Volta a la Comunitat Valenciana 2019 Stage 1 Preview: Orihuela -> Orihuela (ITT)

European stage racing starts this Wednesday with the Volta a la Comunitat Valenciana in Spain and the Etoile de Bessèges in France. Both races attract a solid line up of teams but given that it is early in the year, form is often difficult to figure out so we could see a surprise result. Or of course, Valverde just wins like he did last year.

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GC Overview

With a route tailor-made for him and a bonus second system in place, it does look hard for anyone to topple the reigning champion. The opening day TT will see some time gaps but they shouldn’t be too significant given the short nature of the race against the clock. Saying that, a climber who has started the season a little slowly could see the race already slip away from them if they don’t hit the ground running. Stage 2 could be a surprise GC day but it is more than likely going to be a reduced bunch sprint, with stage 3 the first day we should see some kind of selection and an uphill sprint finish that looks perfect for Valverde. The overall will be decided on the penultimate day of racing though with a tricky climb out of the town of Alcossebre where the better climbers will hope to come to the fore and steal the race title.

Valverde starts as the obvious favourite but there are certainly some strong teams here with multiple options that could put the World Champion under pressure. Firstly, we have an Astana trio of Izagirre, Sanchez and Bilbao who all should be there or thereabouts with the tough to control stage 3 a day where they will hope to utilise those numbers with aggressive racing. Likewise, UAE (Martin and Costa), Mitchelton (Yates and Haig) and Sky (Thomas and De La Cruz) have a couple of options to ensure that this isn’t a walk in the park for Valverde.

However, like night follows day, Valverde wins his “home” stage race again.

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Let’s take a look at what is in store for the riders on the opening day of racing.

The Route

An almost pan flat 10.2km individual time trial awaits the riders but they need to be wary as it does have a sting in the tail.

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The route can really be split into three sections. First, we have the largest section which comprises of the opening 7.8km and is a pure test of power.

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There are a few roundabouts on course through that section but they are few and far between, with the majority of the corners being able to be taken at full speed. This is where the stronger and more traditional TT riders will hope to build up an advantage.

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Next is a shorter section which has quite a few roundabouts and tight corners to traverse, so good technique and line choice here will be important. As the cliché goes, you probably can’t win the stage here but you can certainly lose it.

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Finally we have the closing 700m and a climb to the line. The strava/veloviewer profile that I made for the whole stage above is quite deceptive as there is no “descent” in the final climb. Instead, it is more of a false flat than anything else, so this Strava segment is a much better indicator of what it actually looks like.

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The riders will face some “cobbles” as they leave the town and onto the hill but it would be offensive to the Spring Classics to call them anything serious, more like slightly bumpy paved stones.

The steep gradients will be a bit awkward on a TT rig but nothing the riders haven’t dealt with before. At 600m it is short enough for the traditional TT riders to fancy their chances of powering up it, but it is also at a length where the climbers/puncheurs will hope to gain back some time.

I really like this TT course because there will be quite a few in the bunch that will fancy their chances due to the varied parcours.

Contenders

Tony Martin.

After a pretty disappointing two years at Katusha, by his normal standards, the German made a switch of teams in the off-season to Jumbo Visma. I for one am really looking forward to seeing what he can do this year on the Bianchi bike, as Jumbo have their TT rigs properly dialled in. A 10km TT that is mostly about pure power with a short climb at the end would be perfect for Martin of 2014/2015 but have his legs waned in recent years? We’ll just have to wait and see.

Geraint Thomas.

Last year’s Tour winner arrives here early in the season but with his main goal to try to retain his crown in France this summer, will he be at a high enough level to challenge? On paper this course is ideal for him and Team Sky are one of the top TT teams around so no doubt he’ll put in a pretty solid time but I think this will be more of a training race for him. He had a festive off-season by the looks of it with some photos of him appearing a little podgy compared to the skeletal standards of most GT contenders. Since then he has seemed to lose a some weight so he could well hit the ground running but I just can’t see it.

David De La Cruz.

Conversely, I think it will be Sky’s Spaniard that will be the best finisher for their team tomorrow. A solid debut season for the outfit last year saw De La Cruz take home the TT win in Andalucia as well as the final stage in Paris Nice. Going to the Vuelta as co-leader for the team, he will have been disappointed with the final outcome and hope to hit the ground running. His results in efforts against the clock last year were fairly consistent with him being in or around the top 15 for the majority of them. Tactically for Sky it will be useful for them to have two riders near the head of the race before we head to the more mountainous stages so I expect a good result.

Alejandro Valverde.

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Although the race isn’t technically a “home” race for the current World road champion, the opening stage in Orihuela is only a 20km cycle from his home in Murcia, so the Movistar man will want to do well here. In fact, on a training ride recently he did some reconnaissance of the final ramp so he is most definitely preparing well and taking it seriously. Normally you wouldn’t consider Valverde for a traditional TT but given the short nature, he always starts the season well, that kicker at the end, plus some friendly Spanish motos: he has a very good chance of taking the stage and holding the GC jersey throughout the race.

Nelson Oliveira.

Likewise, his Movistar team-mate will no doubt be looking forward to this hit out as well, with Oliveira starting the season well over in Mallorca; doing some good work for his squad and managing to bag a 6th place in Trofeo de Tramuntana. Still only 29, he’s very consistent in efforts against the clock with a 15th place finish being his worst result in 2018. My one concern about him is that he doesn’t win too much and he’s never tasted victory in a TT aside from his national championships. Is this the year he finally breaks that duck?

Ion Izagirre.

From one dud of a TT bike to another, Izagirre will hope that his legs can do the talking rather than the bike. Astana arrive here with a very strong squad to challenge for the overall so they need as many of them as possible to be near the top of the standings after tomorrow. Izagirre looks the most likely to challenge for the stage as he has the best TT out of the lot of them. Saying that, he wasn’t as strong last year as he had been in previous seasons so it will be interesting to see what he can pull off tomorrow.

There are a couple of Katusha riders who I’m looking forward to seeing how they fare: Tanfield and Goncalves. The former will get his first chance to show his mettle in a TT for his new WT team, while the latter on occasion has produced a great TT and the short but punchy climb should suit his characteristics. I don’t think either of them will win, but they should turn in decent performances. Van Emden is also another one who should do well but given that his climbing ability is pretty abysmal, he might lose quite a bit of time on that final rise. Tratnik steps up to the WT this year as well but how will he fare on that Merida bike? He’s one to watch for a top 10 anyway. Finally, I have my eyes on the young Portuguese rider João Rodrigues who rides for W52 and their new-found Pro Conti license. If this was La Grandissima he would be a shoe-in for a good result but it’s not, so we’ll see how he goes.

Prediction

Tony to roll back the clock? Sky to keep up that great TT record? Valverde to smash his “local” 10km? Nope, I’ll go with the Oliveira to get his first pro TT win narrative!

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After a good hit out in Mallorca, I think he’s ready to start his season proper with a bang. I’ll go for De La Cruz to finish second with Valverde in an ominous third.

Zweeler

Once again I’ll plug the blog sponsor Zweeler and their fantasy sports games. For Valenciana they have a competition open for the race, with the top 23 finishers (there are 200 teams entered already) guaranteeing themselves a return on their entrance fee. You can sign up to play it via this link here (which helps the blog out a little).

If you fancy yourself as more of a long-term prospector of cycling talent, their “1st period” game starts with Valenciana too. For that you have to pick a total of 30 riders from 6 different categories, with points being scored right through from Valenciana to the Tour of California. Due to the amount of entrants for the game so far the total prize pool has increased from €1500 to €1900, with the overall winner guaranteed a cool €350 from their €7 entry fee. If that tickles your particulars, then you can sign up to that via this link!

Betting

As for tomorrow’s stage, I’m going to keep it simple-ish as TTs early in the season can often be a bit tricky.

2pts WIN Oliveira @ 6/1 (With Betway)

1pt WIN De La Cruz @ 16/1 (With SkyBet)

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

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

 

 

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Clásica de San Sebastián 2018 Preview

After almost a week of no previews I’m back again to look ahead at everyone’s favourite post-Tour race, the Clásica de San Sebastián. In 2017 we saw the peloton slimmed down a little over the days early climbs but the race winning move once again went on the last ascent of the day.

Landa, Gallopin and Mollema were strongest on the final climb, but with Kwiatkowski and Dumoulin chasing fiercely behind combined with some gamesmanship from Landa it meant we then had 5 coming together on the run in to San Sebastian. A few attacks were neutralised so things ultimately ended in a sprint, with favourite Kwiatkowski taking the win ahead of Gallopin and Mollema.

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With Kwiatkowski not here to defend his title, will we see a new winner come the fore? First though, let’s have a look at what is in store for the riders tomorrow.

The Route

Pretty much a carbon copy of 2017, but with a few kilometres trimmed from the opening part of the route.

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

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

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Officially the climb is 2.8km at 7.6% but the main crux of the ascent is 10.3% for 1.7km. That includes several steep ramps of above 20%!

Interestingly, Kwiatkowski holds the Strava KOM for the climb with a time of 5’36 but he actually crossed the top a few seconds behind the Landa group so realistically a time of 5’30 should see someone in the front group. That was a bit slower than the previous year when the first riders over the top did it in ~5’25, but the tougher parcours earlier in the day might have taken some spring out of their legs.

With the effort only being for a relatively short time, it is a finely balaned race between the puncheurs and climbers. Will the scales tip in a certain direction this year?

The race doesn’t end at the summit of the climb though as almost 8km of descent and flat await the riders: often leading to a tactical battle if we have a group come together.

Tour Legs?

This is actually one of my favourite races to preview every year because I look forward to including my terribly formatted but awfully insightful table…

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The table is quite simple really (after all, I made it) and it shows the Top 3 from the past yeras in San Sebastian with their finishing position at the Tour in brackets. Where it says “NR” that means the rider was a “non runner” and didn’t take part in the Tour that year. See, easy.

What can we take from it though?

Well the past 11 winners of San Sebastian have all finished the Tour and there has only been 6 occasions since 2007 that someone not riding the Tour has managed to finish on the podium. If we’re just looking at the past 5 seasons, then it is only Gilbert (who finished 2nd in 2015) that has managed to podium while not riding the Tour.

I think the numbers make it fairly clear: to go well here, you have had to have ridden the Tour!

Some slightly more trivial stats now…

The average finishing position at the Tour of the winner at San Sebastian is 29.5. Unfortunately, neither Adam Yates (29th) or Lilian Calmejane (30th) are riding here this year. While the average for the podium position is 31.5: time for Robert Gesink to shine!

Contenders

All joking aside, this is a very difficult race to compete for if you haven’t been at the Tour and you have to be a special rider to get close with a lack of racing, like Dumoulin did last year. So I’ve managed to narrow my list down and to be honest, it is pretty much exactly how the bookmakers have priced it up! There are 4 riders who I think have a big chance of taking the win and they are as follows…

Julian Alaphilippe.

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In sparkling form at the Tour, a five-minute or so climb on steep gradients like we have tomorrow should be the Frenchman’s bread and butter. No one could really follow his quick accelerations from the breakaways but he will be against a stronger and more consistent set of opponents here. Nonetheless, everyone will be scared of what he might do, the question is, will he have recovered from his post-Tour celebrations? If so, he has to start as the outright favourite.

Dan Martin.

Finishing 8th on GC and picking up one stage win along the way was a good result for the UAE rider, although he could possibly have been a little higher up had it not been for bad luck on a few occasions. He looked strong in the final week and was climbing very well on the day Quintana won and managing to follow the pace in the last mountain stage. Another that the parcours should suit well, he’s a fairly solid performer at this race and you would think the tough finish climb is ideal.

Egan Bernal.

Can he really be called the “revelation of the Tour”, as anyone who has followed cycling the past few years knows just how talented he is? Finishing 15th in your first Tour is a pretty crazy result though but it is even crazier when you consider if he avoided the 16 minute loss in the Roubaix stage then he could have well finished inside the top 10! One of the 5 or 6 strongest guys in the final few stages, there were a few times he had to stop and pace Froome back to the group. Given the chance to lead here, I think he’ll step up and put on a show but will it be enough?

Primoz Roglic.

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It looked as if he was on track to secure his first GT podium before he unfortunately had his “jour sans” in one of his favoured disciplines on the last day of meaningful action, causing him to slip to 4th on GC. If he has recovered from that bad day then the steep finish climb and fast descent looks great for him. We all saw just how good he is at going downhill with his stage win in the Tour.

There are some other names who might go close or be outside podium candidates but it will be tough for them to win.

Mollema – Consistent record here as he has finished in the top 10 on all of his 6 apperances, including a win in 2016. He looked ok in the Tour but not as strong as he did before that win or even before last year’s podium.

GVA – Probably could have won this race had he not been taken out by a motorbike, Van Avermaet looked back to his 2016 vintage in the Tour. That means he should be very close to the best on the climb and if there is a lull in their efforts up front he could bridge across on the descent. He’s a danger.

Fraile – Bit of a joker as he’s DNF’d both of his appearances so far but if he finds that Stage 14 winning kick then he is a dark horse.

Soler – In homage to CyclingQuotes Soler is my “super joker” for the race. Fresh out of the Tour he finished a respectable 9th in the TT so might be carrying a bit of form. He could be an early attacker for Landa that might just stick.

Prediction

Time for one of the strongest climbers in the Tour to step up with his new-found freedom. Egan Bernal to win!

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I can’t see anyone dropping him on the climb and if anything, he will be the one doing the dropping. He’s then a handy descender with a deceptively good kick from a small group too.

Betting

1pt EW Bernal @ 22/1 with Ladbrokes/Coral (would take/I’m having to take the 12/1 available elsewhere)

Also, 0.5pt WIN on the Bernal/Bauhaus (Poland S1) win at 109/1 with Bet365. Kind of giving away my Poland preview here…

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

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

Tour de France 2018 Stage 10 Preview: Annecy -> Le Grand-Bornand

Rest-day Recap

Despite the chaos of many mechanicals and several crashes, the majority of the GC riders got through the cobbles unscathed. It was only Porte who abandoned and Uran that lost a reasonable amount of time. I’m sure most would have been happy with the outcome!

As for the stage win, a trio of riders escaped in the closing kilometres and went on to contest the finish. Degenkolb was left to open up the sprint from the front but he proved too strong for Van Avermaet and Lampaert, taking his first Grand Tour stage win since the 2015 Vuelta.

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It was nice to see him on the top step again after it looked for a while that he would never return to his best after the crash.

With several mostly flat stages behind them, the riders attention turns to the mountains tomorrow as we enter the Alps. Let’s have a look at what awaits them.

The Route

No case of easing yourself into it here as we have 4200m of climbing in only 158km worth of racing.

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The day features five categorised climbs but the lowly Col de Bluffy pales into insignificance compared with what is to come. I would expect a big fight to get into the breakaway and we might not see the move go until the Col de la Croix Fry (11.3km at 7.1%). From there it is a long descent before the road kicks up rather nastily with the very tough looking Montée du plateau des Glières. Averaging a painful 9.7% for 6.8km, the main crux of the climb is actually 11% for 6km!

A little plateau follows before a descent to the uncategorised Col des Fleuries (5.5km at 4.7%) which starts with 74km to go. Don’t expect much to happen over the next 30kms or so as riders and teams will regroup before the fireworks in the final 40km of the day.

Romme : Colombiere

Taken alone the Romme and Colombière are difficult climbs but when they are combined together with only a 5km descent in between then they become very difficult. In the space of 22kms the riders will climb a total of 1400m. The descent will only offer a very limited time to recover, especially if you are already on the limit and someone decides to push on. Taking both the climbs together and removing the descent then it is 17kms at 8.2%. With the steeper gradients coming near the top of the Colombière it is a perfect place for some GC riders to launch attacks and distance some rivals.

Once over the top 12kms of descent await the riders before a flat-ish run to the line.

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The descent will be fast with the average gradient being roughly -6% for the duration of the 12kms. There are some tight hairpin turns but they seem coupled together.

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The final 2kms are mainly flat and the riders will have to be very wary of this turn that comes with just 1.5km to go. It is tight and as we saw earlier during the race those corners are never ideal. Thankfully, we shouldn’t see a massive group arrive here together. The last 1km drags up ever so slightly at 1.2% but the final 200m are at almost 8%. A nice little kicker to settle the day!

How will the stage pan out?

The first real mountain test of the Tour and it comes after the first rest-day. We’ll no doubt see some riders perform above expectations and some perform worst. Who will suffer the infamous jitters?

The age-old question of “break or no break?” for the stage win once again arises. It really is in the balance.

I tried to do some research on mountain stages after the first proper rest day of GTs. There were 6 definite mountain days, with one of them (Vuelta 2017) borderline but probably not given it only had a couple of climbs at the end of the day. Four of the six stages finished with a GC rider winning and it was only Giro 2016 (Ciccone) and Vuelta 2015 (Landa) that saw a break stay out. Even then, the latter was the only surviving member of the break with GC riders filling out the rest of the top 10.

That means Giro 2013, Tour 2014/2015 and Vuelta 2016 were all GC days when there was a mountain stage after the rest day.

Something to think about: a 66:33 split in favour of the GC contenders winning.

Given the current GC standings relative to Thomas, almost everyone will still think of themselves in contention for the title or podium come Paris at this moment in time. Only Van Garderen is really out of it. It could in theory lead to some defensive and tactical racing if everyone just wants to mark each other out, especially with the tough two days to come.

However, I think we will see some aggressive racing tomorrow between the GC guys as they will want to test the waters as to who is going well and who might have come out of the rest day not feeling in tip-top shape.

The Romme/Colombière double ascent should be tough enough to cause some splits if a team or two decides to push the pace on. Although Sky aren’t actually in the yellow jersey, I wouldn’t be surprised to see them ride tomorrow as if they were; taking control of the bunch and not letting the break have much leeway. As much as I want other teams to take control early, it will be Sky that decides if the break makes it or not because no one else has the firepower to keep a lid on things until the final two climbs, unless of course we have an alliance between a few squads.

Sky are notorious for going well on the first mountain stage of the Tour; in 2012 Froome won on Belle Filles with Wiggins third; in 2013 Froome and Porte finished 1/2 on Ax 3 Domaines; in 2015 Froome and Porte once again finished 1/2, this time on La-Pierre Saint-Martin.

They’ve actually not been as great recently with them allowing the breakaway win in 2016 (although Froome won a tougher mountain stage the next day) and Aru winning on Belles Filles last year. Have they changed their approach? Possibly, but I think Froome will want to lay down a marker to everyone else in the race but more importantly to his team-mate Thomas, and show him that there is only one leader in the team.

We also then have the Movistar trident to consider. Is it too early for them to go on the attack? Absolutely not. They need to be as aggressive as possible to wear down the Sky train so I fully expect them to go for it tomorrow.

Right, I’m nailing my colours to the mast and going for it to be a GC day and as I’ve rambled on for a while now I’m only going to name two guys who I think might be involved in the finish tomorrow.

MyTwoPicksWorth

Rigoberto Uran.

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An incredible second last year, Uran has been a bit off the pace this season but he has been slowly riding himself into form for this Tour. In 2017 he won a mountain stage that had a sprint to the line and will no doubt back himself for tomorrow if he arrives in a small group. He was the unfortunate GC rider who crashed at the wrong time on Sunday and it meant that the pace was on and he lost over a minute and a half to his rivals. That will have hurt him as the team rode fantastically in the TTT to put him in a very good position overall. Uran is a competent bike handler who is also attacking when he needs to and I think we’ll se him give it a nudge tomorrow.

Dan Martin.

 

Already a winner at this race on stage 6, the Irishman finds himself the furthest back of the GC contenders mainly due to a crash on stage 8 that saw him lose 1’16 to the rest of the peloton. A very attacking rider, Martin was flying in last year’s Tour until he was involved in Porte’s crash that ultimately put him out of contention due to riding with injury for the following 2 weeks. He still managed to finish 6th overall then, not a bad result! This year he has struggled but from the limited bits that we have seen from him since then he seems to have found his mojo again and looks the lively Martin that we all know. He won’t want to wait a few days to test the waters and given that he is quite far back from the rest of the contenders, he might just be given the freedom by them to go on the attack. There won’t be many who can match his kick up the small ramp to the finish.

Prediction

Dan Martin to take his second stage win with a perfectly timed late attack. Some GC riders will falter tomorrow but I have no idea who, it should be a great watch!

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Betting

One of those stages where it is probably best to back something in-play but for the sake of the blog and the spreadsheet:

1pt WIN Martin @ 14/1 (can get 20/1 on the exchange – would recommend)

1pt WIN Uran @ 33/1 (can get 44/1 on the exchange – would recommend)

Both of those prices are with 365 but they are pretty similar elsewhere. I would obviously recommend going on the exchanges if you can as the odds are much better there!

Thanks as always for reading. Who do you think is going to win tomorrow and how? Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

 

Tour de France 2018 GC Preview

Tour de France 2018 GC Preview

In 2017 we saw a rather dominant Chris Froome win by ‘only’ 54 seconds ahead of Rigoberto Uran with Romain Bardet edging Landa by one second to round out the GC podium.

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I say ‘only’ above as it was actually Froome’s smallest winning margin in all 4 of his victories so far, but he never looked in that much trouble throughout the three weeks. Obviously it was a measured effort so that he could go on to win the Vuelta later in the year, then the Giro this year. Can he make it an incredible 5th Tour win and 4th GT win in a row?

No fancy business here because as I’ll be doing daily stage previews I’m just ducking any route analysis here and just jumping straight into the favourites. I would recommend this preview from Road.cc though as they cover each stage in concise paragraphs. Much better than my ramblings!

I’m also going to be blunt with some riders as I don’t really rate their overall chances. Also you’ll have read many previews by now and if I’m honest, I can’t really bothered to rehash what others have said.

Anyway, onto the contenders and pretenders…

The Favourite 

Chris Froome.

Despite what your opinion is (I’m sure you all know mine by now) on the whole salbutamol case, the bottom line is that Froome is cleared and is here to race. Nothing like a bit of pre-Tour drama though with ASO apparently going to ban him before UCI/WADA announcing the following day that his case was dropped. More drama than Love Island!

At the Giro Froome was seemingly way off the pace but two remarkable days on the bike, Zoncolan and Stage 19, saw him claw back an almost 3 minute deficit to Dumoulin with some more left in the bag. With an extra week between the Giro and Tour, he should have recovered reasonably well. His team is super strong, as you would expect, and he will have a lot of support on the flat and in the mountains. It will be interesting to see how he can handle the cobbled stage – it will certainly bring back bad memories from crashing out in 2014. No doubt he starts as the favourite and will gain time in the efforts against the clock but can we really expect a rider to win four Grand Tours in a row? I hope not, for the sake of the sport.

The Waiting for Froome to falter-ers

Richie Porte.

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Can Richie survive a Grand Tour without a bad day? That is the million dollar question. If he does, then he will play a massive role in the outcome of this race. Arguably the best rider on a 15 minute climb in the World, he will hope to display some of that trademark out of the saddle “sprint-climbing” in this race. At the Tour de Suisse he was strong and took home that race but I get the sense that he still wasn’t at 100%, there is still room for improvement from him. Compared to what he has been used to in the past couple of seasons this looks like his strongest BMC support team. They have all terrain covered to shepherd Porte around France and he should be able to rely on Van Garderen and Caruso deep into many of the mountain days. I started off this season thinking that Porte would win the race and although my mind has been slightly changed, he still starts as one to beat if he stays on his bike.

Romain Bardet. 

The AG2R man has finished on the podium the past two years and will be hoping for a similar result this year, if not better. A third in the recent Dauphiné was a good and highlights that his form is heading in the right direction but that he has not peaked too soon. In last year’s edition of the race I loved the way AG2R attacked Sky in the mountains and they bring an even stronger squad with them this time out. He shouldn’t lose a crazy amount of time in the TTT as a result but I do have a slight worry for him on the cobbled stage. Then again, who of the GC contenders will truly be comfortable then? A big day is needed from Naesen! In the mountains he (alongside Porte) is one of the few riders I am confident can actually challenge Froome. With a few stages ending in descents from climbs, he will be in his element and certainly put pressure on the other GC contenders.

Nairo Quintana.

Is the Colombian back to his climbing best? It looks like it after his strong showing in the Tour de Suisse and he was particularly impressive holding off the group of GC contenders on the shallow drag before the final steeper ramps of Arosa. He forms a very strong attacking trident with Valverde and Landa and I’m really looking forward to see how they approach the race. I just hope that at least two of them are in contention after the cobbled stage. We saw in 2015 just how strong Nairo can be in the final week of the race in the high mountains and the rest of his challengers will be concerned if he is within 2 minutes going into the closing stages. No doubt we’ll certainly see some enthusiastic Colombian fans at the side of the road!

The Podium Outsiders

Right, shorter musings from now on.

Vincenzo Nibali.

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Winner of the Tour when the race last visited the cobbles, the Bahrain rider has had a pretty average year so far. However, he knows how to peak for a race and he can never be discounted. With a strong team to support him, we will probably see him on the attack as he will no doubt have to claw some time back after the TTT.

Rigoberto Uran.

A surprising second place last year, I think it will be hard for the Colombian to repeat the feat this time around. He found some race sharpness in Slovenia recently but I just don’t think he has enough to do it. Then again, no one really mentioned him last year and look what happened.

Alejandro Valverde.

Mr Evergreen, Valverde has been incredibly strong this season so far, having won the GC of every stage race he has competed in. It was scary how easy things were for him in the recent La Route d’Occitanie, using the attacks of Elissonde and Navarro as training – deliberately letting gaps grow so he could close them down. He’s another that will probably be chasing time after the TTT but I look forward to his venture onto the cobbles – he didn’t do too badly in Dwars this year.

Adam Yates. 

Have Mitchelton learnt from his brother’s epic collapse at the Giro? In strong form after his second in the Dauphine (the gap to Porte would have only be a handful of seconds if it was not for the TTT), he will be able to rely on a well-rounded squad focussed solely on him. Can he handle the pressure?

Jakob Fuglsang.

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If there was ever a year when Fuglsang could seriously challenge for a podium spot then this would be it. He has a solid team built around him that should be able to support him on most terrain. Back in 2014 he was the one doing the majority of the work when Nibali gained a load of time on the cobbles so no doubt he’ll be licking his lips at that stage. We saw in the Tour de Suisse that he was stronger than Porte on the last day of climbing and he followed that up with a blistering TT. Has he managed to hold form?

Top 10 Fillers

Ilnur Zakarin.

The Katusha man is one of those riders that could really fall into a couple of categories in this preview. I fear he’ll lose some time in the TT and given his poor bike handling the cobbles will be an issue too. However, we saw in the Vuelta last year that he was one of the best climbers in the last week. It all depends on the opening 9 days though.

Geraint Thomas.

Team Sky Plan B but when has a Team Sky Plan B ever actually won a race? I certainly can’t recall a time. Needs Froome to drop out within the opening 9 days for him to get a dedicated team around him. Will he wait for his captain on the cobbles as theoretically he should be one of the strongest GC riders. It will be interesting to see how it plays out within the team.

Bob Jungels.

I rate him as a rider but I feel he’s just going to be a “he’s there” kind of rider this Tour. Top 10 would be a good result.

Daniel Martin.

Terrible team means he will lose a lot of time in the TTT and he will lose a lot of time on the cobbles too. Stage hunting later in the race would be a good idea if he just doesn’t want to ride for a top 10.

Steven Kruijswijk.

See Jungels.

Bauke Mollema.

See Kruijswijk.

The Pretenders

Riders that won’t top 10 despite a lot of people thinking they will. Ready to eat my hat here.

Primoz Roglic.

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He seems to be everyone’s favourite wildcard for the race but I just can’t see it. Having won both Itzulia and Romandie he then returned to racing recently and took the crown at his home tour. Unproven and untested, I think he will once again go for stage wins and focus on contending for the GC in a GT next year.

Tom Dumoulin.

The Sunweb rider has never done two GTs back to back while going for GC. After the brutally tough Giro I think he will fall short here and instead focus on going for some stage wins. The way that Sunweb approached this race to me seemed that Kelderman was going to be their GC candidate with Dumoulin acting as a decoy to deflect attention but unfortunately Kelderman crashed and can’t take the start.

Mikel Landa.

The boldest of the three riders listed here, I just can’t get behind the Landa train. I think something will go wrong for him on one of the days and with the two more established Movistar riders possibly getting a little extra support, Landa will lose his hopes on the cobbles. If he is in contact though I would love to see Rogue Landa again.

Egan Bernal.

Exceptional talent but he’ll fall into line, a.k.a behind Thomas and Poels. We might see something similar to Moscon at the Vuelta where he is exceptional for a while but due to his age he won’t be consistent.

Prediction

Probably Froome, innit.

But after resigning myself to that fate at the Giro I’m going to predict a more fairytale result here and go with Bardet to take home the first French win in a long time.

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Allez Romain!

Betting

Three pre-Tour bets for me, all that I’ve tweeted out over the past couple of weeks.

2pts EW Bardet @ 18/1 for GC (he’s actually out to 20/1 with Betfair Sportsbook but I would take the 16/1 widely available elswhere)

1.5pt Valverde Top 3 at 7/1 (available at Bet365 and Will Hill)

1pt EW Demare Points Classification at 20/1 (with Coral/Lads)

I had set aside 10pts for outright market bets but this is not the year to bet on KOM pre race but I might fancy something during the race.

Let’s just hope for a better Tour than Giro punting wise, I’ll be sticking to my favourite rule: 2pts a day keeps the debt collector away!

Thanks for reading as always and hope you enjoyed the preview. Who do you think will go on to win the race overall? Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

Tour de France 2017 Stage 20 Preview; Marseille -> Marseille

Today’s Recap

I was disappointed to wake up this afternoon to see a 20-rider breakaway up the road and none of the picks represented. Even more disappointed when scrolling through the Le Tour Race Centre feed to see that Bauer and McCarthy were involved in an earlier move, oh well!

The breakaway stayed together over the last climb and we were treated to a very tactical battle in the final 40km.

Countless attacks went and were brought back but we did see a split over a slight rise which cut the group in half. From there, we had even more attacks but it was a roundabout inside the final 3km that decided the race. The majority of the front group took the left side, whereas Arndt and Boasson Hagen took the right, much shorter side.

The Norwegian picked up the pace just as Arndt was reaching his limit and swung over. Using a friendly moto he got a 5-10m gap and that was the race over from there! After all his close calls so far this race it is good to see him take the win.

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Arndt held on to finish second, with Keukeleire winning the reduced bunch gallop for third.

With all the GC riders rolling home together, let’s have a look at what’s in store for them tomorrow.

The Route

A pan-flat TT apart from one very short and sharp climb.

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The route is a very interesting one as the climb only makes up just over 5% of the stage. However, being an average of 9.5% for that 1.2km it will probably take the riders closer to roughly 12% of their total time.

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The climb is steep and will certainly ruin the rhythm of the TT specialists. I wonder if we’ll see any bike changes before it? Personally I would say it is not worth it but you never know!

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Aside from the climb, the course is more technical than the opening TT we saw in Düsseldorf. The roads are narrow, particularly along the Corniche, with the riders having to contend with a few tight turns and roundabouts. However, there are plenty of long straight sections for the powerhouses in the peloton to put the Watts down.

It will be a close battle between the TT specialists and the all-round GC riders for the stage win.

Quite often in a TT the changing weather throughout the day will play a part in deciding the outcome. However, it appears tomorrow that all the riders should have dry conditions with the later starts possibly benefiting from a drop in wind speed. Although that depends on what source you look at!

Contenders

Roglic.

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After crashing in the opening TT, the Jumbo rider has since turned things around and took an excellent stage win a couple of days ago. An excellent rider against the clock he should be there or thereabouts but I think he might have actually preferred a harder course with a longer descent!

Froome.

The last TT in a Tour means Froome normally turns up. He crushed Dumoulin last year in the closing time trial and the same can be said for his effort in the Vuelta TT where he put 45 seconds into joint stage favourite Castroviejo. The route looks ideal for the Brit with power sections where he can, erm, put the power down, but the climb should be suited to him too. The only issue is that he hasn’t looked great this Tour so far, yet he finds himself in Yellow. He’s the type of rider who will want to win a stage on his way to winning the race overall and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him on the top step tomorrow.

Küng.

Second place in the opening TT, the Swiss rider did very well to set a fast time when everyone else around him seemed to be struggling in the wet weather. He’s been anonymous since then but has possibly been saving himself for this effort. Tomorrow’s route looks similar to recent closing TT in the Tour de Suisse where he was second behind a flying Dennis. Can he repeat that performance tomorrow?

Martin.

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After failing to make a dream start to his race back in Düsseldorf, Martin has dabbled in a few breakaways since then. The climb is really steep for a guy like him, we saw what happened to him on the steep slopes during his solo breakaway. However, at only 1.2km long he will fancy his chances of powering up it. He should finish in the top 5 but I’m not too confident in his form just now.

Kwiatkowski.

If Froome and Landa want the best info as to how the course rides at race pace then they’ll need a team-mate earlier in the day to go full gas. Given how well he is currently riding, Kwiatkowski could be that man. The course looks a perfect distance for “Kawasaki” and he will probably want to honour his national champions jersey by giving it a good go. The only concern is that he might decide to have an extra rest day considering all of the work he has done so far.

Castroviejo.

The Spaniard is another rider who has had a quiet time this Tour, possibly with an eye on tomorrow’s stage. A great time trial rider he will be challenging again for the win.

As for an outsider who could challenge, I’ll once again highlight Bauer. The New Zealand TT champion got into one of the early moves today so his form is still there. Having taken it easy on the opening day, I think he might give it a nudge tomorrow. It will be tough for him to win but he could possibly sneak onto the podium if he gets lucky.

Predcition

This one is tough.

I’ve chopped and changed my mind between some of the riders listed above several times so far. Making cases for and against all of them and not really coming to any concrete/confident conclusion.

Right…

If he gets to go full gas then I really think Kwiatkowski has a chance of taking a stage win and be truly rewarded for all his work over the past three weeks!

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Betting

Bit of a lottery, and the 9/4 on Froome looks tempting but he’s still too short given his not so dominant performances recently.

1.35pts EW Kwiatkowski @ 20/1 with Ladbrokes/Coral (1/4 odds for 3 places)

0.15pts EW Bauer @ 500/1 with various

 

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

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

Tour de France 2017 Stage 19 Preview; Embrun -> Salon-de-Provence

Today’s Recap

A big break went early and for a while it looked as if they would contest the stage. However, AG2R drove an infernal pace before the Izoard reducing the gap to a bridgeable amount.

Barguil was the first rider to launch a major attack from the peloton and he quickly dropped Contador who initially followed.

With a bit of stalling behind, Landa shot up off the road but he didn’t look as strong as he did a week ago in the Pyrenees. Froome, Bardet and Uran eventually bridged but it was too late for the stage win.

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Barguil caught and past the only remaining breakaway rider (Atapuma) just before the last kilometre, beating the Colombian by 20 seconds in the end. This is the second Grand Tour in a row that Atapuma has finished second on the final mountain stage, coming home behind a Frenchman both times.

Bardet outsprinted Froome to gain 4 bonus seconds, while Uran lost a couple of seconds to the pair.

After all that though, the Brit is still in the driving seat to take his 4th Tour win with a TT still to come. However, there is still another road stage before then.

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

The Route

A rolling day that could/should/might end in a sprint.

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The longest stage of the whole race, the organisers must have been feeling a bit cruel when they came up with the route!

It’s not exactly a straightforward stage either, with a lot of rolling roads in the first part of the stage that it will make it difficult for the sprinters teams to control.

With the last categorised climb peaking out roughly 45km from the finish, will we see a charge from behind to catch the break?

The run-in itself is fairly technical and it will be fast as the road descends from about 5km to go until the Flamme Rouge, flattening out for the final kilometre.

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A couple of tight turns could make it a messy run-in, but with the two close together the peloton should be strung out. Will anyone further behind through that section be able to close the gap in the closing 400m straight?

How will the stage pan out?

A big battle between the breakaway and sprinters.

Firstly, it depends on the attitude of the peloton. After a couple of tough mountain stages there will be a lot of tired bodies and I’m sure a lot of riders will be looking forward to a quieter day.

However, with only a TT and the processional final stage left, tomorrow is the only opportunity for anyone who is not a sprinter or TT specialist to have a good go for a result.

Matthews has the Green Jersey sewn up as long as he stays on his bike and with two stage wins to his name already, will he really make his team chase all day for a third? I think they deserve a rest!

It could actually be the other sprinters who might put their teams to work but with Kristoff and Degenkolb struggling today, I think it would only be Lotto Soudal and Dimension Data who would be willing to chase. Even then, it is a tough day for them to do that and they both have cards they could play in the break instead.

So with that all said, I think we could be in for a big breakaway day again with a group of 25-30 riders escaping up the road.

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Candidates

Two new names and two previous blog picks here;

Tony Martin.

He gave us a lot of excitement with his long-range attack on Stage 15 but was unfortunately undone by a tough climb. The rises in tomorrow’s stage are a lot easier and the powerful German should be able to handle them. If he can stay with the front group over the final Cat-3, I wouldn’t be surprised to see him try another solo attack when they reach the flatter lands and there’s a lull in the action. As everyone will expect it, he’ll have to time the move to perfection but it is certainly something he is capable of.

Jay McCarthy.

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Anyone that can average 775 Watts (12.2 w/Kg) for a minute deserves to make this list! That’s what the Aussie did when he charged through the pack towards the end of stage 14 only to fall just short and finish 5th. What could have been with better positioning! He’s been quiet since then but tomorrow looks like a good stage for him to get into the move. A good punchy climber, the ascents tomorrow shouldn’t be too hard for him and he’ll hope to make it over with the front of the breakaway. Packing a strong sprint from a reduced group, that will be his best chance of victory tomorrow. He best just hope Matthews doesn’t decide he wants to spend a day up-front!

Jack Bauer.

One of the riders of the race so far in my opinion, he has been selfless in his work for both Kittel and Martin. The work he’s done for the latter has been particularly impressive, hanging with the best on some of the toughest mountains and in a very reduced peloton. He’s clearly going very well just now! With Kittel out of the race and Martin “safe” tomorrow, I imagine Quick Step will be keen to get guys into the breakaway.

Stefan Küng.

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No stranger to a breakaway, the Swiss rider won a stage at the Tour of Romandie from the early morning move back in April. He finished second on the opening stage but has been quiet since then, apparently not being allowed to go in breakaways because he’s too tough to bring back. Although that rumour was shot down by the rider himself. Like Martin he might try to rest for the TT the following day, or alternatively he could go on the attack to test where his legs are at. He’s a strong candidate to get a result if he makes the break and I’m sure BMC will have several riders up there.

Prediction

With no sprint team really wanting to chase the breakaway fully, the morning move will stay away. Luck will be important but so will good legs! Having been so agonisingly close to a Tour stage win back in 2014, after being caught within the final 10m, Jack Bauer will get his “revenge” and take the day!

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Betting

Tweeted the selections out before…

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Wouldn’t take less than 50/1 for any of them!

 

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

Those were My Two Spokes Worth

Tour de France 2017 Stage 15 Preview; Laissac-Sévérac l’Église -> Le Puy-en-Velay

Today’s Recap

First of all, apologies for no preview yesterday. I felt absolutely shattered and had to have another few hours sleep before work so there was no time to write anything. Feeling a bit better today but still awfully tired, I need this rest day as much as the riders just now!

Today’s stage saw a fairly strong break escape but with BMC and Sunweb not represented and working from the get go, we were always going to get one outcome. Matthews sprinted to a superb victory with van Avermaet following home in second.

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Boasson Hagen rounded out the podium with a fine third place. Rather annoyingly, one of my picks for the day McCarthy flew up the hill, only to finish in 5th. He was out of shot for most of the climb so he’s clearly going well. A case of what could have been, if he was positioned better!

While we’re talking about poor positioning, Aru managed to find himself isolated and towards the back of the peloton at the bottom of the climb and managed to ship 24 seconds to Froome. It’s good in some ways for him as Astana don’t have the team to defend the jersey, but to lose that much time isn’t ideal.

Anyway, let’s have a look at what’s in store for the riders tomorrow.

The Route

A stage that looks destined to be fought out between the breakaway.

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With a fairly flat start, I wouldn’t expect the break to form until we hit the first categorised climb of the day. It’s not exactly an easy climb either, as the Montée de Naves d’Aubrac averages 6.4% for 8.9km. Only climbers and very strong all-rounders should be able to make the move here! With that being said, the gradient isn’t too tough, so there is a chance we might see some odd riders up there who are on a good day.

Once over the top, we have a short descent before an inconsequential 3rd Cat climb. From there, the riders will face a long period of flat road before the intermediate sprint and an uncategorised 11km drag at ~3%.

The action part of the stage will most likely be the penultimate climb of the day: the Col de Peyra Taillade.

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The steep ramps will no doubt see a selection made in the breakaway, with the better climbers and those feeling strong pushing on. However, with there still being almost 32km to the line over the summit, it will be interesting to see if those dropped behind get back on, or of those ahead can work together to maintain an advantage.

Either way, it will be a very tactical final 45 minutes of racing as riders will be attacking the group hoping to get a gap. Maybe the Cat-4 could act as a launchpad? Luck and good legs will both play an equal part in it for the day’s winner though!

Breakaway Candidates

I am fairly confident tomorrow will be a breakaway day. In fact, it is probably the most obvious one of the race we’ve had so far. Just waiting for a reduced bunch sprint day to happen now…

There are several usual suspects that you can expect to try to make the move but as that’s no fun (and they’re all terrible odds) I’ll be naming those more eccentric picks who are further down the order.

Tony Martin.

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He had a little hit off the front towards the end of today’s stage, stretching out the bunch so that Lammertink could launch a counter attack. During his “attack” the German looked in complete control and it seemed to be more of a tempo ride than anything else. He always seems to find himself in the breakaway on one mountain stage of a Grand Tour and he has won more testing days than tomorrow; Stage 9 in 2014 is an example of that. Now, I do think he will probably be dropped on the steeper slopes of the penultimate climb, that is unless of course he has attacked solo before. Nonetheless, he can certainly make it back in the remaining time and attack over the top. If he gets a gap, not many will be able to catch him.

Daryl Impey.

One of the riders who I backed for today’s stage (thinking a break might stay away) the South African has been very quiet so far this Tour. Considering how strong he was last year, it is a bit of a surprise to be honest! With Yates not really needing too much support tomorrow, Howson will be able to stay with him anyway, I think Impey might be given a free role. On his day, he can surprise!

Rudy Molard.

With Pinot supposedly suffering from stomach problems, Molard looks like FDJ’s best candidate for a stage like this. Strong on steep climbs, he was close to a win in the Giro but the breakaway he was in were caught 4kms from the line. I backed him then and I’m willing to do so again! He has been quiet since Démare left the race, possibly eyeing up a stage to go on the attack. With a fairly strong kick from a reduced group, he could even win the sprint!

Prediction

Impey to find his 2016 form and take a great win for Orica Scott!

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Betting

I can see Impey and Molard coming to the line for a sprint so they could place, but Martin will have to attack from afar so with that being said;

0.4pt WIN Martin @ 125/1 with Bet365 (would take 100s)

0.4pt EW Impey @ 250/1 with PP/BF who are offering 4 places (would take 150s)

0.4pt EW Molard @ 150/1 with Bet365 (would take 100s)

 

I’m refusing to take any less than 100/1 for a day such as tomorrow!

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

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.