Clásica de San Sebastián 2018 Preview

After almost a week of no previews I’m back again to look ahead at everyone’s favourite post-Tour race, the Clásica de San Sebastián. In 2017 we saw the peloton slimmed down a little over the days early climbs but the race winning move once again went on the last ascent of the day.

Landa, Gallopin and Mollema were strongest on the final climb, but with Kwiatkowski and Dumoulin chasing fiercely behind combined with some gamesmanship from Landa it meant we then had 5 coming together on the run in to San Sebastian. A few attacks were neutralised so things ultimately ended in a sprint, with favourite Kwiatkowski taking the win ahead of Gallopin and Mollema.

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With Kwiatkowski not here to defend his title, will we see a new winner come the fore? First though, let’s have a look at what is in store for the riders tomorrow.

The Route

Pretty much a carbon copy of 2017, but with a few kilometres trimmed from the opening part of the route.

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However, I don’t expect the racing to get exciting until the first passage of the Jaizkibel at 127km, just over halfway through the race. Saying that, it probably won’t be until the second passage at roughly 60km to go that we will see the race liven up as this is a potential for a race winning move if the group contains the right riders and teams.

More than likely though, it will come down to the final climb of the Murgil and the descent/run to the line that follows.

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Officially the climb is 2.8km at 7.6% but the main crux of the ascent is 10.3% for 1.7km. That includes several steep ramps of above 20%!

Interestingly, Kwiatkowski holds the Strava KOM for the climb with a time of 5’36 but he actually crossed the top a few seconds behind the Landa group so realistically a time of 5’30 should see someone in the front group. That was a bit slower than the previous year when the first riders over the top did it in ~5’25, but the tougher parcours earlier in the day might have taken some spring out of their legs.

With the effort only being for a relatively short time, it is a finely balaned race between the puncheurs and climbers. Will the scales tip in a certain direction this year?

The race doesn’t end at the summit of the climb though as almost 8km of descent and flat await the riders: often leading to a tactical battle if we have a group come together.

Tour Legs?

This is actually one of my favourite races to preview every year because I look forward to including my terribly formatted but awfully insightful table…

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The table is quite simple really (after all, I made it) and it shows the Top 3 from the past yeras in San Sebastian with their finishing position at the Tour in brackets. Where it says “NR” that means the rider was a “non runner” and didn’t take part in the Tour that year. See, easy.

What can we take from it though?

Well the past 11 winners of San Sebastian have all finished the Tour and there has only been 6 occasions since 2007 that someone not riding the Tour has managed to finish on the podium. If we’re just looking at the past 5 seasons, then it is only Gilbert (who finished 2nd in 2015) that has managed to podium while not riding the Tour.

I think the numbers make it fairly clear: to go well here, you have had to have ridden the Tour!

Some slightly more trivial stats now…

The average finishing position at the Tour of the winner at San Sebastian is 29.5. Unfortunately, neither Adam Yates (29th) or Lilian Calmejane (30th) are riding here this year. While the average for the podium position is 31.5: time for Robert Gesink to shine!

Contenders

All joking aside, this is a very difficult race to compete for if you haven’t been at the Tour and you have to be a special rider to get close with a lack of racing, like Dumoulin did last year. So I’ve managed to narrow my list down and to be honest, it is pretty much exactly how the bookmakers have priced it up! There are 4 riders who I think have a big chance of taking the win and they are as follows…

Julian Alaphilippe.

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In sparkling form at the Tour, a five-minute or so climb on steep gradients like we have tomorrow should be the Frenchman’s bread and butter. No one could really follow his quick accelerations from the breakaways but he will be against a stronger and more consistent set of opponents here. Nonetheless, everyone will be scared of what he might do, the question is, will he have recovered from his post-Tour celebrations? If so, he has to start as the outright favourite.

Dan Martin.

Finishing 8th on GC and picking up one stage win along the way was a good result for the UAE rider, although he could possibly have been a little higher up had it not been for bad luck on a few occasions. He looked strong in the final week and was climbing very well on the day Quintana won and managing to follow the pace in the last mountain stage. Another that the parcours should suit well, he’s a fairly solid performer at this race and you would think the tough finish climb is ideal.

Egan Bernal.

Can he really be called the “revelation of the Tour”, as anyone who has followed cycling the past few years knows just how talented he is? Finishing 15th in your first Tour is a pretty crazy result though but it is even crazier when you consider if he avoided the 16 minute loss in the Roubaix stage then he could have well finished inside the top 10! One of the 5 or 6 strongest guys in the final few stages, there were a few times he had to stop and pace Froome back to the group. Given the chance to lead here, I think he’ll step up and put on a show but will it be enough?

Primoz Roglic.

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It looked as if he was on track to secure his first GT podium before he unfortunately had his “jour sans” in one of his favoured disciplines on the last day of meaningful action, causing him to slip to 4th on GC. If he has recovered from that bad day then the steep finish climb and fast descent looks great for him. We all saw just how good he is at going downhill with his stage win in the Tour.

There are some other names who might go close or be outside podium candidates but it will be tough for them to win.

Mollema – Consistent record here as he has finished in the top 10 on all of his 6 apperances, including a win in 2016. He looked ok in the Tour but not as strong as he did before that win or even before last year’s podium.

GVA – Probably could have won this race had he not been taken out by a motorbike, Van Avermaet looked back to his 2016 vintage in the Tour. That means he should be very close to the best on the climb and if there is a lull in their efforts up front he could bridge across on the descent. He’s a danger.

Fraile – Bit of a joker as he’s DNF’d both of his appearances so far but if he finds that Stage 14 winning kick then he is a dark horse.

Soler – In homage to CyclingQuotes Soler is my “super joker” for the race. Fresh out of the Tour he finished a respectable 9th in the TT so might be carrying a bit of form. He could be an early attacker for Landa that might just stick.

Prediction

Time for one of the strongest climbers in the Tour to step up with his new-found freedom. Egan Bernal to win!

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I can’t see anyone dropping him on the climb and if anything, he will be the one doing the dropping. He’s then a handy descender with a deceptively good kick from a small group too.

Betting

1pt EW Bernal @ 22/1 with Ladbrokes/Coral (would take/I’m having to take the 12/1 available elsewhere)

Also, 0.5pt WIN on the Bernal/Bauhaus (Poland S1) win at 109/1 with Bet365. Kind of giving away my Poland preview here…

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

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

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

Today’s Recap

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

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

The Route

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Break Contenders

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

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

Gorka Izagirre.

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

Julian Alaphilippe.

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

Gregor Mühlberger.

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

Jelle Vanendert.

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

Simon Geschke.

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

Prediction

Alaphilippe, all day.

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Betting

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

1pt WIN G Izagirre @ 33/1

0.5pt WIN Mühlberger @ 150/1

1pt WIN Vanendert @ 40/1

0.75pt WIN Geschke @ 66/1

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

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

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

Tour de France 2018 Stage 5 Preview: Lorient -> Quimper

Today’s Recap

It finished in a bunch sprint, just, after the break of the day were caught just under 2kms to go. The frantic chase to catch them combined with the wide open road saw some riders go down as people tried to move up, with Zakarin being the main GC loser, shipping a shade under a minute.

The sprint was really messy but it was Gaviria who came out on top again thanks to some great work from Richeze, with Sagan and Greipel rounding out the podium.

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Will the fast Colombian be a feature tomorrow? Let’s have a look at what is in store for the riders.

The Route

A day where a lot of things could potentially happen, it looks as if the route has taken inspiration from the Tour du Finistère but has made the parcours a lot more difficult. There are no massive climbs or anything overly challenging gradient wise, but the constant up and down on narrow roads might make things nervous.

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As you can see on the profile, the final 50km of the day are very undulating and include two Cat-3 climbs along with many small uncategorised rises. Potential places for a counter attack depending on the race situation? Interestingly, the time bonus sprint comes at the top of a hill, the Côte de la chappelle de la Lorette which itself averages a very punchy 9.1% for 700m.

I’ve made a Veloviewer profile of the final 15km that you can view here.

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The first rise on the road is the Bonus sprint point and it features ramps of almost 15% on narrow roads. I’m intrigued to see if any of the GC contenders will try to push on and take a few seconds. Will it be worth the effort or will they even get the freedom to do so?

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A small descent and another short ramp follow before several kilometres of flat and descent. After that we then reach the second and easier climb in the final 15km.

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At only 4.7% for close to 1.3km it shouldn’t cause too many issues but it will depend on how splintered the peloton is as to how easy it is to control. The wider road should help in that respect.

The fighting for position will be very intense once we are into the final 2kms as the riders will want to be near the front for when they turn off the two-lane main road onto a narrower one-track street.

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470m at 8.2% sees the riders into the last 400m where the road itself constantly rises and falls ever so slightly as they twist and turn towards the finish line.

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The last corner comes at roughly 200m to go and given its quite sharp nature and road furniture on exit, I don’t think the organisers expect a big group to be coming to the line together. Being in second or third wheel at that point gives you a great chance for the win.

The final kilometre is the exact same as in the Tour de Finistère so you can have a look on the video above to get an idea of what it is like.

How will the stage pan out?

One of those days where a lot of things can happen.

We could see the break go early and stay away to the line if there is no one of real danger for the overall in it, or if BMC are happy enough to let the jersey slip. Although with the team in difficulty for next year then I don’t think that will be the case.

Dependent on how tough the day is race we might actually have some small GC time gaps at the end of the day if people are caught behind splits on the run in, similar to what we had in the Giro stage that Wellens won, albeit that was a much tougher final climb. We might even see some GC attacks if someone is feeling lively: Yates and Valverde could be two protagonists as they are the type to go for it on this finish. The bonus seconds might turn out handy at the end of the race.

Which brings me nicely to the time bonus sprint at the top of the steep 700m hill. Will we see the aforementioned GC guys go for it there? If they do then the race will be incredibly stretched out and difficult to control with only 12km to go once they pass through the point. A small escape group might form there and make it to the line.

If not, it will come down to a gallop up the finish hill with some no doubt trying to string it out on the steeper opening part, hoping to put the faster riders into difficulty. In theory, the likes of Colbrelli, Matthews and Sagan should be able to fight for the victory with the latter starting as the big favourite for the day. However, if the pace has been high on the earlier climbs it might take the sting out of their sprints. Likewise, if we see a massive attack on the final ascent it could be difficult for them. I wouldn’t put it past Sagan being that guy to attack though!

I could name countless riders and the different situations in which they *might* win but I’m going to keep it simple and just go with two. So in the words of Ciara…

One-Two Step

Julian Alaphilippe and Philippe Gilbert.

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There’s no point even separating the two of them here because they are both a very similar type of rider for this finish. Both of them are incredibly explosive and pack a punchy effort in the sprint just after a climb. After their success in two of the four stages so far I think Quick Step will want to continue their dominance at the race tomorrow by trying to take the yellow jersey, again. There is a possibility that they might save their efforts for the Mur de Bretagne on Thursday but this is Quick Step we are talking about: they only know how to win! It will be interesting to see how they approach the finale and if one of them attacks early. I think we might see Gilbert used as an early attacker on the time bonus climb, with Alaphilippe waiting to go all out at the finish. Or the other way round, who knows!

Prediction

Gilbert to be rewarded for his season so far where he has been a super team-mate for others by taking the win and spending another day in the yellow jersey.

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Betting

Tweeted out my picks when the market went live and prices have shortened a little but would still take what they are at now.

1pt WIN Gilbert @ 20/1 (now 18/1)

1pt WIN Alaphilippe @ 20/1 (now 16/1)

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

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

 

Vuelta a España 2017 Preview – The BFOG

Vuelta a España 2017 Preview – The BFOG

In a slight change-up to previous races where I’ve rolled out separate previews for the various jerseys, this year I’m going to include GC/Sprint/KOM all in one, in a Giro Rosa style BFOG.

Last year’s Vuelta saw some very aggressive racing with Quintana beating Froome by 1’23, with Chaves finishing in 3rd.

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Most of the time Quintana had over Froome was gained on a crazy stage 15 and I hope we see some similar tactics deployed this year.

I’ll be disappointed if my favourite Grand Tour of the year is a let down.

Over the coming three weeks expect some bold tactics, super steep finishes, messy sprints, random breakaway days and some surprising results!

The Route – What You Need To Know

To some it up in a word: tough.

Again, as I’ll be doing daily stage previews then I won’t be going over the route in massive detail here, just the key stages. Although this is the Vuelta, so any stage can almost become a key stage…

The opening day sees a TTT around Nîmes (yes, we start in France) which should set the GC order for the following few days. Thankfully, at only 13km long, the time gaps between the overall contenders shouldn’t be too big at the end of the day.

It is not long before we’ll get a rough idea of who has some early climbing form as Stage 3 features two Cat-1 climbs and a Cat-2 all within 158km. With a slightly technical downhill run I don’t expect to see any of the GC favourites try to attack 100%, maybe an aggressive top 20 candidate can escape to take the spoils?

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Stage 5 offers us our first hill-top finish with the Cat-3 climb of Ermita Santa Lucía. It doesn’t sound much, but remember that this is a SPANISH Cat-3 climb; 3.7km at 8.58% with max gradients of around 15-20%. It’s a shame Reijnen isn’t here so he can get Spained…

We then have a couple of rolling days that give the sprinters or opportunists a chance at stage glory.

The weekend before the first rest day sees two stages that both have Cat-1 climbs in the closing 10kms of the race.

Stage 8 will have riders summit the brutally steep Alto Xorret de Catí. Officially 5kms at 9%, the crux of the climb is more 4km at 11%! From there, they will then face a short but steep descent into town for the finish.

vuelta-a-espana-2017-stage-9-cumbre-del-sol-1484252526Stage 9 finishes atop the Alto de Puig Llorença which is another short but steep climb, averaging 8.8% for 4.1km. It certainly seems the organisers designed a route hoping that Valverde would be here! With a rest-day to come, expect the GC contenders to be full gas here and we could see some surprising time gaps.

After the rest day we should see a break survive on Stage 10, but the following day is the most challenging one so far with back-to-back Cat-1 climbs.

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Climbing or descending from pretty much 60km out, this could be a fairly brutal day in the saddle. With the finish above 2000m, we might see a GC favourite suffer from the altitude. One thing is for sure, this Vuelta isn’t a race you can ease yourself into for week 3!

Another couple of “who knows what these stages could turn into” days follow, before we get out first Especial finish of the race on Stage 14.

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Once again the riders are pretty much climbing for the last 25km of the race with the Cat-1 before the Esp finish. However, the two can be combined to form the climb below.

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It’s not a crazy average gradient at only 5.3%, but the 23km could see some weary legs by the top. Not great then when the toughest 3kms come within the final 5km! Someone could go pop. With a “flat” finish though, a small 5 rider sprint could be likely.

Either way, it will certainly stretch the riders legs for what is to come the following day.

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This is the type of Vuelta stage I love as a spectator. Pretty sure the riders might not think the same. Pure madness!

It finishes with a Cat-1 then Especial climb, but like a few of the stages here, they can be pretty much rolled into one.

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Ouch. Ouch indeed!

With the last rest-day to follow, expect the riders to leave everything out on the road.

After their day to recuperate and recover, the riders will be faced with a decisive 40km TT. It does climb and roll a little bit but it is certainly an effort that should suit a specialist. This stage will scare a lot of the pure climbers who will be gunning for a good GC position.

The GC days continue to come as Stage 17 finishes atop the now viral Alto de los Machucos.

Who knows what the GC composition will look like before the stage, and who knows what it will look like after! Those who lost time on the TT the day before hand will certainly be hoping to bounce back with a good performance.

Stage 18 finishes on one of those classic Vuelta Cat-3s; 2.3km at 8.3%. I wouldn’t expect any major splits between the GC guys but you just never know…It could be a day for the break, likewise is stage 19. Although a few teams might control it and hope for a sprint.

The last huzzah GC wise comes on Stage 20 where the riders will finish atop the mythical Angliru.

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Four categorised climbs in a 119km stage, including the three major ones in the last 50km. A very Vuelta-y stage to finish the Vuelta GC battle with!

Any sprinters that we have left will then fight it out for stage honours in Madrid on the final day. Although considering we don’t have many here already, could a late attack succeed?

GC Contenders and Pretenders

With the defending champion Quintana finally deciding to have a Grand Tour off after doing 4 in a row, we could well see a new winner this September. I’ll have a look at some of the contenders and outsiders for the title below, some in much more depth than others!

Chris Froome.

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This years Tour winner is gunning for a famous Tour/Vuelta double. He has tried to pull off the feat in the past but this year could be his best shot, given the 40km worth of individual time trialing. Starting as the bookies favourite, his form is massively unknown going into this race. In fact, he hasn’t made an appearance at any UCI event since the end of the Tour, instead, opting to earn a couple of extra quid with some post Tour crits. Not ideal preparation in my opinion for a race where you need to be on good form in the first week!

One of the things he does have going for him though is that he won the Tour not looking his best. In previous editions he has cruised the Tour but never had just enough left to win the Vuelta, so maybe that was in the back of his mind going into that race. Or is he on the decline in general? I thought the latter before the Tour, but I’m not so sure now. His team is strong, not as good as his TDF hit squad, but bloody close to it! He is still the rider to beat once the dust has settled.

Vincenzo Nibali.

Arguably Froome’s biggest contender for the crown, the Italian is a much more rounded Grand Tour rider than the Brit, showing consistency across all three of the races. I mean he has won them all! He finished third at this years Giro, a result I’m sure he’ll be disappointed with but it wasn’t a bad performance and he did beat some good riders. Traditionally, Nibali doesn’t show much form before a Grand Tour but that seems to have changed this season. A solid 9th place in Poland, where he looked fairly skinny, was good for him and he will no doubt be gunning for no less than the win here. The only issue is that his team is fairly weak, with the missing Izagirre a big blow. I can’t see him winning the race, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he does in the end.

Alberto Contador.

I said at the Tour last year he was past his best and his performance this year highlighted that even more. I’m sure he’ll go on a few hail mary attacks which could see him move up the standings. Will it be enough for a podium? Probably not. But a stage win and a top 10 is very much achievable.

Fabio Aru.

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Another rider who comes straight here with no other racing in his legs after La Grand Boucle. A former winner of this race, as more of a pure climber some of the very tough stages should suit him well. However, the long 40km TT could be his downfall in his overall title bid. I have no idea where his form is at, considering he was apparently struggling with bronchitis at the end of the Tour. He could be great, or he could be awful! Being near the top on GC is helpful, especially when Astana have another potential GC card to play…

Miguel Angel Lopez.

My outsider/dark-horse/whatever you want to call it for the podium and possibly even more. Which now inevitably means he is going to fall by the wayside after picking up an illness on stage 4.

The young Colombian is a super talented, all-round GC star of the future. He can climb very well, but he is also a deceptively good TTer for someone of his stature. It is a tough ask to see him compete at the pointy end of the race in what will be the first Grand Tour that he should hopefully complete. Nonetheless, I think he has the pedigree to do just so. Having been raced lightly this year after spending the first 6 months of the season sidelined due to injury, he should have plenty of juice left in the tank to go well here. He warmed up with a good showing in Burgos recently, winning the final stage. Coping well with the heat there is a promising sign for what will no doubt be a scorching Vuelta. Can Superman fly?!

Ilnur Zakarin.

After Froome, the Russian is arguably the best TT rider of the GC contenders here. He’s an attacking rider and in a race that is known for its crazy moments, he might just prosper. I’m still not 100% sold on his ability to climb with the best, especially at altitude but you just never know. He’ll be hoping for at least a top 5!

Yates / Yates / Chaves.

Thought I’d just combine Orica’s three-pronged attack into one here! Out of the Yates brothers, I imagine it would be Adam who will be going for the higher GC placing, but that doesn’t mean Simon can be discounted completely. However, Chaves should be their main charge. The only issue with that is the Colombian has struggled with injuries this season and took a big knock to his mental confidence after one of his friends tragically died back in Colombia while he was riding at the Tour. I’m sure his form will be a lot better at the Vuelta as that was the plan during the Tour anyway, to get up to race speed for this event. If he is firing on all cylinders, he could be a danger. The only issue for all three of them is the massive 40km of TT, it is by far their worst discipline and they could all lose bucketloads of time. Which should make for an exciting few mountain stages if they have to chase the race…

I feel like I have already named a load of riders but the list of quality top 10 contenders could continue for a while yet! Other guys we have here include but not limited to; Bardet, Jungels, Kruijswijk, Poels, Pozzovivo, Majka and Kelderman.

Prediction

Froome is the guy to beat but Sky are never as convincing at the Vuelta compared to their dominance at the Tour and there is a chance the Brit could be isolated on a few occasions. We saw in France that he didn’t seem to be at his best and he can’t chase everyone down when it is just the group of GC favourites. If Froome is to win, he needs a massive race from Poels.

I just can’t help shake the feeling that some of the teams will look to isolate him at some point, like the famous Stage 15 from last year. Will they succeed?

 

Hmmm, I don’t know. Surely Sky will be more alert this year…

Froome probably wins the race but you’ll read that a lot this week so I’ll go for young pretender turned young contender Miguel Angel Lopez to pull off a shock result!

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I’m really looking forward to the double act with Aru over the coming weeks.

Watch out for the Shark though, he’s lurking ready to strike.

King of the Mountains

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Unlike the Tour, the Vuelta’s KOM competition is much more traditional in the sense that climbs at the start of the stage are weighted equally compared to those at the end. None of this final climb double points nonsense!

Given the amount of summit finishes at the Vuelta you would think that a GC rider has a good chance of taking the jersey. However, there are bound to be several breakaway days during the race which makes it difficult for someone high up on the overall to challenge. In fact, you have to go back to 2007 when a proper GC guy won the jersey.

Omar Fraile has won the jersey the past two years; can he make it three in a row?

As for points distribution, it is as follows:

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Thanks to Velorooms/@Searchhhh for whom I tea leafed the table from.

Overall, there are 315 mountain points available, with 91 of those coming at the end of stages. You can therefore see how it is tough for the GC favourites to compete.

However, unlike recent years, there are no nailed on breakaway days that garner a lot of points. Instead, we have 6 stages where there are between 15-25 points available during the stage, not including the finish climb, and they are Stages 3/5/12/17/19/20.

You would expect the break to take the majority, if not all of the points on those days. However, there are a few mountain top finishes where the break could stay away until the end as well.

Stage 14 is an example of that where we finish with an Especial climb, meaning that a rider could potentially take 28 points if they win the stage.

The following days action is similar too if the break manages to stay away and take the stage/Cima Alberto Fernández, totalling 40 points if they can do that.

How will the KOM race pan out?

It is tough to name a favourite for a competition such as this given the huge amount of variables. At the Tour, Barguil lost a lot of time in some of the early stages so that he was given the freedom to hunt KOM points later in the race. Whether that was intentional or not, I’m not too sure. Equally, Landa turned to the KOM jersey once he was out of GC contention at the Giro.

However, the difference between those two races and the Vuelta is that a lot of the KOM points were back loaded towards the end of the Grand Tour. Here, they’re much more evenly spread out.

In fact, on stage 3 (25pts) and stage 5 (21 pts) a rider can put their name into the mix with a strong early lead in the competition. If you look at the past couple of seasons the highest winning points total has been 82 by Fraile in 2016.

Therefore, a rider could take 43 points (not including the Cat-3 summit finish on stage 5) and be in a very commanding position at the end of the first week. I wonder if we’ll see some riders roll home at the back of the pack on Stage 2 to get some freedom the next day….

A poor TTT could set things up nicely to allow a rider the freedom to go into those moves. It’s also important to consider that the Pro-Conti teams will be gagging to get away in breaks for TV exposure, so a rider from their roster could be the one to take up the charge.

So with all that said, I’m going to suggest three names who might be there or thereabouts in the competition. Or probably not…

Merhawi Kudus.

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I’m a big fan of the talented Eritrean rider, he’s really taken a step up this season in terms of performance. A traditional mountain goat, he should be able to cope with a lot of the steep ramps and rises that the Vuelta has to offer. Now, Fraile is the most likely candidate on the Dimension Data squad to chase the KOM jersey, but there is a chance that the Spaniard might want to go for stage wins and leave the KOM hunting to someone else in the team; Kudus might be that man.

Jetse Bol (2.0).

The new and improved climbing Jetse Bol has found his passion for racing again with Colombian Wild Card team Manzana Postobon. They are guaranteed to lose a lot of time on the opening day TTT and will no doubt be chasing the breaks from therein. Given his sublime performance at the recent Vuelta Burgos, Bol seems to be in rather good shape at the moment. A jersey win for the Pro-Conti team would be incredible and the Dutchman might just be the guy to deliver it for them.

Larry Warbasse.

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There would be something poetic about Captain America taking the KOM jersey at the Vuelta. It was at this race last year that Warbasse gained a lot of my respect, so much so that I think he was the most heavily featured rider in my previews! He couldn’t manage a breakaway win but impressed enough to gain a contract with Aqua Blue for this season. I think it is fair to say he has delivered for them, taking their first ever win. Not bad considering it was at WorldTour level! Another team who are bound to be on the attack throughout the race Warbasse is their best climber and I would be surprised not to see them go for the jersey; they’ve done so in a lot of smaller races throughout the season so why not here too.

You know what, Warbasse is my KOM winner for this race!

Points Classification

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Much like the KOM jersey, the Vuelta keeps things simple for the points classification and does away with the hassle of stage categorisations etc. Instead, riders will be given the same points for winning one of the sprint stages or the mountain top finish up the Angliru.

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Again, the table is tea leafed from the same sources as above!

Therefore, it is very rare that a sprinter wins this jersey. It will be even harder this year given the parcours and the lack of proper sprint stages. Consequently, it will be a rider who can compete on multiple types of finishes that will win the jersey.

Valverde has dominated this competition and it is clear to see why. Packing a fast sprint, he can pick up a few points on the flatter stages but his climbing ability allows him to challenge for stage wins on the tougher days.

We could see a GC winner take the crown by being consistent on all of the mountain top finishes but I think we might see a few breakaways deny them the opportunity of competing for points.

Unlike the KOM competition, I only have one rider in mind for this competition.

A guy who is very much built-in the ilk of Valverde, albeit he is not as good a GC rider. Yet.

Julian-Alaphilippe-time-trial

There are several stage finishes that seem to suit the explosive French climber down to the ground. He’s had to miss both the Ardennes and the Tour for various reasons which would have been a massive disappointment for him. Nonetheless, I’m sure that means he’ll turn up here ready to perform well. On his return to racing in Burgos he was good, not great, more promising than anything else. With the cobwebs blown out now, I think he’s in for a big race. If he is performing to his Paris Nice level, then the Points jersey is his to lose!

Vuelta Picks

After continuing on from initial success, we had the highest numbers ever play the Tour Picks game back in July and I’m hoping to entice you to join Vuelta Picks for this coming month.

The premise of the game is simple; pick a separate rider for every stage, with their position on the day counting as your points. With the lowest cumulative score at the end of the Vuelta winning the prize pool.

However, one bad day does not mean that you’re completely out of it, with a prize on offer for the most stage wins too. In fact, at the Tour there were enough participants to introduce a KOM prize (lowest accumulated score over certain stages).

It’s also a good way for you to laugh at my awful, or terribly unfortunate picks. Picking an ill Sam Bennett on stage 2 of the Giro didn’t really go well for me…

I’ll also be adding a little segment at the end of each day’s blog section to cover; a “safe” pick, a risky pick (wongshot) and a deliberate Lanterne Rouge pick. Just to add a bit of spice to the game!

Think you can beat me and take my money?!

*Hint – the answer is probably yes*

Then follow the Cycling Picks Twitter handle @cycling_picks and simply put your name into the spreadsheet if you wish to play!

https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/14U89El-B7h05tRgB5Lw8ml9pkF5v0ROvxH96-dk3w7o/edit#gid=0

Spreadsheet above^^^

Betting

Not a fan of betting ante-post on GC riders normally, but I’ll gladly back Lopez as an EW bet for this race.

Outright – 2pts Lopez EW @ 25/1 with Lads/Coral. (would take 20/1 lowest)

As for the KOM competition, I’m spraying some small stakes around on the riders I’ve mentioned above. Nothing too crazy.

0.75pt EW Warbasse @ 50/1 with various (Wouldn’t take any lower)

0.5pt EW Kudus @ 150/1 with Betfred (would take 100/1 lowest)

0.25pt EW Bol @ 300/1 with Betfred (would take 250/1 lowest)

As for the Points jersey, it’s simple.

2.5pts WIN Alaphilippe @ 6/1 with Lads/Coral.

I think I’ll leave it at that for the pre-race bets.

 

Thanks as always for reading and any feedback is greatly appreciated! Who do you think will win the various competitions? I hope we’re in for an exciting 3 weeks of racing and I’m optimistic that we will be! Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vuelta al Pais Vasco 2017 Stage 1 Preview; Iruñea -> Eguesibar-Sarriguren

GC Overview

No time for a full length preview so here are a few thoughts.

The race in general seems easier than previous editions, but the riders can always make it tougher through aggressive racing. The most decisive stages are the last two, stages 5 & 6. With the steep gradients of Arrate, the more lightweight, explosive climbers will look to maker their mark. Whereas the more all-round GC contenders will hope to gain time back on the TT the following today. It should be a close race!

Contador won the race last year and is clearly going well just now. He’ll fancy his chances to make it back to back wins overall!

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His main rival looks to be the flying Valverde. He was exceptional in Catalunya and has to start the race as favourite in my opinion.

Behind those two there are several riders who will be hoping to make the podium. Alaphilippe, Henao, Roglic, Yates and Spilak are just a few names to conjure with. Out of that selection, I would fancy Alaphilippe. There are no big mountain days and long 16km climbs which he hates, instead, he’ll find the short 6-7km climbs to his liking. As we saw in Paris-Nice, he packs a fairly good TT as well! Spilak is a dark horse, especially if he is on the level that he was climbing in Tirreno and if it rains, of course!

No bonus seconds for the stage winner etc tilts the importance of attacking racing to drop opponents, but also the TT is even more key.

Right, now that’s out the way, let’s have a look at what’s in store for the riders on Stage 1.

The Route

A fairly dull stage to start the race off.

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Profile once again courtesy of @LasterketaBurua

We do have a few Cat-2 climbs but they come too far from the finish to be of any consequence. The little rise of 1.4km at 3.4% which crests at just over 4km to go is interesting, but I can’t see it having a huge effect on the race. It may be the launchpad for a probing attack, though even I think it will be hard for one of them to stick! Yet, with no real sprinters in the race, it might just do…

The run in to the line is quite technical, and we have two sharp turns in the closing 2km.

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The 90-degree turn with 300m to go will ensure for a manic end to the day. You need to be in the first 5 riders out of it to have any chance of winning.

“Sprinters”

We have barely any of the top-level sprinters here this week so expect a few surprise results and things not going to plan!

Matthews probably starts as the favourite. The Aussie looked good in Paris Nice, and rode very well on the unfamiliar cobbles of Gent Wevelgem recently. Like most of the “sprinters”, he doesn’t have a great lead-out with him and will be relying on Geschke to deliver him into position.

Bennett arrives as the other sprinter who’s a cut above the rest. The Irishman took a great stage win in Paris Nice, beating some of the fastest riders in the world. He pulled out of De Panne so it will be interesting to see if he’s recovered from whatever it was that caused that. If he has, then he is certainly a big favourite for the win!

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It says a lot when you have Swift and Lobato as the next best sprinters in the peloton. Both have looked a bit “meh” as of late but if there was ever a chance for them to take a win and get some confidence back, this is it. I just wouldn’t have any confidence in them at the moment!

Then we have normal lead-out men who will be sprinters at this race, such as Van der Sande and Richeze. I would favour Richeze out of those two and he seems to have a fairly good sprint train (by this races standards) to support him. Delivering two wins in San Juan earlier in the year can he win in Spain a few months later?

Orica have a few options and they could go with either Albasini or Gerrans both of whom could contest, especially with the other rider leading out.

Heck, Valverde and Alaphilippe (if Richeze isn’t up for it) might fancy a sprint!

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Bole will fancy his chances but he’s been poor so far this year.

I’m intrigued to see what card Astana play. They obviously have blog favourite Lutsenko, who’s clearly going well just now and in a sprint like this he certainly has a chance. Although it remains to be seen how he has recovered from his crash in Gent Wevelgem and how finishing Flanders today will have affected his legs. Instead they might turn to Basque rider, and another favourite of mine, Bilbao. He’s had a quiet start to the year but he’ll want to go well in his home race. Packing a fast sprint, he might surprise!

Prediction

A real crapshoot of a stage where a late attack might stick as controlling the bunch will be tough, or we’ll get one of the craziest sprints of the season.

I think we will get a sprint, but having a good lead-out will be important and there aren’t many of them here! Orica have the best contingent of riders for that in my opinion. With Power and Plaza they have two riders who can take it up from a few kms out, letting Gerrans/Albasini sit in behind. Choosing between those two is tough, but after his second place today in La Rioja, Albasini is clearly going well. Gerrans won’t mind doing the work for him if he’s rewarded with his own chances later in the week. If the Aussie leads Albasini into the last turn, very few riders will have the strength to come past him!

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Betting

Nothing for me on GC, odds are too short on the favourites for my opinion. With stage 1 being so difficult to predict I’m having a relatively conservative, 2pt kinda day…

Albasini 1pt WIN @50/1 with Betfair/PaddyPower (would take the 33s with Bet365)

Bilbao 0.25pt EW @200/1 with Bet365 (would take 125s)

Lutsenko 0.25pt EW @125/1 with Bet365. (would take 80s)

 

Thanks for reading as always. Apologies that this is on the shorter side but there’s not that much to talk about for this stage! Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

Paris Nice 2017 Stage 7 Preview; Nice -> Col de la Couillole

Today’s Recap

A rather exciting stage and we saw a GC showdown up to the finish in Fayence. It was Simon Yates who took advantage of his lower overall position, attacking over the top of the penultimate climb of the day, managing to hold on to the finish.

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Behind, Henao attacked and cracked Alaphilippe, with Porte returning to some form to take third place behind the Colombian. It leaves the GC nicely poised and we should be in for an exciting stage tomorrow. Let’s have a look at what’s in store for the riders.

The Route

The penultimate day and the Queen stage of the race!

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Two big climbs in the final 50km will be the main focal point of the day as the first two ascents of the day come way too far from the finish to be a launchpad.

The Col Saint-Martin will start off the GC proceedings.

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Officially 7.5km at 7.2% in gradient, the climb is long enough to stretch things out. Well, that is when you consider that the road actually rises for a long time before we get to the official start of the climb.

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Instead, the full length of the climb is 20.4km long and averages a very solid 4.2% gradient. You can view the Strava segment here. If a couple of teams co-operate here, they really could put the hurt on Alaphilippe and try to isolate him.

Once over the summit we have a long descent followed by some valley roads before we start the final climb of the day; the Col de la Couillole.

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A long and steady climb, it barely goes below 6.5% or above 7.5% in gradient. If the pace has been injected on the previous climb, it is very possible for a GC rider to pop here and lose a lot of time.

How will the stage pan out?

I thought today may have been a breakaway stage, with the finish potentially suiting Alaphilippe I wasn’t confident of other teams bringing the escapees back. I’ve had tomorrow marked down as a GC day for the majority of the week and today’s showing makes me think we’ll see a GC rider win  the stage tomorrow too.

Watch it be a breakaway win now…

Contenders

Sergio Henao certainly looked one of the strongest today and Team Sky seem up for a fight for the GC title. My suspicions about the Colombian building some form at home over the past few weeks seem to be correct and he is now Alaphilippe’s main GC rival. The long climbs up to altitude will certainly suit him and with a very strong support team they are dangerous. I expect them to keep the break in check all day, then really ramp the pace up on the Col Saint-Martin. Henao’s point of attack will be interesting. Will he go early on the Saint-Martin, hoping to find some allies, or will he wait and leave it all for the final climb? The way he seemed to open up a gap today over Alaphilippe on a finish that suited the Frenchman more, I think Henao might just be confident enough to wait until that final climb.

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One man who is sure to take it up early is Alberto Contador. The Spaniard tried something today along with Henao but was quickly marked by Dan Martin. He struggled on the final slopes today but it was not a climb that really suited him whereas tomorrow’s long, steadier ascents do. He looked sprightly on the lower slopes of Mont Brouilly where we get similar gradients to that we’ll get tomorrow. You can’t forget how well he was climbing in Valenciana and following Quintana for fun in Abu Dhabi. Not being an immediate threat on the GC, he may just be given some leeway.

If Contador is not an immediate threat on GC, then Richie Porte is not an immediate threat on next year’s GC! The Aussie finds himself way down on the overall but seemed bullish and up for the fight today. Again, like Contador, Porte is not suited to the short punchy climbs and tomorrow’s 7% stuff looks great for him. If he’s climbing anywhere close to his form in the Tour Down Under he certainly has a chance of a stage win, which will certainly boost his morale!

After his stage win today, Simon Yates could well go on to bag another tomorrow. He’s in a similar GC position to Contador and those two may form a very exciting, attacking duo. Will he have enough left in the tank for another assault tomorrow?

I’m intrigued to see how Ilnur Zakarin does on this stage. The Russian has slowly plodded along this race after disappointingly losing time on the opening day. He did an OK time-trial but not as good as some were expecting. Yet, he seemed to be coping alright on the climbs today so maybe that was just a blip. He looked very impressive in Abu Dhabi, chasing down Rui Costa and will be looking for a similar performance on stage 7!

Izagirre and Barguil might try to utilise their lowly GC positions to their advantage but they haven’t looked great so far in this race.

Prediction

We’ll get a crazy final half to the stage with a few long-range probing attacks. Alaphilippe will only initially need to follow Henao and Gallopin and that will benefit those further down on GC. Henao may well bridge up to others, but I fancy Alberto Contador to take the stage. He will have been very disappointed after a poor first stage, considering this was his first main goal of the season. The way he climbed in Valenciana and the effortless nature he followed Quintana was incredibly impressive. El Pistolero will fire a warning shot that he’s not dead and buried yet!

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Although I do think it will be very close between him and Henao, with the Colombian moving into the GC lead after the stage.

Betting

Normally I wouldn’t back GC riders for a stage like this but…

2pts WIN on Contador @ 9/2 with BEt365.

Also,

4pts WIN on Henao for GC at 9/4 with PaddyPower

Thanks again for reading, who do you think will win tomorrow? Will someone further down on GC benefit or will Henao make his mark? Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

 

Paris – Nice 2017 GC Preview

Paris – Nice 2017 GC Preview

The rather aptly nicknamed, The Race to the Sun, stage race starts again this Sunday. Often attracting a good mix of Tour de France hopefuls, wanting to test their legs, and some Ardennes specialists doing similar, we’re regularly treated to some exciting racing with a fairly stacked start-list.

Last year saw Geraint Thomas just edge out Alberto Contador for the title by the small margin of 4 seconds.

13-03-2016 Paris - Nice; Tappa 08 Nice - Nice; 2016, Team Sky; 2016, Tinkoff; Geraint, Thomas; Contador, Alberto; Nice;

Luck may have been on the Welshman’s side though as the steep finish up Mont Brouilly, which most definitely would have favoured Contador, was cancelled due to snow. That finish is back this year, speaking of which…

The Route

Like normal, as I’ll be doing daily previews for the stages this segment will be fairly short.

Stage 1.

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Fairly flat day with an interesting 5% rise from 2km -> 1km to go. Will we still see a sprint or will a late attack prevail?

Stage 2.

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Another flat day, this one is definitely a sprint!

Stage 3.

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Slightly more of a rolling day but this one should also be another sprint.

Stage 4.

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Our first GC day and a 14.5km TT with a finish up Mont Brouilly. Is this one for the specialists or will the GC guys prevail?

Stage 5. 

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Another likely sprint day but with more rolling terrain a break could well make it.

Stage 6.

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Brutal start to the stage, boring middle, followed by a tough finale with a double passage of the Col de Bourigaille. There’s a nice little kicker to the finish in Fayence too.

Stage 7.

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The Queen stage of the race in terms of its finale, with a Cat 1 climb of the Col de la Couillole to finish. Will the GC be decided here?

Stage 8.

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A short and sharp stage to finish the race! Could be action packed if the GC is still close, if not, definite break stage.

GC Contenders

In theory, the TT and mountain top finish are the two main GC days but as we’ve seen in the past at this race, Stages 6 & 8 could also have an impact. Will the winner be someone who puts in a strong TT and finishes in the first 3 on stage 7, or will someone be rewarded for some aggressive racing on the other two days?

Richie Porte should start as the favourite for this race: he absolutely creamed everyone at the Tour Down Under. Since then he’s a bit of rest, followed by slowly ramping up the intensity in training and his team say that he’s in great shape for this race. A two-time winner of this event, he certainly knows what it takes to go well here. One of the best GC TT-ers, I would expect him to gain a bit of time there and I can’t really see him losing much time on the mountain top finish. The only concern with him would be the two unpredictable stages as Porte seems to have a habit of being unlucky, or making a mistake and crashing himself.

Alberto Contador has to be his main rival for this title. Without a win this season, yet, he’s still looked very good and this is his first major target of the season. He seems to have re-found his TT form and is clearly climbing well. I hope he’s within 20 seconds of Porte going into the final day as I’m sure we’ll see an attacking race like always from him!

Behind those two clear favourites, there are another two riders who can TT and climb well but maybe just not to the same caliber.

Ilnur Zakarin looked strong in Abu Dhabi, bridging the gap to Rui Costa fairly comfortably. He was very consistent last season and was set for a top 5 at the Giro before his unfortunate crash on stage 19. He returned to the action later in the year and managed to pick up a great stage win at the Tour. If Porte and Contador start to play games, the Russian may just be the one to profit from it.

Ion Izagirre was having a very solid Andalucia before a bizarre crash in the time trial forced him to abandon. With the resulting injuries being nothing serious, he’s back here and wants to be at the pointy end of the race. These types of climbs suit him well and as we saw at the Tour, he’s a handy descender in bad conditions. A definite danger-man!

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One rider I am keen to keep an eye on this week is Sergio Henao. Recently winning the Colombian National Championships, he seems to have been building some nice form while over there. Wout Poels was meant to be leading the team but he’s had to pull out with injury so Henao becomes de facto leader. Not a great TTer normally, a hilly finale to the course will suit him, he did come 3rd in the TT at Pais Vasco last year. If he can minimise his losses to less than 30 seconds this time round then he has a great chance at the podium.

Julian Alaphilippe is fast becoming a very dangerous one-week stage racer, particularly in this type of parcours. He seems to struggle in big mountain days so stage 7 could be an issue. However, he’ll love the look of the finish in Fayence and could gain some bonus seconds there. Likewise, as a fearless rider I’m sure he’ll be on the attack on stage 8, especially if we get some bad weather.

There are others who could feature but their missing something at the moment in my opinion, whether that be a poor TT or they just don’t seem to have the form.

Prediction

I’m being boring, but this is Porte’s to lose.

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I would be wary if the weather turns for the worse though. I think Henao is a good outside shot for the podium and could profit in an attacking, aggressive race.

Betting

Personally, I have something on Henao at 33/1 which is a good EW price, but I wouldn’t advise backing him at the 18/1 he is just now. Instead, keep your money in your pocket until after the TT and see what his price is then!

NO BET.

Thanks as always for reading and any feedback is greatly appreciated. Do you think it’s a two-horse race between Porte and Contador? I’ll be back later this afternoon/evening (depending on when more bookmakers price up/I wake up from my nap) with a stage 1 preview. In the meantime, I’ll be watching both the women’s and men’s Strade! Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.