Tour de France 2018 GC Preview

Tour de France 2018 GC Preview

In 2017 we saw a rather dominant Chris Froome win by ‘only’ 54 seconds ahead of Rigoberto Uran with Romain Bardet edging Landa by one second to round out the GC podium.

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I say ‘only’ above as it was actually Froome’s smallest winning margin in all 4 of his victories so far, but he never looked in that much trouble throughout the three weeks. Obviously it was a measured effort so that he could go on to win the Vuelta later in the year, then the Giro this year. Can he make it an incredible 5th Tour win and 4th GT win in a row?

No fancy business here because as I’ll be doing daily stage previews I’m just ducking any route analysis here and just jumping straight into the favourites. I would recommend this preview from Road.cc though as they cover each stage in concise paragraphs. Much better than my ramblings!

I’m also going to be blunt with some riders as I don’t really rate their overall chances. Also you’ll have read many previews by now and if I’m honest, I can’t really bothered to rehash what others have said.

Anyway, onto the contenders and pretenders…

The Favourite 

Chris Froome.

Despite what your opinion is (I’m sure you all know mine by now) on the whole salbutamol case, the bottom line is that Froome is cleared and is here to race. Nothing like a bit of pre-Tour drama though with ASO apparently going to ban him before UCI/WADA announcing the following day that his case was dropped. More drama than Love Island!

At the Giro Froome was seemingly way off the pace but two remarkable days on the bike, Zoncolan and Stage 19, saw him claw back an almost 3 minute deficit to Dumoulin with some more left in the bag. With an extra week between the Giro and Tour, he should have recovered reasonably well. His team is super strong, as you would expect, and he will have a lot of support on the flat and in the mountains. It will be interesting to see how he can handle the cobbled stage – it will certainly bring back bad memories from crashing out in 2014. No doubt he starts as the favourite and will gain time in the efforts against the clock but can we really expect a rider to win four Grand Tours in a row? I hope not, for the sake of the sport.

The Waiting for Froome to falter-ers

Richie Porte.

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Can Richie survive a Grand Tour without a bad day? That is the million dollar question. If he does, then he will play a massive role in the outcome of this race. Arguably the best rider on a 15 minute climb in the World, he will hope to display some of that trademark out of the saddle “sprint-climbing” in this race. At the Tour de Suisse he was strong and took home that race but I get the sense that he still wasn’t at 100%, there is still room for improvement from him. Compared to what he has been used to in the past couple of seasons this looks like his strongest BMC support team. They have all terrain covered to shepherd Porte around France and he should be able to rely on Van Garderen and Caruso deep into many of the mountain days. I started off this season thinking that Porte would win the race and although my mind has been slightly changed, he still starts as one to beat if he stays on his bike.

Romain Bardet. 

The AG2R man has finished on the podium the past two years and will be hoping for a similar result this year, if not better. A third in the recent Dauphiné was a good and highlights that his form is heading in the right direction but that he has not peaked too soon. In last year’s edition of the race I loved the way AG2R attacked Sky in the mountains and they bring an even stronger squad with them this time out. He shouldn’t lose a crazy amount of time in the TTT as a result but I do have a slight worry for him on the cobbled stage. Then again, who of the GC contenders will truly be comfortable then? A big day is needed from Naesen! In the mountains he (alongside Porte) is one of the few riders I am confident can actually challenge Froome. With a few stages ending in descents from climbs, he will be in his element and certainly put pressure on the other GC contenders.

Nairo Quintana.

Is the Colombian back to his climbing best? It looks like it after his strong showing in the Tour de Suisse and he was particularly impressive holding off the group of GC contenders on the shallow drag before the final steeper ramps of Arosa. He forms a very strong attacking trident with Valverde and Landa and I’m really looking forward to see how they approach the race. I just hope that at least two of them are in contention after the cobbled stage. We saw in 2015 just how strong Nairo can be in the final week of the race in the high mountains and the rest of his challengers will be concerned if he is within 2 minutes going into the closing stages. No doubt we’ll certainly see some enthusiastic Colombian fans at the side of the road!

The Podium Outsiders

Right, shorter musings from now on.

Vincenzo Nibali.

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Winner of the Tour when the race last visited the cobbles, the Bahrain rider has had a pretty average year so far. However, he knows how to peak for a race and he can never be discounted. With a strong team to support him, we will probably see him on the attack as he will no doubt have to claw some time back after the TTT.

Rigoberto Uran.

A surprising second place last year, I think it will be hard for the Colombian to repeat the feat this time around. He found some race sharpness in Slovenia recently but I just don’t think he has enough to do it. Then again, no one really mentioned him last year and look what happened.

Alejandro Valverde.

Mr Evergreen, Valverde has been incredibly strong this season so far, having won the GC of every stage race he has competed in. It was scary how easy things were for him in the recent La Route d’Occitanie, using the attacks of Elissonde and Navarro as training – deliberately letting gaps grow so he could close them down. He’s another that will probably be chasing time after the TTT but I look forward to his venture onto the cobbles – he didn’t do too badly in Dwars this year.

Adam Yates. 

Have Mitchelton learnt from his brother’s epic collapse at the Giro? In strong form after his second in the Dauphine (the gap to Porte would have only be a handful of seconds if it was not for the TTT), he will be able to rely on a well-rounded squad focussed solely on him. Can he handle the pressure?

Jakob Fuglsang.

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If there was ever a year when Fuglsang could seriously challenge for a podium spot then this would be it. He has a solid team built around him that should be able to support him on most terrain. Back in 2014 he was the one doing the majority of the work when Nibali gained a load of time on the cobbles so no doubt he’ll be licking his lips at that stage. We saw in the Tour de Suisse that he was stronger than Porte on the last day of climbing and he followed that up with a blistering TT. Has he managed to hold form?

Top 10 Fillers

Ilnur Zakarin.

The Katusha man is one of those riders that could really fall into a couple of categories in this preview. I fear he’ll lose some time in the TT and given his poor bike handling the cobbles will be an issue too. However, we saw in the Vuelta last year that he was one of the best climbers in the last week. It all depends on the opening 9 days though.

Geraint Thomas.

Team Sky Plan B but when has a Team Sky Plan B ever actually won a race? I certainly can’t recall a time. Needs Froome to drop out within the opening 9 days for him to get a dedicated team around him. Will he wait for his captain on the cobbles as theoretically he should be one of the strongest GC riders. It will be interesting to see how it plays out within the team.

Bob Jungels.

I rate him as a rider but I feel he’s just going to be a “he’s there” kind of rider this Tour. Top 10 would be a good result.

Daniel Martin.

Terrible team means he will lose a lot of time in the TTT and he will lose a lot of time on the cobbles too. Stage hunting later in the race would be a good idea if he just doesn’t want to ride for a top 10.

Steven Kruijswijk.

See Jungels.

Bauke Mollema.

See Kruijswijk.

The Pretenders

Riders that won’t top 10 despite a lot of people thinking they will. Ready to eat my hat here.

Primoz Roglic.

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He seems to be everyone’s favourite wildcard for the race but I just can’t see it. Having won both Itzulia and Romandie he then returned to racing recently and took the crown at his home tour. Unproven and untested, I think he will once again go for stage wins and focus on contending for the GC in a GT next year.

Tom Dumoulin.

The Sunweb rider has never done two GTs back to back while going for GC. After the brutally tough Giro I think he will fall short here and instead focus on going for some stage wins. The way that Sunweb approached this race to me seemed that Kelderman was going to be their GC candidate with Dumoulin acting as a decoy to deflect attention but unfortunately Kelderman crashed and can’t take the start.

Mikel Landa.

The boldest of the three riders listed here, I just can’t get behind the Landa train. I think something will go wrong for him on one of the days and with the two more established Movistar riders possibly getting a little extra support, Landa will lose his hopes on the cobbles. If he is in contact though I would love to see Rogue Landa again.

Egan Bernal.

Exceptional talent but he’ll fall into line, a.k.a behind Thomas and Poels. We might see something similar to Moscon at the Vuelta where he is exceptional for a while but due to his age he won’t be consistent.

Prediction

Probably Froome, innit.

But after resigning myself to that fate at the Giro I’m going to predict a more fairytale result here and go with Bardet to take home the first French win in a long time.

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Allez Romain!

Betting

Three pre-Tour bets for me, all that I’ve tweeted out over the past couple of weeks.

2pts EW Bardet @ 18/1 for GC (he’s actually out to 20/1 with Betfair Sportsbook but I would take the 16/1 widely available elswhere)

1.5pt Valverde Top 3 at 7/1 (available at Bet365 and Will Hill)

1pt EW Demare Points Classification at 20/1 (with Coral/Lads)

I had set aside 10pts for outright market bets but this is not the year to bet on KOM pre race but I might fancy something during the race.

Let’s just hope for a better Tour than Giro punting wise, I’ll be sticking to my favourite rule: 2pts a day keeps the debt collector away!

Thanks for reading as always and hope you enjoyed the preview. Who do you think will go on to win the race overall? Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

Vuelta a Andalucia 2018 Stage 4 Preview; Sevilla › Alcalá de los Gazules

Today’s Recap

We did end with a sprint and Modolo took the win as expected.

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Barbero followed him home with young Colombian Soto taking his first European podium.

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

The Route

A weird stage that has a lot of flat but with a mountain in the middle of the day and a tricky finish.

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The road does roll a little from around the 60km mark but it is nothing too serious. It will be interesting to see how long it takes for the break to form as a lot of riders and teams will fancy its chances.

We should see something go by around 30km into the day but you never know. The first obstacle the peloton will have to face is the Puerto de las Palomas. It’s a long climb at 12.5km with a fairly steady 6.5% gradient throughout. It’s too far from the finish to be attacked by the GC group so I imagine they’ll ride at a steady tempo. It could split the break if someone really decides to push on but that all depends on the composition of the move.

Once over the crest they’ll face a small descent before the Puerto del Boyar. A short climb at only 2kms, it is more an interruption to the downhill more than anything else. Fifteen kilometres of proper descent follows before the road rolls in the closing 70km. Again, there is nothing too serious but it can sap the legs.

The major difficulty of the day though is the climb to the finish.

The road actually climbs for a few hundred metres before the video begins.

You should be able to see above how terrible the surface is. Well, it’s just typical for a side-street in Southern Spain. Some of the gaps between the paving stones look fairly large! I mean it does get better for a bit, but then it gets considerably worse after again.

The road is also extremely narrow and can only comfortably fit one car up it so positioning will be important coming into the bottom so expect a big battle between the GC contenders and their teams.

The average gradient of 10% for 1.4km almost makes the climb easier than it actually is. In fact, there is even a little descent around half-way up!

Andalucia S4 Fin

If people haven’t done a proper recon, then they’ll be in for a big shock. I just hope they haven’t repaired the road surface, it would just take away from the spectacle/my viewing pleasure. It is one that I’ll enjoy from the comfort of my chair. I mean, just look at the final turn…

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Some great Spanish infrastructure!

The winner here will certainly be deserving of it, that is for sure.

Break or no break?

The age-old question is back again.

One of the factors that does swing the stage into the breakaway’s hands is the fact there are no bonus seconds on the line so there is no need to catch them. Sky have their stage win and GC lead so they’ll be happy enough to just ride tempo and have a battle behind. Astana have looked the liveliest in chasing the break but their best option might be to send someone up the road themselves and let Sky do the work and hopefully tire them out.

I really can’t see anyone else pitching in to help work so with that said, I think we all know where this is going…

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My Tickets

The flat start to the stage makes this a really interesting day. Theoretically, it should be harder for the climbers who might fancy their chances on the closing slope to make the break as they’ll be weaker in the opening part of the day compared to the rouleurs.

Moreno Moser.

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I mean, why the heck not mention him for the third day out of 4! I’ll keep this one brief but it’s pretty much the same reasoning as in the other previews. Astana want a stage win and Moser said in an interview with the team that he would like a chance at personal glory this week. On the finish of stage 2 he buried himself on the run in and on the footslopes of the final climb. Explosive enough to go well on the steep gradients out of a break, can he finally deliver after I’m rambled on about him so much this week?

Silvan Dillier.

Active in Laigueglia and active on the opening day of racing, the Ag2R man sits third on the mountain classification but is still in with a chance of winning it if he takes maximum points on the day. The flat start gives him a good opportunity to make the break over some better climbers but he should not be discounted on the slopes himself. A punchy rider, he might just surprise.

Lluís Mas Bonet.

Cycling: 51th Tour of Turkey 2015/ Stage 8

Re-used pick number two. The current leader of the KOM competition, he might want a venture in to the break to secure that classification. Today a team-mate swept up the points for him but he’ll possibly need to go in the move himself. The flat start might make it difficult for him but he has a lot of fighting spirit. If the composition of the break is made up of mainly rouleurs, he has the climbing ability to take the win.

Sean De Bie.

An all-rounder, the Belgian can climb ok, sprint well and put in a good effort against the clock. He’s had a fairly disappointing few stages so far with only an 11th place on the opening day. He did manage to pick up a win in Etoile before finishing 8th on GC so he does have some form. The type of rider who will hope that the break is made up of heavier riders with few climbers; he could be one to look out for.

GC Battle

It will be interesting to see what gaps we get between the GC contenders. The climb is short and steep enough that team-mates aren’t a great help. Positioning will be important coming into the bottom so expect to see a big battle between Astana and Sky for control of the peloton. The Kazakh team have the advantage of having two riders in contention so I think we might see Fuglsang go hard and early in an attempt to put the others into difficulty.

Poels motored away from everyone with his accelerations on stage 2 and with the same form he could do something similar tomorrow. The climb isn’t long so it will be interesting to see how he approaches it.

Landa is of course a danger, especially when you think of his performance on the brutally steep ramps of Aia a few years ago.

Then of course we have Sanchez who is in incredible shape at the moment. He’ll fancy his chances of winning the title in the TT but he will be wary of Sky and their ability to pull some great results against the clock out. He needs to not lose any time to Poels here in my opinion.

Wellens is the dark horse but he can’t be underestimated. He’s started this season in sparkling form and his performance on stage 2 will be a massive confidence boost. The shorter distance in theory gives him even more of a chance of a good result as his weight won’t be as much of a detriment.

Given how close they all were on stage 2 it is hard to split them. I reckon we’ll see someone fall behind but I’m not so sure as to who. As to who might profit on the day and move into a more commanding GC place, that also has me stumped!

I’m just looking forward to a good race, hopefully on two fronts.

Prediction

The break to stay away and Silvan Dillier to win.

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His development last season impressed me a lot and he seems to have continued that so far this season with some good performances in his few race days so far. He can climb well enough to cope with the ascents in the middle of the day but he’s also punchy enough to be in with a chance at the finish. Of course, it all depends on who makes the break (Hint – None of my picks typically will) but I will be watching him with interest if he does.

Betting

Just can’t bring myself to back Dillier at the price he is so;

1pt WIN on both

Moser @ 50/1

Mas Bonet @ 80/1

Thanks as always for reading. Who do you think will win tomorrow? Will it be a GC rider or will the break succeed? Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

Vuelta a Andalucia 2018 Stage 3 Preview; Mancha Real › Herrera

Today’s Recap

Well that was an exciting finish!

It wasn’t as decisive GC wise as I had expected but it was a very tactical and enthralling finale with attacks off the front being slowly brought back for a counter move to go instantly. In the end though, Wout Poels timed his last attack at the perfect moment and sprung away to take stage victory and with it the GC lead.

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Sanchez and Wellens trailed home just 2 seconds down with Landa and Fuglsang another two behind them. It leaves the race interestingly poised going into the next few stages.

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

The Route

The only stage of the race that should be a guaranteed sprint.

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With that being said though, the riders will have to contend with a lot of uncategorised climbing throughout the day so it will be interesting to see who takes up the chase.

The two Cat-3s shouldn’t be of any major difficulty for the bunch unless some have really suffered during today’s ridiculously tough finish. We do get an intermediate sprint at Puente Genil with only 10kms left, but given there are no bonus seconds on offer then it’s interesting placement becomes somewhat less interesting.

The final 12km does roll a bit though which makes it a not so straightforward finish.

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The major rise in the closing section averages 3.6% for 2.4km that “crests” at just over 7km to go. It might just be enough for a team to stretch the bunch out if they hit it hard, but they’ll need to keep the pressure on over the last 7km if it is to be worthwhile.

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At just 500m to go, the peloton will be greeted with a very tight left-hand turn. Expect a massive fight to get here as you’ll need to be in the first ten riders through here if you want to contend for the stage.

Those last 500m actually kick up ever so slightly but it is more of a grind than anything else at an average of 1.9%. It will certainly give the sprinters something else to think about as you don’t want to open up too early and fade in the end.

How will the stage pan out?

As I said previously, this should be a sprint stage. But nothing is ever certain in cycling!

We saw on the opening day that some of the sprint teams didn’t really want to commit to the chase and the break almost and probably would have stayed away if it wasn’t for Astana. Now, that stage was a lot harder than this one but with a few more days racing in the legs, some of the riders might not be as keen to work at the front all day.

Sky will set their usual tempo but if no one up the road is a danger to them, then they’re not going to over-extended themselves by brining it back unnecessarily. That realistically just leaves the sprinters teams and none of them really strike me with confidence.

Modolo messed up the first stage and he is probably the class sprinter here but can we really trust EF Education First to organise a chase? This was the team that struggled to bring back a break in the Giro even when their whole squad was TTing on the front.

AG2R might chip in to chase but they’ve been in both of the breakaways so far which indicates that they might play that card again. So will Direct Energie or Wanty help then either?

I’m really starting to lean-to the possibility that the break might actually have a better chance tomorrow than originally thought.

In fact, I’m just going to talk about some break candidates because if we get a sprint then I don’t expect Modolo to make the same mistake again.

Lottery Contenders

I’ll keep this bit short and sweet as I’ll no doubt be massively wrong and we’ll end with the obvious bunch sprint.

Moreno Moser.

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Back again with my favourite Italian on Astana, he and the rest of his team-mates have done a lot of work over the opening two stages for the team’s leaders. In an interview on the Astana website, Moser says that he wants to work well for the team but also chase his own opportunity at some point in the race. We’re running out of stages so he might just go in the break tomorrow if there is a sense in the peloton of no-one wanting to commit to a chase.

Oliver Naesen.

As I’ve said above, Ag2r seem keen on sending people up the road during this race. Naesen fits the bill perfectly tomorrow of being far enough down the order not to be a threat but he’s strong enough to win from a group. With the classics season on the horizon, a nice hit-out here would be a good test of form.

Damien Gaudin.

He really “found himself” last year while riding for the Armee de Terre squad picking up three victories to his name. Starting his season this year in the Bongo at which he finished third overall, he’s been a solid domestique for his team-mates since then. He’s the type of rider who is dangerous in a breakaway as he seems to be strong in one-day races. With an explosive short turn of power (he’s not too bad at prologues) he could surprise in a sprint from the break.

Lluís Mas Bonet.

Cycling: 51th Tour of Turkey 2015/ Stage 8

Token Spaniard breakaway pick who also doubles as current KOM leader. Mas Bonet gets into the break to defend and secure the KOM title but with no chase behind he turns his attention to the stage. He packs a surprisingly decent kick and it could catch out a few. The slightly rolling finish would be good for him.

Prediction

Breakaway stays away as EF Education First fail to organise a piss up in a brewery and no one else wants to commit to the work. In fact, other sprinters teams send riders up the road and a 7 man group stays away until the end.

That man Oli Naesen warms up for the classics perfectly by taking a confidence boosting win here!

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Or we get a fairly dull day where the sprint teams decide to actually co-operate and then it is anyone’s guess. Modolo would be favourite but he’s not unbeatable.

Betting

2 of the guys not priced up but I’m just going to “waste” 1pt on some break picks.

0.25pt WIN on them all.

Naesen @ 50/1

Moser @ 300/1

Valgren @ 400/1

Van Hecke @ 400/1

All with Bet365.

Thanks as always for reading. Who do you think will win tomorrow? Will it end in a sprint or will we see the break surprise? Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

Vuelta a Andalucia 2018 Stage 2 Preview; Otura › La Guardia de Jaén

Today’s Recap

A bit of a quieter stage than what I expected, Astana decided to finally take up the pace making at around 50km to go. This was enough to thin the peloton down and catch the break, but we still had plenty of fast-men left to compete for the win.

In the end, Boudat just pipped a prematurely celebrating Modolo for the win. Although it has to be said, we’ve not yet seen the photo finish so I’m sure some might feel aggrieved! Ag2Rs Venturini finished in third.

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With the sprinters having their chance to shine on today’s stage tomorrow will give the mountain goats an opportunity.

The Route

We’re only on the second day of racing but we’re treated to the Queen Stage of the race.

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At only 141km in length, it is a fairly short day in the saddle for the riders but some of the climbs to pack a punch. The opening two-thirds of the stage will see the breakaway form and build up an advantage as although some of the climbs are reasonably long, they’re not steep enough for any crazy early attacks.

That might however change on the Puerto de Valdepeñas. At an average of 7.5% for 3.7km it is steep enough for a team to really up the pace and put some of the domestiques in opposition squads into difficulty. Cresting at 40km to go it is too far out for any serious move but I would expect to see a thinning of the bunch here.

The following 30km before we hit the final climb of Allanadas consist mainly of descent or climbing.

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The climbs that split up the descent aren’t too tough, but 3.3km at 5.5% and 5km at 4.2% will certainly disrupt the rhythm in the peloton. They’ll continue through the town of La Guardia de Jaén before starting the brutally steep final climb, although to be fair, the road even climbs through the town itself.

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Source: Altimetrias

5.5km at 9.6% is tough enough if it was a steady climb but the closing 3.3kms average close to 12%. This will be a sufferfest for most of the bunch!

If we get some tough racing earlier in the day then expect the time gaps to be massive come the end of the stage. The finish climb was last used in the 2015 edition of this race when Froome motored away from Contador and won by a resounding 29 seconds which was enough to lead the GC by 2 seconds. Behind riders lost a shed-load of time, with 10th place finisher Van den Broek coming home 1’38 down for example.

Contenders

Only the best climbers and those who are in form will be able to compete here. The result of this stage will go a long way as to shape the GC so a lot of the contender here will be the same as I mentioned in my GC preview. So I’m not going to waste your time with a massive speel about the candidates; I’ll keep it short and sweet!

Landa – If he’s in good form this is his stage to lose. Great on steep ramps he’ll want to gain as much of an advantage before the TT. His form is the unknown though.

LL Sanchez – His form is definitely known and he is flying. Normally a finish like this would be too tough for him but he seems to be in the shape of his life. It will still be difficult for him to win it, but coming home within 20 seconds is a good result.

Fuglsang – If LLS isn’t going well then no doubt the Dane will be up there for Astana as a ready replacement. In surprisingly good early season form by his standards he’ll be aiming for a top 3 at least.

Poels – Terribly disappointing in Valenciana, with a race in his legs will he go any better? On paper this is a good stage but we’ll just have to wait and see.

Antunes – He’s shown in the past to be explosive enough but can he compete on terrain like this? He might be the type of rider to benefit from not being too well-known and having a good awful TT.

Prediction

I’ll just stick with what I said in my GC preview; form is king at the moment so LLS to win.

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Or we see #AFreeLanda ride away from everyone on the aptly named Allanda climb. Or He Who Must Not Be Named just takes the piss.

All of which are likely possibilities.

Betting

6pts on LLS to beat Hermans at 5/6

 

Thanks as always for reading! I’m looking forward to the end of the stage, should be a great spectacle. Who do you think will win? Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

Vuelta a Andalucia 2018 GC Preview

A race that has been dominated by Alejandro Valverde in the past, he’s won 5 out of the last 6 editions, it was the same last year where he just pipped Alberto Contador to the title by one second.

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Thibaut Pinot was third at only 6 seconds back but with none of those riders here this week, we have a chance for a new winner.

First though, let’s look at what is in store for the riders over the week.

The Route

As I’ll be doing in-depth daily stage previews, this section will be a little truncated. All of the following profiles are thanks to @LasterketaBurua.

Stage 1.

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An interesting opening stage with a lot of climbing in the third quarter of the day. This could turn into a GC day but the likely outcome will be a reduced sprint of some kind.

Stage 2.

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Only the second day but we have the Queen stage of the race. At only 141km of racing the stage is short but it is filled with climbs. The finish up to Alto de Las Allandas could see some massive gaps. Those with a poor TT will have to go full gas here, it should be a great watch!

Stage 3.

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The only stage the should see a full bunch sprint but we do have a lack of quick-men here. Who will control the day?

Stage 4.

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A long day in the saddle but it is all about the final 1.5km; a short but steep ramp. Both the climbers and puncheurs will fancy it.

Stage 5.

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A TT to finish that has a 5km section of gravel that averages just over 2%. It should be one for the more traditional TT riders, but it is short enough for some surprise names to get in the mix. Will the GC title be decided on the final day?

With the stages briefly covered, let’s have a look at who might be challenging for the win at the end of the week.

But first…

The Elephant in the Room

This is Froome’s first race after his AAF was announced/leaked. Now, the decision to have him race is one that divides opinion amongst cycling fans but I’m fairly certain you will all know what side of the argument I am on. It will be interesting to see how he and Sky approach the race. Will they take it easy and hope to slip under the radar (well, as much as they can) or will they continue on as if nothing has happened?

Either way, there is no way that they can come out of this one, ahem, cleanly.

If Froome takes it easy then the accusations will fly suggesting that he needed medication to go well etc. Whereas if he goes full gas and features at the head of the race then a lot of people will take offence as to the audacity of the team considering all that is going on at the moment. They are stuck between the proverbial rock and a hard place.

It will also be interesting to see how the riders in the peloton treat him. Will he be given the same respect as before?

No doubt the Brit will still have his fans that will cheer him on. In fact, I would suggest that they’ve become even more fanatical since the AAF finding so we can expect them to be vocal no matter what.

The voices of dissent will be as vocal as the cheers this week but I just hope no-one does anything stupid out on the road to take the situation into their own hands. Cycling’s image is already being made a mockery of, we don’t need stories of piss being thrown at him etc.

Personally I don’t think Froome will feature here. He’s essentially completed an extra Grand Tour while in South Africa as they attempt to recreate the situation and find a scientific reason as to why his salbutamol levels were so high. Surely he is spent after it all? Plus, I don’t think Sky can risk the outrage if he does win until the case/investigation is over. If he does, then it is a big “fuck you” to the sport.

So with that said, I’m going to discount him for this race. Let’s have a look at who else might compete though!

(Again though, this all opinion and shouldn’t be taken as fact. Plz don’t sue. I’m poor. 😐)

Contenders

Mikel Landa.

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Starting his first race for Movistar he’ll want to get his season up and running with a good result. On paper this looks ideal for the Spanish climber. He’ll love the steep and relentless finish on Stage 2 and he should be able to put in a solid time in the time trial. In fact, he should be the class act of the race but with his form being so unknown he could well win it or come home in 20th.

Jakob Fuglsang.

A rider that we do know the form of, the Astana man has started the season well with a 3rd place on GC in Valenciana. He followed that up with a solid 6th place in Murcia at the weekend. Astana have a very strong team here and they’ll hope to have a few guys near the head of the race in the important stages. Numbers could be crucial.

Luis Leon Sanchez.

The second Astana candidate for the race win, the Spaniard has started the European season in sensational form. After returning from the Tour Down Under where he finished a respectable 8th on GC, he’s since went on to finish second behind Valverde in Valenciana and then beat him in Murcia at the weekend. A strong TTer, he should have an advantage over some competitors in that stage and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him go well on some of the steep ramps, he did well in Valenciana on similar terrain.

De La Cruz / Poels.

With Froome taking this one easy (see my reasoning above) then Sky will turn to other riders for success. I’m not sure how either of them will go here though as their crack squad in Valenciana was extremely disappointing. Was it just a slow start to the season or is no-one in form yet as they all secretly want to lead at the Tour…I think it is too tough for De La Cruz to win GC, but if Poels has upped his game since a poor Valenciana then he of course is a contender for the win. We’ll find out on stage 2 where he is at!

Steven Kruijswijk.

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After pulling out of the Giro last year the Dutchman finished the season with a 9th place in the Vuelta. A rider who never really starts the season well I am intrigued to see if that changes this season given he is hoping to go to the Tour. On his day he can climb with the best and he can produce a good time against the clock. Yet, I don’t think he’ll be up and running yet so a top 10 would be a solid result.

Ben Hermans.

With three top 10s already in 2018, the Israel Academy rider will hope for a similar, if not better, result here. Juxtaposed to Kruijswijk, Hermans is a rider who normally does start his season well. I wouldn’t have him down as one of the best climbers here but given form is important at the start of the year he could surprise just like he did on the Green Mountain last season.

Amaro Antunes.

One of my favourite riders from 2017, it was great to see his season rewarded with a step up in level to ProConti with CCC. An explosive climber he’ll like the steep ramps that we have on a couple of the stages. In this field, he will fancy his chances to go well on those days. His TT definitely needs some work but his team have improved in the discipline over the past half a year, so I’m intrigued to see if it has had a positive effect on Antunes over the winter. Another top 10 on GC like Valenciana is certainly a possibility.

Prediction

Form is King early in the year so I have to go with Luis Leon Sanchez as the winner here.

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Part of the strongest team, he and Fuglsang should be at the head of the race on the toughest stages and that will be of massive benefit to them. Sanchez has looked the strongest on the climbs in the previous races so it will take a lot for someone to drop him. Furthermore, he possesses a strong TT which could see him seal the win on the closing day.

No odds are out as of yet but I might back him depending on the price.

Thanks as always for reading! Who do you think will win the GC? I’ll be back later this evening with my stage 1 preview. Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

Clásica Ciclista San Sebastian 2017 Preview

One of my favourite races of the year returns this weekend for its 37th edition. The Klasikoa marks the shift in the season from post-Tour blues to pre-Vuelta hype! An exciting Spanish one-day race that offers those a chance at glory for Ardennes style riders along with GC talents looking to prove a point after La Grand Boucle.

In 2016 we saw the latter, with Mollema taking a great solo victory.

Cycling: 36th Clasica San Sebastian 2016

He crested the final climb of the day along with Gallopin, Valverde and Rodriguez but the Trek rider decided to seize his opportunity and attack; not looking back until the finishing straight.

Given the two Spaniards discontent for each other, Gallopin was stuck with the world’s hardest negotiating job trying to get the trio to work together. In the end, he did the majority of the work but it was too late. He managed to sprint for 2nd, a slight consolation but it was a case of what could have been for the Frenchman, with Valverde following wheels into third.

Will we see something similar this year?

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

The Route

The organisers have stuck with a very similar route to what we had last year, although there seems to be a lot more climbing earlier in the day compared to 2016.

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@LasterketaBurua

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

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

Now, I wouldn’t call the climb Tontorra and I’m sure there was a similar issue last year where the organisers labelled the climb Murgil Tontorra when it should be called Murgil Bidea. That’s just me nitpicking though!

The climb itself is short but very sharp. However, its severity does depend on the source you are looking at. On the profile above it is a 1.9km long climb at 10.2% average. That’s close to the 1.7km at 10.3% that Strava suggests it is.

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The profile of which you can view here.

Yet, the organisers on their website claim it is 2.5km at a 9% average. The road does rise a little bit before the climb starts properly but to say it is that length is probably a bit generous. So I think there might be a mistake on their website!

Last year Devenyns managed the Bidea climb in 5’42 according to the Strava segment above. Watching the footage from the race, he seems to crest the summit ~18 seconds after the front 4 so that gives you an idea of the time of the ascent for the front group; 5’24.

Borderline between tipping the scales towards the pure climbers and away from those Ardennes specialists, it should produce an exciting finish.

The race doesn’t end at the summit though and we are often treated to a tactical battle on the false-flat/descent/flat run in to the line.

With no Valverde and Rodriguez here this year, we might actually see a group co-operate if they get away off the front!

Tour Legs?

A big cause of debate is how much does completing a Grand Tour help a riders legs and form. We often hear of riders saying that they feel the benefits of it the following year, but there are also short-term benefits too.

If the race isn’t too hard, then riders can carry their form over to some races the following months and we often see riders use the Vuelta as preparation for the World Championships for example.

The same can be said for the Tour and some of the races that follow at the end of July/start of August.

In fact, the last 10 editions of San Sebastian have been won by a rider who has came from the Tour.

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The table above highlights the top 3 at the last 10 editions of Klasikoa with their GC positions at the Tour in brackets. NR means that the rider did not compete at the Tour.

Looking at the table in more depth, it seems that riding the Tour is key for a good result in San Sebastian with only 6/30 of the podium places occupied by those who didn’t race La Grand Boucle. That trend seems to be even more prevalent as of late as only Meersman and Gilbert have podiumed in the last 5 years without having completed the Tour.

The average GC position of the winner for the last 10 years is 26.8 and with Romain Hardy’s Fortuneo team not competing here, we’ll round-up and go with Dani Navarro for the win…

Joking aside, it does seem that those coming from the Tour have an advantage but these “rules” can be broken!

Let’s have a look at who’ll be in the mix come the end of the race.

Contenders

Mollema.

One of the first four riders to crest the climb and eventual race winner, he returns back this year to defend his title. Having taken his first ever Tour win a few weeks ago he will be buoyed with confidence. Being able to take it “easy” during some of the stages should mean that he is fresher here than he was last year, where he seemed to be dead on his feet by the end of the race. Maybe that will have the opposite effect than what was expected?

Gallopin.

Second place last year, the Frenchman has a very impressive record at this race and it seems to suit him very well. I thought the climb might have been on his limit last year but it is proof that the race suits those who can put out a lot of watts for a short period of time! After his crash in the opening TT he was really attacking in the second half of the Tour, getting into the breakaway every few days. He’s a good candidate for another top 5 result. Team-mate Benoot could also be in the mix.

Kwiatkowski.

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So close to a win in the final TT of the Tour, Kwiatkowski was arguably the best domestique of the whole race. The length and quality of turns he did on the front of the race was incredible. Interestingly though, he lost the majority of his time during the TT on the short climb. So I’m beginning to wonder if he was lost some of his explosivity in exchange for more endurance. Will he be able to follow the best tomorrow?

Landa.

If Kwiatkowski isn’t there, then you would expect Landa to be there or thereabouts. He was incredible for the majority of the Tour but he did seem to tire at the end. Is doing the Giro and Tour finally taking a toll on his legs? I wouldn’t be surprised to see him ride everyone off his wheel tomorrow, or blow up early. I’m leaning towards the latter happening.

Uran.

The Colombian rode the Tour of his life to finish second overall, notching up a stage win along the way. He is clearly in scintillating form but how much has that race taken out of him? This season he seemed to be transforming into more of a one-day racer and he goes well on courses like this; he really should have won Lombardia at the end of last year. He has shown in the past few weeks he has the power to follow the best on the climbs and the speed to finish it off, can he do it again tomorrow?

Barguil.

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The rider who was the focal point of one of my favourite photos from the whole Tour arrives here as Sunweb’s leader, or does he? Dumoulin might have a say in that! Nonetheless, Barguil was incredible over the past three weeks; two stage wins, the KOM jersey and a top 10 on GC. In that final week of the race, he was putting out climbing numbers only the top guys on the overall standings could match. If he has kept that form up, then he should be in the front group on the final climb. Like Uran, he also packs a handy sprint from a small group. This looks like his best opportunity in a while to take a one-day race win!

Van Avermaet.

Bookmaker’s favourite, he is another rider with a good history at this race. He famously crashed into a motorbike while attacking away from everyone in 2015, while last year he couldn’t follow the best on the climb. Fairly disappointing at the Tour, I think we might see a repeat of last year’s performance from him. The same can be said for another rider of a similar build, Gilbert. I think it’s too early after his illness at the Tour for him to go well.

Yates.

Hoping to repeat his brother’s success, the White Jersey winner will come into the race with some pressure on his shoulders. His team tried to set the race up for him last season but he couldn’t follow the pace on the climb, probably because he didn’t have the Tour in his legs! This year he has, but he did look a little bit jaded towards the end of the race. Is he going to do a Mollema though?

There are a handful of possible outsiders who could go well such as Roglic or even Lammertink (Maurits).

As for those who weren’t at the Tour, they’ll find it hard to compete. Nonetheless, I think we could see Lopez, Dumoulin and possibly Fraile be in or around the top 10.

Prediction

Tour legs will shine through so I’ll go for one of the form riders of the race, it is just a case of who…

I have two in mind, either Barguil or Uran.

Hmmmm.

Given his better sprint, I’ll go for Uran to take the win, he is flying just now and a result here will top off a great July for him!

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Betting

I wouldn’t normally go EW on the two of them at their current odds but given that both could sprint for second or third behind a solo winner then I think it is worth it.

1pt EW on them both;

Uran @ 16/1 with Boyles (paying 4 places) would take 14/1 elsewhere

Barguil @ 20/1 with Ladbrokes/Coral

 

Thanks as always for reading, who do you think will win tomorrow? Will we see a small sprint to the line or will a solo rider take the day? Anyway,

They were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

 

 

 

Tour de France 2017 Stage 13 Preview; Saint-Girons -> Foix

Today’s Recap

A break formed relatively quickly, only after 20km of so or racing but they were never given more than 6:30 of an advantage from a Sky led peloton.

With the move caught on the Peyresourde, it looked as if we were going to see some GC fireworks before the top but the group whittled down to around 10 and that was it. No one else was dropped and the riders found themselves approaching the final 500m together.

Bennett launched an attack but was brought back easily by Landa, before Bardet and Aru sprung up the inside. Froome wasn’t able to follow and the Frenchman held on for a great victory.

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Uran did well to get up for second while the Italian National Champion took third and moves into yellow for tomorrow’s stage.

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

The Route

Arguably the most talked about stage of this year’s whole Tour. Taking a page out of what we’ve seen at the Giro and Vuelta recently, tomorrow’s route is short and sharp.

 

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We have three Cat-1 climbs packed into 100km of racing which should surely lead to a fast pace from the gun! With that being said, there are 25.5km of false-flat before we hit the Col de Latrape for the hopeful escapees to try to get up the road.

Latrape isn’t a long climb (at only 5.6km) but averaging 7.3% it is fairly steep and will act as a nice warm-up for what’s to come. I wonder if we’ll see any early attacks on the climb? A short descent follows which isn’t too technical, before the toughest climb of the day.

The Col d’Agnes comes in at 10km long, averaging 8.2%.

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It’s actually hardest right at the bottom, with the opening 3kms averaging 9.2%. Nice and explosive! From there it gets “easier” but if a team takes it up or a GC rider attacks early, there is a good chance the race gets blown to bits. Given the short nature of the stage, that looks like a strong possibility!

Once over the top we have a long descent (almost 20km) before the next climb. The descent itself starts off very technical and we could see AG2R attack here like on Stage 9. It does ease off later on but the damage could already be done.

The Mur de Pérguère averages 7.9% for 9.3km but that doesn’t really tell the whole story…

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I did wonder why it was given the honour of being called “Mur” but it made sense once I saw the profile. The opening 6kms of the climb are fairly straightforward compared to what the riders have faced earlier in the day, only averaging 5.55%. However, it is the final 3.3km that will really test the riders legs – averaging a very painful ~12.5%!

The riders will then descend pretty much all the way to the finish, although it does get flatter in the last 10km and is more of a shallow descent. Will we see a solo rider come to the line or it will be a reduced sprint to the line?

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With a technical run-in, I certainly hope it’s the former!

How will the stage pan out?

It should be a GC stage but you can never be 100% sure. I thought the GC teams would let the break get away today, with one eye on tomorrow’s stage but Sky almost double-bluffed everyone and closed it down.

We’ve seen at the Giro and Vuelta that these type of stages are very explosive and entice aggressive racing from the GC contenders. No doubt some of the teams will try to get lieutenants up the road to hopefully help later on, but considering everyone will be trying to do that, then it could be hard! It might be another day where a 40-rider “break” goes but never gets more than 2 minutes or so.

The issue is that with no climb right at the start, and no summit finish, some of the GC riders might not fancy their chances. I guess they’ll hope that the battle to get into the break is so fierce that they’ll be within touching distance on the first climb.

It is Bastille Day so no doubt we’ll see numerous French riders try their hand throughout the day. Whether that be those looking to get in the break and hopefully win the stage that way, or someone like Bardet who will hope for a big GC fight.

We’ve not had a French winner on Bastille Day though since David Moncoutié back in 2005 though!

Like Natalie Imbruglia, I’m Torn.

Do the other GC teams sense enough of a weakness in the Sky came to try to isolate Froome, taking advantage of his “bad legs” that he had today. It will be a tough stage for Astana to control so no doubt they’ll be happy to see the break go. However, I think AG2R/QS/Orica will all want the race controlled.

Bardet is obviously on stellar form at the moment and will be wanting to go as well as he can while he’s flying. I imagine they’ll place a few riders in the break but he will attack on the middle climb of the day, hoping to bridge to them. The same can be said for Yates and Orica who always seem to get their tactics right on days like these.

Candidates

As I’ve waffled on already and may need to rush this a bit before work, I’ll just list two riders and how they might win tomorrow.

Louis Meintjes.

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After suffering on stages 5 and 9, the South African coped a lot better today (finishing 5th on the stage) and like a few others seems to be getting better just now. At almost 5 minutes down on the overall, he’s not an immediate threat for the big guns and could be given some leeway to attack from a reduced group that might be heading to the finish together. There is also a chance that he could sneak himself into an early breakaway and take the stage from there. Finishing 3rd on the very attacking final stage at the Dauphiné there is a chance he repeats that feat here, if not going better.

Mikel Landa.

He looked ominously strong today. Like, just ridiculously strong, it barely looked like he was breathing going up the final climb. I was more out of breath watching the stage than he was riding it! He could have closed Bennett down much quicker but almost had to rein himself in not to put Froome in the red. After pulling at the front and moving over to the side to let his leader attack, he still had enough in the tank to get back up to speed and finish 4th. Not bad considering the head-start he gave everyone else! Although it is unlikely as Sky tend to take the approach of “all for their leader”, I would be getting Landa to attack tomorrow if I was DS. If Froome isn’t great just now, it is much better to have two riders close to the top of the GC going into latter part of the race so they can play the numbers game. He is the one rider I can see attacking everyone on the final climb and holding on to the finish. Will Sky be willing to let him do that? Probably not, but you never know. Will Landa listen to them either way? That’s also debatable.

Prediction

In an act of defiance that turns out to be a great race strategy for Sky, the mercurial Spaniard takes the win.

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Froome recovers from today’s efforts and manages to mark everyone else out of chasing, allowing Landa a good time gap to put him back into overall contention.

Betting

1pt WIN Landa @ 33/1 (various bookmakers)

0.5pt EW Meintjes @ 125/1 Coral/Ladbrokes (who are paying 4 places)

 

Thanks as always for reading and apologies the “contenders” section is shorter than normal! Who do you think will win? Will we finally see a French rider win on Bastille day? Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.