Women’s Strade Bianche 2018 Preview

The first round of the Women’s World Tour is upon is and we’re set for a cracking race. Now in its 4th edition, we’ve had some brutal races in the past and I expect that to be no different this year.

2017 saw home-favourite Elisa Longo Borghini take a stunning victory as she outmanoeuvred Kasia Niewiadoma coming into the Piazza del Campo, with Lizzie Deignan taking third.

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It wasn’t easy for the trio even though they were the strongest on the day as their refusal to co-operate saw Brand and Gillow launch audacious late counter attacks. They were caught on the climb up to the Piazza in what was a gripping end to a great race and allowed for the spectacular picture above!

Will we see more of the same this year? Let’s take a look at what is in store for the riders.

The Route

Longer than 2017, the riders will face just over 30kms worth of gravel along the 136km route.

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The longest section they will traverse comes at around the half-way point in the race and this will be the place where the field starts to split up. I would imagine one or two teams will come to the front and push the pace on, reducing the group down to 50 or so riders.

From there it will be tough to control and we might see a counter attack and a new breakaway form but things will be brought to heel once we enter the closing stages.

 

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The two gravel sections in the closing 20km are where ELB and co did the damage last year. After the first segment we did get a bit of a regrouping but it was just before the final Strade and once again the stronger riders made a difference there. As I mentioned above, it was only due to their lack of co-operation on the rolling 12kms that remained which resulted in Brand and Gillow coming from behind and straight over the top. If they had worked together then those dropped would have had no chance of getting back.

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The climb into Siena is brutally steep but at only 500m the puncheurs can hang on with the proper climbers. It is important to be near the front at the crest though because positioning is vital thereafter.

As we saw last year leading through the narrow streets combined with good bike positioning means you can effectively block off anyone from passing, thus securing the win. It’s a tactically shrewd move but one that everyone should be aware of by now. Therefore the “real” finish line is with 200m to go!

Weather Watch

Given the surprising amount of snow that Italy has received over the past week, I’m sure the riders will be glad to know that it will be “just” rain on Saturday.

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Source: Windfinder

Although the women look set to have the slightly better conditions with more rainfall expected later on in the day, they are more likely to be on the brunt of stronger winds. Making it six or half a dozen really!

Either way, whoever wins come the end of the race will certainly deserve it.

Contenders

Elisa Longo Borghini.

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The defending champion arrives here after a solid outing in Omloop where she was on the attack. A great climber and one-day racer, she is one of the many women who seem to have been around for a while but she is still only 26. Those years of experience started to shine through last year with the win in Strade and good performances elsewhere such as a second at the Giro Rosa. I think she’ll find it difficult to double up but given her consistency here (3rd, 4th, 1st) then I would struggle to argue against her going close. With Audrey Cordon-Ragot as a team-mate she has a someone who can go deep into the race with her and even act as an attacker to force other teams to chase.

Katarzyna Niewiadoma.

With a stage-race already under her belt, the Canyon SRAM rider should be a little bit ahead of her rivals here in terms of racing miles. At that race she finished a fairly modest 7th but it was her performances on the climbs that impressed most, with only Moolman (who’s also here) being able to stick with her. Niewiadoma is another rider who is incredibly consistent at this race having finished 6th/2nd/2nd, she will be looking to finally get one-step higher this year. One massive advantage she will have compared to previous attempts is the strength of her team. Canyon should have both Cecchini and Ferrand Prevot in or around the top 10 at this race which means that they should be able to control it due to the numbers they have. Then again, this is Strade and it will be absolutely horrendous out on the roads so “control” might not be the word! I wonder how essential PFP’s cyclocross and mountain bike experience will be.

Megan Guarnier.

The winner of the inaugural edition back in 2015, the American lines up here for her first race of the season. After an exceptional 2016 last year seemed like somewhat of a step back in terms of results, with only two wins to her name. She was exceptionally consistent but given the fighter she is I imagine that she will want to return to those previous levels this season. A strong climber with a fast sprint she has every chance of a win if she has the form. Boels also have the very luxury second option of the Queen of the Ardennes; Anna van der Breggen. She’s finished 5th on both occasions that she has raced here, but with the aim of peaking for the Ardennes again, will she have enough in the locker for a good result this year? Deignan is on one of the start lists that I have looked at but she is not in the official preview on the Boels website so she may or may not be here too! It certainly adds another dynamic if she is.

Ashleigh Moolman.

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As already mentioned above, Moolman has some good racing in her legs at Setmana last week. Interestingly, she never finished outside the top 10 on any of the stages and managed to take home second on GC. There is clearly some form there! This is a race she has done in the past with a 4th place in 2015 but she was only capable of 18th last year. It should suit her punchy characteristics and given she has been involved in a few sprints, her power figures must be good for the short and sharp efforts. Such a classy rider, could she be described as a dark horse for this race?

Amanda Spratt.

With Garfoot no longer on the team and Van Vleuten competing in Apeldoorn the mantle of leading Mitchelton Scott is left with “Spratty”. Having won the Women’s Tour Down Under she has returned to racing in Europe in an attacking mood, having been off the front of both the Belgian races last weekend. Just missing out on the key move last year she finished strongly to come home in 8th place. She’s certainly capable of improving on that this season and a top 5 is possible. I’m intrigued to see how team-mate Kennedy goes in these conditions.

Janneke Ensing.

Full of confidence after winning Le Samyn des Dames on Tuesday the Ale Cipollini rider will be hoping to improve on a 13th place last year. She’s a solid climber although she isn’t up there with the best in the discipline. However, theoretically she should love the grim conditions that are forecast for Saturday given her background in speed skating. With an attacking attitude, she might be able to sneak away from the “major contenders” and just surprise everyone by holding on.

Shara Gillow.

The second Australian in the list, she had to unfortunately cut short her racing time Down Under due to a crash. However, she returned at Setmana and finished a very respectable 8th on GC. Apparently attacking to bridge the gap to the leaders on the opening stage, she was closed down by their team-mates. Her form must be good and she is always a consistent performer in the hilly one-day races. I expect a top 10 and anything near the top of the order wouldn’t surprise me too much but it would be difficult to win as she is not the punchiest!

One other name that I want to throw out there (mainly because she is in my season-long fantasy team) is Pauliena Rooijakers.

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I can’t imagine many of you will have heard of the WaowDeals rider but she is the former Dutch and European Beachrace champion. After competing in that discipline full time in past few years this season her focus will be more on the road. A capable climber on her day she won the Queen Stage of the Tour Cycliste Féminin International de l’Ardèche last year, along with a few notable top 10’s in hilly one-day races. Her background in beach racing should see her at home on the Strade and I’m quietly hoping for a good result; a top 10 would be an incredible achievement.

Prediction

Form, team, parcours and race history all point to one rider; Katarzyna Niewiadoma.

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She is a truly incredible bike rider with a string of great results and it is amazing to think she is still only 23! Punchy enough to cope with the accelerations on the climbs, I have a feeling we didn’t see her go 100% in Setmana and she was holding something back for this race. The one big advantage she has compared to last year is the strength of her team which will be a big help; she shouldn’t have to chase every attack herself. On the sprint up to the Piazza no one will be able to follow her and she’ll take a great win.

I’m not someone to make outlandish, season-long claims…wait, no, I am, but I think she will be World Champion this year. No pressure Kasia!

Coverage

Much like last year, I think we’re going to be able to watch the final 45 minutes of the race live on Eurosport player. I’m not 100% sure at the moment as it doesn’t specify on the schedule but that seems to be the case. It will more than likely be without commentary though so I’ll pester your Twitter timelines with updates instead!

Thanks as always for reading! I’m certainly looking forward to the Women’s World Tour starting again with this incredible race. Who do you think will win on Saturday? Will we see an upset? I don’t normally beg for anything but if you could please retweet the preview to share it around then that would be greatly appreciated; my women’s previews unfortunately don’t seem to get the same coverage as the men’s do. Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

La Course 2017 Preview

This edition of La Course is a special one for me as  it marks a year of writing women’s previews! Last year saw a sprint finish in Paris, with Hosking taking the win, somehow managing to avoid the now famous #HaugheyCurse. Maybe it was beginners luck?!

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After 3 years with a glorified criterium on the Champs-Élysées, the ASO have decided to mix things up this year with a move away from Paris, instead heading into the mountains with a change of format.

I’m pleased to see things get mixed up and for the race to provide an opportunity for different riders to shine on “the biggest stage in World cycling”. Yet, I can’t help but feel somewhat let down.

Obviously, I don’t know the intricacies of the financial aspect surrounding organising the race but given the infrastructure will be there for the men, how difficult is it for the women to have at least a 5-day stage race that coincides with the Tour? Heck, if organisers are worried about difference in speeds and the potential issues that might cause then let the women do 75% of the stage for example, and start them earlier. With the limit on the length of stages by the UCI (155km I think) we would still be treated to some very exciting racing throughout the final week and it would be a much better showcase for the sport than what we’re getting.

I also feel that the new format is a bit “gimmicky” and trivialises the women’s side of the sport a bit. If it is for only one year then that’s OK, but if it becomes a regular occurrence then I think it is more of a step sideways rather than a step forwards.

Let’s have a look at what’s getting me all worked up anyway!

The Format

La Course this year will be split into two “stages” with the first being a mountain top finish on the mythical Col d’Izoard. I say “stages” as it is not a stage race in the traditional sense, and it’s important to point that out but I’ll get into that in more detail later on.

Stage 1.

CARTE

The riders will head south from the start in Briançon, following the same opening 30km of the men’s race, before they cut across the valley and head towards Izoard.

PROFIL (1)

From the halfway point in the race (it is a paltry 67.5km long stage after all which is pretty insulting), the road rises ever so slightly almost all the way home. For example, the section between La Chapelue and Ariveux is 7.5km at just over 4%.

The categorised climb of the Col d’Izoard itself starts a couple of kilometres before Ariveux.

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At 14.1km with an average gradient of 7.3% it is a brute, but is also fair to say that the first half of the climb starts off relatively “easy”. Well, when you look at the rest of it the climb that is!

The opening 7km average only 5.6%, whereas the second half is a much more painful sounding 9%. You better hold something back for the end of the day, that’s for sure.

Whoever wins on the day will certainly have deserved it!

Now, this is where things get weird / ever so slightly confusing / gimmicky.

The opening stage is the only one that counts towards UCI standings, with the winner being awarded 120 points, the same amount as they would in any other UCI World Tour race. So for the riders, the opening day is the only one that really matters to them in that sense.

Except, the racing doesn’t end after the first day though…

Stage 2.

The first oddity is that there is essentially a rest day between the finish on Izoard and the following race day in Marseille.

PROFIL (2)

The top 20 finishers on the previous stage (although this can apparently change depending on time gaps) will roll out on the same TT course that the men will be going around later that day.

However, instead of it being like a normal TT where the riders go out in reverse order GC wise, it will be whoever finishes at the head of the race on Izoard that leaves the start ramp first. The following 19 riders will then set off, chasing the leader, at the same time gap that they finished behind them on the mountain stage during the previous day of racing.

The “gimmicky” idea continues as the riders will all be on normal road-bikes (no TT machines allowed) and they will be allowed to draft and work with opposition riders or any team-mates that they may have.

This presents a conundrum for the riders going out early. Do they go full gas and replicate a TT effort, knowing they have a big enough gap to hold off any chasers. Or if their lead is minimal, do they sit up and wait?

We could end up seeing a bunch sprint in the velodrome if things get really tactical!

How will the “race” pan out?

Getting my poor prediction disclaimer in early but we hardly ever see the women compete on mountains such as the Izoard so I don’t think anyone has a real idea as to how well the riders will go.

At the recent Giro Rosa the defining GC climb of the race was 5.3km long at 7.6%. I guess the closest we’ve had to the Izoard is the climb of Daggett Summit in the Tour of California which was 12.6km at 6.1%.

With the day only being 67km long, I think the break will find it hard to get away but I’m sure there will be a lot of teams who will try. If they get riders up the road then they’ll be a great help to their team-mates later on.

However, I think we’ll see a race of attrition where riders go out of the back, rather than off the front.

The on the “TT” I have no idea! Will all depend on the gaps after Izoard but I think we could see the winner of that day hold on for the title too.

Contenders

Van Vleuten.

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After her stellar performance at the Giro Rosa, a race which she could really have won, the Orica Scott rider will be coming here full of confidence. Arguably the in-form rider in the peloton she will certainly be hard to drop. Not the purest of climbers, more of a great all-rounder, I’m intrigued to see how she copes on a really long ascent. At the Giro she was the rider pushing the pace during the GC-day I mentioned above so it will be interesting to see how she approaches tomorrow. With a strong Spratt in her team, she will be able to rely on having someone for a long way up the climb which could be crucial.

Guarnier.

Having had a quiet season by her standards, especially when considering her barnstroming 2016, the American showed signs of promise at the recent Giro. Working well for her team-leader she managed to finish 4th on GC, winning the final stage along the way. Possibly now riding into form, she is Boels best candidate for a race like this and having the help of Canuel and Deignan could be crucial.

Longo Borghini.

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The Italian champion finished second on GC at the Giro behind van der Breggen but never really looked like beating the Dutchwoman all race. However, with VDB not here, the race is certainly open for other riders to step up. Not a pure climber, she could struggle on the long climb but as one of the best riders in the women’s peloton then she will certainly be close to the head of the bunch. Lichtenberg will also be at the head of the race for Wiggle, with the German pure-climber really liking this type of ascent. Can they form a strong attacking duo?

Moolman.

Withdrawing from the Giro due illness wasn’t ideal for the Cervélo rider, especially considering she was flying before the race and could have been a proper GC player. A very strong climber, her mind will be fully focussed on this race and proving what could have been at the Giro. With Uttrup Ludwig on her team, she is another rider who could take advantage of a strong team-mate. I think she has a big chance!

Niewiadoma.

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One of the riders of the season, she has top-10’d in pretty much every race that she’s entered so far. At only 22 years old, it is scary to think what she’ll be able to do in the future. I’m not sure how she’ll cope on a long climb like this as the punchier 3-4km climbs seem to be her speciality but you never know!

Some outsiders to keep an eye on to possibly break into the top 10 are;

Gillow (FDJ), Nosková (Bepink), Ensing (Alé) and Nilsson (BTC).

I think the Izoard stage will become a Moolman v Van Vleuten show-down. With the Giro in her legs, VV will tire and leave the “fresher” Moolman to take victory!

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As for who wins the TT/chase malarkey, then that depends on time gaps from the Izoard. Van Vleuten was flying in the TT at the Giro so I reckon she could catch Moolman and then win in a 2-up sprint!

So Moolman and Van Vleuten both win something, but who wins “La Course”? That depends on your interpretation whether you’re the UCI or the ASO!

Coverage

All of the racing should be shown live by broadcasters throughout so check with your local provider. I’m pretty sure it is being shown pan-Europe on the Eurosport Player.

Hopefully the racing lives up to the billing tomorrow. I’m not too fussed about what we’ll see on Saturday though, but that’s just my opinion.

Who do you think will win? Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

 

 

Giro Rosa 2017 Preview – The BFOG

Giro Rosa 2017 Preview – The BFOG

The only “Grand Tour” in the women’s peloton the Giro Rosa starts again this Friday for its 28th edition with a stacked peloton looking to make their mark on the race.

Last year’s GC was won by Boels’ Megan Guarnier, with team-mate Stevens coming home second and van der Breggen in third.

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Will we see a similar sort of dominance from the Dutch-team, who now of course have van der Breggen on board as well, or will some other riders be fighting for the overall victory?

First though, let’s have a look at what the riders will faced with over the coming 10 days.

The Route

All of the profiles used here are courtesy of @LasterketaBurua, so go and give them a follow on Twitter!

The questionable, poor quality route maps will be from the organisers website that I’ve screen shot. To be fair, the race is run on a shoe-string budget. Anyway…

Stage 1.

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A pan-flat late afternoon team time trial over 11km will set the early GC order. A discipline that is rarely practiced in the women’s peloton we could see some surprising time gaps.

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With there being little in the way of technical difficulties, this TTT will all be about pure power. Although it is important to note that they pass over a causeway and the wind might play a part in the outcome depending on their start times. Looking at early forecasts it’s supposed to be a 16kmph cross headwind when the first team starts at 16:45, but it is meant to increase to around 18kmph by the time the final team leaves the start house. Furthermore, there is a higher chance of rain for the later starters. It could be a dicey opening day.

As far as stage contenders go though, Boels will no doubt start as the favourites. The current TTT World Champions are bringing a very strong team to the race and they’ve won the only TTT of the year so far at the Healthy Ageing Tour. However, they won’t have it all their own way with Canyon, Cervélo and possibly even Orica challenging for the win.

I particularly like the look of the Cérvelo team. They have a lot of strong time trial riders and will wan to put Moolman at an early advantage on GC over their opposition. I expect them to be Boels’ closest rivals.

Stage 2.

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A tease of a stage, it’s a relatively straight forward day until we get to the one categorised climb of the day. The road rises very gradually from around 30kms in all the way until the foot slopes of the Forcella di pala Barzana at 93km. At 5.3km long and averaging 7.6% it is a tough climb and I’ll be interested to see how the peloton approaches it. There are still 24km to go from the summit, of which 12km are descent.

I think we’ll see a selection on the climb. How select? That I’m unsure of. It looks tough enough for the best climbers to properly drop everyone, but will they feel confident going solo to the line with ~10km to the line left once they reach the bottom?

Therefore, I think we’ll get a group of 10 riders or so crest the climb together. From there, it will be a case of numbers/luck/timing as to if we see a small bunch sprint or a successful late attack stick. Van Vleuten and van der Breggen are two ideal candidates to win from this situation, both are great climbers and they both have fast sprints.

A lesser known rider to watch out for though is Arlenis Sierra. I have to admit, before this season I didn’t know much about he Cuban rider, but she has impressed me a lot so far this year. Second at Trofeo Binda and third on GC in California, she packs a great sprint and might just pick up her first World Tour win this week!

Stages 3 & 4.

Both are days for the sprinters so I thought I’d club them together.

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Stage 3 is the more rolling of the two, with some short and steep climbs out on course. However, there is enough time for the sprint teams to bring everything back together after the Poggio.

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Stage 4 is about as pan-flat as you can get – a definite sprint!

So who will contend on these days?

The Belgian Bullet (Jolien d’Hoore) will arrive here confident after her victory on the final day of the Women’s Tour. I think she’s one of the fastest pure sprinters in the peloton and with Bronzini as lead-out rider, they will form a formidable pairing. The latter might even sprint on a few of the days.

Kirsten Wild might have something to say about the above statement though. The Dutch powerhouse is ever-present at the pointy end of sprint stages finishing on the podium 7 times so far this season, winning 3 times.

Canyon have the choice between Barnes and Guarischi. The former obviously had an, ahem, barnstorming Women’s Tour and she’ll probably be their go to on the tougher days like stage 3. Whereas, Guarischi, a former winner at the Giro Rosa prefers things a lot flatter so she might be given the nod for stage 4. Either way, the team will be disappointed not to make the podium.

Chloe Hosking will be hoping to take a couple of wins for her Italian trade team Alé Cipollini who she has just signed a new contract for. After a great 2016, she’s really continued her upwards trajectory and is now much more than a good flat stage sprinter. She can manage the climbs well too, as was highlighted by her win in the Women’s Tour when she came home first in a peloton of only 45 riders.

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Coryn Rivera was the sensation of the Spring, winning Binda and Flanders. Although that’s probably unfair as since the start of March she hasn’t finished outside the top 10 in any race/stage she’s competed in. A truly remarkable record! She hasn’t raced much such California but recently came second at the US National Championships. I expect her to get a few top 3s this week and possibly win a stage. Even the difficult stage 2 could be on her radar.

Lotta Lepistö made her return to racing at the Finnish national championships recently, managing to secure both the road and TT title. Having won Gent-Wevelgem in a sprint against the likes of d’Hoore and Rivera earlier in the year, she is no slouch either! Like a few others, I think she might be targeting a few of the harder days in the saddle.

Boels have a number of sprint options; newly crowned Dutch Champion Chantal Blaak, newly crowned UK Champion Lizzie Deignan, or current World Champion Amelie Dideriksen. Not a bad list that! I’m not sure based on pure speed if any of them are the best sprinter here but they will certainly benefit from the strongest lead-out.

As for others who could be in the top 10 on sprint stages, look out for Moberg (Hitec), Confalonieri (Lesnworld), Fidanza (Astana), Huang (Servetto) and Scandolara (WM3).

Stage 5.

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After a few days unlikely to cause a GC shake-up, stage 5 certainly will.

Out of interest and in TT tradition, I’ve actually made a Strava profile of the TT that you can view here.

A tough ITT of 13km, with the routes main focal points being two climbs. It is one of those typical Giro stages that doesn’t look too bad on the profile until you delve a little deeper.

The first climb of Santa Lucia is 1.2km long and averages 10%. Ouch! The road then continues to rise at 4% for the next kilometre or so before we get a flattening out and a descent.

Once the riders pass the 10km to go mark the road rises almost all the way to the finish with a notable 300m section at 20%! The preceding 1.8kms averages around 5.5% which will make the seep ramp even tougher.

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The image the riders will be faced with. Notice the 20% ramp sign at the side of the road.

It does turn into false flat for the final few hundred metres so the riders will need to keep something in reserve for one final push, and not blow up too early.

I’m intrigued to see if riders will use their TT bikes at all or just stick to road bikes with bars on. I would certainly be looking to take the latter option!

As for who could win this stage, newly crowned Italian TT Champ Longo Borghini has a great chance. She was 4 seconds off the win in last year’s TT and this route seems to suit her even more. A strong showing here will cement her GC challenge.

She won’t have it all her own way as usual suspects van Vleuten, Moolman and van der Breggen.

Stage 6.

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A lap circuit without any real difficulties. There is one 1.4km climb (averaging 3.7%) that the riders will tackle once on each of their four laps. Normally this would be a day for the sprinters but with the summit of the last climb coming 4km from the top, it will certainly entice late attacks from the bunch. The sprinters really shouldn’t be dropped from the peloton, it is more a case of people escaping off the front. A technical descent could see a small group maintain their lead and fight it out for the win.

If that’s the case, look for opportunists such as Cecchini, Spratt and Brand.

However, if we do get a sprint win I’ll go for Hosking. She should be able to cope with the climb easily and her team is capable of monitoring attacks etc.

Stage 7.

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A classic breakaway day, with the race starting on a climb it will ensure only strong riders get into the move. Will anyone close on GC try to sneak away? I doubt it, but there is a chance they might throw a spanner into the works.

There is a possibility that sprint teams might try to bring it back but it is another one of the stages where there is a lot of uncategorised climbs out on the course. Therefore, I think they’ll be happy to keep their powder dry.

It’s hard to tell who’ll be far enough back to be given some freedom but I’ll go for young Italian talent Sofia Beggin to take the win. A rider to look out for the future, she’s already produced some good performances this season with a 12th place in Strade and a 5th at the recent Italian Road Nats so there is clearly some form there. Furthermore, she’s the Madcon mash-up inspired pun (Beggin, Beggin you) team-name for my Velogames squad, so I have to include her in this at some point!

Another name that could be there though is Sheyla Gutiérrez. In her second season with Cylance the newly crowned Spanish champion will want to show her stripes off in an aggressive manner this Giro. Having won Le Samyn from a break earlier in the year, she is also a good candidate for a stage like this.

Stage 8.

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The Queen Stage of the race? Yes, in terms of climbing. However, the gradients of the climbs aren’t too hard, with them barely touching over 5%. Therefore it will be difficult for the pure climbers to make their mark on the stage.

However, with that being said, I still think we’ll see a selection on the day with the overall contenders going clear. I say this because of how long the climbs are, if a tough pace is set at the bottom then riders will be slowly churned out of the back of the peloton. We might see a group of 10-20 riders crest the Cuccaro Vetere together. From there it will be a mix of being strong and lucky to make the winning counter-move that is bound to follow. Can Niewiadoma repeat her win in the Women’s Tour?

Stage 9.

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A fairly tough opening half to the stage, the riders will do a lot of climbing which could allow the break to get a large gap. However, as this is the last chance for the sprinters I expect co-operation from all the teams to bring back the escape and we’ll have a bunch sprint in Polla.

With a straightforward closing circuit, I’ll go for a d’Hoore win here.

Stage 10.

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The final stage of the Giro sees the riders take on a circuit around Torre del Greco with a little trip (around a third) up Mount Vesuvius. The lap circuit isn’t too difficult, there are a few short climbs but nothing too serious. However, one of the major difficulties they’ll face is this ridiculously narrow street…

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Hopefully they’re well strung out as they enter it, if not, I fear we could see some crashes.

The stage will be decided on Vesuvius and it could well go to a breakaway or one of the GC contenders. The climb itself averages roughly 6% for 5.2km but the closing 1.2km average 9.5%. It is certainly steep enough for the best climbers to create gaps.

The riders will then face a fast and technical descent (passing through that narrow street at ~3km to go) all the way to the finish line.

Will the rider who wins the stage win the overall title too?

GC Contenders

I guess I better start with the defending champion Megan Guarnier. She’s been a shadow of the rider she was last season and given recent form, it is hard to say she will be competing here. However, this may have been her main target all season and she is potentially quietly peaking to go well here. Yet, I can’t see it happening for her unfortunately.

Waiting in the wings though will be team-mate van der Breggen. After a slow start to the year, she went on to win a famous Ardennes triple with some truly incredible performances. Following on from that she was instrumental in helping Deignan win the Tour of Yorkshire, before going on to win the GC in California. This route suits the Olympic Champion down to the ground and given her achievements she has to start as the favourite. However, her results haven’t been that great recently so maybe she is on a mid-season lull before peaking again for the end of the year?

Cycling: 4th Amstel Gold Race 2017 / Women

Moolman will no doubt be challenging for the overall win this year. After struggling with an injury that hampered her early Spring season, she shook that off by the time the Ardennes classics came around. Finishing in the top 10 in each race was a sign she was returning to her spectacular best. Since then she’s been in great form, notching up three victories. Has she managed to keep that form up?

Longo Borghini comes to this race in a confident mood having won both national championship events. Suffering from illness earlier in the year, she missed some events and form for some of the key races in the calendar. However, he lighter schedule in theory should see her come here fresher than her opposition. Still only relatively young at 25 years old, she’s improving each and every year and I think she has a great chance of overall victory here.

Speaking of young riders, recent Women’s Tour winner Niewiadoma will be here looking to continue her incredible 2017. The WWT leader has been anything but exceptional this year, finishing in the top 10 in almost every race she’s entered! She only seems to race the big events and no doubt she’ll be looking to make it back-to-back GC wins at WT level. The TTT and ITT could hinder her chances but she can more than make up for it on her own on the climbs. I’ll be watching with interest!

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Van Vleuten is another rider in stellar form. The Orica star has a strong team here to support her, with Garfoot and Spratt expected to last the distance on a lot of the climbs. Maybe not as strong as some of the other women on the long climbs, she’ll be looking to attack at the end of stages where there are short ramps that act as launchpads. The Dutch TT champ will be looking to put in a good time in the individual effort and sees where that leaves her for the rest of the week.

I can’t really see anyone else challenging for the win but there are some outsiders who will be fighting for a top 5/10 and with a bit of luck, even better!

Sierra is an unkown quantity for this type of race. She really stepped up at the Tour of California finishing third on GC there. I’m not sure how she’ll cope with a longer stage race but a good performance here isn’t unlikely. If she manages another top 10, a move to a “bigger” WT team for next year could be on the cards.

Gillow comes here with a good chance of a top 10. A very consistent rider, the Aussie will be at the pointy end in most stages. If you watched any of the Women’s Tour, you’ll know she was off the front attacking in the final two stages, honing some form for this race.

Prediction

I think not being on form for some of the Spring will be a blessing in disguise for Longo Borghini and she’ll take the crown here. She will lose some time in the opening TTT, but I think she has enough quality both on the climbs and the ITT to over-turn that.

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Niewiadoma and Moolman to round out the podium, with the Boels riders shockingly falling by the wayside!

Coverage

Unfortunately there is no live tv coverage of the race, but there will be daily highlights on RAI.

You should be able to access them via VPN I think but give Pam (@motorcycleMTNS) a follow on Twitter as she will no doubt have all the links or will record them and upload them to her Youtube channel.

Futhermore, we should expect highlights on the UCI Youtube Channel and the Giro Rosa has a YT Channel itself so we might see stuff there too.

During the stages themselves it will be a case of following on Twitter via the #GiroRosa hashtag. I would recommend following @richiesteege though (the Boels mechanic) who is one of the best sources for information during the race.

Velogames

As the betting industry is in the dark ages and never offers odds on the races, I guess they’re just copying the coverage we get (I’ll stop before I get myself in trouble)…

I’ve set up a Velogames league for you all to join so that you can have an interest following the race.

Use the code “27002603” to join. I look forward to you all beating me 😳.

 

Thanks as always for reading and any feedback is greatly appreciated like normal! I don’t usually beg for RTs etc on Twitter but if you can do to raise awareness of this exciting race that’s run on a shoe-string, then that would be fantastic. Also, from a selfish point of view too, I’d like this to reach as many people as possible. I’ve not wrote 3200 words for nothing! It is after all the most comprehensive Giro Rosa guide on the internet 😉.

I shall be back tomorrow for the Tour with my stage 1 preview. Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

OVO Women’s Tour 2017 Stage 2 Preview; Stoke -> Stoke.

*Same PSA as my Dauphiné preview; the rest of the previews this week will be “short” as I am short of time and trying to write a two a day is a bit of a squeeze. Apologies!*

Today’s Recap

Quite hard to write a recap on a stage you’ve not actually watched but here goes…

As is typical in women’s racing, the peloton was together for ages, with no one able to break away after 100km or so of action. However, that all changed at 47.5km to go when Katarzyna Niewiadoma launched an audacious attack. Her gap continued to go and she had over 3 minutes with 30km left.

“Watching” the race on Twitter, I was expecting the gap to come down at that point but no, 20km turned into 10km and the gap still remained at roughly 3 minutes.

I think we had a classic case of peloton politics where everyone expected Boels to chase but the Dutch outfit refused and called their bluff for a long time.

Eventually they did start to chase on the front but it was too late, with the Polish champion holding on to a comfortable margin of 1’42 by the end of the stage.

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Not a bad way to win your first World Tour race! I don’t want to put the #HaugheyCurse on her but…that in theory should be the GC over now. However, women’s racing is never over until and I’m sure we’ll see some attacking riding over the next few days.

Behind, her team-mate Vos sprinted to second to cap off a memorable day for the team, with Majerus somewhat rewarding Boels for their eventual efforts with third.

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

The Route

An ever so slightly shorter stage than the opening day but one with a few more interestingly positioned climbs.

OVO Women's Tour Stage 2

The majority of the first half of the stage is flat, bar a few uncategorised rises at 2% for a few kilometres. Most of the action kicks off in the second half of the stage, starting with the first intermediate sprint. I say this, because straight after the first sprint we have an uncategorised rise before the road gradually rises through the second sprint in Cheadle.

However, it is the Category one climb of Isptones that should see the race split apart. At 3.8km ling and averaging 4.6%, I expect some of the stronger teams to attack it at a really hard pace, making it seem tougher than it actually is.

We had a few riders dropped today on the climbs and I think we’ll see a lot more suffer a similar fate tomorrow.

The peloton could half in size, if not be reduced by even more before they head towards the Gun Hill climb. A shorter but slightly sharper ascent, according to the Strava segment the average gradient is closer to 6%.

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There are some steep gradients of 10% and this is where the true climbers will come to the fore.

I think we might see a relatively select group crest the climb together.

The finish isn’t too bad, but there are a few technical turns in the closing kilometres.

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Will we see a solo rider come to the line again or will a group contest the finish?

How will the stage pan out?

It all depends on how the stage pans out but I think we’ll see a relatively select bunch get away on the final climb. Will they work together to maintain their advantage? Or will those behind get back in? Will we even see a late attack from someone work as everyone looks at each other to chase.

A massive advantage that Niewiadoma has is that she has Vos in her team. More importantly, she has a Marianne Vos who seems to be back to her best. This means that the Dutchwoman should be able to follow the bunch on the short climbs and then be used to mark any attacks once over the top. Niewiadoma on paper should be one of the best on the climbs so it is very unlikely she’ll be dropped as well!

Therefore, anyone that gets away will more than likely have one of those two sitting on their wheel. Not ideal!

However, the rest of the WM3 team will have their work cut out especially when they’ll be shunted with most of the work all day. A lot of pressure will be on Kitchen and Koster, and I’m just not sure if they’ll be up for the task.

Therefore, I think we could get a solo winner who escapes from the bunch in the closing few kilometres after Vos and Niewiadoma are tired out from chasing and just sit up to conserve the Polish riders lead on GC rather than chase the stage.

Contenders

I’ll throw a few names into the hat for this situation;

Audrey Cordon.

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The French TT champion is in a rich vein of form at the moment, performing well in the Ardennes but more recently coming home with two top 6 places in French one-day races. She’s climbing very well, in fact, she’s holding onto the QOM jersey here just now! Using her TT ability and that she won’t be seen as an instant danger, she’ll hope to slip clear.

Shara Gillow.

A similar rider to Cordon, the former 4-times Aussie TT champion has really taken a step forward this season with new team FDJ. With a strong Ardennes classics campaign, she has cemented herself as one of the best one-day racers/climbers in the women’s peloton. However, unlike other riders such as Moolman and Deignan etc, I think she still could benefit from some anonymity and steal a march on the peloton.

Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig.

The best young rider of the season, the Dane had a very good end to May, finishing in the top 5 of both th French races. Clearly in great form and buoyed by confidence, she won’t be afraid to take any risks to get away, knowing that Moolman will be behind following anything behind. With a solid sprint on her, she could win from a group of 3/4 riders that get away.

Prediction

I’ll be bias here and go for one of my season-long fantasy riders, Shara Gillow, to take a great win after attacking from 5km out and coming to the line solo!

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

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

 

Liège-Bastonge-Liège Femmes 2017 Preview

 

To end the Ardennes classic week, we are treated to the first ever women’s edition of the oldest Monument; La Doyenne.

A very welcome addition to the women’s calendar and the decision to run the race was greeted with great fanfare from both the spectators but also the peloton itself!

After two exciting, although fairly predictably dominant Boels’ displays at Amstel and Fleche, will we see a new winner at Liege?

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Or will van der Breggen secure the win and consequently take a famous Ardennes triple?!

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

The Route

At 135km in length, it’s not the longest route the riders will tackle this year but it is roughly 15km longer than both Amstel and Fleche.

Having only four categorised climbs does not paint a full picture of how attritional the race is going to be, because the route is constantly up and down, twisting and turning on narrow roads.

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The first 75km of the day will serve as a warm-up for the second half of the race, and we should see a break established up the road.

The action will start in earnest though, beginning with the longest climb of the day! The Côte de la Vecquée is longer than anything we see in the men’s race and could see a shake up if a couple of teams put the pressure on.

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Not overly steep, it does contain a kilometre at 7% though and I would not be surprised to see some probing attacks in the peloton here.

The race then follows a similar pattern of climb -> false flat -> descent -> climb from hereon in.

Next up on the schedule is the explosive La Redoute.

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We then have a relatively long period of 14km where the riders aren’t climbing but the descending is fairly shallow. This will be an equally as important part of the race because the best riders often attack on the flatter sections when those around them are tired from the previous climbs. Van der Breggen’s two wins this week are testament to that!

Within 20km to the line the riders will face the Roche-aux-Faucons before the Sant-Nicolas, cresting at only 5.5km to go.

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Short, but explosive, it could well be a launchpad for an attack if we have a group of riders left together at this moment.

From there it’s the traditional run in to the finish line.

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The rise through the Flamme Rouge and all the way to the line averages 5.3% for the 1.5km, offering one final place to attack before the false-flat sprint.

Contenders

It’s really hard to look past another Boels win this week. They’ve timed their early season peak to perfection and in van der Breggen and Deignan they have two of the best riders in the peloton on current form. I set my stall out a week ago with this tweet and it’s not looking too bad just now…

She has the power to attack from distance but also the speed to win from a small sprint. Who can beat her? Well, Deignan certainly can! The Brit has played a superb team role over the past two races and could well be rewarded with team-leadership here. Her sprint win for second place in Amstel was incredible, considering she took it up into the headwind that famously curtailed Kwiatkowski in the men’s race. Will Boels try their hardest for the triple for van der Breggen, or will the Ardenne’s triple for the team be enough? I guess we’ll have to wait and see tomorrow afternoon as to how they attack the race.

Who can stop them?

On form, it looks as if Kasia Niewiadoma is the strongest challenger.

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She was instrumental in splitting the race up on the penultimate climb at Fleche, with only the two Boels riders able to follow. However, that ended up being to her detriment as they ended up playing the 1-2 and she couldn’t follow every attack. Contrary to what you would normally expect, her best (and every one else who’s not on Boels) best chance of winning is that the race is easier than normal. Therefore there will be more riders in the peloton and the opportunity to form cross-team alliances to isolate one Boels rider. Although I have a feeling that scenario is very unlikely to be carried out! Nonetheless, Niewiadoma still has a very good chance of winning the race, it will just be tough trying to out-ride the two strongest women who happen to be on the same team!

The other rider who on form has a chance of beating the Boels pairing is Annemiek van Vleuten.

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The Dutch rider has 3rd and 4th in the first two races this week and certainly has the abilities to repeat, if not better those results. She’s been incredibly consistent in the WWT this year so far, notching up 6 top 10s out of the 7 races we’ve had. With the final rise to the line not being too difficult and suiting her well, I think she might fancy her chances in a reduced sprint against some of the other favourites.

Aside from those four, no one really looks on a level to challenge for the title. Yet, this is cycling and sometimes the strongest rider doesn’t always win!

Elisa Longo Borghini would definitely be included in the list above if she didn’t skip Fleche due to illness and breathing difficulties. She did manage to finish 5th in Amstel so the form was there beforehand. But you would expect it to be too soon for her to be competing for the title.

This season’s revelation, Coryn Rivera, will hope to hang on the coattails of the better climbers and challenge for a sprint. She’s proven so far this year that she is one of the fastest riders in the world after a tough day.

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I gave her an honourable mention for Fleche and she managed to sneak into the top 5 and I think Shara Gillow could do something similar tomorrow. A criminally under-rated climber, she prefers the steep ramps so the closing climbs should suit her. Another top 5 is on the cards!

Prediction

It would make for a great race if someone could stop Boels, but I just can’t see it happening. It’s only a question of wether I choose Deignan or van der Breggen?! This route actually suits the Brit ever so slightly more in my opinion but as I’m a big fan of fairytale stories, I would love to see the Dutchwoman complete a famous Ardennes triple!

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I’ll be rooting for a Shara Gillow podium spot as she’s part of my season long fantasy team!

Unfortunately I don’t think we’ll be getting any live coverage of the race so the best place to follow it is on Twitter via the #LBLWomen hashtag.

Thanks as always for reading and any feedback is greatly appreciated like normal. Who do you think will win and how? Can anyone stop Boels’ domination? Next on the blog from will be Tour of Romandie previews, but I’ll be back with the Women’s World Tour for Chongming Island. Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

 

 

La Flèche Wallonne Feminine 2017 Preview

The much more exciting race tomorrow, the women’s edition of La Fleche is often an attacking day in the saddle with the peloton blown to bits over the closing climbs.

Last year saw the peloton split from far out and we only had around 30 riders left in contention with 40km left. There were a flurry of attacks throughout the afternoon but a group of favourites managed to break clear on the penultimate climb of the day (Côte de Cherave). Before Van der Breggen made the most of the Rabobank numbers at the head of the race, escaping at just over 2.5km left only being followed by Stevens. Those two held on and it was the Dutch rider who took the win for the second year in a row.

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Behind, Guarnier rounded out the podium.

Will we see another attacking race this year? Let’s have a look at what’s in store for the riders.

The Route

Similar to 2016 apart from the organisers have decreased the length by 17km which makes it one of the shortest events on the calendar at only 120km in total.

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We could see the race split up from far out again if the pace is increased over the Côte de Villers-le-Bouillet. Not a long climb, it was enough to do the damage last year when Deignan pulled at the front all the way up.

From there, we have one passage of the Mur de Huy, before the same closing circuit we see in the men’s race.

The Côte d’Ereffe comes at an awkward time in terms of race placement but it does have the potential to be a springboard for a move. However, I think the day will once again be decided on the Cherave and the run in to Huy. Boels will use their strength in numbers and hope to isolate some of the other favourites, leaving the door open for a similar attack to last year.

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The small group of escapees will then tackle the Mur and the strongest woman on the day will win! Well, the strongest from that group so they’ll also have to be tactically astute too.

Contenders

It seems Boels plan of taking it easier in the first month of racing so that they can peak for this week is going to plan. After landing a 1-2 in Amstel, they arrive at this race as hot favourites to take another win. They’ll be thankful to have Anna van der Breggen on their team this time as she looks like the rider to beat. I did say in my Amstel preview that she looked good at the Healthy Ageing Tour and she did not let me down, taking a superb victory on Sunday! This type of finish suits her perfectly and she has a good chance of taking a third win in a row.

If not, team-mate Deignan certainly has the abilities to be a great second option for Boels. She was strong in Amstel and rode a perfect, tactical race to help set VDB up for the win. The short punchy climb is on the limit for the Brit but in her current form, I wouldn’t bet against her!

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WM3’s Kasia Niewiadoma looks to be the biggest threat to Boels here. The Polish rider was impressive in Amstel, like she’s been all season but struggled due to the lack of team support as she can’t be expected to cover every move. Unfortunately, the same could well happen here but she has a very good chance if she comes to the bottom of the Mur with someone. A rider from Rabobank has won this race the past 4 years and as WM3 is the next incarnation of that team, can they make it 5 in a row?

Orica have a few riders who could go well here and they will hope to have numbers in the front group towards the end of the race. Van Vleuten was up there in Amstel on Sunday and will look to challenge here again. She seems to be in great form at the moment and the punchy climb will suit her. Team-mate Garfoot would probably prefer a longer, more gradual climb, but the Aussie champ can’t be discounted.

Ferrand-Prevot hinted at a return to form with her 8th in Amstel and as a former winner of the race, she knows what it takes to be successful here. The 2014 World Champion has struggled to replicate that year but she has every chance in the right group. However, I think that there will always be someone just better than her. I’m happy to be proved wrong though!

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Van Dijk could win for Sunweb but I think she might have to attack solo before they get to the Mur as the climb is on the limit for her. Nonetheless, she has been exceptional this season and the form is certainly there for her to spring a relative surprise. As for her team-mate Rivera, she’s improved massively on the climbs this season but this will be too hard for her. We saw her get dropped on the Cauberg in Amstel so you wouldn’t expect her to cope any better here!

Aside from those riders, I can’t really see anyone else take the victory but honourable mentions go to Lichtenberg (Wiggle), Gillow (FDJ), Beggin (Astana), Moolman (Cervelo) and Ensing (Alé).

Prediction

Van der Breggen and Boels to win again this week, with the Dutchwomen taking her third title at this race and setting up the potential Ardennes triple nicely for Liege this Sunday!

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I’ll go with Van Vleuten and Niewiadoma to come home second and third.

Thanks as always for reading and as usual any feedback is greatly appreciated. Who do you think will win? Will Boels continue their Ardennes superiority, or will another rider knock them off top spot? Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

 

Women’s Amstel Gold Race 2017 Preview

Only having been ran as a race three times in 2001-2003, the Amstel Gold race for women returns this year after a long hiatus. Defending champion Nicole Cooke is obviously no longer here (like the other previous winners), so we’ll have a new champion come Sunday afternoon!

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

The Route

At only 121km its shorter than several of the World Tour events we’ve had so far this year. However, don’t let its short nature fool you, the organisers have still managed to incorporate 17 ascents throughout the day.

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@LasterketaBurua

Three climbs form the focus of the event; the Geulhemmerberg, the Bemelerberg and the Cauberg.

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The Geulhemmerberg comes furtherst away from the finish on the last lap, at roughly 16km to go. Not an overly tough climb, it does have some steeper ramps of 8%, but it should be a big ring climb for most of the bunch. The false flat drag over the top can certainly cause some gaps, especially if those behind are on the limit and the pace is on at the front of the peloton.

We then have a fast descent and some flat before reaching the penultimate climb of the day, the Bemelerberg.

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Like the Geulhemmerberg it does have some steepish ramps, but it is not a tough climb. What will make it tough is it’s position in the race and how aggressively the day has been ridden beforehand. It does present a springboard for an attack because there are only 5km from the peak to the bottom of the Cauberg. Speaking of which…

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A climb that does have some properly steep gradients, the natural climbers of the peloton will hope to use them to their advantage to break the will of the all-rounders. There is a chance for a regrouping over the top, with 1.5km of false flat before the line.

Is a sprint on the cards…

How will the race pan out?

It’s difficult to say really. Covering my back here!

The route is obviously similar to that which we’ve seen in the men’s edition over the past few years, with the Cauberg coming so close to the finish line. Will that mean a conservative race where the peloton is kept together until then?

If this was last year I’d say no, due to how attacking the races were, with a lot of favourites making race-winning moves from relatively far out. However, things this year have changed. Teams and riders seem to be on a more level playing field. We’ve had 4 different riders (teams) win the 5 World Tour events so far, with only Coryn Rivera being the repeat winner. Compare that to last year where Boels had won all 5 races, with Deginan and Blaak sharing the spoils.

So there is a chance that the teams cancel each other out and we do get a sprint up the Cauberg for the final time.

Yet, I think we’ll see the women’s peloton return to the incredibly hectic racing from last season, with attacks all day. On a wearing course like Amstel, domestiques will get tired from having to chase which I think will lead to an open race on the final 20km lap, and a strong group will get away before the final time up the Cauberg.

Contenders

Even with their remarkably less dominant start to the season, you can’t start anywhere other than with Boels Dolmans for this race. The team wanted a slower start to the year, with more of a focus on this coming week than the opening few spring races, which they’ve certainly managed. They have a few riders who could win in certain scenarios, but Deignan and Van der Breggen look to be their best options.

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The former World Champion has had a lighter race schedule this year, after suffering from illness which saw her withdraw from a few events. However, she’s looked strong when racing so far and a 3rd place in Strade highlights that she can cope on the climbs with the best. I’m sure the Brit will fancy her chances in a sprint! As for her team-mate, I was very impressed with Van der Breggen in the Healthy Ageing Tour and she seems to be peaking very well for this week. A better climber than Deignan, the Olympic champion has all the credentials to take victory tomorrow afternoon. Numbers will be key for the Dutch team and if Guarnier is back to full fitness they even have a third great option to play.

Boels main threat could be Strade winner Elisa Longo Borghini. The Italian started the season in scintillating form and has top 10’d in four out of the 5 World Tour events so far. An aggressive rider, she’ll hope to force a selection earlier in the race to eliminate as many riders from other teams as possible, relying on climbing super-domestique Claudia Lichtenberg to stay with her for most of the day. Like a few others, she packs a handy sprint after a tough day.

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Sunweb will be hoping to continue their great start to the year with another win here. I’m not sure who their main card will be on the day but you would think Van Dijk has the best chance. She’s been very consistent this year so far, taking her first win in the recent Healthy Ageing Tour. Her lack of a really good sprint will mean that she’ll more than likely have to solo to the line. I think Kirchmann will also go better here than she has done throughout this season so far. The Canadian really burst onto the scene last year with a great debut on the European circuit. She trains in the Limburg area so will know the roads off by heart and is my dark horse for the race. I’m also intrigued to see how current WWT leader Rivera does. Transforming into much more than a sprinter, I would think the climbs here would be too tough for her, but you never know, especially when she has the leader’s jersey on her back!

You would expect Niewiadoma to be WM3’s leader as Vos has been out of action for a little while and still recovering. The Pole has continued on from where she left off in 2016 with a string of great performances in 2017 so far. She is still missing that elusive victory this year, but that may well change tomorrow with a bit of luck on he side. As much as I don’t think Vos will be up there at the end of the race, you can never discount her because she is Marianne Vos after all. Furthermore, the finish of the Cauberg was the scene of her World Championship win in 2012 and as a Dutch rider she’ll be fired up for this race!

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Orica once again arrive with their crack squad of riders who will no doubt animate the race. Garfoot or Van Vleuten have the best chance of winning the race but they do have strenght in numbers and will hope to use that to their advantage. However, I have said this in the past few previews, that I think they have “too many cooks” and will once again miss out on victory.

Canyon will hope to be up there at the pointy end of the race with FerrandPrevot or Cecchini. Likewise, so will Cervelo duo Moolman and young Danish sensation Uttrup Ludwig.

One rider I am keen to see go well is FDJ’s Shara Gillow (there may be some bias here as she is in my season long fantasy team). She crashed in Gent Wevelgem but bounced back with a 25th place in Flanders, coming home in the second group. An under-rated climber, she was very attacking Strade, eventually finishing 6th. Without a great sprint, she’ll more than likely need to come to the line alone, but given her TT credentials that is certainly a possibility!

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Prediction

The race will be broken up going into the final lap of the race and Boels will play the numbers game excellently. I’ll go for their rider who has shown to be in form just now; Anna van der Breggen to take the win and possibly the start of an Ardennes triple!

Emma Johansson, Anna Van De Breggen

Thanks for reading and as always, any feedback is greatly appreciated! Who do you think will win and how will they do it?! I’ll have Tour of the Alps (Trentino) daily stage previews over the next few days (no time for GC) along with men and women’s Fleche on Tuesday. Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

Women’s Strade Bianche 2017 Preview; Siena -> Siena

Women’s Strade Bianche 2017 Preview; Siena -> Siena

The second season of the Women’s World Tour kicks off and what a race to start it with! Strade Bianche itself has been ran as a women’s race alongside the men’s event for the past two years, with this year being the third edition. It’s a hard race to predict (getting my excuses in nice and early) with it being the first race for many riders and form being a bit unknown. Nonetheless, Strade is always action packed with crashes, attacks and some testing conditions at times. Whoever wins is more than deserving of their crown!

Boels Dolmans are undefeated in this race, with Guarnier winning in 2015 and Deignan (then Armitstead) winning last year’s event.

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Can they make it three in a row this year?

Let’s take a look at what’s in store for the riders…

The Route

*Word of warning, these profiles are a train wreck and none of them match up. But I’ll persevere!*

A tough day from the off as the riders face some rolling terrain as they head out on their loop from Siena.

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In fact, they face their first section of dirt roads after only 11.4km!

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I’m not sure if there is an issue with the profile or the route map, but the two don’t match up together, we have two extra dirt-road sections at the start of the race. Going off of Google Maps, the 4.7km and 4.4km sections are paved, normal road. So just ignore the 2nd and 3rd bits of Strade on the profile!

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That doesn’t look like Strade Bianche to me! (The first major climb of the race after 17km – just before Fontazzi)

Typical of Italian road books and profiles, the climb just looks like a little blip. Yet, it’s 5.7km long and averages 5.3% in gradient (Strava segment can be viewed here). It’s not the toughest ascent the women’s peloton will face this year but considering it’s position so early on in the race and how aggressively the bunch rides in these types of races: I would not be surprised if some riders get spat out the back.

Once over the top we have a descent -> plateau (no gravel here either) -> descent (there is gravel here).

The most challenging section of white roads comes at 58.5km into the race and is 9.5km long. This part features several sharp, short ascents mixed in with fast descents and some false flats. Taking it as a whole, it’s 9.5km at 1.8% but that certainly doesn’t tell the whole story!

We then have a lot of undulating normal road (how boring eh?!), before reaching the final 20km. Again, the following profile does not match what’s on the map, or even the other profile above. In fact, the profile below has the race ending at 121km, whereas the other profile has it as 127km long. Eugh.strade-bianche-we-2017-1480508255

There are two short sections of strade before we get to this final 20km profile that we see above.

This part of the course is constantly up and down, and it will really sap the riders legs. A big attack can be made on the final section of gravel, with the steep gradients on offer. From there, any riders left together at the front will possibly leave it to a showdown up the final climb to the square in Siena like we saw last year.

With some ramps of 16%, it’s a real grind at the end of a tough day!

How will the race play out?

As I mentioned above, women’s racing is often very attacking from the gun and I expect that to be no different on Saturday. It’s very unlikely we’ll see a breakaway get a substantial lead, if at all! With the first climb (5.7km at 5.3%) coming after only 17km, I think we’ll see the first selection made here, with the pace of the peloton being slowly ramped up.

From there on, it will be a race of attrition and teams attentively following any moves at the head of the race, making sure to try to get someone up the road whenever there is an attack. Therefore having a strong team is very important so that you can rotate attacks and share the work.

However, the race will more than likely be won by the strongest rider on the day, who’s also had their fair share of luck! Speaking of which…

Contenders

Boels Dolmans have won this race on both occasions and will be looking to make it three in a row this year. They have an incredibly talented squad with three very plausible winners in their line-up. Defending champion Lizzie Deignan will be hoping for a repeat of last year’s great performance. She was exceptionally strong that day, riding Johansson and Niewiadoma off her wheel on the final climb. However, she didn’t seem the same rider in the latter half of last year and without any racing so far this season, I’m just not sure if she’ll manage a repeat win. Oddly enough, I do think Anna van der Breggen can go well, even with no racing in her legs!

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The Dutchwoman continued on from here breakthrough 2015, with an equally brilliant 2016; managing to win La Flèche, the European Road Championships and the Olympics! Win wise, it was actually a worse year, so I’m sure she’ll be motivated to get back onto the top step of the podium more this year. This race presents a great opportunity to start off on the right foot. One of the best climbers in the peloton, she’s not a rider you can give much leeway!

Finally, to finish off the trio of Boels’ riders is inaugural World Tour Winner, Megan Guarnier. Like her team-mate AVB, Guarnier is one of the best natural climbers in the peloton but she also packs a good sprint after a tough day. Already with some racing in her legs she won’t want to go much longer without a win.

Away from Boels, the most successful current rider in the peloton, Marianne Vos, returns to road racing with her new team WM3. She’s an exceptionally strong rider, yet she’s not the best climber so this race doesn’t suit her perfectly. I’m sure she’ll love the gravel sections, considering her cyclo-cross background but instead I think it will be her younger team-mate who takes the limelight. Kasia Niewiadoma is arguable the biggest climbing and one day talent in the peloton at the moment. At just 21 years old, last season she managed to finish 2nd at this race, 4th at Flèche and picked up a few GC wins to boot. Finishing in the second group at Omloop (a race that doesn’t really suit her), highlights to me that she is starting this season well and can’t be discounted!

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Elisa Longo Borghini will arrive as Wiggle High5’s protected rider. The Italian has started the season in splendid form, picking up a solid 5th place at Omloop and like Niewiadoma that race doesn’t suit her characterisitcs. What I found more impressive though was her display the next day in Hageland. She seemed to be in every move that went off the front on the climbs and she still had enough energy left to attack in the final 10km, nearly holding off the bunch. Having finished 3rd and 4th here in the past and with Claudia Lichtenberg to support her, I think she’s a shoe-in for the podium again.

Those riders are the favourites but there are certainly others who can upset the apple-cart. Like with my men’s Samyn preview, I’ve written a lot more than expected already, so I’ll just briefly highlight some names to watch out for!

Canyon SRAM: Amialiusik, Cecchini (Think it’s too early for Ferrand-Prevot).

Cervélo-Bigla: Moolman.

Orica-Scott: Van Vleuten, Garfoot.

Sunweb: Kirchmann.

Prediction

I’ve had this rider in mind for this race for the past week and I’ve seen/heard nothing to convince me otherwise. Boels’ dry spell will continue and instead it will be Italian, Elisa Longo Borghini who takes the win! As I’ve said above, she looked exceptionally strong on the climbs in Hageland so she must already be in scintillating form. Having not finished outside the top 4 in this race, she knows what’s in store and now a year older and more experienced she ticks all the boxes for me.

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Coverage

According to the UCI website, an hour of the race is supposed to be televised…

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but I haven’t seen anything on the Eurosport schedule to suggest it will be. It might be on the Player rather than the actual channel? I hope we do get something as it’s going to be a very exciting race! Furthermore, it would be a disappointment for the first WWT race not to have coverage, considering that is one of the main improvements touted for this year. If we do get something I’ll most certainly tweet it out!

Nonetheless, thanks for reading and as usual, any feedback is greatly appreciated! Who do you think will win? I don’t normally beg for RTs and Shares but if you could be ever so kind and help to raise the profile of the race and some discussion on social media then that would be great 👍 . Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.