we’ve had so far. Bahrain still have three riders close which could play wonderfully into their hands if they attack the race. The Izagirre brothers have been solid too and I really hope we see them go full gas on the first ascent. It will be hard to beat the King of Willunga, but if they can isolate him early then who knows.

Canty.

men17g

A bit of an outsider, he was one of the standout riders for me yesterday. On the passage of Norton Summit he was very attentive, coming over the crest in third place behind Gerrans and Porte. Then once we got onto Woods Hill he made a move with Gorka Izagirre. That didn’t last too long but he was one of the first to follow when Porte went again later. To me that suggests he’s going well and feeling confident. Completing his first Grand Tour last year will have a positive effect on him this season; will we see that come to fruition on Willunga?

Prediction

The King will be dethroned!

Porte will try his best to get rid of everyone on Willunga but the headwind will scupper him and he’ll rue the missed opportunity to work with his successor on stage 4…

George Bennett to win!

1469309884322

I was really impressed with the Kiwi on stage 4 and he arguably looked the strongest on Woods Hill Road; a great sign for Willunga. It was a shame that Porte soft-pedalled a few turns when the two of them had got a gap, but it will only make Bennett hungrier to beat the BMC rider on his own turf.

He is a classy rider who took a big step forward last year and I think that upwards trajectory will continue in 2018!

Betting

B365 have been boring and went 1/5 odds for 3 places not the usual 1/4, but anyway;

1pt EW Bennett @ 14/1 

0.5pt EW Canty @ 50/1

3pts on Canty to beat Hamilton @ 1/1

 

Thanks as always for reading. Apologies that this is a slightly truncated preview but given that it is the same route every year and I’m a bit knackered after the past few days; what can you do?! Who do you think will win on Willunga this year? Can Porte really be dethroned? Can Sagan somehow hold on enough to be in with a chance on Stage 6? Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

 

Tour Down Under 2018 – Stage 2 Preview; Unley -> Stirling

Stage 1 Recap

The race got off to a flyer with the usual sprint finish into Lyndoch. However, it wasn’t either of the two pre-stage favourites who took out the day but instead Andre Greipel delivered the win for Lotto.

DTp6VE9W0AEXVMR

That result now means the German has won his opening UCI race of the year for the past three seasons on the trot. A pretty impressive record that!

Ewan managed to hold on for second, while a fast finishing Sagan took third. Will they all be up there competing at the end of stage 2? Let’s have a look at what is in store for them.

The Route

The riders will leave Unley from a different side than normal, facing the climb of Tea Tree Gully within the opening 15km.

Santos Tour Down Under 2018 - Stage 2
@LaFlammeRouge

From there, the road rises and falls throughout the Adelaide hills as the riders head towards Mylor which marks the second sprint point of the day but more importantly, the start of the final circuits around Stirling.

Stirling Circuit

As you can see, the course rolls a lot in the opening 11,5km, but it is just ever so slightly downhill on average in terms of gradient. Interestingly, the whole circuit apparently has 489m of elevation gain according to Strava/Veloviewer, but I’m definitely taking that with a pinch of salt; 400m seems more accurate than closer to 500m.

The key part of the day though is the 7.6km drag to the line that comes in the final third of the circuit.

StirFinishCircEnd

At an average of 2.4% for the duration, in theory it shouldn’t be too difficult for pro cyclists. However, this all depends on how aggressively certain teams approach the day. If it is a benign day then we could easily see some of the sprinters who were in the mix on Stage 1 up there again, if not, then it will be one for the puncheurs.

The final few hundred metres to the line are almost on a false flat, with a little kick up to the finish.

Tackling the rise 4 times could certainly sap the legs of the fast men and puncheurs, especially if we get difficult conditions. Speaking of which…

Weather Watch

It looks set to be an even hotter day for the riders than on the opening stage with it feeling like 34ºC come the end of the stage.

Screen Shot 2018-01-16 at 14.18.13
Source: Accuweather

There will be a breeze in the air to hopefully help cool them down but I don’t think it will be of much help! They will be pleased to know that there will be a tailwind as they head through the Adelaide Hills towards Stirling. However, it does mean they will face the headwind on their run in to the line while on the circuit. Timing of your effort will be crucial!

Can the sprinters hang on? A quick history of sterling Stirling finishes

While the finish was not used in 2017, it has been used the majority of the editions prior to that but I’m only going to focus on 2011-2016 as a guide because that is when it became “World Tour”.

2011 – Matthews took the win in his neo-pro year, beating Greipel and Goss. Only a group of 24 finished on the same time as the winner but there were 59 in total within 13 seconds. Some splits in the final few hundred metres then. There was also a crash near the end of the stage that saw some riders caught behind. ~60 rider sprint.

2012 – Will Clarke wins solo, with Matthews beating Gerrans for second place; with the likes of Valverde, EBH, Freire and GVA all making up the top 10. 65 riders came home on the same time behind the solo winner.

2013 An aggressively raced day that saw Slagter take an exceptional win; opening up his sprint from 300m and blowing everyone off his wheel. Goss and Gilbert rounded out the podium with only 27 riders finishing in the front group.

2014 – The biggest group that Stirling has seen, with roughly 100 riders arriving together, it was Ulissi who took the win ahead of Gerrans and Evans.

2015 – Lobato put on a puncheurs masterclass to take the day, beating Impey and his own team-mate Gorka Izagirre to the line. I miss early 2015 Lobato. Anyway, only 48 were there to witness him win, less than half from the previous year.

2016 –  A wonderful win from McCarthy as he just pipped Ulissi to the win, with Dennis coming home third. It might have been a slightly different result as the likes of Gerrans and Haas crashed out, who knows though. I certainly didn’t care as I had rather aptly came in from a night out in Stirling (Scotland) to watch him win at 100/1. Good times!

jay-mccarthy-diego-ulissi-santos-tour-down-under_3402639

So what can we take from all of this?

It really depends on how aggressively the day is raced as to how big a bunch makes it. There is a chance if the bunch is on a go slow day that we could see ~100 guys arrive together.

However, I think we’ll see an aggressive day and a whittling down of the peloton that will mainly be driven by Katusha and Bora. Both of those teams have riders capable of winning this stage (Haas/Restrepo & McCarthy/Sagan), but also taking valuable bonus seconds in their quest to win Ochre come the end of the week. The intent was there on Stage 1 when going for the intermediates and I see it being no different for stage 2.

I think some of the sprinters might make it, but them being able to compete is another thing. Only Sagan out of the main guys has a good chance. In fact, this stage is Sagan’s for the taking, but it all depends on if he has to work for McCarthy or not.

Possible Contenders

There are the obvious guys such as Sagan, McCarthy, Haas etc. but given that I have already waffled on for a good bit and there will be plenty of others who will cover the key guys well, I’m just going to go straight to three outsiders who I think might stand a chance. Maybe…

Patrick Bevin.

24460944927_2eb7e5bf33_o_670

It will either be him or Gerrans that will be sprinting for BMC but I certainly would give the Kiwi a shot at it. He’s known much more as a time trial rider however he does pack a fast punch; he came from nowhere to finish second in the opening road stage of the Tour de Suisse last year. Furthermore, he finished 11th yesterday and in an interview with CyclingNews, Porte said that his team-mates will be racing to take bonus seconds away from his rivals. He’s one to keep an eye on!

Alexander Edmondson.

The newly crowned Aussie RR Champion is another who’s sprinting prowess caught my eye at the Tour de Suisse last year where he picked up two 4th places. It was his 4th place on stage 2 that was more impressive though as a breakaway duo won the stage honours ahead, he beat the likes of Swift, Felline and Ulissi in the uphill drag to the line; only being bested by Colbrelli. I have my doubts about Ewan making it in this stage, so Mitchelton might just turn to him. Or Impey.

Jasha Sütterlin.

jasha-2

A name that I know one reader will like, the German is one of the two chosen “sprinters” here for Movistar with the other being Barbero. In stage 1 he was close to being in or around the top 10 but collided with the FDJ rider who eventually crashed and that cost him any chance of going for some kind of result. On Movistar’s website they said the pair will both try again on stage 2. Given the speed he showed in the PCC, I think he could be another to keep an eye on. Could the Spanish team manage another two riders on the podium in 2018?

Prediction

We’ll most likely see Sagan romp home to victory, but where is the fun in going with that? So being two previews deep into the season I’m already reverting back to type; Alexander Edmondson to win.

9309670-3x2-940x627

Clearly in great shape now as he gears towards the Commonwealth Games, Mitchelton Scott will capitalise on the others marking each other, with Impey delivering the national champion into the perfect position for him to power home.

Betting

Happy to take some small 0.5pt EW punts on the riders I’ve listed above (all prices with Bet365)

Edmondson @ 300/1

Bevin @ 125/1

Sutterlin @ 250/1

 

Thanks as always for reading! Who do you think will win today/tonight/tomorrow? Could we see an outsider take glory or will it be the usual suspects? Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

Tour Down Under 2018 – GC Preview

Tour Down Under 2018 – GC Preview

So with the women’s race now finished, it is time for the men to take centre stage over the coming week with the riders battling it out to take home Ochre. A race that has been dominated by the Australians in recent years, with the last 4 GC titles going to the home riders; expect to see some fast racing coupled with sweltering temperatures.

It might not have the best race route in the grand scheme of the cycling season but given its position as the season opener, I think most of us will take it!

Richie Porte - Willunga Hill 2017

After finally getting his hands on the GC win last year the King of Willunga (a.k.a Richie Porte) is back here to defend his crown along with a strong BMC team. In fact, the last 3 winners of the race are all riding for that outfit this year, which is very ominous for the rest of the field. However, they won’t have it all their own way and there are certainly some other riders out there who could challenge their dominance.

First, let’s have a quick look at what is in store for the riders over the six days of action.

The Route

I won’t bore you here though, as I’ll have plenty of time over the coming week to drain you with an in-depth route analysis of each stage. This will simply be more of an overview!

There are three stages that are most likely to have the biggest impact on GC, although that could change if the wind blows strongly on some of the more exposed days. We saw the women’s peloton battered by cross winds through the Barossa Valley.

Stage 2 is the first important day with the traditional finish in Stirling.

Santos Tour Down Under 2018 - Stage 2
@LaFlammeRouge16

A rolling circuit that will see the peloton whittled down, some of the stronger sprinters will be happy to see that the organisers have reduced the number of laps that they will complete. Back in 2016 when Jay McCarthy won this stage, the riders had to contest with 6 laps, but this time it will just be 4. In theory, this should make it easier and see the stage switch from a puncheurs finish to more of a strong sprinters day. However, this of course all depends on how aggressively the teams race. If the fast men of the peloton are eliminated from the group then it is a great chance for the likes of Haas and McCarthy to pick up some valuable bonus seconds in their fight for GC.

Stage 4 will see the peloton tackle a new finish here at the Tour Down Under, featuring a climb that is well-known by the local Aussies.

Santos Tour Down Under 2018 - Stage 4

Norton Summit is not a new climb for the Tour though, with it being used right at the start of Stage 4 in 2016. It took the riders roughly 11’30 to complete the climb that day but I imagine that time will be faster this year round given it’s position on the course. Once over the “summit” the riders will have 7.5km left but instead of a drop straight down, they’ll instead face a kilometre or so of false flat before an uncategorised ramp up Woods Hill Road. Could this be a launchpad for a late attack? With only 3.5km of shallow descending all the way to the line, it certainly could be.

Stage 5 will once again play host to the summit finish of Willunga Hill.

Santos Tour Down Under 2018 - Stage 5

If the GC is still close at this stage, then it will all come down to the final ascent of Willunga. Porte has owned this climb for the past four years and he’ll hope to make it five in a row this time. Will it be enough for the overall title though? From a tactics point of view, it is much easier to ride a defensive race on Willunga than attacking one, as it is a difficult climb to make massive gains on. Although lil’ Richie might have something to say about that…

GC Contenders

Given the recent form of the Australians at this race, they’ve won 6 out of the last 7 years, then it is really hard to back against them on their own turf.

Porte comes into the race as the bookmakers favourite and rightly so given his performances on Willunga the past few years. If everything is kept together on stages 2 & 4, with his opponents not gaining any bonus seconds, the race is his to lose. However, this is the least suited route to Porte for a while and I think he’ll desperately miss the Paracombe finish that we had last year. He might well win on Willunga again, but I don’t think it will be by as big a margin as he has done in previous years.

McCarthy will be waiting in the wings, hoping to capitalise on the new stage and sprint for some bonus seconds on days 2 and 4, feasibly giving himself a 20 second buffer going into Willunga. He’s a rider that I have grown fond over and one that I had backed when he took out the stage in Stirling in 2016. At the Aussie Nationals recently, he looked incredibly strong, sprinting away from the chase group in the closing few hundred metres. His trajectory in this race has been on the up as well, with a 4th in 2016 and a 3rd last year. Will he go one or two steps higher this time around?

mccarthy_1280_getty

Haas is a rider similar to McCarthy and he too will be looking to nab some bonus seconds on stages 2 & 4. With a winter move to Katusha, the former Dimension Data rider comes here in some good form with a 5th place finish in both the road race and time trial at the Aussie Champs. An attacking rider, he will no doubt give it a go on Stage 4 in an attempt to get clear. However, I sometimes think that he is too attacking; using up a lot of his resources before it is necessary. Will that be his downfall again?

Can a non-Aussie win?

Probably not.

Some might suggest Sagan has a chance, especially after his strong showing in today’s criterium. However, he will be here for training more than anything, possibly getting involved in a few sprints but nothing more than that.

Ulissi is a very solid finisher and will no doubt again be in or around the top 5 but I can’t see him having enough form early in the year to take the win. Yet, he is the type of rider who could well prove me wrong! His team-mate Rui Costa might be another to watch, he was flying at the start of last year.

Bernal arrives here as Team Sky’s best chance on paper, the young rider is truly exceptional. His form will be unkown but as we’ve seen with Henao in the past, Colombians seem to go well here. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him go with the best on Willunga, but his lack of a sprint might let him down for the overall.

Prediction

I’ll go for none of the above to win though.

Instead, I’ll suggest that Rohan Dennis will take home another Tour Down Under title.

20176224_388364_670

The current Aussie TT champion blitzed away his opposition recently, putting over a minute into a very lean Luke Durbridge and almost two minutes into team-mate Porte, regaining his title with ease. He DNF’d the road race, but I think he was using that race as training more than anything else.

Almost have way through his “4-year GC plan”, this should be the year where he takes another step forward in that quest. He certainly looks very fit going by some of the pictures I’ve seen floating around social media over the past week. There has also been a lot of to-ing and fro-ing between himself and Porte as to who the leader of BMC will be for the week, both downplaying their own chances and talking up their team-mate. First race mind-games!

With the introduction of the interesting finish on stage 4 this year I think it is very beneficial for a team to have two possible winners in their squad and I’m sure BMC will use that to their advantage. Norton Summit looks ideal for the powerhouse and Dennis certainly has the TT engine to attack and hold a gap, especially with Porte and possibly Gerrans behind marking out any efforts to close him down.

Being in Ochre going into Willunga means BMC will be able to ride a defensive race, and who wouldn’t want the King of Willunga himself to act as a super-domsetique for you that day?! Porte should be able to keep things together and Dennis won’t lose enough time to be toppled, with Porte even nabbing the bonus seconds away from his competitors on the line.

Simple!

Betting

First race of the season so it would be rude not to have a flutter on the GC market. I tweeted it out a few days ago but…

1pt EW Dennis @ 20/1 with Coral/Ladbrokes.

Thanks as always for reading and any feedback is greatly appreciated. I hope you enjoyed my first men’s preview of the season. I’ll be back with daily stage previews of the Tour Down Under starting from tomorrow. Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

Tour de France 2017 Stage 19 Preview; Embrun -> Salon-de-Provence

Today’s Recap

A big break went early and for a while it looked as if they would contest the stage. However, AG2R drove an infernal pace before the Izoard reducing the gap to a bridgeable amount.

Barguil was the first rider to launch a major attack from the peloton and he quickly dropped Contador who initially followed.

With a bit of stalling behind, Landa shot up off the road but he didn’t look as strong as he did a week ago in the Pyrenees. Froome, Bardet and Uran eventually bridged but it was too late for the stage win.

DFMIFr8XYAUIUaC

Barguil caught and past the only remaining breakaway rider (Atapuma) just before the last kilometre, beating the Colombian by 20 seconds in the end. This is the second Grand Tour in a row that Atapuma has finished second on the final mountain stage, coming home behind a Frenchman both times.

Bardet outsprinted Froome to gain 4 bonus seconds, while Uran lost a couple of seconds to the pair.

After all that though, the Brit is still in the driving seat to take his 4th Tour win with a TT still to come. However, there is still another road stage before then.

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

The Route

A rolling day that could/should/might end in a sprint.

tour-de-france-2017-stage-19-1495792579

The longest stage of the whole race, the organisers must have been feeling a bit cruel when they came up with the route!

It’s not exactly a straightforward stage either, with a lot of rolling roads in the first part of the stage that it will make it difficult for the sprinters teams to control.

With the last categorised climb peaking out roughly 45km from the finish, will we see a charge from behind to catch the break?

The run-in itself is fairly technical and it will be fast as the road descends from about 5km to go until the Flamme Rouge, flattening out for the final kilometre.

stage-19-finish

A couple of tight turns could make it a messy run-in, but with the two close together the peloton should be strung out. Will anyone further behind through that section be able to close the gap in the closing 400m straight?

How will the stage pan out?

A big battle between the breakaway and sprinters.

Firstly, it depends on the attitude of the peloton. After a couple of tough mountain stages there will be a lot of tired bodies and I’m sure a lot of riders will be looking forward to a quieter day.

However, with only a TT and the processional final stage left, tomorrow is the only opportunity for anyone who is not a sprinter or TT specialist to have a good go for a result.

Matthews has the Green Jersey sewn up as long as he stays on his bike and with two stage wins to his name already, will he really make his team chase all day for a third? I think they deserve a rest!

It could actually be the other sprinters who might put their teams to work but with Kristoff and Degenkolb struggling today, I think it would only be Lotto Soudal and Dimension Data who would be willing to chase. Even then, it is a tough day for them to do that and they both have cards they could play in the break instead.

So with that all said, I think we could be in for a big breakaway day again with a group of 25-30 riders escaping up the road.

imageedit_14_4543960943

Candidates

Two new names and two previous blog picks here;

Tony Martin.

He gave us a lot of excitement with his long-range attack on Stage 15 but was unfortunately undone by a tough climb. The rises in tomorrow’s stage are a lot easier and the powerful German should be able to handle them. If he can stay with the front group over the final Cat-3, I wouldn’t be surprised to see him try another solo attack when they reach the flatter lands and there’s a lull in the action. As everyone will expect it, he’ll have to time the move to perfection but it is certainly something he is capable of.

Jay McCarthy.

C2wKzmeXAAAsRej

Anyone that can average 775 Watts (12.2 w/Kg) for a minute deserves to make this list! That’s what the Aussie did when he charged through the pack towards the end of stage 14 only to fall just short and finish 5th. What could have been with better positioning! He’s been quiet since then but tomorrow looks like a good stage for him to get into the move. A good punchy climber, the ascents tomorrow shouldn’t be too hard for him and he’ll hope to make it over with the front of the breakaway. Packing a strong sprint from a reduced group, that will be his best chance of victory tomorrow. He best just hope Matthews doesn’t decide he wants to spend a day up-front!

Jack Bauer.

One of the riders of the race so far in my opinion, he has been selfless in his work for both Kittel and Martin. The work he’s done for the latter has been particularly impressive, hanging with the best on some of the toughest mountains and in a very reduced peloton. He’s clearly going very well just now! With Kittel out of the race and Martin “safe” tomorrow, I imagine Quick Step will be keen to get guys into the breakaway.

Stefan Küng.

471820918_670

No stranger to a breakaway, the Swiss rider won a stage at the Tour of Romandie from the early morning move back in April. He finished second on the opening stage but has been quiet since then, apparently not being allowed to go in breakaways because he’s too tough to bring back. Although that rumour was shot down by the rider himself. Like Martin he might try to rest for the TT the following day, or alternatively he could go on the attack to test where his legs are at. He’s a strong candidate to get a result if he makes the break and I’m sure BMC will have several riders up there.

Prediction

With no sprint team really wanting to chase the breakaway fully, the morning move will stay away. Luck will be important but so will good legs! Having been so agonisingly close to a Tour stage win back in 2014, after being caught within the final 10m, Jack Bauer will get his “revenge” and take the day!

1485218691002

Betting

Tweeted the selections out before…

Screen Shot 2017-07-20 at 19.56.10

Wouldn’t take less than 50/1 for any of them!

 

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

Those were My Two Spokes Worth

Cadel Evan’s Great Ocean Road Race 2017 Preview

Cadel Evan’s Great Ocean Road Race 2017 Preview

Now in its third year, the Cadel Evan’s Great Ocean Road Race (herein CEGORR) has produced exciting racing over the first two editions. The inaugural race saw Gianni Meersman take a very reduced bunch sprint win after the peloton was decimated due to crosswinds out on the course, while last year’s race saw Pete Kennaugh win solo after attacking on a climb with roughly 12km to go and holding off the bunch.

gettyimages_507696512_670

There seems to be no set pattern as to how this race can be won and it’s this unpredictability that makes it a great watch!

The Route

The course remains unchanged and will feature one large loop (113km) around the south Geelong area, followed by 3 laps of a circuit closer to the city itself.

cadel-evans-great-ocean-road-race-2017-1480340141

The first 50km of the race are almost pan-flat, easing the riders into the day. We’ll see the usual 4/5 man break get away here and quickly build up a good gap as the main contenders team’s behind control the race.

cadel-evans-great-ocean-road-race-2017-1480340115

The latter part of the loop does get hillier and depending on how strong the wind is we may get some splits here. However, if the wind isn’t playing ball then it will be over to the circuits around Geelong to thin the peloton out.

cadel-evans-great-ocean-road-race-2017-1480340124

cadel-evans-great-ocean-road-race-2017-1480340157

The main challenge on the circuit is the Challambra Crescent climb (link here) which averages 10% for 1km.

screen-shot-2017-01-27-at-13-10-42

The climb actually has a few sections where it pitches above 20%. It’s a real leg breaker, but expect the peloton to cover it in under 3 minutes during the race! From there, we have a fast descent before another couple of short ramps up Queen’s Park and Hyland Street. The latter comes at roughly 6km from the end of the race and is 600m long, averaging 5%. However, the final 200m of the climb is closer to 14% and this is the last proper springboard for the puncheurs to make a difference before the shallow descent and flat run to the finish.

Weather wise, it looks as if the riders will get perfect conditions out there on Sunday; clear, sunny skies and not too hot at around 26 degrees Celsius. There is some discrepancy between various sites as to whether or not the wind will have any part to play in the day. Everywhere seems to agree that it will be a SE wind, just how strong varies! I guess we’ll have to see on Sunday how strong it actually it is, but nonetheless, it is coming from the correct direction to cause some problems.

How will the race pan out?

As mentioned before, the first two editions of the race have produced different outcomes; a reduced bunch sprint and a solo winner. The first edition saw the wind cause chaos, whereas last year it was the circuit around Geelong that caused most of the issues. However, both races have had around 30 riders finish less than a minute behind the winner. What does that tell us? That it will be a hard race either way and we should be in for some good, aggressive racing!

Contenders

There are your obvious riders here who should make the finale in almost any situation. I’m thinking along the lines of Haas, McCarthy and Gerrans.

Vuelta a Burgos 2016  stage 4

These type of riders can handle the climbs and have a very strong sprint on them, but also are attacking enough to try to slip away from a small group. McCarthy has never raced here before, but Gerrans was 5th last year and Haas has been 3rd and 6th. I’ll be very surprised if all 3 aren’t in the top 10 come Sunday. Saying that, they will need a tough race to ensure that they will be fighting out for the win because there are other riders who are faster than them at the end of the day. Which leads us on to the sprinters…

With the main obstacle of the course being a 3-minute climb, then the strong sprinters can make it to the finish with the peloton. We saw that last year with the likes of Howard, Bonifazio and Ligthart finishing 2nd->4th. Steele von Hoff even came home 11th and he’s not a great climbing sprinter. Of course, Meersman won the race back in 2015 too!

Therefore, I think the likes of Edward Theuns, Danny Van Poppel, and possibly even Sam Bennett could feature at the pointy end of the race. They will need team-mates left to control the peloton in the closing kilometres but with strong squads supporting them then this could well be the case.

image

Anyway, that’s enough of the guys who occupy the top 6 in the betting market. On to what you’re all here for; losing (value?) outsiders!

Travis McCabe.

The Larry H.Miller Tour of Utah 2016 stage-4

The American is a strong sprinter who’s capable of making it over some sizeable climbs too. His 3rd place on a rolling stage at the Tour de San Luis last year is testament to that. After only turning pro in 2014, he’s this year taking the step up to ProConti level with United Health Care after spending the past few years on the US Continental circuit. With Greg Henderson as the team’s road captain, he’ll have a wealth of experience to rely on, but can he hold his nerve? I imagine he’d prefer it to be a tougher race to get rid of the proper fast men like Bennett etc but not overly tough. A fine balance is required! If so, he’ll fancy his chances against Gerrans and co in a straight out sprint.

Cameron Bayly.

cameron-bayly

The IsoWhey rider will be here taking part with the national team so expect an attacking race from them. They have some strong youngsters but I would think that Bayly and Meyer will be the protected riders. Finishing 4th in the Road Nationals, Bayly certainly has the climbing legs to compete at this race. He also has a very quick burst of pace but it is his strong engine that would benefit him the most if he managed to get a gap. I was very impressed with him at the criteriums at the start of the year and if he’s kept his form then he is definitely one to watch. Can he pull off a solo win á la Kennaugh?

Jhonatan Restrepo.

14721326446189

Off the back of a 10th place finish on GC at the Tour Down Under, the young Colombian will be in a buoyant mood. Clearly on good form, he is another good climber with a fast kick. He’ll need a bit of luck to go his way and a selective race but in professional cycling stranger things have happened.

Prediction

Haas is favourite to win and I would love that to happen for my season-long fantasy team, but I think he won’t win because of that very reason. (That he’s favourite, not because he’s in my team. Well…maybe that too!)

I do think we will get a selective race whether that be through the climbing on the circuit, by the winds out on the road, or both! This will reduce the peloton to around 20 riders or so heading into the final lap. With only a few team-mates for the “big” riders it leaves the opportunity open for one of those team-mates or a “lesser” rider to attack as the bigger riders mark each other behind. Step in Cameron Bayly! As I’ve already used a picture of him above, here’s one of my dog instead: Bailey.

screenshot_20170112-193612

The Aussie has the desired characteristics and attributes to fit the bill perfectly; solid climber, big engine and relatively unknown. Even if a small group of 5 riders manages to escape then he certainly has the speed to finish it off!

So what do we reckon then, a Bayly DNF?! Or will he take the biscuit  😜

Betting

0.25pt EW Restrepo @ 66/1 with various (would take 50s)

0.25pt EW McCabe @ 100/1 with Ladbrokes (would take 66s)

0.25pt EW Bayly @ 200/1 with Betfair/Paddy power (would take 100s)

 

Thanks again for reading! How do you think this race will unfold? Does an outsider actually have a chance for once? As usual, any feedback is greatly appreciated. Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tour Down Under 2017 – GC Preview

Tour Down Under 2017 – GC Preview

The curtain raiser for this year’s cycling calendar will once again be the Tour Down Under, a race which I’ve grown fond over the past few years. I’m not sure if that’s because we’ve been starved of action over the winter break or if it is becoming one of the more exciting races of the season. Probably a mixture of both, if not slightly more the former!

Nonetheless, the organisers have made a few tweaks to the normal parcours and we have what is arguably the toughest TdU route in history. So let’s have a look at what’s in store for the riders over the coming week.

The Route

Stage 1 sees the riders tackle 145km from Unley to Lyndoch.

screen-shot-2017-01-14-at-13-52-41

Three laps around a large finishing circuit with a few hills could create a surprise. However, with the gradients being so small on these climbs and only 1,600m of elevation gain, then this should be one for the sprinters. With a very simple-run in, this should be a fast finish to the opening road stage!

Stage 2 is the Queen stage of this years TDU in terms of climbing metres, seeing the riders return to the finish in Paracombe that Rohan Dennis won back in 2015.

screen-shot-2017-01-14-at-14-45-24

The laps around Stirling will certainly sap the legs before the tough finale. Unlike 2015, the riders approach the climb differently and the road actually heads upwards for around 10kms, with the main section before the climb to Paracombe itself coming in at 3.9km averaging  4%. Could this make all the difference? I guess we’ll just have to wait and see, but expect some fireworks!

Stage 3 sees the peloton head south from Adelaide towards Victor Harbor.

screen-shot-2017-01-14-at-15-09-59

Potential cross-winds and a committed team could see a GC shake up. A tired peloton could be put under stress on the closing circuit’s climbs (1.7km at 2.5% and 1.3km at 3.7%) but it should end in some type of bunch sprint.

Stage 4 is an up and down day and actually has the second largest amount of elevation gain at the TdU.

screen-shot-2017-01-14-at-15-21-20

Nonetheless it should be a sprint at the end of the stage, but it could be the only breakaway day we get if no one wants to work behind. Interestingly, the finish kicks up at around 2.1% average for the final kilometre.

Stage 5 and the traditional stage finish up Willunga Hill.

screen-shot-2017-01-14-at-15-31-57

Nothing else to say really, this stage is all about that 6-7 minute effort at the end.

Stage 6 once again sees the race close with a 90km criterium around Adelaidescreen-shot-2017-01-14-at-15-46-43

I can’t wait for the couple of sheer walls that the riders face 😉. Also, this is just one lap as I have neither the time nor patience to repeat the route 20 times! We might see some GC riders go for time bonuses if the race is that close but this stage is all about the sprinters as you’d expect. Who’ll close the race with a win?

So overall it is a tougher race than previous years but it’s still very much in the balance between the proper climbers and the puncheurs. Willunga is tough, but ultimately it is only a 7 minute effort and the same goes for Paracombe. There are no 30 minute climbs here on which the really light guys can make a massive difference, this race will once again come down to seconds and I expect the top 10 to be separated by no more than a minute. Who’s going to be in contention for the title then?

GC Contenders

Richie Porte (a.k.a The King of Willunga) is the favourite and rightly so.

smalltdustage5a18w0502

He’s untouchable on that climb when in good form and he will find the extra climbing before Paracombe to his liking. The problem with Richie is that he doesn’t have the ability to pick up bonus seconds elsewhere and that the steeper gradients of Paracombe aren’t his cup of tea. Nonetheless, if he is in form then he should win on Willunga and possibly podium up to Paracombe which should be enough to win the race. However, we don’t know where his form is at due to him skipping Nationals. If he really wants to challenge at the Tour de France, is it not too early to be at 90% here? Hmmm, it could go either way with him! Supporting him will be Rohan Dennis who is capable of taking up the leadership role if Porte isn’t at the top-level.

Orica come in with two leaders; Esteban Chaves and Simon Gerrans. This will be the Colombian’s first time racing in Australia and he’ll be competing at the Herald Sun Tour later in the month. This route would be ideal for him if he was in top form but I get the feeling that this could be more of a PR stunt from him and the team. Instead, it will be Gerrans who will lead the main charge for Orica as he looks to pick up his 5th Overall victory here. This will be the last chance to do so as he finally appears to be dwindling as a rider going by his form last year. I’m not convinced he can manage it but he’s sure to leave everything on the road! Plus it is January and we are in Australia so you never know!

Sky also come into the race with a two-pronged attack of Geraint Thomas and Sergio Henao. The latter was 3rd overall here last year and I’d expect him to be their main rider again, although Thomas may stretch is legs at some point. Henao is the main challenger to Porte in my opinion.

sergio-henao-tour-down-under-stage-3-corkscrew_3402974

The other rider in the above photo is also a contender for this race, Michael Woods. After coming to the sport late, he took a breakthrough 3rd place on Willunga last year. If he’s improved from then he can certainly contend once again this year, plus he’s been putting in some impressive rides on Strava. Will that translate to results? I’m not so sure as he still seems to be lacking the tactical awareness needed for bike racing, but hey, if he can ride everyone off his wheel then he doesn’t need to!

I can’t see Sagan doing anything GC wise here, instead his teammate McCarthy looked very strong and more importantly lean at the Bay Crits and Road Nats and certainly could contend.

Aside from these guys, it is a fairly open field and I do think there is a chance that an outsider could sneak onto the podium so in MyTwoSpokesWorth tradition I’ll highlight 3 to watch out for.

(There is a slight bias as 2 of them are in my Fantasy Team for this season. This may be a recurring theme and I can only apologise 😜)

Nathan Haas.

Vuelta a Burgos 2016  stage 4

Another who was testing his legs at the Bay Crits and took 3rd place at the Road Nats. He seems really fired up for this and it’s his main goal early on in the year before taking a break and going to the Giro. A bit of a stop start season in 2016, his performances in Canada looked a return to form and he seems to have continued that over the Australian summer. Not the best natural climber in the field, he’ll need a bit of luck to go his way but I wouldn’t write him off! His fast kick could be crucial to pick up bonus seconds.

Petr Vakoc is the second of my fantasy riders and there’s good reason for that; he’s an incredible talent!

vakoc

After an OK TdU last year, his opening to the European season was amazing. Having been out in Australia since before New Year he seems fired up to lead Etixx at the first race of the season. A proper brute of a rider, his strength should see him be able to match some of the lighter climbers and with a Tour de France now in his legs he should be even better this year. I’m intrigued more than anything to see what he can do.

My final rider is one had a solid year and I was very impressed with on several occasions but his results didn’t quite show it; Jan Bakelants. Top 20 in the Vuelta followed some good showings in the Tour he just didn’t take any big wins. Like Vakoc, he was very strong at the start of the European cycling calendar and I’m hoping that will translate to something here!

Prediction

A toss-up between Porte and Henao for the win I think and it’s quite tough to call. Porte could well be peaking for the Tour but will want to make a statement here and Henao hasn’t raced since the Olympics so both of their form really is unknown. I’ll go for the King of Willunga himself to take the win, with Haas rounding out the podium!

20160123001221358751-original

I just hope the racing is exciting and unpredictable as it could potentially be! Although saying that, easy stages make my job easier. 😏

Betting

I distanced myself from GC betting towards the end of last year and it’s something I’ll probably be doing this year too. Nonetheless, I think there is a bit of value in small stake punts on my 3 outsiders.

0.1pt EW Vakoc @80/1 with various bookmakers (would go to 66/1)

0.1pt EW Haas @ 66/1 with Bet365 (would go to 50/1)

0.1pt EW Bakelants @ 80/1 with Bet365 (would go to 66/1).

 

Thanks everyone for reading, it’s good to be back! Any shares/RTs would be much appreciated as usual and any feedback via Twitter is always more than welcome. Who do you think will win? Does an outsider have a chance of sneaking onto the podium? I shall be doing daily previews of the stages, aside from the People’s Choice Crit as I have no time for that! Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.