Vuelta a España 2017 Stage 12 Preview; Motril -> Antequera Los Dólmenes

Today’s Recap

A wet miserable day for the peloton or a typical Scottish summer day, take it as you will! It was another stage that it took the breakaway a while to establish, but we eventually had a group of 14 go clear.

In the end though the break never really had much of a chance as Orica started driving the pace early, reducing the gap to under a minute on the penultimate climb.

However, with no one else willing to take up the chase then things looked to swing back into the break’s hands. That was until Nibali called for action on the last climb of the day and soon the attackers were brought to heel.

A few probing attacks were made off the front of the race but it was Nibali who launched the first serious move in the closing 2kms. For a while it looked as if he had a good gap but Lopez countered strongly and bridged, with Froome in tow. The Colombian continued on, and with Nibali and Froome competing in a stare down, he held on to take his first Grand Tour win!

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Froome out-sprinted Nibali for second, with Kelderman finishing alongside the other two in 4th. There were some big time gaps behind today though and the GC was well and truly shaken up.

Will we something similar tomorrow?

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

The Route

We once again have a stage that has Valverde in mind!

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I do wonder how many of the previous break days would have been successful if the Spaniard was racing here.

Tomorrow’s stage starts with a lot of rolling road from the opening kilometre until we reach Nerja. Are 37km enough for the break to form? It hasn’t been the past few days!

From there, the route is almost pan flat as it travels further along the coast. However, as soon as we turn in-land, the riders will be greeted with the Cat-1 climb of Puerto del Léon.

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At 20.4km and averaging 4.6% it is a long climb but nothing of great danger for the GC guys. Furthermore, at almost 60km from the finish, it is too far out for any action.

The next climb might not be…

Puerto del Torcal is rather unkindly given Cat-2 status, as it is 7.6km long and averages 7% according to the road book!

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It is more 8.6km at 6.3%, but that does include some false flat at the end of the climb. However, that low gradient is fairly deceptive, as the opening 4.5km averages a very testing 8.9%! This is where the better climbers will hope to make their mark before it flattens out near the top.

The riders will then descend before a fairly flat final 5kms.

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With that being said, the road does rise ever so slightly to the finish line; averaging roughly 3% for the final kilometre. Although the majority of that comes in the space of 600m.

Will we see a small group battle it out for the stage in a sprint?

How will the stage pan out?

With the weather in the Malaga area forecast to be a lot better than what the peloton has had over the past few days, I’m sure lots of riders will be hoping for a quieter day in the saddle.

There is of course a chance that some of the GC teams, possibly Bahrain and Sunweb, want to chase the break in the hope to set up their main riders. However, that will require a lot of work and with the downhill/flat finish their efforts will probably go unrewarded.

We’ll more than likely see the GC guys roll in together, with maybe only one or two guys dropped if they’re really suffering. Instead, they’ll save their energy for other days.

Consequently, this looks like an ideal day to get into the break.

TheBreakawayLottery

Break Candidates

With the tough rolling conditions at the start of the stage, it will take a strong rider to make the morning move. That’s if it goes in the first 30km or so, who knows how long it will take considering how this Vuelta is going!

Alexey Lutsenko.

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Astana are flying just now and I’m sure they’ll try to get someone in the move tomorrow. After his stage win on the 5th stage, the Kazakh has taken it relatively easy recently. Is he saving himself for another assault? Tomorrow’s stage looks great for him but the tough opening 5km of the last climb could be his downfall if we have some mountain goats up the road. Will he risk it all and go early? He’s certainly confident enough at the moment to do just that.

Nelson Oliveira.

It seems clear that Movistar are chasing the team prize this race so if a break goes tomorrow then they will certainly have a couple of riders up the road. The Portuguese rider was strong at the start of the race but has lost some time since then. This type of terrain looks good for him tomorrow and if he can hang on to the best climbers on the steeper slopes of the climb then he has a good chance at attacking and time trialing his way to victory.

Jack Haig.

Surely Orica’s second strongest rider has to be let of the leash tomorrow. He was excellent in helping pace Chaves today and sitting 17 minutes down now, he is no threat to the overall. A strong rider on the climbs but also on the flat, he will be one of the most well-rounded riders up the road. Can he take advantage of his good legs?

Tobias Ludvigsson.

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I think I could be backing him a lot this Vuelta but tomorrow’s stage looks good for the big Swede. Strong on the flat and strong on the climbs, he’s similar to a rider like Oilveira. If he is climbing as well as he was on the day of his failed break, but his successful whip, then he certainly has a chance!

Vuelta Picks

This is definitely becoming rinse and repeat…

Safe Pick – Oomen

Chose a GC rider and hope they finish in a reduced peloton behind the break. If you can, try to pick someone who isn’t a massive GC threat so that you save the “big guns” for other stages.

Wongshot Pick – Oliveira

Breakaway Lottery day

Lanterne Rouge Pick – Wallays

Seems to still be struggling from this injuries.

Prediction

Break to make it all the way and Movistar to get their stage win through Oliveira.

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Betting

0.5pt WIN on them all;

Lutsenko @ 28/1

Haig @ 33/1

Oliveira @ 150/1

Ludvigsson @ 200/1

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

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

Vuelta a España 2017 Stage 11 Preview; Lorca -> Observatorio Astronómico de Calar Alto

Today’s Recap

Crazy start to the day and we didn’t see a breakaway go clear until 65km from the finish. From there though, the peloton was happy to sit up and let the move contest the stage.

We had a group of 4 push on over the top of the final summit that included Trentin, Rojas, Van Rensburg and Roson.

The latter two couldn’t keep up on the very technical descent, and with Rojas and Trentin working well they would never get back.

It meant we had a two man sprint coming in to town, but I have to say, Rojas’ tactics bemused me. Trentin is clearly the faster of the two and in exceptional form at the moment, but the Spaniard was happy to share the work. In fact, he drove it into the final kilometere which I thought was very bizzare. The result was inevatble at that point, with Rojas delivering the perfect lead-out for Trentin who took his second stage of the race.

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Behind, Roson took third place.

The GC riders all came home together. Well, apart from Roche who had forged ahead on the descent and ultimately gained 29 seconds on his rivals. That result moves him closer to Froome at only 36 seconds back, joint on time with Chaves.

Will we see some similar GC shake-ups tomorrow? Let’s have a look at the what is in store for the riders.

The Route

A stage that I would label as the first proper mountain test.

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After the neutralised section at the beginning of the stage, the riders will be climbing almost instantly. Thankfully, the climb isn’t too difficult but it will no doubt be raced aggressively.

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This will make the 3% gradient feel tougher than it probably is!

Once over the summit, the riders will then descend for 15km before a long period of flat. Could this be where the day’s break is established?

75km into the day marks an interesting point in the race, as the road essentially climbs almost all the way to the finish; with only some periods of shallow descent and flat land.

However, it is when we reach 60km to go that things get interesting…

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Before we even start the climb of Alto de Velefique the road rises at an average of 2.7% for 17km; a nice warm-up some might say!

Now, it depends what source you consult for Velefique itself as various places have the climb marked out differently…

The road book suggests it is 13.2km at 8.6%, Strava/Veloviwer plucks for 13km at 7.2% and ClimbByBike goes with 14km at 6.4%. Quite a wide variety there.

I’ll go with the middle ground!

Velefique

As you can see, the majority of the steepest sections of the ascent are located near the beginning. Will we see anyone try to go early? I doubt it. Instead, it will be more an attritional process, with riders going out the back rather than off the front.

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The many hairpins of Velefique – Thanks to @loictraquelet for the photo

Although, the early weather forecasts suggests there are potentially thunderstorms and a few heavy showers in the area during the afternoon. This could entice some onto the attack before a very technical descent…

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At least for the final climb the varying sources are more in agreement; with it being roughly 16km at 5.6%.

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The climb can be split into two sections almost, with a very challenging opening 7kms that average 8.6%. From there though, it is a fairly “easy” 9km at 3.2%, although that does include a penultimate kilometre at 10%.

It will be interesting to see how teams and riders approach it. Do they go early in a hope to tire Sky’s domestiques out and isolate Froome, or wait until that penultimate kilometre and go crazy? Given how well the current race leader is riding, they have to risk it and go early in my opinion.

How will the stage pan out?

Once again, we have the now daily toss-up between break win or not? The current trend is very much break, with the last 5 out of 6 stages going their way.

Will tomorrow be any different?

Hmmmm.

The other teams have to start taking responsibility by bringing the race to Sky. Froome has looked great on the uphill, but he seemed a bit shaky on the downhill today and this could be something that some teams try to take advantage of in tomorrow’s stage.

Let’s say if Orica/Trek/Bahrain have riders up the road, we could see their leaders attack in the final few kilometres of the first climb, hoping to put Froome into difficulty on the descent and then bridge up to their team-mates at the footslopes of the final climb.

Again though, this will rely on the other teams helping to chase throughout the day. If they don’t, then Sky will be happy to let the break win and take the bonus seconds, negating the aggressive racing as much as possible.

That then nullifies the effect of having team-mates up the road if the break is ahead by 10 minutes or so.

It really is a tactical day!

I think it comes down to Contador and his attitude. As much as I love Chaves, I don’t think we’ll see Orica operate any crazily aggressive tactics, yet. That will come later on in the race. They still might get someone in the move, but they won’t control it enough so that they’re of any help.

The one thing that is of massive help to the breaks chances is the poor weather that is forecast.

So with that being said, it looks like we’re once again (I’m getting quite bored of this now) playing the…

TheBreakawayLottery

Candidates

The 8.2km rise at the start of the stage could help aid some good climbers get into the move, but if it doesn’t go until after, then it is names in a hat time!

Igor Anton.

The Dimension Data rider has ridden a solid race so far and finds himself sitting in 18th place on GC, at 5’54 behind Froome. A break like tomorrow is bound to have an interloper in it who is “close” to the Brit on GC and Anton could be that man. Not deemed an overall threat due to his poor TT ability and not being able to follow the best on other days, Sky could be happy to let him get back into things. If he does make the move, he will be one of the strongest climbers there and tough to beat!

Jack Haig.

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The fellow JH gets another mention for tomorrow. Orica surely will send someone up the road in the hope that they can then help Chaves if needed. The most logical two are Haig and Simon Yates, but the former seems to be going better at the moment. He’d still be up there on GC if it wasn’t for an untimely puncture! If the gap is too big for Chaves to bridge, then Haig will get the nod to go for the stage. Something he can certainly do.

Aldemar Reyes.

Manzana missed the move today which they seemed most disgruntled at, sending a man up the road on a doomed mission once they reached the climb. Reyes managed to stay with the main peloton, well, the Zakarin/DLC group anyway on the climb/descent so he’s clearly in good form. Could he be the guy to take a wonderful victory for the Colombian team?

Alexey Lutsenko.

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Still gutted I missed backing him for his stage win earlier in the race considering how much I’ve been harking on about him for the past year and a bit! His performance that day was truly incredible and he put out some massive watts for a “bigger guy” to climb that well. I have that in apostrophes because according to PCS he is only one kilo heavier than Froome…Anyway, if he makes the break tomorrow something similar could be on the cards. He’ll certainly find it more difficult, but he can’t be discounted! Can Alexbae make it two?!

Vuelta Picks

Safe Pick – GC Rider – Nibali

Rinse and repeat for these stages it seems! With the break having a good chance of winning, the safest option for those near the top of the leaderboard overall or in the KOM comp is to choose a GC guy. Nibali seemed happy to push the pace today and the longer climbs suit him better than the shorter ones we had in the first week.

Wongshot Pick – Breakaway – Lutsenko

Another stab in the dark…

Lanterne Rouge Pick – Scully

Cannondale seem to be tired after their efforts the other day…

Prediction

A big break to form with a sneaky Basque rider in there. Sky to shrug their shoulders and let the move get 8 minutes or so, knowing that the time gap will come down before the finish naturally. Anton then seizes his chance and takes stage glory, vaulting into the top 10 on GC!

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Betting

0.5pt WIN on them all;

Reyes @ 150/1 with Boyles (would take 100)

Lutsenko @ 150/1 with PP (would take 100 elsewhere)

Haig @ 66/1 with various (would take 50)

Anton @ 100/1 with various (would take 66)

Thanks as always for reading! Who do you think will win tomorrow? Will we see a break survive all the way, or will the GC guys come out to play? Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

Vuelta a España 2017 Stage 10 Preview; Caravaca Jubilar -> Elpozo Alimentacion

Yup, I’m still not 100% over Cannondale’s tactics on Stage 9. Moving on…

No “Rest-day recap” or that from today as I am short of time so let’s get straight into what is in store for the riders tomorrow!

The Route

An easy stage by Vuelta standards with only 1350m of  elevation gain…

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It just so happens to be though that the majority of it all comes at once.

The day starts off simply, with a small uncategorised climb at the 6km mark. From there, the next 65km or so are all false-flat descent pretty much, before we hae another 50km of flat.

It will take some luck but also strong legs to get into the break on the day!

There is one clear test for the stage; the back-to-back Cat-3 then Cat-1 ascents. Combined together, it looks like the following.

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21.3km at 4.8% isn’t too tough for a professional peloton, but it is not exactly easy either. The first 15km in fact are perfect for the stronger, all-round guys in the bunch who can put out a massive power. However, it is the final 6km that could be difficult. Averaging just over 7.5%, this is where the lighter, more traditional climbers will hope to make a difference.

Once over the top of the climb, the riders will face a very technical descent which could be made worse by the predicted bad weather.

Let’s hope everyone stays upright!

With 22km of mostly descent to the finish line, there is a good chance the riders over the climb first will contest for the stage win. Unless anyone takes some risks from behind on said descent!

How will the stage pan out?

Another break?

With the way this Vuelta is going then yes, I think that’s what is most likely!

Sky will have been in dreamland after Stage 9, getting a stage win while doing no more than 5% of the work throughout the day. With that chalked off and Froome in a strong position, they no longer need to risk riding for stage glory, and they can let the bonus seconds be taken by a rider up the road. Not that they were chasing for many stages anyway!

The threat of bad weather also helps the breakaway in the sense that a few of the GC guys might want an easier descent and reduce their risk of crashing because they won’t be going full gas. Conversely though, someone who is a very competent descender could make some large gaps. It is perfectly posed in that respect!

We could see a team help chase but I’m scratching my head as to who that would be. Quick Step for Alaphilippe? Or Cannondale again? 🙈

It makes no sense for a team to do that, so we’ll once again see a big fight to get into the break.

Break Candidates

I named 4 hopefuls on Twitter before, but I’m going to add another to that list now…

Tobias Ludvigsson.

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What a showman! The Swede looked very strong in the breakaway on Stage 9 and he was the only rider able to keep up with Soler on the tough, steep climb. Not bad for someone of his size! The start of the stage tomorrow is perfect for him to make the move and he’ll just have to hope that there are only a few good climbers in with him. He’ll eat up the 3rd Cat and be close to the front on the 1st Cat section but it all depends who is in the move with him. Let’s hope he’s rested up well.

Antwan Tolhoek.

I was impressed with how long the youngster held on in the main peloton up the final climb on Stage 9. Unfortunate on the opening day when he crashed in the TTT, he seems to be going better day by day. A bit of an uknown rider at this level, he could use that to his advantage in the break. Still without a pro win he’ll have to dig very deep tomorrow to change that, but I’ve seen stranger things happen.

Antonio Pedrero.

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After coming into professional cycling “late”, the Spaniard has really taken a step up this year. Attacking earlier in the race, he was very strong on the finish of stage 9, only losing 27 seconds and beating Yates (Adam) and Kruijswijk. Not bad! Movistar have nothing to lose now in this race, so they’ll be sending riders up the road every day. He could be one of those guys and given his form, he could well deliver.

George Bennett.

Exceptional in the Tour until his abandon, the Kiwi is easing himself into this race; looking to peak later on. I think 9 stages is a good enough warm up! If he can get back to the form and climbing legs that he had in France then few riders will be able to distance him on the ascent. Can he drop everyone and come to the line solo?

Now, for that added rider…

Ruben Fernandez.

I had completely forgot that I had this stage outlined as a potential one for the Movistar man. “Why?” you ask…Well, he is from Murcia! He made the break earlier in the race but did a lot of work for Soler. I think he’ll be close to full fitness now and the extra motivation of riding on home roads could see him through. It will certainly help knowing every inch of that descent in the rain.

Vuelta Picks

Safe Pick – GC guy, Adam Yates.

You’re running out of GC riders, aren’t you? With another potential break win then you’ll want to be backing an overall contender. We should see some attacks on the climb from the main guys but they might not come to too much. Yates seems in OK form at the moment and it saves the “best” riders for later in the race.

Wongshot Pick – Pedrero, i.e. Breakaway rider.

Go for it, c’mon!

Lanterne Rouge Pick – Schwarzmann

A consistently low finisher, I like his form!

Prediction

Break to win, and I’ll go for heart over head…

No, it’s not Ludvigsson, instead I’ll once again curse Fernandez.

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I’m a big fan of Ruben’s and I’ve enjoyed see him progress steadily over the past few seasons. A Vuelta win in his home town would be an incredible achievement and one that is certainly a possibility!

Betting

I was going to stick with my 2pts a day rule, but I’m chucking that out the window here…

0.5pt EW on them all

Pedrero 100/1 @ Betfred

Ludvigsson 300/1 @B365

Bennett 150/1 @ Lads

Tolhoek 200/1 @ Boyles

Fernandez 150/1 @ Coral

Thanks as always for reading! Who do you think will win tomorrow? Will it be the break, or will the GC guys come out to play? Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

Vuelta a España 2017 Stage 7 Preview; Llíria -> Cuenca

Today’s Recap

A weird stage where the break never got more than three minutes but that was all that was needed.

With Luis Leon Sanchez up the road, Sky kept the break in check for a lot of the stage. However, it was Trek and Contador who tore things up on the final climb of the day, shattering the peloton.

We had a slight regrouping on the descent and flat run-in, with the gap coming down to 6 seconds at one point! Yet, three riders from the morning move kept their heads down, eventually increasing the gap and ultimately fighting out the stage win.

Enric Mas lead out the sprint, but it was Marczynski who was the strongest, beating his countryman Poljanski into second place.

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It was a bit of a weird ending to the stage as at one point the Froome/Contador group had 40 seconds on a group containing De La Cruz and Yates. Yet, none of the teams fully committed and in the end DLC only lost 17 seconds.

Will we see something similar tomorrow?

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

The Route

Another 200+km day for the peloton over some undulating roads.

 

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Although we don’t have the same number of categorised climbs that we had on today’s stage, the peloton will actually have to face more elevation gain at 2700m compared to the 2600m today.

There is a lot of uncategorised rolling terrain that once again suits powerful riders.

For example, the opening categorised climb of the day (Puerto La Montalbana) is 8km long at an average of 4.3%. Nothing too strenuous but they do climb for roughly 10km before then!

This is where the break is most likely to form.

Once over the top, there is a short descent followed by another few uncategorised drags. The riders will then tackle a longer descent before the second Cat-3 of the day.

The Alto de Santa Cruz de Moya is another power climb; averaging 4% for 8.7km.

From there, the riders will traverse a plateau of sorts for the following 100km. Kind of flat, but kind of hilly at the same time!

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The last climb of the day is enticingly positioned, cresting just 12km from the finish. I would take some of the gradients and bumps in the profile with a pinch of salt as Strava does sometimes seem to struggle when the route follows contour lines very closely. However, the average percentage for the climb is correct and it does have ramps of 15% or so in it, just maybe not the 25% or so.

Two important things to note about the climb are that it is cobbled, well paved, and it is very narrow in points.

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One car width wide in parts, positioning will be crucial for anyone who wants to contest the stage.

There is a slight plateau after the crest of the climb, but the closing 5kms are all downhill ever so slightly.

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Will it be a solo that comes to the line or will we see a reduced sprint?

How will the race pan out?

Another really tough day to predict. We could easily see a number of situations play out during the stage!

The early break obviously has a good chance at survival given what we’ve seen over the past few days and with terrain that is tough to control. For sprint teams that is.

Contador seems very sprightly just now and he may get his Trek team to help Sky keep check on the break so that he can launch an attack on the final climb. Considering the much shorter distance to the line that today’s stage, he could feasibly hold on with Froome and a few others. But is the climb tough enough for that? I don’t think so.

We could see a couple of teams control the day and hope for a reduced bunch sprint. Trentin was impressive today in making it over the final climb relatively close to the head of the peloton, eventually arriving home just behind the De La Cruz group. Lobato is another rider who might fancy his chances on making it over the short, not too steep climb.

Like today though, it would be wise for QS and Jumbo to send riders in the break so they don’t have to work behind.

Witha fast stage today, some riders will be hoping for a quieter and less stressful day tomorrow. Stage 8 should produce a GC showdown so the overall contenders might want to keep their powder dry for another day.

Consequently, if the right mix of teams and riders goes, then it should be another day for the break to stick!

Time to play everyone’s favourite game at the Vuelta…

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Break Contenders

Time to throw some darts again.

Tobias Ludvigsson.

Big T didn’t make the move today but I’m willing to give him another chance tomorrow. He came home in the Bardet/Moreno/Pozzovivo group today, i.e. the next main one on the road after the groups that included the top 20 on GC and the break. Clearly he has some kind of form and this is a race he seems to perform fairly well at. He climbed well here at the Vuelta last year and I was really hoping to see him push on this season. That’s not happened yet, but could tomorrow be that day?

Richard Carapaz.

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Arguably one of the biggest talents to come out of Ecuador in a long, long time; he is a solid climber and good all-rounder. He impressed early season, picking up a second place behind Adam Yates in Industria, along with a few top 10s on GC in Spanish 2.1 races. However it was his second place overall in the Route du Sud that really highlighted his talents. After Betancur’s fall today Movistar only have one rider in the top 25 in GC so they are guaranteed to be attacking. Can Carapaz turn their bad luck around?

Jetse Bol.

Another rider to make his return to the blog, he spent the day in the break on stage 5. He missed the key move that day but still finished strongly to take an 8th place at the finish. Tomorrow’s stage looks great for the Manzana rider and like many other teams, they’ll be hoping that the break makes it all the way. Bol is a rider who can climb well but he also packs a good sprint, will that see him through?

Pello Bilbao.

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This type of terrain is perfect for the Astana rider, who excels on rolling days. I’m still not 100% sure about his abilities on the long Alpine climbs, but nothing tomorrow should be of difficulty for him if he is fit! Punchy enough to make an attack on the closing climb, he could get a gap that way. However, he also packs a fairly solid sprint so he may hope for a reduced gallop to the line.

Vuelta Picks

Picking a GC rider today was definitely damage limitation for anyone near the top of the table. The same approach tomorrow is definitely advised too.

“Safe Pick” – Simon Yates.

A guy that should be there at the finish and relatively near the front of the bunch. It will save some of the “bigger hitters” for later in the race.

Wongshot Pick – Jetse Bol.

An almost smart Wongshot pick as it covers a possibly reduced sprint and breakaway.

Lanterne Rouge Pick – Lasse Hansen.

One of the many riders suffering from illness.

Prediction

Jetse Bol 2.0 to take a great stage win for Manzana. Vamos!

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Betting

Bol 0.5pt WIN @ 50/1

Ludvigsson 0.25pt EW @ 300/1

Carapaz 0.25pt EW @ 200/1

Bilbao 0.5pt WIN @ 80/1

Thanks as always for reading! Who do you think will win tomorrow on this upredictable stage? Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

 

 

 

Vuelta a España 2017 Stage 6 Preview; Vila-Real -> Sagunt

Today’s Recap

*Insert cliché here about having a 250/1 rider finish second…*

The break ended up making it today but for a while it was finely in the balance with Sky doing a lot of the pacing. However, over the penultimate climb of the day no one else in the peloton seemed keen to help with the chase and Sky eased off the pace.

Ahead, Lutsenko and Haller attacked on the descent, gaining quite a bit of time as everyone behind looked around. We saw a splinter move go and start to chase but they never closed the gap to less than 20 seconds.

On the bottom slopes of the climb, Lutsenko dropped his break companion, forging on ahead. Behind Kudus did the same to Gougeard.

However, the Eritrean didn’t have enough in the tank to catch back to Lutsenko, with the Kazakh taking a great win!

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Soler finished strongly from behind, closing the gap quite a lot, taking third on the day.

 

Similar to Lampaert’s win earlier in the week, I’m not too bothered with Lutsenko’s win. He’s a rider who I rate highly and have ranted and raved about for a couple of season’s now so it is good to see him take his first Grand Tour win. Although it is slightly more annoying when I couldn’t get on Kudus EW when placing my punt. Oh well. Onwards and upwards!

Maybe.

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

The Route

If there was ever a stage that was designed for a breakaway, this is it.

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Five categorised climbs litter the day, but with the last cresting at just under 40km to go, it is going to be a very tactical stage.

The opening climb is officially 11km long at 3.4% but the road does rise ever so slightly before then. However, it is not too tough and it is most definitely a “power” climb.

With the crest coming at 48 into the day, I would be unusual for the break not to have formed yet. Although equally, I wouldn’t be surprised to see them still slogging it out as they tackle the following Cat-3 almost instantly.

Puerto de Eslida is shorter but steeper than the previous climb, averaging 5.1% for its 5.3km.

If the break does go here, then there is a chance that the climbers will make the move. Not ideal given the finish, so they’ll have to be inventive later on.

The following two Cat-3 climbs won’t really play any major part in the outcome of the day and they’ll just be used to build the breakaway’s advantage, along with the long valley roads in between them.

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The final climb of the day the Puerto del Garbi averages roughly 5.5% for just over 9km but that doesn’t tell the whole story.

There are two very steep kilometres in the climb that both average over 11% and this is where the lighter climbers up ahead will hope to break the race up.

If a group of 4-5 riders gets ahead and works well at this point then they might not be seen for the rest of the stage. It will take someone brave if they want to go solo from here!

The remaining 40km or so are mostly downhill or on flat roads with a fairly simple run home.

Well, when I say simple, it is mainly straight but there are several roundabouts in the closing few kilometres.

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Thankfull the riders won’t have to make many 90-degree turns though with most of the roundabouts being travelled straight through. Having one at 250m to go will spice things up if a group arrives together.

How will the stage pan out?

A day tailor-made for the breakaway, I would be very surprised if we didn’t see the morning move make it all the way to the line.

There is of course a chance we see it come together for a sprint but who is really going to chase all day?

On Stage 4 we saw Aqua Blue and Quick-Step chase for the majority of the day, with some help from Lotto Soudal as well. Will we see a similar situation this time around? No.

It is a tough stage to control so it is more beneficial for a team to get a guy up the road early and re-assess the day after that. Doing so means they don’t have to chase behind which is ideal on this type of territory. If it is coming back, then they can change-up their plan to work for their sprinter.

The only danger for the breakaway in terms of succeeding, is if a current top 25 interloper is in their midst. In that case, Sky will more than likely keep the break on a tight leash and once we get into the final 40km, the sprinters teams could come to help reel it in.

Break Contenders

Two of the riders who I had pencilled in for this stage actually made the move today, with one of them going on to win the stage. I’m not sure Lutsenko will go for back to back breakaways, but the other rider might…

Alexis Gougeard.

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An incredibly attacking rider, he won a similar type of stage back in the 2015 Vuelta, where the penultimate climb crested with 20km to go that time. He has the fighting spirit to make the break on multiple days in a row, we saw that in the Tour of Wallonie not too long ago. Clearly in great form at the moment, I think he could go even better tomorrow.

Lasse Hansen.

If Aqua Blue aren’t willing to chase all day then sending someone like Hansen up the road is a great idea. The Dane has had a fairly solid season so far, winning a couple of KOM jerseys for his efforts. He came in way down today, which could be a sign that he is struggling, or he could also be saving some energy. Who knows!? I guess we’ll find out tomorrow afternoon. A powerful rider with a fast kick, he might fancy his chances in a small group.

Tobias Ludvigsson.

A rider that I am a massive fan of and you’re bound to be aware of that if you’ve read my blog for a little while now. With FDJ having a real mixed bag of a team here, they’ll be hoping to make the breakaways every day. Maison finished 10th for them today but I’m sure they’ll be hoping for more soon. Big T should be able to cope with the climbs and as a fairly good TTer then he could potentially attack and hold off his breakaway companions.

Bob Jungels.

Not really in the GC picture anymore he is far enough behind to be given some freedom. The perfect type of rider for this style of stage where power is needed for the climbs and for the flat. He struggled in the heat on the earlier stages but he seems to be getting more aclimatised to it now. A big danger if he gets in the breakaway.

Vuelta Picks

Another tough day with a breakaway win looking likely.

“Safe Pick” – GC Contender, i.e. Nibali.

You’re close to the top of the table, so you don’t want to take many risks. Backing a sprinter on a day like this is a very dangerous game as if the breakaway wins then the peloton might roll home together. Nonetheless, a GC rider is more likely to further ahead in the bunch in that situation.

“Wongshot Pick” – Break rider; Jungels.

Have a stab in the dark basically!

Lanterne Rouge Pick – Dunne

He seems to like to adopt the Cummings position on these types of stages.

Prediction

Breakaway to stay away and Jungels to take a solo victory!

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Betting

0.5pt WIN on them all;

Jungels @ 18

Hansen @ 300

Ludvigsson @ 250

Gougeard @ 125

Thanks as always for reading; who do you think will win tomorrow? Is it a nailed on break day? Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

Vuelta a España 2017 Stage 5 Preview; Benicàssim -> Alcossebre

Today’s Recap

As expected it was a long and tough day for the breakaway and we got the inevitable bunch sprint.

The run in wasn’t without danger though and a crash at 3.2km took out Moreno, Pozzovivo and blog pick for the day Molano to name a few. Good to see the Haughey Curse is back with a vengence!

The final 2kms were incredibly hectic with riders and teams strewn all over the road. Quick Step asserted their dominance leading, but it was Lobato who jumped first and launched his sprint early. However, Trentin quickly got into his slipstream and came round him relatively easily in the end, taking the stage win.

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Lobato held on for second with Van Asbroeck taking third.

*Overused fact alert*

That win makes Trentin the 100th rider to win a stage in all three Grand Tours. Quite the achievement.

It’s unlikely he’ll be doubling up tomorrow though. Let’s take a look at what is store for the riders.

The Route

A rolling day in the saddle that typifies the Vuelta.

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Three Cat-2s and Two Cat-3s (quite the tongue twister there) litter the route, totalling 2733m of elevation gain according to the road book.

With it being a stage that is unlikely to see any massive gaps, the fight will be on to get into the breakaway and we’ll most likely see the move go on the first climb of the day; the Alto del Desierto de las Palmas.

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Averaging only 4.8% for 8.2km, it is a fairly generous Cat-2 climb going by Vuelta standards. However, it is incredibly inconsistent with lots of changes in gradient, especially in the second half. This makes it difficult for riders to settle into a rhythm and should suit the punchier climbers looking to make the move.

Nonetheless, if there is a big fight to get into the move it might not even stick over the top of the first climb. Instead, it could go on the flatter land that follows, or possibly the second climb of the day.

Alto de Cabenes is a fairly easy climb, averaging a lowly 3.8% for 9.4kms. It shouldn’t be of any major difficulty to the majority of the peloton. If we do see a breakaway go here then some of the power climbers could make the move, rather than it just being the more mountain goat style riders.

The Coll de la Bandereta is next on the menu for the riders. With the break having already been established, it shouldn’t cause any issues and the only action it will see is possibly someone chasing KOM points. It is a sharper climb than what the riders will have faced earlier in the day, averaging 6.8% for 4.6km.

At just over 60km to go, the riders will face the penultimate categorised climb of the day.

Sarratella

The Alto de la Serratella is a long climb at just over 14km, but like a few ascents they’ve faced today, it is not that steep. If anyone wants to forge on out ahead, then they will have to do so early on in the climb between kilometres 4-9 where the gradient is the steepest.

Once over the top they face a long descent that features a kick ups, before a few more serious climbs on the “flat section” before the rise to the finish in Alcossebre.

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You can view my full final 6km profile here, if you want to look at the finale in more detail.

After the lower gradients on the previous climbs in the day, this is the typical Vuelta Cat-3  climbs we’ll see throughout the race. It is an absolute leg breaker and the style of finish I love to watch!

Some of it is truly cruel, with 800m at just over 14% (1.7km -> 2,5km in the image above) and 260m at 18.5%; that stops at roughly 400m to the line.

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Just look at that kick up! Hopefully the road surface has been improved, other wise it will be like riding on the cobbles of Roubaix.

How will the stage pan out?

There is of course the chance that the GC teams keep things together to chase for bonus seconds on the line, but I struggle to see that happening. Although saying that, Sky are in the lead and Froome looked very good on the similar last climb during Stage 3. They could fancy his chances and consequently keep tabs on the move. In their report of today’s stage Froome says he won’t give any gifts and fight for bonus seconds and at the finishes. Make of that what you will!

Yet, with the penultimate climb coming a long way from the finish then it becomes less likely. The reason I say that is because Sky would prefer a climb/descent just before the kick up the line so that the pace can be made hard and put everyone else into difficulty.

If they arrive at the bottom of the slope controlling a pretty much full peloton, then there could be a couple of his contenders who go better on this type of finish. Therefore, Sky might keep their powder dry and hope Froome can just gain time on the road instead, rather than bonus seconds.

So it looks like a…

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kind of day again, with backing a GC guy in-play.

However, even that has some permutations.

If the break goes on the second half of the opening climb then we will see more traditional lighter climbers up ahead, but if it goes anytime after that then a few more power climbers could make the move.

With the other climbs on the road not being too difficult (until the finale), then a splinter group of the breakaway could attack anywhere after the penultimate climb. Heck, we could even see a long-range solo attack a la Plaza from 2015 but that would be very hard to maintain for anyone!

Contenders

We have a lot of strong riders who are already 6 minutes plus on GC, with plenty much further back than that.

The issue is trying to figure if they are that far back; out of choice, i.e. wanting to lose time to hunt stages; simply not in form; or ill. Although the last two are kind of linked.

Currently there seems to be a bout of stomach issues going around the peloton with Majka and Contador the notable riders to have complained so far, and Ben King pulling out because of it.

It’s a minefield, but I’ll throw a few darts at it anyway!

Enric Mas.

Incredibly strong in Burgos, he hasn’t been as good as I had expected here so far, shipping a lot of time on Stage 3. Falling into the “possibly ill” category, if he has been bluffing and losing time deliberately to hunt stage wins then tomorrow looks good for him. Aside from Landa and De La Cruz, he was next best on the brutally steep finish of Picon Blanco in Burgos. A similar performance could see him take the win and mean QS take 3 out of the 5 stages.

Alessandro De Marchi.

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Willing to put my faith in the BMC man again, he’ll get in a good move at some point this Vuelta. It will be tough for him to out-climb some mountain goats on the finish so he’ll be hoping for a pre-selection before the last climb itself. If so, he can then attack around 10km before the start of the ramp and hope to win Cummings style. He has the class to do it.

Merhawi Kudus.

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The super light Eritrean climber in theory should be able to cope well with the steep gradients of the final ascent. He was incredible at the start of the year in Llucena and he wasn’t too far off the pace on the steep finish in Burgos recently. Dimension Data are bound to get someone up the road tomorrow and in the right company the Eritrean could win.

Ruben Fernandez.

I have a lot of time for the Movistar man. He has slowly progressed through their system, and although it has not been the meteoric rise since his l’Avenir win that some might have expected/hoped for, he has been very solid. Last year he was great on the steep finish of third stage, taking second place on the day and with it a stint in the leader’s jersey. He’s been a bit off the boil recently, but with no GC leader here as such, I think Movistar will be targeting stage wins. Fernandez could be that guy!

Vuelta Picks

Well it didn’t go well today for me and my Molano pick, after he crashed in the finale. Tomorrow’s stage is a bit of a land mine and we could see a few more hiccups.

“Safe Pick” – Bardet

If you’re near the top of the table take a GC guy and hope that they are near the front of their group at the end of the day. Bardet was one of the strongest on the final climb on S3 and he should be close again.

“Wongshot Pick” – Any Break rider i.e. Mas.

The boat I find myself in just now. You’re almost guaranteed to be out of the overall game so it is time to choose a bold breakaway contender and hope for the stage win. Plus, it saves some GC contenders for later in the race.

“Lanterne Rouge Pick” – Manzin.

The sprinter struggled on Stage 3 and will do so again tomorrow.

Prediction

I think the break will stay away but it is not clear-cut and all depends on Sky’s attitude. If they think Froome can win the final climb they might bring it back. Nonetheless, I would say it is still a 65/35 split.

So with that said, it is the name in a hat time and I’ll go for Fernandez to finally step up for his first pro win.

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Betting

So two of my picks aren’t priced up yet, hoping they will be later…

0.5pt WIN on them all though which currently means;

Kudus @ 250/1

De Marchi @ 28/1

 

Thanks as always for reading! Who do you think will win tomorrow? Will it be a breakaway win or another GC day?

 

Vuelta a España 2017 Stage 1 Preview; Nîmes -> Nîmes

And so our watch begins…

The Vuelta kicks off tomorrow evening with a tasty team time trial. Last year we saw Sky beat Movistar by less than a second over a 28km course, with Pete Kennaugh taking the leader’s jersey.

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Will we see an even smaller winning margin this year given the shorter route?

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

The Route

A course that starts off technical, but it does seem to ease off later on in the stage.

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There are several 90-degree turns where the TT-trains will be strung out even more than they normally are. Consequently, a team with good technique could gain time through these turns as their riders don’t have to scramble back onto the wheel in front of them.

Furthermore, teams that practice peel offs and TTTs in general will be at a massive advantage due to the timing that is involved when changing lead rider. You don’t want to be pulling over through a corner, that’s for sure. A level-headed and experienced DS is of almost equal importance in that situation!

Things do get easier later on in the route, with several long straight roads where the strongest of teams can put the power down.

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We do have a Cat-3 climb at just over the half-way point but is no more than a pitiful excuse to hand out the KOM jersey at the end of the day. I mean compared to the other Cat-3s which we have at this race, 2.4km at 1.6% is laughable. It will be the easiest KOM points anyway gets all race!

Thanfully it looks as if all the teams will get similar conditions so there will be no weather affected surprises/disappointments.

As for the start times; the first team off the ramp is Manzan Postobon at 17:30 CET, with Trek last to set off at 18:54. All of the other squads will be sent out at 4 minute intervals.

You can view all of the start times here.

Contenders

BMC.

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It is nigh on impossible to have a TTT where BMC are not favourites. They lost their TTT crown last year but they have been the team to dominate this discipline over the past couple of seasons. In 2017 they’ve taken notable TTT victories in Catalunya and Tirreno. They do arrive slightly light in terms of their usual crack squad; with only Dennis and Oss representing them at the World’s last year. The likes of Roche and Van Garderen are solid replacements but they don’t seem as invincible as they have in the past. They are rightly favourites, however I think they won’t have it 100% their way.

Quick Step.

 

The TTT world champions arrive here with three of that contingent (Jungels/Lampaert/Terpstra) and add to them with a lot of other strong, well-rounded riders such as Trentin and Alaphilippe. They’ve underperformed in recent TTTs but in this type of race I think they can turn it around. The course looks ideal for them, with a good mix of sharp corners that require some explosiveness, but also longer power sections where their diesel engines can open up the taps.

Team Sky.

Winners of a much lumpier TTT last year, they have been very hit or miss as of late. On for a good time at Tirreno until their wheels decided to implode, they’ll hope to not be the laughing-stock this time around. Although their team looks a bit weak on paper, Sky always seem to turn up at Grand Tours. I’d be surprised if they finished outside of the top 3!

Honestly, I can’t see any team aside from those three compete for the win, so I don’t want to bore your time by pointlessly going through them all.

Prediction

I’ve changed my mind between those three teams several times which went something like this…

*Looking at teams*

“Ah QS bring a lot of strong rouleurs, really fancy them for this”

“But BMC are incredible at TTTs and are unbeaten this year. Surely they have this”

“Hold on a second, what about Sky? A quietly strong team who always go well in the big competitions and with the arguable GC favourite They’ll surely set a great time.”

I’m going to go with my gut instinct and initial thoughts when thinking of this yesterday/earlier today though.

Quick-Step to win!

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I really like their squad for this, it is so incredibly balanced. The shorter length of effort brings them a lot closer to BMC and looking at rider v rider, I actually think Quick Step have the better time trialists/rouleurs. Furthermore, with the whole Sanchez saga, the mood in the BMC camp might be a bit off just now, and I think they are there for the taking.

Vuelta Picks

As stated in my overall preview, I’ll be adding a new daily section to the blog where I discuss possible choices for the game; highlighting a “safe”, a “wongshot” and a “lanterne rouge” pick.

Safe – BMC.

Although I have a feeling they won’t win, given the form and history in TTTs over the past three seasons they are the team to back in this discipline. It would be very surprising to see them outside of the top 3, heck, even the top 2. Picking them could see you off to a good start. I won’t be choosing them though, which is probably good for you!

Wongshot – Sky.

I can’t see anyone other than those three wining tomorrow and unlike potential breakaway days where I may as well just randomly choose a rider, that’s a little bit farfetched for this. Sky are the longest odds of the trio, therefore the Wongshot pick!

Lanterne Rouge – Caja Rural.

You would think I’d go with Manzana for this, but I actually think the Colombian team will put in more of an effort than the Spaniards. Caja will be in almost every break in the first few week so if they want to be given freedom to chase jerseys/stage wins then they need to lose a lot of time. Don’t get me wrong, Manzana might do the same thing, but given it is their first GT then I think the exuberance of wanting to perform well on every day will get the better of them.

Also, some of you may still not have any idea what I’m talking about! Vuelta Picks is a simple fantasy style where you pick a rider for every stage of the race, with their finishing position counting as your score. The lower the score the better. However, you are only allowed to use a rider once during the whole race, so there is some tactics involved with it. Although don’t listen to me on that front as I am a notorious Lanterne Rouge contender!

If you’re interested at all, it costs £10 to play – just put your name into the spreadsheet I’ll link below and Jason (the guy who is organising it all) will be in touch regarding payment and any other questions you have!

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

If you do join, then you’ll have until tomorrow to make your first stage pick.

Betting

Very much tempted with a no bet, but I’m going to dip my toe in the water ever so slightly.

2pts WIN Quick Step @ 7/4 with various. (would take 13/8 lowest)

Thanks as always for reading and any feedback is greatly appreciated! Who do you think will win the TTT? Is it a clear-cut three-horse race? Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vuelta a España 2017 Preview – The BFOG

Vuelta a España 2017 Preview – The BFOG

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

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

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

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

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

The Route – What You Need To Know

To some it up in a word: tough.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Ouch. Ouch indeed!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

GC Contenders and Pretenders

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

Chris Froome.

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

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

Vincenzo Nibali.

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

Alberto Contador.

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

Fabio Aru.

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

Miguel Angel Lopez.

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

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

Ilnur Zakarin.

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

Yates / Yates / Chaves.

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

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

Prediction

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

King of the Mountains

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

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

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

As for points distribution, it is as follows:

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

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

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

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

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

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

How will the KOM race pan out?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Merhawi Kudus.

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

Jetse Bol (2.0).

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

Larry Warbasse.

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

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

Points Classification

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Julian-Alaphilippe-time-trial

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

Vuelta Picks

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

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

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

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

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

Think you can beat me and take my money?!

*Hint – the answer is probably yes*

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

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

Spreadsheet above^^^

Betting

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

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

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

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

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

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

As for the Points jersey, it’s simple.

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

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

 

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

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vuelta Stage 21 Preview: Las Rozas -> Madrid

*Apologies again, this preview will be very short as I’m away out for a family dinner this evening*

Today’s Recap

An insane stage that had a bit of everything!

As I predicted it was the break that fought it out for the stage win. Throughout the final climb there were several riders who looked as if they had the stage victory in their grasps. Sanchez looked good on the early slopes, then Conti looked as if he was the winner elect. However, neither of them made the top 10! Instead, it was Latour and Atapuma who entered a dog-fight and it was the Frenchman who just had enough at the end of the stage. One of the best finales to a Grand Tour stage I’ve seen in a while, everyone in every group was on their limit!

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Behind, Chaves repeated Orica’s tactics from Stage 14, attacking on the penultimate climb and bridging to team-mates. Doing so has saw him creep onto the GC podium, 13 seconds ahead of Contador. Another tactical masterclass from the Aussie outfit.

Froome tested Quintana but the Colombian always had the measure of him. The biggest loser on the day has to be Scarponi who dropped out of the top 10.

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Anyway, let’s look ahead at the processional stage into Madrid.

The Route

Nothing overly exciting.

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An expected flat bunch sprint and no real focal points to talk about.

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A straightforward and fast circuit within Madrid to end the day and the Vuelta. There are a few sharp hairpin turns that will stretch the bunch out. Positioning into that final hairpin just before 1km to go will be key. If you’re too far back then you have no chance.

Sprinters

The few sprints we’ve had so far this Vuelta have been fairly messy which makes tomorrow even more unpredictable.

Saying that, I do expect a few teams to take control tomorrow.

Etixx will control it for Meersman, Orica now devoid of GC duties will possibly control it for Cort and Giant will work hard for Arndt.

I can’t really see anyone else competing with those three. Possibly Drucker, Felline, Sbaragli & Van Genechten could get in the mix but it’s very unlikely.

Looking at the teams three lead-outs, Etixx and Giant are a cut above Orica.

On a stage like this, Orica will probably adopt the Lampre tactic where Gerrans-Keukeleire-Cort try and ambush the front of the race within the last 1.5km. In a messy sprint, this could be very effective!

Both Etixx and Giant so far have shown a willingness to control the race from far out and command the final 5km. Therefore there is no chance that a break makes this, it’s not the Giro! 😉

I was very impressed with the lead-out from Giant on Stage 18, they are finally getting things together. They were just unlucky it didn’t go their way in the end.

On a flat sprint, I would say that Arndt is faster than Meersman. Cort has shown if he’s in the right position he can go well too.

Prediction

Arndt finally gets his stage win! I mean, they surely have to get it right, don’t they?!

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Betting

2.6pts WIN Arndt @ 4/1 with Bet365

0.2pt EW De Koert @ 400/1 with Bet365.  Only doing this as Arndt came dead last today, might not be 100%. De Koert would be the go to sprint option.

Massive thanks to everyone who has read and shared the blog throughout the Vuelta! I know my predictions haven’t been the best, but thanks for sticking with me. I’m not sure what other races I’ll be doing this year but I’ll definitely be doing the Worlds, both men and women. 

Apologies again for this being shorter than normal! Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

 

Vuelta Stage 20 Preview: Benidorm -> Alto de Aitana

Today’s Recap

Wow.

Froome smoked everyone.

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He managed to beat the guy who smoked everyone else, Castroviejo, by 44 seconds. An utterly dominant display. I mean, he only beat him by 4 seconds at Rio on a much longer TT. Plus, all the local advantages that Castroviejo had, it’s just an insanely unbelievable, strong ride!

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Anyway, enough about today, on to tomorrow’s stage.

The Route

Last chance saloon for the GC riders as we reach the penultimate stage of the race. In typical Vuelta, and Grand Tour fashion, the organisers have created a tough-ish day out on the bike. It’s not the Queen stage, but probably the Princess!

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Four Cat-2 climbs followed by an Especial ascent.

With the GC battle now a lot closer after today, we could see all hell break loose on tomorrow’s stage. Sky might try to take it up early on the first climb of the day; Coll de Rates. 13km at 3% and it’s a Cat 2? Well a lot of the elevation gain (230m -> 505m) is made at the start; 5kms at 5.5%. Before a plateau (if you can call it that) then another kick up at the end.

I don’t think the following two climbs will have an impact on the outcome of the day so I’ll miss them out and get onto the penultimate climb. Although even then, the Puerto de Tudons isn’t overly difficult, coming in at 7.1km long, averaging 5.4%. Nothing the GC guys can’t handle.

So it looks as if it’s over to the final climb. The Alto de Aitana.

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Long, but not very steep with only a 5.9% average gradient. There are a few steeper sections within the climb but if anything will create gaps between the GC guys it’s the length of the climb, at 21km. Combine this with the amount of ascending we’ve had at the Vuelta so far and there could be some splits.

How will the stage pan out?

Before today’s reshuffling I had this down as a breakaway day. Like most days have been at the Vuelta and something we see commonly on the last “proper” day of a Grand Tour.

However, Froome’s time gain does throw somewhat of a spanner in the works in regards to a breakaway victory. Some people will suggest that Sky will go all guns blazing tomorrow to try and isolate/weaken Quintana and we’ll have another epic stage on our hands.

Yes, it is feasible, I mean, nothing is impossible but it seems implausible to me. Not that I’m controversial or anything 😉 Let me explain.article-2043608-0E278F2700000578-613_306x423

The only problem with that plan, is that in the mountains Quintana hasn’t been in trouble at all this entire race. He only lost small amounts of time to Froome on Stage 3, but since then he’s been at least on an equal footing with the Brit and has beaten him several times. As I’ve said above, the climbs tomorrow aren’t overly difficult (which actually favours Froome) but Quintana should have no issue following. Unless he cracks majorly. Heck, he can afford to lose a minute, which is an enormous amount of time for these guys.

Isolating Quintana through the use of Froome’s team-mates doesn’t make much sense either. If it’s left as a 1 v 3 then all the Colombian has to do is follow Froome’s wheel. Numerical advantage won’t make a difference. Bet they regret not having Konig up there on GC now!

Finally and most important of all, I think Froome knows that Quintana’s better than him in the mountains just now. He’s tried a couple of times to crack him and has failed. It would be a big loss mentally for next season if he tries again and it doesn’t work. As bad as it is, I think he might be happy with his 2 stage wins and 2nd on GC.

So once again, I think we’re left with a…

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Candidates

There are a lot of guys who’ll be keen to get in the move to showcase themselves but especially because they will fancy their chances on the final climb.

Look to your obvious guys, such as Fraile and Elissonde who both have to make the move to continue the KOM battle. Gesink will probably be there too. However, I’m not suggesting any of them. Coincidentally, the guys I am naming took it “easy” today as well, all finishing outside the top 100, saving their legs… (?)

Joe Dombrowski.

Giro d'Italia - Stage 16

A regular pick of mine at the Giro earlier in the year, he’s a great climber with a solid engine. One of the most naturally gifted cyclists in the peloton, much like Ryder Hesjedal, he’s someone who seems to get better as a race progresses. Before the Vuelta, Talansky said that Dombrowski would win a stage here. He’s not done so yet, and tomorrow is his only chance. 3rd on the penultimate stage in the Giro, he’ll be hoping for better tomorrow!

Darwin Atapuma.

2nd on that same stage, Atapuma has been very quiet since taking the leader’s jersey earlier in the race. With Sanchez’s unfortunate crash today BMC have lost their top 10 rider and will want to go on the attack. Hermans may be that guy, but Atapuma has a lot more time leeway to play with. An exceptional climber on his day, the final ascent should be a walk in the park for him.

Hugh Carthy.

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The Lancashire lad has had a Vuelta full of learning experiences. He was unfortunate enough to crash and need stitches to his hand earlier on in the race, but he did manage to make it into Froome’s group on that very chaotic Stage 15. This type of stage suits him perfectly (the climbs are consistent) and I hope he’s recovered and makes the break, just to remind everyone what he’s capable of!

Gianluca Brambilla.

The winner of that incredible stage 15, Brambilla has taken it relatively easy since. Rolling home a few minutes down each day, saving some energy. Coming into this race, I thought he was a decent outside shot of a top 10 on GC. However, that is obviously beyond him now, but it highlights the quality of rider that he is. He’ll be able to stick in on the final climb because it’s not so difficult and he could out-sprint anyone to the line.

Prediction

I say Brambilla takes his second stage win!

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Behind, we might see some GC action, but Quintana still wins the Vuelta. All he has to do is stick on Froome’s back-wheel all day and I’m confident he’s capable of that. Even if he does end up losing 20 seconds at most. There might be some more movement within the top 10 itself. The battles for 5th and 7th look exciting!

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Betting

0.45pt WIN Brambilla @ 22/1

0.25pt WIN Dombrowski @ 80/1

0.15pt WIN Atapuma @ 50/1

0.15pt WIN Carthy @ 125/1

All of these are with B365 as they’re the only bookie to price up by half 8. Hopefully others will be more favourable later!

Hope you all enjoyed the preview. How do you think the penultimate stage will go? Am I completely wrong, and will we see a massive GC fight throughout the stage? Does the break have any chance? Like always, any feedback is greatly appreciated. Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.