Milano-Torino 2017 Preview

After an exciting finale in Varese on Tuesday, the riders will turn their attention to Milano-Torino tomorrow as they make their final preparations before Lombardia on Sunday.

In 2016 we saw a great battle between Woods and Lopez on the final climb after they broke free from a group that had attacked on the flat run in to said ascent. They traded blows but ultimately it was the Astana rider who came out on top after Woods went too early and mistimed his effort.

Milan - Turin

Uran bolted from the peloton behind to finish third, leaving Lopez in a Cannondale sandwich on the podium.

With the defending champion not returning to defend his crown, will we see a new winner? Let’s have a look at what is in store for the riders.

The Route

It seems as if the organisers have adopted the “if it is not broke, why fix it?” adage, as we have the exact same route as the past few years.

MI-TO_2017_alt_web-1024x585

Flaaaaaaaaat then two tough ascents up to the Basilica de Superga to decide the day.

Screen Shot 2017-10-03 at 16.34.52

On the first effort the riders will complete only 4.29km of the climb, making it ever so slightly steeper than when the climb is taken as a whole. Well, when I say that, the average gradient is 9.137% for that part of the climb. Compared to the 9.081% for the ascent as a whole then there isn’t much difference, I’m just being pedantic!

And that’s pretty much it really, there’s nothing else to know about the route.

How will the race pan out?

The race tends to be very formulaic until we get to the first ascent of the Superga. A breakaway makes it up the road and is then controlled by the teams of the favourites and of those without a rider in it. Fairly standard procedure!

However, we then have a few potential outcomes as to what could happen from there.

Given that the first passage crests with just under 20km to go, then it is very feasible that a counter attack launched here could make it all the way to the line. Of course, for it to succeed then many of the favourites’ teams would need to be represented. If not, there will probably be enough firepower behind to bring it back, but it will have a lasting impact as to how the race is controlled from there.

Last year we saw Kennaugh hold on from the original break until the flat 5km section that bridges the descent and the climb. Once he was caught, the impetus went from the peloton and a splinter group made it off of the front. As the majority of teams were represented, there was very little cohesion behind (although there was little up ahead too to be fair), the front group managed to gain a reasonable time gap. Our top two on the day ended up being from that selection and there is a possibility something like that happens again this year; where the “second in command” riders get up the road while the favourites stay behind and mark each other out.

Of course, the final option is that everything is held together until the final climb and that the best rider on the day wins. That’s what happened back in 2015 when Diego Rosa took off at 2.6km to go and was never seen again. To make that win even better, he managed to make the move in front of his own fan club!

Screen Shot 2017-10-04 at 15.36.49

So, what will we see happen this year?

With no Nibali here, then quite a few teams might be happier to take it all the way to the final climb. However, we witnessed in Tre Valli that teams are keen to race aggressively and try not to lean heavily on their star-cards.

Therefore I think we could see a similar outcome to last season; where a smaller group escapes either over the top of the climb or on the flat section. They will then stay away as the majority of the strong teams will be represented.

Contenders

Due to my logic above, I’m not going to go through the “favourites” as I think they might be fighting for lower places as 3-4 riders from the group ahead will stay away until the end. Maybe!

Once again though, this list won’t be extensive, just a few outsiders to keep an eye on!

David Gaudu.

davidgaudu-winning-withthibautpinot-stage3-tourdelain2017

A rider who produced an incredible result earlier in the year that has barely been talked about since; when he finished 9th at Fleche aged just 20 years old. He is a talent, that’s for sure! After that performance he’s continued to feature in races here and there, including his first pro win in the Tour de l’Ain. A natural climber by body-type, he is incredibly light, tomorrow’s summit finish looks good for him and given the right company he can contend. After Pinot’s very strong showing in Tre Valli, I think teams will be wary of bringing him to the final climb with the bunch together, so FDJ will have to go on the counter. Can the former Tour de l’Avenir winner cap off a good first season as a pro?

Diego Rosa.

The local hero will no doubt have his fan club cheering him on roadside, but will it once again be the catalyst to spur him on to victory? In his recent races he’s done a lot of work for his team-mates so it is hard to tell where his form truly is at the moment, but it is normally at this time of year where he comes good. Really good. With this being his local race, I think Sky might have him as a co-leader, in the hope that he will be more willing to help Poels/Landa/Kwiat in Lombardia on Sunday. He is one to watch.

Primoz Roglic.

He’s certainly not a one-day specialist, but given the way he flew up the climb at the TT in the World’s then I think he has recovered from his illness that thwarted his late season. On his day, he can climb with the best as we saw at the Tour de France when he took a great win. I’m intrigued to see how he goes tomorrow, but I think he can surprise.

Pello Bilbao.

news_idnews864_photo_1497634630

It is basically a rule of thumb that an Astana rider has to go well here, they’ve won it the past two years! Both the riders that have won on those occasions have been the rider who is not the clear leader of the team, so sorry Aru it is not going to be you. Bilbao finished well here last year, taking a fine 7th place for Caja Rural. He is a rider I like a lot and it is good to see him take a step up this year now that he’s riding at World Tour level. At the Vuelta he was climbing as well as I have ever seen from him so it will be interesting to see if he can repeat that here. If so, he is a big danger!

Sam Oomen.

A case of which Sunweb rider to go for, they have brought an embarrassment of riches to this race. I thought Oomen would be tired after his first Grand Tour but he certainly proved me wrong and was part of the very impressive TTT winning outfit. In Tre Valli he followed that up with a very commendable sixth place so he’s clearly doing something right! Like Gaudu, he is a small rider who packs a mean punch and he could dance his way up Superga tomorrow.

Prediction

The local hero to take another victory though, with Rosa to make it two wins at this race in three years!

bettiniphoto_0226222_1_full_670

As I’ve said above, I think we’ll see a similar outcome to the previous edition where a smaller group will breakaway on the flat run in to fight out the race.

The real question for the day though is; where will the Diego Rosa fan club be positioned out on course?

Betting

As of yet, only the likes of Unibet are offering odds for the race. Tempted with something on Rosa for the win and top 3, and then also “Any other rider” as this covers Bilbao and Gaudu too. Nothing wild with the stakes though!

Thanks as always for reading! Who do you think will win tomorrow? Could we be in for an upset? I’ll be back on Friday with my Lombardia preview. Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

Vuelta a España 2017 Stage 20 Preview; Corvera de Asturias -> Alto de L’Angliru

Today’s Recap

A big break formed relatively early on with a second group of chasers including Bardet, joining after the first climb of the day.

Sky were happy to let them go and so were the rest of the GC teams.

Numerous moments of attacks/counters/riders dropped/regrouping happened throughout the day but we ended with a small bunch sprint that was one by De Gendt.

DJNnIvBXYAUtEoz

It was made all the sweeter with the Lotto rider being one of the blog picks for today. That win now puts him into an esteemed club of stage winners at all three Grand Tours. Not bad!

Behind, Contador put in an attack on the final climb but was ultimately reeled in by Sky and Sunweb so no GC change.

Is it all to play for tomorrow? Probably not, but who knows.

Let’s have a look at what is in store for them, even though you probably have a very good idea!

The Route

A stage everyone seems to be waiting for, with the mythical finish up the l’Angrilu.

Screen Shot 2017-09-08 at 15.45.43

3500m of climbing in less than 120km of racing; it sounds less than ideal for those hoping just to make it to Madrid!

The riders will start the day off with an uncategorised climb from the gun; 12.7km at 3.46%. Fairly simple, but given what is to come in the rest of the stage, the pace could be very fast and some riders might find themselves in difficulty early on.

From there, the riders will descend before beginning a very slow and gradual rise all the way to the bottom of the opening Cat-1 climb; Alto de la Cobertoria.

Corbeew

At an average of 8.5% for 7.8km it is a stiff test and sets the mood for what is to come in the remainder of the day. The kilometre at almost 15% just sounds brutal! A bold rider will attack here, going “early” in the day. I say “early” as once they crest there are only 38km left.

The descent is fast and twisting, which could become dangerous if the roads are wet.

An important factor is the fact that the riders almost climb straight away again, so there is very little time for them to recover from any efforts that they made on the previous ascent.

Alto del Cordal is up next and is another steep Cat-1 climb.

el cordal

The organisers do love to find some gems for us spectators. That closing 1.6km at 11.7% is crazy. We might see some of those in the top 10 crack big time and if they do, I’m afraid it is not going to get much better for them…

A fast descent before the final climb of the Vuelta, which definitely won’t be tackled in a quick fashion!

Screen Shot 2017-09-08 at 19.05.42

I don’t really need to say much about the Angliru.

The name itself should be enough to resonate with any cycling fan around the world but with a 6km section that averages 13.7% we could be in for some big time gaps tomorrow if things are all guns blazing from far out.

Only the best will come to the fore on this climb!

Or Chris Horner.

Weather Watch

As I alluded to above, things aren’t looking great weather wise tomorrow. Or they could be, it really depends on your preference!

Screen Shot 2017-09-08 at 18.49.53

That’s the forecast for Hotel el Angliru (Source : YR)

I’m not saying we’ll get rain throughout the day, but I wouldn’t be surprised if we did!

That will make things a lot more nervous in the bunch, especially on the tricky descents. I hope we don’t see any crashes, but with riders giving it their all to try to take any advantage they can, I have an uneasy feeling that it might be somewhat inevitable.

How will the stage pan out?

Looking at recent trends in the Vuelta, 4 out of the past 5 years the penultimate stage has seen a breakaway stay away and fight out for stage honours. That includes King Kenny’s (Elissonde) win on the Angliru back in 2013.

A lot of those stages have been longer days in the saddle though, with only the Angliru stage being sub 150km.

A similar trend can be seen at the Giro, where the majority of stages have went to the break. But there, even the ridiculosuly short and tough Bonette stage in 2016 saw the move stick.

What will be the difference tomorrow?

Well, maybe that question should be changed to “who?”.

I think you know the answer…

Contenders

Contador.

It’s the Spaniard’s last Vuelta and last mountain stage as a pro and he will desperately want a stage win. The steep ramps look great for him and he is bound to cause some chaos/panic out on the road tomorrow. However, although he has looked good on the shorter climbs, I am still concerned about his ability to hold a high wattage for the longer tests. I think if he and Froome come to the line together, then the current race leader will gift him the stage. Does Alberto have a bullet left to fire one more time?

WATSON_00004088-019-630x420

Froome.

Looked terrible a few days ago on Los Machucos but he seemed to recover from that blip on the shorter finish of stage 18. He does have the advantage of having the strongest team here and the current race leader will rely on them a lot tomorrow. If he’s in with a chance of the win at 5km out and he sees everyone suffering then he might give it a nudge. If not, then he has the luxury of “just” being able to follow wheels as his gap is comfortable. On an off day though, and things could get sketchy!

Zakarin.

Will we see a Zak-attack tomorrow? Yes. That’s almost a guarantee! Will it be enough to distance everyone? Probably not, the rangy Russian seems to struggle on the steeper slopes at time but he has actually looked like one of the riders who has grown into this race. He could well surprise!

Nibali.

The yin to Froome’s yang. The Shark was very strong on Los Macuchos, putting a lot of time into the race leader, only to go and lose quite a bit of it the following day. A bad weather expert he will no doubt test the *ahem* water on the descents. I hope he’s recovered from the other day so that we see a good battle between him and Froome. It is the last week of a Grand Tour, so he can’t be discounted.

Lopez.

DI4-d-hWsAIKK_H

Double stage winner so far, Superman should enjoy the amount of climbing tomorrow as that is his speciality. Not an instant threat on GC, he could be given some leeway. If he gets given too much rope, then that could be him gone for the day. He seemed in difficulty on Stage 18 so the form might be fading in the final week of his first Grand Tour. Who knows!

Kelderman.

He’s been the quiet rider of the race so far who happens to find himself very much in the podium battle. Tomorrow doesn’t suit him at all, he seems to be a rider who prefers a more traditional Alpine pass, none of this crazy Spanish stuff! He’ll do well to hold onto the podium.

Vuelta Picks

Same old stuff again!

Safe Pick – Zakarin

Should be close to the top GC guys and might be given some freedom if Froome just focusses on Nibali.

Wongshot PickLopez.

Seems to be fading but he could well turn it around.

Lanterne Rouge Pick – Dunne

Good luck Conor!

Prediction

I’ll go for none of the riders I’ve listed above though…

Instead, I think Majka wins tomorrow.

DIuylMjXcAEStQo

After his stage win almost a week ago he has been conserving himself, rolling home with the grupetto most of the time. He did give it a nudge on Los Machucos and finished 6th on the stage so his form is still clearly there.

He can either win from the break, or use his fresher legs to his advantage and attack out of the peloton and I’m pretty sure no one would follow him. If he is given a 30-40 second advantage going onto the Angliru then I’m hard pressed to think of anyone who could catch him.

Betting

I did say tomorrow was likely to be a no bet but after De Gendt’s success today I’m going to have a dabble. Still sticking to the 2pts a day keeps the debt collector away rule though…

2pts WIN Majka @ 11/2 with Bet365. You’ll probably get the same price elsewhere later once the other bookmakers have copied!

 

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

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

 

 

Vuelta a España 2017 Stage 16 Preview; Circuito de Navarra -> Logroño

Rest-day Recap

Stage 15 turned into more of a damp squib than I was expecting with the majority of GC riders coming home together. Well, apart from Superman Lopez who forged ahead to take another stage win. I told you pre-Vuelta to keep an eye on him!

DI4-d-hWsAIKK_H

Froome though is still in control of the race with closest rival Nibali just over a minute behind and third placed Zakarin 2’08 in arrears.

There is still a lot to play for going into the final week and the battle for the podium should be a great one, even if the GC win might be out of reach.

Will that be the case after tomorrow’s TT? Let’s have a look at what’s in store for the riders.

The Route

A 40km individual effort against the clock that could (will) have a big say on the outcome of this race overall.

Web

In terms of the route itself, it is book-ended by two fairly technical sections. The stage starts on the motor racing “Circuito de Navarra” which has a lot of tight turns that will mean the riders can’t get up to full speed. Saying that, it is a fairly wide track so it is not like a street circuit where they would have to go really slow!

Once out and through Los Arcos they will power along mainly straight roads but with a few sharp turns littered throughout the itinerary. Nonetheless, it should be mainly full gas until they enter Logroño.

Screen Shot 2017-09-04 at 17.40.28

The riders will have several roundabouts to traverse (classic Vuelta) and a very tricky closing kilometre. A good bit of time could be gained or lost here!

As for the parcours itself I’ve made a VeloViewer/Strava profile of the stage, as is tradition. You can view that here.

 

It is by no means a completely flat TT, as the official profile somewhat suggests, but it isn’t crazily difficult.

Vuelta TT Updated

We have a couple 1-2km drags at roughly 2.5-3% in the first 15km of the stage, before we reach the “hillier” part of the route.

HillySectionTT

 

The above image is from 15.5 -> 19.9km into the route.

As you can see it is not leg-breaking, especially by Vuelta standards, but it will still require riders to manage their effort well. Quite a bit of it is false flat mixed in with some more standard climbing metres at 5% etc, but there are a few steep 10% ramps thrown in for good measure too!

From there, the riders will be onto the easier part of the course.

Vuelta Last 20kms TT

The second half of the TT dos have a few kick ups as you can see, which will knock some of the speed off from the descent, but the majority of it is mainly downhill.

Will riders keep enough in the tank to tackle the more rolling final 3kms?!

Weather Watch

As is often the case in time trials, the weather can play a big part in the outcome of the day due to the long time period between the first and last rider setting off.

Dunne will be the first rider down the ramp, starting at 13’34 local time, with Froome beginning his effort over 3 hours later at 16’52.

A full start list can be viewed here.

Fortunately for everyone they should all face the same road conditions, with no rain forecast for the area at all.

However, they will have different wind conditions…

Screen Shot 2017-09-04 at 18.13.30
Source: Windfinder

Those starting later will have a lower wind speed, but a much more favourable direction, with a tailwind for the majority of the course. Whereas those who’re off at the start will have a less desirable cross-tail wind.

It might not play a massive part, but it is something to consider.

Unless of course that massive change in wind speed comes in a bit earlier then Froome might fly along the course!

Winner

With Dennis now gone, it does open up the stage for some riders. Well, I had originally wrote that I thought Froome would run the Australian close due to the latter’s not so great form on longer TTs recently. So with that said…

Froome.

Has to start as the overwhelming favourite. His past results in second week Grand Tour TTs are rather impeccable; 3/1/1 in the Tour/Vuelta/Tour. It is that win at the Vuelta last year that really stands out for me. In my preview for that day I wrote that I thought Froome looked tired after the previous stages and didn’t seem to be at his best fitness anymore. Sound familiar? He went on to crush that day and secure his second place. I think he’ll crush it tomorrow and secure his first place on GC.

VaE-Froome-TT-Win-610x350

Podium Contenders

There are a whole host of riders who’ll be lining up to hopefully take the win if Froome misfires, but they have a more realistic chance of taking the podium behind the Sky rider.

Oliveira.

The Portuguese rider has been targeting this stage all race and he should be close to the front by the end of tomorrow. He started off the Vuelta very strongly but has faded recently. Whether that was due to him getting ill, or saving energy, we’ll only really find out tomorrow through his performance.

Lampaert.

DHr0mIJXYAAi0Kz

Winner on the opening road stage, the Belgian TT champ has ridden well in service of his team-mates over the past couple of weeks. Tomorrow is his chance to shine as an individual again though and he’ll certainly be up there. He finished 4th at last year’s TT and will hope to go better this time round!

Kelderman.

Seems to have avoided the illness that has plagued his team as of late, but he was slow to respond to his podium challenger Zakarin on the last stage. Was that a sign of weakness? He used to be considered a fairly strong TT rider while at Jumbo, but he seems to have regressed since his move to Sunweb. I don’t think we’ll see him on the podium tomorrow.

Luis Leon Sanchez.

The experienced hand at Astana always seems to go fairly well in long TTs at Grand Tours. He’s looked good in this race, picking days to attack but also willing to sacrifice himself for Aru and Lopez. On stage 14 he did a lot of the driving work to help pull the break back somewhat so I think his form is there. He took it a bit easier the following day and with Astana leading the Team Classification, I think he’ll go full gas tomorrow.

Ludvigsson.

I could not mention Big T, now could I?! Third on the final TT last year, the FDJ man has looked comfortable this race, but he’s not been as prominent and attacking as I had hoped for. Nonetheless, he will give it a good bash tomorrow and will certainly be in contention for another top 5 result.

Jungels.

Another rider who falls into the “strong team-mate who might be eyeing up this stage” category. The former Luxembourg champion should have the power to match the best over this type of distance, it just depends if he goes 100% or not. He was third on the similar TT during the Giro this year. Can he repeat that here?

As for some others, I’m quietly hopeful for a good time from Superman! He produced a very good time in the Tour de Suisse last year. That TdS result did come at altitude which could have helped him a bit. Nonetheless, with his current form, he should be closer to others than expected.

Vuelta Picks

Safe – Froome.

This is the day I have been saving the Brit for!

Wongshot – LLS.

A Spanish rider who’s going well and has a proven track record over the distance.

Lanterne Rouge – Blythe

The Brits to book-end the day.

Prediction

You haven’t been paying attention, have you? I told you above – Froome to win!

Luis Leon to sneak onto the podium somewhere and Superman Lopez to remain in the GC podium hunt going into the last few stages.

Betting

The good prices on Froome are gone now after Dennis’ withdrawal. Some bookmakers might Rule 4 any previous bets that you’ve made but I still think his current odds of 4/5 in some places offer value. He’s 10/11 on the exchanges if you can get there.

I genuinely can’t see past anyone else and although I don’t like advising odds on for stages;

5pts WIN on Froome @ 4/5 

2pts LLS to finish Top 3 (with B365)

Then 1pt on this H2H treble…

Screen Shot 2017-09-04 at 19.39.22

Thanks as always for reading! Who do you think will win tomorrow? Will it be Froome domination, or can someone upset the apple cart? Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

 

Vuelta a España 2017 Stage 15 Preview; Alcala La Real -> Sierra Nevada

Today’s Recap

For so long it looked as if all of the break  was going to finish ahead of the main GC guys. However, Bahrain/Astana/Trek all had a different idea for how the day was going to pan out and they started to chase.

The gap tumbled but Majka forged on at the bottom of the climb and the talented Polish climber held on for the stage win.

DIuylMjXcAEStQo

It is going to be interesting to watch him over the coming week, now that he is back to his best. Another stage win or two are certainly possible!

Behind after a lot of to-ing and fro-ing, the GC gaps weren’t overly significant. Lopez once again confirmed that his form is on the way up, nabbing a few seconds ahead of a chase group which was led home by Nibali.

Saying that, some riders did lose over 20 seconds and we seem to have a strong 6 that are a bit better than everyone else at the moment.

Will there be more significant gaps tomorrow?

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

The Route

What a stage!

Screen Shot 2017-09-02 at 14.48.21

Two Cat-1s and an Especial climb all rolled into 129km of racing. This is going to be hectic!

The race starts off somewhat benignly, with a couple of uncategorised 3% rises in the first 20km of racing before the race plummets down to the 30km mark and Pinos Puente. From there, the riders will face 27km of false flat (0.8%), hitting the official start of the opening climb with 71.7kms remaining.

S15end

I would say that those remaining kilometres certainly fall into the “tough” section.

AltodelHazzal

The Cat-1 climb of Alto de Hazallanas averages a fairly low 5.8% for 15.1km. However, when taking out the 3km of descent and false flat, that gradient shoots up to 7.2%. That sounds a bit harder!

The second part of the climb is the hardest though, with the final 7.6km averaging a very sore 9%. It is the perfect launchpad for riders to take some risks with an early move.

Once over the top the riders get some respite on 18km of descent, before some valley roads and the double ascent to finish the day.

I’m not even going to bother to distinguish between the Cat-1 and the Especial climb, just lumping it all together!

faegewgw

That looks like great fun…

27.7km at 5.9%, some riders are going to suffer tomorrow. Thankfully, or not, depending on who you ask, the opening 6km of the climb are the toughest (the Cat-1), averaging close to 10%.

From there things get “easier” and the closing 14km are great for riders who like to ride tempo, with the gradient only edging just over 5.5%. However, those ramps will feel a lot tougher considering the inevitable fast pace throughout the day and because of the duration of the climb itself.

We then also have the small factor of altitude to consider too.

Roughly the last 8km of the climb are at over 2000m. With the air being thinner, the riders who come from flatter lands could struggle and find themselves not as comfortable as they would hope.

How will the race pan out?

I’m hoping for chaos.

This is one of the stages I’ve been looking forward to all Vuelta and I hope that with all the hype it doesn’t become a damp squib.

We’ll see a big fight to get into the break as the GC contenders try to get some of their team-mates up the road. The battle to get into the move could easily take until the sprint point at 45km into the day.

Astana, Bahrain and Trek were lively today in their efforts to chase down the break today and I’ll be looking to them to bring the fireworks tomorrow.

We could well see a GC rider attack on the opening climb of the day; all eyes on Contador for that now typical banzai attack. From there, all hell will break loose if that is the case. Especially if someone like Nibali follows the Spaniard.

I would be interested to see what would happen if Lopez and Contador went. They aren’t immediate dangers to Froome’s lead, but they aren’t exactly the type of riders who you want to give a few minutes to either.

One thing that the opposition teams will take from today’s stage is that although Froome looked strong, his team was the weakest they have been so far. Nieve cracked a lot earlier than was expected and it was only Poels who was left at the business end. Froome needs a big day from the Dutchman tomorrow. If not, our race leader could be tired out by chasing a lot of attacks. Even though he is clearly in stellar form, he can’t mark everyone by himself. Unless of course he just rides away from everyone!

Contenders

Froome.

froome_vuelta_2017_9-640x293

He’s been tested so far this race but the Sky rider hasn’t looked as if he is going to falter anytime soon. However, he will be very worried about tomorrow, especially after his team looked tired today. Nonetheless, Froome is a great climber and he should be there fighting for victory at the end of the stage. He’s never won a stage that has finished with a +2000m summit, so it will be interesting to see how he copes.

Nibali.

Froome’s immediate rival and main concern tomorrow, the Shark has looked ominous recently. He was strong today and when Contador didn’t want to work with him, he seemed to knock things back a bit. However, he produced a fast finishing to take third on the day and pick up some vital bonus seconds. Unlike Froome, he has had previous for performing well on days where the altitude has really kicked up and he’ll be hoping to go well tomorrow.

Lopez.

My guy! It is great to see the Colombian grow into the race after being lumped with the Haughey Curse at the start of the race. Not an immediate threat to the podium he could once again be given a bit of leeway like we have witnessed the past two summit finishes. If Bilbao makes the break, they could form a deadly duo on the last climbs. Oh yeah, Lopez’s home town is situated at 2800m so tomorrow should be a walk in the park for him!

Contador.

Alberto-Contador-Trek-Segafredo-2017-climb-pic-Sirotti

The rider that everyone will look to, to animate the stage. He wouldn’t disappoint now, would he?! After his mishap in the first mountain test, El Pistolero has followed almost every move and forged on himself at times. I reckon he’ll light the stage up, but he just won’t have enough to finish it off. Nonetheless, he’ll vault up the GC.

Kelderman and Zakarin.

I’m taking these two as a duo as they seem to be just below the level of the four above. It will need some attacking racing from them if they want to escape the clutches of the better climbers, but that could well happen if there is some looking around. Yet, I think they’ll fall a bit behind tomorrow.

Chaves.

I almost feel like I have to put him in here due to his Colombian background and Bogota residence. However, the Smiling Assassin has been just off the pace the past few stages and it will take a lot for that to be turned around tomorrow.

Vuelta Picks

Safe Pick – Lopez

Should top 5 at least barring any misfortune!

Wongshot Pick – Bilbao

Sky call everyone’s bluff and the break gets a big advantage. Bilbao gets the nod to go for the stage win.

Lanterne Rouge Pick – Haga

There’s an illness floating about the Sunweb camp.

Prediction

It should be a Froome v Lopez v Nibali battle.

Lopez has the advantage of being further back on GC and an altitude native. So yup, you guessed it, I’m going with Nibali.

DHxCzwNXcAER3Fw

He really impressed me on the final climb and I get the feeling that he could have followed Lopez today if he had wanted to. His history in big altitude stages is great and that should help him out tomorrow as well.

Betting

In what should be a three-horse race, I’m going to play a bit of a safety net and go EW on Nibali as he should surely podium…

2.5pts EW Nibali @ 8/1

 

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

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

Vuelta a España 2017 Preview – The BFOG

Vuelta a España 2017 Preview – The BFOG

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

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

WATSON_00004746-027-630x420

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

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

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

The Route – What You Need To Know

To some it up in a word: tough.

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

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

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

vuelta-a-espana-2017-stage-3-1484252451

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

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

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

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

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

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

vuelta-a-espana-2017-stage-11-observatorio-astronomico-1484252543

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

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

vuelta-a-espana-2017-stage-14-sierra-de-la-pandera-1484252560

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

PanderaN

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

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

vuelta-a-espana-2017-stage-15-sierra-nevada-alto-hoya-1484252566

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

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

VueltaS15 finish

Ouch. Ouch indeed!

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

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

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

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

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

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

vuelta-a-espana-2017-stage-20-alto-de-l-angliru-1484252595

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

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

GC Contenders and Pretenders

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

Chris Froome.

20165710-333928-800x534

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

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

Vincenzo Nibali.

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

Alberto Contador.

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

Fabio Aru.

2121807-44393350-2560-1440

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

Miguel Angel Lopez.

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

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

Ilnur Zakarin.

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

Yates / Yates / Chaves.

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

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

Prediction

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

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

 

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

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

news_idnews919_photo_1499363408

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

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

King of the Mountains

article-Calendario-2017-Omar-Fraile-5857a6ed0bdb1

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

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

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

As for points distribution, it is as follows:

Screen Shot 2017-08-17 at 15.04.22

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

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

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

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

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

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

How will the KOM race pan out?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Merhawi Kudus.

20175915_353493_670

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

Jetse Bol (2.0).

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

Larry Warbasse.

20176135_378168_670

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

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

Points Classification

Vuelta a Espana - Stage 21

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

Screen Shot 2017-08-17 at 16.11.40

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

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

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

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

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

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

Julian-Alaphilippe-time-trial

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

Vuelta Picks

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

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

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

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

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

Think you can beat me and take my money?!

*Hint – the answer is probably yes*

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

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

Spreadsheet above^^^

Betting

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

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

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

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

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

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

As for the Points jersey, it’s simple.

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

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

 

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

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Clásica Ciclista San Sebastian 2017 Preview

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

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

Cycling: 36th Clasica San Sebastian 2016

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

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

Will we see something similar this year?

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

The Route

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

donostiako-klasikoa-2017
@LasterketaBurua

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

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

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

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

Screen Shot 2017-07-24 at 13.43.21

The profile of which you can view here.

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

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

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

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

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

Tour Legs?

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

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

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

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

Screen Shot 2017-07-24 at 13.39.44

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

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

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

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

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

Contenders

Mollema.

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

Gallopin.

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

Kwiatkowski.

KWIATKOWSKI-Michal021p-1

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

Landa.

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

Uran.

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

Barguil.

DFMIFr8XYAUIUaC

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

Van Avermaet.

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

Yates.

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

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

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

Prediction

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

I have two in mind, either Barguil or Uran.

Hmmmm.

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

D5A_7617-e1499634586653

Betting

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

1pt EW on them both;

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

Barguil @ 20/1 with Ladbrokes/Coral

 

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

They were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

 

 

 

Vuelta Stage 3 Preview: Marín -> Dumbria (Mirador de Ízaro)

Today’s Recap

Well, that was as chaotic as expected!

Experience shone through with veteran Gianni Meersman holding on to take the win after his Etixx team delivered him perfectly in the final kilometre. With it being a headwind finish, they timed the lead out so that Meersman did the shortest sprint possible. Furthermore, taking the quickest line around the last bend also helped. They had their tactics spot on. A great win for him and the team!

CqZVPi5WAAAfayZ

Magnus Cort Nielsen came from miles back it seemed and got up for third. So still a profitable day for the blog at least! Stage favourite Arndt was nowhere to be seen but on a re-watch of the closing kilometres it looked like two riders got held up by Lagutin’s crash, so that could have been Arndt. Would make sense because he finished alongside lead-out man De Koert.

Anyway, moving on to tomorrow’s stage…

The Route

This is the type of stage that typifies the Vuelta. Not overly long and back ended with some steep climbs. I love it!

Screen Shot 2016-08-21 at 16.25.17

We should all be very familiar with the Vuelta and their famous “Cat-3” climbs by now. They are brutal! Especially the short ones.

Tomorrow’s finish was used in the 2012 Vuelta, with Joaquim Rodriguez winning that day. As you can see in the video below, it is a real grind.

More about the final climb later…

Before they reach the finish they have a tough 70km to traverse, featuring over 1500m of elevation. The organisers have been kind and are easing the riders into the race… 😉

Just to get a better idea of the final 78km, I’ve made a Strava profile of it that you can view here. I promise I’m not sponsored by them, I just like the interactivity that the website allows!

Screen Shot 2016-08-21 at 18.16.37
Strava profile of the last 78km

The first Cat 3 is 9km long, averaging 5%. However, the final kilometre is the toughest part with sections over 9%. This will sap some of the legs, but it is too far out for any real moves to be made.

However, the penultimate climb of Paxereiras is very interestingly positioned. This is a proper climb, 8km at 6.7%. But that doesn’t tell the whole story. The first 5.5km are a lot more demanding, average roughly 8.3%, with sections above 11%. Due to the climb being around 20km to the finish line, there is a chance we could see some satellite riders being sent up the road here so that their teams don’t have to chase.

Back to the final climb, sorry, I mean wall! It’s just ridiculous, 1.7km long at an average of 13.7%. There are even sections in it that top 30%!

You have to be a light and explosive climber to win here.

How will the stage pan out? Team Tactics?

As I’ve alluded to above, the penultimate climb may be used as a springboard for teams to send riders up the road and try to hold on for the win, but I think this is a relatively unlikely outcome. It’s still possible, but I favour this coming down to a battle on that brutal final climb.

Now, as we saw on the first summit finish at the Vuelta last year the “big” riders often mark each other which paves the way for a “second-tier” rider to take the win. Having a strong team in this situation is crucial.

Before he was pulled out, I had Landa penciled in for this stage. The situation would be that he would attack off the front and Froome would mark the attacks behind. Obviously he’s not here now but I expect something similar to happen, so let’s look at the teams and riders who could be allowed to get away.

Movistar – Quintana and Valverde are leaders/too high-profile, Moreno or Fernandez may be their options. I’d favour Moreno as he goes better on the steep stuff.

Vuelta España - Stage 4

 

Tinkoff – Contador will be watched. Kiserlovski could get away, but he hasn’t been great for a while. Only chance of them winning is Alberto blowing everyone away, which is certainly possible!

Sky – Froome will again be marked. Over to Konig or Kwiatkowski, both good candidates if they’re on form. Might be too steep for them though.

BMC- A team with a few options. Atapuma or Sanchez best plan as it’s too steep for TVG. One massive longshot to keep an eye on is Hermans, who seems to be climbing very well as of late. I think it’s too tough for Gilbert.

Jumbo – Gesink was 4th here in 2012, but has been off the boil since then, although could surprise! Kruijswijk not fit enough yet.

Orica – Chaves won because of this situation last year so he’ll be closely watched this time round. Instead, I think Yates has a real chance here.

Astana – They don’t really have a big name guy, but this climb suits Superman Lopez perfectly. The bunch can’t give him too much room!

sptdw5068_670

Etixx – Another team without a first-division GC rider, but Brambilla is capable of going well here.

I don’t think any other riders will figure at the pointy end of the race, but I would love for a Caja Rural rider to be up there. They have a good list of punchy climbers, I’m not entirely sure who the finish suits best. Possibly Goncalves (#GoOnCalves) or Bilbao.

Prediction

Like last year, I think we’ll see three “lesser” riders escape the main group. My selections for that situation would be Lopez, Yates & Brambilla, and they’ll make up the podium tomorrow! Now it’s just choosing the winner.

Lopez is a bit of an unknown and how far he can go, but he does have bags of talent. The steep gradients should suit his diminutive figure, but I think youthful exuberance might get the best of him.

Brambilla is probably the weakest of the three, but has been in great form. Plus, as was shown at the Giro, he’s not afraid to attack from distance. But I think this climb is on the limit for him.

Therefore, I think it will be Yates who goes on to win! He rode very well in the TTT and is evidently going well. He’s quietly gone about his business since his return with; a win in Spain; another podium; 7th at San Sebastian; and 4th on GC at Burgos. A rider who goes well in Spain, he is able to cope with the steep stuff.

Taking advantage of the rest of the GC guys marking each other, he’ll be able to repeat Chaves’ success from last year and in the process take the leader’s jersey!

FOTO-4031-630x422

Betting

Annoyingly, it seems the trader at Bet365 has had a similar line of thought…

0.65pt EW Yates @12/1 (Bet365)

0.2pt EW Lopez @16/1 (Bet365) 22/1 with PaddyPower

0.15pt EW Brambilla @33/1 (Bet365) 50/1 with PaddyPower

Like usual, hunt around once more bookmakers have priced up later and there is a chance that you can get better odds. I’ll update the post/my twitter if I spot anything, I just want to get the preview published!

Hope you enjoyed the read, how do you think it will play out tomorrow? Will we get the 2nd tiered riders up the road, or will the big GC boys come out to play? As usual, any advice/feedback is greatly appreciated! Thanks for reading. Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

 

 

 

La Vuelta a España 2016 GC Preview

La Vuelta a España 2016 GC Preview

Jeez, this year has went fast and the third and final Grand Tour is upon us! Arguably the most exciting of the Grand Tours, the Vuelta always offers exciting and unexpected racing, throwing up a few surprises here and there.

Last year saw Tom Dumoulin take centre stage as a GC prospect and it looked for a while that he was going to take the leaders jersey all the way to Madrid. However, his well-documented and massive capitulation on the penultimate stage saw him slip from first to 6th on GC. Fabio Aru took a well-planned win, with Rodriguez and Majka rounding out the podium.

As I’m doing daily previews for the stages, I won’t focus on the route here at all. You just need to know that it’s a typical Vuelta route: tough!

Previous Winner Patterns?

The Vuelta start-list is always full of riders who are at different parts of their own personal seasons. Some will be coming here from the Tour, hoping to continue the good form that they had then or if they were misfiring there, try to prove the doubters wrong here. Others come to Spain after a block of training, or doing some of the smaller preparation races, having possibly done the Giro earlier in the year.

Traditionally the Vuelta is the key preparation race for the Worlds. But considering the very tough nature of the race this year, and the sprinter friendly World Champs course most have decided against it.

It’s therefore hard to gauge just where everyone is at. Which is great from a viewing perspective, not from a preview/prediction perspective!

Is there are a clear pattern from previous winners or those in the top 10? Hmmm, let’s have a look.

Screen Shot 2016-08-18 at 12.12.32

 

The table above shows the top 10 on GC at the Vuelta, and if they completed another GT in the same year. In brackets is the finishing position at that Grand Tour.

A quick glance and it seems obvious that the winner will be someone who hasn’t completed a GT in that year, with 2015 being a bit of an irregularity. Everything seems to point towards an Alberto Contador win here. However, a more in depth analysis shows that the other years results are actually a bit more odd.

In 2014, both Froome and Contador crashed out of the Tour and used the good legs that they would have had to smash the opposition here. Especially El Pistolero who won by over a minute. Would they have done as well if they’d finished the Tour? It’s hard to say.

2013 and Horner. One of those surprises that I mentioned earlier!

vuelta-2013-stage-10-chris-horner-vuelta-website

Swiftly moving on…

2012 saw Contador win after his return from his back-dated drugs ban that saw him miss the Tour that year. Would he have been competing for the win here even if he was at the Tour? Quite possibly, he always seems to go well in Spain, but again, it’s hard to know!

Finally, 2011 had the another unexpected winner Juan Jose Cobo, followed by Tour DNF Wiggins in second. This was the race where Froome came to the fore as a potential GC candidate, with a real mix bag of a top 10.

What can we take from this? There’s an equal split (15 each) for those finishing the Giro or Tour getting a top 10 at the Vuelta. With those not completing a GT earlier in the year taking up the remaining 20 spaces.

If you narrow it down to the top 5 the split is; Giro (7), Tour (11), Neither (7). So when it comes to the business end, it seems that doing the Tour is the best route into the Vuelta. Although looking at the finishing positions of the riders, doing well at the Tour isn’t always the best. Interestingly, those who finish around 20-30th go equally as well, if not better than those on the podium at the Tour. In fact, making the top-3 at the Giro seems to be a more consistent path to the top of the pile at the Vuelta.

All of this of course, is discredited if you are a certain Alejandro Valverde, who’s done both this year!

CYCLING-BEL-LIEGE-BASTOGNE-TRAINING

Who are the riders to watch then?

As you can probably guess from my yabbering on above, I’m finding this one particularly hard to nail down. There are so many variables regarding riders form etc, that makes this the toughest Grand Tour to predict!

And with almost 750 words wrote up to this point, I really don’t want to keep you here for the same again so I’ll keep this next part short(ish) and maybe sweet. With a sentence or so for each challenger.

Splitting the riders into the categories above (Giro/Tour/Neither) here are those who could make a mark at this years Vuelta.

Giro

Chaves – The runner up at the Giro is a favourite rider of mine and he made his “breakthrough” performance here last year. He’ll be aiming for a podium spot that looks possible.

Kruisjwijk – For so long it looked like he was set to win the Giro before his crash. He’ll be back to prove that wasn’t a one off. If he climbs like he did at the Giro, the others will be worried.

Atapuma – 9th at the Giro, he will probably be 3rd choice for BMC but can’t be discounted. Another top 10 is possible.

Scarponi – arguably the best climber at the Giro this year, he will probably be working for Lopez but the veteran will be up there on all of the mountain top finishes.

frankie-2-michele-scarponi-and-his-feathered-friend

Brambilla – Bit of an outsider but he rode excellently at the Giro. A top 10 would be a great result!

Tour

Froome – The Tour winner will look to do the double here. If he’s performing like he was in France then it is very possible. A downside for him is his weaker team.

Quintana – Third for him ended up being a good result, he seemed to be struggling through the whole race. If he’s got over his illness/whatever was wrong then he will be a force to be reckoned with.

nairo-quintana

Valverde – Mr Consistent has done both GTs so far, winning this well be a step too far for him. A top 10 would be a fantastic achievement for him!

Meintjes – The peloton ticket-collector, I really like his style of riding. However, I think it will be too much for him to go well here, he’s too young to do back-to-back GTs.

Barguil – Never really got going at the Tour. His two professional wins came at the 2013 Vuelta. Another stage win here would be good.

Van Garderen – Struggled in France and BMC are supposedly working for Sanchez. He’ll still be protected and has the pedigree to compete if he’s refound his form.

Neither

Contador – The favourite for the race, he comes here after winning in Burgos. He isn’t as good as he used to be, but he always goes well in Spain. His team is weak, a big hinderance to him.

Yates – Someone I’ve not seen mentioned much, if Adam can, then so can Simon! Might be supporting Chaves, but it’s more beneficial having two riders in contention than just one.

Sanchez – Supposedly leading BMC, I don’t know why. I guess a top 10 is good enough for them.

Lopez – The young Astana rider is the real deal, winner of the Tour de Suisse. However, this is his first GT and I think it will be too much for him. A stage win or the KOM jersey should be his goal in my opinion.

sptdw5068_670

Carthy – A great talent, but he’s fully aware that his first Grand Tour is a learning experience. Not sure what to expect from him, a stage win would be great!

There are others too that I haven’t mentioned, such as Talanksy and Gesink, but I don’t think they’ll be up to much. I would like to see Dombrowski go well.

Prediction

Did I mention already that this is a tough race to predict and that I’m struggling? 😉

So here goes…

Despite suggesting that those who podium at the Tour don’t always go well here, and that those coming from the Giro and no GTs have a much better chance.

Quintana will put his “poor” Tour behind him and take the win here. It’s amazing to think that he struggled all the way around France, yet still had enough quality to finish on the podium. He is one of the most naturally talented Grand Tour riders! I hope for him more than anything, that he has recovered to go well and prove any doubters wrong. He has the strongest team here to support him, which as we saw with Froome at the Tour, is vital. I hope to be shouting “QUINTANA, QUINTANA, QUINTANA!” several times this month!

WATSON_00004436-005-630x420

Sorry Nairo, I’ve just put the #HaugheyCurse on you 😦

Betting

I don’t do GC betting week 1 of a GT. Almost tempted by an EW play on Yates at 100/1 but I’m sticking to my rules!

 

Thanks again for reading! Hope you enjoyed the preview, who do you think wins the most unpredictable race of the year? We should be in for some exciting racing over the next 3 weeks, I can’t wait! Any feedback as usual is greatly appreciated.

I was intending on doing a points & KOM preview but I don’t think I’ll have the time. Instead, I’ll share any thoughts on Twitter so give me a follow on there @JamieHaughey. Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.