Vuelta a España 2017 Stage 10 Preview; Caravaca Jubilar -> Elpozo Alimentacion

Yup, I’m still not 100% over Cannondale’s tactics on Stage 9. Moving on…

No “Rest-day recap” or that from today as I am short of time so let’s get straight into what is in store for the riders tomorrow!

The Route

An easy stage by Vuelta standards with only 1350m of  elevation gain…

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It just so happens to be though that the majority of it all comes at once.

The day starts off simply, with a small uncategorised climb at the 6km mark. From there, the next 65km or so are all false-flat descent pretty much, before we hae another 50km of flat.

It will take some luck but also strong legs to get into the break on the day!

There is one clear test for the stage; the back-to-back Cat-3 then Cat-1 ascents. Combined together, it looks like the following.

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21.3km at 4.8% isn’t too tough for a professional peloton, but it is not exactly easy either. The first 15km in fact are perfect for the stronger, all-round guys in the bunch who can put out a massive power. However, it is the final 6km that could be difficult. Averaging just over 7.5%, this is where the lighter, more traditional climbers will hope to make a difference.

Once over the top of the climb, the riders will face a very technical descent which could be made worse by the predicted bad weather.

Let’s hope everyone stays upright!

With 22km of mostly descent to the finish line, there is a good chance the riders over the climb first will contest for the stage win. Unless anyone takes some risks from behind on said descent!

How will the stage pan out?

Another break?

With the way this Vuelta is going then yes, I think that’s what is most likely!

Sky will have been in dreamland after Stage 9, getting a stage win while doing no more than 5% of the work throughout the day. With that chalked off and Froome in a strong position, they no longer need to risk riding for stage glory, and they can let the bonus seconds be taken by a rider up the road. Not that they were chasing for many stages anyway!

The threat of bad weather also helps the breakaway in the sense that a few of the GC guys might want an easier descent and reduce their risk of crashing because they won’t be going full gas. Conversely though, someone who is a very competent descender could make some large gaps. It is perfectly posed in that respect!

We could see a team help chase but I’m scratching my head as to who that would be. Quick Step for Alaphilippe? Or Cannondale again? 🙈

It makes no sense for a team to do that, so we’ll once again see a big fight to get into the break.

Break Candidates

I named 4 hopefuls on Twitter before, but I’m going to add another to that list now…

Tobias Ludvigsson.

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What a showman! The Swede looked very strong in the breakaway on Stage 9 and he was the only rider able to keep up with Soler on the tough, steep climb. Not bad for someone of his size! The start of the stage tomorrow is perfect for him to make the move and he’ll just have to hope that there are only a few good climbers in with him. He’ll eat up the 3rd Cat and be close to the front on the 1st Cat section but it all depends who is in the move with him. Let’s hope he’s rested up well.

Antwan Tolhoek.

I was impressed with how long the youngster held on in the main peloton up the final climb on Stage 9. Unfortunate on the opening day when he crashed in the TTT, he seems to be going better day by day. A bit of an uknown rider at this level, he could use that to his advantage in the break. Still without a pro win he’ll have to dig very deep tomorrow to change that, but I’ve seen stranger things happen.

Antonio Pedrero.

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After coming into professional cycling “late”, the Spaniard has really taken a step up this year. Attacking earlier in the race, he was very strong on the finish of stage 9, only losing 27 seconds and beating Yates (Adam) and Kruijswijk. Not bad! Movistar have nothing to lose now in this race, so they’ll be sending riders up the road every day. He could be one of those guys and given his form, he could well deliver.

George Bennett.

Exceptional in the Tour until his abandon, the Kiwi is easing himself into this race; looking to peak later on. I think 9 stages is a good enough warm up! If he can get back to the form and climbing legs that he had in France then few riders will be able to distance him on the ascent. Can he drop everyone and come to the line solo?

Now, for that added rider…

Ruben Fernandez.

I had completely forgot that I had this stage outlined as a potential one for the Movistar man. “Why?” you ask…Well, he is from Murcia! He made the break earlier in the race but did a lot of work for Soler. I think he’ll be close to full fitness now and the extra motivation of riding on home roads could see him through. It will certainly help knowing every inch of that descent in the rain.

Vuelta Picks

Safe Pick – GC guy, Adam Yates.

You’re running out of GC riders, aren’t you? With another potential break win then you’ll want to be backing an overall contender. We should see some attacks on the climb from the main guys but they might not come to too much. Yates seems in OK form at the moment and it saves the “best” riders for later in the race.

Wongshot Pick – Pedrero, i.e. Breakaway rider.

Go for it, c’mon!

Lanterne Rouge Pick – Schwarzmann

A consistently low finisher, I like his form!

Prediction

Break to win, and I’ll go for heart over head…

No, it’s not Ludvigsson, instead I’ll once again curse Fernandez.

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I’m a big fan of Ruben’s and I’ve enjoyed see him progress steadily over the past few seasons. A Vuelta win in his home town would be an incredible achievement and one that is certainly a possibility!

Betting

I was going to stick with my 2pts a day rule, but I’m chucking that out the window here…

0.5pt EW on them all

Pedrero 100/1 @ Betfred

Ludvigsson 300/1 @B365

Bennett 150/1 @ Lads

Tolhoek 200/1 @ Boyles

Fernandez 150/1 @ Coral

Thanks as always for reading! Who do you think will win tomorrow? Will it be the break, or will the GC guys come out to play? Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

Vuelta a España 2017 Stage 6 Preview; Vila-Real -> Sagunt

Today’s Recap

*Insert cliché here about having a 250/1 rider finish second…*

The break ended up making it today but for a while it was finely in the balance with Sky doing a lot of the pacing. However, over the penultimate climb of the day no one else in the peloton seemed keen to help with the chase and Sky eased off the pace.

Ahead, Lutsenko and Haller attacked on the descent, gaining quite a bit of time as everyone behind looked around. We saw a splinter move go and start to chase but they never closed the gap to less than 20 seconds.

On the bottom slopes of the climb, Lutsenko dropped his break companion, forging on ahead. Behind Kudus did the same to Gougeard.

However, the Eritrean didn’t have enough in the tank to catch back to Lutsenko, with the Kazakh taking a great win!

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Soler finished strongly from behind, closing the gap quite a lot, taking third on the day.

 

Similar to Lampaert’s win earlier in the week, I’m not too bothered with Lutsenko’s win. He’s a rider who I rate highly and have ranted and raved about for a couple of season’s now so it is good to see him take his first Grand Tour win. Although it is slightly more annoying when I couldn’t get on Kudus EW when placing my punt. Oh well. Onwards and upwards!

Maybe.

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

The Route

If there was ever a stage that was designed for a breakaway, this is it.

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Five categorised climbs litter the day, but with the last cresting at just under 40km to go, it is going to be a very tactical stage.

The opening climb is officially 11km long at 3.4% but the road does rise ever so slightly before then. However, it is not too tough and it is most definitely a “power” climb.

With the crest coming at 48 into the day, I would be unusual for the break not to have formed yet. Although equally, I wouldn’t be surprised to see them still slogging it out as they tackle the following Cat-3 almost instantly.

Puerto de Eslida is shorter but steeper than the previous climb, averaging 5.1% for its 5.3km.

If the break does go here, then there is a chance that the climbers will make the move. Not ideal given the finish, so they’ll have to be inventive later on.

The following two Cat-3 climbs won’t really play any major part in the outcome of the day and they’ll just be used to build the breakaway’s advantage, along with the long valley roads in between them.

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The final climb of the day the Puerto del Garbi averages roughly 5.5% for just over 9km but that doesn’t tell the whole story.

There are two very steep kilometres in the climb that both average over 11% and this is where the lighter climbers up ahead will hope to break the race up.

If a group of 4-5 riders gets ahead and works well at this point then they might not be seen for the rest of the stage. It will take someone brave if they want to go solo from here!

The remaining 40km or so are mostly downhill or on flat roads with a fairly simple run home.

Well, when I say simple, it is mainly straight but there are several roundabouts in the closing few kilometres.

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Thankfull the riders won’t have to make many 90-degree turns though with most of the roundabouts being travelled straight through. Having one at 250m to go will spice things up if a group arrives together.

How will the stage pan out?

A day tailor-made for the breakaway, I would be very surprised if we didn’t see the morning move make it all the way to the line.

There is of course a chance we see it come together for a sprint but who is really going to chase all day?

On Stage 4 we saw Aqua Blue and Quick-Step chase for the majority of the day, with some help from Lotto Soudal as well. Will we see a similar situation this time around? No.

It is a tough stage to control so it is more beneficial for a team to get a guy up the road early and re-assess the day after that. Doing so means they don’t have to chase behind which is ideal on this type of territory. If it is coming back, then they can change-up their plan to work for their sprinter.

The only danger for the breakaway in terms of succeeding, is if a current top 25 interloper is in their midst. In that case, Sky will more than likely keep the break on a tight leash and once we get into the final 40km, the sprinters teams could come to help reel it in.

Break Contenders

Two of the riders who I had pencilled in for this stage actually made the move today, with one of them going on to win the stage. I’m not sure Lutsenko will go for back to back breakaways, but the other rider might…

Alexis Gougeard.

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An incredibly attacking rider, he won a similar type of stage back in the 2015 Vuelta, where the penultimate climb crested with 20km to go that time. He has the fighting spirit to make the break on multiple days in a row, we saw that in the Tour of Wallonie not too long ago. Clearly in great form at the moment, I think he could go even better tomorrow.

Lasse Hansen.

If Aqua Blue aren’t willing to chase all day then sending someone like Hansen up the road is a great idea. The Dane has had a fairly solid season so far, winning a couple of KOM jerseys for his efforts. He came in way down today, which could be a sign that he is struggling, or he could also be saving some energy. Who knows!? I guess we’ll find out tomorrow afternoon. A powerful rider with a fast kick, he might fancy his chances in a small group.

Tobias Ludvigsson.

A rider that I am a massive fan of and you’re bound to be aware of that if you’ve read my blog for a little while now. With FDJ having a real mixed bag of a team here, they’ll be hoping to make the breakaways every day. Maison finished 10th for them today but I’m sure they’ll be hoping for more soon. Big T should be able to cope with the climbs and as a fairly good TTer then he could potentially attack and hold off his breakaway companions.

Bob Jungels.

Not really in the GC picture anymore he is far enough behind to be given some freedom. The perfect type of rider for this style of stage where power is needed for the climbs and for the flat. He struggled in the heat on the earlier stages but he seems to be getting more aclimatised to it now. A big danger if he gets in the breakaway.

Vuelta Picks

Another tough day with a breakaway win looking likely.

“Safe Pick” – GC Contender, i.e. Nibali.

You’re close to the top of the table, so you don’t want to take many risks. Backing a sprinter on a day like this is a very dangerous game as if the breakaway wins then the peloton might roll home together. Nonetheless, a GC rider is more likely to further ahead in the bunch in that situation.

“Wongshot Pick” – Break rider; Jungels.

Have a stab in the dark basically!

Lanterne Rouge Pick – Dunne

He seems to like to adopt the Cummings position on these types of stages.

Prediction

Breakaway to stay away and Jungels to take a solo victory!

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Betting

0.5pt WIN on them all;

Jungels @ 18

Hansen @ 300

Ludvigsson @ 250

Gougeard @ 125

Thanks as always for reading; who do you think will win tomorrow? Is it a nailed on break day? Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

Vuelta a España 2017 Stage 5 Preview; Benicàssim -> Alcossebre

Today’s Recap

As expected it was a long and tough day for the breakaway and we got the inevitable bunch sprint.

The run in wasn’t without danger though and a crash at 3.2km took out Moreno, Pozzovivo and blog pick for the day Molano to name a few. Good to see the Haughey Curse is back with a vengence!

The final 2kms were incredibly hectic with riders and teams strewn all over the road. Quick Step asserted their dominance leading, but it was Lobato who jumped first and launched his sprint early. However, Trentin quickly got into his slipstream and came round him relatively easily in the end, taking the stage win.

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Lobato held on for second with Van Asbroeck taking third.

*Overused fact alert*

That win makes Trentin the 100th rider to win a stage in all three Grand Tours. Quite the achievement.

It’s unlikely he’ll be doubling up tomorrow though. Let’s take a look at what is store for the riders.

The Route

A rolling day in the saddle that typifies the Vuelta.

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Three Cat-2s and Two Cat-3s (quite the tongue twister there) litter the route, totalling 2733m of elevation gain according to the road book.

With it being a stage that is unlikely to see any massive gaps, the fight will be on to get into the breakaway and we’ll most likely see the move go on the first climb of the day; the Alto del Desierto de las Palmas.

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Averaging only 4.8% for 8.2km, it is a fairly generous Cat-2 climb going by Vuelta standards. However, it is incredibly inconsistent with lots of changes in gradient, especially in the second half. This makes it difficult for riders to settle into a rhythm and should suit the punchier climbers looking to make the move.

Nonetheless, if there is a big fight to get into the move it might not even stick over the top of the first climb. Instead, it could go on the flatter land that follows, or possibly the second climb of the day.

Alto de Cabenes is a fairly easy climb, averaging a lowly 3.8% for 9.4kms. It shouldn’t be of any major difficulty to the majority of the peloton. If we do see a breakaway go here then some of the power climbers could make the move, rather than it just being the more mountain goat style riders.

The Coll de la Bandereta is next on the menu for the riders. With the break having already been established, it shouldn’t cause any issues and the only action it will see is possibly someone chasing KOM points. It is a sharper climb than what the riders will have faced earlier in the day, averaging 6.8% for 4.6km.

At just over 60km to go, the riders will face the penultimate categorised climb of the day.

Sarratella

The Alto de la Serratella is a long climb at just over 14km, but like a few ascents they’ve faced today, it is not that steep. If anyone wants to forge on out ahead, then they will have to do so early on in the climb between kilometres 4-9 where the gradient is the steepest.

Once over the top they face a long descent that features a kick ups, before a few more serious climbs on the “flat section” before the rise to the finish in Alcossebre.

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You can view my full final 6km profile here, if you want to look at the finale in more detail.

After the lower gradients on the previous climbs in the day, this is the typical Vuelta Cat-3  climbs we’ll see throughout the race. It is an absolute leg breaker and the style of finish I love to watch!

Some of it is truly cruel, with 800m at just over 14% (1.7km -> 2,5km in the image above) and 260m at 18.5%; that stops at roughly 400m to the line.

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Just look at that kick up! Hopefully the road surface has been improved, other wise it will be like riding on the cobbles of Roubaix.

How will the stage pan out?

There is of course the chance that the GC teams keep things together to chase for bonus seconds on the line, but I struggle to see that happening. Although saying that, Sky are in the lead and Froome looked very good on the similar last climb during Stage 3. They could fancy his chances and consequently keep tabs on the move. In their report of today’s stage Froome says he won’t give any gifts and fight for bonus seconds and at the finishes. Make of that what you will!

Yet, with the penultimate climb coming a long way from the finish then it becomes less likely. The reason I say that is because Sky would prefer a climb/descent just before the kick up the line so that the pace can be made hard and put everyone else into difficulty.

If they arrive at the bottom of the slope controlling a pretty much full peloton, then there could be a couple of his contenders who go better on this type of finish. Therefore, Sky might keep their powder dry and hope Froome can just gain time on the road instead, rather than bonus seconds.

So it looks like a…

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kind of day again, with backing a GC guy in-play.

However, even that has some permutations.

If the break goes on the second half of the opening climb then we will see more traditional lighter climbers up ahead, but if it goes anytime after that then a few more power climbers could make the move.

With the other climbs on the road not being too difficult (until the finale), then a splinter group of the breakaway could attack anywhere after the penultimate climb. Heck, we could even see a long-range solo attack a la Plaza from 2015 but that would be very hard to maintain for anyone!

Contenders

We have a lot of strong riders who are already 6 minutes plus on GC, with plenty much further back than that.

The issue is trying to figure if they are that far back; out of choice, i.e. wanting to lose time to hunt stages; simply not in form; or ill. Although the last two are kind of linked.

Currently there seems to be a bout of stomach issues going around the peloton with Majka and Contador the notable riders to have complained so far, and Ben King pulling out because of it.

It’s a minefield, but I’ll throw a few darts at it anyway!

Enric Mas.

Incredibly strong in Burgos, he hasn’t been as good as I had expected here so far, shipping a lot of time on Stage 3. Falling into the “possibly ill” category, if he has been bluffing and losing time deliberately to hunt stage wins then tomorrow looks good for him. Aside from Landa and De La Cruz, he was next best on the brutally steep finish of Picon Blanco in Burgos. A similar performance could see him take the win and mean QS take 3 out of the 5 stages.

Alessandro De Marchi.

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Willing to put my faith in the BMC man again, he’ll get in a good move at some point this Vuelta. It will be tough for him to out-climb some mountain goats on the finish so he’ll be hoping for a pre-selection before the last climb itself. If so, he can then attack around 10km before the start of the ramp and hope to win Cummings style. He has the class to do it.

Merhawi Kudus.

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The super light Eritrean climber in theory should be able to cope well with the steep gradients of the final ascent. He was incredible at the start of the year in Llucena and he wasn’t too far off the pace on the steep finish in Burgos recently. Dimension Data are bound to get someone up the road tomorrow and in the right company the Eritrean could win.

Ruben Fernandez.

I have a lot of time for the Movistar man. He has slowly progressed through their system, and although it has not been the meteoric rise since his l’Avenir win that some might have expected/hoped for, he has been very solid. Last year he was great on the steep finish of third stage, taking second place on the day and with it a stint in the leader’s jersey. He’s been a bit off the boil recently, but with no GC leader here as such, I think Movistar will be targeting stage wins. Fernandez could be that guy!

Vuelta Picks

Well it didn’t go well today for me and my Molano pick, after he crashed in the finale. Tomorrow’s stage is a bit of a land mine and we could see a few more hiccups.

“Safe Pick” – Bardet

If you’re near the top of the table take a GC guy and hope that they are near the front of their group at the end of the day. Bardet was one of the strongest on the final climb on S3 and he should be close again.

“Wongshot Pick” – Any Break rider i.e. Mas.

The boat I find myself in just now. You’re almost guaranteed to be out of the overall game so it is time to choose a bold breakaway contender and hope for the stage win. Plus, it saves some GC contenders for later in the race.

“Lanterne Rouge Pick” – Manzin.

The sprinter struggled on Stage 3 and will do so again tomorrow.

Prediction

I think the break will stay away but it is not clear-cut and all depends on Sky’s attitude. If they think Froome can win the final climb they might bring it back. Nonetheless, I would say it is still a 65/35 split.

So with that said, it is the name in a hat time and I’ll go for Fernandez to finally step up for his first pro win.

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Betting

So two of my picks aren’t priced up yet, hoping they will be later…

0.5pt WIN on them all though which currently means;

Kudus @ 250/1

De Marchi @ 28/1

 

Thanks as always for reading! Who do you think will win tomorrow? Will it be a breakaway win or another GC day?

 

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

Today’s Recap

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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What a finish line photo as well!

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

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

The Route

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How will the stage pan out?

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

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

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

We could be in for a long watch though!

Sprinters

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Prediction

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

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

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Vuelta Picks

A tricky day…

Safe Pick – Trentin

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

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

Betting

1pt EW on Molano @ 33/1 with B365

 

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

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

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

Today’s Recap

I should never have doubted them, should I?!

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

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

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

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

The Route

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Weather Watch

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sprinters

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

Degenkolb.

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

Theuns.

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

Cort Nielsen.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Vuelta Picks

Safe Pick – Cort.

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

Wongshot Pick – Theuns.

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

Lanterne Rouge Pick – Zurlo.

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

Prediction

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

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Betting

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

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

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

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

Vuelta a España 2017 Stage 1 Preview; Nîmes -> Nîmes

And so our watch begins…

The Vuelta kicks off tomorrow evening with a tasty team time trial. Last year we saw Sky beat Movistar by less than a second over a 28km course, with Pete Kennaugh taking the leader’s jersey.

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Will we see an even smaller winning margin this year given the shorter route?

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

The Route

A course that starts off technical, but it does seem to ease off later on in the stage.

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There are several 90-degree turns where the TT-trains will be strung out even more than they normally are. Consequently, a team with good technique could gain time through these turns as their riders don’t have to scramble back onto the wheel in front of them.

Furthermore, teams that practice peel offs and TTTs in general will be at a massive advantage due to the timing that is involved when changing lead rider. You don’t want to be pulling over through a corner, that’s for sure. A level-headed and experienced DS is of almost equal importance in that situation!

Things do get easier later on in the route, with several long straight roads where the strongest of teams can put the power down.

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We do have a Cat-3 climb at just over the half-way point but is no more than a pitiful excuse to hand out the KOM jersey at the end of the day. I mean compared to the other Cat-3s which we have at this race, 2.4km at 1.6% is laughable. It will be the easiest KOM points anyway gets all race!

Thanfully it looks as if all the teams will get similar conditions so there will be no weather affected surprises/disappointments.

As for the start times; the first team off the ramp is Manzan Postobon at 17:30 CET, with Trek last to set off at 18:54. All of the other squads will be sent out at 4 minute intervals.

You can view all of the start times here.

Contenders

BMC.

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It is nigh on impossible to have a TTT where BMC are not favourites. They lost their TTT crown last year but they have been the team to dominate this discipline over the past couple of seasons. In 2017 they’ve taken notable TTT victories in Catalunya and Tirreno. They do arrive slightly light in terms of their usual crack squad; with only Dennis and Oss representing them at the World’s last year. The likes of Roche and Van Garderen are solid replacements but they don’t seem as invincible as they have in the past. They are rightly favourites, however I think they won’t have it 100% their way.

Quick Step.

 

The TTT world champions arrive here with three of that contingent (Jungels/Lampaert/Terpstra) and add to them with a lot of other strong, well-rounded riders such as Trentin and Alaphilippe. They’ve underperformed in recent TTTs but in this type of race I think they can turn it around. The course looks ideal for them, with a good mix of sharp corners that require some explosiveness, but also longer power sections where their diesel engines can open up the taps.

Team Sky.

Winners of a much lumpier TTT last year, they have been very hit or miss as of late. On for a good time at Tirreno until their wheels decided to implode, they’ll hope to not be the laughing-stock this time around. Although their team looks a bit weak on paper, Sky always seem to turn up at Grand Tours. I’d be surprised if they finished outside of the top 3!

Honestly, I can’t see any team aside from those three compete for the win, so I don’t want to bore your time by pointlessly going through them all.

Prediction

I’ve changed my mind between those three teams several times which went something like this…

*Looking at teams*

“Ah QS bring a lot of strong rouleurs, really fancy them for this”

“But BMC are incredible at TTTs and are unbeaten this year. Surely they have this”

“Hold on a second, what about Sky? A quietly strong team who always go well in the big competitions and with the arguable GC favourite They’ll surely set a great time.”

I’m going to go with my gut instinct and initial thoughts when thinking of this yesterday/earlier today though.

Quick-Step to win!

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I really like their squad for this, it is so incredibly balanced. The shorter length of effort brings them a lot closer to BMC and looking at rider v rider, I actually think Quick Step have the better time trialists/rouleurs. Furthermore, with the whole Sanchez saga, the mood in the BMC camp might be a bit off just now, and I think they are there for the taking.

Vuelta Picks

As stated in my overall preview, I’ll be adding a new daily section to the blog where I discuss possible choices for the game; highlighting a “safe”, a “wongshot” and a “lanterne rouge” pick.

Safe – BMC.

Although I have a feeling they won’t win, given the form and history in TTTs over the past three seasons they are the team to back in this discipline. It would be very surprising to see them outside of the top 3, heck, even the top 2. Picking them could see you off to a good start. I won’t be choosing them though, which is probably good for you!

Wongshot – Sky.

I can’t see anyone other than those three wining tomorrow and unlike potential breakaway days where I may as well just randomly choose a rider, that’s a little bit farfetched for this. Sky are the longest odds of the trio, therefore the Wongshot pick!

Lanterne Rouge – Caja Rural.

You would think I’d go with Manzana for this, but I actually think the Colombian team will put in more of an effort than the Spaniards. Caja will be in almost every break in the first few week so if they want to be given freedom to chase jerseys/stage wins then they need to lose a lot of time. Don’t get me wrong, Manzana might do the same thing, but given it is their first GT then I think the exuberance of wanting to perform well on every day will get the better of them.

Also, some of you may still not have any idea what I’m talking about! Vuelta Picks is a simple fantasy style where you pick a rider for every stage of the race, with their finishing position counting as your score. The lower the score the better. However, you are only allowed to use a rider once during the whole race, so there is some tactics involved with it. Although don’t listen to me on that front as I am a notorious Lanterne Rouge contender!

If you’re interested at all, it costs £10 to play – just put your name into the spreadsheet I’ll link below and Jason (the guy who is organising it all) will be in touch regarding payment and any other questions you have!

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

If you do join, then you’ll have until tomorrow to make your first stage pick.

Betting

Very much tempted with a no bet, but I’m going to dip my toe in the water ever so slightly.

2pts WIN Quick Step @ 7/4 with various. (would take 13/8 lowest)

Thanks as always for reading and any feedback is greatly appreciated! Who do you think will win the TTT? Is it a clear-cut three-horse race? Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.