Vuelta a España 2017 Stage 4 Preview; Escaldes-Engordany -> Tarragona

Today’s Recap

If you don’t like the Vuelta, we can’t be friends!

Quick Step decided they wanted to honour the jersey and try to keep it in the team so they controlled the break for the first 2/3rds of the day, never letting the gap grow much bigger than 5 minutes. Which in some ways was good, as neither of the lottery tickets made the move! So I decided to tweet out some thoughts and back Chaves in-play…

Once onto the penultimate climb Sky took over the pace making duties and just about caught the break at the summit. Although we did see some weird UAE tactics with Costa and Atapuma dangling 10 seconds ahead of the peloton for the last few kilometres of the climb. The break was absorbed on the descent with Atapuma now doing the chasing before all hell lot loose on the last climb.

Rosa sprinted into it before peeling off almost instantly. However, some of the GC guys were already distanced due to the difference in speed at the middle of the peloton compared to the front. Some clawed their way back to the Sky train but others didn’t.

Froome launched a vicious attack that only Chaves could follow and the two built up a 10-second or so advantage. Bardet eventually sent off in pursuit, with Aru quickly following. The Froome/Chaves duo crested the climb with roughly a 5 second gap over Bardet/Aru and a further 15 over a group of chasers.

Bardet and Aru caught up with the lead pair on the descent and the pace dropped ever so slightly; allowing the chasers to return at roughly 1km to go.

Roche put in a half-hearted dig but was closed by Chaves. However, Nibali then made a more serious effort with roughly 300m left and no one seemed bothered about chasing him initially and that was it. The Shark had his stage win!

DHxCzwNXcAER3Fw

What a finish line photo as well!

De la Cruz sprinted to second, with Froome in third. The bonus seconds on the line see the Brit into the leader’s jersey with a trio of riders only 2 seconds behind him.

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

The Route

A much easier day in the saddle, I’m sure they’ll be glad to know!

Screen Shot 2017-08-21 at 17.33.46

There’s not really much of note apart from a Cat-3 climb to break up the very slow descent to the finish line.

Well, it doesn’t descend all the way to the finish line…

The road does rise in the closing kilometres and it is quite a tricky finale that could catch a few out.

Screen Shot 2017-08-21 at 17.57.57

 

Having to traverse 6 roundabouts in just under 3.5km will certainly make things messy! The “climb” that you see above is more of a drag, but it averages 1.7%% for a 1.2kms, flattening out at the Flamme Rouge.

At 900m to go the riders will take the long way around this roundabout, exiting it on the left hand side.

Screen Shot 2017-08-21 at 18.01.15

Almost as soon as they leave the roundabout they’ll have to make another time. This time it will be a 90-degree turn, that is made even sharper by the fact the riders are funnelled left once exiting the roundabout.

Screen Shot 2017-08-21 at 18.03.05

The road then snakes for the following 200m before it takes “snaking” to the extreme at just under 500m to go.

Screen Shot 2017-08-21 at 18.07.30

Possibly having to knock off their speed, if the bunch is not stretched out by now, it certainly will be after.

We then have a ridiculously narrow roundabout at 250m to go.

Screen Shot 2017-08-21 at 18.09.26

Which is then duly followed up by an equally narrow exit.

Screen Shot 2017-08-21 at 18.10.44

Let’s just hope the local council have done some road works or at least completed paving the finish since the google maps image was taken in 2015!

How will the stage pan out?

It should be a sprint, but given the lack of top-tier sprinters here a few of the teams might decide to have an early rest day and not pull.

I would not be surprised to see a “shock” break stay all the way to the line.

However, the one thing that is massively against the break is the constant 15km/h headwind that they’ll be cycling into all day. That definitely swings things in favour of the sprinters and because of that I’m sure we’ll see a few of the teams come to an agreement to keep the break in check.

We could be in for a long watch though!

Sprinters

Picking a sprinter for this Vuelta seems to be a minefield. We don’t really have much to go off of from stage 2, given how the race was split apart in all of 2kms. The slight uphill drag before the line also makes it more interesting but all of the sprinters here should manage it easily so it doesn’t affect things too much.

With all that said, I’ll be keeping this relatively short and sweet.

Theuns – Made a massive effort to close the gap on Stage 2 and still managed to get up for 4th. He’s clearly in great form and with Contador struggling today, he might get a few more resources at his disposal tomorrow. That is of course unless his team-mate sprints.

Degenkolb – Admitted he was struggling on the first few days but he might have rode into some form after three stages? I still think it is too early for him but this finish does look ideal for the Degenkolb of 2015.

Trentin – Another rider who is in great form at the moment and with the best lead-out he should be up there. QS seem a team full of confidence and that could just make the difference.

vuelta_foz6932_670

Molano – The Colombian is a rider that I’ve been looking to forward to watching this Vuelta. He’s a very talented sprinter who excels on tough finishes, winning two stages in Portugal earlier this year. This is a big step up for him but the fact he was close to the front on Stage 2 is promising.

Modolo – Looks to be on good form as he was another rider who made the front split on S2. Arguably the fastest sprinter based on his wins in the past, he has a good chance tomorrow if he’s in the right position. He’ll certainly take the risks to get there.

Blythe – Not a bad start to Aqua Blue’s first ever Grand Tour with the Brit delivering a podium result on the opening stage. Can he go better? Possibly!

Cort – Might get dragged into helping his GT leaders again. So could be nowhere again.

Schwarzmann – Good lead out rider, but I don’t rate him too highly as an actual sprinter.

Van Asbroeck – Solid rider who top 10’d on stage 2 and he’ll be there or thereabouts again.

Lobato – Finish looks good for him but his positioning often lets him down. Could be great, could be awful!

Prediction

A chaotic finish that could lead to a surprise result and possibly a few nasty crashes. Consequently it might be a lottery in regards as to where everyone is positioned on the lead in to the final turn.

However, I’ve been looking forward to this stage for a while as the day that Molano really makes his mark on the pro peloton!

juan_sebastian_molano_vuelta_al_alentejo_efe_h

Vuelta Picks

A tricky day…

Safe Pick – Trentin

Wongshot – LL Sanchez (late attack in the chaotic run in)

Lanterne Rouge – Belkov (he’s been consistently near the back every day!)

Betting

1pt EW on Molano @ 33/1 with B365

 

Thanks as always for reading, hope you enjoyed the detailed finale by pictures! Who do you think will win the chaotic sprint? Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

Vuelta a España 2017 Stage 2 Preview; Nîmes -> Gruissan

Today’s Recap

I should never have doubted them, should I?!

BMC win yet another TTT, being the only team to best the 16 minute mark.

DHm7qUFXYAUsotK

Dennis was the first man across the line so he is the first rider in the leader’s jersey of the race.

With a sprint finish likely tomorrow, there is a good chance he will hold onto it for a few days.

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

The Route

A flat jaunt along the Mediterranean coastline, with a little change of direction inland before turning back towards the sea for the finish in Gruissan.

VueltaS1

In terms of altimetry, there is nothing much to talk about at all. The highest peak of the day is just over 40m above sea level…

It could be a fairly benign day, but the finish could cause a surprise or two.

Screen Shot 2017-08-19 at 17.19.33

They will tackle a roundabout at 2.5km to go, taking the sharp left.

Screen Shot 2017-08-19 at 17.22.15

Said sweeping roundabout. The riders will have to knock a little bit of speed through it and it will certainly stretch out the peloton.

Will a team then have enough firepower to keep the pace high over the next 2 kilometres? If not, there could be a lot of jostling for position with things getting scrappy.

Especially when the road narrows at ~1km to go as the riders head off the main road and towards the town.

Screen Shot 2017-08-19 at 17.31.54

The slip-road only lasts for 150m or so but it will certainly be a point some of the teams will be racing for. It is much more realistic for a team to control it from there to the finish with a few riders.

Screen Shot 2017-08-19 at 17.33.29

It wouldn’t be the Vuelta without some type of “challenge” in the final kilometre. Tomorrow’s is a roundabout with roughly 350m to go. It’s not too tight, but the riders won’t be able to smooth out the corner completely.

Having one man peeling off just out of the roundabout and leaving the “pilot fish” with the sprinter is the ideal tactic here. Can anyone pull it off?

Weather Watch

We spend a lot of the day travelling parallel to the coast line so of course I have to mention the prospect of crosswinds.

Web

Although oddly enough, the wind isn’t coming from the sea. Instead, it comes from in-land and pushing towards the coast.

Screen Shot 2017-08-19 at 18.36.01

That makes it less likely for echelons early on in the day but not improbable. There are some exposed sections as we head in land though, such as this part of the D-37 as we head towards Sérignan.

Screen Shot 2017-08-19 at 18.46.14

At around 80km to go, is it too early for a team to try to split it?

They will turn more into a cross-head-wind afterwards so a lot of the riders might not fancy it. But the wind direction is pretty organic, much like the teams attitudes towards crosswinds. If they sense a chance to push it, I’m sure some will try!

If we do see splits then those dropped will hope that the wind direction becomes more of a headwind to deter the teams pushing on. It will be a race to the 30km to go banner in that case as once the riders turn to home, they’ll have a stonkingly big tailwind for the remainder of the day. Anyone gapped will find it difficult to get back.

So do I think we’ll see echelons? I’m hopeful, but not overly confident.

Sprinters

We don’t exactly have a long list of guys here and a the majority of them don’t have much help. Things could be messy…

Degenkolb.

On paper he is the most experienced/best sprinter here but he hasn’t raced since the Tour. Rolling home today makes me think that he still might be finding his legs and tomorrow’s long stage could be a struggle for him this early on. Of course, he could have been conserving energy after giving his all in the first part of the TTT but the signs aren’t good.

Theuns.

If Degenkolb isn’t sprinting then Theuns will be Trek’s main man. Full of confidence after his first World Tour win at the BinckBank Tour, he looked lightning quick then. He is off to a new team so there could be some tension within his current squad but as professionals I wouldn’t expect that to play too big a part. With a lot of helpers for Contador, whoever sprints for Trek will most likely only be able to rely on De Koert and possibly Pantano. A late charge to the front à la Lampre of old?!

Cort Nielsen.

20165705_333210_670.jpg

A double stage winner last year, he certainly enjoyed his first Grand Tour. Fast after a tough, long day, tomorrow’s stage looks good for him and I’m sure he’ll be hoping for crosswinds to reduce the bunch. Although maybe he won’t, as he is supposedly on team help duty before getting his own opportunity if the Orica GC riders are safe within the last 10km. It will be interesting to see how it plays out for him with no lead-out.

Modolo – Won a sprint in Poland but DNF’d that race. He is a really hit or miss rider so who knows how he’ll go tomorrow!

Trentin – He’ll more than likely be QS rider of choice for tomorrow. If they dedicate a lead-out to him then they have a fairly strong team with several strong rouleurs to push things on for him. Looking strong lately, I think he has a good chance of a result.

Blythe – The Brit will be hoping for echelons tomorrow to reduce his opposition. A good classics rider, he should make the first split if he’s being attentive and will fancy his chances in a reduced bunch. He could struggle in a big bunch gallop though, but with it being messy he could seize the opportunity.

Lobato – Seems to be finding form again but this pure flat sprint isn’t great for him. Almost guaranteed to be dropped if the wind picks up.

Van Genechten – Just a bit of a “meh” sprinter and typifies this field we have here. Will struggle to repeat his win from last season.

Debuscherre – Will be praying for echelons as he seems to have lost his way as a big bunch sprinter this year. That lack of confidence won’t help in the slightly sketchy finish.

Schwarzmann – Arguably has one of the strongest sprint lead-outs here in terms of pure power. Often a lead-out man himself, will he grasp his opportunity to shine?

Vuelta Picks

Safe Pick – Cort.

It’s tough to choose a “safe” pick for this stage as anything could happen out on the road with possible echelons and a messy sprint. Not knowing which of the Trek riders will be sprinting, it is wise to avoid them, although I would lean towards Theuns. Cort should be sprinting and as one of the fastest here he should guarantee a top 5.

Wongshot Pick – Theuns.

On form he is arguably the fastest rider here, it just depends if he sprints or not. Hence why he is the wongshot.

Lanterne Rouge Pick – Zurlo.

Fell today so he might be tasked with doing some work early on for Modolo and roll home at the end of the day.

Prediction

Trek to take advantage of Theuns is great form just now, letting him sprint, with the Belgian duly delivering!

DG4HBqTU0AALpp6

Betting

1pt EW Theuns @ 22/1 with Bet365 (would take 14/1 lowest – others might actually price up higher later on)

Also for a bit of fun I’ve doubled that up Sam Bennett for the Cyclassics at 528/1…

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

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

Vuelta al Pais Vasco 2017 Stage 1 Preview; Iruñea -> Eguesibar-Sarriguren

GC Overview

No time for a full length preview so here are a few thoughts.

The race in general seems easier than previous editions, but the riders can always make it tougher through aggressive racing. The most decisive stages are the last two, stages 5 & 6. With the steep gradients of Arrate, the more lightweight, explosive climbers will look to maker their mark. Whereas the more all-round GC contenders will hope to gain time back on the TT the following today. It should be a close race!

Contador won the race last year and is clearly going well just now. He’ll fancy his chances to make it back to back wins overall!

sptdw835_670

His main rival looks to be the flying Valverde. He was exceptional in Catalunya and has to start the race as favourite in my opinion.

Behind those two there are several riders who will be hoping to make the podium. Alaphilippe, Henao, Roglic, Yates and Spilak are just a few names to conjure with. Out of that selection, I would fancy Alaphilippe. There are no big mountain days and long 16km climbs which he hates, instead, he’ll find the short 6-7km climbs to his liking. As we saw in Paris-Nice, he packs a fairly good TT as well! Spilak is a dark horse, especially if he is on the level that he was climbing in Tirreno and if it rains, of course!

No bonus seconds for the stage winner etc tilts the importance of attacking racing to drop opponents, but also the TT is even more key.

Right, now that’s out the way, let’s have a look at what’s in store for the riders on Stage 1.

The Route

A fairly dull stage to start the race off.

Screen Shot 2017-04-02 at 17.15.15
Profile once again courtesy of @LasterketaBurua

We do have a few Cat-2 climbs but they come too far from the finish to be of any consequence. The little rise of 1.4km at 3.4% which crests at just over 4km to go is interesting, but I can’t see it having a huge effect on the race. It may be the launchpad for a probing attack, though even I think it will be hard for one of them to stick! Yet, with no real sprinters in the race, it might just do…

The run in to the line is quite technical, and we have two sharp turns in the closing 2km.

Screen Shot 2017-04-02 at 17.46.42

The 90-degree turn with 300m to go will ensure for a manic end to the day. You need to be in the first 5 riders out of it to have any chance of winning.

“Sprinters”

We have barely any of the top-level sprinters here this week so expect a few surprise results and things not going to plan!

Matthews probably starts as the favourite. The Aussie looked good in Paris Nice, and rode very well on the unfamiliar cobbles of Gent Wevelgem recently. Like most of the “sprinters”, he doesn’t have a great lead-out with him and will be relying on Geschke to deliver him into position.

Bennett arrives as the other sprinter who’s a cut above the rest. The Irishman took a great stage win in Paris Nice, beating some of the fastest riders in the world. He pulled out of De Panne so it will be interesting to see if he’s recovered from whatever it was that caused that. If he has, then he is certainly a big favourite for the win!

Sam-Bennett-wins-stage-three-of-2017-Paris-Nice

It says a lot when you have Swift and Lobato as the next best sprinters in the peloton. Both have looked a bit “meh” as of late but if there was ever a chance for them to take a win and get some confidence back, this is it. I just wouldn’t have any confidence in them at the moment!

Then we have normal lead-out men who will be sprinters at this race, such as Van der Sande and Richeze. I would favour Richeze out of those two and he seems to have a fairly good sprint train (by this races standards) to support him. Delivering two wins in San Juan earlier in the year can he win in Spain a few months later?

Orica have a few options and they could go with either Albasini or Gerrans both of whom could contest, especially with the other rider leading out.

Heck, Valverde and Alaphilippe (if Richeze isn’t up for it) might fancy a sprint!

finish_1280_getty_0

Bole will fancy his chances but he’s been poor so far this year.

I’m intrigued to see what card Astana play. They obviously have blog favourite Lutsenko, who’s clearly going well just now and in a sprint like this he certainly has a chance. Although it remains to be seen how he has recovered from his crash in Gent Wevelgem and how finishing Flanders today will have affected his legs. Instead they might turn to Basque rider, and another favourite of mine, Bilbao. He’s had a quiet start to the year but he’ll want to go well in his home race. Packing a fast sprint, he might surprise!

Prediction

A real crapshoot of a stage where a late attack might stick as controlling the bunch will be tough, or we’ll get one of the craziest sprints of the season.

I think we will get a sprint, but having a good lead-out will be important and there aren’t many of them here! Orica have the best contingent of riders for that in my opinion. With Power and Plaza they have two riders who can take it up from a few kms out, letting Gerrans/Albasini sit in behind. Choosing between those two is tough, but after his second place today in La Rioja, Albasini is clearly going well. Gerrans won’t mind doing the work for him if he’s rewarded with his own chances later in the week. If the Aussie leads Albasini into the last turn, very few riders will have the strength to come past him!

WATSON_00004187-001-630x419

Betting

Nothing for me on GC, odds are too short on the favourites for my opinion. With stage 1 being so difficult to predict I’m having a relatively conservative, 2pt kinda day…

Albasini 1pt WIN @50/1 with Betfair/PaddyPower (would take the 33s with Bet365)

Bilbao 0.25pt EW @200/1 with Bet365 (would take 125s)

Lutsenko 0.25pt EW @125/1 with Bet365. (would take 80s)

 

Thanks for reading as always. Apologies that this is on the shorter side but there’s not that much to talk about for this stage! Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

Dubai Tour 2017 – GC Preview

Dubai Tour 2017 – GC Preview

A relatively new race to the cycling calendar, starting back in 2014, we’re this year treated to its 4th edition. A combination of maintaining a 2.HC status and the generally good weather means the race can attract some of the biggest stars in World Cycling. Some appearance fees help too!

Last year saw Marcel Kittel take the crown after a very impressive display up the now famous Hatta Dam Wall finish, in between some great sprint victories.

2016 Dubai Tour, stage 1:

Since dropping the TT after the first edition, the past two years have seen a delicately poised GC battle between 1 or 2 dominant sprinters and the puncheurs. Both times, the sprinters have prevailed with 2 stage wins being enough to take GC victory as long as they don’t lose drastic amounts of time on Hatta. This year the race has actually been extended to 5 stages, much to my surprise as I only found out when starting this write-up! Does this give the sprinters an even better chance of overall victory? Let’s take a quick look at what’s in store for them…

The Route

The organisers aren’t entirely helpful and we don’t actually have any official stage profiles aside from that of Stage 4. It shouldn’t really matter though as the rest of the stages are mainly flat affairs anyway!

Stage 1.

Dubai2015_T02_plan

A trip around some of the famous landmarks are in store for the riders before the inevitable sprint finish along the Palm Jumeirah.

Stage 2.

dubai-tour-2017_s02_plan

Stage 2 sees a trip up the coast and a finish at Ras al Khaimah. Another sprint is on the cards but with it being close to the coast, could we get crosswinds? The early wind forecast doesn’t look promising even with winds coming from the best direction for crosswinds as they’re only 10km/h strong. Hopefully this changes!

Stage 3.

dubai-tour-2017_s03_plan

The riders travel from coast to coast, traversing through the desert on their way. Another sprint finish is likely but I do like the look of the long-range wind forecast for Thursday…

screen-shot-2017-01-28-at-16-24-54

Strong winds from a cross-tail direction, could see some chaos out on the roads.

Stage 4.

dubai-tour-2017_s04_plan

The *cough* Queen *cough* stage of the Dubai Tour and the return to Hatta Dam. The organisers have decided to use the exact same route that they did last year. Again, we could get some strong winds out on course. The long-range forecast again looks like the section going NE to Al Malaha could be a bit exposed…

screen-shot-2017-01-29-at-19-10-11

Dubai2015_03_alt

The climbs before the finish themselves can cause splits in the peloton and those who aren’t in great shape can be dropped, and depending on the pace/winds a fair few more might not make the Dam Wall with the peloton as well. The all-out sprint up the 20% 150m section will ensue. It is important to note that the road does rise ever so slightly for a couple of kilometres beforehand and this will sap the legs before the massive anaerobic, 30-second effort.

Stage 5

dubai-tour-2017_s05_plan

Another sprint day to end the race!

GC Contenders

The extra sprint day does swing the race even more in favour of the sprinters. As I’ve mentioned above, 2 stage wins has been enough in the previous editions to take the GC win and this year round it is much the same. In fact, even 4 trips to the lesser spots on the podium should be enough as long as there isn’t one dominant sprinter.

Marcel Kittel starts as favourite for this race according to the bookmakers. The defending champ had a much better season last year and really came out of the blocks flying at this event. Two stage wins and an impressive 6th up Hatta saw him secure the title. He managed that even with a messed up sprint on Stage 2. If he’s on similar form, then he could be hard to beat.

Mark Cavendish won this event back in 2015. He outclassed everyone at the Tour last year but will he be as amped up for this race so early in the year? With him he has a full strength sprint team and I think that’s a sign of intent to mount a serious challenge to Kittel.

20150205d-33-1020x731

Those two riders are a cut above in terms of flat sprinting prowess and they could quite easily share all the flat stage wins.

Groenewegen and Viviani are in the tier below them but are capable of causing an upset. The Dutchman probably has a greater chance at the overall than the Italian who’s climbing is very hit or miss.

Two riders who will be hoping that the above four share the sprinting spoils and sneak onto the podium themselves on the flat stages are Degenkolb and Lobato. Both winners on Hatta Dam (2015 & 2016 respectively) they should gain time on that stage. Will it be enough to take the win though?

So it’s a sprint-fest then?

Yes and no.

Stages 1 and 5 should be bunch sprints as they are in urbanised areas protected from any prevailing weather conditions. However, the wind does look favourable for some cross winds on a couple of the stages. Namely the coastal finish on Stage 3 to Al Aqah and Stage 4 to Hatta Dam could get interesting before we even reach the wall!

Roughly 40km/h winds are being forecast for those days and we’ve seen numerous times what can happen out in the desert if there are strong winds; World Champs and Tour of Qatar from last year are great examples. This could be the first year that the wind plays a part in shaping the GC at this race.

Rather annoyingly, sprinters tend to be quite good in the wind so unless if it is absolute chaos (which I’m really hoping for) then it might be hard to completely drop them. It is however, more likely to isolate them. If that is the case, we could see some attacks from team-mates or more classics style riders once the race has been blown apart. Therefore, there are two riders I want to highlight who might spring a surprise this week.

Bob Jungels.

ep-160219208-1

The 24-year old had an exceptionally good first half of last year; winning a stage in Oman but more impressively finishing 6th on GC at the Giro and consequently winning the Young Riders classification. He tapered out a bit after then but was part of the World’s TTT winning squad at the end of the year. He’s a real powerhouse of a rider who can climb well but also has a great TT engine. If we do get a very reduced group of around 15 riders or so in the last 10km of a stage he has every chance of attacking and time trialling his way to the line. With a decent gap, he would be tough to beat for the rest of the race!

Dylan Teuns.

dylan-teuns_166518

The Belgian really sprung onto the scene back in 2014 at the Tour of Britain, finishing 10th on GC riding as a stagiare for BMC. Since then he’s been a bit anonymous and 2016 was a relatively poor year from him, with only a couple of top 20 places in the classics (Liege & Fleche) and a 3rd on a stage at the Tour of Luxembourg. I think he’ll want to come out of the blocks firing here and is a serious contender for the Hatta stage. The wind playing up will be great for him too, after all, he is Belgian! 😏

Prediction

I think Cavendish will do the business here, but if the wind starts blowing then it could be anyones game! I’ll go for Jungels in that situation.

Betting

No value in those at the top of the race, especially with dodgy conditions. Small punts on Teuns and Jungels;

0.125pt EW Teuns @ 300/1 with Bet365

0.12pt EW Jungels @ 200/1 with Bet365

 

Thanks again for reading! Who do you think will come out on top? Will the wind be a major factor or will it be another year for the sprinters? As usual any feedback is greatly appreciated. I will be doing daily previews for this race but they will probably be short as there isn’t that much to talk about! Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth