Men’s Road Race World Championships Preview – Bergen 2017

After finding success on the rolling course in Richmond back in 2015, Peter Sagan went on defend his title a year later in Doha; winning a reduced bunch sprint.

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Can the Solvakian make it an unprecedented three wins on the trot tomorrow? Let’s take a look at what is in store for the riders.

The Route

Long, at a total of 276.5km! But that is what you would expect for the World Championships.

The riders don’t actually start in Bergen, instead, they’ll start in the town of Rong before heading south along a 40km stretch of exposed road and reaching the finish town. Thankfully or not, depending on what way you look at it, the wind forecast is for it to be very low so we won’t see any echelon action. Much to my disgust!

BergenRR Circuit

 

You can view the interactive version of my profile here.

If you’ve watched any of the action over the past few days then you’ll be familiar with the circuit above.

11 laps will certainly wear down the riders legs, with the total elevation gain for the day being roughly 3500m.

The key focal point for attacks over the past few races has been Salmon Hill and the small climb that comes just before it.

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Taken as a whole it is 3.7km at 4% which doesn’t sound much, but after 200km+ of racing then it certainly can cause some splits. The stronger climbers will be looking to put in their stinging attacks on the steeper ramps; either just before the “top” of the uncategorised climb, or halfway through Salmon Hill. This is where big gaps can be made.

The issue though is that after the summit there are still 10.4km of the course remaining. Any riders that make it away need to work well to ensure that they stay away from the chasers, especially with the final few kilometres being into a head wind.

I’m not going to bore you with any more route analysis though, as we’ve had plenty of that this week already. Instead, I’m going to jump straight into trying to figure this race out and what possible scenario we might see unfold tomorrow afternoon.

How do you stop Sagan?

A question many teams and riders ask themselves throughout the season but it is once again the case here.

Option 1 – Outsprint Him.

With a lot of nations bringing a rider who get involved in a reduced sprint at the end of the day, then there is a chance we might see it held all together to the line. Sagan is obviously fast in these types of situations, especially after a tough days racing. However, he has shown at MSR this year that he is certainly beatable.

Option 2 – Drop Him.

A tough task but some squads will certainly try it. If strong teams such as the Dutch, Belgians and French make constant attacks on Salmon Hill in the closing 80kms, then Sagan might get tired out trying to cover everything. That is of course assuming that he won’t have any team support left to work for him. The pace needs to be high from far out for that to happen though.

Option 3 – Refuse to work, hope your rider gets lucky.

We saw this recently in Quebec where no one wanted to co-operate with Sagan after he attacked in the closing stages. If they did, then there was a good chance they would have caught the group ahead, consequently fighting it for the win. They didn’t though and Sagan just shrugged and moved on. Although this is less likely to happen tomorrow as the Slovak will try to chase everything, it still might just do so. It is a very Sagan thing after all!

Option 4Illness

Bilogical warfare is probably a step too far, but there are rumours flying around on Twitter that he is currently suffering from illness and hasn’t been on the bike in a few days. I’m sure this was the case last year and has been for a few of his other races that he has went on to win. All mind games? We’ll just have to wait and see tomorrow.

Option 4 – Accept defeat.

He can follow almost any rider on the climb and he can match any rider here in a sprint after 200+km. Is there any point in trying?

Of course, and I think we won’t see him take a third title!

Definitely.

Maybe.

Possibly.

Ah who am I kidding, he probably will.

Contenders or Pretenders? The infamous Five

Like with my women’s preview, I’m only going to name a handful of riders here who I think could go well in a variety of situations. So once again apologies if I have not named someone you were hoping for; repeating the names you’ll no doubt have heard of a lot over the week such as Kwiatkowski, Matthews and Gaviria doesn’t appeal to me much!

Alex(bae)ey Lutsenko.

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The first punt I had committed to for this race and it was always going to happen, it was just a matter of time. If you’ve followed the blog over the past year and a half since its inception then you’ll know I have a lot of admiration for the talented Kazakh. He was strong at the start of the year; finishing a very respectable third in Dwars. Yet, it is his recent form at the Vuelta that impressed me most. He was super strong there to get a stage win and a second place finish on two tough breakaway days. The climb tomorrow is probably on his limit if the likes of Dumoulin go crazy in the final lap, but he has the quality to be close and he might infiltrate an earlier move. Will the former U23 champion take the step up?

Petr Vakoc.

My second punt for the race and another rider that was always going to be backed. A brute of a rider, he hasn’t taken as big a step forward in 2016 as I was expecting and hoping for but his performances have been solid. To win he’ll most likely have to go early and hope to be there if the strong climbers attack from behind. Packing a solid sprint from a very reduced group, he might fancy his chances in an 8 rider gallop.

Now that the two “long-term” selections are out of the road, it is time to move on to some other riders who I think could do well. Some are certainly more obscure than others.

Danny Van Poppel.

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Yup, you read that right. The Dutch have been on fire at these Championships so far and I wouldn’t be surprised to see them get a medal again tomorrow. Dumoulin is obviously one of their stronger guys and will be attacking early but if it all comes back for a 40 rider sprint then Van Poppel has a good outside chance. He’s impressed me a lot this season and certainly seems to becoming a more versatile rider. On the short bergs he can follow some of the stronger one-day riders, as was highlighted at BinckBank, but it will be interesting to see how it goes tomorrow. Given the instruction to not waste any energy at all and wait for a sprint, will he get his chance to shine?

Tony Gallopin.

A strong one-day racer, he arrives here in good form after taking two top-10s in Canada which were swiftly followed up by a second place in Wallonie. In terms of career he should be hitting his peak soon and given how strong he looked at San Sebastian in July, I think he’s in for a good couple of years; he just needs some luck. His last two appearances at the World’s have seen him finish 7th in 2015 and 6th in 2014. This course tomorrow in theory suits him very well, and packing a fast sprint he could fancy a small group of favourites battling it out at the line. It will be interesting to see how France approach tomorrow in general, with no “proper sprinter” they will no doubt be attacking throughout the day and making the race tough. Something that will help Gallopin a lot!

Daryl Impey.

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Last man on the list, Impey has had a fairly solid season in support of other riders at Orica. However, when presented with his own chances he has taken them, including a reduced bunch sprint in Catalunya earlier this year. A rider who’s climbing is very hit or miss, he showed some great form in the final week of the Tour, supporting Simon Yates deep into some of the stages. If he has those kind of legs tomorrow then he could be a real dark horse!

Prediction

We’ll see some fairly serious attacks around 50km out as teams try to make the race tough and ensure we don’t see a sprint. This will thin the bunch out going into the final 30km and the penultimate climb of Salmon Hill. Much like the women’s race, a smaller group will get away here but will be brought back due to a lack of cohesion ahead. This will then allow some riders to escape on the run-in before we hear the bell. A lot of the strong teams will be represented and with no impetus from behind, they stay away to the line.

Tony Gallopin to, erm, gallop home and take the win from a 7 rider sprint!

finish low

#SuperGallopinFantastic

Betting

Certainly a day to spread some punts around!

0.25pt EW Lutsenko @ 100/1 (would take 80s)

0.25pt EW Vakoc @ 200/1 (would take 150s)

0.25pt EW Impey @ 200/1 (would take 150s)

0.5pt EW Van Poppel @ 80/1 (would take 66s)

1pt EW Gallopin @ 66/1 (would take 50s)

 

Thanks as always for reading! Who do you think will win tomorrow? Could we see an upset on the cards, or will it be the cream rising to the top? Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

Vuelta a España 2017 Stage 13 Preview; Coín -> Tomares

Today’s Recap

A boring breakaway day they said…

Ahead Marczynksi took his second stage win, with Fraile and Rojas rounding out the podium behind.

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However, the majority of the action and excitement came from the GC group. Contador attacked with Roche on the last climb of the day, but the Irishman couldn’t live with the sprightly Spaniard’s pace. He then linked up with Theuns who had been in the break earlier in the day, and the two forged on, working well together. Maybe they were getting some practise in for Duo Normand?

Sky seemed fairly content to set the pace on the front of the peloton, but Froome then had a mechanical and a fall. Although the first mechanical may have been caused by a fall, I’m not too sure! Poels and Nieve dropped back to help him, but it was a tough chase.

Astana, Katusha and Bahrain shared the pace at the front of the peloton, but they became a bit disorganised in the closing few kilometres and allowed the race leader to close somewhat.

With all that said and done at the end of the stage, Contador gained 22 seconds on the “peloton” which itself gained 20 on Froome.

Will we see anything crazy happen tomorrow?

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

The Route

By Vuelta standards we have a sprinters stage on the cards!

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We do have some drags and falls in the opening 90km of the day but with over half the stage remaining the riders will be over the worst of it.

It is all about the finish tomorrow.

Of course, this is the Vuelta so we have approximately 9234323 roundabouts in the closing 5kms.

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The road is particularly narrow in parts so being positioned near the front will be crucial.

The many roundabouts will help to string the bunch out but so will the elevation gain in the closing kilometres.

As per, I’ve made a profile of the end of the stage that you can view fully/interactively here.

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According to VeloViewer/Strava, that opening rise we see is 1.14km at an average of 6.1% with the steepest gradient apparently touching 13%. Although if I’m honest, I do think that is a tad generous.

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It does look fairly steep and on the narrow road it could cause some issues for the riders moving up, while also being a great launchpad for someone to go on the offensive.

That section of climbing then crests with 2.5km left of the day.

The final kilometre of the stage averages 2.6%, with the peloton tackling two roundabouts in that time!

Things could get messy but the uphill drag should make the speeds slower and safer. Hopefully.

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We’ll see the peloton tackle the above roundabout at ~450m to go, before the final dash to the line.

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That dash to the line averages 4% for 350m apparently so the “sprinters” that we have here might find it difficult and there could be a few surprises at the line.

How will the stage pan out?

Given the lack of sprinters here and the amount of moves that have made it to the line over the past week, there is a good chance we might not actually see a sprint at the end of the day.

Instead, the break might be left to fight out stage honours.

Although, with it not being a pure sprint. Then a few teams with punchier riders might fancy their chances at bringing the break back to let their guys off the leash in the closing kilometres.

I think it comes down to the attitude of two teams though; Quick Step and Lotto Jumbo.

The former have a couple of options for a finish like this with Trentin and Alaphilippe both good candidates. If they don’t get anyone in the morning move, then I would expect to see them pull in the hope to bring the break back.

Likewise, Jumbo have a great candidate for stage victory with JJ Lobato. The Spaniard is from a town 100km from the finish so he is fairly “local” in that sense. Tomorrow’s stage looks tailor-made for him and he certainly won’t want to pass up the opportunity.

If these teams don’t get riders in the move and begin to chase, then another couple of teams might chip in with the workload.

With tomorrow being the only chance for a “sprint” until Madrid, I think we’ll see the peloton come to the finish together. Teams will work for their faster guys in the hope that they repay the favour over the coming week.

There is of course the chance that a late attack sticks tomorrow, as things could get very hectic. Lampaert round 2?!

“Sprinters”

Lobato.

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Loves an uphill finish and he should be able to cope with tomorrow no problem. He picked up a win in the Tour de l’Ain before the Vuelta and he followed that up with a second place to Trentin on Stage 4. Arguably one of the best riders in the world on his day on a ramp like this, if he’s in form then he could be tough to beat.

Trentin.

Speaking of in form, the Italian seems to be in great shape at the moment. His stage win from the breakaway was truly remarkable and he should be up there fighting for the honours again tomorrow.

Theuns.

Chicken-smuggling extraordinaire, the finish tomorrow is right on the Belgian’s limit I think. He is climbing better than ever but after a tough day up ahead today, he might be missing something in the finale tomorrow.

Molano.

Struck down by the Haughey Curse on Stage 4, this steeper run to the line is much more up his street so to say. This is his best chance of a good stage result all race and I have a feeling that he has been saving himself for it. Could we see yet another Colombian make his mark at the Vuelta?

Cort.

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With Chaves the only remaining Orica rider anywhere close in contention for GC, will the team use up some resources to help their sprinter? A strong rider, like Theuns, the rise to the line could be on his limit. Nonetheless, if he is there, then he has a great chance given his speed!

Modolo.

Not the first name you would think of for a finish like this but the Italian can climb well when needed. Back in the Tour of Croatia he took a superb win on the closing stage on a tricky finish, somewhat similar to this. He has been a bit “meh” in form as of late but you can’t discount him.

Andersen.

A wildcard rider for a finish like this, the rise in gradient brings him into play. He was 8th on Stage 4 and he’ll be Sunweb’s go to rider here. Both of his pro wins have come on stages that are very similar to this one, with some steady climbing at the end of the day. Can he continue on Sunweb’s great season?

Lutsenko.

Even more of a wildcard, the Kazakh has an under-rated sprint and like Andersen, the rise to the line levels the playing field for him. Who knows what he’ll produce!

Moscon.

Do Sky give one of their strongest rider some freedom to chase stage glory? No one has been given any leeway so far but tomorrow looks like an opportunity where they can do something for little effort. Climbing with some of the best in the race, if Moscon lays down the Watts, not many will be able to follow!

Vuelta Picks

Another tough day where there is a chance we could see a break make it all the way.

Safe Pick – GC rider – Meintjes.

Should finish close to the front of the bunch to avoid any splits.

Wongshot Pick – Sprinter – Andersen

I really rate his chances for tomorrow! Take your pick though…

Lanterne Rouge Pick – De Vreese

Crashed today and rolled home near the back. Will probably come home safely tomorrow as well.

Prediction

The sprinters to be surprised by the difficulty of the finish and a punchier rider to prevail. Soren Kragh Andersen to take the win!

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Betting

Definitely some value out there by not going for the proper “sprinters” so I’m going to up the ante pts wise today…

Andersen 1pt EW @ 66/1

Molano 1pt EW @ 66/1

Moscon 0.5pt EW @ 250/1

Watch it be a break now…

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

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

Vuelta a España 2017 Stage 12 Preview; Motril -> Antequera Los Dólmenes

Today’s Recap

A wet miserable day for the peloton or a typical Scottish summer day, take it as you will! It was another stage that it took the breakaway a while to establish, but we eventually had a group of 14 go clear.

In the end though the break never really had much of a chance as Orica started driving the pace early, reducing the gap to under a minute on the penultimate climb.

However, with no one else willing to take up the chase then things looked to swing back into the break’s hands. That was until Nibali called for action on the last climb of the day and soon the attackers were brought to heel.

A few probing attacks were made off the front of the race but it was Nibali who launched the first serious move in the closing 2kms. For a while it looked as if he had a good gap but Lopez countered strongly and bridged, with Froome in tow. The Colombian continued on, and with Nibali and Froome competing in a stare down, he held on to take his first Grand Tour win!

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Froome out-sprinted Nibali for second, with Kelderman finishing alongside the other two in 4th. There were some big time gaps behind today though and the GC was well and truly shaken up.

Will we something similar tomorrow?

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

The Route

We once again have a stage that has Valverde in mind!

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I do wonder how many of the previous break days would have been successful if the Spaniard was racing here.

Tomorrow’s stage starts with a lot of rolling road from the opening kilometre until we reach Nerja. Are 37km enough for the break to form? It hasn’t been the past few days!

From there, the route is almost pan flat as it travels further along the coast. However, as soon as we turn in-land, the riders will be greeted with the Cat-1 climb of Puerto del Léon.

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At 20.4km and averaging 4.6% it is a long climb but nothing of great danger for the GC guys. Furthermore, at almost 60km from the finish, it is too far out for any action.

The next climb might not be…

Puerto del Torcal is rather unkindly given Cat-2 status, as it is 7.6km long and averages 7% according to the road book!

Torco

It is more 8.6km at 6.3%, but that does include some false flat at the end of the climb. However, that low gradient is fairly deceptive, as the opening 4.5km averages a very testing 8.9%! This is where the better climbers will hope to make their mark before it flattens out near the top.

The riders will then descend before a fairly flat final 5kms.

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With that being said, the road does rise ever so slightly to the finish line; averaging roughly 3% for the final kilometre. Although the majority of that comes in the space of 600m.

Will we see a small group battle it out for the stage in a sprint?

How will the stage pan out?

With the weather in the Malaga area forecast to be a lot better than what the peloton has had over the past few days, I’m sure lots of riders will be hoping for a quieter day in the saddle.

There is of course a chance that some of the GC teams, possibly Bahrain and Sunweb, want to chase the break in the hope to set up their main riders. However, that will require a lot of work and with the downhill/flat finish their efforts will probably go unrewarded.

We’ll more than likely see the GC guys roll in together, with maybe only one or two guys dropped if they’re really suffering. Instead, they’ll save their energy for other days.

Consequently, this looks like an ideal day to get into the break.

TheBreakawayLottery

Break Candidates

With the tough rolling conditions at the start of the stage, it will take a strong rider to make the morning move. That’s if it goes in the first 30km or so, who knows how long it will take considering how this Vuelta is going!

Alexey Lutsenko.

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Astana are flying just now and I’m sure they’ll try to get someone in the move tomorrow. After his stage win on the 5th stage, the Kazakh has taken it relatively easy recently. Is he saving himself for another assault? Tomorrow’s stage looks great for him but the tough opening 5km of the last climb could be his downfall if we have some mountain goats up the road. Will he risk it all and go early? He’s certainly confident enough at the moment to do just that.

Nelson Oliveira.

It seems clear that Movistar are chasing the team prize this race so if a break goes tomorrow then they will certainly have a couple of riders up the road. The Portuguese rider was strong at the start of the race but has lost some time since then. This type of terrain looks good for him tomorrow and if he can hang on to the best climbers on the steeper slopes of the climb then he has a good chance at attacking and time trialing his way to victory.

Jack Haig.

Surely Orica’s second strongest rider has to be let of the leash tomorrow. He was excellent in helping pace Chaves today and sitting 17 minutes down now, he is no threat to the overall. A strong rider on the climbs but also on the flat, he will be one of the most well-rounded riders up the road. Can he take advantage of his good legs?

Tobias Ludvigsson.

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I think I could be backing him a lot this Vuelta but tomorrow’s stage looks good for the big Swede. Strong on the flat and strong on the climbs, he’s similar to a rider like Oilveira. If he is climbing as well as he was on the day of his failed break, but his successful whip, then he certainly has a chance!

Vuelta Picks

This is definitely becoming rinse and repeat…

Safe Pick – Oomen

Chose a GC rider and hope they finish in a reduced peloton behind the break. If you can, try to pick someone who isn’t a massive GC threat so that you save the “big guns” for other stages.

Wongshot Pick – Oliveira

Breakaway Lottery day

Lanterne Rouge Pick – Wallays

Seems to still be struggling from this injuries.

Prediction

Break to make it all the way and Movistar to get their stage win through Oliveira.

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Betting

0.5pt WIN on them all;

Lutsenko @ 28/1

Haig @ 33/1

Oliveira @ 150/1

Ludvigsson @ 200/1

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

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

Amstel Gold Race 2017 Preview

Amstel Gold Race 2017 Preview

The Ardennes classic that isn’t in the Ardennes!

Amstel Gold Race returns once again this year as the opener for our Ardennes classic week, with the 52nd edition of the race. The cobbled classics in the north of France and Belgium are finished with the attention now turning to the rolling hills of the Ardennes and Limburg regions. We’re in the latter on Sunday for Amstel!

Last year saw a late attack over the top of the Cauberg from Gasparotto and Valgren. They managed to just hold on to the line, with the Italian taking an emotional victory, dedicating the win to team-mate Demoitié.

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Behind, it was Colbrelli who won the bunch sprint for third place.

If I’m honest, the reason I prefer the Cobbled Classics over the Ardennes is because the cobbled races are much more attacking (they’ve been even more attacking this year) whereas the likes of Amstel come down to a sprint up the final climb. However, that might change this year due to two reasons; teams seem more keen to attack from far out, and the fact the final ascent of the Cauberg has been taking out.

Speaking of which…

The Route

At 261km in length and with 35 ascents in total, it’s not for the faint-hearted!

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@LasterketaBurua

Although they go over a lot of climbs in the first three-quarters of the route, I expect those climbs to more sap the legs than anything else and for the race to really heat up when we’re into the last 50km of the day.

The fast passage of 4 climbs in succession; Kruisberg; Eyserbosweg; Fromberg; and Keutenberg between the 220km and 235km will be a launch point for some “early” attacks in my opinion. We’ve seen this in the past with the likes of Nibali surging away at this point to put the hurt on the riders behind. Considering the way that the one-day races (aside from MSR) have gone this year so far, it is probably advised for most teams if they stay attentive and try to get at least one rider up the road at this point. Preferably it should be at least a second or third favourite in the team and one they would be relatively confident in winning the race so they have to do no effort whatsoever behind.

I say “early” as it would be early for this race considering its history but there would only be roughly 30km to the finish from that point. We’ve had winning moves go from further out this Spring so far!

The almost 10km of flat between the Keutenberg and the Cauberg will be important in the race. Good co-operation ahead could see that group build a large gap if a lot of the favourites teams are represented and there is an unwillingness to chase behind. Likewise, the opposite scenario has an equal chance of playing out.

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The Cauberg still could play a significant part in the race as it could be another launchpad for attacks. Once over the top, there’s only about 18km left in the race and not long until the penultimate climb; the Geulhemmerberg.

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Not an overly difficult climb, it does have some steepish ramps but it’s position at the end of the race is the main challenge. We then end with the Bemelerberg.

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Again it’s not an overly difficult climb, but depending on the racing before hand, we could see some small gaps here. There are then roughly 5km or so of flat before the sprint to the line, or will it…

How will the race pan out?

I expect an attacking race, although that might be wishful thinking more than anything else.

With the change of finish, the puncheurs can’t sit and wait because if they do, it’s game over as the “sprinters” we have here should be able to cope with the last two climbs easily.

Therefore, I expect attacks to come on the section of 4 climbs I highlighted above (at around 40km left), but I would not be surprised to see something relatively dangerous go even earlier than that.

It all then depends on who and what teams have made the split. As we saw in Brabantse on Wednesday, Direct Energie were very keen to chase to help Coquard but Sunweb were very disappointing in support of Matthews. The latter have a much stronger team here in support of the Aussie but they aren’t the type of riders you would rely on to chase down attacks all day.

The race is delicately poised between being a great afternoon of attacking cycling, or a snoozefest that’s controlled for a reduced bunch sprint. But if there is one race this week that has a chance of being won by what I would call a proper outsider, it is Amstel.

Contenders

There are obvious candidates for the win such as sprinters Matthews/Coquard/Colbrelli and Ardenne’s specialists like Gilbert/Valverde/Kwiatkowski, but as I think there is a chance we might get a relative shock of a winner and I’m nearly at 900 words already, I’m going to just name a shortlist of riders to keep an eye on in varying circumstances. So apologies if you were wanting an exhaustive list!

Lilian Calmejane.

Lilian-Calmejane

Aside from Van Avermaet, the Frenchman is arguably the form rider of the year; picking up 6 wins so far this season if you include his three GC wins. Most of his successes have come on rolling terrain and Amstel is the perfect platform for him to continue his outstanding season. Admittedly, this is a step up compared to the races he has been winning, but with a GT stage win already to his name, he must be confident! For him to win, he’ll need to be one of the riders involved in a far out attack and with a lot of teams represented, they stay away. He’s got an OK sprint compared to some other climbers, but more than likely he’ll have to come to the line solo. Allez Lilian!

Nathan Haas.

The Aussie had a great start to the year, finishing a very impressive 4th in the Tour Down Under and coming home 10th on the Green Mountain stage in Oman. Since then he’s struggled with allergies, particularly in Catalunya where he had to withdraw but his return to racing in Brabantse was promising. In fact, he looked good and was attentive at the front of the peloton in the final lap. The race on Wednesday will hopefully have opened the legs up and he’ll be an even greater fighting force come Sunday. I’m sure he’ll just be hoping for a bit more luck…

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Alexey Lutsenko.

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The Astana rider won the U23 World’s on this course back in 2012 after catching everyone by surprise and opening up his sprint early. Funnily enough though, it’s the change of course this year that gives him another chance of victory. The removal of the Cauberg helps the Kazakh as the professional peloton ride the climb more aggressively in Amstel than they did in that U23 2012 Worlds. With a solid sprint he has a chance of being up there in a reduced bunch gallop, but it’s his attacking nature that gives him the best chance of taking victory; whether that be from a breakaway or making a move in the final 3km as everyone hesitates behind. With his third in Dwars this season he’s highlighted his abilities as a rider and that big win is just around the corner for him I think.

Jens Keukeleire.

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A talented rider for a while who seemed to be hampered by bad luck or just underperformed when called upon. However, that changed in the second half of last season when he first of all won a stage in Slovenia but then followed it up with a very impressive sprint victory in the Vuelta. This year he’s been a bit off again so far, but it looked as if he was back to his best in when second in Gent Wevelgem. This change of course in theory should suit him and it will be interesting to see what role he takes in the Orica team along with Albasini/Gerrans/Impey. Definitely not a favourite, but he has a slim outside chance!

Prediction

I’m still torn between this race being great or extremely dull. Obviously I hope if it’s the former! The route change really throws a cat amongst the pigeons in terms of predictions and you’ll struggle to find anyone predicting the race with confidence.

Nonetheless, I’ll go for an exciting race and a win for a rider who’s been chasing that big win for a while, and his first part of the season has been aimed at this event. Nathan Haas to win!

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Betting

Definitely not a race to get heavily involved with;

Haas 0.5pt EW @50/1 with various (take the 4 places at Coral if you can)

Keukeleire 0.25pt EW @200/1 with Bet365 (take 150/1)

I tweeted out the Calmejane and Lutsenko picks midweek but they’ve since shortened.

Calemjane 0.25pt EW @250/1 (take 100s available but no less)

Lutsenko 0.25pt EW @200/1 (take 125s available but no less)

 

Thanks for reading and always any feedback is greatly appreciated. Who do you think will win? Will it be an open race or a dull one where everything stays together until the end? I’ll have my women’s Amstel preview out tomorrow so return for that! Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

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

GC Overview

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Route

A fairly dull stage to start the race off.

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Profile once again courtesy of @LasterketaBurua

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

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

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

“Sprinters”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Prediction

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

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

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Betting

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

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

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

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

 

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

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

Ronde van Vlaanderen 2017 Preview

Ronde van Vlaanderen 2017 Preview

It’s time for my favourite event of the year and a special race as it marks one year of this blog! To thank you all for your continued support I’ll be doing a competition tied in with my women’s preview (that will be out tomorrow), for a chance to win one of The Handmade Cyclist’s artworks. Well, more specifically their “De Ronde” one, obviously. So yeah, make sure you return tomorrow!

Right, now that those formalities are out of the road, let’s focus on this incredible race.

Last year saw an imperious Peter Sagan just ride away from Sep Vanmarcke on the Paterberg and even with a surging Fabian Cancellara the duo could not catch the Slovak.

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Will Sagan be able to double up this year? Let’s have a look at what’s in store for the riders.

The Route

I’m not going to bore you with a massive route analysis (like I normally would), as I’m sure if you’re anything like me you’ll have read plenty about it already this week!

The route in general is pretty much more of the same that we had last year, apart from they have added the Muur at around 90km to go. Although iconic, it will more than likely be too far out for a race winning move to be made there. Instead, we might see some lesser riders attempt to get up the road before it all kicks off.

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It’s once we pass the Paterberg for the first time at around 70km to go that the race starts to kick into action and theoretically a race winning move could go from this point onwards. However, the second passage of the Paterberg, which swiftly follows the Oude Kwaremont, will desolate the peloton if it’s still together.

From there, we’ll have attacks go up the road; groups working; groups not working; solo moves; teams having wrong riders in the right move, etc etc. It all gets a bit hectic to say the least!

With only 17km to go the riders then tackle the Oude Kwaremont once again.

This is where Sagan dropped everyone from the group in front apart from Vanmarcke, likewise Cancellara dropped those behind as he motored ahead trying to catch up. The open highway that follows the Kwaremont can see a regrouping, before they tackle the final climb of the day; the last ascent of the Paterberg.

Sagan blew the wheels off of Vanmarcke here last year.

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Once over the top it’s a 13km TT between the leaders and any chasers, before the traditional finish in Oudenaarde.

Normally the weather will play a part in this race but it looks pretty benign just now so I’m going to completely skip that section!

How will the race pan out? Team tactics.

Flanders is arguably the race in which the winner is more often than not the strongest rider on the day who gets a bit of luck. The reason for this in my opinion is due to the relentless nature of the cobbles and climbs in the closing third of the race, and due to the severe length of the event itself! A strong rider can create a massive gap on the Kwaremont and Paterbeg combination and with only 13km left, it’s hard to get a concerted chance organised.

Last year you could say without doubt that Sagan and Cancellara were the strongest riders in the peloton. Sagan in a sense you could argue got lucky that Cancellara didn’t follow the attacks at 31km left, and it’s hard to say how the race would have panned out if those two arrived at the bottom of the Paterberg together.

A similar situation may occur this year between Van Avermaet and Sagan, who are one step ahead of everyone else in my opinion, and probably yours too!

The only thing that can stop them is the attitude of Quick-Step. The Belgian outfit need to ride as aggressively as they did in Dwars and E3 if they want to have a good chance of success. They need to be in every move that goes up the road, either by following every move or attacking themselves. But more on that later!

Contenders

As I’ve just mentioned above, there are two clear favourites going by the bookmakers and anyone who watches this sport!

Defending champion Peter Sagan has looked his usual exceptional self this year. His attack in Milan San Remo was incredible, as was his stage win in Fermo during the Tirreno Adriatico, but oddly enough there are some people who suggest he’s not going well. He has only won one one-day race this season so far, Kuurne Brussels Kuurne, which is pretty poor from him so they might be right…

Is he suffering from being Sagan? Yeah, I think so, but this is the one race a year where being Sagan doesn’t matter as much. If he’s feeling good, he can simply ride away from everyone on the final double ascent of the Kwaremont/Paterberg like we saw last year. The issue for him will be ensuring that he’s in contention going into that final 15km. Therefore, he’ll need to attack/follow the attacks from where he did last year. Re-watching last week’s Gent Wevelgem, he clawed back almost 8 bike lengths on his main rival Van Avermaet on the Kemmelberg. That’s Flanders winning form!

Talking about Van Avermaet, he was the number one performer of the week just gone by and is Sagan’s main challenger.

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Three one-day World Tour wins already this season, the Olympic champion is flying. He’s beaten Sagan in a sprint (Omloop); won against tough opposition in another sprint (E3); and outsmarted his opponents (Gent Wevelgem). Results wise, he is the rider to beat! He doesn’t seem to pack the same punch up the cobbled climbs as Sagan does, but he benefits tactically from not being Sagan. He seems not to have the same aura amongst the peloton and riders are more inclined to work with him.

However, I think that might change going into this weekend and he’ll struggle with being Van Avermaet. If you’re going to lose to Sagan in a sprint, you’re more than likely going to lose to Van Avermaet in a sprint as well. So why work with him more than the Slovak?

But hey, as you know if you’ve read this blog for a while, DS’ don’t seem to think as outside the box as I do!

Quick-Step have the best chance of beating the two favourites, due to the number of riders in their team that theoretically could have a chance of winning this race, sorry Keisse and Vermote! The rest, all on their day and given the right group could win. Gilbert will be their pre-race favourite and given his scintillating form, he certainly looks the rider best suited to challenge Sagan and GVA.

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He will be able to follow them for the majority of the race and that’s what I would have him do. Let him sit in for most of the race, marking those two out of it. It’s a defensive strategy, using their form rider to mark others, but that’s the teams best chance of winning.

Boonen hasn’t looked in tip-top shape but with only two races left in his career, you would expect him to go well. As much as he would love to win this, I think it might be all about for Roubaix with him. I would save him all-day, hoping he can get close on the Paterberg and that it comes back for a reduced sprint.

Therefore, QS should be attacking from around 70km left with the rest of their riders. Although Lampaert did great in Dwars for the blog, he’s just not strong enough yet on the cobbled climbs to compete here in my opinion. Like Boonen, he is more of a Roubaix kind of guy. I’m not saying he won’t try to get up the road, but he’s not their best option for that.

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So that leaves the triple header of Trentin, Stybar and Terpstra, the three riders who made the front group of around 16 in Gent Wevelgem. Trentin is probably the weakest on this terrain and his past results haven’t been that great. Yet, he’s looked very good this season so far and seems to have taken a step up on the cobbled climbs so he can’t be ruled out, especially if he goes in a move at around 50km to go that stays away until the end. Stybar and Terpstra are their aces in the pack though for long-range moves and I would suggest they both need to be up the road before GVA and Sagan make their attack. If they are, I would be confident enough in Gilbert nullifying them before we get to the last 17km and by then it might be too late to bring back.

The only issue with that is if another big team misses the move and has enough firepower to chase. Who will that team be working for?

Kristoff looks the best of the rest on current form. He’s been unlucky in the first few cobbled classics but his efforts in De Panne were exceptional. In particular, it was his TT that stood out for me. Not a discipline he favours, he lost only 2 seconds to Durbridge who himself is going very well just now. The Norwegian loves this race, having finished 15th/4th/5th/1st/4th in the past 5 years. He will be there or thereabouts at the end of the race!

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Trek have one of the strongest teams here so they will likely aid in a chase if they miss a move. Degenkolb has looked OK so far this season, but it pains me to say, that he is still missing that extra 5% after his crash last year. I can’t see him winning here unless he goes early, but I think he’ll be marked out of it in that situation. Theuns looked tired towards the end of De Panne and Stuyven has been struggling the past week or so with his form. Time for Felline to step up and make that crucial early move!

Naesen (AG2R) has performed exceptionally well over the past 6 months but this could be a tough ask for him, he’s bound to dip in form soon. Surely?!

Lotto have been awful but their saviour Benoot returns this weekend after missing Gent Wevelgem. He almost guarantees a top 10 result but needs to be attacking to get higher up the pecking order, which he might just do.

Sky have been awful the past week and I haven’t seen anything to think they’ll turn that around here. Which is always when they seem to go well!

Boasson Hagen and Thwaites have been going well, albeit quietly, the past few weeks. Like so many others, they’ll need to be up the road before the fireworks kick off behind.

Durbridge will hope to continue his good form but he seems more of a Roubaix man. The same goes for Demare.

I’d love to see Lutsenko get a top 10 placing which I think is a possibility. He’s been 22nd then 14th in the past two editions.

Vanmarcke still doesn’t look great after his injury and illness.

Prediction

I’m really stuck on the fence with this one because I don’t know if I can trust Quick Step to use the same tactics I would. If they do, the race is theirs for the taking, as long as they get some help from other teams to beat GVA and Sagan.

If not, the race is Sagan’s to lose. I know GVA is in great form but even he will fear what Sagan can do on the Paterberg. If there is a 3 second gap at the top, then it’s race over!

Hmmmmm.

Right…

I think the teams will take a similar approach to GVA as they do to Sagan and will not want to work with him 100%. Therefore, various teams will be keen to get numbers ahead before the final 20km. With Gilbert shadowing the Big 2, QS will get Terpstra and Stybar up the road, along with Felline and a few others, with maybe the likes of Oss there for BMC.

He and his team didn’t get it right in GW, but they won’t make that mistake here. Terpstra to win!

BELGIUM CYCLING DWARS DOOR HET HAGELAND 2016

Betting

Already have 1pt WIN on Terpstra from the other week at 25/1 (would take 22s)

Adding;

Stybar 1pt WIN @25/1 with various bookmakers (would take 22s)

Felline 0.5pt EW @ 80/1 with various bookmakers (would take 66s)

Kristoff to beat Degenkolb at 11/10 with PaddyPower (would take it at 4/6 elsewhere Betfair/Bet365). 6pts.

 

Thanks for reading as always and any feedback is greatly appreciated. Who do you think will win and how will they manage to do so? Remember to return tomorrow for my women’s preview and the competition! Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

 

 

 

E3 Harelbeke 2017 Preview

E3 Harelbeke 2017 Preview

E3 Harelbeke has the illustrious history of being named after a road. Don’t let its dull naming history put you off though, as this race is often heralded as a “mini Flanders” and the action normally lives up to that billing!

Last year saw Kwitakowski and Sagan attack with 30km to go and they were not to be seen again! The Pole caught Sagan napping in the sprint, taking it up early and ended up winning with relative ease.

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The recent MSR winner is not here to defend his title, but we still have a whole host of talented riders looking to take centre stage.

First though, let’s have a look at what’s in store for the them.

The Route

A day packed with hills and cobbles. My kind of race!

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Profile once again courtesy of @LasterketaBurua.

Like Dwars, the day slowly builds to a crescendo, although we do have some difficulties earlier in the stage. The first challenge of the day is the Oude Kruisberg and from there we have an obstacle every 10 kilometres or so on average.

However, the decisive point of the race will probably be between the 45km-35km to go with the triple threat of; the Kapelberg; Paterberg; and Oude Kwaremont.

If there is no made on the first two climbs, there will certainly be an explosion on the Kwaremont.

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View the Strava segment here.

The 4% average gradient on Strava doesn’t do it justice because as you can see in the image above, it’s mainly flat or false-flat for the first 600m. It then pitches up from 0.8km to 1.5km, averaging 7.9%. Remember, this is all on cobbles as well! If you’re not on a good day here then you’ll be out the back in no time.

Once over the Kwaremont the bunch will have little time for rest as they’ll soon be on the Karnemelkbeekstraat at just over 30km to go. This is where last year’s duo made their move!

From there, we only have one more hill and cobbled section so it will be a frantic chase home and run to the line in Harelbeke.

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It’s not an overly difficult run in but the twisting nature of it does give the group up ahead the advantage of often being out of sight.

Contenders

Without the defending champion here, I guess we better start with that average cyclist who finished 2nd last year…

Peter Sagan obviously comes into this race as favourite, like he does for almost every one day race he starts! His team looks fairly poor, but Postlberger looked good in Dwars so maybe he can protect Sagan for a while. However, the World Champion is used to riding races unaided. The one problem with Sagan being Sagan, is that very few riders will want to ride with him in a group that might be chasing the leaders. Therefore he will be leant on to do a lot of the work. Yet, if he’s in a similar mood to his San Remo outing then he may well just attack himself and his opposition will have to be in exceptional form to follow!

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Quick Step will be hoping to use strength in numbers to beat the Slovak and everyone else. They bring their crack squad of classics riders with them, although Lampaert will sit this one out. In Boonen, Gilbert, Stybar, Terpstra and even Trentin they have potential winner candidates. With this type of parcours though, I would have to favour Stybar and Terpstra as their best options. They both looked very strong in Dwars to attack from the 3rd to the 2nd group on the road, halting that groups progress and helping their team-mates ahead build up a lead. Stybar looked good, but I think the Dutch rider looked even better, bridging across to his team-mate relatively comfortable even though Stybar was going full gas.

Greg Van Avermaet will be hoping to repeat his Omloop victory earlier in the season tomorrow. After looking very strong in Strade, he was a bit disappointing in Tirreno and MSR. His BMC team looks strong, but I’m still not convinced by how many of them can be there at the end and offer much support. Nonetheless, as one of the best classics riders in the peloton, he certainly can’t be discounted!

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Sky bring a solid squad but it will no doubt be up to the diamond duo of Rowe and Stannard for them. Both riders are exceptional on their day but I’m sure they would have hoped for some worse weather! They each won a stage in the Herald Sun Tour but the Welshman performed much better in the opening semi-classics. Sky have not finished off the podium in the past three editions, can they make it 4-in-a-row tomorrow?

After a disappointing Dwars, Trek bring Degenkolb and Stuyven into the team. It’s good to see the German back to near his best and he certainly can contend here. My one concern is that he struggled to follow Sagan in MSR on the Poggio, maybe Paris Roubaix is more suited to him than a Flanders style course. Stuyven has looked very impressive this season so far and is certainly living up to the hype surrounding him. Having numbers near the pointy end of the race will be important for any team, but Trek should have at least two. Felline might even turn himself into a third option.

Lotto Soudal are another team that had a disappointing Dwars. They only had Wallays up the road but he wasn’t able to follow the big move when it counted. Benoot and Gallopin were left frustrated behind, with the young Belgian sprinting to 7th place. I think he’ll go a lot better tomorrow! Could he win his first professional race?

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In the three Belgian races he’s competed in so far this season, Naesen has finished in the top 10 of them all. He was terribly unlucky in Dwars with a mechanical but showed just how strong he is right now, managing to get back to the second group and sprint for 6th. With Vandenbergh by his side, they can certainly roll over a few hills and cobbles!

There are obviously lots of other riders who could have a chance, such as Vanmarcke, Durbridge and Lutsenko but I think I’ll stop the list there as I could go on for a while.

Prediction

A very tough race where numbers will once again be important. Sagan will more than likely be forced to do a lot of the work chasing others and to be honest, I don’t think he cares for winning this race. So he might just call some riders’ bluff and sit on. Conversely, he could easily just romp away from everyone!

Nonetheless, I don’t think he wins.

Instead, it will be Niki Terpstra who this time will solo away from the opposition.

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I was impressed with the way he was riding in Tirreno, and have had him shortlisted for this race (and Flanders next weekend) since then. His tandem attack with Stybar has convinced me that his form is in the right place, and I think he can make it two from two for Quick Step, and everyone will forget about their poor opening weekend in February!

Betting

Other than Terpstra there are two riders I want on my side and after Wednesday, I’m being a bit gung-ho with the stakes. The odds are shorter than Lampaert after all!

2pts WIN Terpstra @ 16/1 with Bet365 (would take 12s)

1pt WIN Naesen @ 28/1 with B365 (would take 22s)

1pt WIN Benoot @ 25/1 with B365 (would take 20s)

Prices might be better else where but I can’t be bothered looking!

Also,

1pt WIN Terpstra for Flanders @ 25/1 with various bookmakers

Thanks as always for reading and as usual any feedback is greatly appreciated. Who do you think will win E3 and how? Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

Dwars Door Vlaanderen 2017 Preview

Dwars Door Vlaanderen 2017 Preview

The 72nd edition of this race returns tomorrow and marks the start of the run up to the Tour of Flanders a week on Sunday. Dwars Door often provides exciting racing and the route is finely balanced between a small bunch sprint or a group of strong men making it to the line. Plus it’s midweek Belgian cobbled racing! Who doesn’t like midweek Belgian cobbled racing?!

Last year saw a prematurely celebrating Coquard beaten to the line by Debuscherre, with Theuns rounding out the podium.

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That was one of the larger bunch sprints for a while but still only 34 riders crossed the line in that front group. It gives you an idea of how tough and attritional this race can be!

Let’s have a look at what’s in store for the riders in 2017.

The Route

Much the same as the route we’ve had the past few years, apart from an 800m cobbled section has been added around 7km from the finish line.

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Profile once again by @LasterketaBurua.

An easy start to the day, the second half of the route is pretty challenging. There is either a hill or some cobbles to traverse roughly every 10 kilometres from 90km to go until the finish. This makes it a battle of attrition at times, and is why we often don’t see a bunch sprint into Waregem.

Several of the famous cobbled climbs are raced over here, such as; the Taiienberg; the Oude Kwaremont; and the Paterberg. It is these famous stretches of road that can tear the peloton in to bits and help a group of strong riders escape.

Once through the Varent cobbled section at roughly 23km to go, the chase could well be on from the remnants of the peloton but only if there are enough teams interested in bringing a break back and if they cooperate together.

The run in to the line is fairly simple with only a few roundabouts to negotiate.

One factor that often can play a massive part on this race is the…

Weather

The riders I’m sure, well apart from the Belgians, will be happy to know it looks as if it won’t rain during the day. Even if it does, it should only be a sprinkling! Much to the viewers disappointment.

However, it does look as if we will get reasonably strong winds. Now that’s more promising and what I like to hear!

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Forecast for Wevelgem. Source: Wunderground.

25km/h crosswinds aren’t crazily strong, but they are enough to cause splits and echelons in the peloton if the pressure is on. Here’s hoping!

 How will the race pan out?

I think we’ll see a more attacking race than we got last year and the day won’t come down to a 40 rider sprint.

The reason I say this is similar to my reasoning for an attacking MSR; so many of the puncheurs and cobbled riders seem to be in form at the moment and going very strongly. Most teams arrive with sprint and attacking options, so I think it’s very unlikely that we’ll just see them settle for a nice-group ride and a sprint to the line.

However, this all depends on the composition of the group that makes it up the road and the strong teams will need to be there. I imagine that the attack will need to contain riders from at least the following teams; Lotto Soudal, Quick Step and Trek. You can probably add Orica, FDJ and BMC to that list too!

So for the contenders I won’t be including sprinters.

Contenders

Defending champions Lotto Soudal have a strong team with them but I imagine Benoot and Roelandts will be their co-leaders. The former was unlucky with a crash earlier in the season but he is exceptionally talented and I’m sure will be looking to bounce back before the Ronde and Paris Roubaix. With a solid sprint after a tough day he has a chance of taking his first pro win, but he will need some luck. Like his younger counterpart, Roelandts’ packs a good kick and he’ll be counting on experience to pull through for him!

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Quick Step have a ridiculously strong squad with them and the race itself probably hinges on their attitude. Looking down the start list I could quite feasibly argue for most of their squad making any split in the race. From there, it’s just a case of how they play it. In the past they’ve been quite defensive (the 3 on 1 against Stannard springs to mind) but they should in my opinion approach this aggressively. Or at least I would, which probably means they won’t! Terpstra is the obvious choice to send up the road, but Gilbert and Lampaert offer good options as well. I think Stybar will be saving himself for later in the week.

Theuns will be Trek’s main card to play here, but he’ll be ably supported by Felline. Both of the riders are similar in style, but the Belgian is better on the cobbles with Felline being the better climber. Theuns has finished 2nd and 3rd here the past two years and will be hoping to go one spot higher this time round. I sure would love that as he’s in my season long fantasy team! A very capable rider, he should make the splits on the cobbled climbs and from there it’s a case of making the right moves and getting a bit lucky.

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Orica have a few riders who could challenge here if their on a good day, and in particular Durbridge and Keukeleire. I always think Durbridge is older than he is, I’m amazed he’s only 25, he’s been around for what seems an eternity! Once just a TT specialist, he has really transformed in to a great all round rider, his 6th place in Strade is testament to that. Certainly not a guy that should be given much leeway off the front of the bunch. As for Keukeleire, it was good to see him back challenging at the pointy end of a race in the Vuelta last year, after a few seasons of underperforming. With a fast sprint after a tough day, he could certainly take victory if a small group comes to the line!

A few other riders to keep an eye out on who could well go on the attack and be up there at the finish are Naesen (AG2R), Lutsenko (Astana), Backaert (Wanty), Ligthart (Roompot) and Petit (Direct Energie).

Prediction

As I’ve stated above, I think with the wind conditions we’ll get this edition, the race will be harder than last year and we won’t see a reduced bunch sprint of around 40 riders. Instead, there will be a couple of selections throughout the day and having numbers near the end of the race will be important. I can guarantee Quick Step will have numbers and if Gaviria is not in the group they won’t be waiting around for a sprint. Conversely, they may also even attack if he is in the group as they will be leant on by the other teams!

So I’m going to go for a Quick Step rider who can time trial and sprint from a very reduced group to cover both options of a late attack or sprint. Yep, that’s right, local hero Yves Lampaert to win!

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The rider from Izegem is one that I rate highly and mentioned during the earlier cobbled semi-classics. Heralded as the next big Belgian cobbled talent, he has failed to live up to the mark so far, but that might just well change tomorrow!

Betting

Difficult race to predict and one I don’t want to overly get involved with so a few bets for interest;

1pt WIN Lampaert @ 66/1 with various (would take 50s)

0.5pt EW Keukeleire @ 66/1 with various (would take 50s)

 

Thanks for reading! Who do you think will win tomorrow? Will we get a big bunch sprint, reduced sprint or a sol attack?! Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

Milano-Sanremo 2017 Preview

Milano-Sanremo 2017 Preview

The first monument of the year and the longest race in the calendar returns this weekend; Milan -> Sanremo!

Like most MSR’s, last year’s edition built slowly to a climax, with the closing kilometre being exceptionally exciting.

We had Gaviria crashing, almost taking out Sagan and Cancellara if it was not for some incredible bike handling, but what else would you expect from that pair! That left the door open for some other riders and Roelandts opened up the sprint early which caught everyone off guard. Swift followed (finishing 2nd in the end), Bouhanni looked strong but had a mechanical and came home 4th. Instead, it was a rather dubious win for Arnaud Démare in the end after there were accusations he got a tow from the team car back to the peloton after a crash. Nonetheless, it was an impressive sprint from the Frenchman and with the way he is riding this season so far, he could well make it back to back wins!

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

The Route

A carbon copy of what we’ve had the past few years pretty much.

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A real race of attrition, the peloton doesn’t get close to this distance in any other race. The extra 50km compared to some other monuments and almost 100km on normal stage-race stages really adds another element. The climbs of the Cipressa and the Poggio if taken alone aren’t difficult at all.

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Yet, with them being the only place for the climbers and puncheurs to make a move they are always attacked at a ferocious pace. Plus, with 260km already in the legs, riders will be nervous as to how their body reacts.

We might see some long-range attacks on the Cipressa before the puncheurs try to break the hearts of the sprinters on the Poggio. It’s often a battle between attacking classics riders and the sprinter’s team-mates for control of the race. Once over the crest of the Poggio, it’s time for a daredevil descent into Sanremo itself.

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Once off the descent we have roughly 2km of flat to the finish. There will no doubt be more attacks here as the riders regroup. Will the sprinters have enough team-mates left to chase and control the race? Or will we even see non-sprinters chase down other non-sprinters? Inadvertently helping the sprinters who are with them!

The famous finish along the via Roma awaits.

How will the race pan out?

Going off of recent trends, the race certainly seems to live up to its nickname of “The Sprinter’s Monument”.

In the last 5 years, the number of riders in the leading group at the finish has swelled; 2012 (3); 2013 (7); 2014 (25); 2015 (26); 2016 (31). Why is that?

Well, the removal of the “Le Manie” climb in 2014 swung the race back towards bunch gallops. Although it came around 100km from the finish, it sapped away at the sprinters legs a lot earlier and ensured that they tackled the climbs at the end of the race with a bit more fatigue. You could also argue that sprinters in general seem to have got better at climbing over the past few years, but I’m not sure the likes of Kittel will agree!

Oddly enough though, I do still think we’ll see one of the more attacking MSRs for a while. I’m not saying it won’t come down to a sprint in the end, but with so many puncheurs in great form coming into the race, I’m sure they won’t want to wait until the sprint to end up 6th-10th place. There will be a slight headwind when the riders turn onto the Poggio, but the majority of the climb will be a tailwind. Will this inspire the attackers?

If a select group can make it over the top of the Poggio and work well together then they can make it to the finish. However, the issue is that they have to co-operate, if not, then they have no chance.

I actually think someone like Sagan might attack on the Poggio.

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The World Champion is clearly in scintillating form but I’m sure even he will be concerned with the quality of sprinters that can make it over the final climb if the pace isn’t too high. He is the one of the fastest men in the World after a tough day and I’m sure he’ll do everything in his powers to ensure that he has the best chance at winning the race. Being beaten by Gaviria in Tirreno this week gone by won’t have done his confidence much use, but I guess Sagan being Sagan, he doesn’t need any more confidence!

Another reason I think Sagan might not wait around for a sprint is that Bora also have the handy second card to play of Sam Bennett. The Irishman took a breakthrough and much deserved win in Paris-Nice, beating some of the fastest pure sprinters in the World. That impressed me, but what impressed me more was his intermediate sprint win the next day. “Eh?!” I can imagine you say, thinking I’ve clearly lost the plot. Well, that intermediate sprint came after the stage started with a Cat-1 climb and the peloton was only 60-riders strong over the top, with the likes of Demare being dropped. Not Bennett though, he was up there beating Matthews and Gilbert. He certainly seems to have found his climbing legs and the Poggio shouldn’t be a challenge for him! Which leads me on to the other sprinters here…

Sprinters

We have plenty of them here, with only Kittel, Greipel and Groenewegen being the notable absentees.

I’m not going to bore you with a little bit on each sprint option (plenty of others will cover them more succinctly and concisely), as I’m already close to the 1000 word mark and I have a few other scenarios/riders I want to cover. So like I’ve been doing quite a bit recently, I’m going to focus on one rider and he’s a selection that might surprise you!

Mark Cavendish.

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The 2009 winner has had a relatively uninspiring but solid start to his 2017 season, picking up only one victory so far in Abu Dhabi. He wasn’t competitive at this race last year due to his Olympics build up, but will be hoping for better this year. Nonetheless, he looks like a tough rider to argue for, yet I’ll give it my best shot.

It’s his slow burning season that’s actually making me believe in his chances here. Before the Tour last year I had written him off as he didn’t seem to be having a great year and seemed past it. He went on to win 4 stages. Before the World Champs I ruled him out as he said he was ill in the week leading up to the event and had gone a bit off the boil post TDF, with only a 6th at Paris-Tours being a notable result. He went on to finish second. Really though, he should have won! He just chose the wrong wheel and got a bit boxed in. There is a recurring theme here; just when he seems to be out of it, he bags a result. The Manxman certainly knows how to peak for key targets. His recent performance in Tirreno fits the above agenda quite nicely and reminds me of a certain Irishman.

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The above screenshot is from an interview in Rouleur magazine with Sean Kelly (view it here). Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?

Write off Cavendish at your peril this weekend!

Outsiders

There are plenty of puncheurs and classics riders I could highlight but I’m returning to Dimension Data for my second rider.

Edvald Boasson Hagen has long been a favourite of mine. The guy oozed class and talent on a bike and it’s a shame for him he’s around in the same era as the likes of Sagan and GVA as I feel he gets overlooked at times.

The Norwegian was on the attack here in the final kilometres last year and only a few managed to follow him. I expect something similar this year, even if Cavendish makes it over the top of the Poggio in the main group. He’s without a win this season but he has looked strong in Strade, bridging across to the front group on his own. Likewise, his two top 10 TT results indicate to me that he’s peaking a lot more slowly this year compared to his blistering start last season. He can win solo by attacking, or could take out a sprint win from a small group and I don’t think there would be many cycling fans out there who would begrudge a Boasson Hagen win!

My final rider is a proper outsider and one that I have mentioned a lot over the past week in Paris Nice; Alexey Lutsenko.

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The Astana man has had a strong but fruitless start to the season. He was never outside the top 30 in Oman and finished a very respectable 11th in the tough TT during Paris Nice. The Kazakh outfit are without a top quality sprinter in their squad, but Lutsenko can certainly fill the void. Like EBH, he is capable of attacking late on in the race or challenging for the win in a very reduced sprint. He did win the U23 World’s in a very similar fashion! A talented rider who I think is going to have a very good season, a win here would certainly shock a few but not me. He will still need some luck to go his way, but who doesn’t here!

Prediction

A sprint is the most likely option but I think we’ll see a more attacking race this year and a move within the final 2km could well stick. He tried it last year and was unlucky to be marked out of it, but I think this year he might just make it with everyone else marking Sagan. Boasson Hagen to take a memorable victory!

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Betting

Cavendish 1pt EW @18/1 with Bet365 (Would take down to 14s available elsewhere)

Boasson Hagen 0.75pts EW @80/1 with Bet365 (Would take down to 50s)

Lutsenko 0.25pts EW @300/1 with PP/Bet365 (Would take down to 200s).

 

Thanks very much for reading and any feedback is greatly appreciated as always. Who do you think is going to win La Classicissima? Will we see a sprint or a late attack stick? Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

 

 

 

Paris Nice 2017 Stage 3 Preview; Chablis -> Chalon-sur-Saône

Today’s Recap

Another miserable day but we did get a modestly sized bunch gallop in Amilly as was expected. What was not expected however was the winner, Sonny Colbrelli. The Italian delivered an incredibly impressive sprint to hold off the likes of Degenkolb and Démare.

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I could have written yesterday’s preview 10 times and I don’t think Colbrelli’s name would ever be involved. Normally a great sprinter after a tough climbing day, maybe that should just be changed to a tough day in general?!

As for the blog bets, another annoying day as all 3 selections finished in the main peloton but either didn’t have the legs or weren’t positioned well in the closing kilometre. Oh well, on to tomorrow! Let’s have a look at what’s in store for the riders.

The Route

The tougher of the sprint stages in terms of terrain, we have two categorised climbs in the final 70km of the stage.

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The Côte de Grandmont is 2.4km at 4.9%, with the Côte de Charrecey being 2.1km long and an average gradient of 6.7%.

Not the toughest climbs in the world, but the Charrecey could certainly see the bunch split, especially after the tough two days we’ve already had. There are some tired bodies out there!

The run in is flat, but rather technical in the last 5km.

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As you can see, they have to traverse 3 roundabouts and a few sharp turns. Thankfully the final 2kms are straightforward but I imagine the peloton will be strung out by then so the fight for position will be crucial at just after 5km to go.

That is if we get a whole peloton coming into the finish together…

Weather Watch

It looks set to be another windy day for the bunch, well, at least the start of the day. The riders will also be thankful that it looks like they’ll miss the rain!

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The above forecast is for Noyers which is roughly 20km into the stage. As you can see, the wind isn’t as strong as it has been the past couple of days but at a constant speed of 20km/h it still has the potential to cause some damage. Particularly when you consider the direction of it and the fact that there will be a lot of tired bodies in the peloton.

How will the stage pan out?

I’m in two minds about this one.

We could well see a relatively straightforward sprint stage, with the strong sprint teams controlling the race all day. This is the easy option.

However, I am one to over think things tactically at times and the Cat-2 climb at 30km throws a spanner into the works. I’m not sure the likes of Kittel will make it over in the bunch because the smaller sprinters, such as Colbrelli, will want a high pace to get rid of the proper fast men. Therefore, will the likes of QuickStep and Lotto work all day?  Also you have to consider how brutal it has been the past couple of days so will the sprint teams have the energy to control everything all day? We saw today how tired Greipel, Kittel and Kristoff seemed at the end of the stage. With an important GC day coming up on Wednesday, I think a few of the riders will want to save their legs for that.

I think I’ve just convinced myself. Tomorrow is a day for the breakaway or late-attackers. The only issue is if FDJ get overly defensive with their yellow jersey.

There are plenty of riders who are no threat at all on GC in this race, even some of those within a minute of the leader, so choosing who might make the move is a lottery. They’ll need to be a decent climber but also strong on the flat and once again I find myself returning to a few names I threw into the hat on stage 1.

Break Contenders

Alexey Lutsenko.

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The Kazakh rider made a half-hearted attack today that was quickly nullified. You could argue that it was a poor attack and that he didn’t look strong, but I’m blinded by my PFCL3 loyalty (a season long fantasy game on Twitter for those unaware) and I think it was a dig more in anger than anything else. The end of this stage looks a carbon copy of the one he won here last year, just the start of it is nowhere near as hard. He’s a danger if he makes the break!

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Excerpt from the Astana website

Oliver Naesen.

With Bardet out of the race, the AG2R riders will be given freedom to attack. Naesen sprinted to 7th place today after missing the split on Sunday, getting a slightly “easier” rider then. A very tough rider who’s clearly on good form he’ll relish the possibility of the break making it tomorrow. Not afraid of an attack, he is certainly one to keep an eye on!

Mauro Finetto.

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My third re-selection from Sunday’s stage. Like Naesen, Finetto missed the split on the first stage but finished with the bunch today. He’s in very solid form this early season, picking up one win and several top 10 finishes. A very under-rated rider in my opinion, he should cope with the climbs easily and has a good sprint from a reduced bunch at the end of the day.

(I may also be blinded by PFCL3 loyalty with him too!)

Adding to the three from Sunday, there is one more rider I’d like to add.

Tony Martin.

Finished relatively well on stage 1 and in the second group today managing to have an “easier” day. He looked very strong on the first stage, doing a lot of the work in the chase for Zakarin, clawing back a lot of the gap himself. His form seems to be on the up for the Classics and we’ve seen in the past him attacking the day before a TT to stretch his legs. Give him a gap and he’ll be hard to bring back!

Prediction

Peloton takes it relatively easily and a rider in good form capitalises. Oliver Naesen to take the win!

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Betting

0.3pt WIN on them all.

Naesen @ 66/1 with Betfair

Finetto @ 125/1 with Bet365

Lutsenko @ 80/1 with PaddyPower

Martin @ 80/1 with Betfair

Not wrote anything above about him but also adding Claeys at 300/1 with Bet365. As the price he’s at appeals, brute of a rider and Cofidis will now be attacking without Bouhanni.

So it’s 1.5pt in total staked across them.

Obviously prices might be better elsewhere later so keep an eye out!

Thanks as always for reading and as usual any feedback/discussion is greatly appreciated. Do you think we’ll see a break make it or will it be another sprint? Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.