Vuelta a España 2018 Stage 4 Preview: Vélez-Málaga -> Alfacar. Sierra de la Alfaguara

Today’s Recap

Misread the intensity of the riders today as most decided they fancied a day off, so I’ll hold my hands up for that one! Pretty dull afternoon for us spectators with things only getting exciting inside the last 20km. Considering there was no real pace early on, all of the sprinters made it to the finish and the stage favourite won.

Viviani only needed Morkov in the final kilometre to lead him out, with the Dane dropping him in a perfect position. From there, it was over the Italian Champion who duly delivered. He is having his best season ever and has been the sprinter of the year, no doubt about it!

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Nizzolo continued his recovery with a good second place and Sagan survived the heat to come third. However, the latter still didn’t look as good as normal, with him mainly getting that podium due to his great positioning in the finale.

With the slow pace today, I reckon many have been looking to save energy for tomorrow: let’s have a look at what is in store for the riders.

The Route

It may only be the 4th stage but we have the first proper summit finish of the race.

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50km of flat lands will lead the peloton to the bottom of the opening climb of the day. The Puerto de la Cabra is a fairly steady climb, averaging 5.7% for 16.4km, with its steepest section coming in the middle. Too early for anything wild to happen, just expect a solid tempo in the bunch to tire the legs ever so slightly and that’s it.

The road plateaus and then actually rises after the official KOM point, before the riders reach the feed zone half-way into the day.

A descent and an uncategorised hill leads into an elongated U-shaped valley, before the final climb to the line starts properly.

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As first mountain top finishes of a race go, it is pretty much what you want. Not too difficult that loads of guys will struggle, but it is just tough enough that if a few teams put the hurt on (Movistar and Sky namely), then we could actually see a couple of surprise GC casualties. The opening 4km and closing 2km are the easier parts of the climb, with the middle 6km averaging 7.25% and that is the key section of the day. If you want to drop some rivals, it has to be done there.

How will the stage pan out?

Once again we’re left with the age-old question of break or no break?

Given what we have seen so far, the stage once again looks great for both Valverde and Kwiatkowski, although the former is traditionally better on these types of climbs. However, if the current race leader can make it through the steeper section in the middle then he should be there to compete for the finish at the end of the day. There are of course other GC guys who will fancy their chances on a finish like this but they won’t commit their team to chasing the break, therefore, it is down to Sky and/or Movistar to control things.

Sky will be happy to let the break take the day if there is no danger to the overall or their current race lead in the move so a lot of the onus will be on Movistar and their approach. Valverde said in an interview the other day that he was targeting this stage so I think we will know Movistar’s plan then! Unless of course they decide to play a game with Sky and just let them expend some extra energy controlling things all day.

So what about the break then?

With the 45km+ of “flat” roads before the first climb then it will be difficult for any mountain goats to get into the move, unless if they manage it by luck/good timing – it depends on who you ask as to what the answer is to that. A group of strong rouleurs will be able to keep a chasing peloton at bay behind if it is just Sky or Movistar who are doing the work on their own. There are plenty of strong riders far enough down on GC not to worry Sky so I do think it will be down to two factors for if the break makes it:

  1. Any threat to Kwiatkowski’s lead in the move
  2. How much Movistar put into the day/Sky don’t

We could of course just have one of those days where a rubbish break of 4 escapes after the flag drop and that’s it, easy GC day. Who knows.

In the words of Natalie Imbruglia: “I’m torn”.

I think the sensible play is to go with the break then reassess in-play, so it’s time to play everyone’s favourite game again…

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Just two juggernauts of the breakaway game being named here from me.

Allesandro De Marchi.

A very impressive 6th place on the opening TT, De Marchi is a rider who seems to produce his best performances at the Vuelta, where he has taken two stage wins in the past. BMC currently have Roche in “GC contention” but I don’t believe he’ll be competing all the way to Madrid so no doubt we’ll see them ride aggressively over the coming weeks. Key to get some practice in before the name change for next year and no real GC leader for the Grand Tours anymore, well, none named so far. De Marchi is a powerful enough rouleur to make the break early on and a solid enough climber to deal with the finishing climb. If he makes the move, it has every chance, just like the next rider.

Thomas De Gendt.

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Mr Breakaway, De Gendt was on the move on stage 2 but decided to drift back to the peloton after they realised they weren’t going to get any success come the end of the stage. Either that or he cramped up but I’ll believe the former! Tomorrow is the type of early GT mountain stage that De Gendt can go exceptionally well in. The rolling but mainly flat terrain in between the climbs are good for him while the low average gradients of the ascents themselves are also favourable. I think he’ll have tomorrow circled in his road book. Can he deliver?

GC Contenders

Aside from Kwiatkowski and Valverde, a GC rider will need a good sprint to finish off tomorrow’s stage given the “flatter” final 2kms. Look towards the likes of Pinot, Kelderman and Lopez to pack a punch.

Prediction

The break to stay away after Sky and Movistar play games behind, and De Marchi to take his third Vuelta stage of his career. I really liked the way he looked on the attack in Poland plus his powerful TT on the opening day!

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Betting

As I said above, a day to throw some pennies onto breakaway picks then reassess in play what’s happening.

1pt WIN De Marchi @ 25/1

1pt WIN De Gent @ 50/1

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

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

Vuelta a España 2018 Stage 3 Preview: Mijas -> Alhaurín de la Torre

Today’s Recap

Well I pretty much had today’s stage bang on in yesterday’s preview, if we just ignore the part where I decided to dream about a Benoot victory…The Lotto Soudal rider was with the front group but pulled off and swung left at roughly 2km to go, possibly struggling with the heat and rhythm of the bunch.

De Plus launched a very strong attack with just over 1km left and gained a reasonable gap while there was a bit of marking out behind. Valverde bit the bullet (see what I did?) and hit out to close him down, with only Kwiatkowski being able to stick to his wheel. The Pole came round Valverde at 250m to go, leading into the last corner. It worked out perfectly though for the Movistar man who was able to use Kwiatkowski’s slipstream and launch past him in the final metres to take the win.

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De Plus held on for third with a whole host of GC riders coming trailing in behind.

The result on the day means that Kwiatkowski moves into the leader’s jersey, 14 seconds ahead of Valverde and 25 ahead of Kelderman. With the parcours to come tomorrow, he should hold on to it, but who knows. Let’s have a look at what is in store for them…

The Route

A classic Vuelta “sprint day” where the riders have to traverse two categorised climbs, including the first Cat-1 of the race, and several other unclassified ascents, totalling over 3000m of altitude gain. Javier Guillén is the biggest patter merchant going!

stage-3-profile

The Cat-1 climb of Puerto del Madroño averages 4.4% for 23.5km so it isn’t too tough gradient wise, but it is the length and heat combined that will cause some issues. If we don’t see the break form until here, then expect it to be strong again and it might be one that could go all the way.

The terrain continues to roll for pretty much the remainder of the day, taking in the Cat-3 Puerto del Viento (6.4km at 4.3%) and the uncategorised rise just after the feed zone which comes in at 4.1% for 6kms.

A long descent follows before yet more rolling terrain and some rises before the intermediate sprint point with only 25km left in the day.

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As you can see on the profile above, there are a few rises in the closing 7kms, with the most notable of them being a 1.2km drag (3.6%) average that ends with just 2.5km left in the day. From there, it is mainly flat, if not ever so slightly downhill all the way to the line.

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There are 4 roundabouts to traverse in those closing 2.5km, just a typical Vuelta finish really. The last of those comes with roughly 600m left but it is quite open so it shouldn’t be too bad.

Question Number 1: Break or no break?

The stage looks great for a breakaway to establish a good gap before the sprinters teams can start chasing properly once they are over the Cat-1 climb and normally it would be a good stage to get into the move. However, the issue lies with the fact that Kwiatkowski currently leads the overall and Sky might be keen to keep him in that position so they will keep things on a fairly tight rope, hoping to get some assistance later on. Consequently, I don’t think we’ll see the break win tomorrow despite the favourable profile, although I’ll still give it an 20% chance of it happening.

Question Number 2: Big bunch sprint or reduced bunch sprint?

We saw today that several of the sprinters bailed out early on what was an easier stage than tomorrow. It is hard to read into that though as many of them wouldn’t have rated their chances at all and just decided to save their energy.

However, we are in for a similarly hot day tomorrow and more climbing metres (roughly 400m more), then we could see several sprinters dropped early and not make it back. It will be interesting to see who pushes the pace on and given their current form, I think both Valverde and Kwiatkowski might fancy their chances in a reduced bunch gallop. Consequently, we could see Sky and Movistar form an entente cordiale at the start of the stage and drop most of the fast men on the opening climb. As looking at the stage profile, there isn’t really a lot of flat land where a team can make a concerted chance to get back if the pace is on at the head of the race. It’s not really until 40km to go that the major difficulties of the afternoon are out-of-the-way.

The slightly rolling run-in to the line as well could see some surprisingly lose contact after a tough day. If not, their zip might be gone.

It’s a tough one to call, but I think we’ll see a reduced bunch sprint of maybe 70-90 riders.

Contenders

Elia Viviani.

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Arguably the best sprinter this year, Viviani has had a truly incredible season. He recently won the Cyclassics Hamburg in rather dominant fashion but somewhat disappointed today. I would have expected him to stay with the bunch for longer but as mentioned above, he might just have decided to write the day off and focus on tomorrow. If he can manage the climbs and make it to the line, then he has to be the clear favourite.

Matteo Trentin. 

Another who disappointed me today, he finished ahead of the gruppetto but not by much, coming home almost 11 minutes down. Sensational in this race last year, will he get given the same free role now with Mitchelton? Theoretically he should be one of the fastest “climbing sprinters” here, but does he have the form…His win in Glasgow would suggest so but today’s performance doesn’t. Hmmmm.

Michal Kwiatkowski.

He just seems to be able to continue his great form, doesn’t he?! Today he got played by Valverde who let him lead into the final turn and the Pole will be desperately gutted to have missed out on the stage win, again. Being in the red leader’s jersey isn’t a bad consolation but he will want more. Sky have a strong team to put the sprinters into trouble early and if they form an alliance with other squads, we could see the current race leader sprinting for the win from a reduced bunch. He clearly has the form and speed at the moment to go well and the rises before the line will help to bring him closer to the fast men.

Alejandro Valverde.

Can El Bala make it two in a row? Much like Kwiatkowski, Valverde packs a good sprint on the flat too and he’ll no doubt want to chase some bonus seconds so he can move into the race lead. If the race is aggressive and attritional tomorrow then he has a great chance.

Tom Van Asbroeck.

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Slightly left-field pick but he impressed me a lot on the tougher finishes in the Vuelta last year and he seems to be arriving here in good shape. He was the best finishing “fast man” today, coming home only 2’15 down on Kwiatkowski. He should make it over the climbs with the main group tomorrow and if some of the properly fast guys have been dropped then he has a great chance of pulling off what is a shock result.

Nacer Bouhanni.

I still remember fondly the 2014 Vuelta and just how strong Nacer was then, it is a shame to see him a shadow of his former self, or is he? Today he came home alongside Nibali and Benoot: not exactly bad company for a sprinter on a tricky finish. To me that indicates that his climbing legs are starting to come back and I think he will be up for it tomorrow. On his day Bouhanni can climb very well and I keep harking back to his win in Catalunya last year. One to watch.

Ivan Garcia Cortina.

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The Bahrain rider really announced himself with a third place from the breakaway during last year’s Vuelta on what was a difficult day out. Like Bouhanni, he finished alongside his team-mate Nibali today so there is obviously a reasonable amount of form there at the moment. With Bahrain looking a little lacklustre GC wise already, only Ion is left, then they might turn their attention to Garcia tomorrow: he certainly could challenge for the podium in a reduced gallop.

Note I’ve left out Sagan (probably at my peril) because I still don’t think he’s 100% and isn’t fit enough to compete. Also left out Walscheid as he can barely get over a speed bump.

Prediction

Reduced sprint with some of the sprinters missing out.

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Kwiatkowski to get that win!

 

 

Betting

Backing two riders…

1pt EW Kwiatkowski @ 18/1

1pt EW Van Asbroeck @ 40/1

Should cover a few bases. Maybe not a Viviani win though!

Thanks as always for reading. Who do you think will win tomorrow? Will we see a sprint, reduced bunch sprint or even a breakaway contesting for stage honours? Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

Vuelta a España 2018 Stage 1 Preview: Málaga -> Málaga

Vuelta a España 2018 Stage 1 Preview: Málaga -> Málaga

The Route

Pretty much on the borderline of the prologue/stage 1 debacle, the opening day of racing kicks off with an 8km effort against the clock around the streets of Málaga.

stage-1-profile

Very insightful profile from the organisers…

So as is tradition for TTs, I’ve made my own that you can view here.

Vuelta S1

It’s only the opening day and we already got our first chance to witness some classic Vuelta road-book/profile patter. The TT is actually 8.2km by my reckoning not the 8km that they say, and the hill in the middle is certainly a lot steeper than what it is made out to be.

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The road “flows” for the majority of the route but there are several roundabouts to negotiate in the opening kilometres but they shouldn’t knock off too much speed. It is possible to gain some time through the tighter corners though with good bike handling skills. Nonetheless, it will be a day for riders to get up to a high-speed and maintain it. Well, except for the small little obstacle just over halfway into the stage…

Now the profile I’ve made does make the climb seem a bit more extreme but that’s of the close contours on the map, blah blah blah. The actual “segment” below is a much more realistic representation.

Vuelta TT Climb

As you can see, it is almost a kilometre long and averages 5.5%. Although going off of the elevation gain on my profile it is roughly 1.2km at closer to 6%. It really is six or half a dozen though!

One of the more important things to note about the climbs is that the riders won’t be able to carry a lot of speed into it. Arguably the tightest corner of the route comes just before the road starts to head upwards – explosivity will be important.

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The riders will cross over to the other side of the road, taking the sharp left, turning back on themselves as they head towards the hill, exiting past where the other cars are sat at the junction.

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A short descent follows over the crest of the climb, before a shade over 2kms of flat sees the riders make their way to the finish line. With only a few turns to make, it will be the last chance for the big power riders to gain back any time that they lost on the short ascent.

Thankfully, it looks as if the riders will get pretty much the same conditions throughout the evening. Speaking of which, you can view the start order here.

A Clear Favourite?

To answer my question simply: yes.

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Rohan Dennis is the best in the World at short TTs in my opinion, although he would possibly prefer a couple of more kilometres on the distance to round it up to 10 – just like the Tirreno TT that he regularly smashes. I say this as he has only won one prologue in his career but given tomorrow is technically not a prologue and with no Dumoulin here, his competition isn’t as strong, he should take the win. The slightly punchier route does bring some closer to him and with a bug going around in the BMC camp (Porte’s illness), then he might have been affected himself and not be near 100%. However, I can’t see anyone beating him if he is on good form. Quite simply, the best TT rider here. Don’t @ me.

Rule of Thumb…

I have a rule for TTs that has developed over the past couple of seasons: always consider BMC, Sky and Jumbo as they seem to be the most consistent performers in the discipline. Lately, I’ve added Sunweb to that list too as they’ve really upped their game since mid 2017.

BMC – Obviously they have the aforementioned stage-favourite Dennis but they also have Bookwalter and Rosskopf who both should turn in good times. They should be in or around the top 15 but I can’t see them challenging for the win. It’s all or nothing for them with Dennis.

Team Sky – We’ve seen numerous Sky riders in the top 10 of several TTs throughout the year. In fact, I was left rather red-faced when they decided not to bother turning up in the opening Giro TT. Kwiatkowski is the threat in the team to Dennis, the Pole has been flying in and since the Tour really. The punchier course suits him very well and he would be disappointed not to be on the podium come tomorrow. However, it would be foolish to discount De La Cruz and Castroviejo, both of whom are very talented on the TT bike and again, they should enjoy the route. The latter lost the Euro TT by less than a second to Campenaerts recently so it seems he has continued his Tour form as well.

Lotto Jumbo – One of their worst squads in terms of TT depth that I’ve seen in a while. You could argue that Boom might produce a good result but he’s not been great all year since his operation. He needs to find a contract though so who knows.

Team Sunweb – Another squad who seem to be lacking in big hitters. Kelderman would be one to consider but given his lack of racing and only recent return from a crash, it is hard to know where his form is at. Geschke might be able to spring a surprise but again it is tough to see him break onto the podium.

The Rule Breakers

There are of course some riders who break the rule.

Victor Campenaerts.

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Able to retain his European crown, Campenaerts then produced a good time in the BinckBank TT a few days later, only to be blown away by Küng that afternoon. A powerful rider, he should be able to cope with the short climb but it won’t be too his liking as much as others. However, we did see in the opening Giro TT that he can roll with the punches so will be there or thereabouts at the finish.

Jose Goncalves.

How could I not mention #GoOnCalves?! If you’ve followed the previews for a while then you’ll know I’m a big fan of the Katusha man. It was back in the 2015 Vuelta that he really sprung onto the scene when riding for Caja Rural. He’s a very punchy rider and has a lot of raw power. I say “raw” as he often doesn’t have the best tactical brain (partly why I like him) but that doesn’t matter in a TT. He’s improved a lot in the discipline this year with a 4th place in the opener at the Giro the highlight. Would it be a surprise if he was up in the top 5? I’d definitely say no!

Prediction

I’ve lead you on a long merry-go-round only to end up with saying Dennis as my pick. The best short TT rider in the World wins, simple!

I expect Castroviejo and Kwiatkowski to be close for Sky, with Campenerts and Goncalves also in the mix as well.

Betting

I’ve lumped on Dennis before and I would maybe consider doing it again but can’t bring myself to do it. The Castroviejo or Goncalves top 3 angles are interesting, in fact, I have a couple of quid on the latter at 100/1 but that price has gone now. Don’t think I’d take him at his current 20/1 and Castroviejo is too short for the top 3 at 9/4 IMO.

I have found an angle I like though and it is probably only available to some so it will be a no bet for most.

Unibet have a H2H market and I really like the Castroviejo v Boom one they have. The Spaniard is 1/2 to win it and that is a price I will happily take.

No 30pters here but 5pts will do…

Thanks as always for reading! Who do you think will win on the opening day? 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 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 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.

 

Vuelta Stage 19 Preview: Xàbia -> Calp

Today’s Recap

A long, relatively boring day.

A weak break managed to escape, made up of only 5 riders and no sprint teams, so we were destined for a sprint at the end of the day. It was Giant and Arndt who looked to have things all under control, but the Giant lead-out man tired slightly early than he would have liked. Behind him, Arndt hesitated and Cort took advantage of that with a magnificently timed sprint launch and was never to be passed. A great win!

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Onto tomorrow.

The Route

Time Trial time and the single most pivotal stage of the Vuelta. Well, at least it was billed as that before the racing actually started. It’s where Froome is supposed to gain 2 minutes on Quintana and potentially the Vuelta too, but all hope looks gone by now.

Let’s have a look at the course.

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Now that’s the official profile but as is traditional on a time trial day, I’ve made a strava profile of the whole route that you can view here.

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Like we saw on the first TTT, the scale on the Strava profile distorts some of the climbs as it’s only a 0-200m scale, whereas the road book profile has 0-600m scale. Consequently some lumps have to be taken with a pinch of salt.

Nonetheless, “rolling” is how I’d describe the stage! The biggest challenge the riders will face is the climb that actually starts just after 5km. Although the road only rises ever so slightly, taking it from here makes it 7km at 2.1%. However, the “big” kick up at the end is 1.7km long at 6.5%. The strong climbers will hope to gain some time here.

An interesting thing to note is that the official profile only has 330m of elevation, whereas Strava suggests there’s 675m of elevation gain. Hmmmm.

There are a few more drags in the second half of the stage. 1.5km at 3.4% for example, that peaks at around the 25km mark. However, the riders will be able to put it in the big ring and power over these tests, although they certainly will sap the legs of energy.

Weather

A major factor in the outcome of TTs over the past few years has been the changing weather conditions throughout the day. The riders start times will be spread out over roughly 3 hours. Thankfully for the riders, they will all get dry conditions. However, the wind may play a part.

So back to a favourite website of mine, Windfinder.com

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Wind speeds in km/h, and max gusts @ Teulada

As you can see in the image above, the average wind speed actually picks up for those who start later on in the day. Although the differences are small, the direction looks as if it will switch from a cross-headwind to more of a headwind.

Ultimately though, I don’t think the weather will have that much of an impact on the favourites. It may favour a rouleur more than a climber, but the differences will be minimal.

Stage Contenders

A TT in Spain, so where best to start than with Movistar and Castroviejo? The Spaniard has to start as the favourite for this stage in my opinion. 4th in the Olympics, he’s been doing a lot of work for Quintana and was pivotal for the Colombian on the race splitting move during stage 15, but he’ll have had one eye on this stage.

Froome may start as the favourite though.

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He beat Castroviejo by 4 seconds at the Olympics and will hope to do the same here. He needs to pull a big performance out the bag here if he wants to put any pressure on Quintana going into the penultimate stage, but also to protect his second place. He’s seemed to re-find his TT ability this year and I wouldn’t be surprised if he wins. I just think he looks a bit too tired!

Luis Leon Sanchez will hope to go well here. He’s looked great all race and has been very active either in the breaks or the front of the bunch. In years gone by, he’d be threatening for the win but he doesn’t seem to be as good on the TT bike anymore. However, he can’t be discounted!

Nairo Quintana.

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Bit of a curveball, I know, but he was TTing exceptionally well at the start of the season. In fact, he was going so well that I had talked him up for taking the TT at the Tour. Unfortunately, he wasn’t firing on all cylinders then, but he seems to be on it here! Often during a TT at the end of a Grand Tour there is a mix of GC guys and specialists and it sometimes just comes down to who has the legs. Quintana certainly has the legs just now. I’d watch out for him.

Tobias Ludvigsson.

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If you’ve been somewhat paying attention to this blog then you’ll know that I’m a massive fan of Big T. He’s had a very underrated but quietly exceptional Vuelta so far, climbing better than ever. This TT will be a big goal for him and he’s stayed out of the breaks on the past few stages, saving energy for this. He has the quality and now the confidence to play a big part in this stage!

Aside from the five who I’ve mentioned, keep an eye out for Lampaert, Campenaerts, Moser, Felline and Valverde (it’s Spain!) to throw up a few surprises.

Prediction

I just can’t see past Castroviejo;

  • He’s an excellent TTer
  • The course suits him very well
  • He’s a Movistar rider
  • It’s Spain

Simple. Castroviejo wins!

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Unless of course Big T and Quintana surprise 😉

Betting

1.5pt WIN Castroviejo @ 7/4 (Bet365)

0.25pt EW Ludvigsson @ 20/1 (Bet365)

0.5pt EW Quintana @ 125/1 (Bet365)

Like normal, hunt around later when there are more prices out.

Thanks for reading as per! Who do you think will win the TT? Are we in for a shock? As usual, any feedback is greatly appreciated. Enjoy the race wherever you’re watching it from. Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

 

 

 

 

Vuelta Stage 18 Preview: Requena -> Gandía

Today’s Recap

A well-timed attack from Frank and a solid pace up the final climb saw him solo away to victory. Konig and Gesink followed 6 and 11 seconds behind respectively, leaving their move on the climb too late. Not to take anything away from Frank, he definitely deserved a win this Vuelta!

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Behind, the top 4 on GC all rolled in together but there were some time gaps further down the order. Samuel Sanchez performed the worst (losing a minute to his rivals) and has dropped once place, swapping with Talansky. Further down, De La Cruz and Scarponi traded their 9th and 10th on GC. With Dani Moreno now lurking only 11 seconds behind the young Spaniard.

Let’s move on to tomorrow’s stage.

The Route

Another rolling day, that at the Vuelta is probably classified as a sprint stage.

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There isn’t really much to talk about the route. There’s not a lot of flat within the first half of the stage and only in the second half do the riders find favourable terrain, where they descend to the finish with only a few small rises.

The run in itself will be fast but does have a few technical aspects.

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The pace will be knocked off in the closing kilometre as they have to take the first, sharp exit at a roundabout. However, the final 600m is dead straight so no difficulties should occur here!

How will the stage pan out?

The real question for tomorrow’s stage is if we’ll see a sprint or not. At 200km long and with a lot of lumpy terrain, it will be tough for those who want a sprint to control the stage. A few teams have looked keen so far, namely Giant, Etixx and Trek, to chase the breaks down.

There is the possibility though that a small break gets away in the morning, with only a few teams represented and we do get a sprint, after the gap is easily controlled by a few of the teams.

However, with a few more tough days to come and knowing that they’re guaranteed a sprint in Madrid, there is a chance that they may not put all their eggs in the sprint basket. For these teams, they could decide to try to send a rider in the morning break so that they don’t have to work behind. Of course, that is easier said than done!

There are only 4 more stages left in the race. Only a handful of riders can win the TT, the penultimate stage is for a climber and the final stage in Madrid is sure to end in a bunch sprint. Consequently, tomorrow is the last day for the rouleurs to make their mark on the race, and I expect them to take it.

I go for a break that wins it!

(As long as at least 2/3 of Trek, Giant and Etixx are represented)

Breakaway Hopefuls

Like normal, we’re left sifting our way through the peloton trying to find that elusive break winner! I’ll be naming 5 this time as it’s even more of a lottery and the preview is on the thin side.

 

Kiel Reijnen.

The America rider is a late-comer to the European peloton, only joining Trek this year at the age of 29. He may be used as the teams ploy to infiltrate the break so they get away without having to chase behind. Felline himself would be a great candidate but everyone else would make him chase the moves in the finale, whereas Reijnen isn’t as marked. A solid all-rounder with a fast kick, he would have every chance!

Vegard Stake Laengen. 

Cycling: 99th Tour of Italy 2016 / Stage 11

 

He was in the successful break that made it all the way on stage 13 and managed 5th on that stage. The finale to this stage is better suited to his capabilities and with a strong TT, he could ride away from the rest of his opponents.

Loïc Chetout.

Another rider who was in a breakaway earlier this race (stage 10) he could go well on this course. The talented young Frenchman seemed to be in every break in his build-up races for the Vuelta. Unlike stage 10 where he struggled on the final climb, this flatter end to the stage will be much more appealing to him!

Yves Lampaert.

The talented Belgian had his early season ruined by a trivial incident…screen-shot-2016-09-07-at-19-14-45He seems to be getting back to better form now and was on the attack on stage 13. Similar to Reijnen, he could be used as a ploy by Etixx so that they don’t have to chase behind. If he gets into the move, I don’t expect him to mess it up like he did earlier in the race.

Adam Hansen.

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It wouldn’t be the Vuelta without seeing him off the front at some point. This type of stage looks like it would be perfect for Hansen, as there is a reasonable amount of climbing but nothing serious. The only concern will be that he’s heavily covered in a breakaway situation so it will be tough. If anyone can time his move correctly though, it will be him!

Prediction

As I said above, I give the break the edge on this stage only if a few of the “danger” sprint teams have a man up the road. I’d say it’s a 70:30 chance.

If it does stick, I think Yves Lampaert will go better than he did on stage 13 and take the win here!

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Betting

All straight up WIN:

0.4pt Lampaert @ 100/1 with Ladbrokes (I’d go as low as 66s)

0.2pt Hansen @ 125/1 with Bet365 (I’d go 80/1 lowest)

0.2pt Stake Laengen @ 200/1 with Betfair (I’d go 150)

0.1pt Chetout @ 300/1 with PaddyPower or Betfair (I’d go 200)

0.1pt Reijnen @ 66/1 with various bookmakers (wouldn’t go any lower)

 

Thanks again for reading! Do you think we’ll see a bunch sprint or will the break hold on? As usual, any feedback would be much appreciated!

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

 

 

Vuelta Stage 17 Preview: Castellón -> Llucena

Rest Day Recap

It was Drucker who ended up winning an ultimately messy sprint on stage 16, after catching Bennati within the final 200m. I didn’t manage to watch the stage, but it sounded quite dull until the finish anyway!

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As for the GC, Quintana, barring any incident or massive implosion, looks to have the race sealed up. The battle for the podium looks to be exciting with Contador only 5 seconds behind Chaves. In fact, we’ll definitely see some movement in and around the top 10 in this final week.

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I’m hoping for some more exciting, no holds barred style racing in the coming stages. Maybe it won’t be as wild as it was on Stage 15 but I can’t see it being a defensive race (well, apart from Quintana), as everyone gives their all in the final week of the last Grand Tour of the year. Squeezing everything out the tank!

Anyway, let’s have a look what’s in store for us after this rest day.

The Route

Another classic Vuelta stage: a lot of climbing with a summit finish. At least the organisers have been kind and categorised most of the climbs for once!

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The most important climbs of this stage are the two that bookend it. The Alto del Desierto de las Palmas is 7.1km long at an average of 5.4% with maximum ramps of 12%, according  to VeloViewer (see profile here). This climb is significant as this is most likely where the break of the day will be formed, or at least the riders will hope it is!

We then get two categorised climbs in the middle of the stage, but these shouldn’t change the outcome of the day. Unless of course some GC guys want to go wild early again!

This stage is therefore all about the final climb and the lead in to it. I did say things would be back to normal today, so in tradition I’ve created a Strava profile of the final 15km that you can view here.

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The preamble before the main event is actually a 6km climb at Screen Shot 2016-09-06 at 11.05.374%. This will certainly warm the legs up before the final ascent of the Alto Mas de la Costa. It’s another climb that typifies the Vuelta: short but bloody steep!

3.8km at 12.5% will certainly find anyone out who’s not recovered well after the rest-day, or happens just to be misfiring. Thus, some reasonable gaps can be made on a climb like this. Look back at La Camperona (Stage 8) for example, a stage with a similar final climb. That day saw a minute separating the first 10 GC riders home.

The tougher part of the climb is in the second half as well. Therefore it’s crucial for riders in contention that they don’t go out too hard and then blow up just before the top!

Looking back at those who went well on Stage 3 and 8 could give a good idea at the riders who might be in the mix here.

How will the stage pan out?

Like normal, we’re left with the age-old question of break or no break?

The day after the previous rest-day (Stage 11) saw a GC battle and a Froome stage win. However, that stage had a lot less climbing involved and was a lot easier to control for the GC teams. Saying that, as we saw on stage 15, they could go full gas from quite far out, but I think that situation is quite unlikely.

Therefore, I think we’re once again left with a break winning the stage and a GC battle behind.

Break Candidates

There are a lot of “obvious” break choices for this stage such as the two K’s at Sky (Konig & Kennaugh), Fraile, Elissonde and Brambilla. But as a guy with a penchant of choosing outsiders, I’ll be sticking to type here and naming some longer shots for the stage. Four this time round though!

Fabio Felline.

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The Italian has been climbing very well this Vuelta so far, finishing 3rd on stage 15. It’s most certainly something he’s improved on this year and looks to be getting stronger as the race goes on. He performed solidly, not outstanding, on stages 3 & 8 but I think he’ll go better tomorrow. Utilising his punchy nature, he’ll hope to put the hurt on his opponents on the steep ramps!

Bart de Clerq.

He came into this Vuelta as the main GC hope for Lotto Soudal but unfortunately crashed heavily on stage 6. This was particularly disappointing for him after a good show of form early in the race with a 12th place on Stage 3. Since then he’s been recuperating and was a feature in the break on the stage to Aubisque. He didn’t have the legs that day, but seems upbeat and that his form is returning. If he is back to his best then he will certainly be a danger man.

Rudy Molard.

05-06-2016 Criterium Du Dauphine Libere; Tappa Prologo Les Gets; 2016, Cofidis Solutions Credits; Molard, Rudy; Les Gets;

Another rider who had a great stage 3 (finishing 11th), he went a bit off the boil mid-Vuelta and lost some time on GC. However, a 16th place on the stage to Aubisque shows that the form is still there. A very consistent rider who doesn’t seem to get on the top step of the podium that often. Can he add to his one pro win here?

Maxime Bouet.

Second on the reduced bunch gallop in Bilbao was certainly a surprise! A rider who’s done a lot of work for his team-mates this race so far, he normally finds himself in a breakaway at some point during a Grand Tour. He’s not been in one yet and as a very solid all-rounder, he should be able to make the move if he’s given the all clear. The final climb will be on his limit but he did finish 26th (taking away the 12 break places) on a tough finish on stage 8 so the form is there.

Prediction

I say it’s a 70% chance that the break makes it tomorrow. With the stage being tough to control and set up for a GC rider, I think teams will instead use their resources by getting riders into the break of the day.

I’ll go for a guy who had a promising build up to the race and seems to be re-finding his feet. Bart de Clerq to win!

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Betting

Small stakes on each of the break hopes:

0.3pt WIN De Clerq @ 200/1 with Betfair SB (I would take the 125/1 available if you can’t bet with BF)

0.25pt WIN Felline @ 100/1 with Skybet & Coral (Would take 80s available with B365 or Ladbrokes)

0.25pt WIN Molard @ 80/1 pretty much every bookmaker

0.2pt WIN Bouet @ 200/1 with Betfair and Paddy Power (Would take 150/1)

 

Thanks for reading! How do you think tomorrow’s stage will go? As usual, any feedback is greatly appreciated. Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.