Ladies Tour of Norway 2017 Preview

Another race to step up to Women’s World Tour level this year, the Ladies Tour of Norway celebrates only its 4th edition in 2017.

Last year as a 2.1 race, we saw a very dominant Rabo-Liv team take all three spots on the podium at the end of the Tour, with Lucinda Brand finishing ahead of De Jong and Koster.

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The current champion isn’t going to be here to defend her crown but with the step up to WT level, the startlist is stacked with talent waiting to take over.

First of all though, let’s have a look at what’s in store for the riders over the next 4 days.

The Route

Prologue.

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The race starts with a short and explosive prologue on Thursday evening. Pretty much pan-flat, this is an effort that will suit the strong riders of the peloton, but also those who can hold a high power over a short period of time, i.e. some of the sprinters!

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The circuit is quite technical with a few tight turns involved over the course, meaning being able to power out of them and get back up to full speed quickly is a massive advantage. We’ve not seen a prologue at this race since back in 2014 when Vos won a very similar circuit in Halden. Can she repeat that on the opening day? Given her current form, it is definitely a possibility!

There is a chance of rain later in the day which could make things a bit of a lottery.

With such a short effort, there are a lot of riders who could be involved in the shake up at the end of the day.

I’ll go with Wiggle rider Annette Edmondson to take the win though. She won the prologue at the BeNe Tour earlier in the year, although that admittedly was half the length, but she is a rider with the perfect mix of explosiveness and sustained power to compete here. I mean, she is a pursuit medalist on the track after all!

Stage 1.

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A stage that is similar to what we saw in the Women’s Tour earlier in the year, where the road is constantly up or down all day. Now, these undulations normally aren’t too much in terms of length and gradient, but it is their repeated nature that could wear down the bunch.

Another thing that could make the day more selective than it may initially look on paper is the weather. Friday looks to be a pretty grim day and in the finish town of Mysen there is a chance of rain throughout the afternoon. The same can be said for elsewhere on the course and it could turn it into a race of attrition.

Once the riders reach Mysen they will face a 6.2km circuit that they will tackle three times.

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The circuit isn’t overly tough so some of the sprinters teams might want to control it but there are a few points where the opportunists might want to launch their attacks. It looks very balanced in that regard!

The most obvious launchpad is the 500m section (2.5 -> 3km) that averages 4.5%. With only 3km of the circuit left, if a strong trio or quartet of riders escapes here then they could be hard to bring back.

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As for the run in itself, the road does rise ever so slightly during 300m preceding the final turn you see above, where the riders will take a left and face then final 250m finishing straight.

Will it be a bunch sprint or a small escape group who fight out stage honours?

Given that there are only 4 stages in the race (including the prologue) then there isn’t much time for anyone wanting to make a tilt at the GC crown to make their move. Therefore I do think we’ll see a relatively attacking race on the opening road stage, where the bunch is whittled down due to the combination of a fast pace and bad weather. Once we get near the closing circuit we might have around 60 riders left at the head of the race.

From there, a group of riders from the “stronger” teams will escape and fight out the stage.

I’ll go with Leah Kirchmann for the win. After a breakthrough 2016 the Canadian has had a much slower 2017 so far, but her results have been steadily picking up some progress and headed in the right direction. She was third at the recent Vargarda and packing a punchy sprint she might just go better here!

Stage 2.

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A straightforward day, but a relatively long one at 144km. There is a lot more elevation gain than what we have on Stage 1, but the majority of it all comes early on in the stage, with the final 40km not featuring too much in the way of climbing.

The closing circuit looks as follows, with a few short rises in it.

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It is of course a possibility we could see someone try an attack on the circuit and hope to break the group up. The section between 3.5km and 5km on the image above will be crucial in terms of escape formation.

If the sprinters miss out the previous day, they won’t on this stage. The opposite situation is of course a possibility whereas the sprinters take the spoils on Stage 1 with an escape forming on Stage 2.

I still think that this stage is most likely to come down to a sprint though.

With that said, I’ll go with Lotta Leipistö to take stage honours. She is on incredible form at the moment and will be able to handle the few small lumps we have in the finale. Her finish (or should I say Finnish…I’ll get my coat) sprint in Vargarda was incredibly powerful. If she pulls off something like that again then there won’t be many who can beat her.

Stage 3.

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Arguably the Queen stage due to its length and elevation gain, the road seems to be constantly up or down all day. Just before the riders reach the final circuit, they will complete an 8km drag that averages 1.5%. Now, I don’t expect this to cause any gaps, although the final 300m do average 7%, instead, it should be a wearing down process if some of the stronger teams really push the pace on. With 120kms in their legs already, I think a few riders might be caught out by it.

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The closing circuit is very technical, with few really long straights. The old cliché of “out of sight, out of mind” rings true here! As for the altimetry, it can be split into; gradual rise, small hill, gradual descent, flat finish.

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Will anyone try to attack on the steep 10% ramps of the climb and use the twisting streets to stay away?!

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We even have some cobbles (well, paving stones) on part of the descent. This could become treacherous if the predicted bad weather arrives.

As for who might take stage honours? I’ll go with a Van Dijk late attack!

GC Battle

This is a tough race to call because the terrain itself isn’t overly difficult and all of the road stages in theory could end in a sprint if enough teams want it to.

Therefore the race could be decided by bonus seconds and how well a rider does in the opening prologue.

Yet, I think we’ll see some fast and very attacking racing this week, because the parcours isn’t too difficult. It is perfectly balanced in a position where a team can make some of the short climbs seem really hard due to the continuous rolling nature of the terrain. Furthermore, when the predicted rain and bad weather is thrown into the mix, we could see a tough race of attrition.

So for a rider to compete here they need to be good enough to be close to the head of the race after the prologue, fast enough to pick up some bonus seconds, and strong enough to follow any moves after an attritional day of racing.

Some riders to conjure with then are Pieters, Lepistö, Van Dijk, Kopecky and Bronzini to name but a few!

I’ll go with a Marianne Vos GC win though.

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The new European Champion is in sparkling form at the moment and she should be there on every stage. Her fast sprint means she should pick up bonus seconds and she’s not exactly a slouch in a prologue either. After all, she did win the opening prologue here back in 2014. A lot of riders will have her number marked, but with the way she is riding at the moment, it might be hard to stop her. She could feasibly win all 4 stages!

Coverage

Excellent news, we’ll be able to watch all of the road stages live with the final two hours of each stage being shown on Norweigian TV2. For those not in Norway, there should also be a stream on the UCI website and Youtube channel!

At the moment there is no information if we’ll see any of the prologue but the live images for the stages are as follows (local Norwegian time);

Stage 1: 16’30 – 18’30

Stage 2: 16’30 – 18’30

Stage 3: 14’30 – 16’30

The official hashtag looks to be #LTON17 so you’ll be able to follow race goings-on before the live images with that.

Anyway, thanks for reading as always and any feedback is greatly appreciated. Who do you think will win the race overall? Will we see an attacking race, or one where the sprinters teams control things? Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

Women’s Ronde van Vlaanderen 2017 Preview

Women’s Ronde van Vlaanderen 2017 Preview

On the same day as the men’s event, the women’s Ronde may be 100km shorter but that doesn’t make it any less exciting!

Last year saw the race split up on the Kwaremont and Paterberg, and like most races in the spring of 2016, was dominated by Boels Dolmans. They had 4 riders in the front group of 10, and in the end it was Deignan (then Armitstead) and Johansson who gapped the rest on the run in. They duked it out for the sprint and it was Deignan who just pipped the Swede on the line, taking a great win!

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Blaak won the sprint behind (ahead of team-mate Guarnier), to give Boels a 1-3-4-6 on the day!

Will the Dutch super team have it all their way this year? Let’s have a look at what’s in store for the riders.

The Route

An “easy” opening 50km that only contains three cobble sections, before we get an action packed section of several hills and cobbled climbs.

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That section is rounded off by the Muur at 60km to go. Although there isn’t any major obstacle for the following 20km almost, the famous climb might play more of a decisive role than it will in the men’s race!

The race finishes off with the same Kwaremont and Paterberg double and it surely will see some action as the stronger climbers and classics riders try to make their mark before the 13km to the finish line.

Will we see a reduced sprint or a solo rider make into Oudenaarde alone?

Contenders

This is quite a tough race to predict as the balance between climbers and strong one-day racers is very fine. Also, this year of women’s racing has been the most open in recent years, with no repeat winners or even riders from the same teams in the World Tour!

Elisa Longo Borghini has been in exceptional form so far this year, winning Strade and finishing in the top 10 on two other occasions in the World Tour and currently leads the standings. She’s won this race in the past and is clearly suited to the terrain, coming 4th/4th/1st/5th in the recent 4 editions of the race. Not bad eh! You would expect her to be there or thereabouts again come the end of the race tomorrow.

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She won’t be the only card Wiggle High 5 have though, as they can also rely on Belgian one-day expert, Jolien d’Hoore. More of a sprinter than climber, that doesn’t take anything away from her ability to crush the short, cobbled climbs in this race. If the race is taken at a bit more of a mundane pace or there is a regrouping late on then she has a chance. However, with the chaotic day I can see playing out, unfortunately she might have to settle with sprinter for a top 10 from the third group.

Boels once again arrive with a very strong team to support last year’s winner Deignan. Or will they? Forced to miss Gent Wevelgem due to illness, i don’t think she’ll be back to 100% yet for this race and if she’s not at full fitness, she won’t win. They do have numerous other cards to play but Van der Breggen and Blaak look the best options. The European champion has had a slow start to the season but with her trying to peak more for the Ardennes, you would expect her to be going well just now. Blaak on the other hand has had a very good, consistent start to her season. Third here last year, she has a good chance of repeating that this time round.

In form Lotta Lepsito arrives with her Cervelo Bigla team. She is clearly climbing and riding better than ever, but this will be a completely different test for her. Like d’Hoore, it will be too fast up the climbs for her to cope, but if we do get a slowing of the pace and a bigger regrouping, she certainly would have a chance in the sprint.

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Instead, I would be looking towards team-mates Moolman and Uttrup Ludwig for a course like this.

Team Sunweb arrive here with options to animate this race like they have down in others over the past month or so. Van Dijk is bound to try a solo attack from far out and she is probably one of the only women in the peloton who could pull it off! In Rivera they have a fast finisher who is climbing the best I’ve ever seen from her and she certainly can’t be discounted. I would have her as more of a favourite than d’Hoore and Lepisto for example. Then in Brand, Kirchmann and Mackaij they have great options to pepper the front of the race with attacks or cover the moves of dangerous opponents. If this was at the start of March then I’d have Brand as one of the favourites for the race, but after doing a season of cyclocross during the winter, her form seems to have waned a bit.

Niewiadoma will lead the charge for WM3 who are missing Marianne Vos. It will be hard for the Polish rider to win with a lack of team support in the closing kilometres of the race but she will certainly feature in the top 10. Her best chance is to infiltrate a small group of 4 or 5 that escapes on the Kwaremont/Paterberg or even on the flat run in to the finish.

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Orica arrive with a good team, but they’re not as strong as they’ve been in the past few weeks. I imagine that Spratt and Van Vleuten will be co-leaders and they certainly have a chance if both of them make the front group. If not, the sole rider will be in a similar situation to Niewiadoma, where you have to be on a good day, but also get lucky.

Other riders to keep an eye out for include;

Cecchini (Canyon SRAM),

Ratto (Cylance),

Ensing (Ale)

Kopecky (Lotto)

Gillow (FDJ).

The latter on that list has a very good chance if she’s climbing as well as she was in Strade!

Prediction

The race will be determined by the tactics and numbers of Boels and Sunweb.

After a relatively poor season so far, by their standards, I fancy Boels to get it right this race. They’re likely to have more numbers in the front group than any other team and they’ll use it to their advantage. I’ll hedge my bets a bit and go for a Chantal Blaak win!

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She has the abilities to attack from far out and hold the gap to the line, or as we saw last year, she has a great sprint from a reduced group.

Coverage

We’ll get similar coverage to last year, where you can watch an unrestricted live stream of the race here. Or on the Flanders Classics facebook page.

Let’s just hope the quality is better than the 144p stream we had in 2016!

Competition

As I mentioned in the men’s preview, as a thanks for your continued support and to celebrate one year of blogging, I’ll be giving away one of the Handmade Cyclist’s pieces of artwork. More specifically, the Ronde one, duh!

All you have to do to be in with a chance of winning is comment on this post with who you think the winner of the Women’s RVV will be and make sure to leave your Twitter handle as this is how I’ll be contacting the winners.

If no one predicts the winner then it will go to second place and so on. Likewise, if we get more than one person who gets it correct, I’ll put the Twitter handles into a list on random.org and randomise three times to get our winner.

Good luck!

If you’re struggling to find the place to leave a comment, it should be at the end of this post and look like below

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*Also, depending on how the men’s race goes, I might be in a buoyant enough mood to upgrade it to a framed version!*

 

Thanks once again for reading and as always, any feedback is greatly appreciated. Next for the blog will be daily Pais Vasco previews (starting tomorrow), although I’m not sure if I’ll have enough time to do a full GC one. That might just be an after thought at the end of the stage 1 preview. Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

Women’s Gent – Wevelgem 2017 Preview

Women’s Gent – Wevelgem 2017 Preview

Last year saw this race take the step up to World Tour status along with a lot of other races in the cycling calendar due to the WWT. That meant that the field was even more stacked than normal and we had an incredibly tough, attritional race.

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It was Chantal Blaak who attacked from far out, winning by a comfortable margin in the end as her Boels team-mates marked any moves behind. Lisa Brennauer and Lucinda Brand rounded out the podium over a minute down.

More of the same exciting racing this year? Let’s take a look at what’s in store for the riders.

The Route

The organisers have taken advantage of the increased race distance that was permitted by the UCI so this year the riders will have tackle 146km, compared to the 115km in last year’s edition!

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The peloton will cover a lot of flat lands at the start of the race, but the most decisive section will be from 70-110km, when we tackle some climbs. Both cobbled and not! On the run in to home we also have some small rises that create an opportunity to attack. Even the flat run in can be a launchpad if we get a tactical finale.

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The run in to the finish line is pretty much pan-flat and dead-straight for the final 3km.

Weather

One of the major factors that can often play a part in the outcome of this race is the weather and in particular, the wind!

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Source: Windfinder.

It looks as if we’ll get a fairly constant wind throughout the day, with some potential for stronger gusts. The wind direction means that a lot of the middle of the race will be crosswinds, but as the road constantly changes, so will the affect that the wind has on the bunch; cross, tail, head wind etc.

It looks as if the run-in will be a cross-head wind, which would not favour a solo rider. But after a tough day on the bike, there might not be much left to chase behind!

Contenders

The defending champion, Chantal Blaak, arrives with a strong team on paper to support her. Yet, I am wary as to how well the Boels team will go because they had to pull out of Dwars mid-week due to widespread illness in the team. For example, Deignan has had to pull out of the race as she is still unwell. Blaak herself has yet to win this season, but she is very consistent over this type of terrain and I wouldn’t rule her out. Likewise, Amy Pieters has performed well but is without a win too. She pulled out Trofeo Binda due to not feeling well so she’ll be hoping to have recovered for this! World Champion Amalie Dideriksen picked up Boels’ first WT win of the season in Ronde van Drenthe and she may well be the teams best chance of another victory here. She is flying at the moment, and her sprint in the final of Van Drenthe was very similar to that of her male WC counterpart.

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Team Sunweb have been my team of the early season so far. They’ve animated every race that they have been entered in and I expect more of the same from them tomorrow! In Brand and Van Dijk they have great options to attack early and try to force splits in the peloton, which I can almost guarantee they will do. Whereas, I imagine Rivera will shadow moves from other teams and be an option for the squad if we get a reduced bunch sprint. She is exceptionally fast and took a dominant win in Trofeo Binda, more of the same here?

Elisa Longo Borghini will be hoping to maintain her WWT lead after this race. The Italian has been exceptional this year so far, finishing inside the top 10 of all three WT events. However, she seemed to struggle here last year, finishing over 2 minutes down. Will her great form compensate for that? I think so. Wiggle also have the luxury of Belgian sprinter come cobbles expert Jolien d’Hoore who I expect to be there at the pointy end of the race.

Orica have been very active in recent races but are without a win to show for it. They once again bring an attacking team, with Van Vleuten, Spratt and Elvin they’ll be hoping to go better here. I would suggest that Van Vleuten is their best option!

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After a 5th place in Dwars, Thalita De Jong has staked her claim for this race. The former Cyclocross World Champion loves tough terrain and I fancy her to go well here. Now riding for the Lares-Waowdeals she will be the de-facto leader and have the full support from her team. Can she cope with the pressure?

Another rider I’m keeping an eye on this season is Lotto’s Lotte Kopecky. The 21 year-old is a great talent and has featured near the front in all of the races she’s entered so far this year. Terribly unfortunate in Van Drenthe, crashing out of the lead group, I imagine she’ll be wanting to make amends here. With a good kick after a tough day, she’s not one to rule out!

There are several riders from other teams who I expect to feature in the top 20, but I don’t have enough time to go over them in-depth;

Uttrup Ludwig and Lepisto (Cervelo),

Hosking and Ensing (Ale Cipollini),

Barnes and Cecchini (Canyon).

Prediction

It will be another attritional race but the cross-head wind on the run in may be detrimental to lone attackers. Unless of course you are Ellen Van Dijk! Therefore, I think we might get a small sprint from around 5 riders and I’ll for a bit of an outsider; Kopecky to win. The extremely talented Belgian should have the speed required to beat her competitors at the end of a tough day!

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Thanks for reading the preview as always, and any feedback is greatly appreciated. Who do you think will win tomorrow? Unfortunately, there will be no live coverage but there should be highlights at some point. Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.