Women’s European Road Race Championships Preview – Glasgow 2018

Now in its third edition as an event for the elite peloton, as it was formerly just an under 23 and junior event. Last year saw an attacking race that was mainly led by the Dutch, shock, and a strong group of three managed to escape and contest the win on what was a course really suited for a bunch sprint.

Vos proved to be the fastest, beating Bronzini to the line with a failed late attack from Zabelinskaya seeing the Russian round out the podium in third.

 

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Will we see a similarly aggressive race this year? First though, let’s take a look at what is in store for the riders.

The Route

Very similar, if not exactly the same (I can’t remember) to the circuit that used for the Commonwealth Games back in 2014. The women will complete 9 laps for a total of ~130km.

I’ve made a profile of the circuit that you can view here. The organisation’s one is pretty useless if I’m honest.

Glasgow RR Circuit

It’s quite a surprisingly rolling course with there also being a lot of turns given the nature and layout of Glasgow streets.

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There are several small hills and drags, more notably in the middle of the course. The first one goes past the University buildings, averaging 5% for 500m before a quick descent and a 300m kicker at 8% up Great George Street.

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That’s arguably the toughest climb on the course and will be one of the places where the puncheurs will hope to put some pressure on. There are another couple of few hundred metre drags at roughly 3% or 4%.

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Last on the agenda in terms of climbing is the 400m drag (4.8% average) up Montrose St, which crests with just 3.5km left in the day. Given there is 1.5km of descent, it is really only a 2km effort on the flat that someone needs to make to stay away.

Easier said than done!

The Flying Dutchwomen

Can anyone stop the cycling powerhouse?

As I mentioned above, we witnessed the Dutch tear it apart in what was a flat course in Denmark so what can they manage to do here? I expect them to be constantly on the attack throughout the afternoon and their whole squad could realistically win. It will be interesting to see what the hierarchy will be; if they even have one at all.

Any dangerous attack that goes will have at least one Dutch rider in it but more likely there will be two or three there. This will put them at a massive tactical advantage compared to the other nations. We witnessed this at the Worlds last year when Blaak was able to attack and van der Breggen and van Vleuten marked the chase behind. I think we’ll see something very similar tomorrow and it won’t be a big sprint finish. Instead, it will either be a small group that fights it out or a solo rider will get the jump on everyone and come home alone.

What move do you follow?

This will be the question that the majority of the peloton will be asking themselves tomorrow morning. There are plenty of good sprinters here but they arrive with weak/small teams so it will be very difficult for them to control things all day. Take for example Lepistö, she is the type of rider who in form could make a reduced bunch sprint but with only two team-mates the likelihood is that she will have to attack to make the selection, rather than rely on others bringing it back. It is a mixture of good race reading ability but also a bit of luck to get yourself into that right attack. Then it is just up to your legs to finish it off!

I think we’ll see things whittled down almost immediately and the first 4 or 5 laps will see a race of attrition before the second half of the race. From that point onwards a winning move could go at any time.

The one team who has several cards to play that can almost match the Dutch are the Italians. With Bastianelli, Cecchini, Longo Borghini and Bronzini they have four riders capable of following a lot of attacks from those in orange. It will be interesting to see if they are equally as attacking as their counterparts.

A Trio to Watch

As I expect the race to be very dynamic and unpredictable I’m just going to name three riders who I think have a good chance of producing a strong result tomorrow. So apologies if you were looking for a long list here!

Elisa Longo Borghini.

Strade Bianche - Elite Women 2018

A very aggressive rider, the former Italian Champion has had a consistently solid season but has just missed out on that big win. She did win the Mediterranean Games road race, however, the opposition there wasn’t as strong as it will be tomorrow. One of the punchier riders in the peloton who seems to cope well on rolling courses, it is amazing she hasn’t won more. Maybe a change of team will do wonders for her next year? Here she gets to ride in the Italian tricolore though and they always come to these events fired up to do well. No doubt they will have a plan to either sprint with Bronzini or Bastianelli, but I think Longo Borghini will be given a free card to mark attacks and follow any move she deems dangerous. Will she finally get some luck?

Lucinda Brand.

I can’t exactly not include a Dutch rider here, can I? Brand is the hipstery pick but I really rate her chances for tomorrow. We saw in both the Giro Rosa and La Course that her climbing has improved massively on the longer ascents but it is the short punchy climbs that we tomorrow which should suit her more. If she has maintained her level of form from the start of July then she will be a big threat and a good wild card for the Dutch team to play.

Dani Rowe.

OVO Energy Women's Tour 2018 | Stage 2 Rushden to Daventry

A “home” championships will certainly motivate Rowe, who has had a very good season so far. Her change of team to WaowDeals has seen her gain some freedom at times, mainly in the UK races. Tomorrow she will probably be Team GBs leader, although Barnes will be hoping for a sprint. Rowe has shown in the past that she is capable of following the best in the World when on small climbs; her performance in Yorkshire is testament to that. An attacking rider, I would be very surprised if we didn’t see her off the front of the bunch at some point. In the right group she has every chance.

Prediction

It is nigh on impossible to stop the Dutch if they play the race right so I’ll go with Lucinda Brand to take the win, something she has deserved over the past month of racing!

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Coverage

The race will be shown live on Eurosport Player from start to finish, with the pre-race coverage starting at 12:20 UK time. I’m not too sure if it will be on elsewhere but I imagine so!

Betting

I kindly asked B365 if they would price this up before and they delivered, truly remarkable. Probably be the only time outside of Worlds I get a chance to lose some money on the women’s races so I’m going in and backing the three to watch.

No EW available though which is a shame so 1pt WIN on the following…

Brand @ 20/1

ELB @ 22/1

Rowe @ 50/1

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

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

Giro Rosa 2018 Preview: The BFOG

Giro Rosa 2018 Preview: The BFOG

After a little time away from blog writing I’m back with a bang to preview the toughest women’s race on the calendar, the Giro d’Italia Internazionale Femminile a.k.a The Giro Rosa. With last year’s success of the BFOG I thought I would do something similar for this season so here is your one stop for all of the coming 10 days of action!

In 2017 we saw what was really a three-horse race established after only the second day of racing when van Vleuten, van der Breggen and Longo Borghini stole a march on the rest of the GC favourites, coming home almost 2 minutes ahead of the next group.

Van Vleuten would lose almost 2 minutes on the rather innocuous stage 4 when Boels split the bunch in the crosswinds and it would be that day that consequently cost her the chance of winning the race overall, although she would get some consolation with a second stage win in the TT. In fact, the gaps after that TT on the 5th day pretty much remained the same throughout the remaining 5 stages so it was van der Breggen who ultimately took home the crown ahead of Longo Borghini and van Vleuten rounding out the podium in third.

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With van der Breggen not here this year to defend the title, it opens up the race for a potential new winner. Can van Vleuten step up, or will we see a surprise rider take the crown?

First though, let’s look at what the riders will face over the 10 stages. Get comfortable though as this could be a long one!

The Route and Stage Contenders

The majority, if not all, of the profiles used will be from LaFlammeRouge so go and give them a follow. Otherwise, they’ll be ones that I’ve made on Strava etc.

Stage 1: Verbania -> Verbania (TTT)

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Seemingly now a tradition, the race once again starts with a team time trial, this time around the streets and suburbs of Verbania. Pretty much pan flat with only 70m of elevation gain throughout the 16km course, there is no need for a profile here! It will be a course that suits the power teams but as you can see on the map there are a few tighter corners where organisation will be key. With the women getting little chance to do a full TTT in races, we could see a couple of surprise results.

Boels smashed the opposition over a similar course in the Healthy Ageing Tour where they took 52 seconds out of second place team Virtu. They will be up against much stronger opposition here and they certainly won’t have it all their own way but they do start out as favourites. We of course have current TTT World Champions Sunweb at the race and they will no doubt want to go out and show that result was not a one-off and looking at their team, they have plenty of power houses in there to challenge Boels again. Those two outfits should finish 1-2 but there are another couple of teams who I have my eye on for a strong result.

Cervelo Bigla were my team to upset the apple cart last year but they had a disaster with them losing two riders early on due to a crash. I think they’ll return this year even stronger and their squad looks strong for this discipline, with them putting three riders inside the top 10 in their most recent TT at Bira.

Mitchelton Scott have come on leaps and bounds in the TT discipline this year and like Cervelo, they also had three riders in the top 10 of that Bira effort. They haven’t actually competed in a team-version this year so it will be interesting to see how they gel together but given they spent a day on their TT bikes together at training camp, I would be surprised if they didn’t sneak in some practice. I genuinely think they could contend for the win, the top 4 will be covered by only 15 seconds or so.

Stage 2: Ovada -> Ovada 

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One of those typical Italian rolling stages so the outcome of the day will all depend on how aggressively they opening 80km as the closing 30km are fairly easy. It should end in a sprint but again that all relies on teams having numbers to control things. The finish is a bit deceiving on the profile (shock), but the road rises ever so slightly before flattening out to the line.

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The rise is only 600m at 3.4% but it might take the sting out of the sprinters kick and open it up for some of the puncheurs to go for the stage win. Not to mention that with around 300m to go the riders have to face this roundabout.

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It will be a sketchy finish but at least the slight rise will have slowed them down to not make the roundabout too dangerous.

Three riders who to keep an eye out for here include Bastianelli, Ryan and Pieters, all of whom can cope with the short rise and pack a very fast sprint. I’ll go with the Ale rider to take the stage, the finish screams Bastianelli to me.

Stage 3: Corbetta -> Corbetta.

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There seems to be a recurring theme here in these opening few stages where the same town is hosting the start and finish, with stage 3 a roughly 30km circuit around Corbetta. With a pan-flat route, this is definitely one for the fast women of the peloton and those who missed out the previous day will want to make amends.

Wild, Hosking, Lepistö and d’Hoore are the big names here in terms of pure, flat sprinting talent so it would be a surprise not to see one of them take home the win. There are plenty of others to watch out for though including Pieters, Buurman, Bronzini, Fournier and Vos to name a few.

Nonetheless, the last turn comes with around one kilometre to go and the straight road finish will see the strongest sprinter here win – steep up the Belgian Bullet a.k.a Jolien d’Hoore.

Stage 4: Piacenza -> Piacenza

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The pattern continues onto stage 4 and we should see another sprint come the end of the day. There is a Cat-3 climb in the middle of the route to spice things up and tempt some teams to up the pace so we could see some sprinters dropped – women’s cycling is very unpredictable after all. However, I do think we’ll see a bunch sprint come the end of the day.

It is one tricky finish though, and it seems to be roundabout central: there are 6 of them in the last in closing 3km! Not entirely sure which genius thought this up and decided it was a great idea, but I guess that it is stereotypical Italian race design.

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The last roundabout comes at roughly 200m to go, so whoever comes out of that in second wheel will probably win the day. I like the look of d’Hoore‘s lead out so I’ll go for her to double up.

Stage 5: Omegna -> Omegna

Another day, another same start and finish town!

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With an uncategorised drag from the gun, we could see some riders in for a long day. The Cat-2 climb of Lesa – Fine Salita will see the first GC selection of the race. The climb can really be split into two parts with an “easier” opening section before they face the Muro di Comnago.

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The opening 3.6km average roughly 6.4% but it is the steep ramps of Comnago that will really split things up as through the town a 730m section averages 12.5%. It is going to hurt!

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It will also be spectacular though as the riders race through the narrow streets. Once over the top of the climb then there is a little plateau followed by a descent. That then leads into an uncategorised ascent which averages 4% for almost 6kms – classic Giro! A long but not very steep descent sees the riders to the final 9km of flat where a tactical battle might result in a surprise winner.

We had a similar finish to this on stage 2 last year and I thought it would be too early for a GC shake up and that we’d most likely see 12-16 riders come to the line together, or a late attack from a very reduced group. That didn’t happen though and the top 3 on GC just rode everyone off their wheels and worked well to get to the finish together. The one difference to this route is that it is that the main climb comes further out but given the follow-up climb, I think we’ll see a selective GC day. That might be a surprise to some.

It won’t be as selective as what we saw on Stage 2 in 2017 but I think there will only be a group of 8 riders who make it over the climb together – van Vleuten, Spratt, Kennedy (Mitchelton Scott), Guarnier (Boels), Niewiadoma (Canyon), Moolman Pasio (Cervelo), Stultiens (Waowdeals) and Longo Borghini (Wiggle).

Everyone will expect Mitchelton Scott to do all of the work given their numbers but instead of being shouldered with it, they will constantly attack and Spratt will eventually slip away, taking the day.

Stage 6: Sovico -> Gerola Alta.

We finally get the first point to point stage!

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Any GC gaps that were made yesterday will pale into significance after this stage. Nothing to see, aside from a more than likely hectic and fast run in to the first summit finish of the race. This day is all about that finish climb of Gerola Alta.

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A very consistent climb, riders who can maintain a steady rhythm will go well here. The race isn’t finished at the end of the strava segment above, as the riders still have another two kilometres of rolling terrain to contend with. Will we see a 2/3 rider sprint? It is hard to tell exactly what will happen as we don’t have a lot to go from in recent years, with only some of the finishes in the US and last year’s La Course to go by. I think we’ll once again see Mitchelton assert their dominance and put pressure on the other teams, hoping to crack another couple of riders and decrease their opposition.

This is Van Vleuten’s day.

Stage 7: Lanzada -> Alpe Gera di Campo Moro.

Mountain TT day!

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1122m of altitude gain in only 15.36km, meaning the climb averages 7.3% for its entirety. It is not the worst the riders will face this Giro but given it is a completely solo effort, some might find it more challenging than it is on paper. Expect some sizeable GC gaps between the favourites.

Can new climbing sensation Kennedy take her first World Tour win here?

Stage 8: San Giorgio di Perlena – Fara Vicentino -> Breganze.

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After the previous tough stages the riders have had to endure then most will be looking forward to a “rest-day” here. That means this is arguably the only stage in the whole race suited to a breakaway. Unfortunately for some, there will consequently be a big fight to get into the move and I fear quite a few riders will be dropped on the early climbs. It’s a long way to the finish but a group of them should make it home within the time limit.

The last climb of the day will be a decisive one and it is a little muro, averaging roughly 10% for a shade over a kilometre. Expect the break to be torn apart here and we’ll more than likely see a solo winner arrive into Breganze. Some of the GC contenders might even sense an opportunity to attack if one of their rivals looks to be on an off day.

As for the stage winner, names in a hat time, so I’ll go with Cecchini, Beggin and Rowe.

Stage 9: Tricesimo -> Ovaro (Monte Zoncolan).

The one everyone has been waiting for.

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Much like stage 6, there is nothing much to report until the famous last climb.

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I don’t need to describe the climb, it is just brutal, end of. Expect some big gaps here and the GC winner should be crowned.

Stage 10: Cividale del Friuli -> Cividale del Friuli

What better way to round out the race than with yet another same town start/finish. No processional stage here though!

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With a rather nasty sting in the tail, some things could still be up for grabs so the GC riders will need to be attentive and still fighting fit on the final climb of the race: San Leonardo.

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5km at 8.1% is tough enough for a shake up, especially with the steeper opening 3km that the riders will have to contend with. A descent all the way to the finish means that whoever crests the climb in first (if they’re alone) will most likely win.

Well, a few thousand words later that’s the route analysis finished, just the GC contenders to discuss, although I’ll be keeping this bit short and to the point as there are only a few riders who can win this race.

Contenders

I named 8 riders before: van Vleuten, Spratt, Kennedy (Mitchelton Scott), Guarnier (Boels), Niewiadoma (Canyon), Moolman Pasio (Cervelo), Stultiens (Waowdeals) and Longo Borghini (Wiggle) as a potential group who might escape on stage 5 and they are the riders who I will ultimately finish in the top 8 of the race.

However, I don’t think all of them have a chance of winning so unfortunately for Niewiadoma and Stultiens, their journey ends here. Likewise, even though Mitchelton have named van Vleuten and Spratt as their leaders, I think that Kennedy is the stronger climber compared to Spratt. Consequently, she also falls by the wayside.

That leaves a top 5 of van Vleuten, Kennedy, Guarnier, Moolman Pasio and Longo Borghini.

Van Vleuten.

Last year’s third placed finished, the Dutchwoman really should have won the race but it was a lapse of concentration and poor positioning that cost her on a rather innocuous stage as she lost time due to splits in the peloton caused by the wind and formation of echelons. Mitchelton bring a stupidly stacked squad with them that covers all terrain very well and van Vleuten will have a lot of support to go for a title bid this year. In 2017 we saw on the Izoard at La Course just how good she is on these mountains and I expect no different from her at this Giro.

Lucy Kennedy.

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A revelation since turning pro with Mitchelton at the start of the year, the Aussie has seriously impressed in her opening World Tour races. Unfortunately she crashed out of Amstel Gold Race while being in good shape so she hasn’t raced since then, instead focussing on recovering and getting some tough training and boy has she done that. She’s been on altitude camp with a few team-mates and has been setting some blistering times on the climbs around Livigno. Seemingly a naturally very strong climber, I am slightly concerned about her confidence after the crash. Her bike handling isn’t as great as some of the Europeans but that’s what you would expect when the majority of the bunch has grown up with aggressive and fast paced action in a peloton whereas Kennedy hasn’t. Thankfully for her, most of the mountains are at the end of the stages! I am intrigued to see how she copes in what is her first Giro but I haven’t seen any signs when she has been racing that suggest to me she will struggle. She could be the perfect 1-2 for Van Vleuten.

Elisa Longo Borghini.

Forever the bridesmaid it seems, ELB has struggled to this season a little and has failed to finish on the top step in 2018. However, this race is one of her big goals for the year and as a former winner of La Route de France she can never be discounted. Amazingly still only 26, the Wiggle rider has been already been around for a while and she should now be moving into her peak physical years. In 2017 she managed to follow van der Breggen and van Vleuten on the climbs, only losing time in the TT and TTT. Better efforts against the clock this year could see her be a real challenger for the title.

Megan Guarnier.

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With no van der Breggen in their line-up, the 2016 winner of this race arrives as Boels’ main charge for the title. Since that victory in 2016 (which was an incredible year for her overall), Guarnier has struggled to get as many wins under her belt. However, she was exceptionally consistent in 2017 and acted as a great second in command for her leaders, even finishing 4th at this event herself. It will be interesting to see how she copes with the pressure of being the only leader but her palmares at the Giro would suggest she will be perfectly fine, having came home 4th (2017), 1st (2016) and 3rd (2015) in the past three editions. I think she’ll be ready.

Ashleigh Moolman Pasio.

The Cervelo Bigla rider has been one of the most consistent this year, with her lowest finishing position in her 20 race days being 24th on stage 3 of the Bira. A truly remarkable stat. In fact, she’s only finished outside the top 10 on 4 occasions. A crash hampered her race here last season so she will no doubt be back with a hunger to succeed. I mentioned her team as dark horses for the TTT so she shouldn’t lose too much time, if any, in that discipline so it will be down to her ability on the climbs. Luckily for her, she is one of the best in the world and I think we’ll see a great race from her.

Prediction

Having numbers at the head of the race will be crucial and will play a massive part in the outcome of the race.

After last year’s disappointment I think we’ll see van Vleuten take the step up and win the title. This is the race she has been preparing for all season and she’s not here to play any games!

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Moolman and Guarnier to round out the podium.

Coverage

There were hushed mumblings that we were going to get some live coverage of the race this year but it seems that has unfortunately fallen through. Instead, there will be daily highlights on the PMG Sport facebook and Youtube page at roughly 5pm. If they are like their Italian Cup highlights then they will be well worth a watch and we should get to see most of the action with pretty much the last 20km of each day shown “live”.

As for during the race, the best way to follow it is via the #GiroRosa hashtag.

 

Thanks as always for reading, I hope you come back to this daily to see how wrong I was! If you could do me a massive favour and RT this on Twitter or share elsewhere then that would mean a great deal to me, this race deserves a lot more coverage. Who do you think is going to win overall? Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

Women’s Strade Bianche 2018 Preview

The first round of the Women’s World Tour is upon is and we’re set for a cracking race. Now in its 4th edition, we’ve had some brutal races in the past and I expect that to be no different this year.

2017 saw home-favourite Elisa Longo Borghini take a stunning victory as she outmanoeuvred Kasia Niewiadoma coming into the Piazza del Campo, with Lizzie Deignan taking third.

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It wasn’t easy for the trio even though they were the strongest on the day as their refusal to co-operate saw Brand and Gillow launch audacious late counter attacks. They were caught on the climb up to the Piazza in what was a gripping end to a great race and allowed for the spectacular picture above!

Will we see more of the same this year? Let’s take a look at what is in store for the riders.

The Route

Longer than 2017, the riders will face just over 30kms worth of gravel along the 136km route.

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The longest section they will traverse comes at around the half-way point in the race and this will be the place where the field starts to split up. I would imagine one or two teams will come to the front and push the pace on, reducing the group down to 50 or so riders.

From there it will be tough to control and we might see a counter attack and a new breakaway form but things will be brought to heel once we enter the closing stages.

 

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The two gravel sections in the closing 20km are where ELB and co did the damage last year. After the first segment we did get a bit of a regrouping but it was just before the final Strade and once again the stronger riders made a difference there. As I mentioned above, it was only due to their lack of co-operation on the rolling 12kms that remained which resulted in Brand and Gillow coming from behind and straight over the top. If they had worked together then those dropped would have had no chance of getting back.

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The climb into Siena is brutally steep but at only 500m the puncheurs can hang on with the proper climbers. It is important to be near the front at the crest though because positioning is vital thereafter.

As we saw last year leading through the narrow streets combined with good bike positioning means you can effectively block off anyone from passing, thus securing the win. It’s a tactically shrewd move but one that everyone should be aware of by now. Therefore the “real” finish line is with 200m to go!

Weather Watch

Given the surprising amount of snow that Italy has received over the past week, I’m sure the riders will be glad to know that it will be “just” rain on Saturday.

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Source: Windfinder

Although the women look set to have the slightly better conditions with more rainfall expected later on in the day, they are more likely to be on the brunt of stronger winds. Making it six or half a dozen really!

Either way, whoever wins come the end of the race will certainly deserve it.

Contenders

Elisa Longo Borghini.

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The defending champion arrives here after a solid outing in Omloop where she was on the attack. A great climber and one-day racer, she is one of the many women who seem to have been around for a while but she is still only 26. Those years of experience started to shine through last year with the win in Strade and good performances elsewhere such as a second at the Giro Rosa. I think she’ll find it difficult to double up but given her consistency here (3rd, 4th, 1st) then I would struggle to argue against her going close. With Audrey Cordon-Ragot as a team-mate she has a someone who can go deep into the race with her and even act as an attacker to force other teams to chase.

Katarzyna Niewiadoma.

With a stage-race already under her belt, the Canyon SRAM rider should be a little bit ahead of her rivals here in terms of racing miles. At that race she finished a fairly modest 7th but it was her performances on the climbs that impressed most, with only Moolman (who’s also here) being able to stick with her. Niewiadoma is another rider who is incredibly consistent at this race having finished 6th/2nd/2nd, she will be looking to finally get one-step higher this year. One massive advantage she will have compared to previous attempts is the strength of her team. Canyon should have both Cecchini and Ferrand Prevot in or around the top 10 at this race which means that they should be able to control it due to the numbers they have. Then again, this is Strade and it will be absolutely horrendous out on the roads so “control” might not be the word! I wonder how essential PFP’s cyclocross and mountain bike experience will be.

Megan Guarnier.

The winner of the inaugural edition back in 2015, the American lines up here for her first race of the season. After an exceptional 2016 last year seemed like somewhat of a step back in terms of results, with only two wins to her name. She was exceptionally consistent but given the fighter she is I imagine that she will want to return to those previous levels this season. A strong climber with a fast sprint she has every chance of a win if she has the form. Boels also have the very luxury second option of the Queen of the Ardennes; Anna van der Breggen. She’s finished 5th on both occasions that she has raced here, but with the aim of peaking for the Ardennes again, will she have enough in the locker for a good result this year? Deignan is on one of the start lists that I have looked at but she is not in the official preview on the Boels website so she may or may not be here too! It certainly adds another dynamic if she is.

Ashleigh Moolman.

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As already mentioned above, Moolman has some good racing in her legs at Setmana last week. Interestingly, she never finished outside the top 10 on any of the stages and managed to take home second on GC. There is clearly some form there! This is a race she has done in the past with a 4th place in 2015 but she was only capable of 18th last year. It should suit her punchy characteristics and given she has been involved in a few sprints, her power figures must be good for the short and sharp efforts. Such a classy rider, could she be described as a dark horse for this race?

Amanda Spratt.

With Garfoot no longer on the team and Van Vleuten competing in Apeldoorn the mantle of leading Mitchelton Scott is left with “Spratty”. Having won the Women’s Tour Down Under she has returned to racing in Europe in an attacking mood, having been off the front of both the Belgian races last weekend. Just missing out on the key move last year she finished strongly to come home in 8th place. She’s certainly capable of improving on that this season and a top 5 is possible. I’m intrigued to see how team-mate Kennedy goes in these conditions.

Janneke Ensing.

Full of confidence after winning Le Samyn des Dames on Tuesday the Ale Cipollini rider will be hoping to improve on a 13th place last year. She’s a solid climber although she isn’t up there with the best in the discipline. However, theoretically she should love the grim conditions that are forecast for Saturday given her background in speed skating. With an attacking attitude, she might be able to sneak away from the “major contenders” and just surprise everyone by holding on.

Shara Gillow.

The second Australian in the list, she had to unfortunately cut short her racing time Down Under due to a crash. However, she returned at Setmana and finished a very respectable 8th on GC. Apparently attacking to bridge the gap to the leaders on the opening stage, she was closed down by their team-mates. Her form must be good and she is always a consistent performer in the hilly one-day races. I expect a top 10 and anything near the top of the order wouldn’t surprise me too much but it would be difficult to win as she is not the punchiest!

One other name that I want to throw out there (mainly because she is in my season-long fantasy team) is Pauliena Rooijakers.

Pauliena

I can’t imagine many of you will have heard of the WaowDeals rider but she is the former Dutch and European Beachrace champion. After competing in that discipline full time in past few years this season her focus will be more on the road. A capable climber on her day she won the Queen Stage of the Tour Cycliste Féminin International de l’Ardèche last year, along with a few notable top 10’s in hilly one-day races. Her background in beach racing should see her at home on the Strade and I’m quietly hoping for a good result; a top 10 would be an incredible achievement.

Prediction

Form, team, parcours and race history all point to one rider; Katarzyna Niewiadoma.

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She is a truly incredible bike rider with a string of great results and it is amazing to think she is still only 23! Punchy enough to cope with the accelerations on the climbs, I have a feeling we didn’t see her go 100% in Setmana and she was holding something back for this race. The one big advantage she has compared to last year is the strength of her team which will be a big help; she shouldn’t have to chase every attack herself. On the sprint up to the Piazza no one will be able to follow her and she’ll take a great win.

I’m not someone to make outlandish, season-long claims…wait, no, I am, but I think she will be World Champion this year. No pressure Kasia!

Coverage

Much like last year, I think we’re going to be able to watch the final 45 minutes of the race live on Eurosport player. I’m not 100% sure at the moment as it doesn’t specify on the schedule but that seems to be the case. It will more than likely be without commentary though so I’ll pester your Twitter timelines with updates instead!

Thanks as always for reading! I’m certainly looking forward to the Women’s World Tour starting again with this incredible race. Who do you think will win on Saturday? Will we see an upset? I don’t normally beg for anything but if you could please retweet the preview to share it around then that would be greatly appreciated; my women’s previews unfortunately don’t seem to get the same coverage as the men’s do. Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

La Course 2017 Preview

This edition of La Course is a special one for me as  it marks a year of writing women’s previews! Last year saw a sprint finish in Paris, with Hosking taking the win, somehow managing to avoid the now famous #HaugheyCurse. Maybe it was beginners luck?!

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After 3 years with a glorified criterium on the Champs-Élysées, the ASO have decided to mix things up this year with a move away from Paris, instead heading into the mountains with a change of format.

I’m pleased to see things get mixed up and for the race to provide an opportunity for different riders to shine on “the biggest stage in World cycling”. Yet, I can’t help but feel somewhat let down.

Obviously, I don’t know the intricacies of the financial aspect surrounding organising the race but given the infrastructure will be there for the men, how difficult is it for the women to have at least a 5-day stage race that coincides with the Tour? Heck, if organisers are worried about difference in speeds and the potential issues that might cause then let the women do 75% of the stage for example, and start them earlier. With the limit on the length of stages by the UCI (155km I think) we would still be treated to some very exciting racing throughout the final week and it would be a much better showcase for the sport than what we’re getting.

I also feel that the new format is a bit “gimmicky” and trivialises the women’s side of the sport a bit. If it is for only one year then that’s OK, but if it becomes a regular occurrence then I think it is more of a step sideways rather than a step forwards.

Let’s have a look at what’s getting me all worked up anyway!

The Format

La Course this year will be split into two “stages” with the first being a mountain top finish on the mythical Col d’Izoard. I say “stages” as it is not a stage race in the traditional sense, and it’s important to point that out but I’ll get into that in more detail later on.

Stage 1.

CARTE

The riders will head south from the start in Briançon, following the same opening 30km of the men’s race, before they cut across the valley and head towards Izoard.

PROFIL (1)

From the halfway point in the race (it is a paltry 67.5km long stage after all which is pretty insulting), the road rises ever so slightly almost all the way home. For example, the section between La Chapelue and Ariveux is 7.5km at just over 4%.

The categorised climb of the Col d’Izoard itself starts a couple of kilometres before Ariveux.

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At 14.1km with an average gradient of 7.3% it is a brute, but is also fair to say that the first half of the climb starts off relatively “easy”. Well, when you look at the rest of it the climb that is!

The opening 7km average only 5.6%, whereas the second half is a much more painful sounding 9%. You better hold something back for the end of the day, that’s for sure.

Whoever wins on the day will certainly have deserved it!

Now, this is where things get weird / ever so slightly confusing / gimmicky.

The opening stage is the only one that counts towards UCI standings, with the winner being awarded 120 points, the same amount as they would in any other UCI World Tour race. So for the riders, the opening day is the only one that really matters to them in that sense.

Except, the racing doesn’t end after the first day though…

Stage 2.

The first oddity is that there is essentially a rest day between the finish on Izoard and the following race day in Marseille.

PROFIL (2)

The top 20 finishers on the previous stage (although this can apparently change depending on time gaps) will roll out on the same TT course that the men will be going around later that day.

However, instead of it being like a normal TT where the riders go out in reverse order GC wise, it will be whoever finishes at the head of the race on Izoard that leaves the start ramp first. The following 19 riders will then set off, chasing the leader, at the same time gap that they finished behind them on the mountain stage during the previous day of racing.

The “gimmicky” idea continues as the riders will all be on normal road-bikes (no TT machines allowed) and they will be allowed to draft and work with opposition riders or any team-mates that they may have.

This presents a conundrum for the riders going out early. Do they go full gas and replicate a TT effort, knowing they have a big enough gap to hold off any chasers. Or if their lead is minimal, do they sit up and wait?

We could end up seeing a bunch sprint in the velodrome if things get really tactical!

How will the “race” pan out?

Getting my poor prediction disclaimer in early but we hardly ever see the women compete on mountains such as the Izoard so I don’t think anyone has a real idea as to how well the riders will go.

At the recent Giro Rosa the defining GC climb of the race was 5.3km long at 7.6%. I guess the closest we’ve had to the Izoard is the climb of Daggett Summit in the Tour of California which was 12.6km at 6.1%.

With the day only being 67km long, I think the break will find it hard to get away but I’m sure there will be a lot of teams who will try. If they get riders up the road then they’ll be a great help to their team-mates later on.

However, I think we’ll see a race of attrition where riders go out of the back, rather than off the front.

The on the “TT” I have no idea! Will all depend on the gaps after Izoard but I think we could see the winner of that day hold on for the title too.

Contenders

Van Vleuten.

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After her stellar performance at the Giro Rosa, a race which she could really have won, the Orica Scott rider will be coming here full of confidence. Arguably the in-form rider in the peloton she will certainly be hard to drop. Not the purest of climbers, more of a great all-rounder, I’m intrigued to see how she copes on a really long ascent. At the Giro she was the rider pushing the pace during the GC-day I mentioned above so it will be interesting to see how she approaches tomorrow. With a strong Spratt in her team, she will be able to rely on having someone for a long way up the climb which could be crucial.

Guarnier.

Having had a quiet season by her standards, especially when considering her barnstroming 2016, the American showed signs of promise at the recent Giro. Working well for her team-leader she managed to finish 4th on GC, winning the final stage along the way. Possibly now riding into form, she is Boels best candidate for a race like this and having the help of Canuel and Deignan could be crucial.

Longo Borghini.

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The Italian champion finished second on GC at the Giro behind van der Breggen but never really looked like beating the Dutchwoman all race. However, with VDB not here, the race is certainly open for other riders to step up. Not a pure climber, she could struggle on the long climb but as one of the best riders in the women’s peloton then she will certainly be close to the head of the bunch. Lichtenberg will also be at the head of the race for Wiggle, with the German pure-climber really liking this type of ascent. Can they form a strong attacking duo?

Moolman.

Withdrawing from the Giro due illness wasn’t ideal for the Cervélo rider, especially considering she was flying before the race and could have been a proper GC player. A very strong climber, her mind will be fully focussed on this race and proving what could have been at the Giro. With Uttrup Ludwig on her team, she is another rider who could take advantage of a strong team-mate. I think she has a big chance!

Niewiadoma.

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One of the riders of the season, she has top-10’d in pretty much every race that she’s entered so far. At only 22 years old, it is scary to think what she’ll be able to do in the future. I’m not sure how she’ll cope on a long climb like this as the punchier 3-4km climbs seem to be her speciality but you never know!

Some outsiders to keep an eye on to possibly break into the top 10 are;

Gillow (FDJ), Nosková (Bepink), Ensing (Alé) and Nilsson (BTC).

I think the Izoard stage will become a Moolman v Van Vleuten show-down. With the Giro in her legs, VV will tire and leave the “fresher” Moolman to take victory!

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As for who wins the TT/chase malarkey, then that depends on time gaps from the Izoard. Van Vleuten was flying in the TT at the Giro so I reckon she could catch Moolman and then win in a 2-up sprint!

So Moolman and Van Vleuten both win something, but who wins “La Course”? That depends on your interpretation whether you’re the UCI or the ASO!

Coverage

All of the racing should be shown live by broadcasters throughout so check with your local provider. I’m pretty sure it is being shown pan-Europe on the Eurosport Player.

Hopefully the racing lives up to the billing tomorrow. I’m not too fussed about what we’ll see on Saturday though, but that’s just my opinion.

Who do you think will win? Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

 

 

Giro Rosa 2017 Preview – The BFOG

Giro Rosa 2017 Preview – The BFOG

The only “Grand Tour” in the women’s peloton the Giro Rosa starts again this Friday for its 28th edition with a stacked peloton looking to make their mark on the race.

Last year’s GC was won by Boels’ Megan Guarnier, with team-mate Stevens coming home second and van der Breggen in third.

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Will we see a similar sort of dominance from the Dutch-team, who now of course have van der Breggen on board as well, or will some other riders be fighting for the overall victory?

First though, let’s have a look at what the riders will faced with over the coming 10 days.

The Route

All of the profiles used here are courtesy of @LasterketaBurua, so go and give them a follow on Twitter!

The questionable, poor quality route maps will be from the organisers website that I’ve screen shot. To be fair, the race is run on a shoe-string budget. Anyway…

Stage 1.

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A pan-flat late afternoon team time trial over 11km will set the early GC order. A discipline that is rarely practiced in the women’s peloton we could see some surprising time gaps.

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With there being little in the way of technical difficulties, this TTT will all be about pure power. Although it is important to note that they pass over a causeway and the wind might play a part in the outcome depending on their start times. Looking at early forecasts it’s supposed to be a 16kmph cross headwind when the first team starts at 16:45, but it is meant to increase to around 18kmph by the time the final team leaves the start house. Furthermore, there is a higher chance of rain for the later starters. It could be a dicey opening day.

As far as stage contenders go though, Boels will no doubt start as the favourites. The current TTT World Champions are bringing a very strong team to the race and they’ve won the only TTT of the year so far at the Healthy Ageing Tour. However, they won’t have it all their own way with Canyon, Cervélo and possibly even Orica challenging for the win.

I particularly like the look of the Cérvelo team. They have a lot of strong time trial riders and will wan to put Moolman at an early advantage on GC over their opposition. I expect them to be Boels’ closest rivals.

Stage 2.

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A tease of a stage, it’s a relatively straight forward day until we get to the one categorised climb of the day. The road rises very gradually from around 30kms in all the way until the foot slopes of the Forcella di pala Barzana at 93km. At 5.3km long and averaging 7.6% it is a tough climb and I’ll be interested to see how the peloton approaches it. There are still 24km to go from the summit, of which 12km are descent.

I think we’ll see a selection on the climb. How select? That I’m unsure of. It looks tough enough for the best climbers to properly drop everyone, but will they feel confident going solo to the line with ~10km to the line left once they reach the bottom?

Therefore, I think we’ll get a group of 10 riders or so crest the climb together. From there, it will be a case of numbers/luck/timing as to if we see a small bunch sprint or a successful late attack stick. Van Vleuten and van der Breggen are two ideal candidates to win from this situation, both are great climbers and they both have fast sprints.

A lesser known rider to watch out for though is Arlenis Sierra. I have to admit, before this season I didn’t know much about he Cuban rider, but she has impressed me a lot so far this year. Second at Trofeo Binda and third on GC in California, she packs a great sprint and might just pick up her first World Tour win this week!

Stages 3 & 4.

Both are days for the sprinters so I thought I’d club them together.

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Stage 3 is the more rolling of the two, with some short and steep climbs out on course. However, there is enough time for the sprint teams to bring everything back together after the Poggio.

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Stage 4 is about as pan-flat as you can get – a definite sprint!

So who will contend on these days?

The Belgian Bullet (Jolien d’Hoore) will arrive here confident after her victory on the final day of the Women’s Tour. I think she’s one of the fastest pure sprinters in the peloton and with Bronzini as lead-out rider, they will form a formidable pairing. The latter might even sprint on a few of the days.

Kirsten Wild might have something to say about the above statement though. The Dutch powerhouse is ever-present at the pointy end of sprint stages finishing on the podium 7 times so far this season, winning 3 times.

Canyon have the choice between Barnes and Guarischi. The former obviously had an, ahem, barnstorming Women’s Tour and she’ll probably be their go to on the tougher days like stage 3. Whereas, Guarischi, a former winner at the Giro Rosa prefers things a lot flatter so she might be given the nod for stage 4. Either way, the team will be disappointed not to make the podium.

Chloe Hosking will be hoping to take a couple of wins for her Italian trade team Alé Cipollini who she has just signed a new contract for. After a great 2016, she’s really continued her upwards trajectory and is now much more than a good flat stage sprinter. She can manage the climbs well too, as was highlighted by her win in the Women’s Tour when she came home first in a peloton of only 45 riders.

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Coryn Rivera was the sensation of the Spring, winning Binda and Flanders. Although that’s probably unfair as since the start of March she hasn’t finished outside the top 10 in any race/stage she’s competed in. A truly remarkable record! She hasn’t raced much such California but recently came second at the US National Championships. I expect her to get a few top 3s this week and possibly win a stage. Even the difficult stage 2 could be on her radar.

Lotta Lepistö made her return to racing at the Finnish national championships recently, managing to secure both the road and TT title. Having won Gent-Wevelgem in a sprint against the likes of d’Hoore and Rivera earlier in the year, she is no slouch either! Like a few others, I think she might be targeting a few of the harder days in the saddle.

Boels have a number of sprint options; newly crowned Dutch Champion Chantal Blaak, newly crowned UK Champion Lizzie Deignan, or current World Champion Amelie Dideriksen. Not a bad list that! I’m not sure based on pure speed if any of them are the best sprinter here but they will certainly benefit from the strongest lead-out.

As for others who could be in the top 10 on sprint stages, look out for Moberg (Hitec), Confalonieri (Lesnworld), Fidanza (Astana), Huang (Servetto) and Scandolara (WM3).

Stage 5.

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After a few days unlikely to cause a GC shake-up, stage 5 certainly will.

Out of interest and in TT tradition, I’ve actually made a Strava profile of the TT that you can view here.

A tough ITT of 13km, with the routes main focal points being two climbs. It is one of those typical Giro stages that doesn’t look too bad on the profile until you delve a little deeper.

The first climb of Santa Lucia is 1.2km long and averages 10%. Ouch! The road then continues to rise at 4% for the next kilometre or so before we get a flattening out and a descent.

Once the riders pass the 10km to go mark the road rises almost all the way to the finish with a notable 300m section at 20%! The preceding 1.8kms averages around 5.5% which will make the seep ramp even tougher.

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The image the riders will be faced with. Notice the 20% ramp sign at the side of the road.

It does turn into false flat for the final few hundred metres so the riders will need to keep something in reserve for one final push, and not blow up too early.

I’m intrigued to see if riders will use their TT bikes at all or just stick to road bikes with bars on. I would certainly be looking to take the latter option!

As for who could win this stage, newly crowned Italian TT Champ Longo Borghini has a great chance. She was 4 seconds off the win in last year’s TT and this route seems to suit her even more. A strong showing here will cement her GC challenge.

She won’t have it all her own way as usual suspects van Vleuten, Moolman and van der Breggen.

Stage 6.

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A lap circuit without any real difficulties. There is one 1.4km climb (averaging 3.7%) that the riders will tackle once on each of their four laps. Normally this would be a day for the sprinters but with the summit of the last climb coming 4km from the top, it will certainly entice late attacks from the bunch. The sprinters really shouldn’t be dropped from the peloton, it is more a case of people escaping off the front. A technical descent could see a small group maintain their lead and fight it out for the win.

If that’s the case, look for opportunists such as Cecchini, Spratt and Brand.

However, if we do get a sprint win I’ll go for Hosking. She should be able to cope with the climb easily and her team is capable of monitoring attacks etc.

Stage 7.

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A classic breakaway day, with the race starting on a climb it will ensure only strong riders get into the move. Will anyone close on GC try to sneak away? I doubt it, but there is a chance they might throw a spanner into the works.

There is a possibility that sprint teams might try to bring it back but it is another one of the stages where there is a lot of uncategorised climbs out on the course. Therefore, I think they’ll be happy to keep their powder dry.

It’s hard to tell who’ll be far enough back to be given some freedom but I’ll go for young Italian talent Sofia Beggin to take the win. A rider to look out for the future, she’s already produced some good performances this season with a 12th place in Strade and a 5th at the recent Italian Road Nats so there is clearly some form there. Furthermore, she’s the Madcon mash-up inspired pun (Beggin, Beggin you) team-name for my Velogames squad, so I have to include her in this at some point!

Another name that could be there though is Sheyla Gutiérrez. In her second season with Cylance the newly crowned Spanish champion will want to show her stripes off in an aggressive manner this Giro. Having won Le Samyn from a break earlier in the year, she is also a good candidate for a stage like this.

Stage 8.

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The Queen Stage of the race? Yes, in terms of climbing. However, the gradients of the climbs aren’t too hard, with them barely touching over 5%. Therefore it will be difficult for the pure climbers to make their mark on the stage.

However, with that being said, I still think we’ll see a selection on the day with the overall contenders going clear. I say this because of how long the climbs are, if a tough pace is set at the bottom then riders will be slowly churned out of the back of the peloton. We might see a group of 10-20 riders crest the Cuccaro Vetere together. From there it will be a mix of being strong and lucky to make the winning counter-move that is bound to follow. Can Niewiadoma repeat her win in the Women’s Tour?

Stage 9.

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A fairly tough opening half to the stage, the riders will do a lot of climbing which could allow the break to get a large gap. However, as this is the last chance for the sprinters I expect co-operation from all the teams to bring back the escape and we’ll have a bunch sprint in Polla.

With a straightforward closing circuit, I’ll go for a d’Hoore win here.

Stage 10.

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The final stage of the Giro sees the riders take on a circuit around Torre del Greco with a little trip (around a third) up Mount Vesuvius. The lap circuit isn’t too difficult, there are a few short climbs but nothing too serious. However, one of the major difficulties they’ll face is this ridiculously narrow street…

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Hopefully they’re well strung out as they enter it, if not, I fear we could see some crashes.

The stage will be decided on Vesuvius and it could well go to a breakaway or one of the GC contenders. The climb itself averages roughly 6% for 5.2km but the closing 1.2km average 9.5%. It is certainly steep enough for the best climbers to create gaps.

The riders will then face a fast and technical descent (passing through that narrow street at ~3km to go) all the way to the finish line.

Will the rider who wins the stage win the overall title too?

GC Contenders

I guess I better start with the defending champion Megan Guarnier. She’s been a shadow of the rider she was last season and given recent form, it is hard to say she will be competing here. However, this may have been her main target all season and she is potentially quietly peaking to go well here. Yet, I can’t see it happening for her unfortunately.

Waiting in the wings though will be team-mate van der Breggen. After a slow start to the year, she went on to win a famous Ardennes triple with some truly incredible performances. Following on from that she was instrumental in helping Deignan win the Tour of Yorkshire, before going on to win the GC in California. This route suits the Olympic Champion down to the ground and given her achievements she has to start as the favourite. However, her results haven’t been that great recently so maybe she is on a mid-season lull before peaking again for the end of the year?

Cycling: 4th Amstel Gold Race 2017 / Women

Moolman will no doubt be challenging for the overall win this year. After struggling with an injury that hampered her early Spring season, she shook that off by the time the Ardennes classics came around. Finishing in the top 10 in each race was a sign she was returning to her spectacular best. Since then she’s been in great form, notching up three victories. Has she managed to keep that form up?

Longo Borghini comes to this race in a confident mood having won both national championship events. Suffering from illness earlier in the year, she missed some events and form for some of the key races in the calendar. However, he lighter schedule in theory should see her come here fresher than her opposition. Still only relatively young at 25 years old, she’s improving each and every year and I think she has a great chance of overall victory here.

Speaking of young riders, recent Women’s Tour winner Niewiadoma will be here looking to continue her incredible 2017. The WWT leader has been anything but exceptional this year, finishing in the top 10 in almost every race she’s entered! She only seems to race the big events and no doubt she’ll be looking to make it back-to-back GC wins at WT level. The TTT and ITT could hinder her chances but she can more than make up for it on her own on the climbs. I’ll be watching with interest!

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Van Vleuten is another rider in stellar form. The Orica star has a strong team here to support her, with Garfoot and Spratt expected to last the distance on a lot of the climbs. Maybe not as strong as some of the other women on the long climbs, she’ll be looking to attack at the end of stages where there are short ramps that act as launchpads. The Dutch TT champ will be looking to put in a good time in the individual effort and sees where that leaves her for the rest of the week.

I can’t really see anyone else challenging for the win but there are some outsiders who will be fighting for a top 5/10 and with a bit of luck, even better!

Sierra is an unkown quantity for this type of race. She really stepped up at the Tour of California finishing third on GC there. I’m not sure how she’ll cope with a longer stage race but a good performance here isn’t unlikely. If she manages another top 10, a move to a “bigger” WT team for next year could be on the cards.

Gillow comes here with a good chance of a top 10. A very consistent rider, the Aussie will be at the pointy end in most stages. If you watched any of the Women’s Tour, you’ll know she was off the front attacking in the final two stages, honing some form for this race.

Prediction

I think not being on form for some of the Spring will be a blessing in disguise for Longo Borghini and she’ll take the crown here. She will lose some time in the opening TTT, but I think she has enough quality both on the climbs and the ITT to over-turn that.

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Niewiadoma and Moolman to round out the podium, with the Boels riders shockingly falling by the wayside!

Coverage

Unfortunately there is no live tv coverage of the race, but there will be daily highlights on RAI.

You should be able to access them via VPN I think but give Pam (@motorcycleMTNS) a follow on Twitter as she will no doubt have all the links or will record them and upload them to her Youtube channel.

Futhermore, we should expect highlights on the UCI Youtube Channel and the Giro Rosa has a YT Channel itself so we might see stuff there too.

During the stages themselves it will be a case of following on Twitter via the #GiroRosa hashtag. I would recommend following @richiesteege though (the Boels mechanic) who is one of the best sources for information during the race.

Velogames

As the betting industry is in the dark ages and never offers odds on the races, I guess they’re just copying the coverage we get (I’ll stop before I get myself in trouble)…

I’ve set up a Velogames league for you all to join so that you can have an interest following the race.

Use the code “27002603” to join. I look forward to you all beating me 😳.

 

Thanks as always for reading and any feedback is greatly appreciated like normal! I don’t usually beg for RTs etc on Twitter but if you can do to raise awareness of this exciting race that’s run on a shoe-string, then that would be fantastic. Also, from a selfish point of view too, I’d like this to reach as many people as possible. I’ve not wrote 3200 words for nothing! It is after all the most comprehensive Giro Rosa guide on the internet 😉.

I shall be back tomorrow for the Tour with my stage 1 preview. Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

OVO Women’s Tour 2017 Stage 1 Preview; Daventry -> Kettering

Back now for its 4th edition, the Women’s Tour now has a new headline sponsor – Drake! Joking aside, we should be in for a good week of racing with a whole host of talented riders here looking to take the crown.

GC Overview

Deignan is here to defend the title she took last year, but can she manage it?

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I’m unsure if she will or not! On paper, the route looks a lot easier than the previous editions and some riders have highlighted that themselves. Nonetheless, it will all depend on how aggressively they attack the route and of course, the typically bad British weather might play its part too.

If we get a selective race then on form Moolman looks the rider to beat. She’s won the last three races that she has entered and seems to be fully recovered from her crash at the end of last year. Packing a solid sprint after a tough day, she can challenge in a lot of situations.

Deignan obviously will be expected to go well, and the same can be said for her team-mate van der Breggen. There are many other names to consider as well such as Longo Borghini, Gillow and Vos. The latter is also in imperious form and seems back to her sublime best, winning the last three of her races!

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However I am unsure if it will be as a selective race in comparison to last year’s edition. I’m really on the fence with this one!

We have some good climbing sprinters such as d’Hoore and Hosking who might fancy their chances of making it over some of the climbs towards the end of the stages. If they do, then they’ll be tough to beat.

Stages 2 and 4 look to be the most difficult with climbs coming in the final 20kms that could well be a launchpad for attacks.

Nonetheless, I’m going to go for a bit of an outsider to take the win…

I think Hannah Barnes has the credentials to step up here. I was very impressed with her climbing performance in the Tour of Yorkshire and the current British Champion seems to be coming of age this year at Canyon. A fast sprinter after a tough day, she should be there at the end of every stage and will be looking to use her local knowledge to gain an advantage over her competitors!

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Let’s have a look at what’s in store for the riders on the opening day!

The Route

A relatively easy day out in the saddle that should end in a bunch sprint.

OVO Women's Tour Stage 1
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We have a few QOM points in the first half of the stage but nothing too severe, with the route being mostly flat throughout the day. Although with that said, the roads can be viewed as “grippy”!

The run in to the line isn’t too bad but there are a few 90-degree turns in the closing 5km.

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The major danger is a very tight right hand turn at ~2km to go. It’s more than a 90-degree turn and could be a real choke point if teams are starting their lead-outs.

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Interestingly, the road does kick up ever so slightly before the final corner, so the sprint might not be as straight-forward as it initially seems. Furthermore, there is some road furniture before the road goes up.

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As crazy as it sounds, maybe the riders will bunny hop the middle section? Either way, I hope it is properly marshalled as it could become very dangerous. I imagine they’ll be sent around the left-hand side of the traffic island, that looks the quickest way to me!

You can see the road rising in the distance. How selective that rise will be depends on how much speed the riders can carry through the tricky section highlighted above.

We then have a left hand turn at roughly 150m to go. Exit that corner in first place and you have a great chance of winning.

The finish reminds me a lot of Liege, just not as severe a rise before hand!

Contenders

Where else to start than with my winner of this race overall; Barnes. As I’ve mentioned above, she has a fast kick after a tough day and this finish should put her on a more equal footing with some of the faster riders in the peloton so she certainly has a chance.

d’Hoore – The Belgian sprinter is more than just one of the fastest riders in the peloton, she can also climb well. A classics specialist, the strong Wiggle rider should be able to make it over the rise to the line. Winning several stages in Chongming while injured highlights her strength and if she’s maintained that form then she is one of the main riders to beat!

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Wild – Another strong sprinter, the Cylance rider failed to take a win in the Tour of California but she never finished lower than second in Chongming. Her sprinting legs are clearly there, it’s just a question if her climbing legs are too. She’ll be expecting to fight for the win and nothing less.

Hosking – One of my favourite sprinters, the Australian has continued on from her great 2016 season with a very solid start to the 2017 season. In the early races she was climbing the best that I have ever seen from her and I see no reason why that will have changed by now. Having not raced for a month she might be lacking a little kick, but the same can be said for the majority of the peloton.

Blaak/Pieters/Deignan – I’m not sure who Boels will be pulling for in this stage, maybe Deignan will be given home bias? Either way, they should have someone in the top 5 at the end of the stage.

Elvin, Mackaij and Vos will all be in the mix as well.

Prediction

I’ll go for an impressive win from Hosking!

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Climbing better than ever and sprinting better than ever, the Aussie will take care of business and steal the headlines! Channeling her inner Drake…

Coverage

Unfortunately there’s no live coverage but you can follow the race on twitter via the #OVOWT. However, there will be a daily highlights show on ITV4 during the evening (I’m not sure where else it is shown worldwide).

I’ll re-plug my Velogames.com league again for this race. Join using the following code: 05185053.

Thanks as always for reading and any feedback is greatly appreciated. Who do you think will win GC and stage 1? Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

Liège-Bastonge-Liège Femmes 2017 Preview

 

To end the Ardennes classic week, we are treated to the first ever women’s edition of the oldest Monument; La Doyenne.

A very welcome addition to the women’s calendar and the decision to run the race was greeted with great fanfare from both the spectators but also the peloton itself!

After two exciting, although fairly predictably dominant Boels’ displays at Amstel and Fleche, will we see a new winner at Liege?

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Or will van der Breggen secure the win and consequently take a famous Ardennes triple?!

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

The Route

At 135km in length, it’s not the longest route the riders will tackle this year but it is roughly 15km longer than both Amstel and Fleche.

Having only four categorised climbs does not paint a full picture of how attritional the race is going to be, because the route is constantly up and down, twisting and turning on narrow roads.

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The first 75km of the day will serve as a warm-up for the second half of the race, and we should see a break established up the road.

The action will start in earnest though, beginning with the longest climb of the day! The Côte de la Vecquée is longer than anything we see in the men’s race and could see a shake up if a couple of teams put the pressure on.

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Not overly steep, it does contain a kilometre at 7% though and I would not be surprised to see some probing attacks in the peloton here.

The race then follows a similar pattern of climb -> false flat -> descent -> climb from hereon in.

Next up on the schedule is the explosive La Redoute.

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We then have a relatively long period of 14km where the riders aren’t climbing but the descending is fairly shallow. This will be an equally as important part of the race because the best riders often attack on the flatter sections when those around them are tired from the previous climbs. Van der Breggen’s two wins this week are testament to that!

Within 20km to the line the riders will face the Roche-aux-Faucons before the Sant-Nicolas, cresting at only 5.5km to go.

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Short, but explosive, it could well be a launchpad for an attack if we have a group of riders left together at this moment.

From there it’s the traditional run in to the finish line.

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The rise through the Flamme Rouge and all the way to the line averages 5.3% for the 1.5km, offering one final place to attack before the false-flat sprint.

Contenders

It’s really hard to look past another Boels win this week. They’ve timed their early season peak to perfection and in van der Breggen and Deignan they have two of the best riders in the peloton on current form. I set my stall out a week ago with this tweet and it’s not looking too bad just now…

She has the power to attack from distance but also the speed to win from a small sprint. Who can beat her? Well, Deignan certainly can! The Brit has played a superb team role over the past two races and could well be rewarded with team-leadership here. Her sprint win for second place in Amstel was incredible, considering she took it up into the headwind that famously curtailed Kwiatkowski in the men’s race. Will Boels try their hardest for the triple for van der Breggen, or will the Ardenne’s triple for the team be enough? I guess we’ll have to wait and see tomorrow afternoon as to how they attack the race.

Who can stop them?

On form, it looks as if Kasia Niewiadoma is the strongest challenger.

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She was instrumental in splitting the race up on the penultimate climb at Fleche, with only the two Boels riders able to follow. However, that ended up being to her detriment as they ended up playing the 1-2 and she couldn’t follow every attack. Contrary to what you would normally expect, her best (and every one else who’s not on Boels) best chance of winning is that the race is easier than normal. Therefore there will be more riders in the peloton and the opportunity to form cross-team alliances to isolate one Boels rider. Although I have a feeling that scenario is very unlikely to be carried out! Nonetheless, Niewiadoma still has a very good chance of winning the race, it will just be tough trying to out-ride the two strongest women who happen to be on the same team!

The other rider who on form has a chance of beating the Boels pairing is Annemiek van Vleuten.

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The Dutch rider has 3rd and 4th in the first two races this week and certainly has the abilities to repeat, if not better those results. She’s been incredibly consistent in the WWT this year so far, notching up 6 top 10s out of the 7 races we’ve had. With the final rise to the line not being too difficult and suiting her well, I think she might fancy her chances in a reduced sprint against some of the other favourites.

Aside from those four, no one really looks on a level to challenge for the title. Yet, this is cycling and sometimes the strongest rider doesn’t always win!

Elisa Longo Borghini would definitely be included in the list above if she didn’t skip Fleche due to illness and breathing difficulties. She did manage to finish 5th in Amstel so the form was there beforehand. But you would expect it to be too soon for her to be competing for the title.

This season’s revelation, Coryn Rivera, will hope to hang on the coattails of the better climbers and challenge for a sprint. She’s proven so far this year that she is one of the fastest riders in the world after a tough day.

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I gave her an honourable mention for Fleche and she managed to sneak into the top 5 and I think Shara Gillow could do something similar tomorrow. A criminally under-rated climber, she prefers the steep ramps so the closing climbs should suit her. Another top 5 is on the cards!

Prediction

It would make for a great race if someone could stop Boels, but I just can’t see it happening. It’s only a question of wether I choose Deignan or van der Breggen?! This route actually suits the Brit ever so slightly more in my opinion but as I’m a big fan of fairytale stories, I would love to see the Dutchwoman complete a famous Ardennes triple!

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I’ll be rooting for a Shara Gillow podium spot as she’s part of my season long fantasy team!

Unfortunately I don’t think we’ll be getting any live coverage of the race so the best place to follow it is on Twitter via the #LBLWomen hashtag.

Thanks as always for reading and any feedback is greatly appreciated like normal. Who do you think will win and how? Can anyone stop Boels’ domination? Next on the blog from will be Tour of Romandie previews, but I’ll be back with the Women’s World Tour for Chongming Island. Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.