Tour de France 2017 – GC Preview

Tour de France 2017 – GC Preview

Well, here we are again. Just over half-way through the season and La Grand Boucle is upon us. The race that your non-cycling friends know about and are somewhat interested in. It’s also the one where you most likely have to explain why Chris Froome isn’t competing in a sprint (we’ll just gloss over stage 11 from last year) or why the peloton have let a group of riders 12 minutes up the road. Firstly though, you will have to explain what a “peloton” is!

Speaking of Froome, the Brit is here to defend his crown and looking to win his fourth title. However, he’ll have to look over his shoulder a lot more this year as there are certainly a few contenders who could knock him from his pedestal…

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Let’s have a quick look at what’s in store for the riders over the next 3 weeks.

The Route

I’m not going to mince my words here, this year’s Tour route is arguably one of the dullest in recent memory. Several long flat sprint stages and only three mountain top finishes, eugh!

However, I’m hoping (probably in vain) that the ASO have pulled a blinder and that the less challenging route will lead to some more aggressive racing. We have seen in the past that ridiculously tough stages often lead to a boring day as too many riders are scared to go too early and run out of steam by the end of the stage.

The opening day’s TT will see some time gaps between the GC favourites but they shouldn’t be too significant, although they could be around 30 seconds or so.

Stage 5 plays host to the first summit finish of the race: La Planche des Belles Filles.

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Having been a stage finish in 2012 and 2014 a lot of the riders will know what to expect. Without any major difficulties in the first two-thirds of the stage it should all come down to the final climb. At 5.9km long and averaging 8.5%, it is tough enough to create some gaps. However, I don’t expect them to be too big between the GC favourites. Will someone who’s lost time in the TT manage to sneak away?

We then have a couple of sprints stages followed by a mountainous double-header before the first rest-day. Stage 8 kind of finishes atop a mountain at Station des Rousses but with 8km from the summit of the climb to the finish line we can’t really call it that! Stage 9 has a flat finish but there are several tough climbs out on the course. Most notably the last climb of the day; the Mont du Chat.

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The toughest climb in France according to some, it played a pivotal part in the recent Dauphiné. While the climb is exceptionally hard, the descent off of it is very technical and it is also a place where riders can attack to try to make some time. They’ll have to hope for a lack of co-operation behind as the 13km to the finish line will seem to take an eternity! With a rest day to come, the riders certainly won’t be holding anything back.

Another two sprint stages will give them time to recover before the second summit finish of the race on stage 12.

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One of the longest stages in the race, it is back loaded with climbing. It could be one of the more exciting stages because depending on the composition of the GC, we could see some early attacks on the Porte de Balès as there are no flat roads for the riders to contend with from kilometre 172.

The organisers have decided to juxtapose the longest mountain stage with the shortest one the following day.

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Seemingly wanting to take a leaf out of the Giro and Vuelta with their explosive/crazy days, I don’t think they’ve managed it. On paper anyway.

First of all, the key to these stages is to finish on a mountain, not have 30km of descending/flat after the summit. Secondly, you have a climb from the gun to try to entice GC men into a very early move and catch those out who’ve not warmed up correctly. The three climbs on the stage are tough enough to cause some chaos, don’t get me wrong, but I can’t help but think if they’d made the stage start or finish on a climb it would be a whole lot better. I hope the riders make the most of it though and produce a very attacking day. For that we need Contador and the Movistar duo to be in contention still at this point.

The GC riders then have 4 days off (including a rest day)  heading into the final week of the Tour. Traditionally packed with mountains, this year’s race is a bit “meh”. Stage 17 is arguably the Queen Stage in my opinion, although it finishes with a descent.

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The Col du Télégraphe / Col du Galibier combination is crazy. Taking the climb as a whole from the foot slopes of the Télégraphe it is ~35km at 5.5%. That’s tough on its own but when you consider the Galibier crests at 2642m then it makes it a whole different ball game. If riders blow up and struggle at altitude, they really could lose a lot of time here. Once over the crest, the riders will descend almost all the way to the finish (28km at -4% avg), although the last 3km are relatively flat. It means we could see a small group come to the line, but I don’t see that happening as I expect the climb and the descent that follows to be tough enough to create gaps.

The following day plays host to the final mountain stage and a summit finish on the Col d’Izoard.

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There’s nothing much to say about this stage really, it is all about the final climb. A last huzzah for the mountain goats to move up on GC before losing time in the TT two days later. Will a rider further down the order be given leeway to take a memorable victory, or will the riders at the top of the GC standings show no mercy and further stamp their dominance on the race?

As for the final GC stage, we have a TT around Marseille on the penultimate day of racing. I’m sure the riders will love the transfer from the South of France all the way to Paris…

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Anyway, the TT is almost pan-flat apart from one short but very steep climb. I knew I recognised the climb from somewhere and it turns out it was used in the final stage of La Provence earlier in the season. However, that day they approached it from the “easier” south side. At the Tour it will be the much harder approach. Sticking out like a sore thumb on the profile, it will certainly hamper the rhythm of the pure TT specialists. Can the climbers gain enough time on those 1.2kms to negate the other 21?

Once the stage is finished we’ll know our GC winner, before we finish with the traditional lap-circuit around the Champs-Élysées on the final day.

GC Battle As A Whole

I’m intrigued to see how the race pans out given the easier parcours compared to previous editions. Fewer mountain top finishes and fewer TT kms, I think the ASO have tried to make the route as anti-Froome as possible and make it a more open race.

In theory, they’ve done that well. There should be smaller time gaps in the TTs due to their shorter nature, although both are pan-flat almost and should suit the specialists. The lack of mountain top finishes should see the climbers closer together because there are less stages where they can drop their rivals and put massive amounts of time into them.

However, the race can definitely favour those willing to take risks. Several of the stages finish with descents off of mountains and I think we’ll see those descents being of almost equal importance to the climbs themselves. Technical descents could see riders lose 20-30 seconds if they’re nervous and if we get bad weather, time gaps could be exacerbated even more. We saw Froome attempting to drop Porte at the recent Dauphiné when coming off the Mont du Chat and I think we’ll see similar moves throughout the race, from riders in or around the top 10.

In trying to make it anti-Froome though, the organisers are playing a risky game because they’ve made it very pro-Sky. If Froome performs like he has in previous seasons and takes Yellow early (on stage 5), then Sky have the strength to be able to control the race for the majority of stages.

GC Contenders

As I’ve already ranted and rambled for a long time, I’ll keep this section “relatively” short. I imagine you will already know a lot about the favourites etc anyway…

Chris Froome.

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The 3-time champion is gunning for his 4th title but he seems to have lost his way this season. Is he on the decline or playing a masterful bluff? He has looked a shadow of his former self lately and most concerningly for him: he’s failed to take a win so far this season. In his past triumphant Tour years he’s managed 5 (2016) / 5 (2015) / 9 (2013) wins (including GC titles) before the start of the race. I think he’s on the decline, but has he realised that and focussed fully on preparing for this race and only this race? Possibly. However, I think it will be hard for him to retain his title but I won’t be surprised if he did! He does have the advantage of having the strongest overall team.

Richie Porte.

Froome’s former team-mate is his biggest threat. The Australian has been on fire this season, winning or challenging for almost every race he’s entered. As I’ve said before, give him a race of 15 minute climbs and you’ll be hard pressed to find someone in the world who can beat him (maybe Dumoulin). There used to be question marks over his ability on the long climbs but he seems to have stepped up in that respect again this season with some big performances. He’ll gain time on his rivals in the TT and more than likely will do on the climbs.

Is he unbeatable? No.

We saw at the Dauphiné that his team is pretty weak and they’ll struggle to protect him in the mountains throughout the race. It’s not so much stages such as the one that finishes on the Izoard that he’ll have problems with. Drop him off at the bottom and he’ll do the rest himself. It’s the days where we have several mountains in quick succession and I am concerned for him on Stage 13.

Nonetheless though, he is the rider to beat this season and that should be no different here.

Nairo Quintana.

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After failing to win the Giro, the Colombian comes here looking for redemption. I have to admit I do have a soft spot for him, although that’s the case for a lot of Colombians, must be something to do with the coffee! I admire a rider that can have a “poor” Tour last year and finish third, while similarly have a terrible Giro this year according to some and finish second. I wish I was that good at something while simultaneously being “rubbish”.

Quintana did look under-cooked at the Giro and I think he had half an eye on the Tour at the time, but like a lot of us, he underestimated how strong Dumoulin was going to be. We could well have been talking about the possibility of him doing the Giro-Tour double.

The route isn’t great for him with a lack of summit finishes, but if he can stay in contention for the final week then he has a great chance to take time on the Galibier and Izoard.

I am concerned though about his level of fatigue though as this is set to be his 4th straight Grand Tour. Maybe he’s got some tips from Adam Hansen?

Alberto Contador.

The most succesful active Grand Tour rider in the peloton, his season has been built around winning the Tour de France. He’s had a string of second places on GC this season, cruelly missing out on Paris-Nice and Andalucia wins by a cumulative margin of 3 seconds. He will no doubt animate the race and it is good to see him enjoying his racing more than when he was at Tinkoff, but I still think he’s past his prime and I can’t see him contending for the win. The same can’t be said for the next rider…

Alejandro Valverde.

Mr Evergreen (not the Green Bullet) as I have decided to call him, has had an astonishing season for a 37-year-old. He’s picked up 3 GC wins this season so far, but they’ve all came in Spain. Finishing 9th at the recent Dauphiné after a month and a half out of racing wasn’t a bad result and he’ll be hoping to have progressed in form since then. This year’s Tour route looks ideal for him and it is crucial for Movistar’s chances to have both him and Quintana in contention going into the last week. He will be close to the podium, but I think he’ll suffer in the final week as he has one eye on the Vuelta where he’ll be outright leader of the team.

Fabio Aru.

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The newly crowned Italian champion has been flying as of late and he will be Astana’s main rider here. According to their press release Fuglsang will be co-leader but I expect he’ll eventually fall by the wayside. However, like Movistar, Astana can benefit massively from having two riders close on GC. They put on an attacking masterclass at the Dauphiné and I expect something similar here. Aru looks back to his 2015 best and after missing the Giro he’ll be wanting to make amends. A podium finish is well within his capabilities and with some luck, he could possibly go a bit better!*

* I am a bit biased though as he is in my season long fantasy team. Think I’ve been brainwashed as well by my neighbours personalised number plate that ends in ARU.

Romain Bardet.

After his spectacular second place last year, the French rider will be hoping for a repeat performance this season. He’s had a relatively quiet season but has been slowly peaking for this race. He’ll love the lack of TT kms (although he’ll still lose plenty of time) and the descents will be to his liking as well. I just don’t think he’ll be up there competing again, and the pressure of being the big French hope might get to him.

Dan Martin.

Another rider who will benefit from the fewer TT kms, he will be looking to improve on his 9th place last year. The route does suit the attacking Irishman who will no doubt squirrel off the front on some stages. His fast sprint could see him pick up some bonus seconds. A dark horse for the podium, I think he’ll fall short.

Esteban Chaves.

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The Smiling Assassin is a rider I’m sure a lot of fans have a soft spot for. Making his Tour debut this year, he returned to racing at the Dauphiné after almost 4 months out with a knee problem. Considering his performances in the Giro and Vuelta last year, if he came into this race fully fit then people would be talking up his chances for the podium Right now he has a question mark beside him, but I think he could surprise again.

If not, team-mate Simon Yates could be Orica’s GC hope. An attacking rider, he will no doubt launch himself off the front on the penultimate climb of a stage, looking to gain time before the final summit. He finished a very respectable 6th at the Vuelta last year but it was a pretty lacklustre field and I’m still not convinced he’s a fully fledged GC rider in a Grand Tour.

Rafal Majka will lead the charge for Bora who look to be trying to win every jersey possible at the race. A quality rider, don’t expect him to see him attacking out of the bunch too much, he’ll just be there in the background, almost anonymously. Free from the shackles of working for another rider, he could well find himself in the top 5 of another GT.

Louis Meintjes a.k.a the ticket collector, will no doubt be seen at the back of the mountain train every time the road goes uphill. A gutsy rider who will hang on for a top 10 at least by the end of the race, I think he might possibly sneak even further up the pecking order.

Ion Izagirre gets his first shot at riding a Grand Tour as leader. A super domestique for Valverde and Quintana in the past, he’s been solid this season but hasn’t set the scene alight. Will he perform consistently throughout the race to be there at the pointy-end come the final week?

Right, I think that’s everyone…

(Yes, I’ve missed out Uran but that’s because I don’t think he’ll be there).

As for an outsider to finish in the top 10, I like the look of Primoz Roglic.

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The Slovenian has upped his game this season and has turned himself into a fully fledged GC rider. An excellent TTer who can also climb well, the lack of mountain top finishes this year will really suit him as the really long climbs are his undoing. The guy can descend as well, rather apt considering his downhill skiing background, which will be very handy during this race.

Watching him fly down the descent during the final TT at Romandie was a thing of beauty. He managed to put 26 seconds into Porte over 11km of descending/flat, it was crazy! It is only his second Grand Tour so there is a chance he’ll be left wanting come the end, but I think he’ll be there fighting for a top 10.

Prediction

Porte will finally shake that “3-week consistency” monkey off his back and take the overall win to continue an unbelievable season!

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With Aru coming second and Quintana third.

Betting

I’m not a huge fan of betting on GC, but I am tempted with something on Aru EW, but I think I’ll wait until after he loses time in the opening TT!

As for now though, I’ve got 2pts on Roglic Top 10 @ 3/1 with Betfred (would take 11/4 that’s available elsewhere)

 

Thanks as always for reading and any feedback as usual is greatly appreciated. Who do you think will win the Tour overall? Will we see any surprises? Or will it be the usual suspects competing for victory? I’ll be back tomorrow with my look at the Green Jersey battle and I promise it will be a lot shorter! Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

Critérium du Dauphiné 2017 Stage 4 Preview; La Tour-du-Pin -> Bourgion-Jalieu

Today’s Recap

The peloton here are about as reliable as that from the 2015 Giro!

They left the chase for the break too late and the early morning move stayed away to take the win for the second stage out of three.

It was young Koen Bouwman who sprinted to the win, with Siskevicius and Backaert rounding out the podium. Not a bad race to take your first professional victory in!

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Behind Démare “won” the bunch sprint for 7th but I’m sure he’ll be bitterly disappointed knowing he could have and probably should have, taken another win.

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

The Route

We’ll see the first proper GC shake up with a relatively long ITT.

The official profile isn’t overly helpful, so instead I’ve made my own. As is TT tradition! However, I’ve used Cronoescalada this time instead of Strava.

Dauphine Stage 4 (ITT)

You can view the interactive profile I made here.

As you can see, it’s not the toughest TT course ever but does include a few tricky climbs over its 23.5km.

The riders will actually lose more altitude than they gain over the route; 288m gain compared to a 378m loss.

The climbing can’t be discounted but it only makes up just over a fifth of the stage, so to me it seems that this stage is much more suited to the specialist time trial riders. The real powerful riders of the peloton who will be able to churn a big gear on the downhill sections.

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Aside from when leaving the start town and entering the finish town the course is very straightforward, with very few turns where the riders will have to apply the breaks.

Weather Watch

As is often is the case in TTs, the weather can play a massive part in the outcome of the stage.

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Source: Wunderground

Thankfully the riders should all face the same, fairly benign conditions. Should mean an even contest throughout the day!

Contenders

Tony Martin – The current World Champion should be suited to this course perfectly. He’s strong enough to be able to flatten the few kilometres of hills we have but also able to churn out a massive amount of power on the flat/downhill sections. His form is a bit unknown, but he really should be the guy to beat.

Chris Froome – On paper this TT isn’t ideal for Froome, I’m sure he’d prefer the hills ever so slightly longer. Nonetheless, he can produce a very good flat TT when needed! It will be interesting to see where his form is less than a month out from the Tour. I mean, it’s very unlikely that he’ll be as low as his Romandie level but you never know!

Richie Porte – The former Aussie TT champ is also not averse to putting in a good “flat” time trial. Arguably one of the riders of the season so far, he’ll sprint up those climbs. Can he hold it together on the downhill? Is he willing to take many risks with the Tour not so far away?

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Those three are the top of the pile but there are certainly a few others who can challenge.

Michal Kwiatkowski is no stranger to a good TT. He was strong in the discipline before moving to Sky but this season he seems to have re-found that good form. A very powerful rider and great bike handler, he has a great chance at the podium.

Edvald Boasson Hagen would probably prefer a shorter course but given his current for, he can’t be ruled out either.

Alejandro Valverde has gone well this season so far in TTs but they tend to involve more climbing than this one. Nonetheless, with the year he is having, you can’t write him off too early!

For a proper outsider…

Damien Howson.

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The former U23 TT World Champion turned super-domestique certainly has the background and pedigree for this type of event. He rolled home today, possibly saving himself for days to come. If he gets the nod to go full gas, he could surprise!

Prediction

I’m going to go for none of the big 3, instead, I’ll go for one of their team-mates: Kwiatkowski.

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The Sky rider has regained his mojo this season and is now riding with a lot of confidence again which will be a huge lift to his performance. Returning from training camp with Froome, he has been attentive at the front of every stage so far which makes me think he’s going well. It would be of benefit for Sky to have two riders high on GC and I’m sure Kwiatkowski would happily oblige!

Betting

1.3pt EW Kwiatkowski @ 18/1

0.2pt EW Howson @ 300/1 

(Both 365, 1/5 odds)

 

Thanks as always for reading. Who do you think will win tomorrow? If you’ve not already, check out my preview for the first stage of the women’s tour! Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

Critérium du Dauphiné 2017 Stage 1 Preview; Saint-Étienne -> Saint-Étienne

GC Overview

No stand-alone GC preview from me but it looks set to be a showdown between Porte and Froome. The former won their battle in Romandie, looking imperious. However, the Dauphinè is Froome (and Sky’s) race. They’ve taken the title in 5 out of the last 6 editions and I’m sure the Brit will be here to put down a marker before the Tour.

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The TT should suit both of those guys and with the amount of climbing on offer, then they both should end up on the podium.

However, there is the potential that they could be caught out on the tough stages at the end of the race, particularly the explosive 115km Stage 8 test. We saw that in 2014 when Talansky went on a raid to win the overall. The Cannondale rider looked good in California, is a repeat performance on the cards?

Of course, we have several other contenders such as Valverde, Contador, Bardet, YatesMartin and Chaves (if he’s recovered from his injury) who might spring a surprise and catch the big-two napping on that last day.

Nonetheless, I’ll be boring/safe (delete as appropriate), this is Froome’s Duaphiné to lose. The parcours suits him very well and he seems to go better on the longer climbs in comparison to his former team-mate.

He needs a commanding performance, otherwise the Australian will go into the Tour buoyant and as a very, very serious title contender, if not the favourite!

Right, now let’s have a look at what’s in store for the riders on the opening day.

The Route

A tough, tricky and very interesting route to start the race off.

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Lots of small climbs throughout the day but particularly in the circuit on the outskirts of Saint-Étienne which will no doubt shape the race.

I don’t envisage any of the early climbs being attacked aggressively enough for the sprinters to lose contact, so I’ll just skip them! However, they will no doubt stretch the legs of the riders for what is to come.

Instead, I’ll focus on the final 44km and the “interesting” finale.

According to the roadbook, the Côte de Rochetaillée is 3.4km at 5.4%. However, that doesn’t really tell the whole story, so out of interest I made a Strava profile of the final circuit that you can view here.

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They make the climb to be 3.8km at 5.8%. Either way, it’s not what I would call short and not what I would call extremely easy!

Moreover, the little lump/prelude of a climb is roughly 2.5km at 3.5%. It means for the final 44kms the peloton will be climbing for approximately 18km of them, totalling 1350m of elevation gain (~450 per lap according to Strava).

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The majority of the descent towards the line is fairly straightforward and the riders will be thankful to get a few looks at it. However, there is a pair of tight 90-degree right-hand turns just after the Flamme Rouge which could cause some issues.

Positioning will be very important.

The road even rises ever so slightly to the line, but it’s minimal!

How will the stage pan out?

This is a really exciting stage on paper because it is so tough to call.

Will the sprinters make it? Will the punchier riders fight it out? Will we see a late attack stick? Or none of the above?

I’ll stick my neck on the line and suggest that it will actually be a relatively selective bunch that comes to the line, maybe 30-40 riders. A few of the GC teams with fast riders who aren’t as strong in a TT might want to gain a few bonus seconds tomorrow!

My reasoning for this is that tomorrow’s stage reminds me an awful lot of the Barcelona circuit (Stage 7) we had at the Volta Catalunya earlier in the year. On that day they admittedly did many more laps (8 compared to 3), but the climb was actually easier (only 2.2km at 5.1%).

That stage ended with a front group of only 16 riders, but I imagine tomorrow might be just over double in size.

Therefore, that means I’m ruling out the majority of the sprinters, with possibly only Boasson Hagen and Colbrelli making it. Even then though I’m not too sure!

Contenders

Valverde is obviously the first name to spring to mind for a finish like this. He won the stage in Catalunya and has been his usual imperious self this season! Having not raced for a while his form is a bit unknown, but the Spaniard always turns up at the big races. Taking a few bonus seconds here could set him in good stead for an assault on the GC title.

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Kwiatkowski could be the Spaniards biggest challenger. Another rider who has not raced for a while, the former World Champion seems to have returned to his glory days this season having already won Strade Bianche and Milan San Remo. In Pais Vasco he was competing in the flatter reduced sprints and he certainly packs the speed to go well tomorrow.

Ulissi is a rider who on paper would relish this type of finish. Yet, with so many others, it is tough to know where his form currently is! I would not be surprised to see him in the top 5.

Gallopin should like the punchy circuit and with his fast kick he could be another rider challenging for a podium place.

There is one outsider who I would like to mention.

Dan Martin.

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He’s no slouch in a sprint from GC contenders and if we do get a properly reduced group like I think we will then he could sneak a podium place. Will he be given the chance if some of his team-mates make it? Hopefully!

Prediction

A tougher day than some might predict, but Valverde will continue his incredible 2017 with another win!

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With Dan Martin not too far behind him!

Betting

I think the 25/1 on Valverde looks massive value at the moment, it is a shame that I’ve just realised that Bet365 are offering win only ;

SkyBet are offering EW places though so bet with them if you can. I’m not too fussed with having to take Valverde straight up as I’m not allowed more than 0.5pt on with them Sky, so 365 it is for Valverde.

As for Martin, he is “EW value” so only bet if you can get him EW!

2pts WIN Valverde @ 25/1 with Bet365 (same price with SkyBet)

0.5pt EW Dan Martin @ 150/1 with SkyBet.

 

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

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

 

Liège-Bastogne-Liège 2017 Preview

La Doyenne or “the Old Lady” for the Anglicised among you, returns on Sunday for its 103rd edition!

Normally a very attritional race in its own right, last year’s race had the added dimension of truly awful weather with snow and rain throughout the day. In the end it was Wout Poels who took the victory from a small group that had escaped on the penultimate climb and stayed away until the end, sealing Sky’s first Monument win. Albasini and Rui Costa rounded out the podium.

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Poels isn’t here this year to defend his crown so it opens the door for a new winner, or one of the previous champions to step up to the mantle again.

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

The Route

258km of rolling road through the Ardennes awaits the peloton.

 

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Don’t let the fact that there are only 10 categorised climbs on course fool you, this is a tough and attritional race where the road is up and down a lot throughout the day.

The first 160km will serve as a warm-up for the riders and we’ll see our usual relatively large break go composed mainly of the Pro-Conti teams with a handful of World Tour representatives in their for good measure.

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Credit: Velorooms

Once we get to 90km to go, the climbs start in earnest, beginning with the Côte de Pont. But it’s the Col du Rosier which could be the site of the first potentially race winning attack I think. At 4.4km in length it is the longest ascent of the race and averaging 5.9% it is steep enough to gain some distance with a strong attack.

From there they tackle a descent before the Maquisard. However, it is probably the final three climbs that this race is famous for.

The Côte de la Redoute comes at roughly 40km to go.

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Short and steep, it’s one that might entice the punchy riders into a move depending on the race situation.

Next up after that is the Roche-aux-Faucons, with the Côte de Saint-Nicolas coming at under 10km to the finish line.

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There’s little time for the race to regroup once over the summit as they descend before starting the approach into Ans.

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The closing climb up to the finish line averages 5.3% for the 1.5km so isn’t overly difficult but at the end of a tough day riders will still need something left in the tank to cope with it.

How will the race pan out?

I think our aggressive Spring racing will continue here and we’ll see a similar race to Amstel. Plenty of teams have several options in their ranks and I would be very surprised to see them all happily wait for the final climb like they do in Fleche.

So we could well see some relatively serious attacks come on the Rosier. Who makes it and what teams are represented will then shape the rest of the race.

If we get strong enough riders from Movistar/Sky/BMC/Orica/Quick Step then it stays away in my opinion. Well, that is of course if they continue to work hard while out in front and everyone co-operates. Although we did see that the front group managed to stay ahead at Amstel even with JJ Rojas sandbagging them.

From there it’s just about being not only one of the strongest riders but one of the most tactically astute.

Or of course, it could all come back together and we get an aggressive final couple of climbs like we had in last year’s edition.

Contenders

With it being such an open race there is no clear favourite in my opinion, but Valverde is most definitely the closest to one that we have. Imperious on the Huy midweek, he seems to get better with age which is ridiculous when you consider his already illustrious career. In Amstel his Movistar team was caught out and probably would have preferred a different rider up the road. I’m sure they won’t make the same mistake twice but their team still doesn’t look that great. Having already won this race 3 times, he knows what it takes and it wouldn’t surprise me to see him on the top step of the podium again come Sunday afternoon!

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Team Sky in theory pose the biggest threat to the Spaniard as they have the great 1-2 punch of Kwiatkowski and Henao (Sergio), heck, you could even through Rosa into that mix too. This race looks best suited to the former world champion though. He’s really regained his footing as one of the best one-day racers in the world this year. With a monument win already under his belt this season he could well go on to make it two!

Dan Martin is QuickSteps leader for this race and rightly so. A former winner here, this is one of his favourite races in the calendar and he always seems to find himself at the pointy end of the day. Finishing 2nd to Valverde (again) on Wednesday, he’ll be hoping to go one better this Sunday. Yet, I have my eye on one of his team-mates and there is certainly some fantasy-league bias to this one; Petr Vakoc. With no Gilbert or Alaphilippe the Czech rider is co-leader elect and has all the abilities to go well on Sunday in my opinion. The way he easily bridged across to Wellens in Brabantse shows how well he is going because Wellens isn’t exactly short of form at the moment. He was unlucky to have suffered a mechanical at a bad time in Amstel and I get the feeling that we haven’t seen the last of him over this past week…

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BMC will have two leaders in this race who aren’t clear favourites according to the bookmakers, although I’m unsure as to why one of them isn’t. Those two riders are of course Teuns and Van Avermaet! The former was excellent in La Fleche, taking a great third place. It’s nice to see him living up to the lofty expectations that were put on him after his breakthrough performance in the 2014 Tour of Britain. He certainly has a good opportunity on Sunday to repeat that result. However, it’s his team-mate GVA that interests me more. According to the bookmakers he’s a relative outsider and I just can’t get my head around why! Yes, he was only 12th place in Amstel and looked jaded chasing the front group, but that’s because he was the rider shouldered with most of the workload. The climbs here aren’t too tough and the Olympic Champion has a very, very good chance of taking his second monument of the year.

I expect an attacking race from Orica as they have plenty of good climbers in their team. Likewise the same can be said for Cannondale and Astana. Yet, I just don’t see any of their riders winning this race.

I would love to see Haas go better than his 4th in Amstel for Dimension Data, but he was struggling with illness in Fleche. Maybe it was just a small bug and he’s managed to turn it around?

Izagirre is dangerous for Bahrain, so too are the UAE duo of Costa and Ulissi. I think the Italian will have a really good race here as he prepares for the Giro.

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He impressed me a lot in Pais Vasco, especially his 8th place in the TT. Since then he was in the second group in Amstel and finished in 10th place in Fleche. Not bad form!

Bardet and Barguil will hope to top 10, but this is me just filling up some words and naming some more names as I’ve already suggested my winner…

Prediction

Greg Van Avermaet to show that Amstel was just a blip and he rounds out one of the best spring classics seasons of all time with a fine victory in Liege!

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Betting

Set my stalls out with this tweet earlier this week and again this morning;

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I’ll be marking him down as 200/1 with 0.5pt EW on. He’s into 150/1 now with most places and I still think there’s value to be had with that, especially if you can get the 4 places available.

I went a bit heavy-handed on Vakoc thinking I’d only have two picks and that would be it, but I’m going to have three now so the stakes have risen. It is the last monument for a while though so YOLO as the kids these days say…

0.5pt EW Vakoc @ 200/1

1pt EW Ulissi @ 66/1 with Bet365 (take the 50/1 and 4 places available elsewhere)

2pts EW GVA @ 22/1 with Coral who’re paying 4 places. (would take 20s)

 

Thanks as always for reading and any feedback is greatly appreciated like normal. Who do you think will win La Doyenne? Will we see an attacking race or will it come down to a relatively large group heading towards Liege? I’ll be back again with my Liege Femmes preview so please return for that! Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

La Flèche Wallonne 2017 Preview

The second of the Ardennes classics this week and we’re finally in the Ardennes! A race dominated by the famous Mur de Huy ascent and the sprint up it, the day is often won by some of the best climbers in the world.

Last year an imperious Valverde won it for the third time in a row (his 4th in total), beating Alaphilippe and Dan Martin.

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I’m not going to beat about the bush here though, this is one of my least favourite races of the year. A long afternoon waiting for one short effort up the final climb, not my idea of fun. Maybe that will change this year though after all the attacking racing we’ve had so far this Spring?

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

The Route

A shade over 200km, with most of the challenges packed into the latter half of the race.

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The road is up and down for the last 80km but more than likely it will be the final 30km that will settle the day.

With the second passage of the Huy, some teams might look to increase the pace and shed some domestiques of the main favourites, or even send attackers up the road.

It’s then around 12km until they hit the Côte d’Ereffe, cresting with only 15km remaining. At 2.1km in length and averaging only 5%, it’s not a hard climb, but I expect the pace to be high and a few riders might get dropped from the peloton.

Once over the peak, we have a quick descent and an unclassified rise before a gradual drop to the penultimate climb of the day.

The Côte de Cherave is an easier Mur, averaging just over 8% for 1.3km. Last year saw Izagirre, Jungels and Wellens attack on the climb and we could well see some similar moves this year. With its proximity to the finish, if the peloton behind is not co-operating then there is a chance that riders make it all the way to the Mur with a gap. However, they’ll need to have something left in the tank before tackling the famous climb.

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The 9.6% average gradient is a bit deceitful because we have a kilometre that averages closer to 11%, with much shallower slopes at the bottom and right at the end of the climb.

It will be a strong rider who wins tomorrow!

Weather Watch

It looks like a nice day out in the saddle for the riders, but it also looks to be a relatively windy day.

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Source; Windfinder

The above image is the forecast for a town called Maillen which is just north of the route near Yvoir (at the 63km gone mark).

It’s a similar story for the rest of the region tomorrow, with a brisk North-Easterly wind which means that it will be a head or cross-head wind for most of the day until we reach the closing circuit around Huy.

Combining the wind direction, speed and road direction then echelons are certainly a possibility but I fear there is a greater chance of it just being a block head-wind instead.

There are some exposed roads in the area though, so if the wind would turn ever so slightly, then that would be great!

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I’m just thinking wishfully again though.

How will the race pan out?

I’m really hoping that the attacking racing of the Spring continues here. The route has a lot of potential, especially the closing 15km, it just requires some teams to be risky for once. Otherwise, we’ll end up with another damp squib of a race again.

The onus is really on Movistar to do most of the work as Valverde is the man to beat on this climb, going for his 5th win and considering his form, no one else will win if the bunch comes to the foot slopes together. Barring any mechanical or other incident of course.

Therefore it’s up to other teams to make the race hard and wear down Movistar as the Spanish team here is solid, but not great. Potential race winning attacks will need to come further out than 15km to go though because they should still be able to cope with them then.

In theory, no one should help them and that’s how I would certainly play it if I was a DS of a team. Yet as we know, some teams don’t seem to think that way and I fear that Sky/QuickStep will crack and help do some work.

However, if Sky sent someone like Rosa up the road on the penultimate passage of the Huy then that would set alarm bells ringing in the Movistar camp and soften them up for the last trio of climbs. Joined by some allies from other teams, then we could have a race on our hands. It would need to be a meaningful attack though because the route isn’t tough enough to cause any damage if it’s a half-hearted effort.

With all that said though, I fear it may come down to a sprint up the Mur.

Contender(s)

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Anyone else?

Team Sky duo of Henao and Kwiatkowski should be up there. Both have finished well in the past at this race and they were strong in Amstel which will give them a lot of confidence going into tomorrow. A 1-2 punch might see them beat Valverde but Quick Step tried that last year and failed, so we could see a similar outcome again.

No Gilbert is a blow for Quick Step but they still have Dan Martin who will be in contention. He wasn’t great in Catalunya but that could turn around here, he won’t win though.

Albasini will top 10 again, possibly top 5.

Uran has looked good this season and should be up there again. His team-mate Woods should like this type of finish but his tactical ineptness lets him down at times. I guess there aren’t many tactics to a 1.3km uphill effort!

Several other GC riders/climbers will feature in and around the top 10, such as Bardet, Pantano and Costa.

As for outsiders;

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My logic still stands with Matthews for tomorrow, or at least it does in my head anyway! He seems to be going exceptionally well this year and he’s survived some steep climbs when I’ve not expected it. With the race only being 200km he should be fresh at the finish so in a 3-minute effort, why can’t he compete with the best GC riders in the World?

I’m also intrigued to see how Kudus goes. The Eritrean will benefit from the shorter race distance and I keep thinking back to how impressive he was in February on the climb to Llucena. The issue is that, that result was February and we’re now in April when riders are almost in peak condition and Kudus hasn’t shown so much recently. Nonetheless, as a proper outsider, he’s one to keep an eye on!

If we get a late attack succeed or a group of riders get away then Vakoc is my man for that situation.

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As QS’ join second best option IMO (along with Brambilla), he could be a good foil to send up the road in an attacking race. He looked incredibly strong in Brabantse, bridging the gap to Wellens and then to the leaders fairly comfortably. Peaking for this part of the season, I don’t think we’ve seen everything from him yet this week…

Prediction

An exciting/attacking race? Hopefully! But…

Cycling is a sport where 180 guys ride around on their bikes for 5 hours and in the end, Valverde wins.

Betting

I fear #HaugheyWednesdays will be coming to an end tomorrow. Some really small punts for interest but they are already a hiding to nothing and almost being marked down as a loss before the start…

0.125pt EW Matthews @ 300/1 (As I tweeted this I’m counting it, and I would maybe take the 200s still available. The 150 is a push)

0.125pt EW Kudus @ 500/1 with Betfair/PP (would take 300s lowest)

0.125pt EW Vakoc @ 250/1 with Bet365 (150/1 lowest but again, that’s at a push).

 

Thanks as always for reading and any feedback is greatly appreciated. Who do you think will win? Will it be a walk in the park for Valverde? This is the first of three previews I’ll have out today, with Women’s Fleche out next then Tour of the Alps out later, so do return for those! Although the latter may be cancelled due to the weather. Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

 

Gent – Wevelgem 2017 Preview

Gent – Wevelgem 2017 Preview

The final race of our Belgian triple-header this week is upon us, and we finish with the longest outing yet; the 249km long Gent Wevelgem. Shame, as this is my favourite week of cycling in the whole calendar year!

Last year saw Peter Sagan get revenge for being bested in E3, taking a superb win ahead of Vanmarcke, Kurznetsov (who survived from the morning break) and Cancellara.

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Will we see another exciting day of racing? Let’s have a look at what’s in store for the riders.

The Route

Long day in the saddle that like most of the cobbled races, builds slowly for an eventful final 100km.

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Profile once again courtesy of @LasterketaBurua.

This is both the easiest and hardest of the 3 races. There are barely any cobbled sections in comparison to the other races, but the sheer length of the race and repeated nature of hills in the final third take their toll.

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We might see some action up the Kemmelberg first time round, but if not, the plugstreets could cause some damage.

They are pretty much loose gravel roads (for the uninitiated amongst you 😉).

There is often a lot of wind and open landscape around that area which can often lead to splits when the pressure is on.

The Kemmelberg will be the last major obstacle for the riders to tackle and its second ascent comes at around 35km to go. In fact, they approach the climb from the steeper side the second time round. The organisers decided to change it from the “easier” ascent which they tackle earlier in the race, to this tougher approach (max 23%) to make the race more open and exciting. You can see how difficult it is from the highlights of last year’s edition.

From the summit, it’s a TT effort between those who make it over ahead and the chase from behind.

Weather

The weather can often play a massive part in how the race pans out here but it certainly won’t be as bad as it was in the 2015 edition…

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Nonetheless we look to have a consistent 20km/h Easterly wind for most of the day, with some stronger gusts blowing up.

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Source: Windfinder

Now that doesn’t mean that we’re guaranteed to get crosswinds but on the open and exposed areas of road they are certainly a possibility. It may also affect the end of the race as we could have cross-head winds for most of the run in. Which will tire out both those riders ahead and the chase!

How will the race pan out?

I think once again we’ll see an attacking race and there won’t be many teams wanting to hold it together for a sprint.

As we have witnessed in the first two race this week, it is much better to have at least one rider up the road so that you can just follow the moves behind. Therefore there is a chance an early move makes it, but I think instead we’ll see one selection on the plugsteets, followed by a further selection on the final ascent of the Kemmelberg. From there, it will be a case of who’s made the front group and who’s left to chase behind.

I fancy there to be enough fire-power up the road for it not to be brought back for a sprint. Or sorry, I’ll rephrase that, there won’t be enough power and willing workers behind to bring it back for a sprint!

Contenders

Peter Sagan missed out in E3 due to being held up by a crash, but as I said in that preview, I don’t think he really cares that much for that race. Instead, he’ll do something similar to last year where he’ll now want to test his legs here, and test his legs I’m sure he will. He was the rider who put in the killer attack on the Kemmelberg last year and he will no doubt do the same this time round. He will make the front selection and he will more than likely win this race! Sagan also will have the benefit of knowing Bennett will be in the group behind to sprint, so the Slovak can leave it all out on the road up ahead.

So who can beat him?

Quick Step probably have the best chance. In Boonen and Gaviria they have two riders who will fancy their chances of beating Sagan in a sprint, but I just can’t see that happening. Instead if I was DS, I would do my upmost to try to get Stybar and Terpstra in a move with Sagan and try to work him over. Those two riders are the only one’s who can follow him on the Kemmelberg (I’m assuming Gilbert will be tired after his first two races). They can co-operate for a while with Sagan, but then take turns attacking the group at the end. Because if they hold things together for a sprint, they won’t win. Even though he didn’t win, I was still incredibly impressed with Terpstra in E3. There were a few  times he missed the front split due to crashes etc, but soon after he was up front again and looking content. He is going very, very well but is without a result yet. That could come here!

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Fresh from his victory in E3, Greg Van Avermaet will be hoping to repeat that feat here. He was exceptionally strong on Friday and there is no reason to believe that won’t continue at this race. One of the only guys who can follow Sagan and has a proven track record of beating him. Van Avermaet certainly won’t be scared to take the Slovak on in a sprint from a reduced group.

After a terrible first two races, Trek bring their A-squad to this one. Stuyven, Degenkolb, Theuns and Felline are all potential winners if they play their cards right and get a bit of luck on the day. I imagine they’ll keep either Degenkolb or Theuns as a designated sprinter, but the remaining three will be used to attack throughout the day. Stuyven popped in E3 but Felline looked strong all day and was left frustrated in the group behind. He’s my dark horse for this race.

Another rider left frustrated behind in the second group in E3 was Tony Martin. The German comes here as Katusha’s main protagonist for this race and he certainly can go well. It will be tough for him to follow the best on the Kemmelberg, but if a selection is made before that then he certainly has a chance to TT away from everyone.

Sky have their duo of Rowe and Stannard here but they were a bit disappointing in E3. Rowe looked the better of the two but he looked a far cry from his attacking self that we saw in Omloop and Kuurne earlier in the year.

Prediction

I’m being boring here, but Sagan wins. I had similar thoughts last year to this race and Sagan went on to win after a “poor” E3. Now this year’s E3 was actually poor results wise, but that was due to him being held up by a crash. If he can be bothered, no one here can beat him!

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There are a few riders though who do have a chance if things get tactical and they’ll be covered below.

Betting

Big day to end an exciting week and I’m playing up some of the Lampaert winnings before I return to a more conservative approach in the next few weeks!

Sagan 4.5pts WIN @11/4 with Betfred (Would take the widely available 5/2 though)

Terpstra 1.25pt EW @ 50/1 with Bet365/PP/BF (Would take 40s)

Felline 1.25pt EW @ 50/1 with Bet365 (Would take 40s)

Martin 1pt WIN @ 100/1 with various (Would take 80s)

 

Thanks for reading as always! Who do you think will win? Can anyone stop Sagan? Check out my women’s preview if you haven’t already. 2 out of 3 previews done for today…Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

Volta Catalunya Stage 4 Preview; Llívia -> Igualada

Today’s Recap

If I’m being honest, I didn’t catch much of today’s stage. Only the last 600m in fact, I was too busy watching Dwars! From what I saw, it seemed a fairly benign day and we got a sprint to the finish line between the two pre-stage favourites. It was Valverde who came out on top over Martin, exacting some revenge for Movistar who felt hard done by with the reversal of the commissaire’s decision this morning!

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Yates came home in third to pick up some bonus seconds, with the blog pick of Bardet coming 4th. Van Garderen holds a 41 second lead on the GC over team-mate Sanchez, but there are a whole host of riders queuing up behind the BMC duo if they were to falter.

Will we see any GC changes tomorrow? Let’s have a look at the route.

The Route

A weird route that starts with almost 100km of very shallow descending!

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Source: @LasterketaBurua

There is a sprint point on top of a small hill after only 6.2km so I expect the GC teams to keep the bunch together for that. It looks ideal for the likes of Valverde to nab a few bonus seconds.

We then have the long, gradual descent before the next main obstacle of the day; the cat 3 Alt del Pubill. Only 2.9km long and averaging 6%, it’s not overly difficult and I imagine the peloton will roll over it.

The course then rolls for the next 70km before we reach the main challenge of the day; the Cat 2 Turó del Puig. At 5.3km and only averaging 5.4% the GC riders won’t be troubled here, but due to its proximity to the finish line it should be tackled at a fair pace. This should see the end of the sprinters chances for the day.

Apologies for the poor quality image below, the road book doesn’t offer much to play with!

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They’ll then descend all the way until 2km to go where we have a fairly technical finale. Two 90-degree turns and a roundabout feature in the last kilometre. It’s a typical Spanish end to the day and will no doubt be suitably manic!

That is of course if we end up with some type of sprint.

How will the stage pan out?

With the peloton very much spread out on GC already there is a good chance we could get a breakaway stay away tomorrow.

The position of the last climb will make it too hard for Bouhanni and Greipel to make it over with the peloton but it’s not hard enough to cause some GC gaps. We could quite well see the type of sprint I thought we might get on Stage 1, where there’s a peloton of around 50 guys who come to the finish together.

Valverde might fancy his chances of winning the sprint and taking some more bonus seconds along with it. However, that will mean another day of work for Movistar when they don’t have to and I’m sure they’d rather save their efforts for the brutal finish on Stage 5.

So I’ll go for a break, and give it a 70/30 chance that it makes it.

Breakaway Contenders

There are many, many riders who will be given plenty of freedom tomorrow so it’s just a case of me once again trying to give some (hopefully) well-reasoned logic behind my picks and of course a bit of luck for them to make it.

It’s not helped when there’s a bout of illness going around the peloton just now and we’re none the wiser as to who is actually fighting fit. Oh well, here goes nothing!

Nathan Haas.

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The Aussie is here building form for his next goals in the season (Amstel) and what better way to do that then out in the break?! He admitted that he was suffering on the first day but sounded hopefully that it blew the cobwebs away. Tomorrow’s stage looks ideally suited to his characteristics, with the climbs not being too difficult. Packing a fast sprint, you wouldn’t want to bring him to the line.

Petr Vakoc.

Like Haas, the Czech rider is here building form for his classics campaign. An 8th place finish on stage 1 where the run in to the line didn’t really suit him highlights to me that he’s going fairly well at the moment. A proper brute of a rider, the Cat-2 at the end of tomorrow’s stage will be on his limit but if the right riders are up the road, he certainly has a chance.

Jordi Simon.

One of only 4 Funvic riders left in the race, the Catalan native will have pressure from his team to perform here. Not only that, but I’m sure he will want to perform too as tomorrow’s stage passes his hometown. An explosive climber, he isn’t the most well-known rider in the peloton and doesn’t have too many results to his name. A third place at nationals last year was his best finish, but hey, stranger things have happened!

Damien Howson.

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The Orica man took a much deserved GC win in the Herald Sun Tour earlier in the season. A great reward for being a super domestique for Chaves last year! On his return to European racing he finished a respectable 19th in Industrio, helping Yates to victory. Far enough down not to be a GC threat, he would be one of the favourites if he made the break due to his climbing and TT prowess.

Prediction

Break wins and I’ll go for Quick Step to continue that feel good factor within their team and Petr Vakoc to take the win!

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He’ll use his explosive kick to attack away from his breakaway companions on the steady gradients of the final climb and not be seen again until they cross the finish line!

Betting

Crapshoot of a stage and not one I want to get massively involved with; 0.25pt WIN on all the selections.

Vakoc @ 28/1 with B365

Haas @ 33/1 with B365

Simon @ 200/1 with B365

Howson @  Not quoted, so I’ll go with…

Clement @ 300/1 with Bet365 (similar build to Howson, decent climber but strong TTer).

 

Thanks again for reading! How do you think tomorrow will play out? Will we see a break make it, or will it come down to a reduced bunch kick, or even a late attack? Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

 

 

 

Paris Nice 2017 Stage 7 Preview; Nice -> Col de la Couillole

Today’s Recap

A rather exciting stage and we saw a GC showdown up to the finish in Fayence. It was Simon Yates who took advantage of his lower overall position, attacking over the top of the penultimate climb of the day, managing to hold on to the finish.

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Behind, Henao attacked and cracked Alaphilippe, with Porte returning to some form to take third place behind the Colombian. It leaves the GC nicely poised and we should be in for an exciting stage tomorrow. Let’s have a look at what’s in store for the riders.

The Route

The penultimate day and the Queen stage of the race!

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Two big climbs in the final 50km will be the main focal point of the day as the first two ascents of the day come way too far from the finish to be a launchpad.

The Col Saint-Martin will start off the GC proceedings.

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Officially 7.5km at 7.2% in gradient, the climb is long enough to stretch things out. Well, that is when you consider that the road actually rises for a long time before we get to the official start of the climb.

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Instead, the full length of the climb is 20.4km long and averages a very solid 4.2% gradient. You can view the Strava segment here. If a couple of teams co-operate here, they really could put the hurt on Alaphilippe and try to isolate him.

Once over the summit we have a long descent followed by some valley roads before we start the final climb of the day; the Col de la Couillole.

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A long and steady climb, it barely goes below 6.5% or above 7.5% in gradient. If the pace has been injected on the previous climb, it is very possible for a GC rider to pop here and lose a lot of time.

How will the stage pan out?

I thought today may have been a breakaway stage, with the finish potentially suiting Alaphilippe I wasn’t confident of other teams bringing the escapees back. I’ve had tomorrow marked down as a GC day for the majority of the week and today’s showing makes me think we’ll see a GC rider win  the stage tomorrow too.

Watch it be a breakaway win now…

Contenders

Sergio Henao certainly looked one of the strongest today and Team Sky seem up for a fight for the GC title. My suspicions about the Colombian building some form at home over the past few weeks seem to be correct and he is now Alaphilippe’s main GC rival. The long climbs up to altitude will certainly suit him and with a very strong support team they are dangerous. I expect them to keep the break in check all day, then really ramp the pace up on the Col Saint-Martin. Henao’s point of attack will be interesting. Will he go early on the Saint-Martin, hoping to find some allies, or will he wait and leave it all for the final climb? The way he seemed to open up a gap today over Alaphilippe on a finish that suited the Frenchman more, I think Henao might just be confident enough to wait until that final climb.

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One man who is sure to take it up early is Alberto Contador. The Spaniard tried something today along with Henao but was quickly marked by Dan Martin. He struggled on the final slopes today but it was not a climb that really suited him whereas tomorrow’s long, steadier ascents do. He looked sprightly on the lower slopes of Mont Brouilly where we get similar gradients to that we’ll get tomorrow. You can’t forget how well he was climbing in Valenciana and following Quintana for fun in Abu Dhabi. Not being an immediate threat on the GC, he may just be given some leeway.

If Contador is not an immediate threat on GC, then Richie Porte is not an immediate threat on next year’s GC! The Aussie finds himself way down on the overall but seemed bullish and up for the fight today. Again, like Contador, Porte is not suited to the short punchy climbs and tomorrow’s 7% stuff looks great for him. If he’s climbing anywhere close to his form in the Tour Down Under he certainly has a chance of a stage win, which will certainly boost his morale!

After his stage win today, Simon Yates could well go on to bag another tomorrow. He’s in a similar GC position to Contador and those two may form a very exciting, attacking duo. Will he have enough left in the tank for another assault tomorrow?

I’m intrigued to see how Ilnur Zakarin does on this stage. The Russian has slowly plodded along this race after disappointingly losing time on the opening day. He did an OK time-trial but not as good as some were expecting. Yet, he seemed to be coping alright on the climbs today so maybe that was just a blip. He looked very impressive in Abu Dhabi, chasing down Rui Costa and will be looking for a similar performance on stage 7!

Izagirre and Barguil might try to utilise their lowly GC positions to their advantage but they haven’t looked great so far in this race.

Prediction

We’ll get a crazy final half to the stage with a few long-range probing attacks. Alaphilippe will only initially need to follow Henao and Gallopin and that will benefit those further down on GC. Henao may well bridge up to others, but I fancy Alberto Contador to take the stage. He will have been very disappointed after a poor first stage, considering this was his first main goal of the season. The way he climbed in Valenciana and the effortless nature he followed Quintana was incredibly impressive. El Pistolero will fire a warning shot that he’s not dead and buried yet!

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Although I do think it will be very close between him and Henao, with the Colombian moving into the GC lead after the stage.

Betting

Normally I wouldn’t back GC riders for a stage like this but…

2pts WIN on Contador @ 9/2 with BEt365.

Also,

4pts WIN on Henao for GC at 9/4 with PaddyPower

Thanks again for reading, who do you think will win tomorrow? Will someone further down on GC benefit or will Henao make his mark? Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

 

Paris Nice 2017 Stage 4 Preview; Beaujeu -> Mont Brouilly

Today’s Recap

An annoying day prediction wise. The peloton decided to take it easy, letting a small group get up the road, ensuring a sprint finish.

It was Sam Bennett who took an excellent win at the end of the stage, surging past his competitors to a comfortable victory!

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He finally has a big result to show for his good early season work. Certainly one to watch in Milan San Remo if Sagan isn’t feeling up to it.

Anyway, let’s move on to tomorrow’s stage and what was supposed to be the first GC shake-up of the race.

The Route

A 14.5km individual time trial finishing atop Mont Brouilly.

As is tradition with TTs I’ve made the route profile on Strava that you can view here.

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The first two-thirds of the stage will be  fast. The riders start on a shallow descent before a false flat rise before they descend again towards Saint-Lager. A little kicker just as they come into town (800m at 4.25%) will slow their progress a bit before they then start the irregular climb up Mont Brouilly.

We have two different official profiles for the climb with the one from this year’s road book suggesting that it’s 3km at 7.7%, with the profile from 2014 suggesting 3km at 8.4%. Strava has it as 2.9km at 7.6%.

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In my opinion, this year’s profile is correct in terms of average gradient, but the 2014 edition gives a much better idea of the inconsistencies in the steepness of the slopes. So yeah, you just need to combine the two really!

I’m really intrigued by this route. The start of it really favours those who are masters of the discipline and are able to power along on the flat, but obviously the finale is a fairly steep 3km climb where the climbers can make up ground. It’s a similar route to the traditional final TT that we see in Etoile de Besseges every year, but with a slightly harder final climb.

I wonder if we’ll see any bike changes?

Another thing to consider is the weather.

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Forecast for Saint-Lager (Source: Wunderground)

We should get roughly similar conditions all day, although those who start later may benefit from a slight drop in the wind speed. I’m also particularly interested in the wind direction, as it looks to be a head/cross-head wind for the majority of the “flat” section. This certainly won’t help the small climbers, favouring the strong TTers. Once we get onto the climb itself the wind direction will change a lot due to the several hairpins the riders go round, but it will mainly be a crosswind.

Contenders

As I mentioned above, this stage reminds me a lot of the final TT we get in Etoile de Besseges ever year, except with a slightly harder climb. Riders who’ve won there in the past few years include; Gallopin (2017), Coppel (2016), Jungels (2015), Ludvigsson (2014).

A variety of riders, although they all fit roughly the same mould. Guys that are good climbers (not mountain goats) but they are also very solid on the flat.

Now the debate I’ve been having with myself for the past half hour or so is if the slightly steeper climb negates the strong flat start that we have. Then you throw in the potential for a head-wind which hinders the climbers more and I’m back at square one! Right, I’ve made my mind up…I think…

Porte could go crazy on this day and smash the TT, or he could quite easily keep his powder dry for later in the week and go for a mountain stage instead. He’ll have lost a bit of confidence in himself after the first two stages but tomorrow presents a good opportunity to relight the spark. I think he’ll struggle in the first part but dance up the climb. Will that be enough to take the win?

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Contador will fare similarly to Porte but he’s in the position where he’s at least guaranteed to give it 100%. The flat section into the headwind will be tough but he’ll love the climb. However, I think there will be riders who will go better than him on the day.

Two of those are very similar; Zakarin and Izagirre. They both need to make up some time after losing a minute on the first day. The pair of them are solid TTers on the flat and are obviously good climbers too. They in theory should have a lead over Porte/Contador going onto Mont Brouilly. If they have 10 seconds at that point then they have a great chance of taking the stage!

Gallopin isn’t known for his TT ability but he did take his first professional victory in the discipline at Etoile earlier in the year. Obviously going well in this race, making all of the splits so far, he is a real danger-man for stage honours. With the climb only being 3km long he should be able to put out power close to that of the proper mountain goats. I’m very intrigued to see how he does.

You can’t have a TT preview without mentioning Tony Martin. The World Champion has had an up-and-down start to the season; winning a stage in Valenciana, coming second in a TT in Algarve but crashing heavily in Kuurne. He also crashed in yesterday’s stage but it supposedly wasn’t anything too serious, however, it’s yet to be seen if he’s back at 100%. I have been impressed with the bits of work he’s done at the front of the race, particularly on stage one. He looked really strong there, single-handedly closing the gap to the group up front by around 30 seconds. The climb at the end might be an issue, but he was going well uphill in Valenciana for his stage win!

I don’t think Alaphilippe will go well here. That’s all I have to say about him!

Lampaert might get involved in the top 10, but he could also be told to save himself for team duties later in the week. Kruijswijk is very hot or cold in TTs and could pull something out of the bag tomorrow. As a super joker, I’m going to keep an eye on how Michael Matthews does. In theory he should be strong on the flat and the climb won’t be too challenging for him, it all just depends on how he approaches the day. He was impressive on a tough course in Switzerland last year!

Prediction

I’m still not entirely convinced about what way this is going to go. Which hopefully should make it a great time trial to watch! But I think the head-wind at the start of the stage will have a larger impact on the small climbers, than the climb at the end will have on the bigger all-rounders at the end of the day. I’ll go for the World Champion (Tony Martin) to take his first victory of the season in his Rainbow Bands!

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Betting

Tough stage to call and not one to get heavily involved with.

1pt EW Martin @ 9/1 with Betfair/PP (Would take the 8/1 available elsewhere). My thinking behind going EW is that he hopefully should at least place and we get some kind of return.

 

Thanks for reading my third preview of the day, I’m sure it’s been a slog for you! How do you think the TT will play out tomorrow? Will it be a GC winner or do the specialists have a chance? You can read my Tirreno previews on the site if you haven’t seen them already! Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

 

 

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

Today’s Recap

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

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

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

The Route

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

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

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

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

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

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

Weather Watch

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

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

How will the stage pan out?

I’m in two minds about this one.

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

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

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

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

Break Contenders

Alexey Lutsenko.

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

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Excerpt from the Astana website

Oliver Naesen.

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

Mauro Finetto.

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

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

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

Tony Martin.

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

Prediction

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

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Betting

0.3pt WIN on them all.

Naesen @ 66/1 with Betfair

Finetto @ 125/1 with Bet365

Lutsenko @ 80/1 with PaddyPower

Martin @ 80/1 with Betfair

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

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

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

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

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.